The Transformation of the Southwestern Heights; Dreaming Up a Walkable Energy Corridor

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Photo of Buffalo Bayou: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool


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  • Odds are that the hodgepodge industrial buildings south of the bike trail & Lawrence Park (W. 6th Street) are next to go. I’ve said for the longest time that the Swift & Company Refinery at 621 Waverly would be prime for redevelopment as lofts/condos. At some point, all of it goes from industrial to housing.

  • While trying to make an area walkable is commendable for the thought…but the energy corridor was never designed to be walkable.

    It’s a place where people come to work, they come to work at one building, they aren’t walking between buildings they aren’t driving between buildings. They park in the ample parking garages provided to them by their employers, they stay all day then go home. If there were a lack of parking, if there were any central part of the Energy corridor, if there was any need for people to move about the energy corridor during the day.. this could possibly make sense.

    That being said, there should be at least one walkable bridge over I10 somewhere, I’d be surprised if ConocoPhilips wasn’t pushing for one, as they are splitting their campus across the freeway with two new high-rises.

  • @dag: I agree, the energy corridor is the epitome of a suburban office park. If you wanted it to become walkable you’d first have to give people dense housing to live in the area plus more retail options to walk to. And there’s the whole problem of the entire area being bisected by a giant freeway which automatically makes it an unpleasant place to walk around in. Honestly I think it’s more likely that the area becomes the next Greenspoint.

  • Originally moving to the sleepy Energy Corridor in search of cheaper rent six years ago, it’s been fun watching the wave of development that’s beginning to wake up the neighborhood. The denser residential developments are coming, but are mostly in the vicinity of Stratford High or along Briar Forest, not adjacent to the big corporate campuses. And the existing retail clusters are surrounding walk-hostile Highway 6 or tucked down south on Eldridge. With the distances involved, if the goal really is to get people out of cars for intra-district errands, I’d bet on some sort of bike share service before I’d count on people to walk around, so let’s keep building out those trail links.

  • That re-organization of the 45/59 intersection really is needed. I get the pleasure of navigating this clusterf**ck everyday.

    As you are nearing downtown on 45 there is only one lane that continues northbound through to the Pierce Elevated. Unless you want to waste 15 minutes of start and stops, the savvy driver will stay in the left lanes headed for 59 southbound and maneuver over after the last overpass with about 1/2 mile of road to do so (traffic ALWAYS opens up after this last overpass). This is not ideal traffic design though. Having the right NB and 2 left lane SB exits for 59 coupled with the onramp from Scott St. all within a half mile from downtown is just asking for congestion.

    I don’t know if moving back the 59 exits will just push back the congestion or actually alleviate some of the confusion, but it can’t make it any worse.

  • The Energy Corridor is densifying with both residential and office uses, which are also getting closer to each other. PMRG has a proposal for a major dense mixed-use project on the old Exxon site, and Skanska is currently building a mix of residential and office on its site on Memorial next to Terry Hershey Park. The biggest obstacle to walkability and the hardest to solve is the poor street grid. Trails can only do so much.

    That said, I live in Parkway Villages, and it’s remarkable how much pedestrian traffic you see around Eldridge and Briar Forest, given its historically suburban location. The fact that this area was actually built with sidewalks (relatively good ones at that) helps a lot. But more needs to be done.

  • All the yes for improving walkability in the Energy Corridor. We live at Eldridge and Enclave Parkway and walk a lot. We use the Terry Hershey, walk down Eldridge for coffee and bagels, and about a mile down to Briar Forest for weekend lunches at the Kroger shopping center plus the library is an easy stroll north. There are more people out walking around here than you might think. The secret? Sidewalks. Give people a safe option and they use it. People walk around here because they can.

  • Its not at all difficult to imagine a trunkline skywalk similar to what the TMC has, right along I-10 between about Kirkwood and Highway 6 with direct connections to the P&R lot, Top Golf, and any office buildings whose owners will pay for a bridge. It’s harder to imagine that it should go anywhere else.

  • Walkability is an admirable goal for the EC, but as others have said it won’t be easy, even with improved sidewalks and infrastructure, because of the sheer distances involved and the low density of development. Along with the fact that most office workers don’t really need to leave their campuses during the day. Some recent concessions towards walkability have been unimpressive – ie the new sidewalk at the west end of Memorial Drive, which borders a deep drainage ditch with no guardrail or protection. Cycling there is seriously dangerous if you have to pass a pedestrian or a cyclist going the other way.

    However, something has to be done to get workers into and out of the EC in a more-efficient fashion. Traffic on I-10 is miserable in both directions during rush hour, and it’s only going to get worse as more office parks are built. Bidirectional park-and-rides (for inner-loopers who work in the EC) and company-run private busses that pick up employees from community centers in the far west suburbs (similar to the Google buses in Cali) would be a good start. Bidirectional P+Rs will only work, however, if they offer front-door service, similar to the P+R that runs downtown. If they can’t manage this, workers will just keep driving.

    I find the patronizing tone of these discussions about young workers to be mildly amusing. As a “young worker”, my goal when commuting is simply to get to work and back home as quickly as possible – and I’ll select among transportation modes to meet this goal.

  • Slugline makes a good point. Super blocks are less an obstacle for cycling than for walking. If anything, super blocks are a good thing for cyclists since there are fewer intersections (though the intersections are much larger so maybe it’s a wash)
    Still, though, I fear for the Energy Corridor. With the sheer volume of apartment construction going on out there, the real question is: are they building enough offices to keep up? It doesn’t seem like they are – though I’ll confess I don’t get out that way much. If they aren’t, the risk is very real that they’ll overbuild apartments, and in 25 years the Energy Corridor will be like Greenspoint is today. I would be very concerned if I owned a house out that way.

  • @ ZAW: Yes, they really are building that many office buildings in the Energy Corridor that building more apartments makes practical sense. It doesn’t mean that all of those apartments will stay nice over the span of decades, but it does mean that the people that live there (whatever their socioeconomic class) will be closer to an economic activity center that will persist — and hopefully, employment. The worst case scenario is that it becomes a much denser Greenspoint; but its in Houston’s seemingly gold-plated westside corridor, so I would sort of doubt it.

    @ Grant: Patronizing is the right word.

  • ZAW, employment is skyrocketing in the Energy Corridor – by some estimates it is now equal to the Texas Medical Center and Uptown, traditionally about tied for second-largest employment center in the region – so now it’s a three-way tie. Plus the EC has something Sharpstown never had – a strong base of pretty high-end neighborhoods within it. This is more comparable to the area west of Uptown (between there and Voss) that filled up with multifamily but never went way downhill even as the apartments and townhomes aged.