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First Sunday Streets seemed like a success

The weather was kinda lousy but there were plenty of people out on White Oak Street on Sunday.

The city of Houston closed a 2.5 mile stretch of Quitman and White Oak to motor vehicles for four hours on Sunday, encouraging Houstonians to play in the street and explore their neighborhoods pushing strollers or riding bikes.

It was the first closure in the Sunday Streets HTX pilot program, which will close stretches of major thoroughfares the first Sunday of every month. The “open streets” concept started in Bogota, Colombia, more than 30 years ago and has become more popular in American cities in recent years.

Free DJs, Zumba classes, sidewalk chalk art, booths with information on community groups and a farmers market lined the route. But unlike a street festival, the options were spread out and, for the most part, offered by neighborhood businesses rather than vendors who had set up a temporary shop.

One of the core goals, after all, is to get people moving and to see their own communities in a new way, said Laura Spanjian, the city’s director of sustainability.

“We want people to get out and exercise and bike and walk and skate, and really enjoy the open space,” Spanjian said, standing in the middle of White Oak Drive near Houston Avenue.

She smiled as a father rode past on a bicycle with his giggling son, dressed in a Batman costume, balanced on his knee.

“It’s also to have people enjoy the street in a way they aren’t able to most of the time, to see things they might not get to see because they’re driving by in their cars,” Spanjian said.

See here for the background, and the Houston Press for a photo slideshow of the event. We walked over to White Oak and had lunch at Christian’s Tailgate, and it was a fun thing to do on a dreary and wet Sunday. There was a decent amount of people out and about given the rain, but it’s hard to say what the crowd might have been like if the weather had been better. I don’t know what the city was expecting or hoping for. It’s a neat idea and we’ll try at least one if not both of the next ones, on Westheimer May 4 and on Washington June 1. I would be interested to hear some numbers after these events, especially if Mother Nature does her part. If you were there on White Oak on Sunday, what did you think?

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2 Comments

  1. Brad Snead says:

    It was a great event despite the rain. My wife and I live in the Heights and love our street festivals and parties. So we enjoyed that aspect of the event. But possibly the best part in my opinion was crossing 45.

    My wife is Mexican and her family grew up East of 45. The grandmas are still there. And it has always seemed like 45 divided two worlds. On Sunday, with Quitman open, those two worlds touched, even if just for a little while. And under the overpass of 45 sheltered from the rain were three chalkboards for people to write their dreams for Houston. The fact that people from both sides of 45 were writing on the same chalkboard may be the message itself.

    That’s on top of the fact that many people biked or walked 5 miles they otherwise would not have on a rainy Sunday.

    I’m not sure the next events will have the “crossing worlds” aspect, but I thought the event was brilliant and very well done.

  2. Ralfff says:

    It was successful but too short. And it highlighted the extreme sprawl and waste of land on parking that even the more walkable parts of Houston suffer from. It seemed to me that people were biking extra-slowly in the middle of the street, which sort of conveyed the aspect of novelty rather than desirability of pedestrianizing the space or of getting around sans automobile altogether. What all these target areas need is the revocation of parking minimums and narrower streets (Washington and Westheimer more so because of the huge concentration of bars), not gimmick midday experiments on Sunday. It’s just not that nice a road to begin with.

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