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The B-Cycle era begins

At long last, Houston’s B-Cycle program officially kicked off last week.

Mayor Annise Parker, an occasional bicyclist, called the federally-funded program “a quick, easy alternative to being stuck in traffic or walking long distances in downtown.” She said the bicycles may help familiarize residents with downtown, an area she said many still consider “foreign territory.”

Mobility alternatives

Bike Houston Chairman Darren Sabom said the new program may help dispel Houston’s national reputation as an uncongenial, sprawling metropolis.

“People want to live, work, play and eat close to one another and not be in their car as much,” city sustainability director Laura Spanjian said, citing a recent Rice University study that found most respondents wanted to live in compact, walkable communities. “The love affair with the car is finally over, and providing alternatives to help people get around in the urban environment will be increasingly important.”

She said plans call for establishing stations, possibly connected to the light rail system, in the Museum District, Hermann Park and the medical center. Stations also may be located on Washington Avenue, in Houston Heights and at area businesses, she said.

The bikes are equipped with baskets, locks and lights and are easily adjustable to accommodate the height of riders. Users are encouraged to wear helmets, which can be purchased at City Hall’s visitor center. Patrons may access the bicycles from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Daily membership can be purchased at a station or online at www.houston.bcycle.com; weekly and annual memberships are available only through the website.

With membership, the first 90 minutes of each ride are free. A rider returning a bike after 90 minutes may immediately check it out again for another free 90-minute ride. Rides longer than 90 minutes, however, incur an additional charge of $2 per half hour. A smartphone app is available for riders to locate stations and determine whether bikes or dock openings are available.

I’ll be very interested to see what the membership numbers look like in a few months. If this has been a hit in San Antonio there’s no reason it can’t do well here. Putting a few stations near rail stops is a good idea, too. Two weeks ago, I had to take my car in for service. The mechanic we use is near where Montrose meets Midtown, so I figured I’d take my bike with me and ride from the shop to the light rail stop at McGowen and get to work that way. Which was a great plan until I was reminded that you can’t take your bike onto a train during peak hours, so I had to sit and cool my heels till 9 AM. A B-Cycle option would have worked better for me. Maybe next time.

As for Houston’s potential as a bike city, here’s a visitor’s view of the lay of the land.

“Houston is the sleeper — the next big bicycle city that nobody knows about yet,” Tom McCasland told us on Thursday.

I was, of course, skeptical. My impression of Houston so far was all potholes, unpredictable driving, the chaotic geography of a city without zoning, and only a few sightings of hardy bicyclists. A conversation the night before with our host, a bike advocate, hadn’t altered that impression much. Besides, aren’t Southern cities, big and grey and built for cars, supposed to be harder to “green”?

But McCasland offered to take us on a bike ride to prove his point, and Joe and I weren’t about to turn him down. While Joshua cooked up some magic in the basement of Georgia’s Market (downtown’s only, if fancy, grocery store), we set off.

The thing that sets Houston up for success, McCasland told us as we drove out of downtown, is that the business community, including the oil companies and airlines that are the city’s biggest employers, is all for it. Quality of life is the reason, a lure for energetic, young new hires. As things currently stand, “it’s a tough sell to bring people here.” But there’s hope, in the form of cheap right of way around the city’s many bayous and a plan to transform an existing piecemeal trail system into a world class bicycling network.

Link via Hair Balls, where John Nova Lomax writes about his experiences bike commuting into downtown. These folks explored the not-yet-connected junction between the MKT and White Oak bike trails (among other places), which will eventually make a whole lot more of the city accessible by bike from downtown. Houston’s flatness may make it less visually interesting, but it’s a huge asset from a bike-riding perspective. And yes, it’s really hot here three months out of the year, but the flipside of that is that it’s generally pretty nice the other nine months. The weather here is a lot more bike-conducive than it is in, say, Minneapolis, the bike-friendly city to which the author of that piece compared us. The potential is there, I just hope we use it. We have a two month head start on New York, if nothing else. Swamplot has more, and there’s more on the B-Cycle rollout from Dale Robertson.

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2 Comments

  1. I was at the B-Cycle station at City Hall last Friday, and several bikes were checked out. Yesterday, Monday morning ~10 a.m., the rack at the George R. Brown had about 75% of bikes checked out. Seems like some people are using them, although I have yet to see anyone riding one through the streets.

  2. Jj says:

    Will be interesting to see how it goes. Paris appears to have a 40% theft rate. From Wikipedia report on what happened in the first two years of the Paris system:

    “The system was launched on July 15, 2007. 7,000 bicycles were initially introduced. The following year, the initiative was enlarged to some 18,000 bicycles, making Vélib the most extensive system of its kind in the world. At least 3,000 bicycles were stolen in the first year of operation, a number far greater than had been initially anticipated. As of August 2009, of 20,600 bikes introduced into service, about 16,000—some 80% of the total—have been replaced due to vandalism or theft; of the latter, fully 8,000 were stolen.”

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