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  1. #1
    E. Peterbus Unum
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    My feeble attempt at advocacy

    In NW Houston, our roads are narrow, congested, and usually do not have a shoulder. There have been several widening projects and none seem to help accomodate pedestrian or bike traffic. Thus, I wanted to voice my opinion and write to my county government.

    My initial desire was to see if bike lanes or other options were even considered in planning roads and bridges projects. I spoke of my commute to work, school, and shops and that I would like to see the county recognize this traffic and seek to create ways that would protect people on the roads.

    Here is the response from my county official:

    Mr. Rollwitz:

    Thank you for your e-mail transmittal of September 15, 2005 regarding your desire for Precinct Four to install bicycle lanes along our roadways. We appreciate your affording us an opportunity to address this matter and regret the length of time taken to respond.

    Please know, the county tax you pay contributes to road, bridge and ditch maintenance for all publicly maintained roads you travel and other transportation facilities like the Hardy Toll Road. Other services provided include the County’s operation of a county jail and detention system, park and library system, civil and criminal courts, district attorney’s office, county attorney’s office, county sheriff’s department, juvenile probation and detention services, juvenile homes and county public health and social welfare services. As you can see, our tax dollars go beyond the realm of road and bridge maintenance and provide for a wide array of county services and departments.

    Harris County realizes a significant challenge as our rural areas develop and the need to upgrade our existing rural roadway system is encountered. Funds to upgrade Harris County roadways derive from bond funds. Harris County voters approved a road and bridge Bond Referendum in November 2001 and projects previously identified for improvements are being pursued. Unfortunately, the needs are greater than the financial resources. Public safety is very important to the Commissioner and our roadways are designed with safety in mind.

    Costs associated with providing wider outside lanes accommodating a potential bicyclist along a major thoroughfare includes; however, is not limited to the need to acquire additional road right of way for the placement of additional pavement, drainage mitigation due to the elimination of back of curb swales currently designed to capture overland storm water flows and relocation of utilities located within the right of way. The estimated pavement costs to widen the outside lane by only one-foot in each direction for a length of one-mile is more than $200,000. Therefore, the expense for widening an outside lane from a typical 12-foot wide pavement increases the cost of a typical one-mile long four-lane concrete boulevard significantly.

    Bike lanes on roadways designed to accommodate the safe movement of passenger vehicles and trucks is not the appropriate location for the majority of bicyclists. Providing additional lane widths would not offer bicyclists the safety benefit needed and would only provide a false sense of security; therefore, the inclusion of bike lanes on our roadway system cannot be accommodated.

    Please know, Commissioner Eversole encourages his staff to capture opportunities for developing off-road system bikeways. Precinct Four has been successful in partnering with the Faulkey Gully Greenbelt Association for developing a hike and bike facility along Faulkey Gully, in phases, between Cypress Creek and Spring Cypress Road. Sections of the ten-foot wide asphalt hike and bike facility are already in place and progress is being made for the installation of yet another phase with the intent to complete the trail as originally planned. Precinct Four recently partnered with the city of Jersey Village to install a similar hike and bike facility along White Oak Bayou.

    Again, thank you for affording me an opportunity to address this matter. Please contact Precinct Four's Community Assistance Department, at (281) 353-8424, or visit our website at www.cp4.hctx.net should you have any questions regarding other Precinct 4 Road and Bridge matters.

  2. #2
    E. Peterbus Unum
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    Not happy with this response....I gave a quick email to them this morning. Here is what I sent:

    Thank you for your response. As a bicycle advocacy member, bike lanes are a heated discussion even within the cycling community and I thank you for sharing the county's position on this matter. I appreciate your careful explanation of the costs involved and as a prior sheriff's deputy, am well aware of county resources and the plethora of projects that fall within the county/precinct budget.

    As a commuter, I travel the same roads any car would travel. I am not a "hike and bike" enthusiast as those trails do not get me to work, the store, and other shopping needs. With that being said, I look forward to the county considering options for cyclists as they move forward with pending projects.

    As a project manager, I am also well aware of the resources demanded upon executing roads and bridges projects. I also recognize that numerous municipalities and county governments within Texas and the US have taken an active role in cycling endeavors - to include bike baths in these projects. Thus, if bike lanes are a desired feature, the cost is counted, but not the determining factor.

    As a citizen, I am thankful that we are able to have this dialogue, discuss this issue at hand, and know my concern was voiced. Though I feel it fell on deaf ears, I will continue to be the type of citizen that seeks to help, rather than fight and accuse.

    We are at a point where our cultural vehicular habits (as frivolous as they may be) are under tight scrutiny due to the ever-increasing rise in oil and fuel costs. I have seen a dramatic increase in bicycle traffic. It is my desire that Houstonians and Harris County residents take up other modes of transportation to relieve the highways and byways of undue traffic. If this will occur, our county dollars can be spent on other projects since road wear and tear will not be so dramatic. I also hope the county will recognize this change in traffic and seek to protect its citizens from harm or death.

