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B-Cycle

Next B-Cycle expansion approved

Good.

Expansion of Houston’s bike sharing system is pretty much in high gear after City Council on Wednesday signed off on a $4.1 million plan to roughly triple the number of bikes and kiosks.

With the agreement in place, local B-Cycle operators can proceed with their plan to purchase 568 bikes and install 71 new kiosks where people can check out a bike.

By 2018, Houston is slated to have roughly 100 stations and 800 bicycles spread across the central business district, Midtown, Texas Medical Center, Montrose, Rice Village and around the University of Houston and Texas Southern University campuses.

Seventeen of the stations in the medical center and Museum District should be operational by March, said Carter Stern, executive director of Houston’s bike sharing system.

Stern said new stations will pop up in Midtown and the Montrose area in the summer, with stations on the college campuses expected to open in the fall.

“The rest of the allocated stations will occur piecemeal as we finalize locations and secure the matching funding,” Stern said last month.

This expansion was announced in August, with funding coming from a TxDOT grant and the nonprofit Houston Bike Share. Usage continues to grow as well, and in the parts of town where B-Cycle exists and will exist getting around on a bike often makes more sense than driving and parking. I look forward to further growth, and eventual further expansion.

Next B-Cycle expansion announced

From the inbox:

Houston’s bike share system, Houston B-cycle, will more than triple in size over the next two years, adding 71 stations with 568 bikes. The expansion will be paid for with federal grant dollars.

“The expansion of the B-cycle system will bring bike sharing into new neighborhoods and to new users,” said Mayor Turner. “As I’ve said, we need a paradigm shift in transportation away from single-occupancy motor vehicles. Making cycling more accessible by building a strong bike sharing system is a critical component of that change.”

The City’s Planning and Development Department sponsored an application for a grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The grant will reimburse the City for $3.5 million of the cost of expanding the system. Houston Bike Share, a local nonprofit that administers Houston B-cycle, will provide the remaining $880,000.

Currently, the system has 31 stations with 225 bikes. The expansion will bring the total to 102 stations and 793 bikes. The grant will also pay for two new transportation vehicles.

Houston B-cycle is a membership-driven bike share system. Memberships are available by day, week or year. All members have unlimited access to the bikes for up to 60 minutes per trip. There is a charge of $2 for every additional half hour.

The expansion brings bike sharing into the Texas Medical Center with 14 stations and 107 bikes. The new stations will also serve Houston’s students, with 21 new stations and 248 bikes at the University of Houston Main Campus, Texas Southern University, UH-Downtown and Rice University.

Since January 1, cyclists have made 73,577 trips and traveled 508,044 miles. Houston Bike Share CEO Carter Stern estimates Houstonians are on track to exceed 100,000 trips by the end of 2016.

“We could not be more grateful for the Mayor and City Council’s unflagging support of the Houston B-Cycle program and our efforts to expand the program,” Stern said. “The expansion approved today will allow us to build on the immense success that B-Cycle has had in just 4 short years and bring this affordable, healthy, sustainable mobility option to more Houstonians than ever before.”

Sounds good to me. There isn’t an updated system map yet, but this does a lot to expand B-Cycle outside the borders of downtown/Midtown, in areas that are dense and proximate to light rail lines. You know how I feel about using the bike network to extend transit reach, and B-Cycle is a great fit for the rail stations because trains are often too crowded to bring a bike onto them. I can’t wait to see what the new map looks like. The Press has more.

My vision for Metro: Buses

HoustonMetro

I’ve said before that I would have some suggestions for new Metro Board Chair Carrin Patman and her team as they take their places. This post is where I start sharing those suggestions. The idea is to focus on proposals that I believe are doable in the current political and economic climate, in the short term as well as in the longer term. Ideally, all of these things could at least be begun by the end of Mayor Turner’s second term in 2023. Some of these things can be done by Metro on its own, but many will require at least some level of cooperation with one or more other agencies. in all cases, the goal is to get more people to use Metro. As always, your feedback on these ideas is welcome.

Let’s start with the backbone of the system, the local bus service. The good news here is that Metro’s current bus system map is basically as good as it’s going to get to maximize ridership, which by the way continues to improve. The bad news is that this means Metro has less control over what it can do to improve the bus system further. But the other good news is that the means by which they can improve the system further, and thus get more people to use it, are clear and easy to understand.

Really, it all comes down to two things: Sidewalks and bicycles. The new bus system does a really good job of getting you from one neighborhood or part of the city to another. But you still have to get yourself to your bus stop from your point of origin, and from your bus stop to your final destination. When your bus stop is on a well-maintained sidewalk, with safe street crossings, this is easy. When it’s not, it’s a strong disincentive to use the bus in the first place. The 85, for example, is a frequent route that runs along Washington Avenue, a part of town with a lot of destinations close together and a shortage of parking. It also has some of the crappiest sidewalks for a neighborhood that really ought to be pedestrian-friendly. People won’t take the bus if they think it’s not easy to get to or from the bus stop. Bad sidewalks are a big hindrance to bus ridership.

To their credit, Metro knows this. I feel reasonably confident saying that the Metro board will do what it can to work with the city of Houston as it plans out its Rebuild Houston projects (assuming the Supreme Court lets it), which now that the city operates under Complete Streets guidelines, means that sidewalks will receive proper attention. The budget that Council just adopted includes Metro money for each Council district earmarked for infrastructure repairs, so those pieces are in place. Metro also needs to work with Harris County, especially now that the Commissioner of Precinct 1 is and will be willing to work on infrastructure inside Houston, with the various TIRZes, HISD and the other school districts, and any other entity that is able to put up a few bucks to re-pour a sidewalk. Harris County Commissioners Court – all four precincts – really needs to be in on this, since it was the county’s insistence that the 2012 sales tax referendum bar using marginal revenues for light rail that helped lead to the bus system re-do. Put some skin in the game, Commissioners Court. These are your residents, too.

As far as bicycles go, we know that more and more people are riding their bikes to bus stops, then using the bike racks on them to get their bikes to their stop. This has the effect of extending the bus network, since it’s a lot easier and faster to ride a bike a mile to a bus stop than it is to walk that far. The city of Houston and to a lesser extent Harris County have done a lot to build up their bike infrastructure, and thanks to the Bayou Greenways bond issue plus the legislation to allow bike trails on CenterPoint rights of way, there’s a lot more of that to come. Metro needs to be part of the planning process so that bike trails that connect with high-frequency bus routes get priority, and to ensure that connectivity between trails and bus routes is always taken into account. Metro should also be at the table when the next phase of BCycle is being planned, to ensure that kiosks are deployed at or near bus stops and train stations whenever possible.

Speaking of the trains, while the bus system redesign was done in part to maximize the use of the new train lines, I feel like there’s a lack of information at train stations about what bus stops and bus routes are nearby. As an example, I’ve taken the train to the Wheeler station/transit center recently a couple of times to get to an appointment out near 59 and Kirby. From Wheeler, I could reasonably take either the 25 bus along Richmond, or the 65 bus along Bissonnet. The problem was that when I got out at Wheeler, I had no idea how to find a stop for either of these buses. Turns out, the 65 is right there, while the 25 (at least westbound) required walking over some pedestrian-unfriendly turf to get to a stop on Richmond just east of the downtown spur. I was able to figure it out for myself, and I’m sure the Metro trip planner could have helped, but a little signage at the station would have been very nice. A little signage at every station, showing you exactly where the nearest bus stops are and which ones go to which destinations, would be even nicer.

Anyway, that’s a brief overview of what Metro and its new Board and Board Chair should focus on to improve the bus service even more. I’ll refer you back to this post by Chris Andrews from two years ago, right when the bus system makeover was first announced, for some further thoughts; pay particular attention to the bolded paragraph in his Conclusions at the end. Next we will talk about how Metro can do more to market itself.

B-Cycle’s 100,000 rides

Okay, almost 100,000. Still impressive.

Houston’s growing bike sharing system – poised for a big 2016 – nearly pulled off 100,000 checkouts last year.

After adding two stations in the last weeks of the year, bringing the total to 31 kiosks and 190 bicycles, Houston B-Cycle logged 98,388 uses, according to organizers of the system. People can check out a bike with a pass – daily, weekly or annual – and use the bike without charge for 60 minutes. After that, the bike costs $4 per hour.

Usually, the point is to ride between two spots and not incur fees. Another bicycle can be checked out immediately.

From just three stations in early 2013, the system has grown in popularity and offerings. In a news release Tuesday, officials estimated the use of the bikes has led to 612,781 miles of travel – based on average travel times and the duration of all trips – leading to 24.4 million calories burned by riders.

[…]

B-Cycle is planning a far larger expansion that will bring bikes and stations to the Texas Medical Center and Rice Village, then eventually to the Texas Southern University and University of Houston area. When completed, the system will have 100 stations and 800 bicycles.

See here for more on that expansion. You can tell B-Cycle where you think these new kiosks should go with their B-Cycle Station Suggestion Mapping Tool. Register and make comments on existing and proposed station locations; you can also use the tool as “anonymous”, though it’s not clear to me what if any functionality you lose by doing that. I don’t know how long this feedback period will be in effect, so get going and tell them where the bikes should be now. Thanks to Swamplot for the tip.

What people use B-Cycle for

From Rice University:

A new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research finds that Sun Belt city residents are most likely to use bike-share programs for recreation, compared with users in the Midwest or Northeast, who regularly use the same programs for their daily commute.

The report, “Shifting Gears: Framing Bike-sharing Trends in Sun Belt Cities,” examines how consumers use bike-sharing programs in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston and Denver. The study is the first of several to be released by the Kinder Institute in the coming months and seeks to advance the understanding of the dynamics already at play in Sun Belt bike-share systems.

Bike-share systems are a growing part of the transportation options and recreational landscape of many cities. They place rentable bikes at a network of kiosks with bike docks and pay stations across a city. At most hours of the day, users can check out bikes from any kiosk after buying a daily pass or purchasing a longer-term membership. Riders can return bikes to any kiosk in the network.

“The flexibility of the system allows riders to use bikes for a variety of reasons – to commute to work, go out for a drink, exercise, run errands or take a relaxing ride,” said Kyle Shelton, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Kinder Institute and the study’s co-author. “Riders can engage in these pursuits without needing to own and maintain a personal bike, wait for transit or drive a car.”

The researchers grouped bike trips into four categories: weekday two-location (starting and ending at different kiosk locations), weekend two-location, weekday round-trip and weekend round-trip. Differentiating among the four types revealed that the four cities have a diverse set of bike-share programs and varied usage.

