Comment of the Day Second Runner-Up: No Zoning Means We’ll Always Have Traffic Surprises

COMMENT OF THE DAY SECOND RUNNER-UP: NO ZONING MEANS WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE TRAFFIC SURPRISES “If there was only a way to plan for traffic and infrastructure by knowing the density that a site will have in the future . . . Oh yeah, its called Zoning. Then you know the worst case development scenario. And if you ever want to build bigger than you have to upgrade the infrastructure first. Nah, why do that, we can just let people build as big as they want and try and fix the problems later. Unless you are for zoning and rules than you can’t complain about traffic. They are the same. [DD, commenting on A Second Midrise Alexan Planned Right Beside the First One on Yale]

22 Comment

  • Can someone help me out with an example of a city with a density aproximately equal to or greater than Houston where zoning has made the traffic flow better than Houston’s? NYC, nope. Chicago, nope. LA, nope. Lets go smaller. Austin, nope. Boston, nope. San Francisco, nope. If zoning eliminated traffic problems, all of those cities should have faster traffic paterns than Houston, but they don’t.

    There are certainly arguments to be had for zoning, but I don’t see how traffic reduction is one of them. But I’m open to becoming more informed on the matter if someone should like to politely disagree.

  • Heh. Indeed. I, for one, am all for retaining the lack of zoning and will not complain about the traffic. The anarchic development patterns have made for a chaotic, but very unique urban landscape thus far and I enjoy the absurdities that have developed as a result. On a side-note, traffic on surface-level streets inside the loop actually seems comparable- or better even- than other major cities I’ve spent time in (all of which have conventional zoning). Food for thought.

  • Based on this rant, Houston’s traffic problems are a result of a lack of zoning.

    But, Houston isn’t the only city to suffer from congestion. Most cities, most of which have zoning, still suffer from congestion woes. I’ve lived in Austin and Atlanta, both having zoning but still have serious congestion issues. D.C., a city developed with a master plan in hand, has it’s traffic issues.

    Near my neighborhood in Atlanta, there were condo developments next to new oversized homes next to ranch-style homes on half acre lots. And these developments shared a two lane ashpalt road.

    Point being, if Houston had “zoning” would this have solved our transportation needs? Probably not.

  • Is there any way we can ban Developers from posting on this site? They spam the comments section with their pro-development, anti neighborhood drivel. Just look for use of the word “NIBMY” – that’s their favorite ad hominem.

  • I will say that Dallas , a city with zoning, does not have the kinds of traffic issues that Houston has. And I am talking about non freeway streets.
    Obviously things are booming there so zoning is not the big bugaboo some of you think. And at least neighborhoods do not have to plead for protection there.

    The street grid actually is fairly well laid out and unlike Houston, most major thoroughfares are 6 lanes wide with a dedicated turn lane and collector streets are usually 4 lanes wide. Contrast that with Houston where major streets are 4 lanes wide. On North South grid here, Eldridge, Dairy Ashford, Kirkwood, Wilcrest, Gessner, Fountain View, Chimney Rock, Sage, Weslayan, Buffalo Spdwy, Shepherd and Montrose are all 4 lanes with Hwy 6, Fondren Hillcroft,Post Oak and Kirby being 6.

    4 lanes do not allow efficient movement as the left turn lanes at major intersections back up because most are protected only and one cannot turn right because all traffic is going straight.

    This City has historically been loathe to do anything to alleviate congestion and those archaic 5 year capital improvement plans are nothing but feel good projects for individual council districts. There is no reason existing right of ways could not be utilized for a more efficient traffic flow.

    This can only be blamed on the city leaders and bureaucrats who either weretoo provincial to go elsewhere and see how things are done or they were too politically scared to demand that developers enhance the roads. But then again, why should a developer care about such things when the City leaders do not?

  • After battling every “massage parlour” within 4 blocks, I gave up and moved to a city with zoning.

  • @Joe- You sound like a snooty Heights resident that can’t stand to listen to any opinion that differs from your own. And no, I’m not a developer. I’m a resident, that unlike you, believes development is a good thing. Why are so many of you intent on keeping the crack houses up and running? And as far as traffic goes, it’s a CITY!

  • Is there any way we can ban Developers from posting on this site? They spam the comments section with their pro-development, anti neighborhood drivel. Just look for use of the word “NIBMY” – that’s their favorite ad hominem.

    Yep, I agree. Anyone who doesn’t think just like me should shut up.

  • All the largest cities in the country have zoning rules and a process in place to plan for development and react to the traffic issues of those developments. My original point is that Houston isn’t very dense right now and we are already having people complaining about traffic. Imagine if we were 3 times as dense such as Washington DC.

    What do you think will happen if we continue to develop and densify for another 20 years? We will either have a permanent gridlock or we will no longer have the capacity to develop and densify the city anymore. Except there are no rules to stop density, so developers will continue to build until it is at a point where it costs 3 times as much to fix the infrastructure. Who do you think pays for that infrastructure then? Not the developers who made millions from the projects, but all of us with our tax dollars. You should all think about who zoning helps. It helps the average tax payer and protects everyone from the developer who will build however he can within the rules in place, or rather lack of rules.

