Biking for fitness, wellness and sustainable or "green" commuting is an activity that has swept our nation. It should come as no surprise: one of the oldest methods of mechanical transportation, biking burns about 300 calories per hour if you are riding at 5.5 miles per hour and weigh about 175 pounds.1 Riding the wave of this trend, many U.S. cities have begun instituting bike share programs, turning an activity typically reserved for young people and serious athletes into an everyday, affordable form of public transportation. Day passes for bike rental cost residents and tourists alike from $5 to $10 in most places, with annual memberships typically hovering between $60 and $75. You simply visit bike kiosks strategically positioned around a town, swipe a credit card and check out a bike. What may be more interesting than this trend, however, is precisely where some cities are proposing people begin to ride.
Usable Space in Plain Sight
As reported by StreetsBlogUSA, Houston is taking a particularly interesting route to creating more bike-friendly territory within its city limits. Inspired by an article in Rice University’s Cite Magazine, student Alyson Fletcher decided to write her master’s thesis at the Cornell University landscape architecture program on the untapped possibility of the city's more than 500 miles of high-voltage utility right-of-way, mostly grassy space around and beneath power lines. Her proposal? Turn these linear greenspaces into a “recreational super-highway” that crisscrosses the urban landscape.
In May of 2014, Houston signed an agreement with CenterPoint Energy that provides the city with free access to some 500 miles of right-of-way, of which 140 plots reside beneath high-voltage lines and are well suited for trails.2 Texas state legislators even passed a law resolving liability within these spaces for CenterPoint, though concerns still remain about the appropriateness of tree cover and the potential for riders to be exposed to slight electromagnetic shocks.3
This move coincides with another urban planning trend: revitalization of under-utilized industrial spaces for recreation, tourism and transportation. Houston's right-of-way bikeway joins New York City's High Line and Atlanta's Beltline as part of a long string of creative re-use projects being undertaken around the country. The question is: what could you do with your right-of-way if given the chance?
Bonus: Some bike share programs worth checking out:
- Boston's Hubway: 600 bikes at 61 kiosks
- Denver's Denver Bcycle: 700 cycles at 84 stations
- Miami's DecoBike: 1,000 bikes at dozens of locations
- New York City's citibike: 1000s of cycles at 100s of strategically located stations