What’s going on behind their backs? A closeup of the rendering for Bijan Builders’ planned Bingham Court Townhomes shows an unusual confluence of necks and freeways off to the left of the image. As a view of the site at 1005 Bingham St. (at top) confirms, the hackles of the oversized busts of George Washington, Stephen F. Austin, Abraham Lincoln, and Sam Houston that make up David Adickes’ Mount Rush Hour quartet (aka American Statesmanship Park) front I-45 and I-10 right next door to the First Ward site.
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There’s so much to say and gawk at in the latest “proposed recommended alternatives” for reshaping I-45 now being shopped around by TxDOT and a host of freeway-happy consultants — enough for a fourth round of public meetings scheduled for tonight and next week, plus hours of extra-curricular speculation. The plans encompass dramatic changes to the North Freeway all the way from Beltway 8 to a new split adjacent to the Third Ward, including eye-opening widenings, all sorts of exciting tunnels and high-flying overpasses, a slew of spaghetti-like interchanges, and — the pièce de résistance — the wholesale give-up of I-45′s current L-shaped wrap around Downtown, including the Pierce Elevated.
These 5 images from our highway overlords’ exciting imagined future sum it up best:
1. The X-ing-out of the Pierce Elevated (diagrammed above). If the elevated portion of I-45 along the path of Pierce St. goes away, how will anyone be able to tell where Downtown ends and Midtown begins? Don’t worry, a few proposals are being shopped around to turn a de-automobiled structure into a High Line—like public park or bikeway. (Though much bigger, ′cuz Houston.)
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HOW THE 610 LOOP EARNED ITS PRESTIGE “I’ve heard 610 called a lot of things, but never ‘prestigious,’” writes a Swamplot reader who is curious to learn how the phrase “the prestigious 610 Loop” nevertheless came to appear in Wikipedia — in the entry for Hines’s gated Somerset Green complex, now under construction on 46 acres of an old industrial operation at 7002 Old Katy Rd., just east of the Houston Design Center. Ah, but such is the value of Wikipedia’s references and external links sections: The source of the phrase turns out to be Hines itself. A press release that predates by a couple of years the billboards now seen advertising the 500-home development along a few (less-prestigious, no doubt) Inner Loop highways still bears the implicit declaration in its headline: “Hines to Develop 46-acre Planned Community Inside Houston’s Prestigious 610 Loop.” And so it is. [Wikipedia; press release] Photo of the 610 Loop: PINKÉ (license)
By 1:35 in the morning 2 Saturdays ago, Troy Dickerson had left his Rosenberg home and found himself speeding past the Sweetwater and Williams Trace exits on the far-left lane of the Southwest Fwy. while his wife Kristin, who was sitting in the passenger seat, let out a series of screams to work her way through waves of contractions. Almost exactly a half-hour later, their baby, Truett, was born while his mom stood outside the family’s white Toyota pickup, which was by then parked in the valet drop-off area of the Women’s Pavilion at Texas Children’s Hospital, at 6621 Fannin St. in the Med Center (where, perhaps incidentally, the mother works as a childbirth educator).
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Having Baby on Board
COMMENT OF THE DAY: FLOODING DOWNTOWN WITH UNDER-FREEWAY PARKING “I’d rather see parking garages under 45 and 59 than retail. I’d rather not have to worry about car fires and 18-wheeler accidents on the roof of my building. The insurance costs would be incredible.
Tens of thousands of parking spaces could be made under 45 and 59. Vast quantities of free, or very cheap, parking would reduce the demand for surface parking in the Downtown area. Owners of empty lots would be more inclined to develop the empty lots if drivers were no longer willing to pay $10 to $20 per car for every sporting event. For $1 parking I’d be willing to walk half a dozen blocks or hop on the light rail to get to my destination. Direction way finding for parking for out-of-town visitors would be easy — ‘park under the freeway.’ Developers would gain an advantage as supplying parking levels would no longer be a given necessity of building in Downtown Houston. Even typical parking garage congestion come rush hour wouldn’t be an issue due to the linear nature the 45 and 59 garages would have to take. Multiple entrances and exits could face Pierce and Chartres with dedicated right-of-way lanes to the street. Line the lengthy parking garages with a spine of moving sidewalks so ‘prime’ parking spots are minimized. You’ll always be five minutes from a rail stop.” [Thomas, commenting on Headlines: Metro’s New Bus Plan; The Score Next Door] Illustration: Lulu
HIGHLY VISIBLE BILLBOARD REMINDS HOUSTON DRIVERS OF THE INVISIBILITY OF HOMELESSNESS You can’t miss it: Just south of Downtown, this pristine billboard went up recently above the northbound feeder of I-45. Its lonesome assertion, “Even the pigeons don’t see me,” is attributed to the “voice of the homeless.” What gives? Glasstire’s Paula Newton explains: “[I]t’s meant to raise awareness about homelessness. The billboard is a project by artist Jessica Crute in conjunction with a group show at Deborah Colton Gallery called Collective Identity. Crute [is] president and founder of a young non-profit organization Voice of the Homeless.” [Glasstire] Photo: Glasstire
