Monday, January 28, 2013

Exploring the Houston Bayous

Last Saturday, I went on a very interesting bike ride. In an earlier post, I described how the City of Houston Proposition B passed overwhelmingly to fund development of bike paths along the Houston bayous. The Houston Parks Board is working with the public to build enthusiasm for this project. As part of that, they organized a small, informal bike ride to explore both what has been done to develop bike paths along Houston's bayous, what needs to be done, and what is about to be done. Those of us who attended were offered the opportunity to sign a petition in support of this effort as well as to write a letter of support to the Houston City Council. Although the Houston Parks Board is probably the leader of this effort, many city groups, especially cycling advocacy groups, are also involved. At some point, I "liked" one such group, Bike Houston, on Facebook, and it was because of that I learned of the ride. Here is the announcement:

The ride focused on the White Oak and Buffalo bayous as they passed through downtown Houston. Memorial Park is a jewel of the Houston park scene, near down town, enormous in size, and contains some nice paved bike paths and a large number of mountain biking trails:

Thus, it is no surprise that the ride began in Memorial park. About 15 cyclists in total showed up for this ride, some of whom are shown here at the start:

There was a range of ages, athletic abilities, and bicycles. Probably the most popular kind of bike was a mountain bike. (I rode my Surly.) We started out by riding on Memorial Park's paved paths, moved into the adjacent residential neighborhoods, and then explored a missing link that is going to be one of the very first projects to be done. In previous posts, I have described the White Oak Bayou Trail and mentioned a bike path that runs through a lovely neighborhood in Houston called the Heights. There is a several block gap between these two trails. It was smack in the middle of that gap where the ride took us, to a feature I fondly called "The Bridge of Death":

This is an old abandoned railroad bridge over White Oak Bayou on which the public is forbidden to travel. Not only does the public ignore that ban, but "volunteers" have placed some boards over the old timbers (which have 4 inch gaps between them) to make such crossing less deadly. I won't say we illegally rode or (in the case of the old and terrified) walked across this bridge, but somehow we ended up on the other side. Note the bridges in the distance; they are causeways that used to carry North Durham Drive and North Shepherd Drive over the same railroad line that used to go over the bridge. Just beyond these bridges is the start of the MKT trail, named after the  Missouri, Kansas, Texas Southern Pacific railroad that used to be here. (Most people, including Google Maps, call this the Heights Bike trail, but the MKT trail is the official name and is what the signs on the trail say.) What this imminent project will do is begin at the start of the White Oak Bayou Trail, about four blocks to the left of the picture, follow White Oak Bayou to this bridge which will be refinished as a pedestrian bridge, and then continue about five blocks straight ahead in the picture, under the bridges in the background and connect the 7.5 miles of the White Oak Bayou trail to the 4.5 miles of the MKT trail. The next picture shows our group riding the dirt path before we got to the MKT trail:

After this point, most of the ride was on very high quality paved bike trails:

As we approached down town Houston, the Heritage Trail branched off the MKT trail to provide an alternate path into down town, one which follows the White Oak Bayou rather than the old railroad line and thus is more attractive. This is a view of the Houston skyline from that trail:

The Heritage Trail terminates where it rejoins the MKT trail, which then continues to within a block or so of the Buffalo Bayou trail. As best as I can tell, there are no plans to bridge that gap because right of way issues have gotten in the way. According to the ride leader, right of way issues present one of the biggest barriers to development of these trails. The Buffalo Bayou trail is not new but is gorgeous, representing a significant aesthetic addition to down town Houston:

Although this trail is complete almost all the way back to Memorial Park, improvement continues to add trails on both sides of the Bayou and pedestrian bridges between the two sides. This is one recently completed bridge which is both beautiful and useful:

While researching this post, I came across the website for the Houston Bayou Greenways. It has an interactive map showing existing trails along bayous, trails which have been approved and funded but not yet built, and trails which have been planned but not approved and funded. This is a great summary of all these projects.

For those new to this blog, each week I am posting an update of my training results; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph.

My average performance has finally started improving, but some of that could be due to improvement in the weather. Next week I will discuss my training results in more detail, but briefly, 1) I believe that there are many factors that influence the results in a MAF test so I am fully expected to see these results to go up AND down in the future and 2) for many reasons I believe that overall my performance as measured by a MAF test is improving overall.

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