Local policy makers today voted not to take away money from bike and pedestrian-oriented projects. As Wendy Siegle reports — it was a small win for Houston cyclists, but not the outcome most were pushing for.
Ruth SoRelle and her husband Paul rode their bikes from their home in Westbury to today’s Transportation Policy Council
meeting in the Greenway area.
“The way I always think about it is, every time we’re on a road, that’s a car that’s not on the road. Every gallon of gas we don’t use is a gallon of gas that will be here for the future.”
They joined dozens of other cycling advocates to hear how the TPC was going to split up $345 million dollars of discretionary funding. Last month, there was a proposal on the table to cut back the amount that was given to non-road, non-freight projects. If approved, nearly $13 million dollars already promised to bike and pedestrian projects would have been redirected toward roads. After hearing from the public, the proposal was shelved to allow time for more deliberation. Before the meeting, I asked Ruth SoRelle what outcome she was hoping for.
“We are not asking for extra money, 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 than we’ll accomplish that goal.”
In the end, the SoRelles got their wish. The TPC decided to preserve the nearly 13 million dollars for bike and pedestrian initiatives. But many bike, 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. I hope they listen to their constituents.”
TPC member and County Judge Ed Emmett says there’s a lot of people moving into the city, but even more moving to the suburbs.
“Our job is to meet the needs of the people and that’s where the people are. And a lot of the discussion today about sidewalks and the cities—you heard some of the mayors and city council from other cities say, ‘Wait a minute, that’s our responsibility. We shouldn’t be using mobility funds to put down sidewalks.’ And so I think we ended at a good place. It almost went to the other extreme and said, ‘We’re going to cut off all these funds,’ and that wouldn’t have been good either.”
George Greanias is the CEO and president of Metro. He’s also a member of the TPC. He and City Councilwoman Sue Lovell wanted to give $7.2 million dollars more to bikeway and walkway projects, but were voted down.
“I don’t think this is the end of the conversation. I think it’s the beginning of the conversation. People are saying, 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.”