City envisions a Houston "teeming" with pedestrians

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The city’s planning department has wasted two years developing a plan for central Houston that aims for urban planning utopia (via the Chron’s Mike Snyder):

A vision of central Houston transformed by wide, tree-shaded sidewalks teeming with people walking from homes to jobs and entertainment lies at the heart of proposed new city policies.

Hahahahaha! “Teeming with people walking from homes to jobs and entertainment.” Is Mayor White going to demand that Houston’s weather model San Diego’s? It’s really hard to envision central Houston teeming with pedestrians when it’s 90 degrees outside with high humidity. And frankly, I wouldn’t want to be around people who’ve been out walking from home to job to entertainment. They’ll stink.

After two years of work, Houston’s Department of Planning and Development has released recommendations that cover pedestrian zones, building styles, driveway spacing and other elements of development in corridors served by Metro’s light rail lines.

The goal is to produce urban environments where transit riders could walk to various destinations, reducing the need for driving.

Proponents of stronger local planning said the new policies would help the city accommodate population growth in its core without disrupting established neighborhoods or increasing traffic congestion.

“It’s real progress,” said David Crossley, president of the nonprofit Gulf Coast Institute. He serves on an advisory panel working on the proposals.

No, it’s not real progress. It’s many steps away from progress. Cars give us freedom to run errands, make appointments, get to jobs, all within a much faster timeframe than walking. We are much more productive with our personal transportation. Let’s just imagine folks forced to walk from homes to jobs to entertainment. How does a mom do that with her kids while needing to stop off at the grocery store, the bank, and the cleaners on her way home?

Some real estate professionals and organizations, however, said the policies could increase costs and create more problems than they solve.

“It would be a mistake to use mandatory building requirements as a means to force Houstonians out of their cars and onto hot sidewalks,” said Kendall Miller, president of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a nonprofit group that seeks to limit new restrictions on real estate development.

It’s amazing that some people can’t see that.

The proposals encompass the existing Main Street rail corridor and the planned north, southeast, East End and Uptown corridors. Proposals for the University corridor, for which Metro only recently chose a final alignment, will be developed later, city officials said.

In all the corridors, the city would require a 15-foot pedestrian zone from the curb to the front of the building. Sidewalks would be on the 5 feet closest to the building, with the other 10 feet set aside for landscaping.

Also in every corridor, the city would enforce restrictions on the spacing of driveways so pedestrians would have to stop less often for cars pulling in and out of businesses. City officials haven’t determined how far apart the driveways would have to be.

An area including downtown, east downtown and Midtown would be designated as the “core pedestrian zone,” where the city’s requirements would extend to design features such as bringing buildings close to the sidewalk and devoting a large share of the building facade to doors, windows or other features to avoid long stretches of blank walls.

Such requirements will deter projects through increased regulation and cost. If that’s what the city wants, then just come out and say it. All these urban planning-types are yearning for a dream city that just won’t happen in Houston. They can force developers to create according to this vision, but it doesn’t mean people are going to start walking everywhere! It’s too warm and sticky much of the year. As it is now, many of us have little interest in visiting central or downtown Houston, except when we have to. It’s an unfriendly, uninviting place, what with mind-boggling parking rules, red light cameras, the Danger Train, homeless thugs, etc. Creating 15-foot pedestrian zones is not going to help drivers who are coming into the city for dinner or a show. It’ll just be another deterrent.

The next step in the process is to draft an ordinance, said Suzy Hartgrove, a spokeswoman for the planning department. After review by the city Planning Commission and a series of public hearings, the plan would go to the City Council.

Which means it’ll pass as long as it has Mayor White’s blessing.


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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.