Anyone in the habit of leaving the house knows that Houston’s streets are really best appreciated from a distance. And although he’s not a native, Seattle artist Peter Gorman appears to agree. His recent work, “Intersections of Houston,” shown above, is a series of 20 mini-maps depicting some of the city’s most notably tangled roadway crossings. Some — like the nexus of Scott, Polk, York, and Clay streets (top row, second from the left) — take shape at the borders between Houston’s multiple, incongruous street grids. (The Allen brothers laid out the oldest grid parallel and perpendicular to Buffalo Bayou; later planners favored a more north-south orientation. In both cases, the resulting frameworks are some of the longest-lived legacies of the city. We’ve been stuck with them far longer than most of the buildings they contain.)
Others meander to get around park space: See Lamar, Crawford, and Dallas (third row, third from the left). And then there’s that special subset: intersections that do less to fit into their surroundings than they do to stand out as products of intrepid traffic engineering approaches. Take Lockwood Dr. and Wallisville Rd. (fourth row, third from the lift) for instance; it’s really just a claw-like take on a T-intersection.
Ever notice that the Wheeler-St. side of the Midtown Sears (shown above) doesn’t quite jibe with the rest of the building? It’s become even clearer since all that beige metal cladding was stripped off the structure earlier this year. Upon its removal, the biggest revelations were cascading green, red, and blue art-deco tile mosaics (shown here) running from top to bottom on every side of the building, except the Wheeler one, where the array of facade openings pictured at top are a bit less architecturally refined despite their prominent positions overlooking crosstown traffic.
So, what gives? Well, it turns out that Sears’s south side wasn’t all that visible when the building opened in 1939. Back then, Wheeler was just a narrow side street off Main and did not flow directly into Richmond as it does now, explains Preservation Houston’s Jim Parsons. Richmond, a much larger thoroughfare, also dead-ended into Main St., across from the Sears and just north of where Wheeler began. You can see the missed connection in the 1950 street map above.
It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the 2 streets were joined through a partial annexation of the Delman Theater property at 4412 Main, catty-corner southwest of the Sears:
Three months after a group of freewheeling bike advocates marked off a portion of McGowen St. for cycling-only use, their work has vanished — effectively ceding the road back over to car traffic. The smaller photo above shows members of Bike Houston as well as other volunteers laying down boundary lines, directional arrows, and rubber barriers along the south side of the road at its junction with the Columbia Tap Trail between Burkett and Nettleton streets. At top is what that stretch looks like now from the opposite side of McGowen.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: BROADACRES’ LONG HISTORY OF PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS “In a way, this is just the latest battle in a hundred year old fight. On a Preservation Houston tour of Broadacres (where we trespassed all over the esplanades), it was pointed out that the neighborhood was originally designed as a closed loop with the only access to the city via Parkway to the east. Houston, however, viewed the streets as public and forced the developers to cede ROW through the lots on the western side of the loop to connect North and South Blvds to their counterparts in the west. This is why North and South Blvds pinch weirdly right around West Blvd. — when you’re ceding expensive land, you only give the minimum required. . . .” [Cactus, commenting on Who Owns the Esplanades on North and South Boulevards?] Photo of Broadacres assessor’s map: HCAD
COMMENT OF THE DAY: UNLEARNING THAT NASTY STOPPING FOR PEDESTRIANS HABIT “I recently moved back to Houston after living in Colorado for a few years. I still find myself in the habit of coming to a complete stop any time that I see a pedestrian attempting to cross a street. In CO, it is state law to stop at any legal pedestrian crossing should someone be there. Many of those crossings have signage that illuminates when the pedestrian presses the button to cross. Some even illuminate the crosswalk itself á la Galleria crosswalks, but it’s expected that you stop whether those are in place or not. Also, most people there abide by the rule of allowing people to cross at major intersections (traffic lights) before passing through in their vehicles; this is something that my fellow Houstonians always honk at me for doing here.” [TD, commenting on Walk This Way] Photo: Kevin Trotman (license)
WESLAYAN’S CRUEL TWIST SLAYS Reader Adam Goss, who identifies himself as a Houstonian — and a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut — writes that it “drives him insane” that “the street named after our alma mater is misspelled. All the surrounding streets are named after similar universities and colleges (Amherst, Oberlin, Georgetown), yet for some reason the largest of all, Weslayan, is spelled incorrectly.
How would Rice grads like it if a major thoroughfare in Chicago was named after the famed Houston university, Rize Avenue. Or if Boston named a major street Longhornes, after a famed UT alum?”
Photo of street sign at the corner of Weslayan and W. Alabama St.: Jeremy Hughes
Here’s your chance to see in first person what the city’s come up with for that under-discussionredo of Westheimer Rd. in Montrose. The video above flies viewers slowly through a flatly rendered Westheimer corridor east of Shepherd Dr. (complete with digital versions of all your favorite ex-clothing shops, storied condo buildings, and paired Mattress Firms) with the new street plan in place. Reality check with the existing state of the roadways happens at a handful of the corridor’s intersections.
