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Houston Council Member Thinks Bike Lanes Endanger Drivers

Council member Edward Pollard said road construction that emphasizes cyclists can be detrimental to those driving vehicles. This week Pollard walked back his earlier statement, but only slightly.

(TNS) — Houston, Texas, council member Edward Pollard this week walked back divisive comments that drew the criticism of transportation safety advocates across the Bayou City — but insisted that his criticism against bike lanes still stands.

Pollard, who represents District J on Houston's southwest side, made the comments during the council's public comment session Dec. 7. He said he believed city engineers are putting too much focus on protecting bicyclists "to the detriment of those riding in vehicles" after a pair of Midtown residents complained about the design of newly installed two-way bike lanes along Austin Street. One of those residents, an ExxonMobil boss who spoke through Zoom from the driver's seat of her car, said the Public Works Department-designed bike lanes are too wide and cause confusion for drivers on the otherwise one-way street.

"We see skid marks on the concrete barriers because people are trying to figure out and navigate their way ... out of the bike way," speaker Cathy Sotelo said. "We've seen delivery trucks having no way to park."

Sotelo and neighbor Cynthia Acevas-Lewis also claimed that Houston firefighters from the nearby Station 7 told them that the bike lane made it difficult to run emergency calls on Austin Street. During the public comment period, Mayor Sylvester Turner pushed back on the accusation and read an email from a captain at Station 7 that said no firefighter had come forward with complaints.

Pollard responded to the pair by suggesting the council should talk about reining in the Public Works Department, which is responsible for designing and implementing Houston's planned network of bikeways through the Houston Bike Plan.

"This is a larger issue that we have to discuss within Public Works and the way in which we design these bike lanes," Pollard said. "I have similar issues in District J. These bike lanes are really wide, and it is confusing to drivers if they can use those or not."

Pollard's district is home to a major overhaul of Hillcroft Avenue, which will add a separated bike lane and elevated bus stops to make the heavily traversed corridor between Bellaire Boulevard and U.S. 59 more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. Speaking to the Houston Chronicle's Dug Begley in April, Pollard voiced support for the project. It is unclear which bike lane Pollard was referencing in his Dec. 7 comments. Reached through staff Monday, Pollard declined a phone interview.

The Houston Bike Plan, adopted by city council in 2017, was approved before Pollard took office in January 2020. The plan calls for 1,800 miles of new high-comfort bike lanes and hopes to reduce the number of deadly collisions as well as increase ridership throughout the city.

After targeting the Public Works Department's designs, Pollard then broadened his criticism to the idea of bikeways in general.

"I think we put a lot of emphasis on cyclists, sometimes to the detriment of those riding in vehicles," Pollard said during the Dec. 7 meeting. "I know we have a city that has many dynamics and many different modes of transportation, but it has seemed as if some of the new construction when it comes to bikes lanes and the type of ways which we are constructing these lanes are becoming dangerous. I think we need to just continue to look at it and make sure that we are making smart decisions when it comes to new road construction."

Since Pollard took office in January 2020, three people on bikes have died in crashes in District J, according to data from the Texas Department of Transportation. Two more crashes involving bicyclists resulted in severe injuries, 31 crashes involved minor injuries and one resulted in no injury. Across Houston, 43 cyclists were killed in the same time period. The 22 cyclists killed so far in 2021 outnumber the 21 cyclists killed in 2020 and 20 killed in 2019.

Advocates with BikeHouston, who promote safe bicycle safety and awareness, took exception to Pollard's latter comments.

Several others piled on criticizing the council member, including LINKHouston and Air Alliance Houston.

While Pollard declined an interview, his director of communications sent a statement from the council member claiming that advocates took his comments out of context. The full exchange can be seen on Houston Television's website.

"I concurred with the testimony by adding comments related to how many accidents have occurred in District J because of some of the same issues with newly constructed bike lanes that the cyclist identified," Pollard said in the statement. "... In reflection, I agree that my word choice could have been better to clear up any misinterpretation. My intention was to advocate for safe construction of bike lanes to ensure everyone can share the road in a safe manner."

(c)2021 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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