Why Not Banish Cars from Main St.?

WHY NOT BANISH CARS FROM MAIN ST.? Monday morning’s fatal collision between the bicycling Rice University architecture student and a southbound Metro train seems to have occasioned the folks at Houston Tomorrow to wonder at the best uses for Main St.: Blogger Kyle Nielsen shows — with a rented B-Cycle and a tape measure — how little room there is for a motorist to give a “vulnerable road user” the 3 ft. now required by the city for “safe passing” and suggests that the Downtown corridor should be closed off, once and for all, to traffic: “It seems to me that it would enhance cyclist and pedestrian safety, encourage the type of walkable retail and bars/restaurants that Downtown needs, decrease motorist frustration at being stuck behind a bicycle, and enhance motorist and transit safety by eliminating the motorist [illegal] left turns that still hit the Metro rail cars sporadically.” [Houston Tomorrow; previously on Swamplot] Photo: kylejack

53 Comment

  • How ’bout keep the bipedal hipster transport vehicle off the street and not worry about being run over. 3 foot rules are for strip clubs only.

  • I agree with this concept. I mean really – who actually drives down Main Street in downtown on purpose? It’s so chopped up and you can’t turn anywhere that it makes for a real pain in the ass when trying to get anywhere. The City should just go all the way and make it a pedestrian corridor and leave Fannin and San Jacinto to absorb the vehicular traffic.

  • :: TROLL ALERT ::

  • I agree with Commonsense!


    This proposal is worth consideration, but calling to ban cars on Main Street is misplaced, since it was a train that struck and killed this young lady.

  • Idiot cyclists making illegal turns are a self-fulfilling prophecy, callous as that may sound. This senseless death probably could have been avoided with some education on the rules of the road. Rule #1: pay attention! Bet this poor, departed soul had some headphones in as well.

  • The cyclist was hit and killed by a METRORrail train. Mentioning this fact does little to help the argument that Main should be closed to vehicular traffic. If anything it hurts the case for rail by mentioning it. The cyclist could have been at fault for not properly obeying a traffic signal. And if she was traveling with her bike on the rail at 8am isn’t that a violation of METRORail rules anyway (no bikes on board 6:30-9am)?

    Is there a traffic study planned for Main street? If not that should be suggested. How far would this Main street closure stretch? The length of the rail?

    From what I have seen businesses along rail lines or planned rail lines do not support closure of the road for construction, will they support the permanent closure of the road?

  • I knew the young lady killed on Monday and have for a long time been a cyclist. I think closing down Main makes a lot of sense, commonsense in fact. Main provides almost no value to a driver, given how hard it can be to get on or off of the street. The cycling community though has been looking for a good, safe, car free, N-S route into downtown, this would be an excellent option.

    Metrorail needs some kind of crossing arm or equivalent for pedestrians and drivers. I’ve been surprised a couple times by trains downtown, particularly when they pass each other. It seems like it should be an easy fix.

  • I think it would be great if Main St. was closed to vehicle traffic. Could make a great pedestrian mall with outdoor cafes, restaurants, stores, etc. It could be the great outdoor pedestrian area that finally brings the moles up from the tunnels.

  • how about remove train and use buses

  • Totally agree. Main street is pretty useless and aggravating to drive on so it would be no big loss for getting around. In New York, when they turned a few lanes into parks at major cross-streets at Madison Square and Herald Square, it opened up nice, relaxing areas and made the city safer and more enjoyable as a pedestrian.

  • Generally I find BIKE RIGHTS advocates shrill and annoying but this fella might be on to something. I agree that the lane next to the light rail is not optimal for cars, bikes or no. Downtown need to be made into a real destination outside of work hours and weekend nights, and it’s already a grid so rerouting the traffic wouldn’t be difficult.

    I ride a bike for leisure and I’d love to use it to get around more. Not going to happen anytime soon in Houston but a dude can dream.

    And commonsense, you’ve obviously never been to a strip club if you believe in the three foot rule.

  • Avoided driving Main long before the train. The no left turn nonsense was always a bore. The train has not impacted my use of Main. Neither would closure from Sears into town.

  • Biker need to learn how to follow the traffic laws. The next time I see a cyclist stop at a red light or stop sign even when no cars are coming will be my first.

    Following a bike on Main St. is not a problem at all. No need to pass. Most of the cars on those tiny lanes aren’t going more than 10 MPH anyway.

    If we ban cars, we should go ahead and ban the train too.

  • It helps to remove ear-buds when bike riding, bike riders.

