Transportation

Houston Cyclists To Drivers: Stop Parking In Bike Lanes

Bike advocates say the city needs a specific ordinance that addresses parking in an on-street bikeway.

In response to a recent story about the City of Austin cracking down on drivers who park in bike lanes, listeners and readers started sending in pictures of violations they’ve seen on Houston city streets. We decided to follow up locally to see what Houston is doing to keep cars and trucks out of the bike lanes. Navigate through the slideshow above and the story below to see some of the photos we received from local cyclists.

Wilson Calvert loves to ride Houston’s bike lanes.

A Midtown resident, Calvert says he frequently uses the new bike lane on Gray Street, and that he can get to downtown destinations a lot quicker than he can in a car.

But other times his smooth trip comes to a grinding halt.

"I have been blocked by just about everything you can imagine in the bike lane," Calvert said.

And not just passenger vehicles. That includes police cars, and even forklifts.

"Probably the oddest thing I've seen is a huge load of bricks," Calvert continued. "They were installing a new sidewalk and they were using the bike lane as a temporary holding ground, so there was literally a pile of bricks laying in the middle of the bike lane."

Calvert isn't the only one complaining. Cyclists have sent Houston Public Media dozens of photos of private, commercial and even city vehicles parked in bike lanes all over Houston.

One picture shows contractors parked in the bike lane near Sam Houston Park. In another photo, a giant limo is parked in the Lamar lane in front of the Four Seasons Hotel. Still another picture shows a City of Houston parade float parked in a bike lane.

Parade float parked in downtown bike lane

Clark Martinson gets a lot of those photos too. As executive director of the nonprofit Bike Houston, he advocates for cycling in the city.

So what is the city doing about it?

In part, working with groups like Martinson's. To try to keep the lanes clear, and to educate drivers about the proper use of the bike lanes, Martinson said his group is working on initiatives with the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee.

One of those initiatives is specific restrictions for city vehicles and contractors that work for the city. Another is to craft an ordinance that specifically bans parking in bike lanes — something the city doesn't have right now.

"We want to make sure that people aren't parking their cars in the bike lanes that were intended to be part of a system of bikeways," Martinson said.

As Houston's demand for bike lanes grow, so too do the challenges. And under the Houston Bike Plan, the city hopes to add hundreds of miles of new on-street bikeways in the years to come.

Maria Irshad, assistant director of ParkHouston, the city agency that oversees on-street parking, said the city is looking outside Houston for inspiration.

"Because we are seeing a huge growth in the number of miles of bike lanes we're installing now we are looking at what other cities are doing to enforce bike lanes," Irshad told Houston Public Media.

The city does have some enforcement mechanisms, including patrols in bike lanes that have issued 336 tickets between 2017 and 2019, Irshad said.

But because there's no specific bike lane ordinance, they have to write those tickets for parking in a tow-away zone, she added.

"Which is why we need to get to a point where we are writing actual bike lane violations, because then it's easier and more effective to track those," Irshad said.

As for City of Houston vehicles that park in bike lanes, Irshad said those vehicles can be ticketed. She also sends reports to city department heads.

This driver used the Lamar Cycle Track to change a tire.

Locals can also help. Irshad encouraged citizens to keep reporting those violations to 311 even though the illegally parked vehicle could be gone by the time someone gets there.

"It goes back to our culture, to the fact that we are a very car-centric city," she said. "And we're very used to, ‘I'm going to this place, I'm going to park right in front of this place.' And you know, there's change."

Meanwhile back in Midtown, cyclist Wilson Calvert said it's really frustrating to have to veer onto the streets because of a car parked where it's not supposed to be.

"It comes mostly from the fact that we get a lot of flak from car drivers that don't realize we're allowed to be in the streets," Calvert said. "So now we have our own spot, our own bike lane, and then that's still treated poorly. We can't even utilize it to our fullest extent."

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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