11/19/18 11:45am

WESTHEIMER WILL HENCEFORTH NOT BE CALLED UR 1093 ANYMORE, SAYS TXDOT Before last week, TxDOT had an obscure formal name for Westheimer Rd. on the books: UR 1093. The designation — short for “urban road” — was created 23 years ago to distinguish city thoroughfares from farm to market roads, reports the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley. But “No signs were ever erected,” he writes, “and it became clear no one was going to stop calling the roads what they always had, officials said in a written briefing for transportation commissioners. The only place the urban roads ever appeared was in the internal TxDOT roadway inventory.” There, Begley counts 30 Houston-area roads that were set to set to become URs “in theory, at least.” Officials killed the designation on November 15, reinstating Westheimer’s previous pseudonym FM 1093. The only thing that really changes: where funding for those roads can come from. Had the UR designation stuck, says a TxDOT spokeswoman, they would’ve been eligible for some extra federal maintenance money aimed at cities. [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Westheimer Rd. at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe west of Yoakum Blvd.: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool

11/09/18 1:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: SWAPPING OUT MEMORIAL DR.’S SPEEDWAY SETUP FOR SOMETHING WORTH WALKING Remove the freeway configuration of Memorial Dr. from Shepherd to Downtown. An urban street is all that is needed here since this mid-century design was prior to I-10 and was the original route for Katy-bound suburbanites. The bayou is now the destination — not a place to flee at break-neck speeds. Besides, the freeway configuration is useless as it ends prior to Memorial Park. The configuration has exceeded its useful life and is actually in very poor condition. Reasonable thought to an improved alternative is preferred and hopefully includes more park space.” [El Chico, commenting on Plucking the Cloverleafs off Waugh Dr. at Memorial So Extra Park Space Can Take Their Place] Illustration: Lulu

12/13/17 4:45pm

PETER H. BROWN, 1936–2017 Peter Brown, who passed away yesterday, wore many hats — he was an urban planner, architect, neighborhood activist, city council member, and occasional rapper — as well several distinctive long scarves. Amidst other civic legacies, he leaves behind a substantial back catalog of YouTube videos — in which an unseen cameraperson chronicles Brown’s peripatetic musings on various aspects of Houston’s occasionally urban landscape. As “Pedestrian Pete” on both a Facebook page and YouTube channel of the same name, Brown explored “the good, the bad, and the ugly pedestrian conditions of Houston”: He scoured neighborhoods in search of traversable sidewalks, railed against car-centric attributes of the Heights Walmart, and strolled along Lower Westheimer in conversation with Annise Parker, who had defeated him in his 2009 run for mayor. Brown was 81. [Houston Chronicle; previously on SwamplotVideo: Pedestrian Pete

12/13/17 4:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: BROADACRES’ LONG HISTORY OF PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS “In a way, this is just the latest battle in a hundred year old fight. On a Preservation Houston tour of Broadacres (where we trespassed all over the esplanades), it was pointed out that the neighborhood was originally designed as a closed loop with the only access to the city via Parkway to the east. Houston, however, viewed the streets as public and forced the developers to cede ROW through the lots on the western side of the loop to connect North and South Blvds to their counterparts in the west. This is why North and South Blvds pinch weirdly right around West Blvd. — when you’re ceding expensive land, you only give the minimum required. . . .” [Cactus, commenting on Who Owns the Esplanades on North and South Boulevards?] Photo of Broadacres assessor’s map: HCAD

06/05/17 12:30pm

WESLAYAN’S CRUEL TWIST SLAYS Reader Adam Goss, who identifies himself as a Houstonian — and a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut — writes that it “drives him insane” that “the street named after our alma mater is misspelled. All the surrounding streets are named after similar universities and colleges (Amherst, Oberlin, Georgetown), yet for some reason the largest of all, Weslayan, is spelled incorrectly. How would Rice grads like it if a major thoroughfare in Chicago was named after the famed Houston university, Rize Avenue. Or if Boston named a major street Longhornes, after a famed UT alum?” Photo of street sign at the corner of Weslayan and W. Alabama St.: Jeremy Hughes

05/25/17 2:00pm

Not to be outdone by last week’s midday plug-up of the Alfred Hernandez Tunnel beneath the railroad tracks and the Burnett TC Red Line stop, another semi making its way through the passage got lodged in the tunnel late this morning — getting torn open end-to-end in the process. But that’s not even the first truck stuckage incident at the underpass in the last 24 hours, according to a reader who’s had both a camera and a Twitter account trained on the recently retooled intersection for at least the last few months.