The study found that bike-sharing varies considerably across individual kiosks. In all four cities, the overwhelming majority of kiosks generate more two-location trips than round-trips. And in all four systems, round-trip activity is concentrated at a handful of kiosks located in parks or along bike trails.

“Recent discussions of bike sharing have focused on the large systems in Northeastern and Midwestern cities and tend to emphasize bike sharing as convenient means of commuting to work,” Shelton said. “While riders in Sun Belt cities make trips for a variety of purposes, including commuting, many riders — especially in the Texas cities – use bike share for recreation. Many of these kiosks near parks or bike trails are among the most heavily used stations in all four cities.”

In Houston and Fort Worth, only about one-third of trips are weekday two-location trips. The remaining two-thirds of the trips in these cities are round-trips or occur on weekends.

“This suggests that these programs cater primarily to recreational users,” said Kelsey Walker, a postbaccalaureate research fellow at the Kinder Institute and the study’s co-author.

However, in Denver and Austin, more than half of users’ trips are weekday two-location trips.

“These trips are most likely to replace peak-hour commuting trips made by other transportation modes,” Walker said.

Shelton and Walker hope the report will provide a richer understanding of how people use bike-share programs in lower-density and traditionally car-centric cities in the Sun Belt. As cities in the Sun Belt and around the country add, expand and implement bike-sharing systems, subsequent studies will examine kiosk characteristics and network dynamics more thoroughly.

“We hope that these findings will lead cities to view bike share not only as a novel form of public transit, but also as an accessible and exciting piece of park programming,” Shelton and Walker said. “Moreover, we hope that a closer look at the bike-sharing activity in these four cities will better equip decision-makers across the country to develop locally appropriate bike-sharing systems that capitalize on their cities’ existing strengths.”

You can see the full report here. There’s a brief video that accompanies it that is embedded at the Kinder Institute homepage and also in the Chron story that was written about this. That story notes that more of the downtown B-Cycle checkouts are one-way trips. With a big expansion coming, the expectation is that there will be more such trips overall in Houston. Not that there’s anything wrong with people using B-Cycle for recreation. I myself have used it entirely for short trips, mostly downtown where it’s a bit too far to walk in a timely manner and no other mode of transportation makes sense. Whatever people are using it for, people are using it, and there’s a lot more to come of it.

B-Cycle expansion coming

Good.

Houston area officials are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into widening Interstate 45, and they could be paying much more for even larger upcoming projects along the corridor.

But a comparatively-paltry sum is about to boost bike sharing in Houston in a big way.

The same transportation improvement plan aiming $140 million at I-45 includes $4.7 million meant to expand the B-Cycle program in the city. The plan is set for discussion Friday by the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council.

The money, including a 21 percent match from B-Cycle, will add stations in the Texas Medical Center and Rice Village in one phase, increase density in the downtown and Midtown area from the Med Center in another, before expanding east and southeast to EaDo and the University of Houston and Texas Southern University area.

“By the time this is finished, our goal is to go from 29 stations and 210 bikes to 100 stations with 800 bikes,” said Will Rub, director of Houston B-Cycle.

[…]

Having 800 bikes at Houston kiosks would build on what supporters have said is strong use of the bikes by Houston residents and visitors. From January to July, more than 60,000 bike checkouts occurred. The theory, following on similar reaction in Denver, is more stations and bikes exponentially increase use, provided the stations are where people want to go.

See here, here, and here for some background. According to the Mayor’s press release, about $3.8 million is coming from H-GAC, and the rest is from B-Cycle, which as he story notes has generally covered most of its operating costs. Having more stations will make B-Cycle a lot more usable; I personally have had a couple of recent occasions where I needed to get somewhere on the edges of downtown from my office, but the nearest B-Cycle station was far enough away from my destination that it wasn’t worth it. Especially now with the rerouted buses and the new rail lines, expanding B-Cycle access will make transit that much more convenient as well. I look forward to seeing where the new kiosks go. The Highwayman has more.

The MetroLab Network

From the inbox.

Rice University and the city of Houston will join forces with 20 other cities and 25 other universities from across the country to create MetroLab Network, a network of universities and city governments charged with collaborating on solutions to the challenges confronting urban infrastructure, city services and civic engagement. The partnership was announced today at a Smart Cities event held at the White House.

The partnerships, made up of university representatives and city decision-makers, will use technology and analysis to research, develop and deploy solutions to the problems facing the systems and infrastructure on which urban citizens and regional economies depend. The network will focus on common challenges facing cities and develop shared, scalable solutions that can be deployed across the network.

The projects can be undertaken solely by a city-university partnership or by a team of city-university partnerships facing similar challenges so they can leverage network resources and expertise. The MetroLab Network will be organized and operated by a management team, initially led by Carnegie Mellon University.

“One of Rice University’s ongoing priorities is engagement with the city of Houston, and the MetroLab Network is an ideal way to build on our existing efforts,” said Rice President David Leebron.

“We’re thrilled that Rice and Houston are part of the MetroLab Network,” said Bill Fulton, director of Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, which will be the network’s main point of contact for the Rice and city of Houston partnership. Experts at the Kinder Institute will play a role in putting the available data into context and generating ideas about which urban problems that data can help address. “The time is right for a great research partnership that will help Houston — and other cities as well,” he said.

“Rice University is one of this nation’s finest institutions of higher learning,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is a 1978 graduate of Rice. “Some of the best research minds around are available right at our front door. This partnership will allow us to tap into that wealth of knowledge to gain answers that will help us make informed future decisions in key areas.”

During the 2015-16 academic year, each city-university partnership will focus on three research projects to be completed by the end of the year. The city of Houston-Rice University projects will be:

Impact of housing change on neighborhoods and families

Significant anecdotal evidence indicates that in Houston, as in other large cities, families of modest means are being displaced by “gentrification” in neighborhoods close to the downtown area and being pushed to locations farther away from jobs and transit. Using city and county permit data on construction, demolition and substandard housing, Rice researchers will document the characteristics of housing and housing change in particular Houston neighborhoods, and compare them with current and changing neighborhood demographics. This research will be used to inform future housing and infrastructure policy in the city.

Impact of streetlights and neighborhoods

Using geographic information systems data about the location of streetlights and billing data about streetlight usage, Rice researchers will map streetlights in Houston and also map and analyze patterns reflecting when streetlights are in use or out of service. The streetlight data will be examined against data associated with neighborhood characteristics, crime, traffic accidents and other factors. This research will be used to inform the city’s decisions about where to locate new streetlights and how to prioritize streetlight repair.

Bike-share analysis

Using data provided by B-cycle, which operates Houston’s bike-share system, Rice researchers will conduct an analysis of bike-share usage and accessibility of bike-share station locations. Houston trends will be compared with trends in Austin, Fort Worth and Denver using data provided by B-cycle. This research will be used to assist the city of Houston and B-cycle in decisions about future locations of bike-share stations as well as improved management and operation of the bike-share system.

See here for more on the MetroLab Network, and read this Urban Edge post for some examples of what this will mean. These are important quality of life issues for cities, and the promise of this effort is to use data analytics to deliver them more efficiently. I’m excited to see what comes of it.

B-Cycle’s future

There’s some trouble in San Antonio.

San Antonio B-Cycle could be on the verge of following rideshare and disappearing from the San Antonio landscape, multiple sources have told the Rivard Report, unless it can win the local government, corporate and philanthropic financial support that bikeshare enjoys in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, and Austin. The same sources said Cindi Snell, the unpaid executive director since B-Cycle’s started here, announced at a Tuesday B-Cycle board meeting that she has decided to step down later this year. Snell has recently told friends and colleagues in the cycling community that she is exhausted after four years of unsuccessful efforts to win any major sponsorships and operating on a bare bones budget and pro bono support services to survive.

Sources say the B-Cycle board will have to consider shutting down or scaling back operations even as it seeks a new executive director, which it lacks funds to pay. One option would be to turn down the $1.2 million TXDOT grant to avoid the increased operating costs associated with an expanded network, but that would signal an end to rideshare’s growth in San Antonio, disappoint many neighborhoods awaiting stations, and the board would still face an underfunded system that would have to operate after losing Snell, bikeshare’s strongest and most visible advocate in San Antonio.

The bulk of funds that have built the San Antonio B-Cycle system flowed through the City’s budget from federal stimulus programs, and like the pending TXDOT grant, were for bikes and stations. Snell, co-owner of the Bike World cycling stores, has worked full-time for free while B-Cycle’s seven employees are paid modest salaries or hourly wages. The City, County and regional government entities do not contribute any funding to support B-Cycle. The 80/20 Foundation and Baptist Health Foundation have each contributed $50,000 grants this year, but no national company or locally-based company has shown interest in sponsoring bikeshare in the city.

That story, which has been shared 126 times after being posted to the San Antonio B-Cycle Facebook page, has generated promises from city leaders that they would work to save the program, but as yet I’ve not seen any reports saying that a sponsor or other funding source has been found. San Antonio was the first city in Texas to get B-Cycle, and it’s been very successful, with more stations and bikes and checkouts than Houston’s B-Cycle. It would be a big loss for them if it can’t sustain that success. Next City has more.

Meanwhile, Houston has a sponsor for its existing B-Cycle stations and is looking for more grant money to allow for further expansion.

Houston so far has avoided pitfalls, said Will Rub, director of Houston B-Cycle, by stretching the seed money it received from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas in 2013 to expand the system.

“That and the fact that we have operated on a very lean basis,” Rub said. “We have been able to cover approximately 70 percent of our operating expenses through the income generated by the system, therefore we’ve been able to stretch the sponsorship dollars. We’ve even had a few months where the system income has exceeded our monthly operating expenses.”

More money would help Houston to expand the system. Right now it is focused on downtown and nearby areas such as the Museum District, Midtown and Montrose. Adding stations or offering service in additional neighborhoods, like the Heights or close to the University of Houston and Memorial Park, would require corporate partnerships or grant funding.

Rub said he has applied for funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which doles out some federal money for transportation options such as biking. The proposal would be for $3.4 million from H-GAC, with the local B-Cycle matching 20 percent of that with money they collect from fares or raise via other sources.

“If we receive the award we will put a plan into action that will result in adding 71 more stations over the next two-plus years,” he said.

The plan would also add 600 bikes.

“That would establish a very well networked bike share program,” Rub said.

If the H-GAC proposal does not happen, Rub said, finding a title sponsor would be hugely important to maintaining and expanding the system.

“We, along with the entire bike share industry, feel that we can provide a great deal of value to a title sponsor,” Rub said. “But bike share is still a relatively new industry and doesn’t have the advertising industry metrics to justify the investment, from a sponsor’s perspective. That is the challenge faced by many of the programs around the country.”

