The Houston-Galveston Area Council recently released their final funding list for their 2018 Call for Projects, and out of 188 submitted projects, the bicycle/pedestrian connection was ranked 10th.

The project would build a 10′ wide sidewalk/bike lane from the corner of Memorial Park along existing TxDOT right-of-way (ROW) on the berm along I-10, underneath a railroad bridge, and provide a connection to an existing pedestrian bridge across I-10.

H-GAC is an association of local governments across a thirteen county region in southeast Texas, and one of their core tasks is to decide how best to invest federal funding into transportation projects.

While most submitted projects are related to road expansion, there are some projects (42 of the 188) that are under the category of “Active Transportation”. Of the 34 projects funded, 6 were in the Active Transportation category. Funding for most projects were requested in the 2022-2024 timeframe.

I wanted to look more in-depth at the link and find out exactly where and how this would be developed. What I found was initially very promising, but turned out to be discouraging due to most of the projected route relying on on-street neighborhood bikeways (aka ride on the road with cars).

The only portion of the newly built trail would be the solid yellow line, which exists purely on TxDOT ROW. Most of it is along an angled berm that runs alongside I-10.

Connecting the Heights with Memorial Park presents some very difficult challenges, mostly by the existence of I-10 and the railroad track. As part of the construction of the railroad bridge across I-10, someone very smartly included an underpass. Anything related to railroads is a giant pain for them to get approval for, and the costs to rebuild a bridge would be many multiples of the budget for this project.

The new 10′ wide sidewalk/bike lane would start in Memorial Park and then run along the berm, where retaining walls would be built to create a flat surface.

An aerial view facing east shows where the new 10′ sidewalk would be constructed (green lines). The left inset box shows the existing 6′ wide bridge at Cohn St. and the right inset box shows the railroad bridge with existing underpass access.

Unfortunately, once you cross I-10, you are basically on your own. The plan relies on bicyclists and pedestrians to walk the remaining .8 mile through the Cottage Grove neighborhood and under TC Jester Blvd to make it to the trailhead of the White Oak Bayou Trail and Heights Hike and Bike Trail.

Cottage Grove is having a surge of new construction (mostly townhomes) so sidewalks are being added as they are completed, but there are still many existing properties where sidewalks have not been forced to be built, so pedestrians and cyclists will likely need to utilize driving lanes for at least a portion of traversing the neighborhood.

This is an image from the Houston Bike Plan interactive map with the new sidewalk added. Red is the new sidewalk, green is existing off-road sidewalk/bridge, purple is planned neighborhood bikeway (sharrows/street signage only), and light blue is the recommended routing on-street from TxDOT.

It’s not clear if the funding from H-GAC includes any money for street signage (share the road signs) or “sharrows“, but I do have some concerns specifically about the turnaround under TC Jester. There is a concrete plant entrance there, and there aren’t any sidewalks. It’s less than ideal.

The TC Jester turnaround provides zero protection for bicyclists and pedestrians. The sidewalk ends at the road turning left, which is the entrance to a concrete plant.

To be clear, the addition of this project would be a large improvement over the current situation. Google Maps currently recommends that cyclists utilize TC Jester Blvd. and Washington Ave.

The current Google Maps suggestion for this route is almost a death wish for cyclists.

The estimated cost for this project is $2.2 million dollars, which is double the current funds that the City of Houston has available for bicycle-related projects. Plus the reliance on TxDOT ROW makes this a project that only they could have handled.

With the Kinder Foundation’s gift of $70 million to the Memorial Park Conservancy last year, and the announcement that Memorial Park will be hosting the Houston Open, demand to visit the park will certainly continue to grow. This new connector is a step in the right direction, and it will be interesting to see how frequently this is utilized.

Survey work is expected to start Fall ’19, final design work to be submitted 3Q2020, construction to begin 2Q22 and estimated completion in 4Q2022.

All detailed project info is available on the H-GAC website here.

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