White Oak Bayou improvements a ‘game-changing initative’

Sep. 11, 2014Heights Leader

Residents of the Greater Inwood area and beyond might notice the White Oak Bayou Trails undergoing an extensive facelift and improvement, courtesy of the Bayou 2020 Program.

The project itself aims to improve miles of biking and walking trails in bayous across the Houston area, with the first continuous 17 miles of the White Oak Bayou estimated to be completed by mid-2016, Houston Parks Board Executive Director Roksan Okan-Vick said. White Oak Bayou in particular originates northwest of FM 1960 and travels southeast into the Buffalo Bayou.

“The concept of creating continuous green space along the bayous is over 100 years old,” Okan-Vick said. “It’s been around for a while but the concept was never fully realized until the HPB examined it several years ago.”

The project also aims to increase the size of Houston’s park system while providing equally distributed parkland throughout the city. When the project first began along the White Oak Bayou, Okan-Vick said segments of its trails had been completed but they were left unconnected.

“When it’s not connected, its usefulness drops dramatically,” Okan-Vick. said. “It’s going to change the way people look at us here in Houston. It’s a game-changing kind of initiative.”

Currently, the trail near Greater Inwood is open until it passes Antoine Drive. Construction crews have dug away much of the ground here in preparation for a new, 10 foot white all-weather concrete trail along with retaining walls and other work. Okan-Vick said the trails will see plenty of landscaping with additional tree cover and the addition of basic furnishings like benches, trash cans and signage to provide location info for those using the trail.

A hike-and-bike pedestrian bridge will also be constructed where the trail crosses Albanson Drive, Okan-Vick said. Typically, officials avoid breaking up trails as much as possible to ensure the greenspace along bayous like White Oak Bayou is continuous, and workers will be building bridges and side paths where necessary.

Weather permitting, Okan-Vick said the portion north of Antoine Drive would likely to be completed within nine months, and the organization has so far not experienced any construction delays there. The same can’t be said for a portion of the trail farther south in the Greater Heights area, near North Shepherd Drive and W. 11th Street.

“We discovered a huge sink hole by the segement near the MKT Trail,” Okan-Vick said. “The Harris County Flood Control District has since hired an engineer to examine the sink hole and the project will have to be put out to bid seperately from ours.”

Work will continue in the area around the sinkhole, with work extending from W. 11th Street southeast under the Katy Freeway. Okan-Vick said officials will be putting the sinkhole project out to bid likely by the end of the year.

Expanding the green spaces benefits more than just pedestrians, hikers and bikers. HPB officials fully expect lands adjacent to green ways like those along the White Oak Bayou to flourish in many ways, particularly businesses and other developments. In an article in The Leader examining the Evergreen Shopping Center, Nankani Management vice president Dan Nankani pointed to the nearby trail as a potential method of attracting both businesses and customers into the area.

“We encourage coffee shops, juice shops and other similar businesses to look at these locations along the greenways whenever possible.” Okan-Vick said.

Okan-Vick also recalled some of the warm reception from other property owners. While acquiring land needed for connecting trails in the lower White Oak Bayou area, the HPB approached an apartment complex to donate a portion of its land.

“Typically when we approach the land owner, we ask them to donate it with our final option being paying the market price for the land,” Okan-Vick said. “This particular apartment complex was delighted to donate the land. They felt it would be such a huge amenity to the residents and would also allow them to incorporate it into their advertising. There are plenty of additional benefits like that to the economy near these greenways.”