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Allen Parkway

The Harvey effect on the Waugh Street Bridge bat colony

It was bad, but we hope they will recover.

Tens of thousands of bats perished or were displaced from their home at the Waugh Bat Colony when Hurricane Harvey swept through the city this summer, according to bat experts.

“Pre-Harvey, we had at least 300,000 bats in the bridge,” said Diana Foss, a wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and coordinator of the Houston area bat team.

“But watching the emergence at Waugh right now is kind of depressingly lower than that,” she continued, describing the daily flood of bats from beneath the bridge at Allen Parkway and Waugh Drive, during which bats emerge en masse at twilight to hunt for food. “What I’m seeing is, about half the bats are emerging.”

When the hurricane dropped more than 50 inches of rain on the city, the bayou’s water downtown surged to record levels. For the first time since the bats took up residence in the cracks beneath the Waugh overpass, the elevated highway was submerged. Bats lacked the 15 feet of clearance they need to drop down from their roosts and take to the sky. Their plight didn’t go unnoticed. Residents tried to save the bats, hanging off the bridge and scooping them from the water as they rushed by. But it wasn’t a perfect science.

[…]

In the days and weeks after the storm, residents noticed a new pattern in the sky during the bats’ evening emergence: In addition to a swarm of winged mammals flying out from beneath the bridge, smaller populations exit from nearby buildings. They join up with the bats from the bridge during their hunt, then return to their new homes for the night, before repeating the same cycle the next day.

Whether these displaced bats will return to their former home under the bridge isn’t yet known, said Cullen Geiselman, a member of the local bat team, who earned her doctorate studying bats.

“I guess they could have moved on,” she said. “We’ve played with some ideas and haven’t gotten very far.”

Houstonia wrote about this in the immediate aftermath. As noted, some number of bats managed to move to other dens, and some others have returned to Waugh. The overall population is definitely smaller, and bats don’t have high reproduction rates, but the hope is that over time the colony under the bridge will get back to its previous side. I’m rooting for them.

I-45 onramp closures coming

From the inbox:

The Texas Department of Transportation will close the Houston Avenue southbound and Allen Parkway eastbound entrance ramps to I-45 southbound on Friday, July 8 to begin construction on new ramps that will improve traffic flow and enhance safety.

Currently, motorists trying to reach I-45 southbound main lanes from Allen Parkway eastbound have to enter from the left or inside lane. This has slowed the approaching traffic on the freeway sometimes causing a bottleneck effect that backs up traffic. The new ramp will connect to the main lanes of IH 45 southbound from the right lane allowing for better flow of traffic along the corridor.

To make room for the new Allen Parkway eastbound entrance ramp to I-45 southbound, the Houston Avenue southbound entrance ramp to I-45 southbound and the connecting bridge before the ramp will also need to be reconstructed. The reconstructed bridge and ramps will provide more efficient and safer access to the I-45 southbound main lanes.

TxDOT will close the existing bridge and ramps on Friday, July 8 to facilitate the construction of the new structures. The Houston Avenue bridge will be completed in late September/ early October of this year and the Houston Avenue/ Rusk and Allen Parkway entrance ramps to I-45 southbound will be open in late November/ early December.

Below is a list of the closures for this project:

  • Total closure of the Allen Parkway eastbound entrance ramp to IH 45 southbound on Friday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m.. Detour during construction is as follows: eastbound on Allen Parkway/ Dallas, right on Smith St.,left on Jefferson St., and follow Jefferson to the I-45 southbound entrance ramp.
  • Total closure of the Houston Avenue southbound entrance ramp to I-45 southbound on Friday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m.and the Houston Avenue southbound bridge at Lubbock and at Rusk on July 8 at 7:30 p.m. Detour during construction is as follows: from Houston Avenue take a left onto Rusk St., right on Smith St., left on Jefferson St., and follow Jefferson St.to the I-45 southbound entrance ramp.

There will also be additional closures to prepare for the bridge and ramp construction at this location. TxDOT will close allmainlanes on I-45 southbound at I-10 beginning Friday, July 8 at 9 p.m. until Monday, July 11 at 5 a.m. Motorists will be detoured to IH 10 eastbound to US 59 southbound to IH 45 southbound.

For more information on scheduled lane closures in the Houston District contact Danny Perez at (713) 802-5077.