The reader tells Swamplot that another truck got stuck briefly last night, and that it happens about 6 times a week: “Our camera system auto-wakes when it hears something beyond a certain threshold; most drive away, presumably nervous[ly] on their way to have a talk with the boss.” Some work on the tunnel has been on the city’s docket this spring, and was approved at a mid-April meeting; that’s likely to start around the end of the month. 

Here’s the scene from above as of early this afternoon:

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Near-Daily Grind in Near Northside
05/11/17 2:30pm

Here’s your chance to see in first person what the city’s come up with for that under-discussion redo of Westheimer Rd. in Montrose. The video above flies viewers slowly through a flatly rendered Westheimer corridor east of Shepherd Dr. (complete with digital versions of all your favorite ex-clothing shopsstoried condo buildings, and paired Mattress Firms) with the new street plan in place. Reality check with the existing state of the roadways happens at a handful of the corridor’s intersections.

The biggest change: A drop down to 2 lanes of car traffic in most places (versus the 4 narrow lanes currently in place), beginning around Huldy St. and moving east. The road would briefly widen back out to 4 lanes around the crossing of Montrose Blvd., then back down to 2 until the name swap to Elgin St. at Bagby St. All that slimming down leaves room for wider sidewalks; the plan also includes some set-aside zones for bus drop-off, some left turn lanes, and a few stretches of parallel parking areas, highlighted in pink.

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Montrose Flyby
02/21/17 4:00pm

7200 Main St., TMC, Houston, 77030

The sign above announcing the proposed abandonment of the short dead-end stretch of N. Braeswood Blvd. running east of Main St. was captured in situ by a reader over the weekend. The roadway currently serves as the access road for the remaining Saint Nicholas School campus, though the school is planning to be all moved in at that new facility further south along Main St. in about a year and a half. That’ll free up the landf for whatever might be in the works by shell corporation 7200 Main St., which now owns both the school property and the 8-plus-acre tract north of the N. Braeswood segment, former site of barn-shaped restaurant The Stables.

To the east of the orange-roofed soon-to-be-former Saint Nicholas school, HCC’s  Coleman College for Health Sciences building looks to be just about wrapped up, at least in terms of exterior finishes:

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Medical Center Excision
11/21/16 5:15pm

Brick tearup in Freedmen's Town Historic District, Andrews St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019Brick tearup in Freedmen's Town Historic District, Andrews St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019

Some more friends of historic bricks — this time, specifically, of the bricks in the Freedmen’s Town Historical District in Fourth Ward — caught contractors tearing up part of the brickwork on Andrews St. this morning, reports Jeff Ehling. Mayor Sylvester Turner says via Twitter from Mexico that nobody was supposed to have messed with the bricks, which were put under a protective order last year after another short-lived bout of street tearup; Turner adds that he’ll deal with it when he gets back. A reader on the scene snapped a few photos of the torn up section, at the intersection with Genessee St. east of the Gregory-Lincoln Education Center campus:

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Second Stop in Fourth Ward
07/14/15 2:30pm

Burnett St., Near Northside, Houston

With a row of Downtown towers looking on from the south, 2 lanes are being added to Burnett St., along the northern boundary of the 50-acre site formerly known as the Hardy Rail Yards. The thickening runs between N. Main St. and Hardy St. At the western end of that stretch, next to the Burnett Transit Center stop on the Red Line’s northern extension, a new baby intersection has been born at Freeman St. just in front of the rail overpass, just up a ways from the N. Main tunnel:

