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Mike Skelly

Still filled with dread about I-45

Anyone got a paper bag I can breathe into?

Strip away the enormity of rebuilding Interstate 45 and the promise of speedier trips along downtown Houston freeways, and two questions about the once-in-a-generation project remain:

How many negative effects are acceptable in one neighborhood for other people’s faster commutes?

And, how far should transportation officials go to reduce those impacts, to secure support and not vocal opposition?

“This is the defining project in the city of Houston for the next 20 years,” said Michael Skelly, a local businessman and organizer of the Make I-45 Better Coalition. “Doing it properly means minimizing impacts and, where there are impacts, mitigating them properly.”

Impacts expected from the widening of I-45 from downtown north to the Sam Houston Tollway — including a $3 billion remake of the downtown freeway system that buries a portion of the freeways and tears down the Pierce Elevated — run the gamut of environmental and social ills: air quality and flooding concerns for schools, day cares and low-income communities; removal of public housing developments in a city already hurting for affordable homes; concrete pillars and ramps rising above pristine park space along area bayous; uprooting 300 businesses employing 24,000 people and 1,400 homes.

“What concerns us as a group is inequity,” said Oni Blair, executive director of LINK Houston, a local transportation advocacy group. “They will feel losses, not gains.”

Texas Department of Transportation officials say they are balancing those concerns with a need to rebuild a freeway beyond its useful life, in a way that officials believe prepares for how Houston will move more than a decade from now.

“We are working real hard to make this work,” said Quincy Allen, district engineer for the six-county Houston area. “Everything we’ve heard, we’ve said ‘let’s see if we can make this work.’”

Not every problem, however, has a solution as TxDOT awaits federal approvals, possibly by the end of this year. The total cost of the project could climb above $7 billion. Construction on the segments where I-45, Interstate 69 and Texas 288 intersect could start as early as 2021.

It’s a long story, so go read the whole thing. I’ve already written about Independence Heights and the raw deal they’re likely to get, so I’ll just note two more things. One is that when a certain high-speed rail project needs to use eminent domain to build on rural land, there’s a huge (though to be fair, so far not very effective) political backlash. But when a highway expansion being proposed for the heart of a city that will “uproot 300 businesses employing 24,000 people and 1,400 homes”, there’s a much more muted reaction. You tell me why that is. And two, as someone who is now working on the west side of town and commuting on I-10 every day, let me tell you that whatever traffic flow improvements this will achieve when the ribbon is cut, they will not last for long. I head west on I-10 from the Heights every day before 6 AM, and you’d be surprised how much traffic there is already. It moves at highway speed, but if I were to leave even thirty minutes later, that would not be the case at all. I drive home between three and four, supposedly going “against traffic”, and again, you wouldn’t believe how full it is. Most days, traffic is heavy enough to cause standstills, and it’s almost always worst inside the Loop. We’re what, a decade out from the much-ballyhooed Katy Freeway expansion? Good luck with trying to solve this when the clamor for relief starts to rise. My point is, we’re going to go through multiple years of hell, for maybe a few more years of improvement. Again, you tell me if there isn’t a better way.

How Lizzie Fletcher won

I have three things to say about this.

Lizzie Fletcher

Now, having flipped a seat controlled for the last 52 years by Republicans, [Rep.-elect Lizzie] Fletcher heads to Washington with a target on her back, but also a desire to legislate with the same moderate approach she used to build her campaign.

“Whether people voted for me or not in this election, I hope they will watch what I do as their member of Congress,” Fletcher said. “I hope to earn their vote in 2020, because my job is to represent everyone. My office doors will be open to everyone.”

If Republicans are searching for a roadmap to unseat Fletcher, they might turn to Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Helotes who represents a perennial swing district running from San Antonio to El Paso.

In 2016 and again this year, Hurd — who appeared likely to win a third term with several hundred ballots outstanding Friday — rebuked Trump on high-profile issues and presented himself as a moderate, a strategy that also played well for Fletcher in the mostly suburban 7th Congressional District.

Culberson at times referenced his work across the aisle, but did not run as a moderate or publicly oppose Trump to the same degree as Hurd.

[…]

A key moment in Culberson’s loss came months before Election Day, when Fletcher won her primary runoff against activist Laura Moser. Running as the more progressive candidate, Moser indicated she would not moderate her message to attract Republicans turned off by Trump.

