Defending the Pierce Elevated; The First Toucan Traffic Signal in Texas


Photo of White Oak Music Hall: Marc Longoria via Swamplot Flickr Pool


17 Comment

  • I usually appreciate Gattis’ different viewpoints, but this argument seems uncharacteristically weak. His and Kotkin’s promotion of Houston’s “Opportunity Urbanism” generally stems from the lowered opportunity costs associated with Houston’s lax land use restrictions, and yet the argument is that it’s the Pierce that caused Midtown and Downtown to develop differently, rather than in response to the supply and demand characteristic of the rest of Houston’s development pattern, and this artificial constraint was desirable. The historicity of this is a bit suspect, as Midtown, as we know it, is only 15 or so years old, the neighborhood wasn’t desirable or “great” before that, and to my knowledge, there wasn’t anything holding back skyscraper development in that area, as evidenced by the smattering of towers to the southwest of the Pierce – there just wasn’t the demand in an area that was disconnected from both the historic center of Downtown and the tunnel system.
    It seems like the Pierce debate has become partisan in a sense, in that most of the opposition to demolition stems primarily from association with urban liberal interests. There is a bit of EaDo nimbyism, and that’s understandable, but I see a lot of the opposition to freeway removal being a symbolic manifestation of ideology, or at the very least resistance to an ideology.

  • “Maybe the Pierce Elevated is the East River of Houston?”

    Could this be the silliest argument ever made by a freeway lover?

  • I found the remark/question about office towers suddenly sprouting in midtown thus destroying the character of midtown, one of houston’s great neighborhoods, quite humorous on all accounts. Considering the huge number of parking lots and derelict buildings sitting downtown long after the Pierce’s completion and revamp I think it’s safe to say it never hindered any development. Downtown itself was never even fully developed.
    My reasons for keeping the Pierce are much more obvious. We paid to build it and it’d be ignorant to tear it down with so many other options for use. I’d happily bet that the square footage on top of the Pierce will always and forever be worth more than the land underneath it…..even if you tear it down. Cities should not be in the business of demolishing value (worthless sports domes on quasi-private property obviously need not apply).

  • What is the “midtown” character the author wishes to preserve? As TMR said, the current iteration of midtown is about 15 years old. I remember what it was before, back when it had character. Maybe that is what the author meant?

  • My principal issue is and remains lane balance. Downtown is already a bottleneck; if you add four more lanes going into it but only three going through, you are exacerbating that bottleneck. It doesn’t matter if you have a computer model that says more lanes = less congestion. A 24″ corset on a woman with 44″ hips is more restrictive than a 22″ corset on a woman with 34″ hips. Period.
    If the urban liberal set are concerned that we’re trying to resist their ideology, then let’s find a way to assuage those concerns. Build over onramps with organic grocery stores. Stamp #BlackLivesMatter into the concrete. Close the facility alternating Sundays and let cyclists and joggers out into the mainlanes. As a lowly consultant, I have little interest in Standing Athwart History; I just want to get people home faster so they can spend more time with their families.

  • Purple City for mayor!

  • IMHO Midtown will never be a decent neighborhood until they move the bus station but I’m sure there will be nimby issues whenever they try to move

  • I was a Midtown renewal pioneer (1997) on the “bad side” of Main, and Midtown is maybe at 55% of my long term vision. The only spirit of Midtown to preserve is that of continual improvement. Alas I am in Dallas now and live vicariously via SL. But I have seen firsthand Dallas’ attempt to connect Downtown with Uptown and it’s an epic fail.

  • if it weren’t for the I-45/59 split on the southeast side of downtown due to the lack of lanes onto the Pierce elevated, the Southwest freeway from Kirby all the way till you get past that interchange is backed up and stop and go from 3:00 p.m. everyday until way past 6:30. If straightening out 45 North and running it parallel next to or on top of 59east, I’m all for it. If it means that the Pierce elevated would be taken down just past the Allen Parkway exit and continue through to the eastern edge of downtown I think its a great idea. How often do we have an opportunity to open things up and get rid of a freeway. Just think it would open up the area to Midtown. The argument that the (wall) Pierce elevated has helped keep Midtown down is absurd. Until about ten years ago you could have any piece of property you wanted at bargain rates. Downtown wasn’t heading south any time soon.

  • I don’t understand why people want to bury pierce elevated. That seems like something to put onto the table after all the murders are solved and money starts to rain down from the sky.

    Can someone explain this to me? How could it possibly be practical to tear down this road. I don’t get it.

