Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Progress Report: Braes Bayou East

I am addicted to the Rice Track for my daily rides. The Rice Track is located in the middle of the Rice Football Stadium parking lot which means that during football season, the track is frequently unavailable, the space being used for parking. Thus, one day last October I showed up at the track only to find that it was closed. In the past, I would have ridden through the Medical Center to Braes Bayou, and headed west on that bike path for an alternative to riding the track. However, as is shown in the picture above, that trail was closed, so I tried going east. I haven't been going east due to gaps in the trail requiring riding on some nasty dirt stretches, and furthermore, the last time I tried, the trail heading east was closed, but due to lack of other options, I had no choice but to try.

On the left, the dirt trail before it was paved. The picture fails to capture how steep and treacherous this trail was. On the right, the same section of trail after paving.

Turning east onto the Braes Bayou trail, I was delighted to find that not only was the trail open, but that all of the dirt stretches had been paved! Thus, I headed east, albeit with some apprehension; a flood several months earlier had washed out a bit of the trail near the end. I reached the washed out section to find it still in need of repair. I followed the official detour, which required some backtracking, in that I had ignored the upstream detour sign to check out the washed out section for myself. On my way back to the detour, a young woman on a bicycle passed me heading the other way. I briefly considered calling out to her, warning her of the detour, and then decided that discretion was the better part of valour. As I proceeded along the other side of the bayou, I kept watching for her to turn around. Instead, I saw her disappear and then reappear farther down the trail, past the washed out section. Clearly, there was another, shorter detour, and I resolved to find it. The next day, riding essentially the same route, I did. By riding a few blocks on the street, it is easy to bypass this missing bit of trail.

If you look carefully, you can see how flood-induced erosion caused this section of the trail to collapse. The sections of concrete are tilted and disconnected one from another, rendering this bit of trail truly unrideable.

Starting from home, the trail heading east is shorter than the trail heading west. In an effort to extend my ride, I continued past my normal turn around point and continued into McGregor Park. For the past few years, I had avoided this extension because the old paved trail had been torn up as part of park repairs, leaving only a gravel detour. However, in addition to wanting to add a few miles, I was curious about a trail that supposedly extended past the park, but which I had never been able to find, so on I went. Imagine my delight to find that the trail through the park had been upgraded to a new, wide, smooth concrete trail.

A section of the resurfaced trail on Braes Bayou east of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Up to the truck is the nice, new concrete trail which ends just past the truck. When completed, this will be a nice trail indeed. Unfortunately, this resurfacing closed down a lower quality but rideable trail, reducing cycling opportunities in the short run.

The east end of McGregor Park is defined by Martin Luther King Boulevard. A new branch of Houston's light rail system now runs down the center of that road, making it difficult to cross to the other side, which is where I hoped to find the trail extension. So, I turned right, moved to the left lane, did a U-turn at the first intersection, and headed back the way I came, a less than perfect solution. When I got to where I hoped to find a trail, I found it but also found that it was closed, that it was in the process of being rebuilt. The bad news, no trail extension, no more miles. The good news, the new trail will go under Martin Luther King Boulevard, obviating the difficult crossing, and promises to be as nice as the trail through McGregor Park. Also, there are indications from the City of Houston that this new trail may extend further down Braes Bayou, closing some gaps along the way. The dream is to have this trail extended all the way to the Ship Channel, which is the extension of Buffalo Bayou. Although there would be more gaps to fill, ultimately this could connect the Braes Bayou Trail with the Buffalo Bayou Trail and thus to the White Oak Bayou trail, creating over 40 miles of continuous trails along Houston's Bayous.

In the lower left corner can be seen a small bit of the new concrete trail through McGregor Park. Just above and to the right can be seen the start of a new trail that branches off and goes under Martin Luther King Boulevard. On the other side of the Bayou can be seen what looks to be a dirt path but in fact is the beginning of another new paved trail.

All of this new trail construction is exciting and wonderful, with the one reservation that it seems to frequently involve tearing up existing trails, trading current biking opportunities for future ones. Along those lines, the thing I saw on this ride that was most discouraging was a series of "Trail Closed" signs, not on the trail, but next to it, suggesting that closures of this, my trail of last resort, were imminent. In my next post, I will tell you how that played out, but, spoiler alert, my next post is about the west end of the Buffalo Bayou trail. Finally, two posts from now, I will discuss how Bike Houston, our bicycle advocacy group, is working with the City of Houston to better manage this conflict between present and future cycling infrastructure. Stay tuned.