NICE PARK IF YOU CAN GET TO IT, AND OTHER HOUSTON ENCAPSULATIONS George Ristow’s take for OffCite on the recently unveiled public-private redo of Levy Park? It’s become “one of Houston’s best outdoor public spaces” — as long as you can get yourself there: “The park is tucked away from view, dwarfed by the Kirby Grove building, which undermines its connection [to] Richmond Ave. (bringing visitors from Upper Kirby). Although there are sidewalks immediately surrounding the park, no sidewalk exists on either side of Eastside St. between the park and Richmond. Just one block south of the park, the Southwest Freeway, with a right-of-way as wide as the park itself, walls off West University’s upper reaches as if it were an international border crossing. Consider the Olive Garden restaurant, surrounded by a typical suburban parking lot, built within the same time period as the Levy Park facelift just on the other side of the freeway. Here we have Houston in a nutshell: a state-of-the-art destination public park next to a 19-lane freeway next to a chain restaurant, with no way to walk between them.” [OffCite; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Levy Park Conservancy
Lower Westheimer is, of course, one of those select “walkable” areas of Houston, but last weekend’s first corporate-sponsored Sunday Streets made it especially so — even in the absence of a traditional neighborhood festival. The Montrose road was blocked off to automobile traffic from Taft to Woodhead for 4 hours.
Video footage of the event from a DJI Inspire 1 piloted by Adam Brackman shows rare scenes of introduced free-range human bipedal and bi-pedal activity in not-so-native habitat — from a few new angles:
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Straight Up from the Street
THE LONG ROADS BEHIND What’s changed in the last 5 or so years along stretches of Richmond Ave, Long Point, Washington Ave, Bissonnet, Telephone Rd., Clinton Dr., Harrisburg, Airline Dr., South Post Oak, Bellaire Blvd. and other unlikely pedestrian paths? It’s been a good half-decade since formerHouston Press writer John Nova Lomax and his Marfa-headed sidekick David Beebe dared to walk their lengths and chronicle their adventures along the way. [Houstonia] Photo of Smile Lounge, Telephone Rd.: John Nova Lomax
And 4 more blocks to go: Site work began last week here in East Downtown to chunk up the pavement into such tidy piles and clear the way for that 5-block pedestrian path known as the EaDo Promenade. These photos show what the very north end of the path, at McKinney and Bastrop St. a block south of BBVA Compass Stadium, looks like, as of yesterday:
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There are almost 6,000 miles of street in Houston, according to the Memorial Examiner, and now about a half a mile of one in Midtown can call itself remarkable. The Greenroads Foundation, which confers on streets a kind of LEED-like designation, gave its first formal props to a project in Texas to Bagby St. between Tuam and St. Joseph Pkwy., for the $9 million in improvements built along the 0.62-mile span the past few months.
Included in those improvements are bike racks, street furniture, wayfinding signs, wider sidewalks, and narrower, less harrowing crosswalks. (You can see in the photo above that these improvements don’t include burying utilities.) But the designation isn’t meant just to make the lives of pedestrians more aesthetically pleasing: LED lights were installed; rain gardens were put in to help with drainage; “fly ash” concrete, which reduces carbon emissions, was used where possible; and Bagby itself, with its potholes, patches, and cracks, was repaved atop what the Midtown Redevelopment Authority calls “newly stabilized materials” that are supposed to require less maintenance over the long haul.
Here are a few more looks at the transformation:
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Construction should begin by the end of October to transform a chopped-up industrial street in East Downtown into something like the pedestrian promenade rendered here. Anton Sinkewich, the director of the East Downtown Management District, explains that 5 blocks of Bastrop St., between Bell and McKinney, running near the Houston Food Truck Park and leading toward BBVA Compass Stadium on Walker, will be regraded. A pedestrian-only crushed granite path will be installed and dozens of trees planted. This first part of the project is modest, says Sinkewich, though there are plans in place to include more amenities if and when the ’hood continues to grow.
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In February, the Art Guys went for distance, walking the marathon that is W. Little York Rd.; tomorrow, they’ll be going for danger. The 9th of their “12 Events” requires Jack Massing and Michael Galbreth to maintain pedestrian safety techniques and situational awareness as they cross the street, all day, at Westheimer and Hillcroft/Voss, what they’re claiming is the “busiest intersection in Houston.”
Here’s the deal: They’ll start their day off walking clockwise, and, presumably to avoid the monotony, switch things up and go counterclockwise the rest of the afternoon. It’s unclear whether they’ll be taking advantage of the various muscle supplements and joint remedies at the nearby Vitamin Shoppe in the Westhill Village Shopping Center there on the southwest corner.
