From today's Houston Chronicle:
Mobility study makes the case for bicycling
By RAD SALLEE
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
The big transportation news last week was that traffic congestion in the Houston area and around the country is getting worse.
That fairly obvious observation — verified every year or two by researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M, and reaffirmed last week in their 2007 Urban Mobility Study — usually draws two kinds of feedback.
Some drivers blame the supposed waste of highway dollars on mass transit, or the wrong kind of mass transit. Transit advocates, and some who say they'd ride transit if only it went where and when they want it to, blame the waste of potential transit dollars on concrete.
Peter Wang took a third path, pedaling serenely from his home in Copperfield to a meeting 12 miles away near Dairy Ashford and the Katy Freeway.
"It took one hour, with all of the stop lights, which I did obey," Wang writes. "The gridlock was un-be-liev-able at 7:45 am. I didn't ride hard; it was pretty leisurely."
Wang figures he made the trip in about the same time a car would probably take, but without the unpredictable delays. The bike may go slower than a car, but at least it keeps wheeling along.
"I flew past motionless cars, using the FM 529 (Freeman Road) bike lane and the sporadic Eldridge shoulder," Wang said.
"I really felt sorry for them, having been in that situation before. It really is no fun at all to be in a powerful car capable of 100 mph, except the speedometer says zero."
Let the man gloat. Just wait till it starts to pour down rain, or gets really cold.
But he has a good point: "Bikes are a valid transportation mode ... We need to plan to accommodate them."
That TTI study came under fire from transportation specialists in Southern California, but not because it put Los Angeles atop the list of congested cities.
Instead, they said the study understated California's traffic problems.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Hasan Ikhrata, a planning director there, put congestion-caused delay there closer to 100 hours a year, based on speed measured by pavement sensors, rather than the 72 hours the study had found.
Ironically, TTI researchers gave a similar reason for the generally higher speeds cited in this year's study.
They say the data are more accurate today because of input from the sensors, cameras and other devices monitored by traffic control agencies like Houston TranStar cropping up around the country.
They also say the change tends to affect the data from various cities in roughly the same degree, keeping their relative congestion levels about the same as before.
Maybe traffic is like age: You're only as congested as you feel.
Familiar name joins fight
MacGregor Place residents played the King card in their efforts to get Metro's planned Bus Rapid Transit line for the Southeast Corridor moved off Martin Luther King Boulevard.
A Sept. 7 letter, sent at their request by Martin Luther King III to Mayor Bill White, suggests that he use his influence to "maintain the positive character and integrity of this particular neighborhood."
While the letter does not flatly ask White to overturn Metro's route selection, it does say that correspondence from residents expresses "valid concerns" for "the wisdom of selecting another location."
It was neighborhood opposition to putting the line on Scott — the straightest shot to the Texas Medical Center and Hermann Park — that led Metro to decide on a Wheeler-MLK route in the first place.
Dee Simon, who has lived in the MLK neighborhood more than 30 years and is leading the civic club effort, said the route should go on Elgin instead of Wheeler and then run south to Griggs on vacant land east of MLK.
She said this would avoid having trains pass by Peck Elementary School and a community youth center, also saving several homes from being taken.
Metro spokeswoman Sandra Salazar said the MLK route was judged best in a Final Environmental Impact Statement and approved by the Metro board. It is also in the federal funding pipeline for construction to start in 2008, she said.
Councilwoman Ada Edwards, who represents the area and headed a task force that developed the plan Metro adopted, said in a July letter to Metro that she remains in "full support" of it.
White's spokesman Frank Michel said the route chosen will provide the best "access to opportunities including institutions of higher education ... which is certainly in the spirit of what Dr. King stood for."
White said he wants to be sure "that Houston has a world-class transit system available to everybody, that provides access to all these things."
"There has been no less than 15 or 20 meetings with civic associations and neighborhoods, and we have gotten the general support of people in the community," White said.
This might get some folks thinking more about bikes as an effective means of transportation. Although I could do without Sallee's snarky comments.
Oh, and it was nice to see that Major White finally bought a new helmet and has it fitted well.