I hope they can get that grant and execute that expansion plan. I also hope they will have the same kind of backing from the next Mayor as they have had from the current one. You know how I feel about this sort of thing.

Uptown needs bikes

So says this op-ed.

Always susceptible to gridlock, especially at Christmastime, the traffic jams now happen year-round and last longer each day. Clearly, Uptown badly needs convenient, reliable alternatives to cars for the tens of thousands of workers and residents who live, work and shop in the area, the largest business district in the nation outside of a traditional downtown.

One such alternative is bicycling. Houston has made impressive progress in recent years to make bicycling safer and more convenient.

The Bayou Greenways Initiative, Safe Passing Law and Complete Streets policy are recent examples, and an updated Bikeway Master Plan, now underway, will identify additional on- and off-street facilities to fill in the gaps in Houston’s bikeway network.

Uptown, however, remains dangerous to navigate by bike, especially during rush hour. Surrounded on three sides by major freeways, there are few safe options to enter the area by bike. Once there, a cyclist must navigate streets designed solely to move cars as quickly as possible, with few accommodations for cyclists. Post Oak Boulevard, Uptown’s signature street, is an obvious example. While biking there can be a death-defying experience, even walking is a daunting and frightening prospect, with sidewalks located right next to speeding traffic.

The proposed Uptown dedicated bus lanes project (“Bus project along Post Oak appears ready to roll ahead” Page B3, Jan. 29) will provide one alternative to driving, especially for commuters in the suburbs who have access to park and ride routes that run to the existing Northwest and proposed Bellaire/Uptown transit centers. The project features a total rebuild of Post Oak Boulevard to add dedicated bus lanes in the middle, while preserving existing lanes for cars.

Unfortunately, the plan as currently proposed includes no bike lanes, and maintains wide, high-speed main traffic lanes. Thus, while it will provide an alternative to driving for suburban commuters, the current dedicated bus lane plan does nothing for Uptown workers who live close enough to bike to work, but who won’t risk their lives (and their families’ livelihoods) to do so. It also does little for local residents who might like to bike to local shops and restaurants or into adjoining neighborhoods and parks, including Memorial Park (now a part of the Uptown tax increment reinvestment zone.)

Adding dedicated bike lanes to the dedicated bus lane project would provide an additional alternative to those who want access to shops, workplaces and restaurants along Post Oak, as well as provide connectivity to adjoining neighborhoods, Memorial Park and the Greater Houston bikeway network.

Bike lanes would also enhance the pedestrian realm by providing a buffer between sidewalks and automobile traffic.

I agree completely. It doesn’t make sense to spend all that money redoing Post Oak Lane and not end up with a street that is more bike and pedestrian friendly. There are two ways to deal with excessive traffic in destinations like Uptown: Make it easier to get there without driving, primarily for commuters, and make it easier for those who are already there to get around within the area without driving. Downtown does both of those things. Uptown is working on the first one, with the BRT line and the HOV lane. It really needs to do the other, and the opportunity to do that begins with the BRT line construction on Post Oak. I want to be clear that this is the Uptown Management District’s responsibility. Metro will operate the BRT line once it is built, but the Management District is doing the design and construction. Please do it right the first time, y’all.

2015 Mayoral manifesto: Transportation

Preliminaries

Please note that I have called this part of my manifesto “Transportation” and not “Traffic”. I agree that traffic sucks and that the Mayoral candidates ought to have some ideas for how to deal with it. It’s my opinion that the best answers involve providing as many viable alternatives to getting into the car and contributing to the problem as possible. I believe a lot of progress on this has been made under Mayor Parker, but there’s a lot of unfinished business, a lot of business that’s just getting started, and a lot of business that hasn’t started or may not even be on the drawing board yet, but needs to be. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started.

Metro

The reclamation and revitalization of Metro has been one of Mayor Parker’s greatest successes. That agency was a dumpster fire when she took office – I had no idea how far off track it had gotten. It was Mayor Parker’s appointment of a stellar Metro Board and their subsequent tabbing of George Greanias as CEO/general fix-it man that started the salvation process and got us to where we are now, on the cusp of the last two rail lines opening, the bus reimagining, the marginal sales tax revenue collection, and the generally restored trust in the agency by stakeholders and the public. All Mayors get to appoint their own Metro boards. It should be a priority for all of the Mayoral candidates to ensure they appoint a Board as good as this one has been, and to build on the good work they have done.

Rail

As noted, by the time the next Mayor is inaugurated, all of the current Metro rail construction (with the exception of the Harrisburg line overpass and extension) will be done. With the Universities line in limbo, you’d think that might be the end of rail construction for the foreseeable future, but that’s far from the case. The Uptown BRT line is expected to be operational by mid-2017. There are three commuter rail lines under discussion, one of which – the US90A Southwest Rail Corridor (SWRC) line – was included in the 2003 Metro referendum and which was moving forward as recently as 2012 before being put on hold while the other lines were being finished. Another proposed commuter rail line, along the 290 corridor, would connect to the Uptown BRT line and might wind up sharing space, if not tracks, with the proposed Houston to Dallas high-speed rail line. That privately-financed venture, which is undergoing environmental review and discussion with potentially affected communities, is still seeking a terminus in Houston, and while downtown is preferred it presents some big challenges. One possible solution to that might be to have it end at the Northwest Transit Center, and connect to a light rail line that would need to be built and which could be shared with that 290 corridor commuter line. It’s hard to know how much of this might happen – very little is set in stone, and much could change, or could just not come about – but the potential is there for a lot more rail to be built, and while the Mayor would not be directly involved in any of this, it’s fair to say that he could have an impact on the outcome if he wanted to. For that matter, who’s to say that the Universities line couldn’t move forward someday? I want a Mayor that’s willing and able to advocate for and abet these projects.

Bicycles

As has been noted several times, Houston is a much more bike-friendly city now than it was a few years ago. We have a growing bike share program, an extensive and also growing network of off-road bike trails, a pioneer dedicated on-road bike lane downtown to help connect one trail to another, a local safe passing ordinance with a more comprehensive plan for bike safety in the works, and we have tweaked parking requirement regulations to enable bike parking. But as with rail, with all that progress there is much to be done. Most of the bike trail work has yet to be done; for the work that has been enabled by the passage of a bill making CenterPoint rights of way available as bike paths, it’s still in the conceptual stage. B-Cycle has been a big success but some kiosks are more successful than others, and it’s all still within biking distance of downtown. Moving it farther out, and integrating it more tightly with existing and future transit should be on the to do list. And of course, better connecting people to the present and future bike infrastructure, perhaps via Neighborhood Greenways or something similar, needs to be on it as well. More people on bikes means fewer people in cars. Surely that will help ease traffic woes a bit.

Pedestrians and sidewalks

Again, there is progress here, with Complete Streets and a focus on making residential streets more residential. But Houston is a dangerous place to walk, and a lot of streets have no sidewalks or essentially useless sidewalks. Improving the pedestrian experience is key to making transit more attractive. Improving pedestrian safety may require lowering speed limits. What do our Mayoral hopefuls think about these things?

Roads

So, um, what’s going on with ReBuild Houston? It would be nice to get some clear direction, and a lot more regular information, on that. Beyond that, all I really care about is keeping an eye on TxDOT and making sure they don’t do anything too destructive to existing infrastructure and neighborhoods in their quest to do something with I-45. The next Mayor needs to stay on top of that and do whatever it takes to prevent anything bad from happening.

That’s my view of transportation issues. What would you add to this list?

Getting more people to use B-Cycle

Houston’s B-Cycle program has been a big success overall, but not in all locations.

Despite the growth, however, few of the nearly 70,000 checkouts between January and mid-October are coming from three B-Cycle stations specifically placed to expand the system into Third Ward and Northside neighborhoods. According to B-Cycle data, 1,151 of the 68,419 checkouts occurred at the Leonel Castillo Community Center north of the central business district, Project Row Houses in the Third Ward and John Clayton Homes east of U.S. 59 near Navigation.

For comparison, the station near Hermann Park Lake logged 7,288 checkouts from Jan. 1 to Oct. 13.

B-Cycle operates by allowing people to check out bikes from 28 different spots around Houston with a daily, weekly or annual membership. The bike can be checked out for 60 minutes before incurring rental charges of $2 per half-hour, and checked back into any B-Cycle kiosk. Within the membership period a person can check out a bike as many times as they wish.

The bikes are popular with downtown riders traveling to areas around the various stations, and with local visitors. Officials also hoped the bikes would catch on in nearby neighborhoods where car ownership might be lower, and exercise options less available.

Connecting with locals has been a challenge. Will Rub, director of Houston’s B-Cycle program, acknowledged in July that use in the area neighborhoods has been less than expected. Some residents do not have the credit card needed to get a membership, and might not be aware of the options for using the bike.

[…]

To encourage use in Houston, Rub said he is working on a program with the Houston Housing Authority, which manages John Clayton Homes, to provide annual passes to the community center. The community center will check the passes in and out so residents have access to the bikes.

That seems like a good idea. I wonder how much outreach has been done overall. It’s been my opinion that B-Cycle needs to be seen in part as an extension of the Metro transit network, so I’d like to see more kiosks near well-used transit stops. The Castillo Center is a few blocks away from the Quitman light rail station, but you’d have to know it was there and you’d have to be going in that direction for it to make sense to use. Just a thought. Anyway, I hope they figure it out.

Biking in Dallas

They’re pretty far behind other Texas cities in infrastructure and general bike-ability.

City leaders, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, are eager to boost Big D’s cycling options — and soon. They’re looking at everything from more bike lanes to off-street trails, from bike-sharing programs to raising awareness about how bikes and cars should share the road.

What caused a 36-year-old engineer who’s lived in the bike-loving cities of Austin, Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz. — but who’s also tackled major highway projects for the Texas Department of Transportation — to become the bike czar in car-centric Dallas?

The Dallas Morning News pedaled alongside [Ashley] Haire to find out.

Like most non-natives living in Dallas, she was lured here by a job.

Haire had been doing postdoctoral work at Portland State University. Portland was where she “drank the Kool-Aid” on biking, she said. In the 21/2 years she lived there, she put only 6,000 miles on her car.

“It became the lifestyle, in every sense of the word,” she said.

But TxDOT had an opening for a project manager on the massive reconstruction of Interstates 30 and 35E in downtown Dallas. Her education is in civil engineering, with degrees from the University of Arizona and the University of Texas at Austin.

And so, a couple of years ago, she came to Dallas to make the jump from bikes to freeways.

