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Federal Highway Administration

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.

SH 130 operator to give up its ownership stake

Another step on the road to bankruptcy.

Speed Limit 85

SH 130 Concession Co. filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan Friday that proposes transferring company ownership to its largest lenders, which include the Federal Highway Administration and a group of European banks. The company owes more than $1.6 billion. It is owned by Spanish road developer Cintra, the majority stakeholder, and San Antonio-based Zachry American Infrastructure.

[…]

The company paid TxDOT $125 million upfront for the rights to operate the road, which was built to bypass Interstate 35 traffic between San Antonio and Austin and then became state property. It also agreed to share some of its toll revenue with the state as part of the lease agreement.

Texas 130’s southern section, which connects to a state-operated section that ends in Georgetown, opened in 2012 and became known for its 85-mph speed limit, the highest in the country. But it immediately missed the company’s traffic projections, and Moody’s Investors Service assigned its debt a junk-bond rating three years ago as a result.

The company issued a substantial amount of debt to finance the $1.3 billion project. It owes about $551 million on a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation loan from the Federal Highway Administration, and about $721 million on its bank loans, according to court filings.

A FHWA spokeswoman was not available for comment Friday afternoon.

The reorganization plan proposes that SH 130 Concession Co., under its lenders’ ownership, would continue to operate and maintain the road. The plan has yet to be approved by the court.

“It’s important to understand that we don’t expect any sudden changes,” Guy Russell, SH 130’s chief operating officer, said in an email. “The plan calls for a smooth transition period of up to 18 months during which SH 130 Concession Company will continue to operate the facility per usual.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Cintra and Zachry will take a bath if this goes forward, which is fine by me. I’m less fine with the Federal Highway Administration getting stiffed, though it’s not clear from this story if that may happen. I’m not sure there’s any lesson to be learned here beyond the obvious one of not building roads where there are no people, but I hope we at least grasp that one.

Yale Street Bridge to get makeover

You may recall that last November the load limit on the Yale Street Bridge was reduced by TxDOT to 8,000 lbs per single axle and 10,000 lbs per tandem axle, which has resulted in truck traffic being forbidden on the bridge. That hasn’t stopped trucks from actually using it, of course, but they’re not supposed to. Anyway, since then a few more things have happened:

– An inspection and assessment of the bridge by Entech Civil Engineers says that it really should have a load limit of 7200 lbs, which is basically a full-size SUV with multiple passengers.

– Neighborhood leaders sent a letter to the city asking for Something To Be Done about this:

Necessary Action

As indicated above, based on the ratings of the Yale Street Bridge, corrective action is required; based on the current ratings, according to TXDOT, this bridge is either one of the top or the top bridge in Texas eligible for replacement based on TxDOT’s and the Federal Highway Administration’s criteria for distributing Federal and State Funds. The required corrective action is reconstruction of the Yale Street Bridge. Since this is a City-owned Bridge, the process to prioritize the Bridge for replacement and to solicit the necessary funding begins with the City. With City budget and CIP discussion now underway, this is the time to address it so that it will be included in the current CIP priority list. Eighty percent (80%) of the funding would come from the Federal Highway Administration, 10% from TXDOT and 10% from the
City’s budget. This means that this problem can be addressed promptly and with a limited impact on the City’s budget. The Bridge should be reconstructed BEFORE it has to be closed due to low ratings.

– The city sent a reply saying that the Department of Public Works and Engineering was working with TxDOT to apply for federal funds to help with the cost of fixing the bridge, for which candidate projects will be nominated to the Federal Highway Administration in 2012.

Not clear what happens if the project doesn’t get the federal funds, though the city did say that it would try to work it out through the District C Council office. See this press advisory, this letter from CM Cohen, and this story in The Leader for more.

UPDATE: Here’s a direct link to that story in The Leader.

Houston gets grant for bike paths

Nice.

It’s not a trail to nowhere, but the Heights Bike Path ends abruptly at McKee Street east of downtown, and from there cyclists have to share the road with four-wheeled vehicles.

A peloton of politicians gathered near that terminus Friday afternoon to celebrate an election year bring-home-the-bacon $15 million federal grant that will pay for six projects to link Houston’s fragmented patchwork of bike paths into something more closely resembling a network.

Once the 18 miles of off-street paths, widened sidewalks and roadway bike lanes are completed, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to move from Little York and Antoine in far northwest Houston to Brady’s Landing along Buffalo Bayou east of downtown without ever having to stray from a lane reserved for those biking or walking.

“It’s long past the time for us to what I like to say ‘string the beads’ to connect the trail segments to connect Houston,” Mayor Annise Parker said at a news conference with U.S. Reps. Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, both D-Houston. “We have focused a lot on hike and bike trails that keep cars and bikes separate, and we’d like to see more of that.”

The Houston Bikeways Facebook page has a list of the projects that will be funded.

– White Oak Bayou Path Alabonson Road Antoine Drive Link (where the extension of the White Oak Bayou ends)
– White Oak Bayou between 7th and 11th Streets
– MKT Spur Connector
– Heritage West to Main Street Connectors
– Buffalo Bayou to White Oak Bayou connector
– Great East End connections to Buffalo Bayou
– Brays Bayou gap filler between Ardmore Road and Old Spanish Trail

I wish I had a map to show you of all this, but I couldn’t find one. Item 2 on that list above is something I’ve noted before, so it’s good to see that happen. While both the story and the Facebook post talk a lot about bike commuting, I want to say that there’s more to this than that. It’s not practical for me to bike to work, but I can and do bring my bike with me to work – having a minivan is good for something – and I use it a couple of days a week to go to lunch. I use it getting around the neighborhood, too – it’s at least as convenient to hop on the White Oak Trail to get to Target than it is to drive there, and takes about the same amount of time. And it’s one less car crowding that stretch of Sawyer and jousting for a parking space. Making it easier for people to ride bikes for short trips will do a lot of good, too.