THE ODDS ON A PIERCE ELEVATED COMEDOWN Writing in the latest issue of Texas Architect magazine — which is now debuting a redone website with a new web address and a new all-articles-are-now free policy — Ben Koush surveys the prospects for the raised section of I-45 now dividing Midtown from Downtown: “While there have been some plans floated around to convert the decommissioned section of the Pierce Elevated into Houston’s version of the Highline,most people I spoke with didn’t think that was going to happen, simply because TxDOT needs the money it could get from selling that right of way to private developers. Some still hold out hope that at least some of the land or maybe even a small section of the elevated roadway could be made into a public green space.” [Texas Architect; previously on Swamplot] Plan of “currently approved scheme” for I-45 rerouting around downtown, showing possible green space: SWA Group
This week’s video release from hometown country singer Robert Ellis takes viewers on a forlorn wandering tour of Houston’s downtown and surrounding thoroughfares, sans all of those pesky people and cars. Iconic cameos include the AIA’s future headquarters on the corner of Franklin and Commerce streets, the WALD warehouse sign at Live Oak and Rusk streets, and Bad News Bar on Main St.; the video also includes a hike down a dead-empty I-45 and associated entrance ramps, several frantic light-rail stops, and a dramatic reunion on the pedestrian bridge over Memorial Dr. at Sabine St.
If you missed yesterday’s meeting in Hockley, you have until Wednesday to send Harris County your thoughts on the map above, from the official county study of road network expansion proposed between I-10 and 290 west of the Grand Pkwy. The thick red dashes mark a proposed loop road circling around almost the entirety of the Katy Prairie Conservancy‘s land preserve (shown as the darkest green blocks, amid slightly-grayer-green agricultural/undeveloped land and a few kelly-green public parks). Purple dashes show the proposed routes of new or expanded thoroughfares, some of which cut through the preserve and cross through the Cypress Creek floodway (shown as a blue underlay making a rough U through the conservancy’s land).
Further west (marked in blue dashes) is the not-yet-planned-but-still-showing-up-in-planning-maps route of Houston’s proposed outer-outer-outer loop, SH 36A (formerly nicknamed the Prairie Parkway). The map above also includes overlays of Harris County’s future development predictions, with dark taupe showing existing development and slightly lighter taupe showing expected expansion.
For comparison, here’s the Katy Prairie Conservancy’s map of west Houston; currently developed areas are marked in gray, the organization’s protected areas are marked in green, and the dashed green band shows how far the prairie ecosystem used to extend:
Carvana has confirmed that the work going on now at the former Big Tex Tree Nursery lot at 10939 Katy Fwy. is setup for the giant car vending machine referenced in September bid documents labeled with the site’s address. Building permits issued in January were applied for under the name of largely-non-digital used-car chain DriveTime, an investor in the Phoenix-based startup that also allows Carvana to borrow facilities to prepare vehicles for sale.
The new vending machine could be the first in Texas; Carvana opened a vending machine in Nashville last November, and also has a pickup site in Atlanta for those who don’t want to deal with delivery service. A reader sends some fresh shots of the action at the site, as well as a glimpse at a building plan:
Update, 3/2: A Carvana spokesperson has confirmed to Swamplot that the company’s first Houston vending machine will be located at 10939 Katy Fwy. This story has been updated.
Online car dealership Carvana appears to have been planning to place a multi-story robotic car delivery system on the I-10-side lot that Big Tex Tree Nursery vacated after the December holidays wrapped up. A reader notes some construction bid documentation dating from September listing a project for the company at the 10939 Katy Fwy. address: The documents show a search for construction contractors for a ‘car vending machine’, scoped to involve multi-level car storage and an automated lift to bring vehicles down to the 1st floor on command.
But it looks like those plans fell through — at least as far as the location on the former Big Tex lot. Permits were issued last month to non-digital car dealer chain DriveTime for construction of a new sales building on the site. DriveTime currently has 4 locations around the Houston area, including one further west on the Katy Fwy. past Highway 6.
Carvana plugged in its first vending machine in Nashville last November, after jumping into the Houston market in October. The above video shows the Tennessee machine in action: cars are shuffled down from their glassy perch after users place a Carvana token into a coin slot.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THE FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN APPROACHES “An alternative that I would heartily recommend would be to work on nearby crosstown routes that may serve to relieve pressure on downtown-area freeways. Those would also be expensive and controversial, but also they are the low-hanging fruit; for example running a toll facility along the north-south Union Pacific ROW. Or completing SH 35 and then creating individually-tolled grade separations from there up Scott St. or Lockwood. OST is a very good candidate for this, as is the N. Shepard/Durham corridor. Do anything possible to speed up thru-traffic along Bayous by removing signalized intersections, especially along the Braeswoods, the T.C. Jesters, and of course Memorial Dr. and Allen Pkwy. These are all things that we would want to have around later on during the course of construction, anyway — but also, decentralized improvements have the advantage of being less subject to economic obsolescence resulting from…say driverless cars and rideshares…which place a big question mark on the near-term utility of mega-projects that required perhaps a decade to finish.” [TheNiche, commenting on TxDOT’s Plans for Freeway Expansion Around and Below the Newly Protected Cheek-Neal Coffee Building] Illustration: Lulu
A dotted line runs right along the inside edge of the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company’s former roasting plant at 2017 Preston St. at the corner with St. Emanuel St., which was declared a protected city landmark today after starts to the building’s redevelopment by new owners last year. The line marks the proposed right-of-way for TxDOT’s plans to reroute I-45 alongside 59 and send the Pierce Elevated out to pasture, as shown in update documents released in September. The 1917 building shows up as a beige box at the corner of Preston and St. Emanuel in the above capture from the project’s interactive online map system, and the seafoam green highlighting to the left indicates the newly planned frontage roads that would run to the west of it.
But the Cheek-Neal building itself actually doesn’t appear to be on the chopping block. The blue highlighting indicating the future path of freeway lanes skirt the western edge of the structure (though they appear to engulf the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen across Congress St. to the north). Moreover, a cross-section through the I-45-59 bundle specifically shows the building in place, with the frontage road to the east and the freeways tucked out of sight below ground level:
The Memorial Branch of Big Tex Tree Nurseries at 10939 Katy Fwy. is closed for good, and its tree-dealings have moved south to the company’s Sugar Land locale for now. The Christmas trees disappeared after the holiday season, and everything else followed suit: “even the port-a-potty,” writes the reader who sent in photos of the now-bare freeway-side lot at Wycliffe and I-10, just outside Beltway 8. A Big Tex employee says the company is planning to open up anotherHouston location at some point, but for now the other spots in Sugar Land, Conroe, and Spring will have to do.
The lot is shown below post-faux-forest-departure; meanwhile, someone was out marking up the sidewalk with orange paint last week:
As of rush hour yesterday, a reader tells Swamplot, the Downtown Aquarium’s Ferris wheel at 410 Bagby St. was missing something — namely, the whole wheel bit. Workers were observed dismantling the spokes earlier in the day at the freeway-side restaurant-tainment complex. According to the restaurant’s website, the wheel is out for winter maintenance and won’t be spinning again until March 1st.
From Memorial Dr. headed west under I-45, here’s an evening snapshot of the newly unemployed support posts: