(Houston — Edel Howlin, KUHF News) With rising gas prices more and more Houstonians are looking at other ways of getting around the city. Cycling is one of those options. As Bike To Work Day kicks off this morning, how realistic it is to cycle around Houston and whether more people are pedaling past the pumps? (Houston dwellers have longer automobile commutes than anywhere else in America, according to a Brookings Institution study on commuting.)
Nic Alvarado like many learned to ride a bike when he was a kid. Now as an adult he regularly bikes to work and can’t help but sing its praises.
"I’ve always just loved it, it’s like flying. It’s the same sensation. You feel like you can go anywhere and the winds rushing by it’s exhilarating. Exhilarating."
Alvarado is one of hundreds of commuters hopping on their bikes this morning for Bike to Work Day. Riders take off from different points all over Houston and finish at City Hall. Then everyone makes their way from there to work. Alvin Wright is with the city’s Public works department who is heading up this event. He hopes to show biking to work is possible in a city known for its freeways. And with gas prices over the four dollar mark Wright says they decided to shift gears for this year’s event.
"We’re actually incorporating the assistance of several bike shops in the city of Houston located north, south, east and west of downtown."
Wright says it’s important to include bike shops because they can take the message into the biking community the city is trying to reach. He was also eager to point out that biking to work is not a new thing in Houston.
"The Energy Corridor here in Houston is probably one of the most active biker communities. A lot of businesses in that particular section, which is along I-10, near Eldridge, actually have a lot of their workers who actually bicycle to work."
Matt Wurth is the owner of I Cycle bike shop on West 18th st. He’s seen a change in the type of customer that’s coming through his door.
"Well I’ve definitely seen an increase in people buying bikes for transportation and not just recreation. I think it’s a combination of gas prices and I think it’s just an awareness that we can’t continue driving cars all the time and that it’s actually fun to get around by bikes."
The hundreds of bikers showing up for Bike To Work day prove it’s possible but how safe is it to bike around a city that is essentially built for automobiles. Matt Wurth again:
"You know I log thousands of miles per year on the city streets and I think in the city of Houston, inside Loop 610 it’s pretty safe. I think as you go out to the suburbs the infrastructure drops off, the roads network is not designed for cyclists at all."
If that’s the case, then the city has more work to do to make cycling a viable form of transport. But in the meantime, those who can cycle to work but haven’t bothered might benefit from Alvarado’s enthusiasm.
"A lot of people think it’s all or nothing. You’ve gotta bike every day or you’re just a bike failure. Springtime and fall are the optimum times to bike. And I think if people could find that they could bike 15% of the year, it’s still 15% of the time you’re biking. So jump out there and get on your bike. Stop making excuses and ride."
For more information about bicycling in Houston, go to www.bikehouston.org .