    I ended up getting the giant SUV stuck behind a young bike riding hipster female this morning, who was enjoying a leisurely ride down the middle of a residential Montrose street. With her ear-buds firmly implanted, she was oblivious and uncaring to anything going on around her. Totally retarded.

  • eiioi,
    I wrote this in May, not in response to the incident.


  • Although I’m supportive of cycling (an avid cyclist myself) I must oppose this proposal to close main street to just pedestrian traffic. The city I grew up in, Memphis, TN, did this in their downtown (they have a trolley line) and it decimated downtown businesses for years. I dont think it’s effective.

    Removing cars would not have saved this girls life. You know what would have? Proper barricading. When you’re in a refinery and someone falls off an elevated area and dies, the first statments arent “why wasnt he/she paying attention?” and “Thats darwinism for you”. Installing automatic moving arms to properly separate pedestrians from the trains is probably a cheaper and more effective way of preventing this from happening again.

  • I use Main to drive to work in the morning. I take Travis/45 out in the evening. I’m also a cyclist. Given that all of the east-west streets would still cross at every block, what gets remedied by this?

    Train traffic controls the traffic signals, resulting in a choppy traffic flow, and in turn resulting in more temptation for cyclists to keep their momentum and run red lights. Also, why do we want to encourage bike traffic on a street with quiet, neutral-colored trains whizzing by at 25 mph in both directions? Illegal left turns by autos usually result in busted fenders and traffic jams. Illegal left turns by bikes almost assuredly will result in more of what happened to that poor woman on Monday. Is this worth further constricting the downtown grid? Is this proposed cure worse than the illness?

  • Stupid, just don’t start riding bikes until you past the track! The city needs that law.

  • Kyle’s idea has a great deal of merit. And MRH005 is right on the money that it would be awesome to have a bike route that connected downtown with the Med Center, Rice, the Brays Bayou bike trails, etc.

  • Main is so useless as a street that I can’t say I would miss it as a driver- And I think having a bike-only street could help many of the businesses on the street (thinking Flying Saucer and all the other bars/restaurants popping up-
    I think it would be popular with locals and tourists
    But it wouldn’t surprise me if closing the street to cars increased the number of bikes and pedestrians hit by trains

  • How about closing Main Street downtown AND the streets where the new east-west Metro line is going to travel upon? Other cities close down streets for pedestrians all the time and it is no horror or tragedy. It would be nice to be able to drive and not worry about being in a train lane. Same for walking.

  • My response from:

    “I just take up the whole lane and if I collect some followers I will peel off at an appropriate spot (like a crosswalk) and let them pass. I also get the occasional “i’m gonna kill you with my car” driver but if you completely ignore’m they figure it out pretty quickly that there’s literally 4 lane feeder roads paralleling Main and following you is the long way to get where they wanna go. “

  • A) Its obvious Kyle is trying to kiss OKRA’s you know what b) We need more roads open, not less c) Nobody is forced to drive/bike on Main St d) We don’t need any more national attention e) The b-cycle is a novelty program at best

    I also think its unfair for Kyle to capitalize on people’s emtions after an extremely tragic incident.

  • The Rice community is small and the loss of one person hurts very much.
    This girl had probably looked both ways before crossing the tracks a thousand times before. We all experience moments of absentmindedness where we forget to take precautions that are second nature to us. She was very probably distracted, whether by her thoughts or her music, and her instincts lapsed in the same instant that her perception of the oncoming train dwindled to zero.
    This incident has affected me, at the very least; I was that much more mindful when walking across Main last night. I hope we all become more vigilant of our surroundings as a result.

  • Montreal closes several of its downtown streets during the summer. Sounds like a great time: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2013/05/08/montreal-pedestrian-summer-street-closures.html

    Plus it would give some of the hillbillies on this site something more to complain about. I always enjoy their progressive and intriguing viewpoints.

  • @Kylejack,

    Yes, I’m aware of the previous discussion, and it wasn’t directed at you (I’m assuming that you haven’t written about it this week), but the one who resurrected the idea this week. And I’m fine with all kinds of novel ideas and proposals and also with some pretty tasteless jokes after tragic events.

    But I guess it was this logic that kind of got to me: “A young beautiful girl wasn’t riding safely on her bicycle (it appears, according to witness accounts) and was hit by a train; therefore, we need to ban cars.” I’m tired of people proposing changes ostensibly to prevent a recurrence of an event when the change they propose wasn’t a root cause of that event AT ALL.

    By all means, let’s discuss this idea, but not in the context of this woman’s death.

  • Closing main to cara is the best idea I’ve seen in ages. It’s a complete pain to drive down anyway. Even if they closed just 5-6 blocks or so.

