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On closing Main Street to cars downtown

Houston Tomorrow runs a post by Kyle Nielsen that he originally published in May advocating for more of Main Street downtown to be like Main Street Square, that is, closed to automotive traffic.

What if we were to close Main Street to motor vehicle traffic and make it an exclusively pedestrian and bicycle corridor?

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.

Already, driving Downtown on Main Street is not ideal for a motorist. The ban on left turns and the pedestrian zone that cuts off Main Street at Main Street Square make it not very useful to a motorist for traveling through Downtown. If you add in now being stuck behind cyclists as well, it just seems to make more sense to re-route that traffic to Fannin or Travis, where there are plenty of lanes for cars to travel.

With all of the new businesses coming in on the North side of Downtown (Goro & Gun, Pastry War, Batanga, Bad News Bar, OKRA, Clutch City Squire, El Gran Malo, etc.), having an even safer pedestrian environment for customers to move about promotes greater economic activity. This also ties in nicely with the city’s new BCycle rental bike program. Tourists or Houstonians visiting Downtown and renting a BCycle could be directed to our fantastic Main Street bike lane to check out the rest of Downtown or as a way to get to points in Midtown.

Swamplot, Hair Balls, and PDiddie, who heartily approves, are on this as well. I too think this is a good idea; note that it is only traffic on Main that would be closed, not the east-west traffic that crosses Main. I’m old enough to remember, and to have worked downtown, before the rail line was built. Main was two lanes each way, and left turns were forbidden downtown. You didn’t get stuck behind a bike if you drove on it for some strange reason, but you did get stuck behind buses. There are plenty of good alternatives for north-south driving downtown, and in my experience now hardly anyone drives on Main anyway, since why would they? I’d limit the closure to between Pierce and Franklin – the train stays on Main through Midtown, but the driving options dwindle as you head south, and there is more vehicular traffic on that part of Main – but otherwise, the argument in favor of a fully pedestrian-and-bike corridor through downtown seems clear. I don’t know what the city has to do to make this happen, but I’d like to see them study it.

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6 Comments

  1. Frank says:

    As a downtown resident, I disagree.

    Short and sweet :-).

  2. Ross says:

    Since the last few times I’ve been on Main were to get to a business that’s on the block just to the East, I think this is a bad idea. A far better idea would be to rip out the rail and return mobility to the area. Trains in Houston are just a bad idea, and are plain not needed. Main used to be a great way to get through downtown, until the bad decision makers who wanted to pad their resumes with a rail project got the upper hand.

  3. M@ says:

    I like the idea, and I like the trains.
    I know… I’m a troublemaker.

  4. Doug says:

    “The Main Street Line, or Red Line, is a shining example of the positive potential a well-planned rail system offers, even in a car-happy city such as Houston. The line opened in 2004 and today carries an extraordinary 40,000 passengers daily, making it one of the nation’s most traveled lines based on boardings per track mile.” ~ GoMetroRail.org

    I agree with Ross. Rip out the Red Line so we can add 25 to 30,000 more cars to this area to convey the 40,000 daily travelers.

  5. Bill Shirley says:

    As soon as the rail opened, and definitely after they closed 3 blocks of Main, I’ve thought that the one barely used lane should be shut off it normal vehicular traffic. There should be some way to access it for business purposes, but that should be minimal.

    I agree that the Franklin to Pierce limitation or initially Franklin to Main Street Square would be reasonable. I suspect in 10-15 years we might want to expand it to Alabama.

  6. Ross says:

    @Doug, those folks could ride the buses that used to travel that route before we blew hundreds of millions of dollars on a piece of crap train that wasn’t needed and only impedes travel for those of us who aren’t going from UHD to the Med Center. Of course, the people who rife the train would not be caught dead on a bus, since buses are only for the poor.

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