UPDATE: The Pathways Plan was presented to Planning and Zoning on Thursday, July 12th. The Meeting video is available to view online. P&Z voted unanimously not to recommend the Plan to City Council at this time.
According to the Pending Agenda Items in the City Manager’s Weekly Memo for 7-13-18 the Pathways Project will be ‘reviewed’ at the City Council meeting on August 6th. You can email Council at firstname.lastname@example.org and request that your email be forwarded to the Mayor and City Council.
Streets shown on current maps: 8 feet wide – South Rice, Evergreen, Fournace, Newcastle; 6 feet wide – Maple, Alder, Chimney Rock, Ferris, Anderson/Second, Englewood, Avenue B, Mulberry, Sunburst. (Let me know if I missed any.) See maps at the bottom of this post.
One of the items on the agenda for the June meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board was “Discussion and possible action regarding the Community Pathways Project”. Updated project files can be found at the end of this post.
Ayo Bello, an engineer with HR Green, the contractor for this plan, explained that the Pathways plan was developed based on a City survey. The survey garnered 430 responses out of over 16,000 residents – about 2.7%.
City staff member Cristin Emshoff and Mr. Bello presented the details of the new plan in hopes of gaining the Board’s approval. After a PowerPoint presentation they explained that no pathway would be on private land, all would be built on public right-of-way (ROW).
That sounded good – at first.
Members of the board addressed the right-of-way issue. Most City streets have a 60 foot ROW but are actually much more narrow, mine is 26 feet curb to curb, the rest of the ROW is covered by my front yard and that of my neighbor across the street, and has been since most Bellaire streets and subdivisions were laid out.
A portion of many residential front or side yards would be used for the Pathways project. A 6′ or 8′ pathway could run through someone’s front or side yard. Trees, plantings, and other landscape areas would be affected. In some good news for Southdale residents, Baldwin Avenue has a 50′ ROW and has been removed from the plan.
The statement that Evergreen is not a residential street created some consternation. For planning purposes the east-west streets that cross Loop 610 are considered priority pathways and connectors and not treated as residential streets. Fournace and Evergreen would receive an 8′ pathway. So would South Rice Avenue. Bellaire Blvd and Bissonnet seem to be a lower priority. Other designated streets would receive 6′ pathways.
Members of the board began to question the wisdom of the plan at this time, suggesting that flooding and drainage should be addressed, not pathways. That just over 2% of the population wasn’t a serious survey response. That the planners were trying to turn Bellaire into a planned community and that’s not what we are.
Mr. Bello and Ms. Emshoff explained that there may be alternatives – narrow Evergreen and add a side lane, realign streets to allow for the pathways and shared bike lanes, widen existing sidewalks, etc. They stated that the plan would not be implemented all at once; it would be implemented as streets are reconstructed. That it’s a framework, not a plan.
Even though these projects are described as exploratory, or will have to be approved, or don’t worry, there will be neighborhood meetings – the outcome always seems inevitable. However, once the plan is approved what’s to stop the City from doing as they please? Throw it into the next bond issue, raise more debt.
The Newcastle walking trail was mentioned as an example of what can be done along a thoroughfare so I feel it is important to provide a little Bellaire history.
The Newcastle trail was originally a very wide, very deep ditch that ran along the west side of the street. When I moved to Bellaire in the 1950s the street was called Avenue A and later changed to Newcastle. There were wooden bridges across the ditch at intersecting streets heading west and for access to any homes along that side that faced Newcastle.
The ditch was converted to a storm sewer under a long time city manager named Gary Summers, and paid for by City of Bellaire funds, Harris County funds, and private funds from local businesses. (We had pay as you go back then.) I don’t recall just when this occurred, perhaps sometime in the 1970s.
Once the new storm sewer was installed and the bridges were no longer required a wide swath of City land was available and an asphalt path was installed, which later became today’s walking path. The street was never moved or realigned, though it was eventually repaved.
Back to the real world, no more pay as we go. The estimated cost for the Community Pathways project was not addressed at the Parks Board meeting, however the board was told the project would not be paid from the 2016 Bonds for a Better Bellaire, that the last pool of that money would go for sidewalks.
How will these wide paths affect property values? A 4 foot sidewalk down one side of the street, probably not much. But an 8 foot pathway running though yards for block after block?
What about maintaining all this? We still have numerous streets in need of repair or replacement, and problems with drainage. Is this the best way to spend taxpayer money? Is this the sort of project you thought you were voting for if you voted yes for the 2016 Bonds for Better Bellaire? Because the City Manager and City Council are planning on another $48+ million bond issue for next year!
Paragraph 5.3 of the June report (see attachment below) states that costs can vary depending on the scope of the work, location, etc., so a basic opinion of cost is provided in appendix B. About $75,000 has been committed so far for this study (an earlier amount provided included a budget carryover), through March 31st of this year, with no final price stated at this point. Construction costs will run into the millions. More debt? Higher taxes?
After a thorough question and answer session and a deeper understanding of what was being proposed the Board chose to postpone a motion to approve. There were too many questions to be asked and answered and too many tangents to be considered and the suggestion was that this might be presented to all the Boards and Commissions.
At this point Ms. Emshoff and Mr. Bello said they plan to present the project to Planning and Zoning on July 12, 2018, and to City Council on July 16, 2018.
The Pathways Plan will be presented to Planning and Zoning at the July12th meeting, on the agenda as Unfinished Business. No word yet on a presentation to City Council. Stay tuned.
NOTE: The cost to prepare this plan for presentation was approved for $75,000, not $125,000 as previously mentioned in this article; the final cost is not available at this time. The initial estimated base cost for the project is $12.2 million.
Check the maps (A_Exhibits) to see how your street or neighborhood may be affected by this project.
Files below contain information and show all streets that may be affected by this project:
- Bellaire Community Pathways_Plan_Final Report_June20-2018
- A_Exhibits_Bellaire Community Pathways_Final Report
- B-Cost_Bellaire Community Pathways Plan_Final Report
- C_Survey_Results_Bellaire Community Pathways Plan_Final Report
- D_CrashData_Bellaire Community Pathways Plan_Final Report
- E_NeighborhoodMtg_Jan_2018_Bellaire Community Pathways Plan_Final Report
- F_Comments_Bellaire Community Pathways Plan_Final Report
(Note: Wording of Proposition 1 of the 2016 Bonds for Better Bellaire included additional funding to install or fill in sidewalks down at least one side of every street in Bellaire.)
Email the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton at email@example.com. Ask her to forward your email to the Council.
View: City of Bellaire – Current Debt Report as of September 30, 2017 – right at $140 million when all bonds currently approved are issued; per the proposed FY2019 budget, by September 30, 2018 the projected amount of bonds outstanding will be $129.8 million.
AASHTO – American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials articles regarding pathways and shared paths:
“By doing an in-depth analysis of existing bikeways and trip patterns in the city, working with a Bicycle Advisory Committee of community leaders, and engaging people across the city, the TEI team has:
developed strong consensus on a vision and well-defined goals for bicycling related to safety, access, ridership, and maintenance that support bicycling for people of all ages and abilities
captured citywide and neighborhood-level insights on opportunities to make bicycling better and what barriers exist to more people riding
identified policies and programs to foster and protect Houston’s growing culture of active transportation”