The primary in effect became a referendum on whether Democrats should oppose Culberson by whipping up the dormant part of their base or, by nominating Fletcher, pull in centrists and ex-Republicans.

Tuesday’s election results proved they could do both: In beating Culberson with more than 52 percent of the vote, Fletcher’s winning coalition included right-leaning moderates, but also hardline progressives who turned out in droves to support Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s turnout-driven Senate campaign.

“A moderate Democrat can win a swing district in the right circumstances, but two factors have to be at play,” Rottinghaus said. “No. 1, it has to be clear that the candidate is truly a moderate and … willing to work in a bipartisan fashion. But none of that works if Democrats don’t turn out. If you don’t have a Beto O’Rourke at the top of the ticket with clear progressive ideas to activate the more liberal-leaning voters, you won’t even have a chance.”

[…]

Fletcher’s moderate approach appeared most effective in harnessing anti-Trump energy among white, educated suburban women, a group that swung toward Democrats nationwide. Culberson, who declined to comment for this story, lost the most ground from 2016 in the same areas where he outperformed Trump by the widest margins that year, suggesting that Fletcher picked up voters who split their ticket between Hillary Clinton and Culberson.

The handful of precincts where Culberson performed worst relative to 2016 were clustered within about a mile of the affluent and highly educated Bellaire and West University Place suburbs, according to unofficial results. Culberson won 55 percent of the vote in those precincts two years ago, but only 42 percent this year, in line with Trump’s 43 vote share there.

“That was definitely a part of our strategy, because I knew I had to win those people – people who voted for Culberson and Clinton in 2016,” Fletcher said. “My goal was to really talk about my background here and my view of our Houston values, what I think we do here so well … and I think that really resonated with a lot of people.”

Fletcher’s campaign also targeted densely populated, deep-blue areas where Democrats are prone to staying home for midterms. She concentrated on suburbs north of Addicks Reservoir, including a pair of precincts near FM 529 that voted by more than 70 percent for Clinton. One of those precincts ultimately went 77 percent to Fletcher and produced by far her highest vote total of any precinct districtwide.

Meanwhile, Culberson’s most problematic precincts relative to 2016 also fell inside House District 134, where Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis staved off Harris County’s blue wave to win re-election by almost seven points.

The unique pocket of District 7 that overlaps with Davis’ district was all but built for candidates seeking crossover support in either direction. Fletcher and Davis both won more than 50 percent of the vote in 21 of the 36 precincts that cover their two districts. In 10 of those precincts, both candidates received more than 55 percent of the vote, indicating ticket-splitting was a common practice.

Though Fletcher found success in particular areas, the district-wide results suggest Culberson was in trouble from the start. He received a smaller share of the vote relative to 2016 in every precinct, indicative of the strong headwinds he faced from Trump and O’Rourke.

1. I feel like all things being equal, Fletcher will have a pretty decent shot at getting re-elected. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried CD07, but it was still pretty red district downballot. Culberson won by 12, the judicial average was around that same level for the Dems, and even Kim Ogg, who came close to Clinton’s performance overall, didn’t crack 47% in the district. This year, there was a noticeable shift. Beto, Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, Kim Olson, Diane Trautman, and Richard Cantu all carried CD07. Republicans still had the advantage in judicial races, but it was by about three points on average for the district courts. Obviously all kinds of things can happen that would affect the national environment, and who the Republicans find to challenge her will matter, but given the trends in the county and now in this district, I’d say Fletcher starts out as the favorite.

2. Part of the reason for my optimism is that I think CD07 is the kind of district that will tend to look favorably on a middle-of-the-road workhorse who will get stuff done, stay in touch with the district, and not do anything stupid. Culberson actually kind of was that guy for awhile, and you do have to wonder how this race might have gone if Culberson was at least a rhetorical opponent of Trump’s, as Hurd is. (Never mind the voting records, talking a good game gets you a long way.) Does that mean I think Laura Moser couldn’t have won? No, I think she had a path to victory as well, and would have been helped by the Beto wave and relentless activism in the district as Fletcher was. But she might have presented a better target for the Republicans in 2020. You can play out the thought experiment however you like, this is just my view of it.

