Because most of them are aligned with Houston's waterways, most of Houston's bike trails run east-west. Getting north and south can be a dangerous chore, but many people believe the solution is relatively easy: convert miles and miles of Houston's utility easements for dual-purpose as bike (and hiking) trails. The snag has always been liability — CenterPoint Energy does not want to be held liable for any injuries that might occur on their land. Local attorney Tom McCasland took up that issue as his driving force for much of 2010 and 2011 and crusaded in Austin and Houston for a bill that would let CenterPoint out of bike-crash lawsuits and thus pave the way to a cycling paradise in Houston. While his effort was stymied in a committee in Austin, he believes that the momentum he gained this year will help ensure that his bill will pass in 2013.
Well, this certainly isn't a surprise: KHOU's Mark Greenblatt winning our Best TV News Reporter award. After all, he won it in 2008 and 2010. But if you're thinking we're stuck in a rut or something, in our defense the guy just keeps coming up with compelling investigative pieces that deservedly rack up high-profile awards. In the past it's been for stories on Metro and the Texas National Guard; this year his target has been the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which he showed endeavored to hide test results showing too much radiation in our drinking water. He's definitely one reporter any government bureaucrat doesn't want to see pop up on his caller ID.
A lot of people worked long and hard to get Anthony Graves exonerated and off Death Row, but it was Houston's Katherine Scardino who got the job done. Working with her partner from Angleton, Jimmy Phillips, Scardino went into the heart of darkness that the rural Texas judicial system can sometimes be and won. She gambled that former superstar Harris County prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who had been brought in to handle the case for Burleson County, would see that justice had not been done and act accordingly. Siegler did, and Scardino, who has been one of the most impressive criminal attorneys in the state for some time now, had another big victory to her credit.
This year, a group of enterprising young professionals turned a flooded, foreclosed home in Midtown into Houston's first green co-op. With a rainwater cistern that powers the toilets, a worm farm and a huge heap of compost, the whole house is a bastion of sustainability. There's even a greasel: a Mercedes-Benz fueled by leftover fryer oil from a downtown Chinese restaurant. HAUS is home to ten young do-gooders who share chores and cooking duties. In five years they expect to create five green co-ops — and with all the green thumbs involved, the movement could quite possibly make Houston a good deal more reusable.
Future victims of cardiac arrest just got a few extra seconds added to their window of rescue time thanks to the Defib Task Force. A group of Rice University bioengineering students (Lisa Jiang, Joanna Nathan, Justin Lin, Carl Nelson and Brad Otto), along with some experts (Texas Heart Institute's Mehdi Razavi and Rice University lecturer Renata Ramos), developed new pads for automated external defibrillators (AEDs), used to shock a person's heart back into proper rhythm during cardiac arrest. Since seconds count during cardiac arrest, the team's research suggested that the new pads, which allow for less time between shocks, could save some 13,000 lives per year.
Market Square Park
Not long ago, we were walking downtown and became aware of a foul odor. We looked around and were aghast to discover that the residents of the high-rise condos across the street had obviously been using the patch of grass by our feet as a toilet for their dogs. This never would have happened in Market Square, where the dog run is clean enough for the mutts to eat off. Since renovations were completed last year, the original site of Houston's City Hall has become a village green for northern downtown, a gathering spot not just for dog-walkers from nearby lofts but for people relaxing after work or getting ready for a night at Minute Maid Park or Jones Hall. Or they might just stay there and grab a bite at Niko Niko's, check out the murals, take in some free live music, catch a movie or gather their thoughts at Houston's only 9/11 memorial — "Lauren's Garden," in honor of Houstonian Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, the only Texan aboard Flight 93. Without outright copying Discovery Green, Market Square has become a destination in itself, and offers prime people-watching from some of Houston's most venerable watering holes, particularly the front porch at La Carafe.
Coolidge, Cutthroat, Eyesore and Dual all justifiably have their fervent partisans, but our absolute favorite is 2:12. That could be simply because we are junkies for color, and 2:12 uses lots of it, much more than wheat-pasters like Cutthroat and Dual or even a stencil painter like 'Lidge. 2:12 hybridizes their approaches — much of the drafting is done on paper in his studio, which affords him the chance to paint in more detail than the average hit-and-run poster artist. We also love his choice of material — often Golden Age Hollywood leading ladies of every ethnicity. Grimy Houston could definitely use more of his work, but don't expect the city to be blanketed with 2:12 works. Like most true masters, he takes a quality-over-quantity approach.
A team of grad students at Rice University finally figured out a way to make use of those now-defunct broadcast television frequencies — use them to carry a downgraded wi-fi signal to Houston-area homes that previously could not access the free citywide wi-fi network. Student Ryan Guerra created equipment that can "translate" a traditional wi-fi signal to a lower frequency, which can then be carried into homes on the edges of wi-fi networks. A Houston-area grandmother was the first person to host the new Super-Wi-Fi hotspot.
Mai's Restaurant
Mai's Restaurant was started in 1978 by the Nguyen family as a sandwich and coffee shop. It went on to become a Houston institution with a large menu of Vietnamese favorites. After the restaurant was destroyed by a fire in 2010, the family, led by Nguyen granddaughter Anna Pham, rebuilt rather than shuttered the place. What was a rather nondescript two-story building on a similarly nondescript corner has been replaced with a sleek, updated building with a light-filled, two-story dining room and spacious kitchen. The garish lighting and mismatched furniture from the old Mai's dining room was replaced with soft lighting, dark wood tables and subtle green walls. Parking went from 30 spaces to more than 100. But don't worry, Pham has made sure that the food — and late-night hours — stayed the same.
Houston Zoo
Since opening last December, the Houston Zoo's African Forest habitat has drawn thousands of visitors to marvel at the latest addition, years in the making, spread out over six and a half acres. Populated with charismatic families of chimpanzees, giraffes and white rhinos, the African Forest also educates visitors about the plight of the real African Forest, and challenges them to locate the mythical "Koolakamba," a sort of African yeti. Best of all, it's a high-tech forest, meaning you can watch the rhinos' antics from the air-conditioned comfort of your home or office via the 24-hour Webcam.

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