Also be sure to visit the Houston TranStar website at www.houstontranstar.org for a complete list of closures related to this constructionproject and other Houston District closures. All closures are subject to change due to inclement weather.  Follow us on Twitter @TxDOTHoustonPIO.

See here and here for the background. This is the implementation of something we first heard about last February. This is going to be painful, but at least it ought to be done in a few months.

To clarify what is being effected, here are a couple of pictures. First, what is being closed:

I-45 onramp closures

The black arrows point to the two to-be-closed onramps. The green arrow at the bottom shows where you will need to go in order to get onto I-45 South from downtown. If you’re saying to yourself “but Jefferson isn’t even next to I-45, how do I get onto I-45 from it”, take a look at this:

I-45 Jefferson entrance

You have to stay on Jefferson all the way through downtown till you pass under US59, then east of Dowling Jefferson elevates and crosses over I-45, where it basically becomes the southbound service road. The actual entrance on to I-45 is down past Cullen Blvd, so you’ve got quite a ways to go, especially if your journey involved taking Houston Avenue. Those of you who work downtown and commute in via the Gulf Freeway, you have been warned.

There’s also more work being done on Allen Parkway.

After a seven-week hiatus for some special events along Buffalo Bayou, major work will resume July 11 on pedestrian and parking improvements along Allen Parkway, part of an $11 million makeover that’s shifted the travel lanes on Allen south.

Officials also confirmed plans to meter parking along the bayou, to encourage turnover of the spots.

“The majority of users are visitors that are walking and jogging, riding their bike, taking their dog to the dog run, etc.,” said Angie Bertinot, director of marketing communications for the Houston Downtown Management District. “The three-hour time limit should suffice.”

Houston Downtown Redevelopment Authority, which is closely aligned with the management district, is overseeing the Allen rehab project expected to be completed in late September.

[…]

Growing demand for amenities in the Buffalo Bayou Park spurred officials to redevelop Allen to add parking, and make crossing the parkway more pedestrian-friendly. Slowing down traffic on the road – notorious for speeders who mistake the parkway for a freeway – also was a goal, downtown and city officials said.

Prior to the work slowdown in late May, traffic on Allen shifted to its new configuration. The remaining work focuses on landscaping, irrigation and some road repaving, said Lonnie Hoogeboom, director of planning and design for the Houston Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

“Also between July 11 and Sept. 30, the contractor will be constructing the new sidewalks with safer connections between Buffalo Bayou Park … and the west end of Sam Houston Park,” Hoogeboom said. “Transplanted live oaks have already been relocated to this area.”

Can’t wait to see what it looks like. We just have to make it through the summer first.

Hey look, a Regent Square update

Sometimes I forget this is still a thing.

In 2007, longtime urbanites said goodbye to the Allen House Apartments, a decades-old complex along Dunlavy just south of Allen Parkway. The multiblock property was a Houston institution, housing hundreds of college students, senior citizens and professionals behind brick walls and wrought-iron balconies that gave it a decidedly New Orleans feel.

The demolition of most of the units there – while marking the end of an era and eliminating scores of reasonably priced inner-city apartments – was done to make way for a more modern development covering 24 acres of prime property. The land has sat mostly dormant during the years following the initial announcement, but several new signs point to a coming revival of the project, Regent Square.

The development was the subject of a meeting Wednesday night of the North Montrose Civic Association. Scott Howard, the association’s treasurer, presented details about the project to residents. He said he had met with an official from the Boston-based development company earlier in the week.

“They’re ready to go,” Howard said, explaining how the project had been shelved during the recession. He showed off booklets the developer had passed along containing renderings and site maps. It was dated Nov. 16, 2015.

Howard told the group, which was meeting in the library of Carnegie Vanguard High School in the Montrose area, that the project would contain 400,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 240,000 square feet of office space, 950 multifamily units and 4,200 parking spaces.

Plans for an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, an entertainment concept that combines a movie theater and dining, in Regent Square are still in the works, as well.

“Alamo is coming to Regent Square,” Neil Michaelsen of Triple Tap Ventures, owner of the Houston locations, said Thursday in an email.

