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Cover Story: A Bike Path and an AIDS Memorial Garden

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Ten years ago, residents of a Third Ward neighborhood near MacGregor Way vociferously -- yes, vociferously -- objected to then-Mayor Bill White's plans to convert an old railroad right-of-way into a bike path.

A resulting lawsuit stopped a roughly 1,500-foot section of the path in its tracks, although the rest of the path -- called the Columbia Tap -- was completed to great fanfare in 2009. But last year, Mayor Annise Parker decided to finally close the gap, and this time around, the resident making the most noise was a guy who had created what he called the Texas Aids Memorial Garden along the contested section.

Michael Lee said he started the garden in 1986, when no one was interested in the land behind his home. In 2004, he invited the press and public officials to take part in an official dedication, but there was a negligible turnout. Although he claimed all along that, under the doctrine of adverse possession, he rightfully owned the land, he never held the title.

Lee battled Parker's office for months, aiming much of his ire at the city's first sustainability director, Laura Spanjian. But Spanjian and Parker maintained all along that they wanted to preserve as much as the garden as possible.

The City has tremendous plans to develop many more miles of bike paths as part of a decades-long goal of making Houston a truly bicycle-friendly place. This tiny stretch of path caused more headaches than anticipated, as is explained in this week's cover story, "Happy Trails?"

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