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Complete Streets coming

This is good to see.

Houston, long ruled by the automobile, will give more consideration to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists in designing its streets and neighborhoods.

Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday said she is drafting, with public works and planning officials, an executive order stating that the city will adhere to “complete streets” standards. The change could enable some neighborhoods to press for wider sidewalks, shadier streets and bicycle lanes, for example.

“Houston streets can and should accommodate the needs of all users, not just those behind the wheel,” Parker told a crowd gathered for the announcement and the dedication of Bagby in the Midtown area as Texas’ first “green” street.

Parker said she would sign the order after fully briefing the City Council, as early as next week. While the order doesn’t directly affect the rules planners and engineers use, supporters say it changes Houston policies from a narrow focus on moving cars to a broader effort to provide mobility for cars and other means of getting around.

Giving thought to pedestrians can lead to subtle but meaningful changes in the standards the city uses to consider applications for new developments and how streets are redesigned or improved.

“This is a process the people are a part of,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, a member of the Houston Coalition for Complete Streets, one of the groups that pushed for the change.

The new standards will apply to projects and streets within city control. State-maintained freeways, for example, are meant to move vehicle traffic and would be unaffected.

As Stace notes, this has also been a priority for CM Ed Gonzalez, so if you like this announcement, thank him as well. Houston Tomorrow has a quote from the Mayor’s verbal remarks at the event on Thursday that I think captures what is actually being changed here:

Frankly, it’s always been possible to do a Complete Street in Houston, but the default has been let’s get those cars moving. Now we want the default to be a Complete Street and anything different than that to be something that has to be the exception.

That’s the key. The Bagby location in Midtown where the event was exemplifies this, because the developers of that area had to get a variance from the city in order to proceed. Under this change, they would not need a variance but someone who wanted to build something the old way would. That won’t have any immediate effect on existing streets, but as Rebuild Houston moves forward you should expect to see at least some of the affected streets get redesigned to incorporate this new vision. See here and here for a basic primer on what “complete streets” means.

The Mayor’s press release has more, as does the press release from CM Gonzalez. As noted in the story, the Bagby Midtown location also received certification as the first Greenroads Project in the State of Texas. See beneath the fold for that press release, The Highwayman and Texas Leftist for more on what this will mean in practice, here for more on what it was about Bagby Midtown that got it this certification, and here for more on Greenroads.

Houston, TX (October 10, 2013) – Midtown Redevelopment Authority, the City of Houston and Greenroads Foundation are pleased to announce the first Greenroads Project in the State of Texas has achieved Silver Certification. Midtown’s Bagby Street Greenroads Project blends Low Impact Development (LID) techniques and environmentally-friendly elements into a sustainable roadway construction project.

Matt Thibodeaux, Executive Director for Midtown Redevelopment Authority describes the project as “a chance to show our commitment to this community by investing in truly great projects. Our team has set high standards for not just the physical appearance of the street, but also the relevance of the street to the community, demonstrating leadership in sustainable development and our commitment to maintaining this area after the project is complete.”

Bagby Street is a major collector that connects Downtown Houston to southbound US 59, and it also includes an energetic mixed-use business and pedestrian life. The Greenroads Project includes the reconstruction of Bagby Street from St. Joseph Parkway to Tuam Street and Pierce Street from Baldwin Street to Brazos Street. The primary challenge of the project was to effectively balance the need for automobile circulation with the ever-growing strength of this pedestrian oriented mixed-use environment.

The Bagby Street Greenroads Project effectively balances the needs of automobiles and pedestrians by providing a roadway which incorporates traffic calming measures to slow traffic speeds and reduce ambient road noise levels. Street crossing distances were reduced by 45% making it safer for pedestrians, while ensuring the vehicle level of service remained at acceptable levels.

“The pedestrian elements of Midtown Redevelopment Authority’s Greenroads Project align beautifully with the City of Houston’s Complete Streets initiative, taking into account all users of the street, not just those in cars,” said Mayor Annise D. Parker. “About 40% of Houstonians do not drive and Midtown is highly populated with pedestrians who both live and work nearby. We support any effort to make the streets safer and more comfortable for Houstonians to both work and play.”

In addition, the project incorporated innovative LID techniques in an urban setting and several other environmentally-sustainable elements. Rain gardens, which capture 35% of rainwater for secondary use, provide water quality treatment of stormwater runoff, reduce total runoff volume, and decrease potable water demands for irrigation. The use of specialized fly ash concrete in the pavement reconstruction prevents 300 tons of CO2 from entering the air. Also, beneath the street surface are newly stabilized materials, which will help the project last much longer and reduce long term maintenance needs, saving critical taxpayer dollars. All of these sustainable features help make the first Greenroads Project in the State of Texas unique.

“We are extremely pleased with the efforts and enthusiasm of Midtown Redevelopment Authority and their design and construction team for this Project,” said Jeralee Anderson, Executive Director of Greenroads Foundation. “This project truly sets the bar for future roadway sustainability projects in Houston and throughout the State of Texas as the first in the southwest.”

The Midtown project design team of Walter P Moore and Design Workshop will lead walking tours on October 10th which will showcase Bagby Street’s new sustainable and pedestrian-friendly features. Tours will depart from Mr. Peeples at 1911 Bagby Street following a 1:15pm press conference at the same location where Mayor Parker and other elected officials, as well as representatives from Midtown Redevelopment Authority and Greenroads Foundation will speak.

For more information about Greenroads visit www.greenroads.org.

About the Midtown Redevelopment Authority
The Reinvestment Zone Number Two, City of Houston, Texas (the “Midtown TIRZ”) was created by the City of Houston (the “City”) on December 14, 1994, by Ordinance No. 94-1345 and enlarged by Ordinance No. 95-1322 (collectively, the “Ordinance”) and operates pursuant to the Tax Increment Financing Act, Chapter 311, Texas Tax Code (the “TIF Act”) and the Ordinance. The City created the Midtown TIRZ for the purpose of redevelopment of the area located generally between the central business district of the City and the Museum District /Texas Medical Center area.

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One Comment

  1. Karl ittmann says:

    So at the end of 4 years, prior to the vote for her third term we get this plan? I am sorry but this is simply window dressing. She had plenty of opportunities to make a stand on these issues, but she failed to stand up for more sustainable development. I see this as a cynical ploy. If she fired her director of development I might think she means it.

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