1,000 Bikers Ride On Yet-Unopened Grand Parkway

Date Posted: 3/21/2016

See Story at Chron.com

Morris Matthis, pedaling steadily, could hardly believe the scene around him.

Cyclists whizzed up and down a roadway where no cars crowded the lanes -- and, for that matter, where drivers hadn't yet been permitted to maneuver at all.

More than 1,000 people, born by two-spoked wheels and the power of their own legs, scaled on-ramps, passed under toll scanners, and flew by traffic signs on a 12.5-mile segment of the much-awaited Grand Parkway, a new passageway being constructed bit by bit to circle the greater Houston area, carving through suburban areas beyond the 610 Loop and Beltway 8.

The participants traversed what roadway officials have dubbed "segment G," which stretches from Interstate 45 on the west to Highway 59 on the east. It is expected to be open by the end of this month to connect with two other segments of the Grand Parkway, from U.S. 290 to Interstate 45, that already opened last month.

"It's been beyond my wildest expectations," Matthis said, out of breath as he paused along the two lanes of traffic headed west. "One thousand-plus riders. That's no small thing."

For Matthis, the day marked what seemed a crazy idea of his that had come to fruition, thanks to what he described as a unique union of church, government and business coming together behind a single event.

Matthis, 60, had dreamed of what it might be like for people to ride the Grand Parkway 10 months prior while, of course, riding his bike. The district superintendent of a local division of the United Methodist Church - whose online biography on the organization's web page displays a picture of him biking - Matthis began to shop his idea around to officials.

"They kept not saying no," he said Saturday morning, smiling.

And so Matthis, believing the roadway will have a significant effect on the area, organized a group to try to make it happen. The event, dubbed "The Grand Parkway Ride," carried a $50 registration fee that would benefit the YMCA's efforts to identify and support victims of human trafficking. It would be a celebration of sorts of the roadway, too, with support from the Texas Department of Transportation and Zachry-Odebrecht Parkway Builders. And it would help the local churches of his district demonstrate "what it looks like when faith is put on wheels," he said.

"It's great," district administrative assistant Shanda Levingston said as she buzzed around in a golf cart with snacks stashed for volunteers, one of whom offered her a jacket to layer over her T-shirt in the unexpectedly cold weather.

The morning had proved cloudy, with a temperature hovering around 60 degrees, but the cyclists bent their heads into the wind and rode with fervor across the open space. A bike with speakers, recumbent bikes and tandem bicycles passed here and there.

It was a rare sight for what a major Houston passageway, come amid concern in the cycling community following news of more than 20 cyclists receiving citations during a recent ride in nearby Waller County, and likely one never to befall it again.

"THE ROAD IS YOURS," a banner reminded riders at the start, as if to remind them to savor it.

Near the parking area, not far from where the route both ended and began, tents were set up in a line, staffed by volunteers from local churches who had covered tables beneath them with trail mix, fruit slices and dispensers of Gatorade.

Steve Hammond, of the Woodlands, paused for a snack and surveyed the crowd after completing an abbreviated 15-mile loop, while his wife hoped to continue circling the longer route for the option of a full 75 miles.

The event had been the first organized bike event for Hammond, 59, who said he'd enjoyed it particularly for the "pristine roadway."
Nearby, Jerry Duran, 61, of Spring, bit into orange slices his wife, Stephanie, 51, brought over.

The couple, too, had appreciated the new riding surface, but not the weather.

"Not as grand," her husband joked.

Bob Seger's "Against the Wind" played over a set of speakers.

"Time for a cup of coffee and a couple of doughnuts," Jerry declared. "Breakfast of champions."
 
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