See here for prior updates. The last news we heard about this was almost three years ago, when the announcement was made about the Alamo Drafthouse. The developers did recently finish off a high-end apartment complex a bit down the street on West Dallas, so they haven’t been completely inactive, but I think it’s fair to say the main event has taken a lot longer than anyone might have expected. At this point, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Three I-45 updates

From The Highwayman:

Texas Transportation Commission members on Thursday approved a $3.6 million contract with Main Lane Industries, based in Houston, to replace the entrance ramp from Allen Parkway to southbound I-45. The ramp, which whips drivers through a steep curve before they merge into the fast lane of the southbound freeway, is a well-known bottleneck. Many drivers consider it hazardous.

“It is a confusing entrance and doesn’t work very well,” Jeff Weatherford, Houston’s deputy public works director, said in January.

The project shifts the entrance to the right lanes of southbound I-45 and creates a dedicated lane from Allen Parkway to prevent traffic from backing up. Work is set to begin on the new ramp later this year, and numerous closings and changes to freeway access are planned as work proceeds. The exit ramp from I-45 southbound to Dallas and Pierce could also close. As of earlier this month, the details of the closings were still being worked out.

See here for the background. This work will be done in conjunction with the other work being done on Allen Parkway. As someone who takes the Dallas/Pierce exit to get to work, I’m a little leery of that penultimate sentence. I hope there’s a “temporarily” in there somewhere.

From Jim Weston of the I-45 Coalition on Facebook:

There was a meeting Monday 8/24 & TxDOT showed some updates! This is a work in progress BUT it appears that TxDOT may be listening! NONE OF THESE CHANGES ARE COMPLETE! However, there are indications that TxDOT is listening to the citizens and several changes are planned. Here is a summary of some of the changes, all for Segment 2 (between North of I-10 & South of 610)

1. Houston Ave is back to being 2 way! TxDOT is proposing a ‘roundabout’ (similar to the one at Washington Ave & Westcott). (see drawing)

2. TxDOT has added back the Southbound entrance to I-45 at Houston Ave (TxDOT had deleted it at the April meeting). (see drawing)

3. TxDOT has added an U-Turn lane from the feeder street Southbound to Northbound just before N. Main. (see drawing)

4. TxDOT has removed the proposed connection / roadway from Houston Ave to North Street nearest to I-45.

5. TxDOT has added back the Northbound entrance to I-45 from Quitman.

6. TxDOT WILL NOW provide the crossbeams on the section of I-45 that will be below grade. This is GREAT! Now we just need the ‘slab’ that goes on top of the crossbeams. If we can convince TxDOT to include that, it will be much easier to create green space in this area.

7. TxDOT will create a service road on the East side of I-45 from Quitman to N. Main.

8. The North St. bridge might NOT be replaced. TxDOT does not know yet if there is sufficient clearance for a vehicular bridge. If not a vehicular bridge, then a pedestrian/bike bridge will replace it the existing bridge.

9. Traffic from the Southbound exit from I-45 near 610 was exiting at Link Rd – TxDOT has changed that to Cavalcade exit instead.

The changes, which will generally be welcomed by folks in my neighborhood, have not yet been posted to the TxDOT website, but they will be. The comments on the post indicate there were notes on the other segments of this proposed project, so if you’re affected by it you might want to keep an eye out on the webpage, or find someone who attended that meeting.

And finally, a Chron story about the potential effects of I-45 construction in downtown.

The owner of a 375-unit upscale multifamily complex stands to have a third of its apartments taken for the project. And a nearly century-old building that just this week received a designation from city preservation officials as a protected historic landmark appears to be around the edge of the project’s proposed right of way.

Unveiled by the Texas Department of Transportation earlier this year, the freeway project proposes to add managed lanes to Interstate 45 from the Sam Houston Tollway in north Houston to U.S. 59 south of downtown. Additionally, plans call for removing the Pierce Elevated and realigning I-45 to be parallel to U.S. 59 east of the George R. Brown Convention Center. It is expected to cost more than $6 billion and take years to complete.

Some freeway segments have been designed as depressed roadways with local street traffic flowing above them. Plans show green space above the freeways east of the convention center and between Cavalcade and Quitman streets.

TxDOT is still in the analysis and environmental impact assessment phases of the project and its plans are subject to change. Spokesman Danny Perez said it would not begin acquiring property until TxDOT had “officially determined the recommended alternative, completed the environmental impact review and have a record of decision.”

“We are working toward getting environmental clearance in 2017,” Perez said in an email. “The date of clearance would be the earliest we could start acquiring right of way.”

