A joint meeting was held this week with Manvel city council and the city’s Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) to hear a report on bikeways from Jeff Taebel, Director of Community and Environmental Planning for the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC).
According to Taebel, people across the region and the nation are looking for more occasions to get out of their cars and onto their bicycles. One reason for the increased interest includes concern for the environment. H-GAC reports that replacing short car trips with bicycle trips can save 12 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Bikes can make available increased access for those with no or limited use of motor vehicles. H-GAC reports that 26% of vehicle trips are 3 miles or less, making for a reasonable biking distance. People are increasingly health conscious and studies indicate just three hours of bicycling per week can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%. Youth who bike to school reportedly gain 2 to 3 fewer pounds per year than their classmates who are driven to school. And many consider bicycling as an enhancement to their quality of life. Again, H-GAC reports show 35% of Americans consider the availability of bikeways, walking paths, and sidewalks as an important contributor in where they choose to live.
Regional and local planning more often includes bikeways as part of an overall transportation plan. Bikeways provide residents a choice in how they get around, improvements in mobility as traffic is reduced, and an improved quality of life. A focus on four primary strategies will affect bikeway planning principles. Safety for cyclists and minimizing conflicts with motor vehicles is critical. Bikeways that provide direct and seamless travel encourage cycle use. Access to the same destinations as everyone else can make bikeways a key transportation option. And smooth riding surfaces with sufficient space, lighting, and signage can improve the sense of comfort for cyclists.
As city planners consider bikeways as part of the overall Master Thoroughfare Plan, which presently is under consideration for an update, four types of bikeway will be considered. Planners acknowledge that no one type is favored by all cyclists and it is likely any plan would include a combination of the types. A shared use path is physically separated from vehicle traffic but is also used by pedestrians, skaters, joggers, and other non-motorized users. A signed shoulder bike route uses an area of the roadway that is contiguous with traffic flow and is intended for stopped vehicles and for emergency use. Bike lanes are designated parts of a roadway that are delineated by striping, signage, and pavement markings. Signed shared roadways are similar to bike lanes but for the exclusion of dedicated striping. Typically a curb lane will be wider than normal to accommodate the shared bicycle traffic and is usually designated by some form of signage.
A key factor in implementing a network of bikeways is the cost. Taebel stressed that good design and materials result in quality facilities and lower maintenance costs. Ongoing routine maintenance will have to be budgeted for not only for the path but also for associated landscaping. Just as streets eventually wear down and require resurfacing, bikeways will require it as well. Security of the paths through police visibility and lighting must be accounted for. But he maintains that it is beneficial to be proactive in the establishment of the bikeways, particularly in the acquiring of rights-of-way as design is far easier in the conceptual phase and construction is simplified when it is originally part of a project. Considerable challenges confront the establishment of a bikeway when it goes in after infrastructure is already established and over time the cost will only increase.
Taebel says cities that have planned for parks amenities such as bikeways are consistently the fastest growing areas outside of Houston. He says he has yet to see an example of a city or development that went overboard on parks amenities. PD&Z member Brian Wilmer considers these types of amenities as win-win situations for both the city and the developer; “they will have amenities that they can promote with their neighborhood that connects to a city-wide trail system.”
A network of bikeways, as with the city’s thoroughfare and drainage plans, provide flexibility in its implementation and will be tweaked and established over time as the city experiences new development. As city officials work to stay ahead of impending growth, bikeways are yet one more amenity to consider and plan for as a long term program that will make Manvel an appealing place to live.