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Good news and bad news for bike riders

The good news:

After nearly a decade of delays, construction on a bike-and-hike trail from the Heights to downtown Houston is to begin in September, expanding area residents’ recreational opportunities and providing them an alternative mode of transportation.

The MKT/SP Trail is a Rails-to-Trails conversion project that will provide a 10-mile-wide multi-use trail stretching 4.62 miles along the old Missouri, Kansas, Texas Southern Pacific railroad corridor, connecting to downtown destinations.

It will run from Nicholson at 26th Street to Seventh Street, and from Shepherd along Seventh Street to Spring Street, ending at Hogan Street and Interstate 45 under White Oak Bayou.

There it will connect to the existing Heritage Corridor West Trail that leads to the University of Houston and other downtown destinations and bikeways, said Alvin Wright, spokesman for the city’s Public Works Department.

The project of the Texas Department of Transportation and city’s Bikeway Program is expected to take about 18 months to complete and cost an estimated $5.1 million.

I’ve never been a bike rider, at least not since I was a kid. But with Olivia talking about wanting a real bike, which she may get for Christmas, I’ll follow suit so I can ride with her. I look forward to checking this out some day.

The bad news comes courtesy of bike aficionado Peter Wang, via email, about a step backwards for bike riders on the west side of town. I’ve reprinted his email beneath the fold, so click on to check it out.

Eldridge Parkway is an important bicycle commuter link between the TxDOT FM-529 bike lanes, the Clay Road bikeway, and the Energy Corridor District. This connection will cease to exist, however, should Harris County Precinct Four carry out plans to eliminate road shoulders used by bicyclists and convert the roadway to curb-and-gutter drainage without installing bike lanes or a wide outside lane. Precinct Four has been aware of the importance of these shoulders to bicycle commuters for years, but appeals to save them have fallen on deaf ears. They claim that cycling on the road is too dangerous, and they are too busy trying to accomodate cars. The former is simply not true. The latter indicates a worldview where users are divided and pitted against each other based on their needs. Other agencies throughout the Nation and even some in Texas somehow manage to plan and build “Complete Streets” for all users. Why not Harris County?

The main point, however, is not what happens to this particular stretch of roadway. The main point is that Eldridge Parkway is symptomatic of a failure of Harris County and most other H-GAC member governments to plan for all residents. Our local counties and cities fail to plan for bike commuters, pedestrians, transit users, children, the disabled, and the elderly. The notion of a Complete Street seems utterly foreign to our elected officials and their engineers. Fewer people can afford to drive these days, school districts are cutting bus service, and unincorporated areas are beyond the reach of METRO. What do County Commissioners and Mayors expect people to do? Stay home and not go to work or school?

The Houston-Galveston area is running, not walking, into an energy brick wall. Oil reservoirs worldwide are maturing, major producing basins are in decline. Contrary to popular belief, Texas does not even produce enough energy any longer to meet its own internal needs; we and California and Oklahoma used to power the entire world, but in 1991 Texas became a net energy importing state. What will the price of gasoline be in five years? It’s impossible to predict, but I can say one thing with certainty… we will be wistfully thinking back to the “good ol’ days” when gasoline was “only $4 per gallon”.

H-GAC and all member governments, Harris County included, must implement plans for building a diverse, energy-efficient, carbon-limiting transportation system featuring Complete Streets for all residents. Energy will be more expensive in the future, and both Presidential candidates, McCain and Obama, intend to limit our carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Unfortunately, we needed to make these investments starting twenty-five years ago. At least we should stop digging the hole we are stuck in and making it deeper.

Peter Wang
Bicycle commuter, Geophysicist, BikeHouston Advisor, and Citizens’ Transportation Coalition Board Member

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2 Comments

  1. Carey says:

    It’s about time! I’ve been hearing about this mythical proposed bike lane ever since I moved to the Heights, but I never saw any activity on it. When the city’s position of Bicycle-Pedstrian Coordinator went vacant last year, I figured all was lost.

    I have to tell you, this is going to be a MUCH nicer ride than biking in on the torn up and traffic-filled Washington Ave. I submitted a repair request for the Washington bike lane over a year ago, but of course, nothing got done.

  2. RedScare says:

    A 10 mile wide trail seems like a bit of overkill for a bike trail. Nevertheless, as a bike rider, I look forward to its completion.