    Again, thank you Ms. Rocchi for your response. On a side note, I am eagerly awaiting the completion of a 4 month stagnate traffic light at Old Louetta and Spring Cypress. My family loves to cycle together, yet we fear for our safety at the thought of crossing Spring Cypress without the use of a functional traffic light.

    Chris Rollwitz

  3. #3
    E. Peterbus Unum
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    I apologize to you guys for having hogged the first three messages to this thread. I just wanted to break it up and not be so long.

    It is sad that my county government is more worried about cost and cars than the protection of its citizens. The demographic of our roads is going to change. The rise of fuel costs will ensure that. To what extent it will change is difficult to forecast...but it will change. I am only asking my government to be proactive and be on the cutting edge of this change and be there for the people!

    Power to the people!

    Chris

  4. #4
    52-week commuter DCCommuter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TxBiker
    Bike lanes on roadways designed to accommodate the safe movement of passenger vehicles and trucks is not the appropriate location for the majority of bicyclists.
    He could have saved himself a lot of trouble by just cutting his letter down to this one sentence. Until you can overcome this sentiment you're not going to have much luck.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Brian Ratliff's Avatar
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    I like the non sequitur:
    ...Unfortunately, the needs are greater than the financial resources. Public safety is very important to the Commissioner and our roadways are designed with safety in mind.
    I can understand his sediment though. Road widening is a high cost thing, regardless of a bike lane stripe. WOL advocates say money is wasted on paint, but the paint is peanuts compared to the cost of widening the road by 4 to 6 feet.

    Rural roads around here (in the Portland area) don't usually have bike lanes, or even shoulders. Oregon law requires that new road development must include bike lanes or some other bike facility as a percentage of its budget, but rural roads are rarely torn out and replaced, and completely new ones are rarely built. They are mearly resurfaced with chip seal. Thus they continue to be very narrow, despite the increase in traffic due to development.

    On a side note, when I commute, 3/4 of my commute is along rural highways with no shoulders. This carries an increased risk when you throw in rush hour traffic. Today I drove, and on the radio I heard that a section of the road was closed due to a head on collision. That got me thinking about the increased risk to drivers as well. I came to the conclusion that these rural roads with narrow lanes carry increased risk for anyone who rides or drives them, regardless of vehicle. Wider lanes could help drivers as well as cyclists.
    Cat 2 Track, Cat 3 Road.
    "If you’re new enough [to racing] that you would ask such question, then i would hazard a guess that if you just made up a workout that sounded hard to do, and did it, you’d probably get faster." --the tiniest sprinter

  6. #6
    flux capacitor Orikal's Avatar
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    Job well done TxBiker. Your original letter and response were well-iterated and direct.

    In what part of the Houston area do you live? I noticed the response mentioned something about "as rural areas develop." I grew up on the outskirts of Houston (Montgomery County), and it has always amazed me, with the high volume of weekend cyclists, that there remains little to no bike lanes. These cyclists bring a lot of money to the areas which they frequent. Some stores along popular routes are filled to the brim with people purchasing every manner of items during the weekend.

    Obviously this doesn't directly affect you as a commuter, but the cost vs. benefit argument (as a layman) would seem null based on the benefits it could bring to the area.

    Delusion: A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence.

  7. #7
    E. Peterbus Unum
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orikal
    In what part of the Houston area do you live?
    I live south of Tomball near Hwy 249 and Willowbrook Mall area (FM 1960)

  8. #8
    flux capacitor Orikal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TxBiker
    I live south of Tomball near Hwy 249 and Willowbrook Mall area (FM 1960)
    I could see the city's argument then. That area of 1960 is jam packed most of the day, and businesses are so close to the road that widening would be a monumental undertaking. I remember when it used to be one lane in each direction.

    Delusion: A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence.

  9. #9
    Senior Member slagjumper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TxBiker
    Harris County voters approved a road and bridge Bond Referendum in November 2001 and projects previously identified for improvements are being pursued. Unfortunately, the needs are greater than the financial resources. Public safety is very important to the Commissioner and our roadways are designed with safety in mind. .
    I think that you have done a great one person act of advocacy. Unfortunately it is obvious that you are getting the brush off. I think that this is something that is happening to bike advocy all over except for a few high tax, urban areas. It is going to continue to happen, because the number of cars just keeps going up. As bike advocates, we are in for a constant fight to even keep the existing bike facilities, let alone develop new ones.

    I am not a professional advocate but it seems like it is important to--

    1) Engage elected officials and get them on our side. Follow up in a firm, polite way.
    2) Find and work with other supporters like taxpayers, professionals, school board members, civic group members, bike clubs, and enthusiastic bike people. Make sure all are aware of the dangers and need for improvements. Document and take pictures of any problems found. Send them to the City’s planning and legal departments.
    3) Become familiar with city, state and federal statutes that may require that bike facilities be built and hold the city to that.
    4) Find out what new road projects are on the drawing board and work now to get bike facilities added.

    It seems obvious that this has to be coordinated on the local, state and federal levels. It is too much for one person to do alone.

