The Woodlands Township is progressing with a plan to integrate bike lanes and pedestrian pathways to enhance the community’s interconnectivity without negatively affecting vehicle traffic. However some local residents oppose the plan, claiming new bike lanes will put cyclists and motorists at odds.

The township will work with a consulting firm to determine new pathways that will interconnect the community. According to the township, the goals of the effort are to formulate a design that will meet or exceed transportation guidelines and identify existing and proposed infrastructure to accommodate a pedestrian-bicycle system. The plans will not be designed to remove vehicle thoroughfare medians, township officials said.

Township chairman Bruce Tough said the plan would incorporate options, such as streets, pathways and drainage ditches as areas that could be utilized for bike lanes. It will also address a pathway system in The Woodlands that will connect streets, villages, schools and churches, he said.

“What we have been looking at is that at The Woodlands build-out, our pathway system is not fully connected,” Tough said. “Full connectivity for bicycles and pedestrian transportation is a natural evolution of transportation in The Woodlands.”

The township could select a consultant by July 22, with the results of the study expected to be complete by the end of the year or in early 2016, according to representatives from the Bike The Woodlands Coalition. The process of adopting a bike and pedestrian plan will include public input, such as consultant presentations at public meetings, according to the township.

“We’re going to request of [the consultants] that they have conceptual plans [complete by] October-November and then have some final [plans complete] in January,” said John Powers, assistant general manager for community services for the township.

Need for study

Township Director Mike Bass, who conducted a poll on Facebook regarding bike lanes in The Woodlands, said the master plan is necessary because of the need to accommodate those who exercise as well as bicyclists who want to ride faster than The Woodlands’ 200-plus miles of hiking and biking trails allow. [polldaddy poll=8971776]

“What I heard back from people [in the poll] was that it was unsafe for cyclists to ride on the pathways at any significant rate of speed—from cyclists and people who walk and run it.”

The Bicycle Advisory Task Force is an eight-member volunteer group assembled to identify the needs of bicyclists in The Woodlands. The group has been a proponent of a bicycling lane study in The Woodlands for about the past three years.

Randall Cade, a member of the BATF, said the bike and pedestrian master plan could improve traffic for The Woodlands residents on those days when the area is clogged by road closures for events like the annual Ironman Texas triathlon.

“There’s a large swath of the community that would be able to take advantage of facilities like this,” Cade said. “It’s not a bicycle plan—it’s a pedestrian, runner and bicycle plan.”

The cost to develop the plan is about $100,000 and is included in the 2015 township budget, Powers said.

Who will pay?

Funding for potential cycling and pedestrian improvements that could be identified in the study has not been established.Township Parks and Recreation Director Chris Nunes said the selected consultant will work to identify the funding mechanisms for obtaining grants as well as establishing various partnerships with public and private entities. Money for new bike lanes will likely not come from Montgomery County.

“My position on bike lanes is the county will work with the township,” Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said. “If the township[’s leaders have] a master plan and they want to build bike lanes, they want to build them in the county right of ways, that’s something that we can discuss.”

He said the roads in Montgomery County, however, should be the priority for funding efforts.

“But the county cannot adequately fund roads, so [that’s] why I certainly am not going to be building bike lanes.”

Plan opposition

Efforts to develop new bike lanes in The Woodlands have drawn opposition from some community residents.

Tom Sloan, who leads a group of area residents opposed to bike lanes, said cyclists and motorists are too much at odds with each other to incorporate bike lanes into the community.

Sloan also said bike lanes will negatively affect The Woodlands aesthetics as well as cause safety issues.

“The concern is safety on the roadways and the visual appeal from the roadways whether it’s ugly rubber posts or posting signage,” Sloan said. “I’m very worried about teenage drivers and senior drivers trying to contend with a crowded roadway.”

Tough said the township is taking safety measures into consideration in the plan.

“We’re concerned about motorist and bicycle safety,” Tough said. “We have allocated the funding for a study where if we went forward with bike lanes, the study would identify where it would make sense to have bike lanes.”

Sloan said arguments between motorists and cyclists would escalate if bike lanes are integrated.

“Now, I think we have a very nice peace between cyclists and drivers in The Woodlands,” he said. “Nationwide, when you expand cycle lanes to be in proximity to roadways, you begin to get in altercations between cyclists and car drivers. I’d hate to see that come to The Woodlands.”

If bike lanes are built, Sloan said three things will happen.

“It will congest traffic, increase arguments between car drivers and cyclists, and it will add a layer of bicycle paraphernalia that is unattractive to the roadways.”

Bass said laws allow cyclists the right to ride on roadways.

“Cyclists still have the right to ride four in the road—they have the legal right,” Bass said. “They could be more polite, and try to get in single file, but legally they have the right to do it. They have the right to use the road like any other car, as long as they observe the traffic rules and so forth.”

The Woodlands should foster athleticism, he said.

“We’re a very athletic community [that needs to] accommodate walkers, runners, recreational bikers, and it needs to accommodate competitive bikers,” Bass said.

There is concern that bike lanes will be a detriment to motorists, Cade said.

“In my view, one of the biggest single issues is that well, ‘Why should we give up traffic lanes? These cyclists are just going to make traffic worse,’” Cade said. “We are in agreement. We want to be off the roads. We don’t want to be on the roads. We want to try to find a way to keep even more shoulders from getting paved over. We are not anxious to create a bike lane out of existing traffic lanes. We don’t want to make traffic worse for anybody.”