3. Fletcher was cast as the “moderate centrist” in the primary runoff and in the November race, but that’s largely for preferring fixes to Obamacare to Medicare for all. She also got a lot of TV advertising in her favor from the Gabby Giffords gun control PAC. Think back to 2008, the last time CD07 was competitive, when Michael Skelly picked a fight with MoveOn.org and Nick Lampson, trying to hold onto CD22, ran on a platform of balancing the budget and opposing the estate tax. The times, they do change.

Republican reactions to Beto’s fundraising

The interesting bits of this story:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the underdog challenger to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, recently burnished his grass-roots credentials by completing a tour of all 254 counties in Texas.

Now O’Rourke has proven his fundraising chops as well, raising a staggering $10.4 million in the past three months, more than double the $4.6 million reported by Cruz, a former presidential candidate defending his Senate seat in November.

The cash haul for the three-term congressman laid down a marker in a Senate race that has already brought national attention to a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since the Clinton administration.

[…]

While Democrats were buoyed by the latest numbers, several GOP analysts said they are not sounding the alarms, given the state’s deeply conservative leanings.

“O’Rourke’s fundraising is impressive. However, he is spending massive amounts to raise it,” said Austin GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. “O’Rourke appears to be raising a lot of money outside Texas, and those dollars could be going to far more competitive U.S. Senate races than this one.”

Apart from fundraising, Mackowiak said Cruz retains significant advantages: He has a stronger statewide organization, higher name ID, and Texas remains a Republican state. “It is now clear that both campaigns will have sufficient funds to run real campaigns,” he said. “What remains unproven is this: What is Beto’s path to victory? I don’t see one.”

Other Republicans see O’Rourke’s fundraising as a sign of a more competitive race than Texans are used to, given the Democrats’ long record of futility in The Lone Star State.

“It’s significant,” said Texas GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who served as Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign manager in 2014. “Time is still his enemy here, because a lot of people still don’t know who (O’Rourke) is. But if he continues to do that, he will have the resources to build his name ID very quickly through TV, radio and digital advertising.”

[…]

Steinhauser remains skeptical about O’Rourke’s chances but says he has forced Republicans to take the measure of the Democratic challenger.

“The challenge is a legitimate one,” Steinhauser said. “Cruz is taking it seriously; the party is taking it seriously. But at the end of the day, the voters go and vote regardless of the amount of money that you have. It’s about the candidates themselves, more than anything.”

O’Rourke’s fundraising prowess has been all the more surprising because Cruz, regarded as a national conservative leader, has a solid record of campaign organization, data analysis and fundraising. He raised nearly $90 million in the 2016 presidential primaries, more than any of Trump’s other GOP challengers, including Ben Carson and Jeb Bush.

But Cruz’s top-dog status in the Senate race also could also be a liability in the money chase.

“He raised a lot of money nationally for his presidential campaign, and he’s probably tapped out a lot of those folks,” Steinhauser said. “Some people around the country certainly gave him money for the presidential who wouldn’t necessarily give him money for a Texas Senate race, especially if they don’t buy the hype about O’Rourke, and they don’t see it as competitive.”

For Cruz partisans, the trick now could be how to project strength without seeming too overconfident.

Said Steinhauser: “Partly, I think people are like, ‘Look, it’s a statewide race in Texas, the Republican is going to win …’”

I don’t know what the status is now, but someone might want to advise Matt Mackowiak that as of the end of Q1, half of Ted Cruz’s contributions came from outside Texas, while less than a third of Beto’s did; his total out of state fundraising was less than Cruz’s while his in-state haul was far greater. Maybe the Q2 numbers will change that – the story does not address the point beyond quoting Mackowiak – but the narrative so far is quite clear, and it’s not that Beto has relied on non-Texas money to crush Cruz in that department.

Steinhauser’s statements are more reality-based, and are in the ballpark of what I’d say if the positions were reversed. The thing is, it’s not just about the Senate race. Republicans have thoroughly dominated the fundraising space since Tony Sanchez was spreading money around the state like grass seed in 2002. Democrats have had a few candidates here and there raise big bucks – Wendy Davis, Bill White, and people like Nick Lampson and Michael Skelley in Congressional races – but in any given year the vast amount of money raised has gone towards Republicans, with the lion’s share of Democratic money going to long-term incumbents in safe districts. It’s not just that Beto is raking it in, it’s also that multiple Democratic Congressional challengers are also kicking butt, in some cases outraising the incumbents they are running against. Republicans will still have the advantage overall, thanks mostly to Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. It’s just that they won’t have the skies all to themselves this time. I feel certain that folks like Brendan Steinhauser are concerned about that, too. The DMN has more.

