Sugar Land, Missouri City to increase mobility by improving hiking, biking trails

The new year brings good news to residents of Sugar Land and Missouri City who look to walking and biking as their preferred modes of transportation. Both Sugar Land and Missouri City have projects lined up this year to improve these secondary mobility options that continue to be important based on community feedback.

"I've been in Sugar Land for nine years and hike and bike trails have always been something residents always call for as well as making connections to existing trails," said Kimberly Terrell, right of way services manager for Sugar Land. "I think you will see that in different communities over and over again—people want trails to walk and ride on."

Survey results from residents in Missouri City revealed residents are interested in utilizing bicycle and pedestrian paths, but often do not feel safe riding in traffic. Some residents feel there is a lack of bicycle facilities and believe there are too many difficult barriers to cross, such as intersections and railroads.

"Based on feedback received from a public open house and bike plan survey, generally people want more striped on-street bike lanes, separated bikeways such as side paths and paved shoulders," said Valerie Marvin, public works assistant director for Missouri City.

Sugar Land mobility

Two big projects from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan expected to get off the ground this year in Sugar Land include the addition of two miles of hike and bike trails between First Colony Boulevard and Imperial Drive, which will connect existing hike and bike trails and add a bridge to access Mesquite Park, Terrell said. The other new pedestrian trail is a connection to the Lake Pointe Trail on Brooks Street and Imperial Park, which will include a loop in the park and will increase the length of the route to nearly two miles. The design process is wrapping up on both and construction is expected to begin in spring 2015.

Other smaller projects planned for Sugar Land include on-street improvements to bike lanes in River Park along Wimberly Canyon Drive, the addition of more bike lanes in Creek Bend and side paths—which are essentially wider sidewalks—along University Boulevard from Chaney Briar Avenue to Commonwealth Boulevard.

"We don't have a set timeline for this plan," Terrell said. "The initial schedule was intended to be fairly aggressive, but it is all dependent on budget. [These projects] are a high priority for City Council so we will continue to put these projects in the Capital Improvement Plan."

Missouri City mobility

In Missouri City, officials will begin implementing a $150,000 project outlined in its bicycle and pedestrian mobility plan that involves installing bike lane striping and signage along a route from the northeast starting at Pine Hollow and downward toward the southwest, Marvin said. It will connect with the existing Oyster Creek Trail via Plantation Settlement and Cartwright Road.

"The project will get underway early this summer in conjunction with the completion of the new roadway construction that is currently in progress between Lexington [Avenue] and Scanlin Road just south of City Hall," she said.

Similar to Sugar Land, Missouri City's timeline for additional projects is not set and will come to fruition as more funding becomes available. The current projects are funded by bond proceeds from 2003 when voters approved a $75 million bond. About $17.6 million is available from the 2003 bond, which will be used for public safety, drainage and transportation projects, according to Missouri City.

Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen stressed the importance of the plan and said it will also help the environment by reducing emissions from vehicular travel.

"A bike and pedestrian mobility plan is important to Missouri City for a number of reasons," he said. "This plan is an opportunity for people to exercise while seeing other parts of our city, and it is safer when we have designated lanes for them to travel in."

Long time coming in Sugar Land

In September 2013, Sugar Land City Council approved its Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, which replaced the 2007 Hike and Bike Trails Master Plan and focuses more on nonrecreational use of trails as well as traditional recreational use.

It includes 24 miles of bike lanes and 18 miles of on-street shared lanes as well as 128 miles of pedestrian and bike paths. In 2013, Sugar Land voters approved a $31.5 million bond referendum of which $10 million was allocated for this network of paths. So far, $220,000 worth of projects have been completed, said Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson.

Those projects include the addition of buffered bike lanes—bike lanes with space separating it from traffic—on Grants Lake Boulevard, Bayview Drive and Sugar Lakes Boulevard; shared bike lanes on Alston Road; and side paths along University Boulevard to Telfair Avenue.

"Many of the key attributes that citizens overwhelmingly identify as things they like about Sugar Land are parks, trails, recreation opportunities and beautiful landscapes," Thompson said. "These quality-of-life components are synonymous with the facilities, programs, services, events and goals of the city, and our citizens continue to remind us that these projects are important."

The plan was conceived with direction from Pedestrian and Bicycle Task Force, a group of involved residents, including Nicole Volek, a physical therapist whose job requires constant daily travel on Sugar Land's roads to clients' homes. The plan also utilized input from an online survey that saw 375 responses, nine stakeholder meetings, a public meeting with more than 50 attendees, an online mapping activity with more than 1,000 comments and an online town hall.

"It was a very nice mix of people who all wanted to see the hike and bike trails improve," Volek said. "We got to learn a lot of fascinating things and one company [the city] hired showed us the different land choices the city has for the projects and the cost it would incur, so we got to take field trips to those properties to check them out."

Ideally, she said, the city would like to connect all existing trails because connectivity is one of the biggest hurdles of bicycle and pedestrian mobility.

"All of these trails have been built so you can get to one place, but that's it—you can't get to another place," Volek said.

One of the biggest effects the plan will have on the community is on the schools and the safety of area children, Volek said. The group identified creating more safety signs for school-aged children who walk or bike to school in areas where there is virtually none.

Community homeowner associations were also involved in the plan's inception, including First Colony Community Association, said its executive director, Cary Kelley. The HOA has its own plan of small-scale trail improvements, such as shade features and benches, but Kelley said it looks to the city for more connectivity.

"The community is looking forward to the widening of the trails and connectivity—giving folks another option to get to Town Center or even further so they do not have to use their cars," he said. "Maybe the older folks are not going to make that trek but the newer, younger homeowners—that is what they want to do. It is something I think is overdue."

More options in Missouri City

In April 2013, Missouri City City Council approved its Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Plan based off a review of the Houston-Galveston Area Council's Trails Master Plan, a sidewalk gap assessment and an evaluation of existing roads and sidewalks.

According to the plan, the goal was to develop a multimodal network throughout the city to provide better connections for bicyclists and pedestrians.

As funds become available, the city will implement projects according to prioritization standards listed in the plan. Each project is given a score based on its distance to high-priority destinations, such as City Centre or City Hall; distance to medium-priority destinations, such as schools or transit centers; whether it completes a connection to another trail; cost and ease of implementation.

The main challenges in implementing the plan are promoting several factors, Marvin said, including working within the limitations of the built environment, enforcement of rules and regulations and ensuring improvements have a return-on-investment by attracting businesses and creating jobs.

"The plan stresses that working on each of these elements is essential to ensuring the long-term success of the city's transportation investments," she said.