BIG I-45 DOWNTOWN REROUTING, GRAND PARKWAY EXPANSION GET GO-AHEADS Yesterday was a big day for Houston freeway expansion and reconfiguration: On Tuesday, the Texas Transportation Commission gave the go-ahead for construction to begin in late 2020 on the first of 7 separate projects that will move I-45 from the west and south sides of Downtown to its east side, paralleling U.S. 59 behind the George R. Brown, reports Chron transportation writer Dug Begley. Separately, the commission also selected design and construction crews for the next segment of the Grand Parkway, from I-69 near New Caney to I-10 east of Baytown. How grand that section of the Grand Parkway actually ends up being may depend on your perspective: This segment of the Houston area’s fourth ring road is expected to cost $1.25 billion and open in 2022 — but the tollway will have only a single lane in each direction. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Diagram of I-45 rerouting: TxDOT
WITH BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, DRY CREEK IS ABOUT TO GET VERY WET LATER THIS MONTH The spot on the corner of White Oak Dr. and Yale St. where Dry Creek Cafe (pictured) closed down last year is expected to open next month as a “neighborhood bar with food that meets restaurant standards.” Proprietors Bobby Heugel (who got his start at Anvil) and Justin Yu (who shut down Oxheart) know a bit about each, respectively. The newly renovated space at 544 Yale will be called Better Luck Tomorrow, they announced today. [Eater Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Andy M.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE NO-BIKE-LANE BIKE PLAN “There’s even a more simple plan: Make the right lane 12 ft. (or more) and the left lane 10 ft. Don’t stripe new bike lanes or overly alter existing regulations. Don’t plan. Don’t get approvals. Don’t p/o motorists with the silly bike lanes that bikers fear and never use. We just need a little extra space for cars to pass us by. And: Motorists will like having buses and other heavy vehicles in the larger right-lane, too . . . you don’t even need signage.” [Chris M(2)., commenting on Comment of the Day: Houston’s New Bike Plan Is Just a Plan] Illustration: Lulu
WE’VE REACHED CHAPTER 11 IN THE HUNKY DORY, BERNADINE’S STORY Here’s an update to continuing reports on the financial health of the Treadsack restaurant group, the company behind Heights-area establishments Down House, D&T Drive Inn, Johnny’s Gold Brick, Hunky Dory, Bernadine’s, Foreign Correspondents, and Canard: Mothership Ventures, LLC, an entity owned by Treadsack partner Chris Cusack and — according to Houston Press reporter Craig Malisow, the business entity that operates as Bernadine’s and Hunky Dory — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection over this past weekend. Foreign Correspondents and its next-door-neighbor bar Canard closed for business in the shopping center at 4721 N. Main St. suddenly at the end of last year; in February, Malisow published a detailed saga of payroll and tax problems behind the shutdown, alleging Treadsack restaurants had become subject to IRS and state liens totaling more than $1.3 million, and that at one point the Texas Comptroller’s office had threatened a seizure of assets at Down House if taxes were not paid. Bernadine’s and Hunky Dory have been operating since late 2015 in a new building constructed for them at the corner of 18th St. and N. Shepherd. Update, 1:30 pm: An investor has filed suit against the owners of Treadsack, the Houston Press now reports. Craig Malisow also notes that the debtor in the bankruptcy filing has been granted funds to pay for the next employee paychecks. Photo: Hunky Dory
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT IT TAKES TO LIVE NEXT TO THE FAST LANES “The housing stock of the city has MANY luxury apartments located too close to comfort to a freeway. On I-10, the Sawyer Lofts’ north side [sits] right up on the freeway with some units being feet away from an exit ramp. Go further west and I-10 is lined with luxury apartments that look out at the freeway from a very uncomfortably close distance (basically two lanes away, plus a small setback). This is becoming a permanent fixture of the city. I’m not sure why anyone would voluntarily rent one of these, but the developers are banking on housing being in so short supply that someone will basically lose out when the music stops playing and there’s not a chair to sit in and they will be