Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Walking in an easement wonderland

The phrase "ask and ye shall receive" comes to mind at this moment.  Either that, or the old adage "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear".

Following on the heels of this recent post about Centerpointe's outdoor walkability potential and the health benefits thereof, I resolved to summarize some of those opportunities in a separate post (namely this one). 

But immediately a question arose: are people really "supposed" to be walking in the Interurban easement?  Because that's where I've observed most of our local serious walkers (especially dog walkers) to be going. 
The Interurban easement:
Footpath to freedom in an area of otherwise jumbled up, incohesive development scheme (or lack thereof).
Somebody owns that land.  Who?  And then of course, numerous additional entities have been granted easements over that land.  Strictly speaking, is it even legal for residents to walk there?  It's neither fenced nor posted, but in our litigation-gridlocked culture, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. 

And of course, the Interurban easement is by no means the only easement where people in greater Houston frequently walk.  With a resounding and pervasive lack of urban and suburban planning, there's often no way to get from Point A to Point B on foot except by traversing someone's easement, regardless of which section of town you live in.

Lo and behold, as if on command (or request), yesterday Houston Chronicle conveniently served up at least a portion of the answer with this feature article, which discusses some of the issues surrounding the public's use of easements.
Screengrab from Houston Chronicle.
It's worth reading if you're interested in this kind of stuff.
The article describes how "no-e CenterPoint" would allow free use of their utility easements in exchange for protection from liability claims by the people using those easements, but how this measure has yet to attain a legal standing. 

Personally, I see it as a potential win-win situation:  CenterPoint might be acting especially proactive in this regard in part because they perceive how widely pedestrians and cyclists are using their easements anyway.  Given that this use will likely occur either way, they'd benefit from a clearer liability framework.  And residents would benefit from formalization of this use.

That being said, part of this issue is obviously still in limbo and seems likely to remain that way for some time to come.  So what I'm going to present below is not a recommendation of any kind.  It's just a series of observations about where and how I've seen local residents walking, especially those who are serious about walking their dogs on a daily basis.  I've traced out the pathways of these common routes, screengrabbed the traces, and estimated the mileage associated with each one using a common internet utility.  Again, these are not recommendations for you.  Just some summaries of what I've seen.  All rough measurements are taken from the intersection of Willow Pointe and Centerpointe Drive.
If you just need a quick jaunt and wish to avoid the easement, going up the sidewalk to the LCPD station and back is about one mile in length. 
Sometimes I see joggers in particular tracing that nice segment of sidewalk up and back, which is a distance of about two miles.

Unfortunately, this sidewalk doesn't connect to anything else at either end.  This is part of what I mean about lack of cohesive suburban planning.  Unfortunately, this sidewalk is like a Bridge to Nowhere
Remaining strictly within Centerpointe, this is about a 2-mile circuit, and I sometimes jog this route.

The PROBLEM with this kind of route, however, is that WE HAVE SO MANY RESIDENTS WHO ILLEGALLY PARK THEIR CARS ACROSS THE SIDEWALKS that it's not a pleasant journey - it's more like an obstacle course, especially on perenially-congested Walnut Pointe.  I suspect that this kind of reality is part of what drives people to walk in easements, the sentiment being "Geez, just give us a tiny bit of open space where we don't have to be dodging yet another infernal automobile literally every fifty feet." 
From Centerpointe to the United States Post Office, League City station, about a 1.5-mile circuit as shown.  If a person doesn't walk through that section of the easement to get there, it becomes necessary to go all the way up to Highway 3 and then back down FM 518 to Interurban.  But congested FM 518 is not really walkable, and neither is Interurban Street, so that's not really a viable option, not to mention the extra distance that would needlessly be involved. 

Either that, or go via West Galveston Street by way of Hwy 3, but West Galveston is a horrible unimproved street with no sidewalks and so you have to share what little degraded pavement there is with speeding cars - not safe, especially if you have kids or pets with you.

There's also a dirt barrier at the end of West Galveston, FYI.  People have made an obvious footpath around it.
Centerpointe into Pecan Forest.  This is about a 2-mile loop as shown.  As I mentioned in my post of two days ago, Pecan Forest is an interesting walk because it's an older neighborhood with magnificent trees (full of squirrels, which our dog loves to watch).

For people who live on the north and east sides of Centerpointe, it would be very difficult to get into this neighborhood without going through the Interurban easement.  The only other route is the "long way around" via Calder, which would add about another two miles to the walking circuit.  In other words, you'd have to walk over a mile before you could even get into Pecan Forest to start with.  Many walkers would find that to be too much for them.
I see people doing this 2.5-mile route, but I don't understand why they would want to.  There are neither sidewalks nor crosswalks on this segment of SH 96 (except at the Walker Street intersection), and cars whip by at up to 70 mph in close proximity to pedestrians. 
This is what I see dog-walkers in particular doing more commonly - going down the easement to SH 96 but then doubling back, in order to avoid the road which is arguably dangerous to pedestrians.  This too is about a 2.5-mile loop.
Future posts will address these options further, if I'm able to find out more relevant information about our local walkability issues.

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