[…]

What are Haire’s thoughts on Dallas’ hot-button biking topics?

The helmet law? Haire wears a helmet whenever she hops on a bike, but she supported the City Council’s decision to repeal the helmet requirement for riders older than 17. Adults can make their own informed decisions, she figures.

Expanding hike-and-bike trails? She’s all for it, even though she notes that hike-and-bike trails come under the park department, not her office. She said the Dallas system is quite good. The key, she said, will be better connecting those off-street trails with on-street infrastructure.

Bike-sharing? She’s a fan of those programs, which feature rental stands at various locations where people can pick up or drop off a bike. But she worries that Dallas doesn’t yet have the biking infrastructure to support a citywide program.

Dallas is the only one of Texas’ five biggest cities to not already have a bike sharing program, and El Paso is working out the details with B-Cycle as we speak, with a goal of beginning operations early next year. I don’t know what the specifics are for biking in Dallas and the challenges that Ashley Haire will face, but some things like sharing road space and motorists’ attitudes are universal. I wish her and her city the best in getting up to speed.

B-Cycle keeps racking up good numbers

Great to see.

From meager beginnings, Houston’s bikesharing program has blossomed into a big draw for visitors and locals looking for a quick ride.

For the first six months of 2014, Houston B-Cycle logged 43,530 checkouts, according to agency data. The system had about 2,000 checkouts in all of 2012, the year it started with three stations and 18 bikes.

“We are excited about continuing the expansion and operations,” Houston B-Cycle director Will Rub said. “We still feel like we are on track for our five-year plan for having 100 stations and 1,000 bikes by 2017.”

The smooth ride to a 29-station, 225-bike system hasn’t been all downhill, however. Use of a couple of stations meant to move B-Cycle into targeted areas is well below expectations, and three bikes, valued at about $1,200 each, have gone missing.

The bumps are balanced by good ridership even in the city’s hotter months, if June is any indication. As the weather warmed, the system still averaged more than 220 checkouts a day. Based on calculations of how long the bikes were checked out and an average travel distance, officials estimate the bikes have traveled more than 143,000 miles this year.

[…]

Denver’s growth is a good aspiration for Houston, however. Its system, one of the country’s largest, logged 263,000 trips last year. Denver has 84 stations and 624 bikes.

Houston’s long-term plans mirror what Denver has already built in some sections of the city. Stations are spaced about every 1,000 feet, making it easy for a rider to grab a bike for a quick trip down the street for lunch or an appointment. From there, stations have been added to expand the edges of the system.

Although Houston has a group of committed, frequent riders, it hasn’t hit the level where grabbing a bike becomes a viable option for most people, Rub said.

“Right now we don’t have the station density that really contributes to it being a really integrated network,” Rub said.

Houston B-Cycle is hoping to lure a title sponsor – like New York’s 6,000-bike system did with Citibank – to commit $4 million over five years. Paired with grant money and federal funds for air quality improvements, the title sponsor would give Houston the capital to blanket many areas, such as the Texas Medical Center.

“I think that network in and of itself is going to create some very impressive numbers when we are in the (medical center),” Rub said.

I renewed my membership this weekend. I don’t use B-Cycle as often as I thought I would, but when I do use it, it’s been for the reasons I expected – to get me places in and near downtown that are too far to reasonably walk but which make no sense for me to drive to. A lot of folks – some visitors, some locals – have used B-Cycle on impulse, which is good for the system since they pay a slightly higher rate than members do. It would be nice to understand why some of the stations have been lightly used, and as I’ve said before I hope all interested parties are talking about how best to integrate B-Cycle with the new bus routes going forward. I can’t wait to see what B-Cycle’s numbers look like next year and the year after.

There’s an app for alternate mobility in Houston

This makes a lot of sense.

Technology companies might soon upend Houston’s paid ride market, but they’re already adding new options for getting around the region.

Local groups and software developers are tapping into Houston’s sophisticated traffic management system to offer solutions beyond heading onto the freeway. The hope is that better information will help people decide when their best option is to walk, grab a bus, ride a bicycle or share a ride. And when they drive, real-time information can help them choose the best route – and to find a parking spot.

“Not only is there individual benefit but collective benefit,” said Nick Cohn, global congestion expert for the mapping company TomTom.

Austin-based RideScout [launched last] Monday in 69 cities, including Houston. The free smartphone app connects people with other services nearby, such as Metro buses and trains, taxis, ZipCar car rental locations and B-Cycle kiosks.

Laying out the options could help some people avoid solo car travel by picking transit or a carpool.

“When people in Houston realize they can commute in and are going to be (a passenger) in a car and not behind the wheel and when they get downtown realize they can ride transit or take a cab … it frees them up,” said Joseph Kopser, co-founder and CEO of RideScout.

[…]

Metro and Houston B-Cycle have their own smartphone apps that help link interested riders to their services. The problem is these apps focus on one product rather than laying out all the options, Kopser said.

“This was no different than the airlines 15 years ago,” Kopser said. “They all had websites, and when you were searching for flights you had to go to all the different websites.”

Since then, sites have emerged that gather fares from all carriers and then show users options. Kopser said RideScout is aiming to provide the same service for travel around cities. The app displays all of the services, as well as ridesharing and traffic data, on one map.

Houston can be – how can I put this delicately? – a challenging city to navigate, especially if you’re new or just visiting here. One of the unsung values of public transportation is that it’s a lot friendlier to visitors than driving in an unfamiliar city is. Connecting the dots on our transportation network will make getting around easier and less stressful for a lot of people. The app is available here, and according to their blog they have information on Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and El Paso as well.

More on the Metro bus system reimagining

Christopher Andrews has a practical look at Metro’s reimagined bus network.

Nearly two weeks ago METRO released the System Reimagining proposal, arguably the biggest service adjustment in METRO’s existence. METRO is currently welcoming feedback on the system. I hope most feedback will be positive, as the reimagined system should provide an opportunity for ridership for more people, and to a larger area of the Houston region, without an increase in costs or major infrastructural improvements. The reimagined system helps to reduce redundancies in coverage and increases the number of “frequent” bus routes throughout the region, creating a grid-like network of bus routes in which riders rely on transfers to reach their destinations.

I looked at the map of new routes and how they would impact my commute, and I thought about improvements needed to accommodate more riders and transfers. Examine proposed routes yourself to learn their physical coverages, frequencies, and surrounding conditions. I could think of no better way to examine the proposed routes than by bike. You can do the same. Then send your comments to METRO or attend a public meeting. It’s time for Houstonians to own their transit routes.

I followed the northwest portion of the proposed 11-Heights-Dallas-Telephone route that goes through the Heights and Montrose into Downtown and then on to the East Side. I kept in mind any infrastructural improvements that are needed, like bus stops, curb cuts, benches, signalization, crosswalks, or bus shelters that would make transferring and ridership more accommodating and comfortable.

He has a lot more at his personal blog. I really like the approach he’s taking here. People get to bus stops by walking or biking to them. If we really want to maximize the potential gains in ridership from the new routes, we need to make sure people can get to the bus stops easily and safely. The city of Houston needs to work with Metro to ensure that sidewalk improvements are in place or in the works for the new routes, and B-Cycle should examine the new map to see where new kiosks might go. I hope to hear more about this as we go.

Reading those posts led me to two others that came out at the time of Metro’s reimagining announcement: one from Jarrett Walker, who was one of the consultants Metro used on the new map, and one from Citylab, which mostly summarized the work Metro and Walker had done. Remember how I said in my post about the reimagining announcement that I wondered if some of the usual light rail-hating suspects would have anything to say about this, since they all claimed to be big bus fans? Well, I haven’t gone trawling through their blogs – life is too short – but I do know that Bill King, the Chron’s one and only op-ed page columnist, has written four pieces since then, and none of them have been about Metro and buses. Nope, it’s been pension, pension, pension, and I hate light rail, always a classic. I’m sure he’ll get around to it sooner or later.

Metro reports an increase in boardings with bikes

From the inbox:

The number of people using bikes to extend their bus trips (or vice versa) increased more than 47 percent jumping from 12,111 bike bus boardings in January 2013 to 17,859 in January this year, That’s according to METRO figures which do not account for bikes taken onto light-rail trains.

At the METRO Downtown Transit Center you’ll find a bustling bike-share station, and at bus stops and train stations bikes ready to be loaded onto bike racks.

“We are preparing for and trying to cultivate, these folks as repeat customers. We’re doing that with bike racks on buses and at bike stands at bus stops. We’ve installed racks on our new trains and are working with the city to provide better infrastructure with bike lid storage at Park&Ride lots and B-Cycle facilities at our Downtown Transit Center,” says METRO’s Interim President & CEO Tom Lambert.

“The upward trend is gratifying. It’s good exercise, gets cars off the road, relieves congestion and certainly cuts emissions that impact our air quality. We work with bus drivers to be more aware of cyclist needs and the rights of the road,” Lambert continued.

METRO has encouraged bike ridership through collaboration with area agencies – advancing what was a grant for a three-station bike share start-up program to the 29 stations and 227 bikes it has today. Houston B-Cycle has registered more than 55,650 checkouts since opening – which comes to about 1,200 per week since the program expanded in March 2013. One of the most popular bike rental stations is located at METRO headquarters at 1900 Main St.

METRO is also working on a Transit-Bike Connection study as well as partnering with Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) on a Bike and Ride Access Implementation plan. Meanwhile Rice University engineering students turned to METRO to work on their first project — the design of a rack to transport three bicycles at a time via bus. Their METRO-based project won this year’s Texas Department of Transportation’s College Challenge.

That team was one of three finalists asked to develop concepts to help Texas mobility, connectivity and transportation safety issues. Students were motivated by a recent H-GAC study anticipating growth. The three-rack solution is one of several by Houston Action Research Team (HART) undergrads.

Good to hear, and another bit of positive news from Metro at the start of the year. As you know, I’m a big fan of integrating bike and transit networks as a way to extend them. The release also noted that Metro topped 22,000 bike boardings in August, so while the overall trend may be positive – they didn’t give figures for other months – there’s still room for monthly growth. I hope it continues.

End of year B-Cycle report

B-Cycle has been in Houston for nine months, having launched in early April. So far, it’s done pretty well.

The B-Cycle system’s 29th station was christened earlier this month in front of Clayton Homes. Officials said they hoped to provide new customers for bike-sharing and new opportunities for low-income families.

“The more you use the bikes, the more excited you become,” said Tory Gunsolley, president of the Houston Housing Authority.

In many U.S. cities, bike-sharing has become popular mainly among people who choose to bike for recreation. Critics say bike-sharing hasn’t reached low-income neighborhoods, however.

