It’s a good thing.
In Fort Worth, the mayor hosts occasional bicycle rides called “Rolling Town Halls.” The Dallas City Council could may soon require new businesses to set aside space for bicycle parking. Over in El Paso, officials are developing plans for a bike-share system, which is expected to be the fifth such program in the state after Austin’s makes its debuts this year.
In car-clogged communities around Texas, a biking movement is gaining speed. Midsize and large cities are expanding bike trails and putting roads on “lane diets” to accomodate bike lanes.
“Biking has just exploded over the last year in Houston,” said Laura Spanjian, director of Mayor Annise Parker’s office of sustainability.
While curbing traffic and air pollution prompted earlier interest in such initiatives, those concerns are now overshadowed in some cities by other motivating factors, particularly boosts to public health, quality of life and economic development.
“It’s really being embraced for solving a lot of problems. It’s not this sort of fringe, tree-hugger issue anymore,” said Linda DuPriest, a former bicycle-pedestrian program coordinator for Austin who is now a senior planner for Alta Planning + Design, a Portland, Ore.-based design firm that focuses on bike infrastructure. In June, DuPriest opened the agency’s Texas office in Dallas.
“Texas is really ripe” for an expansion in bike infrastructure, said Mia Birk, the firm’s president and a former bicycle program manager with the City of Portland, widely regarded as a national model for biking infrastructure. “There’s so many cities that are growing and thriving, and really looking for ways to create healthier opportunities for residents and businesses.”
“People who are trying to attract people and businesses to their cities get it,” said Robin Stallings of BikeTexas, an advocacy group. “If they want to get their kids to come back after college, if they want to get any kind of high-tech industry, they need this stuff.”
“Our population is trending younger, and I think younger populations are wanting more density and want to live closer to where they live, play, shop and eat,” Spanjian said.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that within two years of each other, we have four Texas cities with bike-share programs,” Spanjian said.
Developing such programs in Texas poses unique challenges, Birk said, because the cities are more spread out and less crowded than in many other states.
“When you have very high density but that smaller footprint, you also have a competition over space and a lot of humans debating how we use that space,” Birk said. Many Texas cities, she said, have almost the opposite problem: so much space that it is more difficult to convince people that biking is a practical way to get around.
Advocates often stress the value of biking for short trips and as a means of connecting with public transportation.
“About two to three miles is the sweet spot where it really can be more efficient and faster to take a bike,” said Annick Beaudet, a City of Austin planner who had previously worked as bicycle program manager for the city.
Here’s more about Austin’s forthcoming bike share program, and about El Paso’s program, which has run into some obstacles. This is a quality of life issue first and foremost, even more than it is a transportation issue. A lot of people want to live in the inner urban core, younger people especially. Driving and especially parking becomes problematic because there isn’t the space to easily accommodate everyone and their cars. Facilitating biking, especially for short trips, alleviates a lot of these problems and makes it more practical for amenities like bars, restaurants, and small retail to exist. That often requires ordinance and code changes as well, but the cities are dealing with those as well. The cities are competing with the suburbs and outlying areas for new residents and businesses. Solving these problems, and making their spaces be the kind of places new residents want to live is the key.