Texas Cities Becoming More Bicycle-Friendly
By Leslie Luciano and Sarah Rich
Texas is growing, but unfortunately so are our obesity and diabetes rates, as well as the cost to build and maintain our roads and highways.
The good news is young people who are drawn to Texas cities by our dynamic economy want access to parks, restaurants, museums, shopping, and recreation without having to sit in their cars on a freeway to get to those destinations.
The solution to this problem is becoming increasingly clear and simple. Make our cities more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, with dedicated infrastructure, pleasant public spaces, and denser downtowns and neighborhoods.
And Texas cities are responding in a big way.
In Fort Worth, $1.26 million in local bond money has been allocated to bicycle infrastructure.
In Dallas, a $51 million five-acre pedestrian walkway spans over a busy freeway, providing a safe, comfortable connection and revitalizing neighborhoods once impossible to reach by foot.
In Houston, Mayor Annise Parker announced the Goal Zero Fatalities Bike Safety Campaign, which includes $50,000 for a Bicycle Master Plan. The City of Houston has also approved an expansive trails plan for the Houston region that builds on an approved $100M bond fund with another $100M to be raised by the Houston Parks Board, a non-profit that supports the development of Houston parks.
In Brownsville, the city has received positive press for adding bike trails, adopting a bicycle master plan, and hiring a full-time bicycle coordinator to oversee the city's bike-related efforts. Brownsville sees bike infrastructure as integral to its quest to lower its 50 percent obesity rate and its 30 percent diabetes rate.
El Paso's recent decisions to maintain funding for bike lanes, raise the standards for bike facilities, and create a Bicycle Advisory Committee put the city in step with other major cities in Texas and around the country.
After decades of car-centered development, there is a real shift toward making our cities people-friendly again.
Millennials, the generation between 17 and 35 years old, "own fewer cars and drive less than their predecessors," according to an article published by National Association of Realtors. "(Millennials) would rather walk, bike, car-share, and use public transportation - and want to live where that's all easy."
Cities all over Texas and the United States are making changing to attract and retain millennials. Making these changes allows a city to compete in the search for talent and tourists.
More and more, these are the amenities that millennials expect to find in an American city.
Austin has certainly benefited from the investments it has made to provide a high quality of life to its residents: tech companies like Google, Facebook, Silicon Labs, and HomeAway, to name a few, are opening offices there, in large part because their employees want to live in a city with bike infrastructure and other mobility options.
This influx of tech companies has been great for Austin's economy and its vitality.
The ingredients for a people-friendly city are not unique to these cities either. Some cities benefit from a top-down approach, while others are decidedly more grassroots.
The most successful cities, however, rely on a combination of political leadership, community support, high-impact projects, sensible connectivity and dedicated funding.
With Mayor Oscar Leeser's leadership, the City Council's vision, and the participation of El Pasoans from every walk of life, we expect El Paso to be the next great people-friendly city in Texas.
Leslie Luciano works on policy issues at the local, state and national level for Bike Texas, the state's premiere bicycle advocacy organization. She has served on the Bicycle Advisory Committee and sits on the Bike Share Governing and City Advisory Boards in Austin. Sarah Rich is an attorney at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and a co-founder and board member of Velo Paso Bicycle-Pedestrian Coalition in El Paso.