Houston’s build-out didn’t push into poorer neighborhoods, but it didn’t start in wealthy enclaves either. From three downtown stations, the system pushed south and west into Midtown, Montrose and the Museum District. It subsequently spread to the Heights, Eado and the Northside.

Houston will put B-Cycle kiosks where it can, when it can, as corporate partnerships and funding allow, said Houston Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian. She said having stations at the University of Houston, Rice University and Texas Southern University will be the next important steps.

“We want to double and triple this program and I know that we can do that,” Spanjian said.

Connecting the bikes with communities that need transportation is part of the strategy, Gunsolley and Houston B-Cycle director Will Rub said. The bikes could be an asset for people who need to travel a few blocks and don’t want to wait for a bus or ask someone for a ride.

[…]

Use of a kiosk near Project Row Houses, a Third Ward arts group, has been brisk, said Assata Richards, community liaison for the group.

“They use it to go to the grocery store, they use it to get around the neighborhood,” Richards said.

Looks to me like the Project Row kiosk is a short ride away from the planned Southeast Line station at Elgin and Scott. That will be an excellent location for future kiosk, since it will make the Southeast Line more accessible to these folks. If the Universities Line ever gets built, a kiosk by the TSU station, at the west end of campus, would serve a similar purpose, just on a much farther out timeline. You know me, I’m all about linking bikes to transit. Two connected networks are better than two separate networks. There’s already a kiosk near the Dynamo Stadium light rail stop, which is the nearest neighbor to the Runnels location, so it’s already networked.

Ridership of Houston’s bike-sharing system, Texas’ first, continues to grow. After a quick expansion from three to 27 kiosks in less than a year, ridership jumped. Use peaked in July with 7,225 checkouts but fell to 4,053 the following month before rebounding slightly.

“The heat in August had an impact on the leisure riders primarily and the cold and wet weather in late November had a similar impact,” Rub said in an email.

I have not used my B-Cycle membership as much as I would have liked. My plan was mostly to use it during lunchtime to expand my dining options and also possibly for certain types of errands. I have done those things, just not very often. One obstacle that I haven’t figured out how to overcome is the helmet. I don’t like riding without one, so I have to plan to bring my helmet with me to the office if I plan to ride later. That has its own logistical issues, as I’m sure you can imagine. I do want to ride more as the weather warms up, so I need to get that sorted out.

Austin B-Cycle coming

Took ’em long enough.

Service will launch Dec. 21 with 110 bikes and 11 stations, including one sponsored by the Chronicle. The full project will be completed by March 1, 2014, with expanded stations planned to service the UT-Austin campus, Riverside Drive, Zilker Park, and East Austin.

These first locations were whittled down from the suggestions provided by Austinites over the summer. Voters were also able to choose the bicycle color, ultimately settling on red. The adjustable bikes will each be outfitted with front and rear lights, bells, and baskets. Day-to-day operation and maintenance will be handled by the Bike Share of Austin nonprofit.

Annual memberships for the service will be offered at $80, weekly passes at $25, and day passes at $8. Less frequent users can check out a bike for free for the first 30 minutes, but will be charged $4 for every half hour thereafter.

Huh. You get an hour for free in Houston. Not sure why the shorter time limit in Austin. Anyway, the Daily Texan adds some further detail.

“There are many top 10 lists we like being on, but being a top ranked city for traffic problems is a real concern,” city councilman Chris Riley said. “Traffic issues have a direct impact on the livability of our city, and it has become clear that to protect our quality of life, we need to provide more transportation options for our community.”

The program, which will include 400 bikes at 40 stations by March, does not currently offer a discount for University students, said Elliott McFadden, Austin B-Cycle executive director.

“We have not had any further discussion yet with the University of Texas about student pricing, so we won’t have anything on that for a while,” McFadden said.

Because the system’s stations are focused on the downtown area, Riley said he wants to increase its accessibility to students.

“I’d love to find ways to make the system more convenient for UT students,” Riley said. “We’ll be continuing to explore those possibilities, but in the meantime, for any UT student who wants to connect with the network, there will be stations not too far from [the University].”

[…]

The first 11 stations will be downtown along Congress as well as around the Convention Center and Whole Foods, McFadden said. The additional 29 stations are scheduled to be installed by March 1.

None of the initial 40 stations will be on campus, but there will be some stations on the Drag and possibly one near the Blanton Museum of Art, McFadden said.

This was announced in January. Integrating UT campus locations into their network should be a near-term goal. Unlike Houston, that campus is pretty close to downtown, so that should be doable. They may be able to install UT stations before Houston’s B-cycle gets stations at Rice or UH. Be that as it may, welcome aboard, Austin. Via Houston Tomorrow.

Improving bike-to-transit

I wish them luck.

A group of Rice University students is working with various community groups and Metropolitan Transit Authority officials to better integrate cycling and public transit, as the city’s bike-sharing system prepares for another expansion.

Make no mistake: Biking and transit will continue to be specks in the rear-view mirror of the automobile when it comes to traveling in Houston. The city historically lacks widespread interest in either, and the road network has to work first and foremost for cars and trucks.

Even some of the city’s attributes, like flat land, can pose challenges. So do differences in how people bike. While some riders look at cycling as a choice, strapping their expensive bike on the back of their car and driving it wherever they want, in some Houston communities bikes are a means of day-to-day transportation.

“There is no real single solution to all the challenges,” said Austin Jarvis, a Rice architecture student and frequent cyclist.

Jarvis and fellow students Skye Kelty, Laura Lopez and Maria Luisa Rangel are trying to solve a handful of problems, working with other student groups in some cases.

The quartet has already conducted surveys of bus riders in hopes of identifying unmet needs.

In addition, engineering students over the next year will work to design a rack for the front of buses that can hold three bicycles rather than two.

[…]

Better real-time transit data, via smartphones for example, could alert cyclists if the bus they’re planning to catch is running late, Lopez said.

Signs along the trails alerting riders to nearby stops, or just the best routes around town, could also help. Even along the new city bike trails, signs often are more useful to pedestrians than to cyclists, who have to slow down to read them.

Designing them more like city street signs, which can be read from a moving car, is just one small step, Lopez said.

These are all good ideas, and as you know I support better integration of the bike and bus networks. It’s true that these solutions are fairly small-bore, but they’re also pretty cheap, and they help populations that are underserved and in parts of town that don’t have many alternatives for increasing capacity. We need more like this.

Six new B-Cycle locations announced

From the B-Cycle monthly newsletter:

6 NEW B-stations coming this month!
We are happy to announce our new locations!

When we launched our pilot program in May of 2012 we were anxious and excited to see how Houston would respond to a bike share program. As you are probably aware, the reaction has been incredibly positive and we are now expanding again! We will be installing SIX additional stations later this month!

1. Spotts Park- 401 S. Heights Blvd
2. Taft & Fairview- 2401 Taft St.
3. The Menil Collection/ Alabama & Mandell- 1529 W. Alabama St.
4. Leonel Castillo Community Center/ South St. & Henry- 2109 South St.
5. Milam & Webster- 2215 Milam St.
6. Project Row House/ Holman & Live Oak- 2521 Holman St.

The first three are basically Montrose – the far north end, the east side near Midtown, and farther south – the Leonel Castillo Community Center is north of downtown, just east of where I-10 and I-45 cross, the Milam location is on that dense little patch of Midtown just south of I-45, and the Holman location is east of downtown. As noted on Facebook when they teased the news last week, they’re spreading out from their “established footprint”, and you can sort of get a hint from there where they might go next. The Highwayman has more, including a map that shows all the current and new locations.

More on Metro’s bus strategy

The anticipated “re-imagining” of Metro’s bus service is underway.

The “new” Metro is still prioritizing things in an old way, splitting its priorities evenly between ridership growth and coverage to areas where officials know the bus provides the only viable option for many residents. Metro strives to serve anyone who needs a bus, which takes away from its ability to put buses where they’re most in demand.

In a process they call “re-imagining,” Metro officials are examining bus routes and policies in advance of three new rail lines opening between now and late 2014. They hope to better coordinate bus and rail service and increase ridership while keeping costs flat.

Legal requirements don’t mean Metro must cover everyone. Ridership, with some conditions, can trump coverage. If Metro focuses on high-volume routes, its bus ridership could grow by double-digit percentages. Such a change could deprive less than 1 percent of current riders of convenient access, Walker said.

Members of a Metro focus group are overwhelmingly telling the agency to tilt toward serving neighborhoods ripe for increased ridership. In a poll, more than half of respondents said Metro should focus 75 percent of its efforts on ridership and 25 percent on coverage. Only three of the 46 members of the group said Metro needed more coverage consideration.

The focus group of local residents, planners and business and elected officials meets periodically to discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of the proposed changes. Traffic Engineers Inc., a local transportation planning company, won a $1.1 million contract in January to consult on the re-imagining effort and conduct public meetings over a year-long process.

See here for some background. The goal is to increase ridership, and there is a lot that can be done at minimal cost to coverage, but that still means potentially cutting some people off from their main or only source of transportation. These are never easy things to do. I’ve suggested before that Metro seek to integrate its bus network more comprehensively with B-Cycle and Houston’s expanding bike network, as I believe that will help make Metro buses more accessible to more people. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Chron favors Uptown transit plan

Good to see, and I think they make a decent point.

We’re glad that Houston-area transportation officials have approved federal funds for an Uptown bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

[…]

But we’re struck by [Harris County Judge Ed] Emmett’s vote against the plan at the Galveston-Houston Area Council Transportation Policy Council.

Emmett is no knee jerk mass transit opponent. Harris County’s resident transit nerd, these sorts of issues are his bread and butter, and the Uptown Houston Management District should heed his concerns. If the BRT is going to be built for office workers, then it should meet those needs.

We believe that means bus stops large enough and service often enough to accommodate rush-hour crowds; protected crosswalks and wide sidewalks that make it easy to get from buses to the office; shade and cover to make those walks comfortable. Adding B-Cycle rental stations and designated bike routes to this Uptown project could also help bridge the gap from bus stop to office door.

Unlike downtown’s Park and Ride buses, stops won’t be immediately outside of office buildings and there isn’t an underground tunnel system to avoid the heat. Houston neighborhoods are rarely built with pedestrians in mind, and BRT will only live up to the full potential if this overhaul of Uptown transit addresses every inch of the commuter route – transfers and walks included.