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Grid Growth
07/07/15 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY THE ROADS DON’T GO THROUGH Hand Drawing Houston“. . . Easy — Look at the intersection of Gessner & West Rd. Gessner is blocked to the north by a subdivision, West Rd. is blocked to the east by a landfill (or sand mine or whatever that site is; hard to tell from the aerial). Both roads could connect through, but development blocked ’em. Having been involved in a couple of these scenarios, I’ll tell you how they typically happen: Developer meets with the city after submitting a plat. City says something like ‘connect the roads or we’re not going to approve your plat and you’ll never get to build it.’ Developer says something like ‘that will result in reduced usability of my site and increased cost to develop it, so if the City wants the road to connect then the City needs to pay $X million.’ City counters with ‘we’re not going to pay for anything, but if you don’t build the road we’re going use eminent domain to take the land and build the road anyway.’ Developer finishes them off with “Well then you can either a) give me $X million and I’ll build the road, b) or I’ll donate enough $ to the council member and mayor races to get what I want.’ The city settles for c) Do nothing, back down, and don’t get the road — because otherwise the staff member who stood up to the developer in the first place would get canned. I’m not saying that’s how they all happen, but that’s how the couple I’ve been involved in went.” [Ornlu, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Missing Links] Illustration: Lulu

06/29/15 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE’S OUR MEMORIAL PARK BYPASS? Office Tower Fronting Freeway“This ramp will now allow more traffic to use Shepherd as an alternate to the freeway system. Thus creating longer delays for those who use surface roads to travel. What is sorely required is a road that would flyover Memorial Park adding a much needed way to travel from the inner loop north. Currently, the only options are the West Loop and Kirby/Shepherd. Both of which are overly congested at most times of the day. It doesn’t help that Shepherd is down to two lanes from four in stretch from Westheimer to Dallas while the city installs much needed storm drainage.” [jgbiggs, commenting on Your Upgrade from Shepherd Dr. to the North Fwy. Will Be Much Smoother Starting Today] Illustration: Lulu

05/18/15 4:30pm

SAVING UPTOWN, HOUSTON’S MASTERPIECE, FROM THE SCOURGE OF DEDICATED BUS LANES Website of The Uptown Property and Business Owners CoalitionThe Uptown Property and Business Owners Coalition is out today with a new website (portrayed here) meant to drum up opposition to the Uptown District and Metro’s plans to install dedicated bus lanes down Post Oak Blvd. The lanes, the last vestige of what was once a plan for an Uptown light rail line, would run from dedicated bus lanes linking to the Northwest Transit Center all the way to the proposed Bellaire/Uptown Transit Center near U.S. 59 and Westpark, where they might someday intersect with a University Line traveling eastward from that point. But the team behind the website wants none of it: “Uptown is a Houston masterpiece. Why do they want to ruin it?” reads the copy on the home page. Meanwhile, an introductory blog post on the site encourages readers to attend a friendly “town hall” meeting, tomorrow night at the Uptown Hilton, in the company of “hundreds of angry business owners and Uptown area residents.” [Save Uptown; previously on Swamplot]

05/15/15 4:15pm

Hole in Paving, White Oak Dr. at Beauchamp St., Woodland Heights, Houston

Hole in Paving, White Oak Dr. at Beauchamp St., Woodland Heights, Houston

Heavy equipment is back on the scene — and a metal plate on the way, a reader tells us — at the corner of White Oak Dr. and Beauchamp in Woodland Heights, adjacent to White Oak Bayou, where a hole suddenly appeared in freshly spread asphalt just hours after the street was resurfaced yesterday.

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That Sinking Feeling
05/08/15 3:30pm

Rendering of Proposed Whole Foods Market in Pearl on Smith Apartments, 3100 Smith St. at Elgin, Midtown, Houston

Now we know why the Morgan Group, the developer that applied for a variance last year to allow for a Pearl on Smith apartment complex to fit onto the block surrounded by Elgin, Smith, Brazos, and Rosalie streets, later withdrew the request: To expand the project so that it could include a 40,000-sq.-ft. Whole Foods Market on its ground floor. And here’s a rendering of the design of the whole thing by Houston’s Ziegler Cooper Architects.

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Pearl on Smith on Elgin