On the Bicycle Trail to More Land-Use Regulations

Last week, City Council approved the Houston Bike Plan. The plan is allegedly intended to expand the city’s bike trails from about 500 miles to 1,800 miles. But as I noted in my last post, the plan isn’t really about bike trails. It’s about the city assuming more control over land use in Houston.

The Chronicle reports that implementation of the plan will cost an estimated $550 million, but the plan lacks any means to fund this boondoggle. That didn’t stop Mayor Turner from endorsing the plan.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said it was a growing quality of life issue, and the city needs to provide bike options to economically disadvantaged areas where facilities are lacking and people need more exercise options and sometimes safe routes to work.

“We cannot stand still,” Turner said. “When it comes to the infrastructure, cycling is a major part.”

Not surprisingly, Turner didn’t mention whose quality of life the bike trails will enhance. Houstonians are not monolithic when it comes to bike trails (or any issue). Some want bike trails and some don’t, and many are apathetic. The quality of life of some will be enhanced at the expense of others.

For decades the city has been promoting one policy after another to enhance our quality of life. From billboard regulations to historic preservation, from controls on smoking to the bike plan, each of these policies has been defended as a means to improve our quality of life.

But the quality of life of sign company owners and their employees certainly hasn’t been enhanced. The quality of life of the victims of historic preservation hasn’t improved. Those who will be forced to pay for bike trails they don’t want and will never use won’t enjoy a higher quality of life.

In each of these examples, and many others, city officials and special interest groups have used quality of life as an excuse to expand city control over property use.

Advocates of the bike plan said that they have no intention to force neighborhoods to construct trails if they don’t want them. But as we’ve seen with billboards, smoking, preservation, and other issues, bike activists will ultimately expand their demands. And the city will be only too happy to accommodate them.

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