As Houston city officials look at ways to relieve congestion on the freeways, they're encouraged by figures from the League of American Biyclists showing a 62 percent jump in the number of bike commuters. The idea of cycling to work isn't always an easy sell in a city known for its car culture and extreme summertime heat, but City of Houston Bicyclist-Pedestrian Coordinator Dan Raine is touting the benefits of leaving your motor vehicle at home -- or getting rid of it altogether.
Houston currently has around 460 miles of bikeways covering a huge geographic area (around 500 square miles). Bikeways include designated lanes on city streets, as well as popular bike trails that meander along waterways and pass through shady parks. Other trails run along rail beds and through historic neighborhoods. Cyclists can also make part of their trip by bus, attaching their bike to a rack on the front grill. If it's a large park-and-ride bus they can stow their bike in the luggage compartment.
But Raine says it takes more than just new bikeways to encourage Houstonians to cycle to work. There are practical concerns, especially on triple-digit days when a cycling commuter may have a big meeting scheduled with clients. Raine encourages local businesses to provide a place where cycling commuters can freshen up before hitting the conference room. He says some progressive-minded companies are providing showers for workers as part of a commitment to going green.
Raine says commuting by bike means families can get rid of their extra car and the expenses that go along with it. There are fitness benefits, too. In a city also known for its freeway fast food joints, cycling is one way you can work off stress after a tough day at the office and burn some calories in the process.
"I've known some people that actually ended up selling their cars and going to a one-car family," he said. "People lose weight. They find that they just have a little less stress in their life, because they're able to get out there and get the exercise that they need."
There's also the issue of bike security. Raine says businesses can encourage bike commuting by allowing employees to bring their bikes inside, or by providing a secure parking area outside for both workers and customers. He says if there are "honest eyes" keeping watch on the bikes in a well-trafficked area, people will feel more comfortable about cycling for work and errands.