Just a reminder, the I-45 construction is going to be massive

I can’t quite wrp my mind around the scope of it. I suspect a lot of us feel the same way.

Birds flitting in and out of the grass and trees along this strip of marsh pay no heed to the roar from interstates 45 and 10 on the horizon, but to Houston Parks Board officials the sound is an ominous reminder of what could come.

Defenders of this long-sought “linear park” that leads from the Heights to downtown Houston now see a threat from the Texas Department of Transportation and its mammoth, once-in-a-generation project to relieve chronic congestion along I-45 and on the broader downtown highway system.

The project, already years in the making, reflects unprecedented levels of listening by TxDOT, which fairly or not has a reputation of building through communities rather than with them. Yet concerns linger over this pristine spot on White Oak Bayou, which TxDOT would criss-cross with seven new spans under the current version of its ambitious plan to build Houston’s freeway of the future.

“If that happens, the gateway to White Oak Bayou Greenway will be a freeway underpass,” said Chip Place, director of capital programs for the Houston Parks Board.

The parks board and a handful of other groups — joined by elected officials — have raised these and a number of other issues with the freeway redesign following the release of the project’s draft environmental report. Disenfranchised communities fear rebuilding the freeway and its connector ramps will further cut them off from economic gains so that other people can shave a minute or two from their daily commutes.

Their message is clear: Houston has one chance in five decades to remake the spine of the region’s north-south traffic movements. Good isn’t good enough. It has to address everything to the best of everyone’s abilities.

You can read the rest. We’re two or three years out from the start of construction, which is on a ten-year timeline. I’ll stipulate that TxDOT has done a good job of soliciting and incorporating public input on this thing. It’s just that I don’t think there’s any way to do this that doesn’t fundamentally change the character of every part of town the redesigned highways pass through, and not in a good way – I think the best we can hope for is that it doesn’t do much harm. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bury my head in the sand for a little while.

Two more campaigns launched in CD07

Two from the inbox. First, from Tuesday:

Laura Moser

Laura Moser, writer and founder of the resistance tool Daily Action, formally launched her congressional campaign for District 7 at a happy hour on Monday in Houston, Texas.

“It’s time to send someone to Washington who knows how it works and wants to use that knowledge to serve the people of Houston — who actually cares about the people who live here,” Moser told the crowd.

In the aftermath of this year’s presidential election, Moser founded Daily Action, a text-messaging service that sends users an alert every weekday with a simple, curated action to resist the Trump agenda. Through Daily Action, over 250,000 subscribers have made over 778,000 calls totaling nearly 2.5 million minutes since its launch in mid-December. Moser’s experience organizing a mobile resistance inspired her to move back to Houston to engage directly in her hometown’s local politics.

“As Daily Action continued to grow, I couldn’t stop wondering what else I could do to fight the reckless, dangerous people who had taken charge of our country,” Moser said. “Making phone calls was great—but it would be even better if the people answering the phones were actually listening. In too many places around the country, including this one, that just wasn’t happening.”

Armed with the lessons afforded by her “close-up observation of DC dysfunction for the past eight years” and her on-the-ground organizing experience, Moser has come back home to Houston to fight for the people of District 7.

To learn more, you can follow Laura’s Facebook page here.

And second, from Thursday:

Lizzie Fletcher

Houston lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher announced today that she will run for Texas’ 7th Congressional District seat, pledging to build on her history of advocating for Houstonians and focusing on real solutions to their shared challenges. If elected, Fletcher would be the first woman to represent the district, which has been represented by Republican Congressman John Culberson since 2001.

“Every day, I work for real Houstonians, with real problems, who need real solutions – not platitudes, theories, or empty promises,” said Fletcher. “I have been talking to Houstonians from across the district, and they agree it is time to replace John Culberson in Congress with someone who represents the Houston we all know: a city that welcomes newcomers from around the world, that prides itself on scientific discovery, that serves as a hub for innovation, and that takes care of its neighbors. We need a partner in Washington who will listen to us and who will fight for us.”