See here for the background. I am of course delighted to see the Chron get on board with the idea of using B-Cycle to enhance and extend the BRT/commuter bus network, since I’ve been advocating for that all along. I do agree that it would be wise for the Uptown Management District to take pedestrian concerns seriously. If Judge Emmett has any thoughts about how those concerns might be addressed, I’m sure we’d be glad to hear them. The bottom line remains that this is a worthwhile idea, and we should do every reasonable thing we can to make it work.

On using B-Cycle

The Chron had a nice lifestyle section story about B-Cycle last week.

B-cycles are appearing all over downtown and Midtown. You may have seen them, parked at racks with self-serve kiosks, where riders are able to enter their payment information, detach the bike and go.

B-cycle is a program of Houston Bike Share, a nonprofit organization funded by federal grants. The program started in May 2012 with 18 bikes planted at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston City Hall and Market Square. Success was immediate. Today 173 bikes are available at 21 stations in downtown, Midtown and Montrose, with more planned.

Will Rub, the director of Houston Bike Share, is passionate about the program.

“Our prices are so much better than most other cities’. Denver carries an $80 annual cost and a weekly rate of $20; New York’s annual rate is $95 while the weekly is $25. You can rent a Houston B-cycle bike for as little as $5 for 24 hours; $15 for seven days and $65 for a year,” Rub said.

But there’s a catch: “You can only use the bike for one hour at a time.”

That means someone who wants to ride a B-cycle to work must pick up a bike in the morning and park it when he arrives at his destination. He must use another bike to ride home in the afternoon.

Because the bikes are linked to computers, Rub can track who takes a bike at any given time and where he drops it off. He said several residents of the Sabine Lofts near the Sabine Street Bridge will pick up bikes about 7:30 a.m., ride for four to six minutes, then leave them at buildings downtown. The stations are open 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, though bikes can be returned at any time.

Not a whole lot there that would be news to anyone who has been paying attention to B-Cycle. I suspect this was an introductory story for those who haven’t followed it closely – Page One of the lifestyle section will do that. I don’t have any particular analysis of it, I just wanted to note that having moved to a downtown office a couple of weeks ago, I finally got a chance to break in my own B-Cycle membership. I rode to and from Phoenician Market for lunch. That would have been a ten-minute-plus walk for me, not terribly inviting in the heat, but was much quicker and less arduous on a bike, since the nice thing about riding is that you create a breeze for yourself. My way of thinking of this is that having B-Cycle available – there’s a kiosk two blocks from my office – enables me to expand my range of lunch possibilities. I can get farther in a short time span, with my car being an impractical option (and sometimes an unavailable one, if Tiffany needs it at lunchtime). I’ve got my eye on the Food Truck Park and Stanton’s City Bites for the future. Maybe the north end of Midtown – there’s a bunch of stuff there on West Gray, just south of I-45. All practical and doable with a bike, but not by any other means. I’m getting enthusiastic thinking about it.

On a related note, I had a doctor’s appointment last week. My doctor’s office is 1.3 miles from where I work, according to Google Maps. Way too far to walk, and a big hassle to drive since it means going from one multi-story parking lot to another – and having to pay for the privilege at my destination – but a snap on a bike. To avoid any concerns about securing the bike or keeping it longer than the 60-minutes-free period, I rode from one kiosk to another, which was four blocks away from the office. Given that I’d have had to walk four blocks to get my car anyway, my trip took no more time than driving would have, and it was free. You just can’t beat that.

Does this fit into the Chron’s critique of B-Cycle as “toys for urban bohemians” rather than “legitimate transportation”? Well, beyond the fact that if I’m a bohemian then the term has lost all meaning, how is this not “legitimate” transportation? These destinations are all too far to walk, but are within five minutes of my B-Cycle kiosk. It’s still a car off the street, even if it’s not at rush hour, and even if the thought of driving to one of these places – after walking four blocks to my parking garage, and not having any guarantee of finding parking at some of these destinations – is ludicrous. It makes downtown a better experience for me as an employee there, and though I do have a car available to me because I carpool with my wife, B-Cycle makes taking transit to downtown more attractive, since you needn’t feel as limited for lunch options. That’s my point about the Uptown transit plan, and why I think B-Cycle expansion out there will help address Judge Emmett’s concerns about people not wanting to give up their cars. I bet if it was pitched properly, you might be able to get the Uptown Management District and/or some of the businesses there to kick in for a piece of the cost to put kiosks there. It’s good to have options, and B-Cycle provides them.

H-GAC approves Uptown transportation funding

Good.

Houston-area transportation officials approved a plan Friday to use $61.8 million in federal funds to help build bus-only lanes along Post Oak Boulevard in the Uptown area.

[…]

The project, sponsored by the Uptown Management District, widens Post Oak to add two center lanes for buses that will shuttle riders from two Metropolitan Transit Authority transit centers into the bustling Uptown business area. The $177.5 million project is slated to start construction in 2015, said John Breeding, Uptown’s president.

Breeding and other Uptown area business leaders told the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council the project could be a game-changer in terms of how people commute into the area to work and to shop.

“We are convinced it will improve mobility well beyond its neighborhood,” said Jack Drake, president of the Greenspoint District.

See here and here for the background. The plan to install BRT as a (temporary?) replacement for light rail along the Uptown Line has gotten the bulk of the attention, but the addition of HOV lanes is likely the bigger deal. Somewhat strangely to me, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who voted No, expressed skepticism about that aspect of the plan.

“I am afraid we are going to look up in 10 years and say, ‘What did we do that for?’ ” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

Emmett, chairman of the transportation council, said the project followed the rules and on paper warranted the funding commitment from local officials.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s the right project to solve the Uptown area’s serious traffic problems, said Emmett, expressing doubts that Houston residents would get out of their cars to take a bus to work.

“I think I know Houstonians enough to know they are going to want to drive,” Emmett said.

Unlike downtown, where park-and-ride buses drop commuters off right in front of major buildings, someone leaving an office on Post Oak would have to cross wide grass medians and wait at an outdoor transit stop in the middle of the street.

“When it’s 95 degrees, is anybody going to do that?” Emmett asked.

You hear that “it gets hot in Houston” argument often for why non-car-oriented projects won’t be worth it. It’s true we have hot summers, but that’s only three months out of the year. The rest of the year is great weather for being outside. We’re still talking about a fairly short distance to walk to get from bus to building. I’m sorry, but I don’t see this as a good reason to oppose the plan, especially given how awful traffic around the Galleria is. I think plenty of people would be happy to have an alternative to that.

One argument that I can see is that once you’ve taken a bus into Uptown, you’re stranded when you want to go to lunch. Downtown there are tons of options in easy walking distance – if you drive into downtown to work, depending on how close your garage is to your office, you can likely get to numerous lunch places in the time it would take you to walk to your car. I don’t know what the situation is like Uptown. But that’s where the rest of the plan comes in – the BRT line will help you get around Uptown, perhaps someday connecting to the University line as well. Throw in a future B-Cycle expansion as I’ve been suggesting, and I think you’ve got it mostly covered. Metro and the Uptown District will need to educate businesses and employees about what their commuting options will be in the future, but I’m sure they’ll take care of that. I think this is a good idea and I think it’s going to make a positive difference in the area. What do you think?

Chron wonders where B-Cycle is going

Last week in an unsigned editorial, the Chron asked a provocative question about B-Cycle.

Are bicycle rental programs supposed to be legitimate transportation or merely toys for urban bohemians? New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante revealed Friday that her city’s attempts to make bike share more affordable, such as distributing free helmets and subsidizing Citi Bike memberships for low-income New Yorkers, have so far reached few people.

Houston’s policies don’t paint a better picture. We do have a bicycle helmet fund, which was created to raise money to provide bicycle helmets for very low-income families. But the list seems to stop there. We lack a program to subsidize B-Cycle memberships for needy families, though one has to wonder how much of an impact that program would have. After all, there are no B-Cycle stations in the poor neighborhoods surrounding downtown’s B-Cycle core. It is not as if these neighborhoods aren’t bike-friendly. The Fourth Ward is accessible by West Dallas St., a designated bike-share road that connects directly with downtown. And the Columbia Tap bicycle trail stretches from east of downtown through the Third Ward to Brays Bayou – one of the most convenient bicycle paths in the city, utterly wanting for a B-Cycle station.

Here’s that NYT article the editorial refers to. I can’t speak to Citi Bike, which is a new program and has its share of kinks to be worked out, but the point about making B-Cycle more accessible to more Houstonians is very much a valid one. I sent an inquiry to Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian about the editorial, but she had already sent a letter to the editor in response, which she pointed me to.

Houston B-Cycle appreciates the Chronicle’s calling attention to a wonderful three-month old program – and the call for more bikes and greater coverage. When first launched, some thought this could never work in Houston.

But Houstonians are proving the skeptics wrong. Houston B-cycle is well ahead of projections with over 5,000 unique users and an average of 1,300 bikes checked out each week. And in a city accused of being too fat, these riders have burned an estimated 4 million calories! But we recognize that we have more work to do.

The Houston bike share system, like successful programs in other cities, has used a proven formula, placing the first bikes in the densest part of our city … the downtown urban core and dense adjacent neighborhoods. We want to expand the program across the city, and the Chronicle is right to push for broader coverage.

B-cycle’s growth will build off of the current network. The existing program is a great example of private and public partnership, built with zero local tax dollars. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas has been a key partner and financial supporter. They share our goal of making Houston B-cycle the best in the nation.

We need more partners to continue expansion plans. If you want to help, please visit us at http://houston.bcycle.com/.

Laura Spanjian, director, city of Houston Sustainability

Michael Skelly board member, Houston Bike Share

I agree with what Spanjian and Skelly say here, but they don’t exactly get into specifics in their response. I think there’s a more fundamental point that needs to be addressed, but before I get to that, let me point to the story that I suspect was the genesis of the Chron editorial, which was in one of the neighborhood section and thus probably wasn’t widely noticed. (I only saw it because it was on the B-Cycle Facebook page.)

As cycling’s popularity rises in Houston, city officials and planners see the west side of the Inner Loop as the logical next place to focus energy on developing a more prominent role for the quiet, eco-friendly mode of transportation.

Rice University, the Texas Medical Center and area shopping districts already attract cyclists, said Laura Spanjian, sustainability director for Mayor Annise Parker.

“There’s a lot of bike commuters to Rice,” she said. “There’s already some good infrastructure there.”

The city is looking at ways to expand offerings in the neighborhood, with one option being a project where certain streets will close to vehicles and open only for bicycles on Sundays, Spanjian said.

Will Rub, director of Houston Bike Share, hopes that the city’s B-cycle bike rental program can become more established in the area.

