Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on April 16 that Precinct One will commit to spend up to $10 million for one year on pedestrian- and bike-safety improvements on Houston streets in Precinct One.
The Precinct’s funds will complement the City’s commitment of $1.1 million a year for five years on similar improvements. The Precinct’s commitment is a cooperative effort that will help jump-start many of the projects on the City’s existing Bike Plan and Pedestrian Safety Action Plan – both geared to improve mobility and safety.
“This is a cooperative effort,” said Commissioner Ellis, who rode his bike from the County’s Administration Building to the news conference next to dedicated bike lanes on Lamar between Bagby and Brazos. “Working together, we can better leverage scarce resources from governmental entities and the private sector and share our collective expertise to benefit the people who we serve in this region.”
Mayor Turner said there is no better way to celebrate the first anniversary of Houston’s updated Bike Plan than to announce over $15 million of new and improved bike lanes and safer streets.
“Together,” the Mayor said, “this funding can result in over 50 miles of high-comfort bike lanes added to the city bike network as well as new sidewalks and/or a number of intersections improved to protect safety of both cyclist and pedestrians.”
Mayor Turner said some of the projects include dedicated, on-street bike lanes on Austin and Caroline streets in Midtown. Also, similar high-comfort lanes are proposed for Hardy and Elysian streets on the near-northside.
Commissioner Ellis said he wants to challenge other cities, entities, nonprofits and organizations to fund more safety projects.
The Precinct will focus on projects that can be completed quickly, such as re-striping streets to add bike lanes or safety improvements at intersections. Such projects will help motorists, cyclists and pedestrians safely share the roadways and reduce accidents.
According to a Houston-Galveston Area Council report, the number of bicycle- and pedestrian-involved crashes, injuries and fatalities have increased since 2012. The report says 54% of those accidents occur on city streets, like the ones that will be improved under this partnership.
Safety issues are one of the major impediments for people who already use or want to use cycling and walking as regular forms of transportation.
“And to a great extent, we in this region are defined by our highways. They are important, and so are toll roads. But there are many destinations that we can reach a heck of a lot easier (by alternative transportation),” Commissioner Ellis said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, cycling is the fastest growing form of transportation for commuters. More people want safe, viable alternatives to cars for daily transportation and want to live in neighborhoods and cities that are bike and pedestrian friendly.
“More and more people will be riding (bikes) when they believe that it is safe to do so,” said John Long, executive director of BikeHouston. “The construction of these projects over the next 12 months will make visible progress and improve that network and bring more and more people out.”
Not only will this effort bring needed safety improvements, it also has great potential to help position the region as a national leader in urban mobility, provide tremendous public health benefits, reduce pollution, and enhance overall quality of life. Such benefits will help attract professionals and businesses that want to relocate to a bike- and pedestrian-friendly city, making the region more economically competitive with other major cities across the country.
“This is about making the City of Houston and Harris County a national leader in urban mobility and a more economically competitive region,” Commissioner Ellis said. “We have to compete with other cities like New York and Minneapolis and Chicago.”