  • I agree with Purple City that the Pierce should be kept, if only for carpool/ HOT lanes. If 45 Southbound traffic is forced to jog over to the left, then right to access the current 59 corridor, then curve left again to access the Gulf, traffic will appreciably slow down. TXDot should realize every little curve on a highway, like the Westpark curve on 59, or the Shepherd curve on 45 North creates a slow down point that backs up at high use times of the day.
    I think an effect of putting all traffic onto the Eastside would be heavier use of 610 by drivers wanting to avoid bottlenecks getting through downtown. Since there is not a plan in the foreseeable future to widen or replace the 610 Sidney Sherman bridge over the Ship Channel, you’d probably just wind up causing traffic disruptions over there as well.
    Lastly, the Pierce Elevated is not akin to the Embarcadero in San Francisco that was torn down to help open up views of the bay. Midtown views are not nearly so scenic.

  • Steering clear of the Pierce Elevated debate….

    What makes the Toucan signal unique? Is it just that foot/bike traffic gets a traffic signal instead of the walk/don’t walk symbols? That seemed like the only difference to me between it and the Fannin Street crosswalk to the old Sears by 59 South. That traffic light in the middle of the block catches me off guard sometimes.,+Houston,+TX+77004/@29.7342648,-95.3815941,3a,66.8y,217.22h,87.1t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sS9zp7fTJxFzgyYeG5F0fpA!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x8640bf70ee1f15af:0xd6af7a043f82ce2b?hl=en

  • There are few arguments more tendentious than those put forward in the Pierce Elevated article. For instance, the Pierce Elevated as a preserver of mid-town character. If so, then what is it that preserves the distinct characters of Montrose and River Oaks or of West U and Bellaire without there being a highway to separate them? And mid-town/downtown as our Brooklyn/Manhattan, or the Pierce Elevated as our East River is just hyperbole.

    I’m not making a case for or against the Pierce Elevated remaining. Instead, it’s the silliness of that article that I find unhelpful in the discussion of the pros and cons.

  • Midtown and downtown were two neighborhoods for almost 100 years before the Pierce went in and split them up. How many people remember the glorious Victorian mansions that lined the avenues of midtown. No one. Right, because your townhouse or yoga studio or hookah
    Bar is built on those locations.

  • This I-45 reroute is a giant Eff U to the East Side. It will destroy part of the walkable area of EADO, discourage new businesses from coming who don’t want to be part of 10 years of construction (ask the people on Harrisburg’s metro overpass debacle how they feel), and further stigmatize the East End as the awful polluted mega-highway side of town compared to the West’s newly revamped Allen Parkway, Memorial Drive, etc. It would also make East-West commutes more difficult than they already are. This is just a complete money grab by TxDOT and their contractor buddies.

  • My impression was that Gattis’ take on the effect of the Pierce Elevated as an aesthetic/psychological barrier between neighborhoods was intended to address people who support its removal on those grounds.
    If proponents of removal are correct that its existence divides the neighborhoods and is a strong externality, then removing it should cause land values to increase. People already care a great deal about Midtown, as evidenced by a steady progression of medium-to-high density development; so that has occurred with the externality. If the externality is mitigated and land prices increase, then will the development pattern change for the better or for the worse? Will rents go up and the prices increase for everything? If the only thing that can be built on the more expensive land is real estate that serves the highest socioeconomic niches, could that actually stunt the pace of development in objective terms and shift most new development to other neighborhoods? (And by the way, this isn’t merely some esoteric pontificating; the light rail on Main Street within Midtown had precisely these effects on the blocks around it, and that lasted for about a decade.)
    If you support removing the Pierce for aesthetic reasons, you really ought to consider the implications of the one aesthetic change on another valuable aesthetic. What happens when dog catches car?
    On the other hand, if you reject the premises underlying the argument to remove the Pierce, then…well, its a lot easier to rationalize keeping it around to fulfill regional mobility goals. I suspect that that was Tory Gattis’ intent, although if it were then he should’ve made it clearer that he was speaking as the devil’s advocate…because yeah, if he’s genuine then its just really silly.

  • Without taking sides on the Pierce Elevated issue itself, and also acknowledging my respect for Tory’s opinions as an important voice for pragmatism and recognition of market dynamics when considering planning and infrastructure issues, I have to disagree with him on this one. The primary driver of Downtown’s land market, for decades, has been the potential for converting a vacant or lightly-developed site into a Class-A office tower. It’s only recently that other land uses have begun to have much impact. Thing is, the Class-A office market there is entirely driven by access to the tunnel system – if you don’t have tunnel access, you can’t be Class A. And only the very northwest corner of Midtown, freeway or not, had any reasonable chance of ever having tunnel access in the long run, and I’d say even that chance was pretty remote since there are numerous other sites within Downtown itself that could access the tunnels.. Hence, Downtown and Midtown were destined to have very different market dynamics for that reason alone – the Pierce was irrelevant.