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More on the high speed rail station in Houston

The Chron frets about it not being downtown.

After hearing so much about how the proposed Central Texas Railway will help people commute between the central business districts of Houston and Dallas, it turns out that the Houston station will be built near the Northwest Mall at U.S. 290 and Loop 610.

Unless your business is antiques, that location isn’t exactly central. In fact, the French have a phrase to describe rail stations that sit outside central business districts, surrounded by little more than a parking lot: beet field stations.

We’ve heard arguments that, while it isn’t an economic core itself, the proposed rail terminus serves as the center of Houston’s economic footprint, balanced between the energy corridor, Galleria area, downtown, The Woodlands and the Texas Medical Center. But it isn’t just about placing riders at the physical center of a region. Central business districts offer convenient connections to riders’ end destinations. This means walking to hotels or businesses, grabbing a cab or connecting to a local mass-transit system. Downtown Houston is one of the few parts of town that can meet all those standards.

Rail stations on the edge of urban areas aren’t necessarily a bad thing, according to a June report by Eric Eidlin of the U.S. Federal Transit Administration that documented best rail practices from around the world. Sometimes it makes sense to build on more affordable, suburban property. However, those stations function best when they’re at the core of a transit node. Metro’s Northwest Transit Center isn’t enough.

[…]

Metro’s version of commuter rail – Park and Ride – has stations that are little more than parking lots. Those are the dreaded beet field stations that, according to Eidlin’s report, do little to attract economic development.

There’s plenty of opportunities for Houston’s high-speed rail station to connect with the rest of the city, such as a Metro’s planned dedicated bus lanes in Uptown, or even light rail toward downtown. But according to best practices, that groundwork for a mass-transit hub should already be laid by the time the new high-speed rail station is built. Keith said the Central Texas Railway planned to break ground in 2017. Where is Metro’s corresponding local plan?

Jarrett Walker has a response to this.

In Citylab, Eric Jaffe gives us the supposedly bad news that the proposed Dallas-Houston High Speed Rail (HSR) line won’t go to “downtown” Houston.  Instead it will end atNorthwest Mall, just outside the I-610 loop in the northwest of the city.

But most of the Houston transit-advocates I’ve talked with aren’t sounding nearly as upset.  That’s because:

  • the proposed terminal is close to the centroid of Houston as a whole.  It’s also very close to Uptown-Galleria, the region’s second downtown, and to Northwest Transit Center, the busiest transit hub in the western 2/3 of the city.
  • the terminal station area is massively redevelopable.  You could easily build yet another downtown there, and if HSR is built, they probably will.
  • the project will provide great impetus for light rail or Bus Rapid Transit linking the station to the original downtown.  These projects have been sketched many times and could include either I-10 nonstop links or a refurbishment of Washington Street, a promising old streetcar street linking the two nodes.
  • in high speed rail, the cost of the last miles into an historic downtown can be a huge part of the cost and grief of the whole project.  So if you want high-speed rail to happen at all, provoking this battle is not always a sensible part of Phase 1.

The bigger challenge, for folks from strongly single-centered cities, is to notice the limits of the term downtown.  As cities grow, there is no correlation between the sustainability of a city and its single-centeredness.  On the contrary, single-centered cities present huge problems for transportation, because they use capacity so inefficiently.  New York, for example, is spending over $10 billion on a project to fit more Long Island commuter trains into Manhattan, and to put them closer to jobs there.  The demand is mostly one-way, so this requires either storing trains all day on expensive Manhattan real estate, or running them all empty in the reverse-peak direction.   It’s very inefficient compared to the transit problem in a multi-centered place like Paris or Los Angeles, where demand is flowing two-way most of the time.

So growing a single downtown isn’t the key to becoming a great transit city.  Quite the opposite, it’s best to have a pattern of many centers, all generating high demand, and supporting balanced two-way flows between them that let us move more people on less infrastructure.  This is the great advantage of Paris or Los Angeles or the Dutch Randstad over Chicago or Manhattan.

There’s a good discussion in the comments to that post, if you want to read some more. My thoughts are as follows:

1. The decision to put the terminus at 290 and 610 was as much a political choice as anything else. Right now, Texas Central mostly has political enemies in the rural and suburban counties between Houston and Dallas, with some spillover into neighboring rural counties. The legislators who represent these areas include some fairly powerful people, but there aren’t that many of them. The one key vote regarding Texas Central, in a Senate committee, went in their favor because there were more Senators from urban areas like the Metroplex and Harris County who favored the idea. The last thing Texas Central needs is more enemies, and that’s what they would have gotten if they had pushed for a downtown terminus, as plenty of inner Loop folks didn’t like the idea of the trains whizzing through their neighborhoods. Yeah, there’s a NIMBY aspect to this, but the fact remains that a downtown terminus would have had more legislators aligning with the anti-high-speed rail folks. Texas Central didn’t need or want that, and this was the easiest solution to that problem.