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE DEEP, RICH BEAUTY OF HOUSTON’S FEEDER ROADS “Houston is ugly, but there are hidden benefits to this ugliness. I was in the NE this summer going from DC up the Eastern seaboard visiting friends and family. Feeder roads do not work out east because freeways are frequently dug out of the hilly terrain and there isn’t any flat land along side the freeways to build. The result is that a lot of the freeways are just lined with trees. While this is attractive, it also gets boring after a while. There isn’t much difference between the trees in DC, Philly or Boston. Houston’s endless feeder road developments make driving around town much more interesting. You can observe the various layers of strip mall sediment that lines the highways: from fresh new bundles of Academy Sports, HEB and Toys R US to middle of the road, tired Kohls-anchored strip with Cici’s pizza to the ramshackle strips with the accident and injury clinic, Pho noodle #3 and tax/bankruptcy/notario and divorce ‘law’ firm. There are ooohs and aahhhs at sites like Luz de Estrella on 59, Gallery Furniture on I-45 and an ad hoc gallery of steel sculptures on 288 south. And in between all of that, miles and miles of car dealerships. Never a dull moment on Houston’s highways.” [Old School, commenting on Comment of the Day Runner-Up: Houston Can’t Keep Up] Illustration: Lulu
STUDYING HOUSTON’S ROADSIDE AIR QUALITY Another source of Houston’s pollution has got the attention of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: tailpipes. Starting in January, the agency will place a pair of monitors within 160 ft. of 2 our most heavily used roads — including the Southwest Fwy. near the Westpark Tollway — to record the amount of nitrogen dioxide leaked into the air. Apparently, the stuff can be pretty nasty, writes the Houston Chronicle’s Matthew Tresaugue: “The Environmental Protection Agency said studies have measured concentrations of the gas to be as much as 100 times greater near major roadways than away from them. Scientists, meanwhile, have linked the pollutant to asthma and other lung ailments, especially among children and the elderly.” The results of these monitors, adds Tresaugue, might lead the city to make decisions about preventing schools and residences from being built in and around affected areas. [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo: AA Roads
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: HOW HOUSTON CAN SPEED THINGS ALONG “Can we replace the HOT lanes with hyperloop tubes? Who wouldn’t pay $5 bucks to travel from The Woodlands to Downtown in 5 minutes? It’d be cheaper than gas! That’d be a game changer.
How about a hyperloop tube to Galveston? Think of how efficient evacuation would be with an on coming hurricane.” [Thomas, commenting on Headlines: Many More Dunkin’ Donuts; Free Metro Rides on Labor Day] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: VISIONS OF A FREEWAY LINED WITH OFFICE BUILDINGS “I live in the area and I think it’s a big improvement on a used car lot. I would love to see the remaining car dealerships gradually moved away and a continuous strip of mid/high rises from Memorial City to Hwy 6. Now that would be a true ‘Energy Corridor.’” [outwest, commenting on A New 17-Story Office Tower Just Like the Others in the Energy Corridor] Illustration: Lulu
The 11-year run is coming to an end: According to a letter signed by franchise operator Charles Gibson and posted in the store’s window, June 14 will be the last day for this Webster Chick-Fil-A. The letter explains that TxDOT has purchased the property with plans to expand I-45. Across that freeway from the Baybrook Mall, this Chick-Fil-A is the northernmost chain of that cluster of ’em accessible via the feeder from Bay Area Blvd.
Photo: Panoramio user MrQuick
COMMENT OF THE DAY: OUTSIDE OF THE LOOP ON TRAFFIC “Nothing confuses a non-Houstonian like traffic reports in H-town:
‘There’s an accident on the east loop north at 225, traffic is backed all the way from the south loop east to the west loop south.’” [HEYZEUS, commenting on Comment of the Day: Isn’t East of 59 and 288 Inside the Loop Too?]
The Problem: “As traffic backs up on 59 past the Spur, drivers are faced with a dilemma. Do I sit and queue here in the right three lanes, which aren’t moving? Or do I get over and zoom past until right before the split? Many, understandably, choose the latter. But what this does is create a new bottleneck at the point where the Spur diverges, because traffic is merging into the left lane and then trying to cross over to get to 288 or stay on 59.” The (Not So Obvious) Solution: “Add a couple miles of barrier and put the split (‘gore point’ in traffic engineer speak) at Shepherd. If you’ve driven this route once, you can see how it would immediately shave several minutes off the trip to Downtown/Midtown/Montrose. The Spur is never jammed in the reverse direction, so anything that effectively lengthens the Spur lengthens the distance of hassle-free 60mph cruising. But such a configuration would also help drivers continuing on 59.”
Photo: Flickr user jfre81 [license]
A project to improve a 2.9-mile stretch of the Southwest Fwy. feeder road between South Shepherd Dr. and Newcastle St. could get started as early as May 1, a rep from TxDOT says. And the Upper Kirby Management District contributed some funds to the $19 million project, which might give you an idea about what to expect.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: A BIG DIG FOR EAST DOWNTOWN “What needs to happen to connect Downtown with the East End/EaDo is TxDOT needs to put 59 in a tunnel from just south of 45 up to Commerce Street. Above ground create a mile long linear park. Instead of the elevated freeway discouraging pedestrian activity, a underground freeway below with a fantastic linear park above would draw in visitors in hordes. Who wouldn’t want to be around or live near a mile long urban park jewel? The value added is enough in itself to justify such a project for the betterment of the city.” [Thomas, commenting on Adding to Convention Center District Easy as 1-2-3 . . . 4-5-6-7]