  • Traffic impact studies and traffic design requirements would help address traffic concerns, and we don’t need zoning to do it. Sugar Land requires that planners fill out a traffic worksheet for every project. If the prak trips are under a certain threshold, you meet the city parking ordinance and that’s it. If they’re over the thresholds, then you need to get a traffic engineer to do a full-on study. If the study shows an undue impact on traffic, they’ll make the developers revise their site plans. And it works, if you’re used to driving around my neighborhood in Southwest Houston, and then drive in Sugar Land, it’s noticeably less stressful.
    There is no reason Houston couldn’t establish similar requirements, to better coordinate its Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan, and lessen the impact of major developments on local traffic patterns. They could also be used to encourage transit oriented development. The thresholds for a traffic impact study could be higher of the development has direct access to buses or light rail.

  • The funny part that DD and the other zoning zealots ignored is that IF Houston had zoning, 4 lane roads like Yale would be zoned…….multi-family!!!

  • Actually I am all for Yale to be zoned multifamily. I think density is good and it should be zoned to certain areas. I think you will find most zoning advocates are for large commercial drives to be zoned for high density, while other areas are zoned for lower density.

    I don’t think the Ashby high rise is in the right location, but those are the rules and those neighbors deserve that development for not being willing to come together and come up with standard rules, just like we have laws for everything else that can harm other people. Not sure why property rights trump other people’s rights, but the Ashby high rise protestors are determined to not implement any zoning, or at least not call it that.

    By the way any traffic study requirements in sugar land are de facto zoning, because it restricts what you can build and where you can build it. If the roads aren’t big enough to support your development then you can’t build it that big. Well that is Zoning. By having 4 lane roads in one area and 2 lane roads in others you have already created zoning. So I guess the real question is when are we going to make the zoning rules we already have better, more easily understood and comprehensive so everyone can enjoy the city?

  • It’s not just the traffic issue, it’s the overall feel and look of cheapness in this city that comes from our lack zoning and ordinances and libertarianism. Maintaining a sliver of their character, some sort of order to telephone poles and sidewalks, and saving trees hasn’t seemed to hold Austin or DFW back.

  • miss_msry: I see the massage parlors sprinkled about in Montrose, but I don’t think any spot here has more than 1-2 in a 4 block radius.
    Serious question (and I’m not trying to be a jerk here): Where did you live that there were so many? What did you do to “battle” them? And what did they do to harm or bother you? I mean, we know what goes on in there but it seems they try to be discreet. I’ve never seen them as any problem are bother.

  • If I am not mistaken, doesn’t the City of Houston require traffic studies to be conducted on most projects? And didn’t this requirement slow down and alter the plans for the Ashby High Rise? I believe the City told the developers the project would dump too much traffic onto a two lane street. And because of the City’s intervention, the Ashby tower will feature less residential units than originally planned. I think the traffic study requirement was the only legal means the City of Houston could prevent the development.

  • Good question, Cody.
    The way we battle nuisance businesses in my neck of the woods (Brays Oaks and Sharpstown) is to work with the Harris County DA’s office to sue them. First you have to document a pattern of criminal activity at the site, showing that the owners and managers did nothing to intervene. then you have to compare the number of calls for service at the business to what you’d expect to see for that kind of business. Once the lawsuit is brought, it usually isn’t expressly trying to shut the place down – but rather to get them to do certain things (install cameras, hire full time security guards, that kind of thing).
    So far there have been lawsuits like this against the Albury and IA Food marts, and most recently the infamous Red Carpet Inn. A similar lawsuit was started against the Le Promenade Condos at 7400 Bissonnet, but an investigation raised serious questions about financial misdeeds on the part of the majority owner, so those financial misdeeds were pursued in court instead of the nuisance issues.
    The Albury and IA food mart suits have been successful. Le Promenade is in receivership. The suit has only just begun at the Red Carpet Inn, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be successful. This is how you deal with nuisances in your neighborhood! ( REAL nuisances that is).

  • Blake – if I remember correctly, Buckhead voluntarily did a traffic study for the Ashby High Rise. It was not a City of Houston requirement.

  • ZAW, it appears that this sort of activism requires time and energy that few want to spend. I’m grateful that people like you take it upon themselves to do work that benefits others more than it does themselves. The pitiful amount of recognition these efforts receive deters the vast majority of chronic complainers and mouth-outwards do-gooders. I hope to one day be able to stand in a neighborhood/area and say that I had a hand in cleaning it up, for the sake of all of those who live there.

  • Oh City of Houston…. Grow up already and put in a subway or elevated rail like every other REAL 21st Century City; Paris, London, Barcelona, Madrid, New York, Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, etc al…

  • What we will need are overlapping TIRZs.

    Administrators of rival TIRZs would need to work together in those instances to settle their problems – including ordinances/setbacks, as well as land use inhibition or incentivizing.

    Having multiple stakeholders raises the standard, and invites disparate voices into the decisionmaking.

  • @kineticdev

    I think we already have Seattle beat – only our LRT is 100% surface level instead of occasionally going underground due to geographic necessity.

  • I’m amazed it took 12 comments for someone to mention Ashby.