COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW HOUSTON GOT ITS SPRAWL, AND OTHER TALES OF PSEUDOZONING “Blame our city’s efforts at ‘planning’ in lieu of zoning. In the early 70’s, due to insufficient wastewater infrastructure, the city enacted a ban on apartment buildings of more than 4 units inside the Loop (driving much of apartment development to Uptown and Meyerland) and enforced a 5000-sq.-ft. minimum lot size. This gave rise to the Montrose 4-plex (of which there are still some examples remaining), but put a cap on residential density inside the loop. Then in the 1980’s, we got 25-ft building setbacks, followed by mandatory minimum parking requirements. This added a cap on commercial density to go with the cap on residential density. The rest is history: for the next couple of decades, the car became the focal point of the built environment, and we became the low-density city we are today. With repeal of some of the more retrograde density caps we’re starting to get some residential density, but setbacks and parking minimums are still getting in the way of the necessary commercial density needed for real walkability.” [Angostura, commenting on Comment of the Day: No, Sprawl’s Not Just a Number After All] Illustration: Lulu
Courtesy of a stripe-skeptical reader, here’s a partial walkthrough tour of the new parking scheme along Allen Pkwy. west of Downtown — these days looking a lot more like the flyover videos released of the planned changes last year. Those changes, including a lower speed limit for the rest of the roadway and and some strategic tree deployment, are intended to make the pseudo-highway into a “more urban environment” and to slow traffic down to next-to-a-park speeds. Also included in the deal: a series of crosswalks, like the over-then-over-again setup now striped into place at Gillette St. (seen above posing with the Federal Reserve Bank building, with the former city garbage incinerator site out of the frame to the left).
The new setup divvies up much of the turf formerly occupied by Allen Pkwy.’s westbound traffic lane into angled spaces — some almost long enough to “put 2 normal sized cars in each spot,” the reader claims:
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: