Is Houston America's Future Bicycling Capital? Tom McCasland Thinks It Is, and Is Making It So
Tom McCasland has long believed that Houston is a sleeping giant of a bicycling city, and these days Houston appears to be waking up and stretching its legs.
John Nova Lomax Soon this could be one of hundreds of thousands of Houstonians having fun on a bike.
Today Yale Law grad McCasland serves as the interim head of the Harris County Housing Authority, but even before he began his previous position with the Houston Parks Board, he was doing yeoman's work in improving the Bayou City's bike network. While his spearheading of a plan to to turn Houston's many miles of CenterPoint utility easements into bike trails came to naught at the last state legislative session, that dream remains a possible future reality for Houstonians.
In the meantime, other plans are afoot, and McCasland recently squired a distinguished cyclist around town, a visiting dignitary from no less a bike hub than Portland, Oregon. Elly Blue runs the cycling blog Taking the Lane, and she came to Houston as part of a nationwide tour assessing cities and their bike-friendliness and initiative.
Blue was impressed enough by McCasland's tour and talk to wonder the following:
Yes, that's right. A cycling advocate from Portland has dared wonder publicly if this allegedly car-narcotized, Interstate-streaked, strip mall-obsessed Purgatory of rampant antipathy to bikers and hikers alike will soon outstrip not just Austin but also Seattle, Minneapolis and Chicago as the most bike-friendly town in America.
"My impression of Houston so far was all potholes, unpredictable driving, the chaotic geography of a city without zoning, and only a few sightings of hardy bicyclists," she wrote. "A conversation the night before with our host, a bike advocate, hadn't altered that impression much. Besides, aren't Southern cities, big and grey and built for cars, supposed to be harder to 'green'?"
The next day McCasland took her on a ride, one that pretty much matches our commute home from work. After stocking up on some provisions at Georgia's Market, which Blue misidentified as downtown's only supermarket (Phoenicia, yo!), Blue, McCasland and another man set out northwestward through the Heights on the MKT trail and kept right on going where it dead-ends at the Shepherd/Durham overpasses. There the paved trail turns to dirt as it traverses a meadow swaying with tall sunflowers and crawling with bunny rabbits in the morning and evening.
There's a sharp right turn out a burned-out rail bridge over White Oak Bayou there -- McCasland tells Hair Balls that part of the city's latest grand biking plan is to dynamite it and rebuild it as a bike/pedestrian thoroughfare. The trail will then continue along White Oak Bayou's banks and connect with the existing trail that begins at West 11th and TC Jester and heads north through Timbergrove, Garden Oaks, Oak Forest and all the way up to Acres Homes.
McCasland's expedition next headed down to the banks of the concrete bayou and rode back towards town, leaving the water's edge near what I think must have been Studemont.
Along the way, McCasland apprised Blue on the details of the countywide plan, and reiterated the same and more with Hair Balls in a subsequent interview.
Basically, the county wants to turn hundreds of miles of existing greenways, many of which run alongside our bayous, into recreation areas and trails. Paving trails through these greenways will serve not just cyclists, but also joggers, walkers, skaters and parents with strollers. They will offer schoolchildren safer paths to school, and McCasland adds that the linear parks offer safe havens for wildlife, and will also serve a role in area flood control.
McCasland says that the greenways "will wind through nearly every community in the City."