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A Trip to Work By Bike

With spring coming, you might want to take a bike ride around Houston. Now Google maps can help you with that. NewsLab reporter Melissa Galvez commuted to work by bike to see how it works.


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(Bike spokes turning)

“A main hazard is sewer gratings.”

This is Jay Resh.? He’s been commuting by bike in Houston for over 20 years.? And he’s going to be my guide as we bike the 5 miles from Montrose to the University of Houston.

“If you see a sewer by the curb, make sure there’s actually a grating. What you want to make sure is that there’s no gaping hole that goes 8 feet down.”?

Jay’s advice for the would-be bike commuter: watch for drivers turning right on red, bring a sponge and deodorant for when you get to work, and most importantly-follow all the rules of the road.

“We’re going down W. Dallas and then the first one we have to turn on is Bailey.? We’re going to turn right…”

Recently, Google unveiled a new maps feature which shows the over 400 miles of bike trails, lanes, and preferred routes in Houston and for cities across the country.? Google spokesperson Elaine Filadelfo says they used publically available bike maps to create directions specific to cyclists’ needs.

“So we’ll look at things like hills. We’ll also try to keep you on some smaller roads, not put you on a highway or a very large busy road, and keep you away from busy intersections that will help you from having to stop frequently.”

But they also welcome feedback from bikers

“This is a lot of traffic for a bike lane?”
“This is doable, but it’s a little more traffic than what’s ideal.”

Most people would not think of Houston as a bike friendly city, citing urban sprawl, reckless drivers, oppressive heat and torrential rain.? But avid bike commuters like Resh say that if you ride properly, Houston IS bikable.

“I’ve been commuting for over 20 years, and really the number of confrontational incidents I could count on the fingers of one hand.”

The Google maps route took us through Freedman’s Town, in the Fourth Ward.? Tiny rowhouses-some crumbling-sit next to brand new 3 story townhomes. Resh says bike commuting puts you in touch with your environment.

“The thing that strikes me is that you would never notice this unless you were on a bicycle. How many times, Melissa, have you driven by here on the way to the university and did you ever know this was back here?”

Houston has had a master bikeways plan since the 1990’s, but due to engineering and budget problems, many of the projects are just getting finished now. Last year the city completed 15 miles of hike and bike trails, and plans 15 more for this year. Dan Raine, the City of Houston Bicyclist-Pedestrian Coordinator, says that for on street amenities, the most cost effective solution is to make upgrades when they improve the roads for other purposes:

“City budgets are limited. But we’re hoping to continue to expand the network as we improve streets for other things, for flooding, for drainage improvements, and hey, while we’re doing this, is there room for a bike way?”

“Crossing the railroad tracks, train is dinging at us…”

The City has just partnered with the League of American Bicyclists to release an on line course in how to bike safely.? Raine says that will help cyclists and drivers share the road better.

“Aurora Food Mart…Callie St Barber shop…”

The Google maps route is pretty successful-mostly smooth roads, little traffic.? I’m still a little nervous about rainstorms and 95 degree summers, but Resh says to try it a little at a time-because the benefits are worth it.

“People often think I do it for the exercise, or I do it for environment, and I do do it for those reason. But really the psychological reasons predominate over the long term. I’m just a calmer, happier person when I’m bike commuting. It’s as simple as that.”

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez.

View photos on Flickr