When I began working at SWA in Houston back in September of 2011, I also started a challenge unrelated to work, one addressed to myself and to the city of Houston. The goal was simple: surviving without a car. How long could I successfully move around the country’s fourth largest city exclusively by bike and,… Read more »
When I began working at SWA in Houston back in September of 2011, I also started a challenge unrelated to work, one addressed to myself and to the city of Houston. The goal was simple: surviving without a car. How long could I successfully move around the country’s fourth largest city exclusively by bike and, only very occasionally, using public transportation?
I biked to work every day; I was living close to the office so that was okay. I attached a basket to my bike and regularly rode to grocery stores like HEB and WalMart. I took longer rides to IKEA, Best Buy, and Buffalo Bayou during weekends. The longest distance I traveled was to the Johnson Space Center, 31 miles southeast. My second farthest journey was to tour the Battleship Texas State Historic Site, 28 miles to the east. I enjoyed biking from day one to the 428th day, my last, when I finally quit the challenge. Here is why:
1. I might be hit by an F-150 truck.
I was so close to having several accidents during the 428 days, including almost getting hit by an F-150, that I bought a Honda Civic the next day. That’s how I quickly determined to become a car owner. I was lucky enough to survive on the dangerous Houston roads, unlike the 13 far less fortunate bikers, whose cycles were painted white and tagged as “ghost bikes.” Dedicated bike lanes in Houston are mostly an afterthought applied to existing roads. The very narrow demarcation lines provide no safety for bikers.
2. There’s no place to lock a bike.
Few plazas have dedicated bike parking racks, with IKEA, Edwards Houston Marq’E Stadium movie theater, and a very few others being exceptions. In most cases, I had to lock my bike to signage poles or even trees. Even our Houston office does not have a bike rack. I locked my bike to the pole with handicap parking signage every day at work.
3. I was questioned by an FBI agent.
Several days after my trip to the Battleship Texas, I found a business card at my door. It belonged to an FBI agent from the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the back read, “Mr. Sui, please call me when you get this card.” I called the guy immediately and was interviewed the next day. A security guard had observed me “biking along the oil refinery with a cellphone taking pictures, looking suspicious.” In fact, I took a photo of my bike with the oil refinery as background on a public road. You could easily go to Google Streetview and get a higher resolution image of that particular site. Apparently I was the only person crazy enough to bike on that road, and must have appeared to be a well-prepared terrorist.
4. Biking in Houston is not for the commuter.
SWA designed the amazing bike path along Buffalo Bayou and many other trails. However, here, biking is a “thing.” You are supposed to attach your bike to your car, drive to the start of a trail, bike, then drive back home. This is biking for pleasure, not an alternative means of transportation. How will we design a sustainable, Houston-scaled infrastructure that truly protects cyclists? How will we establish a society and culture that respects cyclists? How can we get people out of their bigger and bigger SUVs and trucks and join the cyclists instead of pushing unprotected bikers into traffic? How can biking become a “norm” and not a “thing”?
The result of the challenge after 428 days is that I lost. Or, rather, Houston lost. I enjoyed the 428 days but as soon as I bought my Honda Civic, I almost stop biking completely, and got fatter and fatter. Finally, I will be Texas-sized, just like our mega-popular F-150.