  • I agree with the posts on an automatic crossing arm or equivalent for pedestrians and drivers. When you have visitors from out of town who are not used to the layout of the ‘single direction train stations’ in the middle of Main street, this is a must. I suggest that the city should enact these pedestrian crossing arms from Ensemble/HCC to UHD stations now before another accident happens.

  • Dear Guest,
    I wrote the post in May, as mentioned in a previous comment. Houston Tomorrow asked to run it a few days ago. I have no idea what OKRA thinks of this idea.

  • Apparently the woman was walking her bike-not riding it. My husband arrived at his office just after this happened. His idea was to put something like a “cow-catcher” on trains so that pedestrians struck will not be dragged under and cut in half. Apparently Metro trains lack any sort of equipment to prevent this. It would also prevent any debris on the tracks from causing a derailment.

  • I drive down Main at least once a week, though the tram has made it a terrible pain in the neck.

    For all those suggesting that it should be closed because it is a pain to drive on, I suggest we should close Fannin through the Medical Center, that is a lot more of a pain. Of course I drive that too three times a week and it would force the TMC to shut down.

    The reason motorists like myself hate cyclists is because the vocal cyclists are eliminationists when it comes to cars. I actually lived in Boulder, CO off and on during the late 70s/earl 80s and watched anti bicycle sentiment first emerge, it was precisely because of this sort of idiocy. Now of course in Boulder a bicycle focused transit system makes sense, but in a major metropolis such as Houston it is absolutely toxic.

  • 16th Street “Mall” in downtown Denver is closed to car traffic. Free bus shuttles run back and forth on 16th Street, and only pedicabs and pedestrians are the other modes of transport. There is a Denver light-rail train / bus transit center at one end, but no train down the middle like Houston’s jacked up situation.

    Bike riders are supposed to walk their bikes on 16th Street, only pedicabs and cops allowed to ride.

  • Why is closing Main Street to vehicle traffic even an option? In my opinion, it’s no better than suggesting that Main Street be closed to bike traffic. They are both just stupid ideas. While I think vehicle drivers could stand to do a little more to “share the road” in some cases, I also think bike riders could do a little more…no, a lot more…to FOLLOW THE RULES OF THE ROAD. Too often, they are riding the center line, not following traffic laws (ignoring stops signs and traffic lights more often than not) and not signaling their intentions. While some vehicle drivers are guilty of the same, at they are less likely to be killed than a biker that has little or no protection. I would agree that none of this has anything to do with the recent METRORail accident though.

  • There will always be accidents as long as people are involved. Remember when the light rail first opened, what did we have 60 accidents in one year? Closing the street to cars won’t stop this, there will still be people using the “cross streets” in cars, people on bikes, and people on foot who do not pay attention to the signs posted EVERYWHERE.

  • It already works very well in Denver. Houston should study how it works.

    Well, for one, the weather is perfect in Denver for pedestrians and in Houston it’s hotter than practically anywhere.


  • I am an avid cyclist and cycle through downtown regularly. While I can see some benefit to making Main Street reserved for pedestrian/bicycle traffic, I don’t think I would use it unless signal timings change significantly.

    The traffic lights (and to a lesser extent, the pedestrian walk lights) along Main Street are very poorly timed, mainly because they are trying to improve safety along the light rail, but also to give priority to other major roads.

    This means that if I want to go northeast, I just take Travis, which is parallel to Main, but it has the advantage of the lights being timed very well. When I’m biking I’m doing 20-25 mph, and to maintain my speed I don’t want to have red lights every few blocks. Main Street would make me stop; Travis lets me keep going. For going southwest I can take Fannin or Milam.

    I guess this would be good for very slow (

  • Well, you could also just ban bikes from Main Street, then bikers would not be harmed crossing the tracks.
    I also lived in Memphis, like Purdueenginerd, and can attest to how closing that city’s Main Street killed what was left of retail there for many years. Denver’s 16th Street Mall is more successful, but does seem to attract more than it’s fair share of that city’s homeless population.
    Putting crossing gates at intersections is also just a stupid idea. There are already crossing signals at the intersections that anyone with a brain can watch, like pedestrians do in hundreds of other cities around the world. Here’s a picture of San Francisco MUNI’s N-Judah streetcar line. Notice that cars can travel atop the rails, the trains are not segregated from traffic, and there are not multiple fatalities from the trains there. A little more caution shown to the trains by pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars in this city would alleviate most of these accidents.