[…]

David Denenburg recently bought the historic red brick building, a sliver of which is behind the red line on the map, and he’s already started restoring the five-story structure at the corner of Preston and St. Emanuel.

David Bush, acting executive director of Preservation Houston, said federal and state projects take precedence over local historic designations.

“We feel confident we can work around a matter of a few feet to save one of Houston’s historic buildings still standing,” said Denenburg, who owns the property with other investors.

Another block within the proposed right of way contains a large apartment building, one of three structures that make up the Lofts at the Ballpark complex.

Stacy Hunt of Greystar, which manages the property, said the project appears to be a long way off, but the owner of the complex, a pension fund adviser out of Boston, is aware of the possible repercussions.

“The people we represent are very concerned,” Hunt said.

It’s a big change, though as we have seen there are still a lot of pieces to it that are not yet finalized. The environmental impact assessment is where much of those details will be worked out. I’ll say again, this is something all the Mayoral candidates should have an opinion about, because whatever happens will take place on their watch. What kind of changes, good and bad, do they want to see or are they willing to accept in downtown? We need to know.

Allen Parkway 2.0

Changes are a-comin’.

Lane closings are scheduled to start soon along Allen Parkway – slowing traffic – so workers can complete a redesign of the road – meant to slow traffic.

The long-planned overhaul, which will add parking along Buffalo Bayou’s popular trail system and improve connections between the parkway and intersecting streets, starts next Monday, officials with the Houston Downtown Redevelopment Authority said. Work on the $11 million redesign should conclude before the Free Press Summer Festival at Eleanor Tinsley Park in late May or early June.

In the interim, motorists on the parkway will have fewer lanes in some places and will lose access to certain streets for a few weeks. The payoff, eventually, will be a much better, slower parkway, officials said.

“For us this project has been about safe access and parking,” said Ryan Leach, executive director of the downtown redevelopment authority. “Safety was foremost in our minds and getting access to this great asset we have been building for the past few years.”

Joggers and cyclists now must make a mad dash from one side of the parkway to the other.

“It’s Frogger,” said Cliff Eason, 30, comparing the trip to a video game.

[…]

By the time thousands descend on the music festival – which downtown officials said will return to the bayou from its site this year at NRG Park – the parkway will be a parkway again. It will still have three traffic lanes in each direction, but with wider, tree-lined medians and improved pedestrian crossings at Taft, Gillette and Dunlavy. A special pedestrian crossing signal will be installed at Park Vista Drive, making it much easier to access Buffalo Bayou and the park and trail system from south of the parkway.

City officials say the changes are vital to make the most of the bayou park system and to return Allen Parkway to its intended purpose as a slow drive. As changes were made over the years to help facilitate automobile traffic, many drivers got into the habit of speeding up.

Drivers on the road commonly exceed the 40 mph posted limit. A number of high-profile crashes also have occurred on the road, including a 2009 crash that killed lawyer John O’Quinn. Investigators said O’Quinn was speeding on the rain-slicked street and he and a passenger, Johnny Lee Cutliff, were not wearing seat belts. Cutliff also died in the accident.

In addition to crossings and intersection changes, the project will add another critical component for access to the park: parking. By shifting the parkway south – eliminating a frontage road that runs along the eastbound lanes – officials are adding 149 diagonal parking spaces along the bayou trail.

See here for some background. Swapping the little-used service road for parking makes a lot of sense, given how much the trails and the dog park have become a destination. I’m never crazy about adding traffic lights in this town, but I can’t argue with the one at Dunlavy. I don’t know that lowering the posted speed from 40 to 35 will actually slow things down – I think there would need to be a steady presence of traffic cops writing tickets to make that happen – but again given the presence of a lot of non-car traffic, that makes sense. As the story notes, the total time added for a trip all the way from Kirby to downtown at 35 instead of 40 is less than a minute. Surely we can all live with that.

Remaking Allen Parkway

It’ll be different, but it makes sense.

Next summer, after workers have spent months shifting lanes, adding crosswalks and planting trees, Allen Parkway will be a parkway again, at the cost of a slight slowing of vehicle traffic and the reintroduction of traffic signals.

Partnering with the Downtown Houston Management District, city officials expect to start construction on a redesigned parkway after July 4, the date of the Freedom Over Texas celebration in Eleanor Tinsley Park just north of the parkway. The goal, downtown district president Bob Eury said, is to finish the work in time for Free Press Summer Fest in late May 2016.