A fifth-generation Houstonian, Fletcher is a partner at Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. (AZA), a Houston-based law firm with a formidable track record. Fletcher has been recognized by attorneys across the country as one of the Best Lawyers in America for commercial litigation and has been included on the 2016 Texas Super Lawyers list and the 2012-2016 Texas Rising Stars lists.

Fletcher said her priorities if elected would be upholding the rule of law by holding President Donald Trump accountable, making government more responsive to the people it serves, and addressing Houston’s critical infrastructure needs, especially transportation.

“John Culberson has not only failed to fight for us – he has actively worked against us, voting time and again to block transportation and infrastructure funding we need,” said Fletcher. “That failure is apparent now more than ever as he prioritizes politics over people by voting 100 percent of the time with President Trump.”

In addition to her work fighting for her clients, Fletcher co-founded Planned Parenthood Young Leaders and currently serves on the boards of Writers in the Schools (WITS) and Open Dance Project, which empower young Houstonians to express themselves. As a volunteer lawyer, she interviewed stakeholders as part of Texas Appleseed’s effort to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

Fletcher graduated from Kenyon College in 1997, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and from the School of Law at The College of William & Mary in Virginia in 2006, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the William and Mary Law Review.

Fletcher and her husband Scott live in the district where they enjoy taking advantage of all Houston has to offer and spending time with their family and friends.

In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton narrowly carried the 7th district, which includes western parts of central Houston and a portion of western Harris County.

Learn more about Lizzie and her candidacy at www.LizzieFletcher.com

Moser and Fletcher were mentioned in my earlier post about the already-crowded field in CD07. They hadn’t officially announced anything at that time, but now they have and they join a field that includes Jason Westin, Alex Triantaphyllis, Debra Kerner, Joshua Butler, and James Cargas. I’m a little tired just typing that list out.

So that’s seven Democratic candidates for a longtime Republican seat. If you’re thinking that’s a lot of candidates, I’m thinking the same thing. Here are a few more things I’m thinking:

– I have to assume the DCCC’s interest in CD07 is driving not just the size of the field but also the early rush to the starting line. There hasn’t been national focus on CD07 since 2008, and probably not any time in recent memory before then. It’s a rare opportunity, and with Congressional campaigns being expensive, the promise of this kind of help is attractive.

– That said, 2018 ought to be a very different campaign than 2008 was. Michael Skelley was a good candidate who ran a strong race that generally outperformed other Democrats in the district, but he ran a very old school “centrist” campaign that sought out crossover voters. He took a swipe at MoveOn after some ginned-up controversy over a crowdsourced at contest they ran (I don’t remember the details because the whole thing is too stupid to waste brain cells on) that lost him some support among liberals and I doubt gained him much among Republicans. I’d like to think any and all of the candidates in this race would avoid that kind of misstep on the grounds that Democratic voters today will have no patience for that nonsense and any campaign adviser who counseled such an action would be committing malpractice. Still, with seven candidates vying for a spot on the ballot, there will be some effort made to differentiate themselves, and there is room for people to stake out the “moderate” end of the spectrum. We’ll see who ends up where.

– We may scoff an Skelley’s strategy now, but it’s important to remember that in 2008 there were still a lot of Democrats winning in heavily Republican districts, mostly long-term incumbents who were being re-elected perhaps more out of habit by then than anything else. Former US Rep. Chet Edwards was headed for a third win in his DeLay-gerrymandered district, for instance. All of those people got wiped out in 2010, and examples of candidates of either party winning in districts that have a majority from the other party are much rarer these days.

– Another key difference is that 2008 was a Presidential year, so turnout was already going to be maximized. That’s another reason why it made sense for Skelley to hunt for potential ticket-splitters. 2018 is an off year, and as we well know, solving the Democratic turnout problem is the huge pressing question of our time. For a variety of reasons, it seems likely Democratic turnout will be better next year than we have seen in an off-year in a long time, but the first priority for whoever wins this nomination – and all other Dems running against Republican incumbents – will be to get Democratic Presidential year voters out to the polls. There’s literally no crossover strategy that can work without getting sufficient base turnout first. I mean, this is easily a 60-40 seat in 2014 conditions. If we’re not boosting the base level, we don’t have any shot at this. It’s as simple as that.

