In the small but growing city tradition of redoing street plans in your spare time, urban planner and general Houston improvement brainstormerJesse Thornsen has recently launched a website to showcase weekly ideas for making bits the local streetscape easier to navigate (by bike, foot, car, or other means). This morning’s addition: how to smooth out the westward jog in Silver St. as it crosses Dart St. The spot (shown in the above left-to-right conceptual before and after) is southeast of Annex Houston automobile storage and the Silver Street Studios complex; not quite due west lies the Shops at Sawyer Yards warehouse retail redevelopment.
Thornsen’s plan adds sidewalks and a landscaped median (to discourage vehicles from taking the most direct route straight through the jagged intersection). Thornsen points out that the section is designated for both bikes and cars by the Houston Bike Plan; his redo includes bike lanes, including a queuing spot big enough for multiple cyclists to cozy up together as they wait to turn north. Here’s a close up and a cross section:
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE MISSING LINKS “A great comment and right on the money. Houston also needs to take the reins of community building instead of letting developers drive that bus. Subdivisions/neighborhoods are currently created by private developers without any thought to how they relate to adjacent communities, resulting in islands of development unconnected to each other in any meaningful way. How many times have we seen major roads come to a dead end because there’s a subdivision/office park/whatever right in the way? Houston’s lack of long-range regional planning (and no, I don’t mean zoning) is now coming home to roost, and I only hope it’s not too late to change direction. . . .” [roadchick, commenting on Comment of the Day: Houston’s Primary Unit of Measure] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON’S MASTER PLANNERS “. . . I’ve talked a lot about the bad way some developers approach growth in Houston. But neighborhoods are addressing it wrong, too. They’re too reactionary. They sit around doing nothing until a developer proposes something they don’t like, then they mobilize to try to kill it. They need to ask themselves ‘what do we really want in and around our neighborhood,’ and then create master plans to communicate it. (The master plans wouldn’t be enforced — that would be zoning — but they could be used by developers to get a sense of what the neighbors would oppose.)
The Super Neighborhoods were supposed to be a venue where this could happen — they were originally under the auspices of the Houston Planning Department. But I’ve found that it’s actually the Management Districts that are doing master plans. It’s great that they’re happening, but Management Districts are paid for by and primarily serve businesses; and single family neighborhoods aren’t even trying to get in on the efforts.” [ZAW, commenting on Dogging the Morrison Heights Midrise with Doggerel] Illustration: Lulu
Local planning firm Asakura Robinson has released a 250-page study on the past, present, and future — as they would like to see it — of the Washington Corridor. The study seems to stem from Better Block Houston, a kind of experiment the firm performed in a vacant lot near their mural-stained offices on Washington and Silver: The street was transformed into a pop-up plaza: Food trucks rolled in, bike repair stations set up, and local retailers spread out. The study imagines this kind of pedestrian life happening along the entire length of Washington, from Westcott to I-45 and between I-10 and Buffalo Bayou.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: FIRST WE CROWD “. . . those folks thinking Houston would ever actually be capable of creating infrastructure to adequately manage increased density developments are living in a fool’s paradise. you live in a state where voters actively vote against such propositions by favoring no income taxes and keeping the pressure on no property tax increases to fund such transit initiatives. the density will have to come first, that’s a given.” [joel, commenting on Comment of the Day: Bring It On]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: PLANS FOR HOUSTON “Houston didn’t develop organically. The original street grid was planned, the Heights was planned, Montrose and River Oaks and the Villages and Cinco Ranch, etc., all planned. At least 90% of the people who wax poetic about Houston’s ‘vibrancy’ and ‘free spirit’ probably live in a place that was very carefully planned. Our freeway system was the result of planning, and our organic twisty-turny roads were straightened out. Everything within 5 miles of Rice University was aggressively planned, and people love it. Property values in Houston are high in places that were planned, low in places that weren’t, which tells you what the market wants: Planning.” [Mike, commenting on ‘The Galleria Is My Idea of Hell’ and Other Houston Stories]
Yep, that’s a bike-gear-sporting State Sen. Rodney Ellis, 2 city council members, and both bearded and cleanshaven versions of model Lauren Bush’s brother — Pierce Bush — talking up the idea of building more parks by more Houston bayous in this promotional video for an organization called Parks By You. What are they and their smiling costars so earnestly upbeat about? A $160 million bond initiative on the November ballot that would take a big step toward implementing the Houston Parks Board’s Bayou Greenways Project — a proposal to add green spaces and linear parks with concrete hike-and-bike trails along 100 miles of Houston bayous. The bond issue would help pay for improvements to more than a dozen existing parks and connect trails along 7 bayous in the city.
The overall vision (not all of which, apparently, is included in the bond measure) would transform Houston’s park map from this:
HOUSTON ZONING PAPERWORK REQUEST An out-of-towner with “an (admittedly) strange fascination with Houston land development” is trying to locate a copy of the zoning ordinance that Houston voters rejected 17 years ago. “A classmate and I are trying to do a little stats project comparing the 1993 proposed ordinance to the land development that actually happened since then. We’d like to see how actual development patterns differed from what the planners envisioned (for better or worse). Of course, we’d be willing to share any interesting findings.” [Swamplot inbox]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: LOST IN THE NOZONE “It always strikes me as odd that most major developers who operate in Houston also operate in cities with strict zoning, determined planning, and even architectural review boards with much success, but some Houstonians continue to think that they will abandon this city if we enact any of the same. They are clueless. Post Properties wrote Houston off in part because of the lack of stricter planning guidelines – which resulted in their Midtown project becoming an island of urban living surrounded by parking lots and suburban style development. (CVS, are you listening) . . . Midtown has become a mishmash of disjointed development with the opportunity for creating the city’s best urban environment lost for decades. The same debacle is happening right now in the Washington Corridor. Area groups have fought for years to get the city to enact and enforce very basic planning guidelines for Washington Ave like wider walkable sidewalks of 6′-8′ instead of 3′, and guidelines to bring storefronts to the streetfront instead of parking lots. A couple of developers have instituted these features on their own, but most have not, so once again we have an area that looks very disjointed, is confusing to navigate, and very unfriendly to the many people who would like to park once and walk between the many new businesses. . . .” [John, commenting on Extending Metro’s Main St. Rail Line to Fort Bend County]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT’S THE PLAN? “. . . It would be nice if someone would come up with a ‘master plan’ for these areas of unrestricted land and at least ask the developers to work within that plan. I suspect if some had been a little nicer the developers of 1717 Bissonnet might have been nicer as well. They did buy the land in good faith as they say. They were not legally obligated, nor are they, to get anyone’s permission to build whatever they wanted to build beyond meeting the requirements of city code. There was also no indication on the part of the city or anyone else what was “desired” for that area. As it stands, it’s a hodgepodge of multi-family and commercial. Neither of which fits the definition of ‘single-family’ which seems attached to every argument made against 1717 Bissonnet. I’m not sure you can have a perfect plan but someone needs to at least attempt some sort of plan for future development in Midtown and the Museum District and Montrose and the Heights and of course Galleria which at this point is at critical mass in terms of traffic. . . . We don’t have zoning but we do have unrestricted land. Which is the same thing when you think about it. No one thought about possibly restricting the unrestricted land until the plan for 1717 Bissonnet was announced. . . . The problem here should have been addressed a long time ago. As for urban planning, it should have happened yesterday. Hopefully tomorrow the next mayor will make some sort of ‘master plan’ a priority for these unrestricted areas and we will have something developers and neighborhoods can work with. . . .” [Matt, commenting on Comment of the Day: Missing That High-Density High Density]