COMMENT OF THE DAY: BLAME IT ON THE TUNNELS “If you’ll forgive a play on words, the tunnel system is undermining Downtown’s bid to become a livable, walkable destination. The restaurants and businesses that occupy the tunnels skim the cream of the workforce during business hours on weekdays, then are sealed off from the public on evenings and weekends. Given the price of real estate and rents downtown, and that street level businesses have to survive on the evening and weekend trade to [stay in business], and the fact that so many buildings are inhospitable to pedestrians (many have only two street level entrances on an entire block) — retrofitting Downtown into a livable space is not going to be easy. There are exceptions: Market Square and stretches of Main Street. But for the most part, that which has already been built is an impediment to filling this donut hole.” [Big Tex, commenting on Comment of the Day Runner-Up: The Hole in the Donut] Photo of Lamar Tunnel: Swamplox inbox
When I worked downtown I was more concerned with getting into my building without getting wet than the lack of street level activity. The tunnels actually made taking mass transit possible for me. My bus dropped me off several blocks from work. Without the knowledge that the tunnels were there to keep me dry I would have driven in every day just in case it rained. I did work very late once and the tunnels were closed. I had to walk several blocks in pouring rain, even with an umbrella I was soaked. I actually rarely used the tunnels, most days in Houston you can walk several blocks without getting wet or too hot. Yes, I know it’s possible to go to work wet or sweaty, apparently they do it in other cities. Why live like an animal though? Most people will choose to stay out of the rain if they can. We’re lucky in Houston to have that choice.
If the street level retailers and restaurants are good enough, people will shop/eat there …. it’s not “magic” and the tunnels aren’t either.
I wouldn’t expect the tunnels to ever go away. They serve a purpose. Perhaps better pedestrian access to the tunnels might make sense. Most pedestrians would not enter office buildings unless that was their destination. Access to the tunnels from sidewalks, clear signage (both indicating the tunnels existence and what businesses lie underground) could draw pedestrians to the businesses. The extra foot-traffic might make a case for extended hours.
The tunnels are owned by the owners of the buildings above them. They are private space, not public. They are maintained for the benefit of the employees of the businesses downtown.
The real solution to making downtown a “livable, walkable destination” isn’t to move the businesses out of the tunnels and into the weather, it’s to get more people living and walking in the tunnels. Rename “SkyHouse Main” to “Morlock Heights” and extend the tunnel complex to the south.
As I’ve noted before, businesses that are primarily aimed at the weekday daytime office crowd will close mid-afternoon whether they are at street level or in the tunnels. I’ve been to numerous CBDs where streets felt like ghost towns by 6:30 pm, including ones where there is a substantial downtown residential population (Chicago, for example). Would not having tunnels bring more traffic to the sidewalks during morning and lunch on weekdays? Probably, yes. I’m not convinced it would make a difference at other hours.
The tunnels are such an desirable amenity that office buildings cannot qualify for Class “A” designation if they don’t have a tunnel connection. And they do support transit / non-self-driving modes of access for downtown workers, as noted in other comments.
Any business that wants to serve residents is already located at street level.
didn’t even finish reading the comment to tell you, “no it’s not”. Residential living in downtown is suppose to create what you think the tunnels have. I’d rather have two different worlds, not one against the other, but just nice to one another. Both should be even stronger because of that and better. I worked in those skyscrapers and lunched in the tunnels and even the streets, and a lot of people go to street restaurants, too. Having it all is better.
If the tunnels are so great, then why not build everything else below ground too?
@GlenW: Now that’s Morlock thinking!
Yep, the tunnels are worthless. Houston’s weather is not that harsh.