When completed, the $10 million in changes planned will improve pedestrian and bicyclist access from Midtown and Montrose to the Buffalo Bayou park system and add up to 175 parking spaces for visitors to the growing outdoor offerings along the bayou.

“The goal we have is how do we improve access to this park,” said Andy Icken, chief development officer for the city.

[…]

The work planned doesn’t dramatically change the parkway’s design, only its intersections and medians. Allen Parkway is essentially three strips of pavement separated by small concrete medians. The westbound and eastbound main lanes are accompanied by an access road south of the parkway.

The redesign shifts the eastbound and westbound lanes south and converts the existing westbound lanes into an access road and parking area.

Between the lanes, officials plan grassy medians planted with small trees, meant to calm traffic and bring back some sense of an enjoyable drive.

“We are making Allen Parkway a real parkway and not a raceway,” [CM Ellen] Cohen said.

The most dramatic adjustment for drivers will be signals at four key places.

At Dunlavy, Taft and Gillette, traffic signals will give pedestrians and drivers a safer way to turn onto the parkway. Closer to downtown, officials plan a pedestrian-activated crossing, similar to the signals used along the new light rail line near the University of Houston campus.

The light stays green most of the time until activated by someone needing to cross the street. It then warns drivers by following the traditional shift from green to yellow to red, stopping traffic to let the person cross, then turning green again.

As a driver, I will miss the stoplight-free experience (except for Taft Street eastbound) that has always made Allen Parkway such a pleasure. As someone who would like to take more advantage of the new dog park and other non-car amenities, I approve. There’s no safe place to cross the street east of Montrose. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen, so taking action now is the right move. As the story notes, those lights will be green most of the time, and will add at most a minute to one’s driving time end to end. We can all live with that. If you need something to help you achieve inner peace with this, let me recommend the Psalm for Allen Parkway, which I’m going to copy here because I can’t believe that the defunct Houstonist website is still available:

1 On Allen from Shepherd, I shall not stop.

2 She maketh me to drive down concrete pastures:
she weaveth me beside the brown waters

3 She adoreth my stroll:
she leadeth me to the paths of Montroseness or the Waugh’s take.

4 Yea, though I haul through the valley of the radar of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art speedy;
the cops on Memorial they shake fists at me.

5 Thou preparest a jog path before me in the presence of El’nor Tinsley:
thou doth pointest to down-town toil,
my trip almost over.

6 Surely good views quite worthy shall carry me all through haze and the blight:
and I will dwell on your curves with my Ford forever.

Amen.

Small fix, big (we hope) effect

This would be nice.

Take the entrance ramp from Allen Parkway to southbound Interstate 45. Everyone from drivers to transportation officials knows it is a problem.

“At this location there are entrance ramps from both Memorial Drive and from Allen Parkway which merge onto the freeway on the right and left sides, respectively, at the same location,” said Raquelle Lewis, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation. “This is an unusual arrangement and is unexpected from a driver’s perspective. This configuration is the cause of nearly constant congestion at this location as main lane traffic slows to accommodate merging traffic on both sides of the freeway.”

Entering and exiting freeways to street traffic from the left long ago fell out of favor as a design option, and is largely a holdover only in metro areas. Studies have shown left entrances and exits cause drivers to make hazardous, split-second aggressive moves, for example.

[…]

Toward the end of 2015, work will start to redesign the entrance ramps so Memorial and Allen Parkway both merge from the right side of the southbound lanes. It’s a fix, at $2 million, that is much cheaper than more lanes or some gigantic rehabilitation of the freeway. The effect, however, might be greater than $2 million usually buys.

Like the alterations to I-45 south of downtown, this project is funded by the mechanism created by the adoption of statewide Proposition 1 last year. I presume what they’ll be doing here is rerouting the Allen Parkway ramp to the other side of the freeway, so there will be just one entrance on the right. That will help, but my guess is it won’t make that much difference. In my experience, the vast majority of entering traffic comes from there already, and the often steady flow of vehicles on the short merge lane is a big cause of the bottleneck there. (I would also note that it’s not that long ago there was no merge lane at all – on either side at that juncture, you were pretty much entering from a stop.) The bigger problem is that I-45 narrows down to two lanes at the exit for US59/SH288. The solution to that, if there really is a viable one, isn’t going to be that cheap or that easy.

