Rail Removal Program Complete for the Year: Heights Hike and Bike Trail Opens

Sometime after this photo was taken at the start of the month, the missing rail on the rebuilt trestle bridge over White Oak Bayou was installed. But the rest of the rails are gone! A 5-mile segment of the MKT Trail through the Heights, named after the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad tracks that used to run along it, opened over the weekend. The trail starts at 26th St., runs down Nicholson to 7th St., east along 7th for a bit, down and across the bayou. It ends at Spring St. and I-45. When will it connect to Downtown, or new trails to the north?

Four other bike paths opened in 2009, making 15 new miles in all:


Photos: Bill Shirley (bridge), Heights Blog (MKT Trail)

38 Comment

  • Rode the entire length yesterday. Bravo on a job done well. Now if we could just have them finish it to downtown and remove the stop signs that occur at every block on Spring Street, it would be an even better experience.

  • Went to the official opening that morning and they said the downtown connection is slated to start in 2010. Same with the new pedestrian/bike bridge over Memorial Drive/Buffalo Bayou.
    One thing that did pique my interest was that they mentioned they were in negotiations to connect the existing Heights trail to Memorial Park. Not sure how that route would proceed, but I’d sure love to have that connection.

  • I’ve got a few suggestions on how to connect the heights trail to Memorial Park. Step one: shoot the dogs at Eureka & Maxroy. Step Two: begin tunneling under UP tracks.

  • That’s why I love bicyclists. They are all so reasonable, easy to deal with, and trying to do what is best for the community.

  • I also attended the opening on Saturday morning because of my various real property interests connected to this undertaking. Besides being offended by Mayor White’s love for spandex I was horrified by the nearby vagrants residing under the Studemont overpass who looked on with tacit approval. They are certain to acost Mr. White or other members of his fellow middle-age spandex-wearing biker gang members in the near future.

  • I’m glad a large portion of the trail has an abundance of stop signs and I hope they leave it that way.

    Otherwise the trails will be sure to attact large hordes of the roadbike warriors (you know….the ones who prefer to ride in large packs and block traffic by taking up the entire road like they own it and it’s OK to keep a queue of cars behind you because you are going 15 mph). The trails are great right now for for casual bikers, people out walking with their kids and/or dogs, etc and so let’s hopeit stays that way.

  • No Offense, Big, but bicycles are vehicles, too.

    Take the lane, lads.

  • @ Norm: Would you be OK with a handicapped person in a rascal driving down Westheimer? How about a toddler driving his little battery-powered Caterpillar tractor down Post Oak? They’re vehicles, too, after all.
    Bicycle use ought to be restricted in situations where their use would place the rider at especially high risk of injury or death…such as along arterials that have high speed limits or that are especially congested (including instances where bicycle use would induce congestion). We already have rules of that sort against bicycles being used on freeways, so it’s not like there isn’t already a precedent.

  • The Niche-

    I actually kinda agree with you that cycling should, in some limited circumstances, be limited on certain surface roads. And this is coming from someone who cycles regularly.

    I would totally agree to such limitations on major roads if the city stepped up to the plate and starting having real, designated bike lanes separated from traffic on these streets. If you have ever been to Berlin and even in some cities in California you will know what I am talking about. There is plenty of room in this city for such dedicated lanes (most buildings have large set backs here). The problem is simply a matter of will.

  • “If you have ever been to Berlin and even in some cities in California you will know what I am talking about. There is plenty of room in this city for such dedicated lanes (most buildings have large set backs here). The problem is simply a matter of will.”

    Yeah, we want to be more like those two bastions of fiscal prudence.

  • Niche, get it straight. It’s Nord. And yes, I would have a problem with fatties on rascals and kids on toys. I’m not to keen on conflating the single-greatest advance in human-powered locomotion in history of mankind with the illegitimate ends of Medicare fraud or the overindulgence of children* as you are so quick to do, but a quick glance at Tex. Trans. Code Sec. 541.201 shows Bicycle as included within the definition of “Vehicle.”

