TxDOT alters detour to appease bikers, hikers

Dec. 15, 2011Allan Turner, Houston Chronicle

Texas highway officials on Wednesday said they will tweak bicycle and pedestrian routes around a massive Loop 610 North construction project to allow pedestrians and “experienced” bikers to pass through a heavily traveled intersection.

TxDOT spokeswoman Karen Othon’s comments came a day after highway officials met with hike and bike advocates who were angry with plans to close a mile-long segment of the White Oak Bayou Hike and Bike Trail for two years.

TxDOT officials had closed the trail between Ella Boulevard and 34th Street as part of a project to replace four bridges at Loop 610 and East T.C. Jester. A designated detour on Ella, 34th and East T.C. Jester, which parallels the bayou and trail, would have added almost three-fourths of a mile to the journey.

Othon said the designated detour will remain in place but that city crews will clear Ella Boulevard’s dedicated bike lane of mud and debris and patch deteriorated pavement.

Pedestrians and “experienced” bicyclists will be given the option of reaching East T.C. Jester by a shorter route. That street, Othon said, is equipped with sidewalks beneath Loop 610, but does not have a dedicated bike lane. “Share the Road” signs will be posted to alert motorists to the presence of bicyclists.

“I’m happy with that. I’m thrilled,” said Tom Gall, a White Oak Bayou Association vice president, and one of three bike advocates who met with TxDOT officials. “I’m especially pleased that they’ve offered us the possibility of attending their future meetings.”

Added David Dick, chairman of the Houston Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, “I’m not at a ’10,’ but what they’re doing is way more than they were willing to do a few days ago.”

Othon said access points for crossing Loop 610 may change as construction progresses. The bridge replacement is part of a $152 million reconstruction project involving portions of the North Loop and U.S. 290.