Photo of Art Guys on W. Little York Rd.: Everett Taasevigen
PUSHING THE PIZZA BACK A BIT FROM MONTROSE BLVD. Concerns about how that new Pizaro’s Pizza had been drawn to cozy up to the blind corner at W. Gray and Montrose — and how that might affect people on the street — have caused a change in plans, reports The Highwayman: “Situating the entrance at an angle provides more visibility to pedestrians and people in a wheelchair. Drawings also seem to indicate two directional ramps that provide a little more safety and security for disabled pedestrians.” The new set of drawings — one of which is shown here — will go up before the Planning Commission this Thursday. [The Highwayman; previously on Swamplot] Rendering: Braun Enterprises
Struggling to make themselves heard above the whoosh of traffic along the Washington Corridor, Better Houston’s Pedestrian Pete (a.k.a. one-time mayoral candidate Peter Brown) and visiting Harvard prof and city planner Peter Park take a very short stroll in this recently uploaded video. Their objective? To lament the guy wires, utility poles, and other hindrances for would-be pedestrians on the few feet of sidewalk they traverse in front of Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Buffalo Wild Wings in this strip center near Leverkuhn at 3939 Washington.
Video: Pedestrian Pete
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN HOUSTON BUILDINGS WEREN’T SO SHY OF THE STREET “The main reason these old buildings are so charming is their zero-foot setback from the front property line, which results in a much more pedestrian-friendly streetscape.
Ever since the City created the Chapter 42 development requirements, with 25-ft setbacks along major thoroughfares (of which Washington is one) and minimum parking requirements, retail development shifted from pedestrian-friendly zero building line (e.g. 19th St or Rice Village) to strip centers with two rows of parking in front.
After all, if you can’t build within 25 feet of the building line, you might as well put cars there.” [Angostura, commenting on A Restaurant Renovation in the Old Sixth Ward] Illustration: Lulu
‘WHERE’S OUR SHADE?’ Shade, Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Gray writes, is “cheap, efficient, and delicious.” Spurning the air-conditioned tunnels on a walk Downtown, Gray stops to cool off beneath “the deep sheltered walkway in front of the Post Rice Lofts,” she writes, and starts to heat up with questions: “If Houston knew how to create such excellent, pedestrian-friendly shade in 1912, when the Rice Hotel was built, why don’t we make more shady places like that a hundred years later? Where are new buildings’ sheltered walkways, their canopies and loggias, their arcades and awnings? . . . Why do we make do with little patio umbrellas, scrawny canvas awnings over doorways, narrow overhangs that work only if you hug the building at noon?” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo: Finding Camelot
ORDINANCE NOW PROTECTS THE VULNERABLE FROM PASSING CARS, PROJECTILES Yesterday, city council approved an ordinance requiring Houston drivers to play nicer with others. That means: No throwing things at them anymore, and no passing “vulnerable road users” without maintaining at least 3 ft. of space (or 6 ft., if you’re driving a commercial truck). And how are you supposed to know which road user is vulnerable? Maybe you can print out and keep in your car this list — not organized, presumably, by order of importance — from the city press release: “walkers or runners; the physically disabled, such as someone in a wheelchair; a stranded motorist or passengers; highway construction, utility or maintenance workers; tow truck operators; cyclists; moped, motor-driven cycle and scooter drivers; or horseback riders.” [City of Houston] Photo of cyclists on Fry Rd.: Flickr user josephkynguyen
HEY, WE’RE DRIVING HERE! An online petition aimed at Mayor Parker’s desk has just one demand: Block off a street, once a week, for pedestrian use: “Options abound,” the petition states: “McKinney downtown (between City Hall and Discovery Green), Rice Boulevard (between Main and Kirby), or Harrisburg. Westheimer between Shepherd and Bagby . . . . After seeing such a street in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, one Houstonian wrote, ‘Just let pedestrians take over once a week. Let a thousand Sunday night walks bloom. Just a simple avenue for families to walk a stretch in the company of others. A boost for local businesses. A reason to get out on a Sunday night no matter the time of year. A space for performance artists and musicians and writers to interact directly with a wider public.'” [Sign On; previously on Swamplot] Photo of utility pole on Harrisburg: Swamplot inbox
A new 6-story apartment building is being planned for the now-cleared Midtown block surrounded by Elgin, Smith, Rosalie, and Louisiana streets — one block north of the Calais at Courtland Square apartment complex and a block west of High Fashion Fabrics. A variance request for the 147-unit building doesn’t name the developer or show any renderings, but indicates that the bottom 2 stories of the building will consist of a parking garage, topped by 4 floors of apartments wrapped around an interior courtyard.
That’s similar to the configuration of some sections of the Calais — notably the dramatic arched streetfront along Smith St. (shown in the photo above), which contributes a dynamic tableau of headlights, bumpers, license plates, and the occasional hood ornament to passersby at street level. (The view changes daily.) The developers of this new apartment building are looking to recreate some of that Calais streetside magic, according to the variance:
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THE 5 PLACES IN HOUSTON WHERE YOU’RE MOST LIKELY TO RUN INTO PEDESTRIANS The intersections of Milam and Dallas, Milam and Prairie, and San Jacinto and Congress St. Downtown; Westheimer and McCue near the Galleria; and Bellaire and Corporate Dr. just inside Beltway 8 in Asiatown rank as the top locations for auto-pedestrian accidents, according to a Chronicle review of city records. A grand total of 2,204 collisions involving cars and people traveling on foot have taken place in Houston since 2008, resulting in a total of 174 pedestrian deaths. The deaths were concentrated differently, “along the U.S. Highway 59 corridor near West Park and along Interstate 45 North and I-10 East,” with 43 percent of them taking place on freeways or major highways. [Houston Chronicle]