    Per 542.009, the Rascal would be considered a “Motorized Mobility Device,” the operators of which are considered pedestrians. Yes – Nord has problems with pedestrians walking down the middle of streets. And as for toys, that’s just, well, dumb.

    *incidentally, these same children are at disproportionate risk of becoming Rascal-bound fatties.

  • Sec. 551.102. GENERAL OPERATION. (a) A person operating a bicycle shall ride only on or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle.
    (b) A person may not use a bicycle to carry more persons than the bicycle is designed or equipped to carry.
    (c) A person operating a bicycle may not use the bicycle to carry an object that prevents the person from operating the bicycle with at least one hand on the handlebars of the bicycle.
    (d) A person operating a bicycle, coaster, sled, or toy vehicle or using roller skates may not attach either the person or the bicycle, coaster, sled, toy vehicle, or roller skates to a streetcar or vehicle on a roadway.

    Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995.

    Sec. 551.103. OPERATION ON ROADWAY. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless:
    (1) the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;
    (2) the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;
    (3) a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway; or
    (4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:
    (A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
    (B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.
    (b) A person operating a bicycle on a one-way roadway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near as practicable to the left curb or edge of the roadway.
    (c) Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons may not ride more than two abreast unless they are riding on a part of a roadway set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles.
    (d) Repealed by Acts 2001, 77th Leg., ch. 1085, Sec. 13, eff. Sept. 1, 2001.

  • @ Norm: You’re confusing the two points I made as a single integrated point. In the first paragraph of my previous post, I used a broadened, non-legal definition of vehicle such as you might find in a dictionary to illustrate the absurdity of twisting the traditional saying that “________ are people too” such as it might apply to different categories of vehicle. If you wanted to convert my comment to one that was aligned with the Code, there shouldn’t be any difficulty in doing so. My point holds. Firmly.

  • By nature I am decisive. However, I cannot decide what is more disturbing, an individual who takes the time to research the transportation code to defend himself on a blog or the punchless respondent who dishes up circular logic in their defense.

  • It’s hilarious that bicycle people are so defensive.

    All I ask is…if you consider your bicycle to be a vehicle then:

    A) stay off path that is used by pedestrians

    B) use your bike like a vehicle and obey ALL traffic signals and don’t block the entire road so you can yield to faster moving vehicles

    Unfortunately it’s tough to make a clear law because there is a big difference between the roadbikers who use the road in a proper manner and a child riding around the neighborhood.

    Anyway, bottom line is that I hope the Heights trail stays the way it is as a pedestrian friendly path where you don’t have to worry about being run down by a pack of 30 spandex stars. If you’ve even seen the bike crews that congregate on Blossom St, you’d know what I mean.

  • I think this project is the most useless and cheapest way the City of Houston has ‘solved’ the problem on walking/cycling trails. Taking away old rail lines, instead of just using them for commuter rail or ‘future commuter rail trains’ facilities. But, I guess. Hopefully, everyone including myself will evetually understand the need for rail as part of our future as a world-class city for the better of our children and our economic vitality.

  • Sure, Karl, would you like to be the person to head up the team that tells owners of these million dollar homes and businesses that a commuter rail is going to be built adjacent to their property line? Good luck with that. While I am a big supporter of rail, and am aggravated that rail corridors like Katy Fwy and Westpark were torn up for toll roads, this MKT path thru the Heights is ideal for a bike path. Almost ideal: could be a little less stop’n’go.

  • TheNick-

    You still don’t get it. Bicycles are vehicles. You don’t get to use a lay definition when dealing with statutory interpretation of a term expressly defined.

    Big – Check and check. It’s funny how bicyclists get so defensive? Is it also funny how bicyclists get killed by SUVs because of lack of proper cycling facilities?

    And yes, TheNick, SUVs are vehicles too.