“We have very high hopes of expanding the bike share program into the medical center,” he said. “Bike share is an ideal supplement to the Texas Medical Center environment and would go a long way towards reducing a significant number of ‘intra-center’ car rides and eventually reducing some of the shuttle trips.”

He said the next natural step would be to expand the program to Rice Village and at Rice University.

“I’ve had discussions with a few representatives from the school, but no plans or commitments at this time,” he said.

Spanjian said the mayor’s office is working to expand bicycle routes into the medical center and other neighborhoods by year’s end.

I talked about the logical next steps for B-Cycle expansion, and this story makes sense to me. Ideally, as Spanjian and Skelly said, B-Cycle is going to go where the biggest bang for the buck will be – dense places where parking is at a premium and it’s often not convenient or practical to retrieve your car for a short trip. B-Cycle will mostly be a convenience in these locations, helping to reduce short-trip driving, which in turn helps relieve parking congestion, while extending the range of places that a non-driver can get to. This is all to the good.

What we need to keep sight of is that at its core, B-Cycle is a transit network. Extending that network by adding more stations makes it more useful and valuable, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The B-Cycle network can and should integrate well with our existing transit network.

Last month, we recorded 15,232 bikes on buses – that’s 15 percent more than the same month a year ago. And that’s 28 percent more than the previous month of April’s boardings.

Now, no one is going to put a B-Cycle bike aboard a Metro bus. But if we locate some B-Cycle kiosks near bus stops in parts of town that are heavily dependent on buses for local transit, that not only makes both networks more extensive, it also helps to address the Chron’s concern about who is being served by B-Cycle. As we know, Metro is re-imagining its bus system. I say this redesign needs to be done in conjunction with B-Cycle and its future expansion plans. Having these two networks – and the light rail network, and the Uptown BRT line – complement each other will make the whole that much greater than the sum of the parts. To address the question about the helmet fund, perhaps Metro could kick in a little something for that, and perhaps there’s some H-GAC mobility money available to help as well. The point I’m (finally) making here is that we need all these components to work together. I’m sure I’m not the first person to think about this, but I haven’t seen it addressed anywhere else. We have an opportunity here to really make non-car transit in Houston a lot more convenient and attractive. Let’s take full advantage of it.

Don’t expect B-Cycle in the Heights anytime soon

I know there are a lot of people in the Heights that would like to see some bike share kiosks here, but as The Leader News reports, it will be awhile before that happens.

Although running through arguably the most bike-conscious set of communities in Houston, the bike paths along White Oak Bayou and through the Heights into downtown now primarily sustain a ridership of weekend and evening recreational users, walkers and joggers. (It doesn’t help the White Oak trail that 610/290 construction is closing a big chunk of it from south of the North Loop along T.C. Jester to 34th Street for another year.)

The city of Houston’s B-cycle bike share program largely completed its second phase this week ahead of schedule and now boasts 21 stations and 175 bikes – but they’re all in downtown, midtown, Montrose, the East End and the Museum District-Hermann Park area.

And Will Rub, head of the B-cycle program, says when the third phase is funded, it’s likely to focus on the Medical Center area.

“We might start looking along sites along the Washington Avenue Corridor,” he said, “but that’s down the line.” Way down the line is the Heights, he said.

[…]

Blake Masters, president of the Greater Heights Super Neighborhood, seems strangely calm about the area being passed over so far for the B-cycle kiosks. But there’s a reason.

As part of a Leadership Houston class, Masters studied putting a bike share into Houston before the group learned that the B-cycle program was already on the drawing boards.

“You do have to start somewhere, and to make it succeed, you have to choose the areas with the heaviest pedestrian traffic and people who need to go short distances on congested streets. So far, they’re doing it right.”

He’s encouraged to hear that the Washington Avenue Corridor, which is in his Super Neighborhood, is on B-cycle’s radar. Parts of the Heights would also be “very logical” locations he said, naming the 19th-20th Street, White Oak and Studewood commercial areas. “We’d have to make sure the neighbors are on board with the plans, though,” he said.

This makes sense to me. Bike sharing is for places to which people travel without cars, or for whom it’s inconvenient to get their parked cars for a short trip. That describes places like downtown and the Medical Center, but not the Heights. The Heights is a destination, not a point of origin, for bike sharing; if you’re in the Heights and you want to get somewhere by bike, you probably already have your bike with you. The downtown bike share network, which is somewhat akin to a transit network, is beginning to build spokes out of downtown, with kiosks in Midtown and parts of Montrose. The Washington Avenue corridor, which is directly accessible from downtown, is a natural future spoke of this network. Once this extended network is robust enough to support spokes being built from other spokes and not from the hub, that’s when it will make sense to look at putting kiosks in the Heights, most likely in the locations suggested by Blake Masters. Alternately, as Metro’s re-architected bus route map gets built, or in the event of future streetcar/BRT/light rail construction along Washington, that may make Heights-area kiosks more attractive and useful. The kiosks are coming, I have no doubt about that, but the network isn’t ready for it yet. If you want it to hurry along, do what you can to make the existing B-Cycle network a success.

The Uptown/Memorial TIRZ

Big projects, big plans, big funding mechanism.

Transit and trees – things that make urban areas move quickly and look pretty – are the centerpieces of a $500 million project that would remake the Uptown area and reinvigorate Memorial Park.

Mayor Annise Parker and other officials announced a plan Thursday that would fund construction of a mass transit corridor on Post Oak Boulevard and kick start much-needed reforestation efforts at one of the city’s signature parks.

“We’re coming together around a really unique opportunity and a unique proposition to link what’s happening in the Galleria area and what’s happening in one of Houston’s most beloved parks,” Parker said.

[…]

The estimated cost of the local park and transit projects is $556 million over a 25-year period. Funding would come from property taxes generated as a result of incremental growth in property values within the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 16, which encompasses the Galleria and surrounding area.

The project is dependent on City Council extending the boundaries of the Uptown zone. The 1,503 acres of Memorial Park would be annexed into the TIRZ 16, as it’s known. There will be a public hearing on the plan on April 24.

If progress continues as expected, buses could start running in late 2017.

[…]

The plan to enhance the park would first involve removing dead trees, bushes and invasive plants that compete with trees for water and sunlight, said Shellye Arnold, executive director for Memorial Park Conservancy. Erosion control and the re-establishment of native grasslands would follow.

Up to 15,000 seedlings and trees have already been planted since January.

Basically, this is the city’s part of paying for the Uptown BRT line. As reported elsewhere, the estimated cost for that is $177.5 million, of which the city is kicking in $92 million; the rest will come from state funds and an H-GAC grant that uses federal money. Obviously, that means Memorial Park will get the bulk of the TIRZ funds, which makes sense given the 25-year time frame mentioned in the story since the Uptown BRT construction should be done by 2017. Not clear when the Uptown construction would start, but I figure that will come out during the discussion. I can’t wait to see what Helena Brown will make of this. See the Mayor’s press release for more.

One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in stories about the Uptown transit project is to what extent bikes will be part of the vision. Once BRT is in place here and Uptown is integrated with Metro’s park and ride network, you would think that accommodating bikes as a way to extend the reach of these things would be desirable. I haven’t seen Uptown mentioned as a future site for B-Cycle, but 2017 is far enough away, and there are enough other obvious expansion points for bike sharing that it may just not be on the radar yet. But I figure we ought to at least acknowledge the possibility now so that we will be ready to plan for it when it’s more timely.

New bike share kiosks now open

Woo hoo!

Organizers of Houston’s bike-sharing program are excited about an increase in use of the community bicycles since 18 new kiosks around downtown and Midtown opened.

After slow-going last year for the B-Cycle program, use of the bikes increased since the weekend, when word that many of the new stations were open spread on social media sites.

“We have skyrocketed in checkouts,” said Laura Spanjian, Houston’s sustainability director. “Like a 300 percent increase in the last 72 hours.”

[…]

The recent additions expanded Houston’s bike sharing network from three stations and 18 bikes in February to 21 stations and 175 bikes as of Wednesday. Three more stations and more bikes are planned next month, completing the second phase. A $750,000 deal with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas paid for the expansion and operations.

See here for the announcement of the expansion, here for the Mayor’s press release, and here for a map of the kiosk locations. According to Laura Spanjian, who responded to an email question I sent, the Week of March 18, with only 5 stations live, there were 150 checkouts and 84 memberships. The week of March 25, with 21 stations live, there were 500 checkouts and 312 memberships. This week has been even busier, with more than 75 new memberships sold at the weekly farmer’s market downtown. I bought my membership yesterday, too – my office is moving downtown in May, and there’s a kiosk a block from where my office will be. I’m very much looking forward to having non-car options for getting to lunch. As I said in my previous post, there are lots of good options for where to expand next, but let’s see some good numbers here first. I’m encouraged by how it’s going so far.

Another reason why bike parking matters

This comment of the day on Swamplot points out a salient fact about bike parking.

In all honesty, I only ride my bike for fun with the family on the weekends. However, after a couple of very frustrating attempts to park around White Oak to go out to dinner, I recently rode my bike down there with the family for dinner at BBs. While there is a dearth of bike racks, it was so easy to just hop on the bike path, lock up the bikes and go to dinner than weaving in and out of parking lots and side streets trying to find a space for parking. And that is why cycling will eventually become an essential for Houston. We are piling people inside the loop at an unprecedented rate. There is not enough parking in a number of hot spots (Montrose, White Oak, Washington Ave, etc.). People now live close enough to ride their bikes to go out to eat in these areas but don’t because bike amenities are woefully lacking. Or, to put it another way, if you love your car, you should support cycling so there are more parking spaces available for you.

Public House on White Oak

That comment was left on this post. Like this person, my preferred way of getting to White Oak establishments is by bike. I live close enough that driving there should be the exception, but I totally agree about the convenience of bike parking versus the hassle of car parking. The point, though, is that for places on White Oak and Washington and other high-traffic/crowded parking areas, there are basically two types of people: Those that can get there by means other than cars, and those that can’t. It’s very much in the interest of those who have to drive and park to make it as easy and convenient as possible for those that don’t have to drive so that as many of them as possible choose not to. Every one of them who chooses to walk or bike is one less car taking up a parking place, after all. The same is true for places like the Medical Center and midtown, where everyone who arrives via light rail is one less person competing with you for a parking place. The people who have to drive to these places should be the most vocal supporters of pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access to them, and the steady progress of rail line construction should should be taken as especially excellent news. It’s for their own good even if they never use those arrival methods themselves.

Along those same lines, the arrival of more bike share kiosks is as good a thing for the drivers as it is for everyone else.

With the opening of the Ensemble stop and the additional bikes, riders can for the first time check out or return a bike to a station outside the central business district. Previously only three locations — City Hall, Market Square Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center — featured a B-cycle kiosk.

