Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Eldridge Parkway and bicycles: the end-game is here

EYES WIDE SHUT, RUNNING INTO AN ENERGY WALL

Concerned? Write to Pamela Rocchi <PRocchi@hcp4.net> at Precinct Four.


Eldridge Parkway is an important bicycle commuter link between the TxDOT FM-529 bike lanes, the Clay Road bikeway, and the Energy Corridor District. This connection will cease to exist, however, should Harris County Precinct Four carry out plans to eliminate road shoulders used by bicyclists and convert the roadway to curb-and-gutter drainage without installing bike lanes or a wide outside lane. Precinct Four has been aware of the importance of these shoulders to bicycle commuters for years, but appeals to save them have fallen on deaf ears. They claim that cycling on the road is too dangerous, and they are too busy trying to accomodate cars. The former is simply not true. The latter indicates a worldview where users are divided and pitted against each other based on their needs. Other agencies throughout the Nation and even some in Texas somehow manage to plan and build "Complete Streets" for all users. Why not Harris County?

The main point, however, is not what happens to this particular stretch of roadway. The main point is that Eldridge Parkway is symptomatic of a failure of Harris County and most other H-GAC member governments to plan for all residents. Our local counties and cities fail to plan for bike commuters, pedestrians, transit users, children, the disabled, and the elderly. The notion of a Complete Street seems utterly foreign to our elected officials and their engineers. Fewer people can afford to drive these days, school districts are cutting bus service, and unincorporated areas are beyond the reach of METRO. What do County Commissioners and Mayors expect people to do? Stay home and not go to work or school?

The Houston-Galveston area is running, not walking, into an energy brick wall. Oil reservoirs worldwide are maturing, major producing basins are in decline. Contrary to popular belief, Texas does not even produce enough energy any longer to meet its own internal needs; we and California and Oklahoma used to power the entire world, but in 1991 Texas became a net energy importing state. What will the price of gasoline be in five years? It's impossible to predict, but I can say one thing with certainty... we will be wistfully thinking back to the "good ol' days" when gasoline was "only $4 per gallon".

H-GAC and all member governments, Harris County included, must implement plans for building a diverse, energy-efficient, carbon-limiting transportation system featuring Complete Streets for all residents. Energy will be more expensive in the future, and both Presidential candidates, McCain and Obama, intend to limit our carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Unfortunately, we needed to make these investments starting twenty-five years ago. At least we should stop digging the hole we are stuck in and making it deeper.

PW

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