  10. #10
    Senior Member kf5nd's Avatar
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    TxBiker, you need to call me... I live in NW Houston, and am heavily involved in Advocacy. From your letters, you appear to be where I was a year or 18 months ago. Call (713) 513-2168 office, (281) 550-3864 home.
    Peter Wang, LCI
    Houston, TX USA

  11. #11
    Senior Member Dchiefransom's Avatar
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    Don't throw anything away. Keep it for future reference and use. You never know when it might come in handy.

  12. #12
    Burnt Orange Blood Longhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orikal
    I could see the city's argument then. That area of 1960 is jam packed most of the day, and businesses are so close to the road that widening would be a monumental undertaking. I remember when it used to be one lane in each direction.
    So do I! I moved to the area in 1971 and graduated from Klein High School in 1973. My mother still lives in Cypresswood. I was trying to figure out what rural areas the commissioner is talking about!

  13. #13
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    You may also want to dig a little deeper. Bike lanes along highways are safer for cyclists than paths that are seperate from vehicular traffic. There have been studies done and I am sure you could find one or more by searching the internet. So, he is wrong saying it is unsafe and gives people a false sense of security having bike lanes, because users of segregated bike trails are 1.8 times more likely to have an accident with a motorvehicle than a bike using a bike lane on a highway. The rational is that motorists are unlikely to be looking for other vehicles, especially bikes anywhere but on the highway.

    I have been attending our local Metropolitan Planning organization meetings. The MPO is a non-governmental group that acts as a consultant in regard to MUT's and segregated bike trails. These statistics are quoted by them all the time and they are from a national study on bike safety.

  14. #14
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    Depending on the roads involved, I may disagree with your position on bike lanes (I won't get into that here because there are plenty of other threads on the subject), but if you want to be effective, you have to start showing up at planning meetings. Most governments have them. To look for them, start bouncing around the websites of your local governments. Also, call planning officials. They will often pick up their own phones. Ask them about public input meetings. Also ask about citizen committees.

    Planning officials have a lot more respect for people who show up at meetings than for people who just send e-mails. It's a lot of work, and you don't always get what you want. But it's the best way to be effective.
    Last edited by Daily Commute; 10-20-05 at 05:29 PM.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by TxBiker
    Bike lanes on roadways designed to accommodate the safe movement of passenger vehicles and trucks is not the appropriate location for the majority of bicyclists. Providing additional lane widths would not offer bicyclists the safety benefit needed and would only provide a false sense of security; therefore, the inclusion of bike lanes on our roadway system cannot be accommodated.
    The above statement is not true. In order for the roadway to work, they would have to drop the speed limit to 40 mph, eliminate one car lane for a shoulder therefore allowing cyclists to use that emergency shoulder. Simple.

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    Hello TxBiker,

    Good luck in improving your commute routes – you have taken the first step. As previous replies to your post suggest, it is a long frustrating process involving a fair bit of politics starting with your local neighborhood association, city council and then county & state agencies.

    I also feel the cost issue is overshadowed by the "vision issue" (i.e. “Bike lanes on roadways designed to accommodate the safe movement of passenger vehicles and trucks is not the appropriate location for the majority of bicyclists.” - which implies that bicycles are “toys or just for children on the sidewalk” and are not part of the regional transportation system).

    Obviously roads can be designed for safe simultaneous car and bike traffic but the design specifics and requirements will vary with each project. For your next effort - I would suggest teaming up with a bicycle friendly traffic engineer to review the preliminary project plans so that you can offer specific design modifications for the final plans that meet state & national safety standards stated in a terminology that Mr. Rollwitz can understand.

    Take care,
    Jim Hunt – Kirkland, WA

  17. #17
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    Sounds like THOSE county/city roads planners are going to use VC against any type of bicycle accomodations.

  18. #18
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist
    Sounds like THOSE county/city roads planners are going to use VC against any type of bicycle accomodations.
    No. They are using the anti-VC idea that cyclists can't share space with cars. Their idea is that cyclists should only use cyclist-specific facilities like bike paths. Notice the opposition to wide curb lanes. They would probably make the same argument against proposals to make the loop sensors sensitive enough for cyclists or any other small measure that makes cycling safer and more efficient.

    But my original idea stands. Regardless of your position on bike lanes, if you want to make a difference, you have to show up at the meetings.
    Last edited by Daily Commute; 10-23-05 at 11:40 AM.

  19. #19
    kwv
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orikal
    I could see the city's argument then. That area of 1960 is jam packed most of the day, and businesses are so close to the road that widening would be a monumental undertaking. I remember when it used to be one lane in each direction.
    In Australia they take people homes to widen Motorways and you have to take the money they offer you so I guess you could say it is monumental undertaking especially with people lives.

  20. #20
    kwv
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orikal
    I could see the city's argument then. That area of 1960 is jam packed most of the day, and businesses are so close to the road that widening would be a monumental undertaking. I remember when it used to be one lane in each direction.
    In Australia they take people homes to widen Motorways and you have to take the money they offer you so I guess you could say it is monumental undertaking especially with people lives.

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