Photo: Yi-Chin Lee, Staff
In the blocks surrounding the pomp of the grand opening for Third Ward’s sweeping new Emancipation Park this past weekend, residents may have noticed something else new and unusual: A fleet of shiny orange bikes, led by a man with long dreadlocks and a boxy speaker on his front rack, playing dancy music and chatting with wide-eyed passersby.
“You do this every Sunday?” yelled a lady from her car. For Alan Moore, the answer is not yet – but hopefully soon.
Moore is the founder of Let’s Do This Houston, an events company that puts on group bike rides, often coupled with food. In the past, he’s teamed up with Tour de Hood, a Third Ward-based non-profit that leads neighborhood bike tours on donated bikes that they’ve fixed up at the adjoining bike shop.
Now, with the donation of 30 Dutch cruisers from CYCLE Houston – complete with bells and lights – the two groups are accelerating their plans to introduce people to the Third Ward’s cultural history and present. The new bikes live in a big yellow shipping container across from Emancipation Park on well-trafficked Elgin Street, which was still having “3rd Ward Bike Tours” painted on it in big block letters.
For Veon McReynolds, who has run Tour de Hood since 2003, it’s a big expansion of a long-standing effort to persuade local residents that fitness doesn’t necessarily mean being in a gym six days a week. The biggest obstacle keeping bike ridership in Houston low isn’t aggressive cars or oppressive heat – it’s state of mind.
“It’s only difficult because you don’t have a wheel,” says McReynolds, who rides a sturdy Surly bike with a trailer extension. “And if there’s a wheel, there’s a way.”
The tours on Juneteenth weekend featured stops at Project Row Houses, El Dorado Ballroom and Texas Southern University, among others. For Moore, who hails from Memphis via San Antonio and Hockley, it’s something of an extension of his day job as a social worker at the Harris Center for Mental Health.
“Biking was just something I did when I worked at a group home,” Moore says. It’s therapeutic, gets kids out of the house and keeps them healthy.
Bicycling in Houston has gotten some momentum behind it in recent months, with the city council’s passage of the Bike Plan, which lays out future dedicated bike corridors and a network of on-street lanes.
And commuting rose quickly between 2012 and 2013, according to the most recent data available from the Census Department – doubling from 0.4 percent of commuters to 0.8 percent.
Which, of course, means there’s still a long way to go.