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Bike racks at restaurants

I wholeheartedly approve of this.

On nice days, a 20-station bicycle rack stays mostly full outside Hay Merchant, a food-and-beer establishment located among a cramped string of restaurants on Westheimer near Montrose. When the rack is full, it means 20 people left vehicles at home and freed up parking outside the popular venue.

The Hay Merchant is becoming an example of how private businesses can play a role in managing Houston’s urban congestion, and co-owner Bobby Heugel wants other owners of restaurants and bars to encourage customers to use bicycles.

Heugel created an initiative to provide free bike racks to small food-and-drink establishments located inside Loop 610. Beginning in May, the racks will be provided by Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs, a nonprofit advocacy group co-founded by Heugel to represent bars and restaurants.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that the private sector can provide a structured and responsible response to urban density and to our city’s reliance on cars,” said Heugel, who also co-owns Anvil Bar & Refuge. “It is not something we have to wait for city infrastructure to provide.”

OKRA is accepting cash donations and selling T-shirts to raise funds to fabricate a modified version of the bike rack outside Hay Merchant. The square rack, made from a single bar of heavy steel, can accommodate two bicycles. Racks can be connected.

The organization plans to start donating one rack per month. OKRA made arrangements to buy the racks at cost from the Houston-based firm Collaborative Projects.

I noted Heugel’s effort back in March. I’m glad to see it’s progressing. I would suggest that the Heights and the Washington corridor will be fertile ground for expansion, as they’re full of bars and restaurants, short on off-street parking, and within easy pedaling distance of a good portion of their customers. I’ve seen a few places in my neck of the woods with bike racks – I’ve used a couple of them myself – and have some photos of them here. More would be nicer, though honestly there’s no reason for these places to wait for Heugel. Adding a bike rack is a cheap investment in more capacity. It should be a no-brainer.

Public House on White Oak

Heugel said the city of Houston is seeking ways to deal with crowded off-street parking.

A current proposed change to a city ordinance could require new restaurants and bars to provide an increased number of parking spaces.

“It is very difficult for small, independent restaurants and bars to obtain additional parking, which requires them to spend more money on real estate to develop that type of infrastructure,” Heugel said.

OKRA’s members, he said, are trying to demonstrate that there are other solutions.

“For our part, this is just one effort out of many that OKRA plans to make that shows restaurants care about what happens outside of their walls,” Heugel said, and added that the issue at stake is bigger than parking.

“It is about how restaurants, bars and residents become better neighbors and how we deal with challenges that Houston is going to have to face going forward,” he said.

Dan Raine, a cyclist-pedestrian coordinator with the city’s Public Works & Engineering Department, said he personally thinks it “is a wonderful thing OKRA is doing, in particular in a high-density location where parking is at a premium.”

Here’s OKRA’s webpage if you want to learn more about them. The city should do its part to abet Heugel’s efforts by amending the proposed new parking ordinance to allow smaller bars and restaurants to substitute bike parking for vehicle parking. That’s what got Heugel on this crusade, and he’s right. The city has done a lot in recent years to make biking easier and more accessible. This is the logical next step. What exactly is the argument against?

By the way, a word about the bike parking that I spotted in my neighborhood. The pictures were all taken on a weekday afternoon, so don’t draw any conclusions about the number of bikes you see. I’ve seen the racks at Little Woodrow’s and Christian’s Tailgate during the weekend and weekday happy hour, and they do fill up. Several of these places I didn’t even realize had bike parking until I went looking for it. Some of that was just not noticing what I hadn’t thought about before, and some of it was because the racks were not readily visible from the street – I’m thinking of the Berryhill and Onion Creek bike racks in particular. Whatever publicity these places may have done to make their bike parking done, there’s room for more of it, that’s all I’m saying.

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