City employees have added cones and flashing lights to alert cyclists and pedestrians to trail closures along Buffalo Bayou following complaints about inadequate visibility and no warnings the pathways would be blocked during preparations for Tuesday’s July 4 celebration.

The city closed portions of four trails along Buffalo Bayou near downtown – including one for more than a week – in advance of the July 4th Freedom Over Texas event, Susan Christian, director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, said Monday. 

The trail closures are temporary and have been a routine part of the city’s event set-up process for years, she said.

Members of Houston’s cycling community, however, say the closures are indicative of a larger issue of city officials claiming to advocate for increasing walkability and accessibility while making decisions that do the opposite.

Which trails are closed?

Four trails along Buffalo Bayou have been closed for varying lengths of time, Christian said.

The lower trail on the south side of the bayou near Eleanor Tinsley Park was closed June 27, and will reopen on July 7.

That trail will be closed the longest, Christian said, because the area has become a construction zone for Freedom Over Texas’ main stage.

The upper trail along the bayou’s south side was closed on July 2, and will reopen July 5.

Portions of the trail along the north side of Buffalo Bayou, between the Sabine Street bridge and just west of the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, were closed last Friday to prepare for the city’s fireworks show.

Those trail portions will reopen July 5, after any debris has been removed, Christian said.

Community frustration

After discovering the blocked bike paths, cyclists began voicing their frustrations online and submitting complaints to Christian’s office, prompting the lights and cones.

Joe Cutrufo, executive director of Bike Houston, said the city’s decision to place thin, black wire fencing as a blockade creates a safety hazard for cyclists traveling at night. 

He cited the case of Matthew Ledvina, a bicyclist who died in March, apparently after crashing his bike into orange construction netting across the White Oak Trail at night.

Cutrufo also pointed to Houston’s infrastructure design manual, which requires the city to provide detours when bike facilities are obstructed.

“The city should at least enforce its own detour policy,” he said.

  • A sign indicating a Buffalo Bayou Park trail is closed to the public
  • A bicyclist takes a detour on a Buffalo Bayou Park trail
  • A sign indicating a Buffalo Bayou Park trail is closed to the public

In response to complaints, increased detour signage has been added around the closed trails, Christian said.

That it took resident complaints to add those safety measures, Cutrufo said, is “a failure of the city to do its job.”

For Greater Heights Super Neighborhood President Kevin Strickland, the issue goes deeper than those specific trail closures.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way the city views its accessible infrastructure, he said. 

“These trails are not used just for recreation,” Strickland said. “People use it to get around town, for running errands … people use it for commuting, for work.”

Strickland said he worries too many officials treat accessible infrastructure — sidewalks, bike paths, crosswalks and more — as amenities rather than necessities. 

“If we’re going to say we prioritize walkability,” he said, “we have to walk the talk.”

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Tim Carlin is the Houston Landing's civic engagement reporter. An Ohio native, Tim comes to Houston after spending a year in Greenville, South Carolina, covering Greenville County government for The Greenville...