Alamo Drafthouse at Regent Square

This is an interesting development.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which is opening its second area location Thursday in Vintage Park Shopping Village, just announced that it will open a third location in the Inner Loop mixed-use project Regent Square, where it will also show outdoor movies in a park there.

[…]

At Regent Square, occasional outdoor movies will be among such other park activities as concerts and farmer’s markets, said James Linsley, president of its Boston-based developer, GID Development Group.

The park plaza will feature a portable movie screen and serve as “another anchor,” Linsley said.

“Since Alamo Drafthouse is the premier theater operator, we thought we should collaborate with them on programming the outdoor movies,” he said.

The 4.2 million-square-foot Regent Square project, already under construction, will include a 21-story luxury apartment high rise at 3233 West Dallas and other retail and residential components.

The Alamo Drafthouse, part of the project’s phase 2, will begin construction later this year.

That’s very cool, and I’m certainly happy that I’ll have the chance to visit an Alamo Drafthouse without having to take a road trip, but I shudder to think what traffic will be like once that’s been built. West Dallas and Dunlavy aren’t exactly major thoroughfares, and the proximity to Allen Parkway will make this even dicier. I foresee a traffic light on Allen Parkway at Dunlavy when this is built, which totally ruins the Allen Parkway Psalm. Alas.

As long as I’m talking about parking, let me be the first to suggest that this new Alamo Drafthouse do what it can to provide bike parking, preferably in a covered location. The area around Regent Square is already densely populated, and I’d bet that folks who live around there would be willing to bike in. Hell, if the traffic is as heavy as I suspect it will be, it’ll probably be quicker to bike there if you live within a one mile radius or so. There will be a B-Cycle kiosk nearby, at the Sabine Bridge; perhaps a second location at the theater is a good idea, as well. Paging Laura Spanjian…

Alamo Drafthouse had previously announced plans for a Midtown location at a proposed development on Louisiana, but [Neil Michaelsen, CEO of Triple Tap Ventures, owner of its Houston-area locations] said his group now is “reviewing alternate sites in Midtown for an Alamo and is committed to bringing the concept to that market.”

That announcement was last May. I wonder what happened to make them change directions so quickly. Still, between that and the other new high-end theater mentioned in the story, which will be on Westheimer just inside the Loop, there will be more close-in movie options than we’ve had in a long time, at least since the days of the old Bellaire Theater.

Regent Square gets off the ground

This has been a long time coming.

More than five years after announcing plans for the 24-acre Regent Square project off Allen Parkway, GID Development Group has begun construction on the first building, a 21-story apartment tower called The Sovereign.

[…]

GID said it remains committed to Regent Square, which is to go up in multiple phases on land abutting Allen Parkway near Dunlavy and Dallas, on the site of the old Allen House Apartments. The development could take 10 years to complete.

Plans include about 400,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space; more than 1,500 residential units; and 250,000 square feet of office space in what the developer refers to as an “urban district” where residents can walk to everything. The walkable nature of the project extends beyond its borders, [GID President James] Linsley said, with a pedestrian trail around Buffalo Bayou and high-end shops and a new Whole Foods a short distance away.

Additional construction could begin in about a year as the company is “moments away” from signing up a major retail tenant, Linsley said.

We heard about movement on this front in May. Like many other projects, it was the collapse of the economy that brought it to a halt. I’m glad to see it finally get going, that’s far too valuable a property to sit vacant like that. Prime Property has more.

Buffalo Bayou begins its makeover

This is going to be great.

The jogging and biking trails that wind through Buffalo Bayou Park west of downtown are about to get a bit more circuitous as a $55 million effort to transform the area into an iconic green space for Houston begins in earnest this month.

[…]

The Harris County Flood Control District will kick off $5.1 million worth of earthwork along the bayou next month, dredging silt from the channel, fixing erosion problems and pulling or planting vegetation.

“It’s a very popular area. The challenge is leaving the park open for the public to use while we have large construction equipment in there,” said Sandra Musgrove, infrastructure division director for the flood control district. “I just hope people will be patient and tolerate all the construction, because the end result will be a really nice park.”

The district generally will work westward, reaching Shepherd by December 2014. The partnership will follow, extending the landscaping, distinctive blue lighting and waterside jogging trails it built between Bagby and Sabine to Shepherd by spring 2015.