  • Swamplot ate the rest of my comment, so here’s the end:

    I guess this would be good for very slow (under 10 mph) cyclists and pedestrians, but for anyone else I can’t see it being very beneficial.

    It’s also strange that they bring up the unfortunate death of the student when proposing this, because she was killed on a section of Main Street where cars are already prohibited, which in a way makes a case for opposing what they propose.

  • Main is already closed (either fully or one way) for the three blocks between Dallas and Walker. The crossing where reports state the bicyclist was hit is permanently closed to cars (though some of the photos make me doubt the reported location.)

    It may be that a false sense of security from the absence of cars led her to cross at a bad time, though that’s only bald and probably irresponsible speculation.

    Main is a pretty useless street for cars downtown, and maybe a broader closure makes sense–though looking at the part already closed and seeing how it works there would be a good idea.

    But pitching it as a safety measure related to this case is stupid and a bit offensive.

  • Also, no one’s pointed out that Main’s already closed to vehicle traffic in the section where the fountains are, so it’s not really a good north-south route anyway. Even for bikes, what are they going to do, unlawfully ride on the sidewalk? Yes, the homeless guy on a $900 mountain bike will definitely dismount and walk….

  • Perhaps have a separated cyclist lane. On the supposed “pedestrian only” area I once almost got clobbered from behind by a Metro cop calmly tooling down the sidewalk on his (very quiet) Goldwing. I wish I’d had the presence of mind then to remember that my phone has a camera on it.

  • Because it cannot be stated enough, here it is again. The poor girl was killed by a train. Not only would banning cars from Main Street not have saved her life, it likely will cause more cyclists and pedestrians to not look where they are going.

    I will repost what I responded to Kyle’s proposal. It is a solution in search of a problem. In my numerous bike rides down Main, I RARELY encounter a car. The ones I see are driving slowly. There is no need to close Main to cars. And, for those cyclists who envision flying down Main without cars in the way? Think again. There is an intersection every 250 feet.

  • This is a terrible idea. I would suspect that business is already hurting around Main Street Square where Metro is forcing traffic to go around that fountain/plaza.

  • Reopen the fountain plaza to vehicular traffic first to restore connectivity. Then put up signs to promote cyclist safety (like “cyclists use main lanes”). Ticket cyclists who think they can do no wrong. Then consider closing Main Street at certain hours.

  • I would echo the sentiment that pedestrian malls kill businesses and add that certain properties would become landlocked and severely diminished in value, and also that if cyclists want to go north/south between the linear parks along the bayous, they can actually take the train rather than ride alongside it. If they want specifically to ride north/south, they can use the Columbia Tap trail for its intended purpose or they can cut through neighborhoods like Rice U., Southhampton, and Cherryhurst along much safer, shadier, and more scenic streets.

  • I don’t know about Main, maybe inside the pierce that makes sense.

    Brazos on Saturday night through midtown though, man, that place needs to be closed from Tuam to Gray, at least.

  • All trains off Main.

  • Banning cars works for me. I’ve driven mainstreet and if you get caught along side a train it can be slow going because the lights do not change (even though the car is moving next to the train, not crossing). It’s already broken up somewhere around Lamar St. Make full fledged plazas.

  • To those saying businesses will fail along Main between Pierce and Commerce/Franklin/Congress because of a pedestrian mall, I kindly ask what businesses are there to fail? Main street is already devoid of life because of Houston’s insatiable demand for suburban retail and those businesses along main are not trying to cater to customers who arrive by vehicle since NONE of them has a parking lot right in front of their doors. Furthermore, if your business cannot survive without a drive through or a porte-cochere to drop off the heifers at their trough then you have no place in the business world. Now THAT is “Darwinism” for all you haterz. This is merely a proposal for a pedestrian oriented retail corridor and I condemn anyone who would use this girl’s death as support for any type infrastructure project whether they be freeway overpasses, pedestrian tunnels, grade separation or the like. Unfortunately, this rare incident happened when she was struck by a train which, if I’m correct, is the third fatal death associated with METRORail. Let’s not get it twisted, y’all. Where would the outrage be if she were one of the hundreds of people hit by cars in the USA each year, hmm?

  • I should have said “many” instead of hundreds. Regardless, it’s more than three.

  • John, according to the CDC page “Motor Vehicle Traffic-Related Pedestrian Deaths — United States, 2001–2010”, there were 47,392 pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents during that decade. The order of magnitude is not in the hundreds, it is in the thousands.

  • This little train has ruined Main Street and downtown, and has caused many, many accidents, injuries, deaths and property damage. It was ill conceived to begin with and the city should cut its losses and shut the damned thing down. Yesterday.