Bikeways and walkways encourage quality of life in the Bay Area
Residents of—and visitors to—the Bay Area don’t need anyone to tell them there’s a huge outdoor life component to the water-bordered lands south of Houston’s concrete canyons. It’s not unusual to see kayakers on the water and families enjoying the parks.
It is, however, a trifle more difficult to cycle along the area’s roadways, or walk from home to shops. Now, the City of Houston is looking to change that.
A proposed study is in the works to take into consideration the safety and mobility needs for cyclists and pedestrians in the Clear Lake area. It’s a collaborative effort between the City of Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering and the Houston-Galveston Area Council, each of which is providing $50,000.
“This study is part of Houston’s continued effort to connect centers of great cultural, economic and educational significance, as well as wonderfully diverse residential neighborhoods,” says Dan Raine, the bicyclist-pedestrian coordinator in Houston’s public works and engineering department. “The city of Houston nominated this segment of Clear Lake for study in order to develop potential improvement projects to enhance the feasibility and functionality of walking and biking trips between the various commercial and residential land uses, with an emphasis on providing connections to major employer centers.”
The initial goals of the project focus on providing opportunities for bikers and walkers of all levels, ensuring that any bikeways or walkways built ensure the safety of area residents, and providing greater connectivity for bikers and walkers between where they are and where they want to go.
Raine says that while Clear Lake has benefited from several transportation improvements, few of those enhancements have been for pedestrians and cyclists. He concedes that even though most of the area’s roadways have sidewalks, several factors limit where walkers can safely cross streets, which discourages walking.
“If these deterrents to walking and bicycling can be identified and addressed, the resulting projects would contribute significantly to public health and quality of life.”
Quality of life issues have long been important to the Houston metro area’s residents, and mobility factors heavily into how area residents view it. For nearly the last 30 years, Rice University has conducted the annual Houston Area Survey, a look at the attitudes and opinions of area residents. Throughout the survey’s history, traffic and mobility have routinely ranked among the most important challenges to the region. The survey is now run under the auspices of the university’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, and in the 2010 survey, 41% of respondents said they’d choose to live in a smaller house “in a more urbanized area, within walking distance of shops and workplaces.” Respondents always rate Houston highly as a place to live, and they support better land-use initiatives to improve quality of life.
Raine says that in addition to the health benefits, there are multiple other enhancements to quality of life that making the Bay Area more pedestrian and bicycle friendly can provide.
“Using walking or biking for local trips provides a healthier and more aesthetically pleasing alternative to motorized transportation,” he says. “And it helps to alleviate air pollution along with relieving stress, reaping benefits through the safe passage of people to and from work, school and activities.”
Raine says the area’s large employers have long encouraged their workers to live healthy lifestyles, and he believes that creating opportunities for walking and biking would not only enhance the health of area residents, but would also improve air quality and bring people together to create a greater sense of community.
To that end, several public meetings have been held regarding this study, aimed at making sure residents understand what’s happening and giving them a venue to make their own thoughts heard.
Feedback from the meetings thus far has been positive, and residents offered support for the study and offered their ideas about the community’s needs, including a desire to fix the walkways and paths already in place, better maintaining those pathways, and improving sidewalks and road shoulders.
The next public meeting will be held Sept. 7 at the Clear Lake City Community Association building at 16511 Diana Lane. It starts at 6:00 pm and the public is encouraged to attend. There’s also an online survey anyone can take, and Raine says both the City of Houson and HGAC are interested in community feedback. It’s accessible through the website walkbikeclearlake.com.
Raine is optimistic about the study and its implications. “The results will identify pedestrian and bicyclist safety and mobility issues, as well as develop and prioritize a series of immediate, short- and long-term improvement projects that will be eligible for implementation with funding made available through future calls for projects from the HGAC’s Transportation Improvement Program.”
If your community were bicycle friendly, would you opt for this mode of transportation? Attend the Sept. 7 meeting, connect with other outdoor enthusiasts and cyclists, and give biking a try.
Here are 10 Reasons to Travel by Bike
1) Free air conditioning…it’s called wind!
2) Pedal power burns calories, not money and gasoline.
3) No stinky, toxic emissions left behind.
4) Tight shorts and tops are cool.
5) Take your stress on the road…without the rage.
6) Free parking everywhere.
7) No car payments, car insurance or speeding tickets.
8) Feel like a kid again.
9) Limit excessive purchases at the grocery store.
10) Totally ripped and bulging Gastrocnemius muscles.