Work to replace the main hike-and-bike trail through the park already has begun, overseen by the Texas Department of Transportation.

See here for full details of the plan, and this Swamplot post from last year for more pictures. Buffalo Bayou Park is already one of this city’s great amenities. The completion of this project will make it that much better.

A history of Allen Parkway

Cool.

When the roadway now known as Allen Parkway was new, it was the primary route between downtown Houston and a new residential community, River Oaks.

“It was in 1923 when the Hogg brothers and Hugh Potter decided to build River Oaks as a country-home community,” said Marks Hinton, author of “Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind Names”(Bright Sky Press, $19.95).

The neighborhood development inspired the creation of Houston’s first parkway.

The two-lane road, named Buffalo Drive, was built between 1925 and 1926.

Buffalo Drive’s route begins downtown and spans westward 2.3 miles to Shepherd Drive at the eastern boundary of River Oaks. It also serves as the southern border of what later became Buffalo Bayou Park.

Even before the development of River Oaks, interest existed in creating an east-west thoroughfare in the area, historian Betty Chapman said.

“In 1910, the city was deciding how to develop more parkland,” she said. “A landscape architect told the city the natural setting along the bayou would be ideal for parks.”

That was when city leaders started planning parkways to access park developments, Chapman said.

It’s an interesting history of one of Houston’s best roads, so check it out. I will say, though, that the best thing ever written about Allen Parkway was this 23rd Psalm-inspired ode on Houstonist that is thankfully still findable despite the site going defunct. Enjoy!

Regent Square update

I drive down Allen Parkway several times a week, and I’ve been wondering when the Regent Square site, which has been vacant since the old Allen House was demolished in October of 2007, will begin construction. Ralph Bivins provides an update.

Developer John Darrah is the keeper of the vision. The flame still flickers. The delays have been long. Years have passed since the billion-dollar vision for Regent Square was announced. But the developer still believes these 24 acres of urban land off of Allen Parkway in the northern part of Montrose, will be the site of a phenomenal new project with high-rise condos, stores and offices.

“We’ve owned the land for 24 years and we are very much proceeding with the development,” says Darrah, vice president in charge of the project for Boston-based GID Urban Development Group, a division of the General Investment and Development Companies.

Regent Square was talked about in 2006. It was formally announced in January 2007. Construction was supposed to start in 2008 and part of it should have been finished by now.

But the recession came along. Lenders quit lending. Retailers quit expanding. And new construction projects became a rarity. So Regent Square, like many other proposed developments, was put on hold.

Darrah now says groundbreaking for the project is anticipated in 2012.

Sometimes I feel like the recession won’t be truly over in Houston until some of these longdormant projects finally get underway. Seems we’ve still got a ways to go on that.

The bridge formerly known as Tolerance

Remember Tolerance Bridge? That was the bridge that was supposed to connect pedestrian and bike trails along Allen Parkway with those on Memorial Drive near Montrose Boulevard. Unfortunately, no one liked the name, so the Houston Arts Alliance was sent back to the drawing board. They’ve finished their work, and last Saturday work was started on the new crossing.

When completed, the Rosemont Bridge will provide pedestrians, bicyclists and joggers with a safe route across Memorial Drive to Buffalo Bayou Park. The bridge will span Memorial Drive and Buffalo Bayou and connect the two sides of Buffalo Bayou Park, west of Eleanor Tinsley Park and east of the Studemont-Montrose Boulevard Bridge. The new bridge will also connect to a new trail being built along Memorial Drive. This trail will run from the Sabine Street Bridge to Spotts Park and will allow joggers a new alternative for outdoor exercise.

Sadly, according to Offcite, the Alliance was unable to raise the funds for the way-cool Moebius Strip sculpture that was to go with the bridge. Alas. Click that link to see pictures and scans of the full plans for the bridge. I don’t know what the expected completion date is, so we’ll see if this is ready in time for the Art Car Parade or not.

Council OKs TIRZ deal for Regent Square

The deal to jumpstart Regent Square, the idle development on Allen Parkway, was approved by City Council yesterday.

The program, approved unanimously by City Council, will reimburse the developer of Regent Square — a 4-million-square-foot community that will abut Allen Parkway near Dunlavy and Dallas — for public improvements the developer has agreed to make to public roadways, sidewalks and streetscapes. The money will come from tax revenue generated by the development and will be paid through the Memorial Heights Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, or TIRZ.

