Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bike Plan Pep Rally

I miss most of the social rides here in Houston because I am on a reverse schedule. Most rides are before or after work or on the weekend to accommodate working cyclists. As a retired cyclist with a working wife, I am free during the work day but spend other times with my wife and am not available for rides. Thus, I was very excited when the Bike Houston, the main cycling advocacy group here in Houston, was having a bike ride and rally during the working day when I could attend.

Headquarters of Bike Houston, start of the ride

Granted, this was not really a social ride. Rather, it was a political rally to encourage the Houston City Council to adopt the Houston Bike Plan, a "guide for the City of Houston to achieve the vision of making Houston a safer, more accessible gold-level bike-friendly city within 10 years." The City of Houston Planning & Development Department in coordination and cooperation with a number of other city departments, funding agencies, and cycling advocacy groups developed the plan, which now needs to be passed by the Houston City Council. Its passage is far from a sure thing; some members of the City Council feel that the development described in the plan is a waste of money and oppose it, thus this ride and rally.

Start of the ride. Note the dress and demographics. Tattoos are visible upon close examination. Photo taken by the Houston Press.

This event consisted of three parts. The first part was a symbolic ride beginning at the Bike Houston headquarters, picking up riders along the way representing different constituencies, and meeting up with additional advocates outside Houston City Hall. The second part then began, a rally on the plaza in front of Houston City Hall. Finally, some members of the group then went inside to participate in a public meeting of the Houston City Council to speak on behalf of and otherwise show support for the Bike Plan. I participated in the first two parts.

On the road. The woman on the right in the turquoise shirt is Mary Blitzer of Bike Houston who lead the ride. Photo taken by the Houston Press

The symbolic ride was just over 2 miles long, was ridden very slowly, and featured multiple stops in service to its symbolic mission, and barely qualified as a ride. However, I chose to ride from home to Bike Houston, and then from City Hall back home, giving me a 15 mile ride, nothing special but not a complete loss from a riding perspective. That said, I could have easily had a much better ride had I not chosen to participate, so why did I? Partly to support the Houston Bike Plan; the more people who were on the ride, the more people at the rally, the clearer a signal that is sent to City Hall. But the bigger motivating factor was curiosity; despite having been a Bike Houston member for two years, I had no idea who these folks were. I wanted to meet them and see what one of their rides looked like, even if it was an atypical ride.

To help show the range of riders who benefit from the plan, these riders are on B-Cycle bikes, the bike share program in the city of Houston. Photo taken by the Houston Press.

I was quite nervous leading up to the ride. In the first place, Bike Houston headquarters is located in a neighborhood named "Midtown" located just southwest of downtown Houston, a neighborhood which is a bit difficult to reach by bicycle because getting there requires riding on some busy streets. Even after extensive route planning, I remained nervous. In the second place, and I know how silly this sounds, I worried as to the proper attire for the event. Riding with the Houston Randonneurs or the Houston Bike Club, the traditional brightly colored lycra road cycling gear is in order, but for this political demonstration, would street clothes be expected? I ended up wearing cycling clothes, selecting a jersey from a charity ride and baggy shorts as something of a compromise. When I got to Bike Houston, I found that I was well outside both the dress code and demographics; the very young crowd favored baggy urban wear and visible tattoos. There were one or two other riders dressed more like I was, but we were the distinct minority. As best I could tell, though, nobody cared. About 30 of us left Bike Houston Central and headed off to City Hall. In the lead was an electric-assisted cargo bike ridden by Mary Blitzer, Manager of Community and Government Relations for Bike Houston, pulling a trailer-mounted "white" memorial bike to remind the City Council of the life and death stakes of the Bike Plan.

Proof I was actually there. On the left is John Long, Executive Director for BikeHouston and on the right is The Zombie himself. Two of the activities featured at the rally were to have riders fill out cards expressing their support for the plan, which I am holding, and to have their picture taken inside this frame. This picture was provided by Bike Houston. I can no longer find the site on which it was shared.

So how was it? What did I accomplish? It is too early to know, if we ever will, what was accomplished. As of this writing, almost a month after the ride and rally, the Houston City Council has still not adopted the bike plan, but who knows what that means? Do events like this have any impact? Honestly, I have no idea. As to how it was, I am very glad I participated. Firstly, had I not confronted my trepidation and just done it, I would have been disappointed with myself. Secondly, whether it ended up mattering or not, at least I did something to support cycling in Houston. Thirdly, I got to know the Bike Houston demographic; despite talking to virtually nobody, I feel like I made some friends, in a creepy stalker kind of way. If I ever encounter another opportunity to ride with this crew again, I'd jump at it. All in all, quite the success from my point of view.