The biggest change: A drop down to 2 lanes of car traffic in most places (versus the 4 narrow lanes currently in place), beginning around Huldy St. and moving east. The road would briefly widen back out to 4 lanes around the crossing of Montrose Blvd., then back down to 2 until the name swap to Elgin St. at Bagby St. All that slimming down leaves room for wider sidewalks; the plan also includes some set-aside zones for bus drop-off, some left turn lanes, and a few stretches of parallel parking areas, highlighted in pink.
The fastest way to Westheimer Rd., if you happen to be wandering north looking for it in the 76210 ZIP code, is a left off of Heights Blvd. and an immediate right off Gessner Dr. Lauren Meyers captured some scenes this weekend around the Summit Oaks subdivision on the south side of Denton, TX, which has a whole section of streets sharing names with major Houston roadway (with a few bizarro-world tweaks here and there, like Chimney RockDr. and an only-1-L Hilcroft Ave.) The imposters range from Briar Forest Dr. to Dunlavy St. to Willowick Cir. and beyond:
With a row of Downtown towers looking on from the south, 2 lanes are being added to Burnett St., along the northern boundary of the 50-acre site formerly known as the Hardy Rail Yards. The thickening runs between N. Main St. and Hardy St. At the western end of that stretch, next to the Burnett Transit Center stop on the Red Line’s northern extension, a new baby intersection has been born at Freeman St. just in front of the rail overpass, just up a ways from the N. Main tunnel:
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY THE ROADS DON’T GO THROUGH “. . . Easy — Look at the intersection of Gessner & West Rd. Gessner is blocked to the north by a subdivision, West Rd. is blocked to the east by a landfill (or sand mine or whatever that site is; hard to tell from the aerial). Both roads could connect through, but development blocked ’em.
Having been involved in a couple of these scenarios, I’ll tell you how they typically happen: Developer meets with the city after submitting a plat. City says something like ‘connect the roads or we’re not going to approve your plat and you’ll never get to build it.’ Developer says something like ‘that will result in reduced usability of my site and increased cost to develop it, so if the City wants the road to connect then the City needs to pay $X million.’ City counters with ‘we’re not going to pay for anything, but if you don’t build the road we’re going use eminent domain to take the land and build the road anyway.’ Developer finishes them off with “Well then you can either a) give me $X million and I’ll build the road, b) or I’ll donate enough $ to the council member and mayor races to get what I want.’ The city settles for c) Do nothing, back down, and don’t get the road — because otherwise the staff member who stood up to the developer in the first place would get canned.
I’m not saying that’s how they all happen, but that’s how the couple I’ve been involved in went.” [Ornlu, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Missing Links] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE’S OUR MEMORIAL PARK BYPASS? “This ramp will now allow more traffic to use Shepherd as an alternate to the freeway system. Thus creating longer delays for those who use surface roads to travel. What is sorely required is a road that would flyover Memorial Park adding a much needed way to travel from the inner loop north. Currently, the only options are the West Loop and Kirby/Shepherd. Both of which are overly congested at most times of the day. It doesn’t help that Shepherd is down to two lanes from four in stretch from Westheimer to Dallas while the city installs much needed storm drainage.” [jgbiggs, commenting on Your Upgrade from Shepherd Dr. to the North Fwy. Will Be Much Smoother Starting Today] Illustration: Lulu
Heavy equipment is back on the scene — and a metal plate on the way, a reader tells us — at the corner of White Oak Dr. and Beauchamp in Woodland Heights, adjacent to White Oak Bayou, where a hole suddenly appeared in freshly spread asphalt just hours after the street was resurfaced yesterday.
ONE WAY TO GET RID OF THAT PESKY TRAFFIC: TAKE AWAY THE STREETS Signs are up around the Memorial City Apartments at 872 Bettina Ln., immediately south of the Memorial City Mall and adjacent to Frostwood, announcing a request that the city abandon portions of Bettina Ct., Strey Ln., and Kimberley Ln. (where the above photo was taken). The request was submitted by the limited partnership that owns the apartments. Its purpose, according to the city’s public works department, is “to reduce the amount of cut-through traffic in the neighborhood.” If granted, the complex would grant the city utility easements over the existing right-of-way. There’s more to it, according to the public works department: “Right-of-way will also be conveyed back to the City for a cul-de-sac to be constructed at the new terminus of Kimberley Lane, which will provide a connection to the driveway in to Bunker Hill Elementary. The cul-de-sac will also contain a 911 emergency gate to allow emergency vehicles to access the apartment complex from Kimberley Lane. Access to Bettina Court and Strey Lane will remain open from Barryknoll Lane, but any traffic turning on to these streets after the abandonment will only be able to access the apartment complex. Signs notifying the public of the subject request were posted April 3, 2015 and will remain up for 30 days.” So is everyone on board with this? So far, only 9 calls have been made to the city in response to the signs, with just one objecting to the deal. Photo: Swamplot inbox