by Chelsea Young
Municipal and District Services Project Manager
It’s a perennial question: what’s the secret to a great relationship? In public/private relationships listening and being prepared to make adjustments is the answer. One such case is the recent Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan for The Woodlands. The Woodlands Township is tucked away in a beautifully wooded community 27 miles north of Houston, Texas. It’s home to people that love its easy access to nature and 126 parks. More specifically, it’s a community where residents love to walk in nature and bicycle on 205 miles of concrete pathways.
Although The Woodlands Development Company had originally developed an extensive forested pathway network, there were known gaps in the overall pathway system, and residents wanted more direct access to their destination. So, in 2015 The Woodlands Township decided the creation of a Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan would be the first step towards making the community a safer and more connected place to walk, run, and bike. The end goal was to make The Woodlands a world-class pedestrian and bicycle friendly community over the next few decades. The Woodlands is already nationally designated a Bronze Level “Bicycle Friendly Community” by The League of American Bicyclists. But to reach the next level, or higher, they needed a master plan.
After an RFP, Jones|Carter was selected for the master plan effort. The first step was to create a plan in collaboration with key stakeholders by listening to their wants and needs.
Collaborating with the community
Residents were involved in the development of the draft plan through the formation of a steering committee, a public meeting for community members and an online questionnaire was created and distributed to the public in late fall 2015 to gain input on what the community most wanted as it relates to walking, running and biking. There were 1,384 responses to the questionnaire in total, which contained 33 questions on topics including demographics, commute characteristics, and general walking and bicycling preferences and opinions. The people had spoken and Jones|Carter had listened.
Keeping the Process Open and Transparent
Throughout the process, any meetings Jones|Carter had were publicized, and every stakeholder meeting was published online so that everyone could be aware of the project and its progress. In addition to doing outreach with people in the community, a special community organization of cyclists reached out to Jones|Carter. The Easy Riders Bicycling Group, a casual, fun group of women that plan mostly off-street weekly rides throughout The Woodlands, approached Jones|Carter to partake in one of their morning group rides. The Jones|Carter team eagerly participated and observed and listened to the desires and concerns of the riders as it pertains to overall bicycle accessibility within The Woodlands. The firm took what they heard from participants on this casual ride and included it in the plan, as well as encouraged riders to stay in touch and involved with the planning process through the public meetings and online publications.
This transparency benefitted everyone. By having a good understanding of the public’s desires, the process for completing the plan was streamlined, and the Board of Directors was able to see exactly what the community wanted and did not want.
With input and involvement from the community, including representatives from various Village Associations, Bike The Woodlands Coalition members, Montgomery and Harris counties, and others as a part of a Steering Committee, in fall of 2016, Jones|Carter presented a draft to the board of directors, and many people from the public were able to speak about concerns developing certain off-street trails. The board heard this and recommended that Jones|Carter revise the plan recommendations accordingly, and then to come back the next month to present it for final approval. Jones|Carter listened to their recommendations, and returned with a revised plan based on public input as well as direction from the board which was approved as a final document.
The first of its kind for The Woodlands, The Woodlands Township Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan will assist The Township with planning for walking and biking projects over time.
The plan includes:
- Development of an on-street bicycle lane East to West along Lake Woodlands Drive from Lake Front Circle to Woodlands Parkway
- Development of a new shared use path (pedestrians and cyclists allowed) from North to South that would provide direct access to retail on the southwest corner of Research Forest Drive and Kuykendahl Road where no pathway currently exists
- Adding a little over one-half mile segment of new sidepath along the south side of Research Forest Drive to ensure students can reach their schools without crossing a major roadway
- Providing a connection to the portion of The Woodlands located on the east side of Interstate 45, to allow more residents to access the core of The Woodlands retail, educational, and recreational facilities
- Adding sidepaths leading to the three Park & Ride locations, stemming from the existing pathways to give pedestrians and bicyclists safe access to Park & Ride facilities
With its experience in planning, engineering and knowledge of the funding and implementation process, Jones|Carter was able to help The Woodlands Township in most every aspect of the project. In addition to working together with John Ciccarelli of Bicycle Solutions from San Francisco and M2L Associates, Inc. of Houston, the firm also leveraged the expertise of its multiple internal departments that include not only the Public Planning Practice, but the Transportation Department as well who specifically assisted with traffic-related analysis to develop the on-street recommendations for the plan.
By listening, adjusting, and being transparent, a positive relationship was forged, and a positive outcome was achieved. One last point: May is National Bike Month, and specifically Bike The Woodlands Coalition is hosting over forty cycling-related events all month. As die-hard cyclists and cycling advocates, Jones|Carter is not only participating in “Bike Month” events, but is also a gold-level sponsor. http://www.bikethewoodlands.org/