– Overall, I’m really impressed with the quality of the candidates running, and I’m excited to see so many newcomers and people younger than I am. I don’t envy the Democrats of CD07 the choice they will have to make, in March and again in May for the runoff. I’d like to remind all of the candidates that whatever happens, this doesn’t have to be an end if you are not the one that gets to challenge Culberson. There will be other opportunities in other years. Anyone who runs a positive campaign that energizes people without tearing down their fellow candidates will surely find further opportunities open to them.

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.

Sizing up the opportunities

This Chron story about the new Congressional map and who’s looking at what (which ran in the Express News last week) has a lot of things we’ve been discussing, and a couple of things to point out. First, a theme that I’ve harped on more than once:

The 33rd District in North Texas was transformed from an Anglo-majority, heavily Republican district into one with a 66 percent minority population that cast more than 62 percent of its votes for President Barack Obama in 2008.

The 35th District, as drawn by Republicans, would have forced Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett into a potentially messy Democratic primary battle. But the courts created a safe 25th District for Doggett anchored in Travis County by eviscerating the Legislature’s heavily Republican 25th District. Meanwhile, the revised San Antonio-based 35th District almost certainly will elect a Latino Democrat.

The 27th District, currently represented by Republican freshman Blake Farenthold, has been redrawn to become more heavily Hispanic and strongly Democratic. Farenthold’s home is in the new 34th District, where he is likely to run.

But even with those three gains, some Democratic partisans worry that they may not be able to maximize their opportunities in a year when Obama is likely to lose the state by a wide margin.

First, of those three districts, only the 35th is reasonably competitive, and with Rep. Joaquin Castro having announced for it, I’m not terribly worried about Democratic prospects there. Second, Obama lost Texas in 2008 by a “wide margin” as well, and the limited polling data we have so far indicates that 2012 looks a lot like 2008. Things can certainly change, and there’s hardly any guarantee that the models pollsters are currently using will be reflective of reality next November, but unless you’re arguing that Obama will lose significant ground from 2008, let’s keep things in perspective.

Among the races Democrats are eyeing:

The 23rd District, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso, became more Democratic in the court-ordered plan, endangering the re-election of freshman Republican Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio. Democrats have recruited a well-known challenger in state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.

The 14th District, currently represented by retiring Republican Ron Paul, will shift eastward into Jefferson County and has a minority population of about 35 percent. Former Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, who has represented much of the district over the past two decades, is considering another run. The early favorite on the GOP side is state Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland.

The 10th District, which rambles from Austin to the outskirts of Houston, loses three-fourths of its heavily Republican Harris County population and becomes a swing district. While Republican Rep. Michael McCaul has turned back expensive challenges in the past, Democrats being mentioned include previous congressional hopefuls Larry Joe Doherty and Michael Skelly of Houston, and Dan Grant of Austin.

The 6th District, long represented by Joe Barton, R-Ennis, has been shifted into heavily minority sections of Dallas County. Democrats think they have a chance to unseat the 14-term incumbent if they can recruit a strong challenger such as former Rep. Chet Edwards, former state Rep. Chris Turner, a longtime Edwards aide, or former state Rep. Allen Vaught, a Purple Heart recipient.

Rep. Gallego has filed for the 23rd. Nick Lampson is still being drafted, though I hear there are other potential candidates out there as well. I have no idea where they got Mike Skelly’s name for CD10. He doesn’t live in the district, not that one is required to do so, and I at least have not heard any chatter about him being interested in a campaign. Dan Grant is known to be interested, I do not know about anyone else, though David Nir wonders about one-time 2010 candidate Jack McDonald. As for CD06, Chet Edwards would indeed be a coup, but again as yet I have not heard anything to that effect. Chris Turner is running for the new State House seat in Tarrant County, so he’s off the list. Oh, and as far as I know John Sharp is not running for any of these seats. I don’t feel whole until he gets mentioned.

Anyway. There are always last minute surprises at filing time, and I daresay this year that will be even more so than usual. Don’t believe anything until it’s official. Oh, and as of last night there was still no word from SCOTUS on the stay request. We’re almost halfway through the filing period.