In exchange, Boston-based GID Urban Development Group, which had been on the brink of putting the project on hold indefinitely, has agreed to begin work on the public improvements by Oct. 1, and initiate the private aspects of the property by Oct. 1, 2010. It also will provide 150 free parking spaces and rehabilitate a nearby historically black cemetery.

White said he generally has shied away from such public-private development efforts, but would continue to review opportunities on a case-by-case basis for distressed properties, such as Sharpstown Mall and for other major projects already in the works that have been delayed or canceled amid the national economic crisis.

In this case, the overriding question was whether the city would get the same benefits without the reimbursement, White said, adding that he did not believe it would.

“I would say that this is an unusual project in its scale and scope to be started in a big urban city today when real estate markets are seizing up,” he said.

Critics contend that the economic development effort is an artificial benefit to the economy, one that creates winners and losers in the marketplace.

“If these projects are stalling and developers are saying they’re not going to execute them, well, that’s the market and the market has slowed down,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of GoodJobsFirst, a national watchdog of public economic subsidies. LeRoy said the city could do further harm to the local real estate market by helping add capacity when there is less demand, or creating more commercial space when rents already are growing soft.

The more I think about this, the more I think that the objections raised here and in the earlier story don’t add up to much. By the time the developer gets started on the project, the economy may be in far better shape and the real estate market may be back to normal. It’s not like this is a speculative area, either – there’s some high-end stuff immediately around it, and the location and view can’t be beat. And the city will get some infrastructure improvements out of it as well – just working on the sidewalks puts this in the W column as far as I’m concerned. So while this sort of thing definitely needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis, this particular case made a lot of sense to do.

Further, as Council Member Brown says in this KHOU story from Tuesday night, it’s not like the city has never done this sort of thing before. The fact that it didn’t even draw a token No vote from the likes of CMs Holm or Sullivan, and the fact that none of the people who could be Mayor by the time this project gets underway have raised any objections says to me this is no big deal.

Multiways

Andrew continues the ongoing discussion of transit options in Houston with a look at multiway boulevards.

Basically, a multiway is an urban thoroughfare combining express through lanes in the middle with local access lanes on the sides. These local lanes are where the real magic is, they provide parking and a space for pedestrians and cyclists that is separated from the rush of traffic in the middle. They also help keep the main lanes flowing by keeping them clear of turning movements.

It’s a long post, with illustrations, so click over and read. I think this is in general a good idea, and while there apparently aren’t any such plans on the H-GAC drawing boards right now, I know they have been discussed before – the 100 Percent Plan from 2003 included, among other things, a call to convert roads like SH6 and FM1960 into Allen Parkway-like “super streets”. While I think that has merit, it’s not clear to me if there would really be the room to convert, say, Kirby Drive to this format. Cost is a big factor as well – the entire 100 Percent Plan had a massive $21 billion price tag on it back then, but I have no idea how much of that was for just this kind of project. Still, those same things could be said about any suggestions for new light rail routes, so let’s just put that aside and consider it at a conceptual level. Check it out.

Not so Tolerance Bridge

Remember Tolerance Bridge? When it was first announced, a lot of people expressed ambivalence (at best) about the name. Now the city has joined in on that.

“It has too many hints of negativity,” said Councilman Jarvis Johnson. “It’s like my grandmother saying ‘I will not tolerate somebody yelling.’ I don’t want to just ‘tolerate’ any other culture, I want to embrace it, if you’re really talking about unity.”

After announcing the project in early December, Mayor Bill White received some feedback about the title, and asked the Houston Arts Alliance to contact its membership for more ideas. The organization is taking suggestions through Jan. 31.

Here’s the Alliance’s website. I don’t know who is supposed to be suggesting alternate names to them, since I don’t see anything there that’s soliciting feedback, but I suppose you can use their contact page if you feel so inclined.

Neither the city nor Houston Arts Alliance could say who will make the final decision on a name, although [philanthropist Mica] Mosbacher said she is still looking for donors, so someone who gives “a major gift” could have “final input” on the name.

[Artist and blogger Bill] Davenport predicted it would all be for naught in the end.

“Inevitably, public art projects get nicknames,” he said. “They should just build it and wait to see what people nickname it. The people will win out.”

I kinda like that idea, and I say that as someone who had no objections to the original name. With the unique design this bridge will have, some wiseguy will come up with something.