According to a map on the Houston B-cycle website, a station at the Houston Zoo is coming soon.

Hair Balls has more on this. The point I’m trying to get at here is that being an occasional bicyclist is a good thing in and of itself. It’s good for you, and it’s good for the people who are driving to the places you are biking. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing. Along those lines, if you look at those two Swamplot posts above, you’ll see the inevitable comments from those who claim it’s too hot in Houston to ride bikes. Well, it’s not too hot right now. In fact, it’s not too hot about nine months out of the year. Personally, I find that even when it is hot out, the nice thing about riding a bike is the cool breeze you get while riding, and at no time were you sweltering in a car that had been left out in the sun. I would also note that one of the most successful B-Cycle cities in America is Minneapolis, and their winters are at least as long and unfriendly to biking as our summers are. But so what? Like I said, this isn’t all or nothing. Bike when the weather is agreeable to you. It’s all good.

Austin to get bike sharing

About time, y’all.

City Council will vote Thursday on a five-year contract with a newly formed nonprofit organization, Bike Share of Austin, to operate the system.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization awarded Austin a $1.5 million grant last summer that would fund most of the project. Bike Share of Austin, the only organization that applied for an operating contract, would provide $500,000 in matching funds. Officials hope memberships, grants and sponsorships will sustain the system, which they say would cost about $225,000 a year to operate.

Proponents say bike sharing would ease traffic congestion, help close transit gaps in the bus and rail systems, offer an alternative to single-occupancy vehicles and improve users’ health.

“This is no longer one of those things that’s out on the edge. It’s becoming a fairly standard part of transportation infrastructure for cities,” said Council Member Chris Riley.

Bike-share programs operate in about 20 U.S. cities — including San Antonio, Denver, Miami and Washington — and more than 400 cities worldwide. Houston and Fort Worth are putting in systems, too. Most municipalities team with a nonprofit or private-sector partner for operations.

Houston of course already has a system, which as we know is about to be expanded. I’m one part amused and one part amazed that it’s taken as long as it has for this to come to Austin given its overall proclivity for biking, but hey, you never know.

Austin’s plans call for 40 stations and 400 bicycles. If approved, the system could launch as soon as late spring or summer.

Exact station sites haven’t been set, but they would be focused in downtown and popular destinations such as Zilker Park, said Adrian Lipscombe of Austin’s Public Works Department, which would implement the program. Stations would be an average of two or three blocks apart.

[…]

Austin is hillier than downtown San Antonio, though, and some have questioned whether users can handle the 40-pound bikes on the city’s rolling terrain. Some downtown streets are not what many would consider beginner-friendly, either. But proponents say the city’s young workforce and mild climate make it a perfect fit.

San Antonio’s pretty hilly overall, though, and I don’t know that its downtown streets are any beginner-friendlier than Austin’s. I’m sure Austin will take to this just fine. Took ’em long enough, that’s for sure.

Here comes that B-Cycle expansion

Excellent.

Houston’s bike-sharing program downtown is getting a boost from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, city officials announced Wednesday.

The insurance company will contribute $750,000 to expand the B-Cycle system from three stations and 18 bikes to 24 stations and about 200 bikes, the city said in a news release.

“Bike Share is a great new transportation program for Houston and with the support of BCBSTX we are able to expand our pilot into a thriving program, providing a real commuter and recreational transportation option for workers, residents and visitors, improving health and quality of life,” Mayor Annise Parker said in the release.

The partnership could accelerate the program, which has been delayed by slow movement on permits and federal grant agreements. The U.S. Department of Energy is another major sponsor of the program, via a grant.

With the expansion, officials believe the system could generate about 25,000 trips annually, a roughly 12-fold increase from the current use.

[…]

“We hope this investment will help Houston children and families, not only find more convenient transportation, but get healthy and stay healthy through increased, fun physical activity,” said Bert Marshall, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, in a news release.

The Mayor’s press release is here, the full Chron story is here, and my previous updates on Houston B-Cycle are here and here. Click on the story link to see a map of the forthcoming B-Cycle kiosk locations. You’ll be very well covered downtown, and there are other useful locations as well. I expect the college campuses will be next in line, most likely via a similar partnership, and beyond that I’d like to see further expansion along the new rail lines and into the Washington Avenue corridor, which might even help a bit with the parking situation there. Longer term, I hope they’ll look at Upper Kirby and the Uptown/Galleria area, neither of which are terribly bike-friendly (though I’m sure there are things that can be done to ameliorate that) but both of which also have nasty traffic and parking problems that can use all the help they can get. It could hardly take longer to bike from Richmond to San Felipe along Post Oak than to drive it, and you can literally park by the front door of your destination if you pedal it. Once funding is available, that’s got to be a no-brainer. Anyway, this is great to see. Expansion launches in March, so it ought to be done by the time my office moves downtown in May. I’m very much looking forward to taking advantage of this.

More on the status of Houston’s bike sharing

From the Chron’s paysite:

The expansion is a few months behind schedule, said Laura Spanjian, Houston’s sustainability director. She said federal reviews required under the $116,000 grant to start the bike-sharing program, and state historic preservation approvals for the locations, have proceeded more slowly than expected. The program, run by a nonprofit, Houston Bike Share, also is waiting to secure city permits for the installations.

Despite the delay, supporters plan to offer 175 bicycles at 23 locations by mid-2013, said Will Rub, director of Houston Bike Share. By then the program should annually generate more than 25,000 checkouts and have more than 15,000 members, Rub said.

So far, with 18 bikes at the three downtown stations, 1,200 people have checked out a bike for around 2,000 uses, Rub said.

Compared to cities with more robust programs, the numbers are small. But organizers said they are pleased with what three downtown stations have generated.

“You really have got to have the activity of multiple locations to inspire people to use it as part of their commute,” Rub said.

[…]

The 2013 expansion of the system will tie it to more transit stops and to destinations outside downtown such as Midtown, Montrose and spots east of downtown, particularly around the BBVA Compass Stadium and growing entertainment area.

Spanjian said she hoped future expansions of the system would include stations in the Texas Medical Center and on the campuses of local colleges. “They all want stations,” she said. “And we’d like to give them to them.”

So there you have it. Just remember, you read most of it here first.

San Antonio B-Cycle expands again

I’m truly impressed at how successful this has been.

San Antonio’s newest B-Cycle bike sharing stations opened Friday at six new locations around South San Antonio.

The new stations — located at Roosevelt Park, Concepcion Park, Mission Concepcion, Mission Road Street Connection, VFW River Trail Access and Mission San Jose — provide yet another way for residents and visitors to explore the ever-expanding Mission Reach and the San Antonio missions.

[…]

[B-Cycle CEO Bob Burns] said since B-Cycle came to San Antonio 64,000 trips have been logged, accounting for around 164,000 miles traveled.

Julia Diana, special projects manager for San Antonio’s office of sustainability, said B-Cycle now boasts 30 locations throughout the city and about 280 bikes.

Diana added San Antonio is now the second-largest B-Cycle city in the U.S., behind only Denver.

If you click over to San Antonio B-Cycle, you have to zoom out on the embedded Google map of their locations to see them all. It’s really remarkable. And they’re not done yet.

The City Council on Thursday will consider a $1 million expansion of San Antonio B-cycle, one that would add 15 stations to the bike share program by fall 2013.

If approved, the program would grow from 30 to 45 stations next year and include kiosks as far north as the San Antonio Zoo, and a handful more downtown.

A new cluster would occupy points up Broadway, at the zoo and Brackenridge Park.

“That (stretch) is already very well-traveled, by locals and visitors alike who use Avenue B,” B-cycle executive director Cindi Snell said. “People are going there already. They just don’t have a place to park when they get there.”

More stations are planned for the downtown core.

“We’re looking at filling in the downtown area and the central core of the city, and that creates the ability for the system to expand outward to other areas of the city,” said W. Laurence Doxsey, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Policy.

Very cool. As always, seeing stories like this makes me want to check in on how Houston B-Cycle is doing. Back in August, I noted that it was due for an expansion in October, but I had not heard anything about that since then, and the map on Houston’s B-Cycle page still only shows the three original locations. So I sent an inquiry to Laura Spanjian, and this is what she sent me:

B-Cycle DATA
First Six Months of Program

Current Program – 3 stations and 18 bicycles that were funded by an EPA Clean Air grant that was secured by the City of Houston’s Office of Sustainability. The grant provided approximately $116,000 to establish the initial program.

Memberships – Over 1,200 members with a majority coming from single day riders.

Checkouts – Over 2,000 bike checkouts in first 6 months averaging almost 300 checkouts per month. Market Square has the most check-outs, followed by City Hall and the GRB.

Costs – Current operating expenses are being covered by revenue from memberships, rentals and sponsorships.

Bikes and Stations – The technology has been very dependable with less than 1% downtime. And the bikes have held up very well with only a handful of flat tires and minor repairs over the first 6 months. Bike Barn is providing the mechanical support and administering the maintenance of the bicycles.

Expansion – There is a planned expansion of the program starting in early spring 2013. The goal is to have 175 bikes and 23 stations in downtown, mid-town and Montrose. With this density, the program should generate over 25,000 checkouts and a membership base of over 15,000. The expansion has been delayed due to reviews and approvals taking longer than expected: Department of Energy review and approval, federal review (National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval) and state and local Historic Preservation review. We also are working on City of Houston permitting approvals for each of the additional locations.

So there you have it. I’ll keep an eye out for further updates in the spring.

Houston Bike Share set to expand

Cool

The plan has always been to expand the program, and Laura Spanjian, Mayor Annise Parker’s sustainability director, first alluded to a search for new locations in early June.

“We’re going to have about 20 new kiosks and about 205 new bikes,” Spanjian now tells CultureMap. That would bring the total to approximately 225 bicycles inside of the Loop.

Spanjian says that the expansion, which was made possible through grant funding, will bring B-cycle sites to high-density neighborhoods with big office buildings and apartment complexes.

Come October, expect to see another 10 downtown kiosks, plus a few each in Midtown, the Museum District and Montrose. A leftover kiosk may be granted to the burgeoning East End.

I inquired with Spanjian about this and was told that so far there are 650 members in Houston B-Cycle and over a thousand check-outs at the three downtown kiosks, not too bad for our wet summer. There will be a full array of stats and numbers relating to the program around the time of the expansion in October. I don’t spend much time downtown but I did see a few people riding by on those easily recognizable bikes on the western end of the Buffalo Bayou trail near Shepherd a few days ago. I expect to see a lot more of them in the fall.