(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) For the past month, local policy makers have been ruminating on whether it would be a good idea to renege on a promise to give $12.8 million dollars to certain bike and pedestrian-oriented projects. The money is part of a $345 million dollar pot of discretionary funding. Some goes to bike/ped projects, some to road/freight rail projects. The proposal to take that $12 million and put it toward road and freight rail project stemmed from the stark reality that resources for transportation projects in the Houston region are dwindling, and the view by many members of the Transportation Policy Council (TPC) that the funds would be better spent on highway improvements.
But the plan wasn’t received well by bike advocates who came out in large numbers to sign petitions and voice concerns during last month’s TPC meeting. So, after hearing from the public, the proposal was shelved to allow time for more deliberation on how to split up the funds. That time ran out at this month's meeting where the issue finally came to a vote.
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Ruth SoRelle and her husband Paul rode their bikes to the meeting. They joined dozens of other cycling advocates to hear how the TPC would vote. Before the meeting I asked Ruth SoRelle what she hoped the outcome would be. “We are not asking for extra money," she said, "we are asking for them to maintain the funding we have. We need to develop alternate ways of transportation. So if we develop bikeways and pedestrian walkways then we’ll accomplish that goal.”
In the end, the SoRelles got their wish. The TPC decided to preserve the money for bike/ped initiatives. But despite the seeming victory,
many bicycle, pedestrian, and transit advocates left feeling dissatisfied with the outcome because the TPC also voted to allocate all of the remaining discretionary funds — some $80 million dollars — to roads and freight rail. Bike advocates had tried to persuade the TPC to put a large chunk of that money toward non-road projects. Joyce Reisdorf was one of them and had mixed feelings about the vote. “I’m a little disappointed because I think that more attention needs to be given to pedestrian projects and bike projects, transit projects, than are given now. I guess I’m glad for what we got but next time, it’s time to talk about funding," said Reisdorf. "I hope they listen to their constituents,” she added.
George Greanias is the CEO and president of Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO). He's also on the TPC. He and City Councilwoman Sue Lovell wanted to give an additional $7.2 million dollars to bikeway and walkway projects, but were ultimately voted down. “I don’t think this is the end of the conversation. I think it’s the beginning of the conversation," said Greanias after the meeting. ". . . A complete community has a whole range of options for people and the way they get around, whether it’s good sidewalks, good bikeways, good hike and bike trails, good public transit system, good streets and roads. And it’s the total package and the balance among those different modes.”