Is Houston ready for yet another loop road? Here’s the proposed Green Loop, a 5-mile network of parks, trails, and other public spaces that the neighborhood supergroups behind Plan Downtown imagine ringing in Houston’s bicentennial — if it’s completed by 2036. One of 10 separate proposals in the plan, the city’s littlest loop is meant to take advantage of TxDOT’s proposed rerouting of I-45 to the east side of Downtown — by wrapping the district tightly with a transportation and recreation circuit that could attract adjacent development and help link the city center to adjacent neighborhoods.
Plan Houston’s new report flags ideas and renderings for 3 spots along Downtown’s proposed Emerald Choker: At Buffalo Bayou, on top of I-69 and I-45 once they’re sunk behind the George R. Brown, and on Pierce St. at the Midtown border.
New buildings at the northwest corner of Downtown would face Buffalo Bayou as well as the surrounding streets, lining the waterfront with flood-worthy attractions:
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It’s a Wrap!
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON IS USUALLY BETTER WHERE IT ISN’T PLANNED TO BE “I’m going to go ahead and disagree on the value of planning. The best parts of the city (19th St, parts of Washington, parts of Midtown) were developed before the city passed Chapter 42, and would be illegal to replicate today.
What has planning gotten our fair city over the past half-century? Here’s a partial list:
1.) Density caps inside the loop (since repealed), driving multifamily development to areas farther away from downtown, increasing sprawl.
2.) 70+ ft. right-of-ways, which, along with our 25-ft setbacks, result in an absurd 120 feet between facades. Compare that to unplanned, human-scaled environments in pre-19th century cities and the result is 25% of land completely wasted, or given over to automobiles instead of people.
3.) Parking minimums, requiring up to 75% of land be given over to car storage.
4.) 25-ft. retail setbacks, which, combined with parking minimums, essentially mandate strip-mall development.
What Houston does well is where it doesn’t ‘plan.’ We don’t segregate residential, commercial and retail. We don’t limit residential density (much) (inside the loop), we don’t cap multi-family density (any more). All those great, walkable places we travel to on vacation have one thing in common: the almost complete lack of planning. And where they did do ‘planning’ it did more harm than good. The gothic quarter in Barcelona is way more charming than the Eixample, and don’t get me started on how Haussmann screwed up Paris.
Lump me in with the anti-planners on this one.” [Angostura, commenting on Comment of the Day: What Parking Requirements for Bars Really Encourage] Illustration: Lulu
A congregation of relocated trees — many of which have been plucked out of the way of the bus lane work going on along Post Oak Blvd. in Uptown right now — was spotted this week by a Fifth Ward resident checking out the former KBR site along Clinton Dr. CityCentre developer Midway is gearing up the process of rebranding its new old campus along the industrial stretch of Buffalo Bayou as East River; early marketing materials now floating around say they’ve collected some 300 trees from the Uptown work and are saving them for later redeployment in and around the 136-acre development, as part of parks and streetscaping.
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Save the Trees for Later
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW HOUSTON’S PARK(ING) PROPONENTS SHOULD TAKE IT TO THE STREETS “While I understand, generally, the sentiment behind this initiative, I think in Houston it may be a little misguided. If we want a more walkable environment, with fewer buildings set back behind parking lots, we actually need more on-street parking spaces (to both accommodate business patrons arriving by car and help buffer pedestrians on the sidewalk), and fewer off-street ones.” [LocalPlanner, commenting on The SUV-Sized Parks Parked By City Hall Will Expire in About An Hour] Photo of Park(ing) Day: Allyn West
FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS TO TALK THROUGH HOUSTON’S RELATIONSHIP WITH SIDEWALKS Taking together a recent rash of of essays complaining about Houston’s walkability, public transit, and sidewalk situation, Joe Cortwright over at City Observatory offers some thoughts on why it might be harder for city planners to buff up the city’s walking infrastructure than focus on its car standards: planners, both locally and nation-wide, don’t have as many ways to measure unpleasant walking experiences, or sufficient language to describe them. Cortwright writes that the anecdotes and narratives put forth by Houston’s frustrated would-be walkers are “rich and compelling in their detail, but lack the technocratic throw-weight of quantifiable statistics or industry standards to drive different policies and investments in our current planning system. [ . . . But] this isn’t simply a matter of somehow instrumenting bike riders and pedestrians with GPS and communication devices so they are as tech-enabled as vehicles. An exacting count of existing patterns of activity will only further enshrine a status quo where cars are dominant. For example, perfectly instrumented count of pedestrians, bicycles, cars in Houston would show — correctly — little to no bike or pedestrian activity. And no amount of calculation of vehicle flows will reveal whether a city is providing a high quality of life for its residents, much less meeting their desires for the kinds of places they really want to live in.” [City Observatory] Photo: Flickr userbpawlik
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DECIDE TO REDO THAT DOWNTOWN FREEWAY PLAN IN YOUR SPARE TIME Tory Gattis reports in an update to his weekly column that TxDOT is looking over the alternative Downtown freeway plan put forth by Houston-based blog Purple City last week — to see if it can pull any ideas from it. The report, created by a semi-anonymous Houston-based engineer, includes detailed schematics, along with contextualized critiques of TxDOT’s most recently publicized version of plans to rework the interchanges of I-10, I-45, and 59 around Downtown. The Purple City plan appears to have a lot to offer: It would keep the Pierce Elevated as managed express lanes, while exploring options to make its street level pedestrian- and development-friendly. The alternative plan would require less right-of-way acquisition than TxDOT’s and eliminate left-hand exits. There are also bits about developing a new bus rapid transit line between Bellaire and UH, adding a a parallel bikeway network, and expanding the Downtown street grid. The 13-page report is available here; there’s also a scaled schematic of the entire plan. [Houston Strategies; Purple City; previously on Swamplot] Aerial schematic of (rotated) Downtown freeway alternative proposal: Purple City
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