  • Karl,
    Nothing was taken way from being used as rail. This trail in particular will have to make way for rail (of any kind) in the future if rail is to be built in the path.

    The easement is still technically a rail easement even though the city owns it.

  • @ Norm: My handle is “TheNiche”. “Niche” is acceptable. And don’t you forget it. Google webcrawls these pages regularly, and my sage words must be properly associated with my handle for posterity.
    Btw, your straw man fallacy didn’t fool anybody.

  • straw man fallacy? Sounds like a better name for a band than Rascal Bound Fatties.

  • There is no way that the MKT trail could have been used for rail. It is too narrow and would be too dangerous. At the north end of the trail the developers took advantage of the “abandoned” easement and built houses facing it or driveways over it. Anyway, IMHO, any rail line in that area should go up & down Shepherd/Durham (just 2 blocks from the MKT trail). Between 11th & the Loop at least half of the property is for sale or could easily be bought for commercial development or stations. Minimal NIMBY issues since most neighbors would be happy to have rail rather than the empty lots, used car lots, or chop shops that blight those streets.

  • justguessin,

    maybe you should read the the little legal document that describes the easement.

    Except for the bridges, the remaining parts of the trail has minimal with for rail whether it freight, commuter, or light rail. The trail would either be close or re-aligned where need to make way for rail.

    All this depends on whether rail will ever be warranted in that alignment. It may never happen, but the easement language leaves it open.

  • @ Norm: Take an introductory logic course and get back to me.

  • I get it! They teach you about the straw man fallacy in logic class!

  • But I don’t get it. I said bicycles are vehicles. You implied by your initial question that Rascals and toys are the same as bicycles. They’re not. The statute, which coincidentally provides the precedent on which you seek to build, says as much. When I pointed that out, you cribbed your freshman philosophy notes.

    If there’s any straw in this place, it’s hiding in the niche.

    In the end, as long as you’re not the asshole riding up on my back tire, just to cut me off then yell at me to get on the sidewalk, we can go in peace.

  • Haha. I guess it is all a matter of perspective. One of my personal ‘only in Houston’ moments occured when I was at a traffic light behind a Suburban with a ‘Give Bikes the Right’ bumper sticker and a bike in the cargo area. He was sprawled over the crosswalk .. I mean a pedestrian would have had to crawl under his SUV to be ‘protected’. When I witness a bicyclist obey a stop sign I will respect their ‘right’ to a lane of traffic.

  • kjb434, I don’t live on the trail, and used the term “abandoned” lightly, thus the quotes. I have no idea where one would find the easement document. My suggestion about a rail line Shepherd/Durham just makes more sense as those streets are currently a blight in desperate need of redevelopment and already a major thoroughfare rather than residential street. Also, there is a very successful nationwide Rails to Trails program, which this trail is probably associated with.

  • @ Norm: I wasn’t quoting law, nor did I mean to for the point that you’re attempting to refute. But you don’t get it, and I can’t help you.

    As for not riding your back wheel, I would never do that to a bicyclist. I give them a wide berth, actually. They’re way too prone to wipe out, and running over them could constitute vehicular manslaughter. Additionally, they’re kind of like deer in that where there’s one, there are often others. One way or the other, I’m not willing to do federal-bone-me-in-the-ass-prison-time because a dumbass on his bike figured it was safe to ride amongst traffic just on account of that it was legal.

  • justguessin,

    I learned about the easement language in a meeting with TxDOT project managers that oversee the bike trail design and construction. TxDOT has to administer the federal transportation dollars. The City can’t receive the money directly.

    The easement this trail was built on was purchased by TxDOT for the Katy Freeway reconstruction project. The railroad company wouldn’t only sell the portion from Loop 610 to Katy. TxDOT had to buy it all the way to downtown. The City purchased the section from downtown to Shepherd. They may have bought it all the way to Loop 610 also which would help create the connection to Memorial Park. From the rail yard at Cottage Grove, a trail could parallel the tracks and cross I-10 into Memorial park and tie into their trail system. This concept was pushed by residents in the civic association in Cottage Grove. The major hurdle currently is that the rail yard is extremely active and UPRR says it will get more active in the future.