2. As long as we’re noting the politics of high-speed rail, let’s also note that Metro is where it is today in large part because of political forces, which among other things have forced them to make dubious promises about not building light rail in the dedicated lanes now being intended for the Uptown BRT line. Metro did plenty to sabotage itself during the early days of the light rail approval process, but they have also had to fight against considerable headwinds, for which the main casualty has been the Universities line. I don’t know what the landscape would look like if there had been a more favorable political climate over the past dozen or so years, but I think we can all agree that it would be different.

3. The area around 290 and 610 where this would be built isn’t much to write home about, but let’s be clear: Pretty much everywhere along 610 between I-10 and TC Jester is a wasteland right now, largely because of freeway construction. At some point, all that construction will be over, and the area can begin to develop into something. When that might be, I have no idea. Prospects for that area may be limited regardless, because access to it is limited by the various freeway interchanges. But if there was ever a time to build something around there, now is as good as any because it’s all going to change over the next five to ten years anyway.

4. I think a lot of concerns go away if 1) the Uptown BRT line gets built; 2) an Inner Katy line, which would connect downtown to Uptown via Washington Avenue and the Northwest Transit Center, gets on the drawing board; and 3) the Universities Line gets back into the discussion. Put those things in place, and this terminus much more accessible to the rest of the city. #1 will happen on its own if nothing torpedoes it. #2 has been the subject of what-if speculation for financial assistance from Texas Central. Not clear how that might work, but it sure would be worth talking about. As for #3, I think everyone agrees that once the Uptown line is built and assuming it’s a success, the argument for connecting it to the Main Street line becomes nearly unassailable. Metro would have to hold another referendum to make that happen per the terms of the peace accord with John Culberson, and for sure all the usual forces against any kind of spending on rail construction will come to the fore. But it could happen, and if these things do happen we’ll be much better off.

From industrial to residential

More changes coming to my neck of the woods.

Some of the old warehouses lining a stretch of Sawyer Street across Interstate 10 from the Heights are being primed for new development, as this First Ward area continues to morph from industrial hub to an upscale artsy neighborhood.

Houston-based Lovett Commercial is transforming a 1950s warehouse at Sawyer and Edwards into Sawyer Yards, which will have about 40,000 square feet of space for restaurants, retail or offices.

The company is looking to fill another 5-acre parcel at 2000 Taylor just south of I-10 at Spring Street. The property is across from the Sawyer Heights Target.

H-E-B quashed rumors that it was considering opening a store there, though the grocery chain has been looking around.

“That’s not a piece of land we’re looking at,” said spokeswoman Cyndy Garza-Roberts. “We’ve had an interest of moving into the Heights area for several years now. We just have not been able to identify a location.”

Jon Deal, who has developed artist studios in the area, is planning another project at the old Riviana rice facility at Sawyer and Summer.

The project is called the Silos on Sawyer, and it will include artist studios, creative workspaces and some retail.

The main building contains more than 50,000 square feet.

Deal said he, Steve Gibson and Frank Liu of Lovett Commercial own – separately or in partnerships – at least 35 contiguous acres in the area.

They hope to master-plan the acreage.

“Ideally we’re going to be a campus-type creative community,” Deal said. “It’ll look and feel like a master-planned development in the end, although it’ll keep its raw edge.”

The area is part of a cultural district recognized by the state, Deal said. The program is not currently being funded, he said, but when it is, it will allow artists to seek grant money.

There’s an awful lot of activity going on in this general area, which stretches from Studemont to Houston Avenue between I-10 and Washington Avenue. I consider it a positive for the most part – the existing industrial area didn’t exactly add much to the quality of life in the larger area, and a lot of it is not actively used now anyway – but there are concerns. Mostly, traffic on the north-south streets – Studemont, Sawyer, and Houston – is already a problem, and there are limited options to ameliorate it. Sawyer, for example, is a narrow one-lane-each-way street south of the Target retail center, and as you can see from the embedded image or this Google Map link, there aren’t any other options thanks to the active freight train tracks, which by the way regularly block traffic on Sawyer and Heights. (This is part of the corridor that would be used for some variation of commuter/high speed/light rail, if and when it ever happens.) There is at least the off-road Heights bike trail along Spring Street that connects the area to the Heights (passing under I-10) and downtown (passing under I-45), and there is a sidewalk along Sawyer; it definitely needs an upgrade, and there’s a lot of potential to make it much nicer when the properties west of Sawyer get sold for development, but at least it’s there. The potential exists to turn this part of town into a compelling modern urban residential/mixed-use area. In the absence of any unified vision for the myriad developers to draw inspiration, I hope at least no one does anything to permanently derail such a thing.

More concerns about the high speed rail route

Some people who live not far from me are not very happy about the high speed rail line possibly running through their neighborhood.

