Heights Association seeks safer bike paths, plans busy week

Aug. 12, 2013Houston Chronicle

The Houston Heights Association has a a crowded calendar this week, while at the same time trying to get the city to address a need before a tragedy can occur.

We’ll take those in reverse order. Last month, the HHA board sent a letter to District C City Council Member Ellen Cohen, Mayor Annise Parker and other city officials calling for safety improvements at six locations where the Nicholson/SP and MKT Rails to Trails bike trails cross major streets. For those of us who use those paths regularly, frequently with kids, as well as those of us who cross those paths in cars regularly (raising hands as I’m included in both of these groups), this would be a major improvement.

The six locations were identified in an independent traffic engineering study obtained by the Heights Association.  According to a report in the HHA newsletter that goes out to members, the group claims that the changes should “enhance the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians without significant delays to motorists.” Here’s an excerpt from that newsletter:

The study recommends (1) installation of pedestrian hybrid beacons (“HAWK lights”) where the trail crosses Heights Boulevard, Yale, West 11th, West 19th, and West 20th; (2) installation of in-roadway lighting where the trail crosses White Oak, and (3) enhanced traffic signals and pavement markings at all six crossings. We note that the City has recently installed “bike crossing” pavement markings on the roadway approaches to the MKT intersections at 7th and Yale, 11th and Nicholson, and Columbia and White Oak.

Driving and riding over those six sites frequently, the safety problems are obvious. At West 19th, the Nicholson/SP trail splits from a single trail north of West 19th, to a split trail on both sides of the street to the south. It is so common to see children on bicycles, jogger or walkers darting across the road there to avoid oncoming traffic.

And since the bike trail covers what once were railroad tracks, the trail is on something of a rise in the street at all six of these locations.  That makes the bike path hard to make out for oncoming drivers, whose cars are already “at pace” along all six of those streets.  On white Oak and West 19th, with the shops, restaurants and bars, there are plenty of distractions already, further endangering trail users. The Heights Association further goes on to mention these problems:

Since 2009, our community has benefitted from our local hike-and-bike trails. Every day, hundreds of us ride, walk, or jog these trails. However, along with increased trail usage has come increased traffic on our major thoroughfares. We have all witnessed trail users playing “frogger” trying to cross busy streets, especially at peak hours. If you are a trail user, you have probably experienced this yourself.