On weekends, Fayza Elmostehi likes to load up her bike, then make the 20-minute drive from her Montrose apartment to the 500-acre Terry Hershey Park, which straddles both sides of Buffalo Bayou in west Houston. There, under a thick canopy of trees, Elmostehi, a social media manager for a tech company, speeds through hours-long rides along the park’s 10 miles of trails. The irony of driving her car so that she can ride her bike isn’t lost on her, and she often wishes there were a better way.
A better way is in fact on the way. Last year, the City of Houston launched the Bayou Greenways 2020 Project, whose goal is to build hike-and-bike trails along all of the city’s major bayous. Some of them, like Buffalo and Brays, already have trails, but even those have gaps, gaps that Bayou Greenways plans to fill in on its way to creating a giant, citywide network.
If all goes as planned, when the $215 million project—a public-private partnership—is completed at the end of the decade, the city will have around 150 miles of continuous trails, the largest such system in the country, traversing Houstonia from League City to The Woodlands, Deer Park to Katy. Perhaps then, says Roksan Okan-Vick, the executive director of the Houston Parks Board, the bayous will finally get their due. “Sometimes I mention bayous and people go ‘Oh, those swampy, mosquito-infested areas?’” she says. “We really didn’t treasure those assets for a long time.”
While for now the project is focused on installing at least one trail along one side of each bayou, Okan-Vick says she’d like to see two lanes on either side, one for bicyclists and one for walkers and runners. She’s already hearing complaints about rude bicyclists from runners, and vice versa—a sign of the extant trails’ growing popularity. And while a few NIMBY types have expressed concerns about trails bringing crime, the most common question Okan-Vick hears from neighborhood associations is, “How soon will we be connected to the network?” she says.
Meanwhile, the city’s burgeoning cycling community is enjoying what it has now, like the four-mile Columbia Tap Rail-Trail, which cuts through the Third Ward from Dixie Street to the Warehouse District, and the 6.8-mile Heights hike-and-bike trail. As for Elmostehi, she’s looking forward to the day when she can bike from Montrose to Terry Hershey without ever encountering a car. “That will be really exciting when they all link up,” she says. “If I could stay on my bike all day? That would be a dream come true.”