The prospect of a high-speed train crossing through First Ward into downtown Houston has residents scrambling to weigh in on the proposal.

“I’m completely opposed to this project. I believe we can work collaboratively, but I don’t think the infrastructure of our neighborhood should be destroyed,” says Alexandra Orzeck, whose home is next to existing rail right-of-way eyed as a potential route for Texas Central Railway’s “bullet train” between Houston and Dallas. Property she owns in Rice Military also could be impacted.

Many of her neighbors agreed during a recent meeting to discuss the project with TCR President Robert Eckels, who is a former Harris County judge and state legislator, and David Hagy, the company’s community outreach director.

[…]

Ideally, the train would enter Houston’s central business district and connect riders with other local transit, maybe even other high-speed routes. But the train route might end elsewhere, like on Loop 610 or even further out on Beltway 8, Eckels said. A draft environmental impact statement being devised now by the Federal Railroad Administration and Texas Department of Transportation will factor into those decisions.

[…]

Local neighborhoods are particularly concerned since the rail company would have eminent domain authority to acquire property needed to build the high-speed rail.

Over the past decade, First Ward has enjoyed a residential and artistic renaissance. New, multistory townhomes continue to wedge their way into the neighborhood, which has a recently designated historic district. The well-known Winter Street and Silver Street artist studios helped establish a state Cultural Arts District here. More studios are coming soon.

Stakeholders say one of two preferred routes for the TCR project could bisect the Washington Avenue corridor on existing rail lines, either on Winter Street or Girard, where rail right of way is squeezed to 50 feet in some place. TCR has said it needs 80 feet.

Local leaders hesitate to support the other preferred route, too, because it impacts Near Northside neighborhoods. TCR should continue to investigate a third route that follows the Hardy corridor into downtown, they said.

Similar concerns are expressed in this Leader News story. A route along the Hardy corridor would make a Woodlands station feasible, so the folks here will have at least one set of allies in that quest. As we’ve discussed before, these are the same issues that will have to be dealt with if a commuter rail line moves forward as well. Of course, commuter trains don’t move at 200 MPH, so there’s that. At the very least, you’d want to review the Super Neighborhood 22 transportation master plan from 2010 that called for putting the existing freight rail tracks in that corridor into a trench to avoid at grade street crossings. It should be noted that Tom Dornbusch, one of the architects of that study, doesn’t think trenching would be sufficient to accommodate the high speed line; among other things, the corridor is too narrow, by Texas Central Railway’s own design specs.

Eckels mentions other possible locations for the line’s terminal, but putting it downtown really needs to be the goal. Just from a connectivity perspective, it makes the most sense. If that makes a Woodlands-friendly I-45/Hardy Toll Road approach the best option, then so be it. Someone will need to convince TCR and the state and federal officials of that.

The process of drafting an environmental impact statement will require TCR to respond to concerns including social and cultural impacts.

The process has been extended to Jan. 9. First Ward residents are asking that the railway administration schedule a public meeting in Houston.

That sounds sensible to me. Give everyone who would be affected the chance to have their say.

Good news and bad news on the Washington Avenue parking benefit district

As you may recall, a bit more than a year ago Council approved a plan to create a “parking benefit district” for the Washington Avenue corridor, which is a fancy way of saying they approved the installation of parking meters whose revenue would then be used to help pay for infrastructure improvements in the area, which could certainly use them. The first parking meters were installed last May, with the idea being that after 18 months Council would rewiew how it’s going and possibly make changes or even scrap the whole thing. So how is it going? Like the title says, there’s good news and bad news.

Meet the meter

Defying doomsday scenarios, paid parking doesn’t seem to have dented sales along Washington, which is set to welcome new shops, restaurants and bars this year. The wait at restaurants is as long as ever, and revelers dash across the street at all hours of the night while the clubs are open.

But parking revenue is below expectations, potentially delaying improvements like wider sidewalks and trees.

Residents worked with the city to form the parking district and start metered parking along Washington last May, in the hope of curbing the problem of people swarming the neighborhoods and flooding the streets with cars late into the night.

Businesses worried the new rules would drive business elsewhere, saying parking hassles might threaten the economic growth that made the corridor desirable in the first place.

Parking problems seem to be reduced after nearly nine months of paid parking, and taxable sales at businesses have not slumped.

“Nobody’s office phones are getting lit up anymore” with parking complaints, said Christopher Newport, spokesman for Houston’s regulatory affairs department.

Most visitors are parking farther away, either to avoid paying a meter or because no spots on Washington are available at peak times, Newport said. Where parking used to be a headache two or three blocks off Washington, diners and drinkers now are dispersing six and seven blocks away. Even so, residents haven’t rushed to file paperwork to restrict parking along their streets, Newport said.