  • When I witness a bicyclist obey a stop sign I will respect their ‘right’ to a lane of traffic.
    You’d never apply that rationale to automobiles. By this equivalency… it would be acceptable to start ramming speeding drivers on the Katy Freeway into the gaurd rail. Since *most* drivers wantonly break the law by exceeding the posted speed limit, we can have complete disregard for their right to safety, livelihood, and property… Right?

    Oh… and by the way… it’s not just cyclists that run stop signs: http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=2009_4818269

  • Gee Dave, I don’t aim for them. Maybe if a cyclist crashes into the side of your car after flying through a stop sign and then proceeds to curse you out you will understand why I get a little fed up with those who demand the rest of us follow the laws while they completely disregard them at their own perril.

  • Also Dave, I don’t fling my passenger door open when the cyclist I just passed legally, by changing lanes, comes riding in the gutter illegally to get in the front of the line at the traffic light. My point is that *most* people have seen this type behavior from bicyclists and *most* people don’t show respect to those who don’t display it.

  • Gee Dave, I don’t aim for them.
    Of course you don’t! ;-) And I’m sure you aren’t as rude of a driver as your comments would indicate, either. But comment’s like yours, are often used by cyclists to justify the very behaviours you find so offensive. Thus the *cycle* of escalating d-baggery continues. We can all be part of the solution or part of the problem. It’s a choice.

  • Also Dave, I don’t fling my passenger door open when the cyclist I just passed legally, by changing lanes, comes riding in the gutter illegally to get in the front of the line at the traffic light.
    Sometimes riding defensively requires a cyclists to ride more independtly of traffic flow than would be safe or possible in a car. You cited a great example. One of the most common accidents on a bike is a driver making a right hand turn (while checking traffic from the left) into a cyclist. That can’t happen when you’re first through the intersection.

    Often drivers expect cyclists to fully obey the rules of the road that make them feel they’ve duly waited their turn, but not the rules of the road that give them the right to occupy space on the roadway. The consequenses of each ‘offense’ are quite different. Drivers might get “fed up” but a cyclist gets serious bodily injury. Those are pretty asymetric consequences.

  • dave mcc, isn’t it more dangerous to ride in between the curb and cars where the drivers are less likely to be looking (so that if your timing isn’t right and you aren’t first across the intersection then more likely to have someone turn right into you)? I don’t own a car, I only bike, and I always wait with traffic at a light, haven’t had a problem yet but have almost been run into a few times while riding on the bike lane on washington due to people trying to turn right…

    but i’m really glad this bike path has finished. am able to bypass the bike lane on washington and some intersections i really hated on my daily commute to downtown from garden oaks, out of my ~6 mi commute now about 4.5 miles is now either the wide bike path on heights or the nicholson path, very nice.

  • Dennis –

    I’m jealous of your commute. I wish I worked downtown so I could take the MKT from the ‘018.

  • Dennis… depends on a lot of variables. How long the light is red? Will cross traffic allow for the cars turn right on red? Riding defensively requires a *lot* of thought, attention, concentration, and at times creativity.

    As a cyclist one can’t blindly follow the rules when that compromises your safety and/or traffic flow. As you know… cyclists are pretty defenseless to autos. Being “in the right” is great, but it’s more important (to me) to do what makes sense and keeps my skin off the tarmac. “Technically” we could ride 3feet out into the lane on Westheimer at rush hour. That doesn’t mean we *should*.

    I’m fully aware that there are clowns on bikes. There are clowns in cars, too. I’m also sensitive that most drivers don’t ride bikes enough to understand what and why cyclists do some of the things they do. Neither a driver’s nor cyclist’s percieved poor skills justify the other’s a**clown behavior.