It’s not all that it could have been, but it’s a start.
Passengers stepping off trains in Houston’s expanding light rail network will be more likely to encounter walkable environments and interesting destinations because of action taken Wednesday by the City Council, city officials and transit advocates said.
The council unanimously approved changes in development codes intended to promote dense, urban-style development along the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Main Street rail line and five planned extensions. The pedestrian zone requirements and incentives were developed through more than three years of work by city officials, consultants, development experts and others.
Councilwoman Toni Lawrence said the changes, coupled with plans to expand urban development regulations from Loop 610 to Beltway 8 and high speed rail proposals under consideration for commuters, will have a major impact on automobile-dependent Houston. The measures take effect immediately.
“I’m excited about it,” Lawrence said. “We’re behind cities our size to move forward with rail.”
The changes drew support from real estate organizations including Houstonians for Responsible Growth, which generally resists new development regulation. But others who have followed Houston’s efforts to encourage so-called “transit-oriented development” offered only qualified praise, noting that the city’s consultants recommended more far-reaching changes.
“On the whole, it’s a teeny-tiny step in the right direction,” said Andrew Burleson, a development consultant and blogger. While the incentives for enhanced pedestrian amenities aren’t sufficient, Burleson said, the measure makes progress simply by providing a good definition of “quality urban development.”
The new rules will require unobstructed, 6-foot-wide sidewalks — two feet wider than the current standard — for new development along transit corridor streets and certain intersecting streets near transit stations. In most other areas of the city, the sidewalk standard will be increased to 5 feet.
Nice to see Andrew, a/k/a neoHouston, get quoted in the story. His take on the ordinance is well worth reading, as are each of Christof‘s. I expressed my views here. Note that RichmondRail.org’s proposed streetscape for Richmond Avenue conforms to the six-foot sidewalk width. I hope this new ordinance is a good omen for that.