Over the last year, people around the world have been navigating the challenging landscape of COVID-19 precautions. Looking at the news, most of what is shown relates to the frustrations of these measures: uncomfortable masks, tricky zoom calls, social distancing, etc. However, simultaneously, there has been a silent revolution going on in Houston transit of which telecommuting is only a small part. In fact, this revolution is possibly one of the most substantial shifts towards sustainable transit Houston has ever seen. All one needs to do to begin to grasp the shifting bedrock is try to visit a local bike shop.
All over Houston, people are lining up outside bike shops even for simple flat repairs. “We’re so booked just for simple maintenance; we aren’t even accepting bigger jobs for months!” said the owner of a Pearland cycling small business. “I can hardly even keep stock on the shelves people are buying so many bikes.”
Looking further, this is the case all over the county. An international cycling union has published that all bike sales have been record breaking in all categories and 20% more of Americans are riding bikes than before and continue to keep up the habit. Bikes are one of, if not the most sustainable transportation options, making this trend an extremely positive one for Americas carbon footprint as a whole.
Additionally, a major partner of UH, Houston BCycle, is also reporting record breaking numbers in ridership with over 16,000 more riders than this time last year. “August was the biggest month of ridership in our systems history!” said Henry Morris, BCycle Development and Communications Officer. This number is significant for sustainability because these are shared bikes, which have a much lower carbon footprint than personal bikes. The fact that the jump is in ridership is part of a sustained trend since last year is a wonderful indicator that more Houstonians are using shared cycling as transit than ever before.
Bringing it directly to campus, UH’s carbon footprint is predominantly from our vehicles. UH staff, faculty, and students produce thousands of tons of emissions on our way to and from campus. While the coronavirus has caused so much unfortunate confusion and stress, the pressure has also moved the needle on institutional telecommuting and learning. More UH students are taking online classes than ever before, UH staff are being allowed to work remotely where possible, and this means a whole lot less driving for our entire community. While these measures are temporary and for safety, new policies are being developed to allow those who whish to continue the remote life style to do so; thus, setting the stage for lasting alternative transit options and a sustained lower footprint.
If you would like to hear more about how the pandemic is reprioritizing sustainable infrastructure, or how you can go even further to keeping UH and Houston Sustainable, please contact the University of Houston Office of Sustainability using the contacts below.
Gabriel Durham, Sustainability Coordinator
Office of Sustainability
University of Houston