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Fred

Houston Bikeway Program

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I spent 12 years with the oldest traffic engineering company in the United States. We did all kinds of highway design, warrant studies and modeling. Here in Houston I worked on the Katy freeway expansion, Westpark tollroad and many other projects for Metro, TxDOT, Harris County and Harris County Tollroad authority. One of the biggest projects was the Houston Bikeway Program. I was put in charge of right of way to clear the path of over 110 parchels. I had to meet with all local community associations as well as HABA (Houston Area Bike Assoc.) to get input and to keep them informed. If you owned property where the path was designed we would try to get you to donate the small piece of land. If that didn't work we would offer a small amount of money for the rights. If that didn't work, we took it under condenation. My first task was to hire title companies to do a 50 year chain of title and have the survey done of the property. Then I subbed the work out to 23 local engineering firms. Making sure a percentage went to minority owned companies and all were compliant with drug policies and testing. Insurance of at least a million dollars was required and all subs had to be managed to stay within budgets. We had approached the mayor at the time (Lanier) and he wanted this to be his legacy to the city. This being new turf for my engineering company, a few mistakes were made. After the first year we were on track but figured out that we were going over an easment with an easment. Harris County Flood Control had the right of way already. By this time I had spent well over 1 million dollars researching titles. Tax money not well spent. We had over 40 million federal dollars to work with so no big deal. This money was given to Texas for the use of alternitive fuel. We hired an engineer to oversee the whole project, and the first year went well with trails being put in all over Houston. During the second year we figured out that the engineer we had hired was not a registered P.E. This was too big a cat to let out of the bag so we swept it under the rug and kept going. I moved on to other projects and the Bikeway program was taken away from the firm and given to another local engineering company who was very involved with Houston politics. Contributing thousands to elections and getting most local contracts. I jumped ship myself and went to work for this company. Channel 11 wanted me to give them information about the Bikeway program but I was and still am scared of a deflamation suit. The Bikeway idea itself was a great thing and I am glad to have been part of it.

Edited by Fred

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oh wow, that started out super awesome, then got super sucky :(

I guess that explains things like the east end bike trail that goes from just east of mckee to a little east of jensen, with no real way to get on the trail, or off, and it is very short.

on a less sad for cyclists subject:

I often wondered why part of the ROW for trains (like the heavy rail going down hwy3) wasn't used for a bike path. I mean, I understand that it is for safety if a train derails it goes in that area (mostly).

I think I'd take my chances of a train derailment over (really, what are the odds? and then what are the odds of a train derailment when a cyclist is going by at the same time).

vs

a car that drifts into a cyclist, or a wreck that takes out a cyclist, or any number of things that can happen because cars travel much more frequently than trains and aren't bound by the tracks they ride on (cause they don't).

is this something that has been considered? Is this something that could be considered?

With the volume and proliferation of railway tracks, the whole city would be well on its way to being completely interconnected with bicycle trails that are safe (unless derailment).

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Southern Pacific Railroad would not allow use of any of the rail corridors for safety and insurance reasons. If we planned a trail on one side of a bayou and a resident complained to city counsel or threatened lawsuit, we would move the trail to the other side of the bayou. The determining factor was who had the least amount of money to fight us in court. Not very fair, but if you do not have money for a good lawyer get ready for a trail in your own backyard. Which is not a bad thing because police ride bikes down these paths and can see everthing.

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I see alot of post about the Houston Bikeway taking so long to complete and existing trails not being maintaned. In the beginning, we had to come up with standards for these trails to be built. We designed them and sent them out to over 20 engineering firms. The work started and was on schedule until TxDOT said you can not use City of Houston standards, it has to be approaved by TxDOT. So we started over with TxDOT standards and a month later Harris County Flood Control said you are using our ROWs along bayous so you have to use our standards. By this time a couple million had been spent but no actual work had been done. This was just the beginning of one political blunder after another, not to mention the million I waisted researching 110 titles and surveys that ended up not being needed and the lead engineer who had a suspended license. We started doing better background checks after that little mishap. I hope the firm that has this project now is having better results because we fealt like a ping-pong ball bouncing between there agentcies.

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Thanx Fred for the dismal, but believable mismanagement fiasco update. Like Samagon, I share support for the idea of parallel ped-bike and rail ROW. I think that the Rail excuse of "safety concerns" and "insurance hikes" needs to be seriously investigated and compared to other countries with successful non-motorized programs. I would also like the "planners" to investigate shared use of the many utility company ROWs. The Houston region needs more north-south ped-bike transit ways. Our mostly "east-west" bayou opportunities will eventually come to fruition I hope.

Fewer drivers, more fit workers, desirable City-scape, everyone wins.

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oh wow, that started out super awesome, then got super sucky :(

I guess that explains things like the east end bike trail that goes from just east of mckee to a little east of jensen, with no real way to get on the trail, or off, and it is very short.

Actually this is a work in progress. More progress can be seen from San Jacinto near Allen http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=705+Main+St,+Houston,+Harris,+Texas+77002&ll=29.765204,-95.356927&spn=0.0019,0.00327&z=19&layer=c&cbll=29.765128,-95.35695&panoid=RUiDP0adHQjmOghs2rXM2g&cbp=12,78.95,,0,3.52 This railroad segment is now a bike path with an impressive bridge.

