Sunday, March 24, 2013

Transforming Houston With Bayou Greenways

This week we have a guest post by Jen Powis, Advocacy Director for the Houston Parks Board.
Houston is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city of over 650 square miles and 2.3 million people.  But thanks to the $166 million Parks Bond citizens passed last November, by 2020 Houston will also have over 150 miles of connected biking and walking paths along nearly 1,500 acres of new connected parkland, completely separated from cars.

The bond dollars will go toward completing a system of connected parks throughout Houston — a project known as Bayou Greenways 2020.  In general, Bayou Greenways are linear public parks along the major bayous flowing towards the Gulf of Mexico that connect many of Houston’s signature parks like Hermann Park or Eleanor Tinsley Park.  Much of the land along our bayous are either in the floodway or the floodplain, and thus not ripe for major development.  By leveraging this otherwise natural land for the development of a connected park system, we accomplish multiple goals for less than half the cost.  These parks are first and foremost parks: places to walk and bike, exercise or sit under a tree.  But they also provide wildlife habitat, help our water quality and flood control, and unite our communities with safe, off-street paths for both recreation and transportation alternatives.

Houston currently has 75 miles of shared use paths and nearly 40,000 acres of parkland. With the addition of another 1,500 acres of greenspace directly along the bayous, however, Houston is poised to have a one-of-a-kind, off-street trail system that re-envisions transportation while at the same time completing an urban park system like no other.

100 Years Later

In 1912, one of Houston’s first visionary architects, recommended to the city that it should take advantage of its natural ecology — the bayous, creeks and ditches that make Houston the swampy, wetland, port city that it is today.  Since that time, countless individuals and stakeholders have slowly been crafting a system of parks that are connected along the major bayous that flow directly through city center, making their way to the Gulf of Mexico and the Houston Ship Channel.

There are 7 major bayous in the city of Houston.  Many of those bayous currently have sections of trails, linear parks and other larger parks sprinkled throughout each corridor. Because these linear parks and trails are not connected or continuous, the greenways lack the transformative impact they could have on the area.

So far, the investment in existing trails and parks along our bayous conservatively exceeds $2.4 billion. The only remaining task is to connect them all.  The cost to complete the greenways, trails and new parks within the city limits is $205 million.  And with the bond this past November, Houston is approximately half way there.  Now it’s up to us, the community and many leading non-profits like the Houston Parks Board to match the public dollars — one for one — to complete the job.

Transformative and Beneficial 

Parks play an anchor role in an urban environment, and with Bayou Greenways 2020, Houston will have one of the best systems around. The health, environmental and economic benefits associated with a project like this are all aspects of a citizen’s quality of life.  They feed into whether a city can attract new talent, and keep its retirees.  It also feeds into larger business relocation decisions, as a company often wants to be associated with a city — like Houston — that was recently named the “coolest city” in America.

We were so sure that the Bayou Greenways would have positive economic, environmental, and physical and mental health benefits, that we commissioned a study by a well-known professor at Texas A&M University. Conservatively, the benefits that were assessed a dollar value demonstrate a returning annual benefit of $117 million a year for the entire initiative.  That’s a pretty amazing return on your investment and another example of why urban parks are so important in today’s fast paced world. For Houston, there is unlikely to be any other investment that will transform Houston’s image from a “cement city” to one that embraces green.

For years, the City, the County, non-profits, and community organizations have been working on different segments of the Bayou Greenways, completing segment by segment and connecting park to park. It’s time to finish the job of uniting the bayous with greenways, trails and parks.

This spring, Houston Parks Board is bringing together community members, college students from Rice and UH, neighborhoods, businesses, organizations, biking groups and more to get involved and speak up about what this project means to them. And we’re just getting started.  If you’re in the area and want to get involved, or would like more information about the project, check out our website to learn more. The power rests in your hands to put a world-class park system at your fingertips.

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At 12:37 PM, March 26, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Longer term, I would like to see the portion of Buffalo Bayou between Shepherd and 610 to have a trail open to the public. I realize that nearly all of the south bank of this portion is private and the eastern half of the north bank is also private, but I don't think it would be as unworkable as it seems at first.

The trail could follow this path:
-from Shepherd heading west, proceeds on the north bank
-cross over to the south bank at 29.758343, -95.418857
-cross over to the north bank at 29.758799, -95.420896
-cross over to the south bank at 29.757965, -95.422763 and follow the curves of BuffBayou on the north side of the golf course until 29.759981, -95.428368
-remain in Memorial Park until 610 and connect with the existing mountain biking trails where possible

It might sound ambitious with the crossings, but I think doing it this way will help avoid using any (or a very small sliver at one point) private property from single family homes. Plus, it would keep the trail straighter, with 1/3 the total distance in some places. And not only would this be awesome to use and a great asset for Houston, it might encourage more bicyclists to stay off Memorial Drive.


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