When Joe Cutrufo first started riding his bicycle around Houston, in December, he said he noticed that many protected bike lanes across the city were littered with trash and other debris. He saw leaves, pebbles and grass along with pieces of blown-out tires, broken glass and oil containers.
The new executive director of BikeHouston then realized that bike-lane maintenance was slipping through cracks in the proverbial pavement.
“It’s one of those things where the average person riding a bike in Houston sees the amount of debris and probably wonders, ‘Why isn’t anyone cleaning this?’” Cutrufo said. “The reason is because the maintenance has just not been prioritized by the city.”
With more and more Houstonians using bikes both for exercise and as a mode of transportation, and with plans for the region to add more bike lanes in the coming years, BikeHouston called attention to the issue and helped do something about it on the morning of April 22. The nonprofit partnered with Houston City Council members Sallie Alcorn and Karla Cisneros, the Greater Northside Management District and more than 30 volunteers for an “Earth Day Bike Lane Clean-Up” in Northside Village, clearing the bike lanes on both sides of Cavalcade Street between Fulton Street to the west and Irvington Boulevard to the east.
Cutrufo said the group shoveled, swept and raked enough debris to fill two or three 45-gallon bags at every street corner along the route. Cisneros, who represents the area as part of District H, was among those who put on a safety vest and helped.
“This initiative helps draw attention to the importance of the maintenance of bike lanes,” Cisneros said in an email. “Though a maintenance plan is on the radar of Houston Public Works, it is an issue that has not yet been resolved. As Houston adds more miles of lanes to the city’s bike infrastructure network, the need for implementing a system of maintenance also grows. I appreciate BikeHouston helping bring attention to this issue.”
Cutrufo said he was “thrilled” with the turnout and what the volunteers were able to accomplish in a two-hour span. He said there is a need for bike-lane cleanup throughout the city, particularly in the Northside area.
But BikeHouston does not necessarily plan to service those bike lanes like it did the ones on Cavalcade. Cutrufo said Houstonians served by the nonprofit just want to be able to use them safely.
“BikeHouston is not looking to get a contract with the city to continue to clean bike lanes. That’s not what we’re trying to do,” Cutrufo said. “We don’t expect the people who ride the bus to clean the buses. We don’t expect drivers to fill potholes. So it shouldn’t be the responsibility of Houstonians who ride bikes to clean the debris in bike lanes.
“If we’re going to embrace the bicycle as a mode of transportation in Houston and not simply tolerate it,” he added, “we need to make sure we’re maintaining the bike network.”