Feb. 28 is the deadline for public input on three proposed bike trail projects that would have a direct impact on cyclists and pedestrians in the area, most notably the Heights.
Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson Emily Black said there have been ongoing conversations about multiple local projects – a Memorial Park Pedestrian connector, a Heights/MKT trail connector and a Northwest Transit Center connector – since a neighborhood group reached out to TxDOT with ideas in early 2018. Proposed projects were submitted to the Houston-Galveston Area Council for consideration in October 2018.
“These specific community needs were identified and relayed to TxDOT by a citizens group, so we decided to move forward with the projects,” Black said. “The proposed projects connect to existing trails to make walking and biking a safer, more convenient alternative mode of transportation.”
One of the projects is the roughly $2.2 million Memorial Park bike pedestrian connector, which would serve as a conduit between the Heights and nearby neighborhoods to Memorial Park. The project proposes a 10-foot-wide concrete shared-use path along TxDOT right of way from Washington Avenue to Cohn Street.
Additionally, the proposed path will utilize a large berm area along the top of the Interstate 10 east-bound embankment and will then transition down toward the bottom of the slope in order to go under the existing railroad bridge east of Washington Avenue. According to TxDOT, it will connect the community north of I-10 to Memorial Park by creating multi-modal traffic that enhances safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Once the trail passes under the railroad bridge it will transition back up to the I-10 east-bound berm area
and then turn north to tie into the existing pedestrian bridge over I-10. On the north side of I-10, coming off of the bridge, the trail will then tie into the signalized intersection at the Cottage Grove Park access road and Cohn Street.
Some area cyclists and residents have taken to the projects with enthusiasm.
“It’s really a positive overall, because a signal is really hard to get. So if you can utilize an already-existing signal and have dedicated right of way, that’s great,” Heights resident Donna Bennett said.
Another project, dubbed the Heights/MKT to White Oak Bayou Bicycle Pedestrian Connection, would be the first improvement to the Rutland Detention Basin, a critical transformation to an urban greenspace or park that would provide a connection from the existing Heights Trail and follow it down to the businesses south of I-10 and the White Oak Bayou Trail.
The northern portion would run through TxDOT-owned property adjacent to the Rutland detention pond, utilizing the detention pond’s east berms. It would then tie into the existing White Oak Trail along the southern side of White Oak Bayou. TxDOT said this connector trail will provide greater access to the off-street pedestrian and bicycle network, such as White Oak Bayou midway between existing trail heads – located at Yale Street/I-10 and TC Jester/White Oak Bayou Trail – and the connection to Nicholson Street and MKT trails.
“Our neighborhood has always hoped (the basin) would be an urban greenspace or park, so this is the first improvement to that, and begins a process where other improvements could also be made,” Bennett said of the proposal, which would require more than $2 million in federal funds.
If funds are approved for the final project, the Northwest Transit Connection, TxDOT would construct a 10-foot concrete shared-use path along the southbound frontage road of Loop 610 as first- and last-mile access to the NW Transit Center for residents from Spring Branch and the Heights. On the north, the proposed trail will tie into a shared-use path being built north of 12th Street that goes along, then under, 610 to connect Spring Branch with the Heights via West 12th Street. On the south, the proposed trail would tie into the NW Transit Center with intersection improvements at Old Katy Road.
“It will create multi-modal traffic to the area, such as the first-last mile connection for the Spring Branch and Heights community to METRO’s Northwest Transit Center and allow for a continuous pedestrian and bicycle network,” TxDOT said of the project, which would require more than $750,000 of federal funds.
Emily Guyre, executive director of the Houston Heights Association, said the organization supports all three trail projects.
“These high-comfort trails will connect us to popular destinations such as other neighborhoods, parks, shops and eateries, and even provide our residents with the opportunity to bike or walk to work,” she said. “We are hopeful the H-GAC chooses to fund these shared-use projects because we want Heights residents and visitors to improve their overall fitness, save money and help protect the environment.”
There are some, however, who believe funds should be spent on other aspects of the neighborhood.
“We don’t need more trails, we need street repairs,” Laura Virgadamo wrote on Facebook.
According to Black, the Houston-Galveston Area Council is slated to identify funded projects by the conclusion of the spring. Subsequent construction timelines would depend on when H-GAC schedules funds for the identified projects. Residents wishing to provide input can do so online at h-gac.com.