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Like Samagon, I share support for the idea of parallel ped-bike and rail ROW. I think that the Rail excuse of "safety concerns" and "insurance hikes" needs to be seriously investigated and compared to other countries with successful non-motorized programs. I would also like the "planners" to investigate shared use of the many utility company ROWs.

In a country where we have warning labels on our coffee mugs warning of the contents being hot, i can see why insurance is a concern.

The idea of having a bike path down a row of high power electrical lines sounds awesome. I'd rather be bombarded with the electrical radiation than have to breathe the contents of some persons tailpipe emissions. Not to mention the chances of an electrocution are probably slimmer than getting hit by a car.

I bet if the city were considered at fault for bicycle /car accidents they'd find a safer way for us to get around, or at least tell the train companies to stuff it and make it work, same with utility companies.

Edited by samagon

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I just finished reading "JOYRIDE, Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet" by Mia Birk. Ms Birk, a Dallas girl and Portland, Oregon's Bicycle Coordinator, that helped to transport Portland, Oregon to a top ranked bicycling city over 15 years beginning in 1993. Since I am a novice at bike activism, I learned a lot about the many conflicts (some real, some imaginary) that must be addressed before a more balanced approach to our transportational needs are realized. Maybe our Houston Public Library has some copies. I'll investigate and if not, request.

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Thanks for the info House!

I'll have to get a copy, I really want to become more active in promoting cycling in Houston, and I don't think that critical mass is the only way I can (or should) do it.

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In a country where we have warning labels on our coffee mugs warning of the contents being hot, i can see why insurance is a concern.

The idea of having a bike path down a row of high power electrical lines sounds awesome. I'd rather be bombarded with the electrical radiation than have to breathe the contents of some persons tailpipe emissions. Not to mention the chances of an electrocution are probably slimmer than getting hit by a car.

I bet if the city were considered at fault for bicycle /car accidents they'd find a safer way for us to get around, or at least tell the train companies to stuff it and make it work, same with utility companies.

I too would like to see bike trails in the power line ROW.

The best place to start, I think, would be the power lines just inside the West Loop - going from U.S. 90A up to Washington Ave. It probably be most cost-effective to do the Braeswood to Memorial Park segment first becuase I think you would get more riders (and walkers), and it would connect nicely with Memorial Drive and the Braeswood bike trails.

There's already precedent for this and I would hope it's not too difficult under Texas law to implement something like this, or what sort of (political) power the utilities have in Texas compared to other states.

We do already have the Buffalo Bayou Bike Trail in West Houston that travels under power lines for a short distance. Other states have them too. For instance, here is a bike trail put in under the power lines on Power Blvd. in Metairie: http://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&ll=30.014251,-90.222688&spn=0.004747,0.009624&t=k&z=17. And I don't see why bikes and pedestrians would be more of an insurance issue than cars driving under high voltage power lines. Oddly, there are about 800 parking spots between Richmond and Westheimer under power lines. Is it so difficult to build an adequate parking garage for Highland Park Shopping Center?

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Southern Pacific Railroad would not allow use of any of the rail corridors for safety and insurance reasons. If we planned a trail on one side of a bayou and a resident complained to city counsel or threatened lawsuit, we would move the trail to the other side of the bayou. The determining factor was who had the least amount of money to fight us in court. Not very fair, but if you do not have money for a good lawyer get ready for a trail in your own backyard. Which is not a bad thing because police ride bikes down these paths and can see everthing.

I had an Uncle that handled Santa Fe Railroad's tort cases for North Texas. I recall him mentioning that he had cases every year where people were hurt by trains throwing up rocks, chunks of wood and other items from the railbed. He said he would not get closer than 100 feet to moving train, except at a crossing.

The bikeway folks tried to extend the White Oak path South of 11th on the East side of the bayou until the homeowners pointed out that their property extends to the middle of the bayou, and is not public property. That's a legitimate gripe.

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It does not matter who owns the property are if it extends to the middle of the bayou. Harris County Flood Control has an easement that over rides ownership.

I had an Uncle that handled Santa Fe Railroad's tort cases for North Texas. I recall him mentioning that he had cases every year where people were hurt by trains throwing up rocks, chunks of wood and other items from the railbed. He said he would not get closer than 100 feet to moving train, except at a crossing.

The bikeway folks tried to extend the White Oak path South of 11th on the East side of the bayou until the homeowners pointed out that their property extends to the middle of the bayou, and is not public property. That's a legitimate gripe.

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It does not matter who owns the property are if it extends to the middle of the bayou. Harris County Flood Control has an easement that over rides ownership.

That easement only covers drainage, not bikeways, at least that's what the folks that live in those properties say. I'll have to see if one of them has a copy of the papers. Easements don't override ownership for anything other than the purpose for which the easement was granted.

