I love this.
Friends remember Pat Walsh as someone who saw the big picture of what Houston could be, and the little details necessary to get a massive city bureaucracy headed in the right direction. Now they want the former planning director’s name on a big new bikeway, perhaps fittingly made up of some of the incremental improvements he helped come to fruition.
“It is important that contribution be remembered,” said Kevin Strickland, one of the proponents of the bikeway’s creation.
If the idea can wind its way through the city’s processes, some Walsh helped craft, the 9-mile Pat Walsh Bikeway would connect Loop 610 north of the Heights to Loop 610 south of NRG Park.
“A big part of the strategy here is letting people know with one bikeway they can cross the city,” said Emmanuel Nunez, one of the people pressing for the bikeway, which would include many long-sought connections in the existing trail system.
The proposal was approved Wednesday by the infrastructure committee of Houston’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the first of many uphill paths the proposal faces to become an official designation.
Walsh was Houston’s planning director from 2014 to 2018, when he died at 45 from an aggressive form of brain cancer detected that summer. Despite his short time leading the department, his impact has been immense on the city’s growth, Strickland said, and the expansion of bike lanes in the city.
The bikeway dedicated to Walsh would stretch from the Heights, where the existing bike trail along Nicholson ends at 26th Street, to the new bike path along Almeda to Loop 610 near NRG Park, a distance of around 9 miles. Between the Heights and NRG, the bikeway would be stitched together by connections to Patterson Street where improvements are planned to its crossing at Washington Avenue, along the Jackson Hill Bridge that connects to the Buffalo Bayou trail system, and along Woodhead and Alumni where cyclists share the road with drivers on neighborhood streets that cross many major intersections.
“We want this to be a bikeway that connects many parts of the city,” Nunez said.
If built, it also becomes a major north-south spine for cyclists who already have good east-west connections along Houston’s bayou trail system. Linked by the proposed Walsh bikeway, Nunez said, many other neighborhoods can claim accessible, safe bike routes.
Key to the bikeway’s design — which would incorporate signs designating it for Walsh — would be what Nunez called a “train stop approach” to directions along the path denoting major locations and interest points. The design mimics that of light rail stations, showing the order on a simple line with some indication, perhaps, of cycling times and distances between the stops.
“This is only going to be useful if it is stitched together,” Nunez said.
The bicycle committee, which meets again in October, can at that time or later approve a recommendation for the bikeway to bear Walsh’s name. From there, Fields said city staff will take that approval to Turner, who then must assign a department to report on the potential change and its impacts. Officials also would notify and potentially seek the approval of neighborhood groups in the area around the bikeway — which crosses more than a dozen civic club boundaries.
City Council would eventually have to give its blessing to the change as well. Not to mention the connections that would have to be made taking the various segments and stitching them together.
That report mentioned in the penultimate paragraph would include recommendations for how to connect the various pieces of the existing (or in the works) parts of the trail. Getting funding for whatever construction would be needed is part of that as well. This will take a few years if all goes well, and will be dependent on the next Mayor to ensure the work keeps going.
I recommend you look at the overview of the plan as put together by A Tale of Two Bridges. Right off the bat, the success of this as a concept will depend on the Patterson Bridge. Getting around or through Rice University – the “Alumni Drive” part of the trail – will either require a detour around the campus, thus making the trail longer, or the willingness of Rice to allow the trail to cross it, which I daresay will need some persuasion. I’d argue that it’s in the school’s interest to give people who will be coming to the campus anyway for sports, the Shepherd School, the Media Center, and more, a convenient way to get there without driving and thus free up parking for those who have to drive, but I’m a member of the extended Owl family and not an actual alumnus, so I don’t know how much weight that carries. But there you have it.
If you look at the somewhat confusing Houston Bike Plan map, you can see the different segments (some of which as noted are themselves still in the planning or construction phases) and the gaps between them. Putting this all together makes so much sense, and would be good for non-bikers as well, again by taking cars off the road and out of the parking lots. I’ll be banging the drum for this at every opportunity.