forced to rent one of these. I think that must be the game plan. Maybe they think if it’s common enough people will just subconsciously modify their lifestyle expectations in a big city to thinking its okay to live between 7 and 50 feet from one of the widest freeways in the world.” [Commenter7, commenting on The Downtown Apartments Caught Between a Freeway and a Curved Place] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON’S NEW BIKE PLAN IS JUST A PLAN “The plan is really just a recommendation of where to put lanes. The decision of actually putting in the bike lanes in a given spot will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, mainly as roads are rebuilt. Most of the money can come from TxDOT, TIGER, TIRZs, etc. It’s much easier to get that funding if you have a plan already in place. An example: Maybe your local CIP project involves tearing up a road and replacing it. Instead of repainting the road with the old 12-ft. wide lanes, maybe make them a reasonable 10-ft. wide and spray in a line for a bike lane. That’s a cheap addition to a project that doesn’t involve a lot of overhead that would normally come from a separate project to put in a new bike lane somewhere.” [Biker, commenting on Houston Bike Plan Up for a Vote Again This Morning Amid More California-ization Fears] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTONIANS WOULDN’T KNOW DENSITY IF IT PARKED RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM “This is exactly what happens in every dense city. If you go to Brooklyn, you will see cars street-parked in front of the brownstones. Few of those cars belong to the resident of the brownstone immediately adjacent. They recognize that they don’t own the street parking in front of their residence. It’s an incredible waste of resources to require that those perfectly good parking spaces remain vacant, in favor of large separate parking structures.” [Heightsresident, commenting on Comment of the Day: How To Tilt The Zero-Sum Houston Transit Game] Illustration: Lulu
HOUSTON IS NO LONGER THE FASTEST GROWING CITY IN THE COUNTRY New Census Bureau numbers tracking population ins-and-outs between mid-2015 and mid-2016 have been released, Alexa Ura and Chris Essig note in the Texas Tribune this morning — and Houston is no longer in the number 1 spot nationally for growth among cities. Harris County as a whole, meanwhile, has also lost that top county population growth title (which it’s been defending for some 8 years) to Phoenix-containing Maricopa County in Arizona. The duo write that the growth that did occur in Houston itself was mainly from existing Houston residents having kids and from international immigrants moving in, while growth in Houston’s suburban orbit was more the product of migration in from elsewhere in the state and country; though the net population change was still positive, Harris County still lost around 44 people a day, probably in connection to the oil industry. [Texas Tribune] Map of Harris and surrounding counties: HGAC
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO TILT THE ZERO-SUM HOUSTON TRANSIT GAME “‘The overlooked reason why cycling isn’t more popular is because driving and parking are far, far easier in Houston than in Amsterdam.’ You‘re right. So you know what would help increase the use of bikes? Allowing the market to determine the number of parking spaces. If [a business] gets it wrong and offers too few spots, they’ll suffer. But give them the choice. Right now business are required to supply tons of parking, making driving the dominant way people will always get from point A to point B. At least loosen up the regs in areas like Midtown and Montrose where we have a population that’s far more willing to walk, bike, skate, rail, etc. (or even Uber, which, while it puts cars on the road, lowers parking demand.)” [Cody, commenting on Houston Bike Plan Up for a Vote Again This Morning Amid More California-ization Fears] Photo: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool
HOUSTON BIKE PLAN UP FOR A VOTE AGAIN THIS MORNING AMID MORE CALIFORNIA-IZATION FEARS This morning’s city council meeting has the Houston Bike Plan back on the docket, following the most recent round of public-input-based tweaking to the plan (as well as a delay of the vote, which was initially scheduled for earlier this month). Over in the Chronicle Dug Begley recaps some of the arguments being made for and against the years-in-development guidance plan, which have a bit of a chicken-vs-egg flavor: do only 0.5% of Houstonians bike to work because safe-feeling bike paths are scarce outside of certain Inner Loop neighborhoods? Or are those areas where the active bikers are already clustered the only ones where bike path improvements are warranted? Councilman Greg Travis, one of the folks who pushed back the vote at the last council meeting, told Begley he does see a need for some kind of bike safety improvement plan, but adds that he’s “not sure this is the plan for Houston. We’re not Amsterdam or San Francisco, and we don’t know what’s needed here, really needed.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of existing ‘high-comfort’ bike paths: Houston Bike Plan Interactive Map
STATE COMMITTEE OKAYS BILL TO REQUIRE ‘CERTAIN COUNTIES’ TO VOTE ON ASTRODOME PARKING GARAGE-IFICATION The Texas senate’s committee on intergovernmental relations gave an early stamp of approval to that bill that would require Harris County to hold a vote on the plan recently set in motion to turn the Astrodome’s sunken field into an underground parking garage, Mihir Zaveri notes in the Chronicle this morning. The bill’s language doesn’t explicitly single out the Dome and the county commissioners; it would just mandate that “certain counties” — those with a population of 3.3 million or more — would need to call a vote on work related to “certain sports facilities” if the price tag of a given project reaches $10 million — namely, those sports facilities already more than 50 years old when the bill passes. (Harris County, with a population estimated around 4.5 million, is the only Texas county that comes remotely close to passing the bill’s size threshold.) [Houston Chronicle; Texas Legislature; previously on Swamplot] Schematic of Astrodome parking plan: Harris County Engineering Dept.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOUR VERY OWN INNER LOOP TRAILER PARK, FOR FUN AND PROPERTY TAX CONTROL “Are there typically HOA restrictions against mobile homes inside the Loop? Like if someone’s sitting on a cleared-off lot and not wanting to build, could they just pull in 2 mobile homes and start renting out? Or would the neighborhood/city be pounding on the doors? Not sure such a thing is feasible with $400k lots, but if you had to demo a multifamily and still wanted to hold onto the property, sounds like [that] could potentially keep the tax value low while still bringing in rental income.” [joel, commenting on All That’s Left of the Heights Trailer Park Behind Eight Row Flint] Photo of cleared mobile home park on W. 11th St.: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: CHANGING TASTES AT THE CORNER OF MONTROSE AND WESTHEIMER “Dallas invading Houston with its bland ‘designer tacos’ made for yuppies. Right across from Austin’s Uchi, where the waitstaff tells you what you’re suppose to taste as you eat. I remember when you could get a blowjob for $20 in this neighborhood. This is sad.” [MW, commenting on Edge Realty Now Seeking To Fill Bright Orange Box with Neighbors for a Montrose Velvet Taco] Photo: Swamplot inbox
RADIOSHACK TO CLOSE A BUNCH MORE STORES NOW THAT IT’S BANKRUPT AGAIN The roster of planned store closings in the wake RadioShack’s déjà-vu declaration of bankruptcy last week now includes 11 Houston-ish addresses, according to the company’s handy filter map of inventory clearance sales. An initial list of this round’s Chapter 11 location casualties, filed in court and published on Friday by Consumerist, limited the roll call of the soon-to-shutter to just 4 strip centers ’round town: the RadioShack on Hillcroft Dr. near Richmond Ave. (between Galaly Furniture and Liberty Income Tax); the one in the Bellaire Triangle (where Best Optometrists used to be); the Rice Village-adjacent Kirby Dr. location, between Creative Blinds and Loan Star Title Loans; and the S. Gessner location near US-59, which shares a strip mall with LA Crawfish, Iglesia de Dios Shammah, and the dental office of Hanh Nguyen. Back in its heyday, RadioShack once sported some 80-plus Houston stores; the last time the company declared bankruptcy, back in 2015, some 32 of the area’s then-77 locations were initially marked for closure. The number of Houston-area stores remaining, prior to the announcement of this latest wave of goodbyes, was down to the high 20s — putting early estimates of the remaining Houston ‘Shack count down to the mid-teens. [Previously on Swamplot] Map of closing RadioShacks (in red): RadioShack