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If you read the first post I made on this subject you will see that I spent over a million dollars doing a survey and a 50 year chain of title on 110 properties that never needed to be done in the first place. We thought as the Bikeway Program managers that we needed to purchase or in some cases, just "take" the land from owners who had property that extends to the middle of a bayous. Harris County Flood Control has the power to do what ever they want to on the easements including going over an easement with an easement. In this case, a hike and bike trail. Communities and owners tried to fight us but they lost.

That easement only covers drainage, not bikeways, at least that's what the folks that live in those properties say. I'll have to see if one of them has a copy of the papers. Easements don't override ownership for anything other than the purpose for which the easement was granted.

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If you read the first post I made on this subject you will see that I spent over a million dollars doing a survey and a 50 year chain of title on 110 properties that never needed to be done in the first place. We thought as the Bikeway Program managers that we needed to purchase or in some cases, just "take" the land from owners who had property that extends to the middle of a bayous. Harris County Flood Control has the power to do what ever they want to on the easements including going over an easement with an easement. In this case, a hike and bike trail. Communities and owners tried to fight us but they lost.

Then why is there no bikeway South of 11th? Those folks on Croydon, Cranston, TC Jester, and Worthshire all opposed having a bikeway run across their property, and so far, there isn't one.

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I had an Uncle that handled Santa Fe Railroad's tort cases for North Texas. I recall him mentioning that he had cases every year where people were hurt by trains throwing up rocks, chunks of wood and other items from the railbed. He said he would not get closer than 100 feet to moving train, except at a crossing.

good point, but I'd still personally feel better about that than riding in a sea of cars that are unpredictable, uncaring, and generally have no idea of what could happen if they hit me, even on accident. that isn't a good recipe.

besides, I'd assume that one of the restrictions they'd have to put in place would be some form of barrier to help remind people that hey, there's a freakin' train track here, and these suckers aren't to be messed with. that barrier could be just some jersey barriers that lined the side of the track and would do the job very effectively of protecting the riders from debris that is kicked up from the wheels of the trains going down the tracks.

or at least, that's what my mind sees.

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About 90% of property owners in Houston fought hard to block the bikeway. They didn't stand a chance against HCFCD or the City of Houston. My job was to get this right of way. I was told directly from the city to first, ask that it be donated, then offer a small amount of money since the path only needed about 12 feet. If the owner would not sale, we were told the city could just take the ROW by law. But then, after spending allot of money we figured out that we were going over a easement with an easement so no reason to even ask permission or buy any property. Many property owners, including a city counsel man, were very upset when they found out that yes, the property line does extend into the bayou but Harris Counties easement over rode ownership. I was out putting stakes down where the trail would run along Braes bayou as an upset owner followed me pulling up the stakes throwing them into the bayou. A couple months later he has construction going on in his backyard. You can fight, you just won't win. Myself, I took 110 parcels along bayous.

Then why is there no bikeway South of 11th? Those folks on Croydon, Cranston, TC Jester, and Worthshire all opposed having a bikeway run across their property, and so far, there isn't one.

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One problem with separating the bike ROW from the street for long stretches is safety. I know, especially in the evenings, that I feel a lot safer riding near roads where there are people passing by than on long stretches of unlit bike paths. I have good lights on my bike, but they aren't exactly illuminating all the dark corners and bushes.

Edited by kylejack

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Yes, absolutely. As much as I like the new Heights trail, it gives me the heebie-jeebies at night. Too many places for someone to hide if they want to leap out and stick a spoke in your wheel or something.

(and before you scoff, my department chair got attacked by a crazy guy on the Braes Bayou trail who did exactly that. And that was in broad daylight!)

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If you live in Houston and ride a bike...please sign the petition to keep $12.8 million from being hijacked to mobility programs, learn more about what is happening, and please get involved.

http://www.houstontomorrow.org/livability/story/tpc-delays-vote-on-transportation-funding/

The Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council (TPC) unanimously voted on Friday morning (Feb 28) to delay by thirty days its vote on a full $79.8 million allocation of unprogrammed federal transportation funds toward Mobility - roadway and freight rail - projects and a reallocation of $12.8 million from already committed pedestrian, bicycle, and Livable Centers projects to Mobility projects.

The 30-day delay will allow the public and elected officials to further explore how potential money from the federal Surface Transportation Program Major Metro (STP MM) and Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) funds should be allocated within the Houston-Galveston region’s 2011-2014 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

The decision came after elected officials heard from more than 20 business, bicycle, pedestrian, and political advocates in attendance, plus thousands of citizens who signed petitions and called officials’ offices during the week to voice their concerns regarding the manner in which federal funds were being distributed toward various transportation modes.

Rather than push a vote through, City of Houston Council member Sue Lovell requested that the TPC delay voting on the issue for 30 days so that elected officials could more carefully examine the options on the table and hear from their constituents.

While Harris County Judge Ed Emmett suggested that some officials’ constituents may express opposite concerns from the bicycle and pedestrian advocates in attendance during the delay, Metro’s George Greanias said a more thorough look at all the options on the table is crucial for the region’s long-term economic competitiveness.

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If you live in Houston and ride a bike...please sign the petition....

Where does one go to sign the petition?

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