“They either do not think people parking in front of their house is a big deal or they don’t want to go through the program,” he said.

[…]

The city’s agreement with the local board requires total revenue of $250,000 before any sidewalks, landscaping or other improvements can begin. Based on current rates, the district won’t reach that amount until 2021.

If the city lowers the threshold to $100,000, reduces the staff patrolling the district and shares some of the citation revenue with the local district, some small projects could be considered later this year.

See here and here for some more background, and here for the Washington Avenue PBD page. I always like having actual numbers with stories like these, so I sent an email to Christopher Newport for more details. He sent me the original presentation with the initial revenue projections, and this updated presentation that shows where things are now. Let me summarize the main points because it’s a little confusing.

  • The city did a survey over several weeks of how many cars were parked on a nightly basis in the affected area prior to the creation of the PBD. The count was usually right around 270-280 cars, so the projections were based on that.
  • In practice, about 170 cars per night have been parking at the meters. The total number of cars parking was the same as before, but now some drivers were going farther into the surrounding neighborhoods to avoid paying to park. This is the reason why meter revenue has fallen short of projections.
  • There is another source of revenue related to the PBD, however, and that’s revenue from parking citations, particularly for expired meters. That revenue all goes to the city, not to the PBD. One of the changes that will be made going forward is that a portion of this money, from citations that are a direct result of the creation of the PBD and the installation of the meters – i.e., citations for expired meters, not citations for things like parking too close to a stop sign or blocking a driveway – will be used to help pay for the overhead costs of the PBD. These revenues can’t be used to pay for infrastructure improvements in the PBD, but by using some of this revenue to pay for the overhead of the PBD, it will allow enough money to be collected and used for the hoped-for improvements.
  • The change described above is administrative, so it can be done with a stroke of the pen. The other change, to lower the threshold of revenue needed to begin doing improvements from $250K to $100K, will require Council approval. Assuming it is granted, that threshold should be reached in a couple of months.
  • Finally, the city will continue to talk with the surrounding neighborhoods about residential parking permits, which would serve to send those wayward parkers back to the meter zone. If the neighborhoods are okay with how things are, that’s fine, too.

So the bad news isn’t really bad, and with a couple of tweaks improvement projects can be proposed and approved this year. There will be another review of the program around the end of the year, eighteen months after the ordinance was passed, as specified in the ordinance. If things continue on this course, I would expect the PBD to be renewed.

How to make the warehouse transition something to look forward to

I have four things to say about this.

Houston developers plan to build a mixed-use project, including upscale apartments and retail, on a 15-acre tract close to downtown, replacing a large produce warehouse that’s occupied the space for decades.

Capcor Partners and Kaplan Management bought the land this week from Grocers Supply, which has been at the corner of Studemont and Interstate 10 for 42 years.

[…]

Josh Aruh of Capcor, which specializes in retail developments, said it’s rare to find such a large piece of land in the Inner Loop and added that the project will make a “big footprint.”

“There is tremendous, continuous demand in this sub-market,” Aruh said. “We believe the scarcity of such a large, contiguous tract so close to downtown Houston, the Heights and entertainment districts is primed for a strong multifamily component. And with frontage near I-10, this property is ideally suited for retail. The size of the tract invites many possible other uses and users that we are currently exploring.”

Aruh said he has already discussed possibilities for the property with grocers, cinemas, restaurants and several big box retailers.

The developers are also working with the city to expand a street to split the property and reduce traffic, he said.

Michael Kaplan of Kaplan Management, which specializes in multifamily developments, said he hopes to build up to 400 high-end apartments, to go with the retail and commercial uses, to meet the demand for housing in the area.

“It’s just in the heart of this terrific growth corridor,” Kaplan said. “It is such a strong area.”

1. I admire their desire to have as small an impact on traffic as possible, because traffic on the stretch of Studemont between Washington and I-10 sucks thanks to the Kroger, the long light cycle at I-10, and the huge number of cars turning left to get onto I-10 and to get into the Kroger. Let me suggest that the first order of business would be to rebuild that piece of road, because it’s axle-breaking awful right now. Yeah, that’ll make traffic even worse for the duration, but the gain will be worth the pain. As for expanding a street – not sure which one they have in mind – let me suggest that what they really ought to consider is adding a street. I presume the entrance to this new development would be opposite the entrance to the Kroger where the traffic light is and where there’s already a left turn lane on northbound Studemont, which currently turns into a wall. Having that entrance street connect to Wichman on the west so that vehicles can access Hicks Street, which passes over Studemont and which connects to Heights via Harvard, will help.

2. If you really want to lessen the impact on traffic in the area, then it’s vital to ensure non-vehicular mobility into and out of this development and to the surrounding areas, by which I specifically mean Washington and White Oak. First and foremost, put in a sidewalk on the west side of Studemont, along the front of the development. There’s already a decent sidewalk on the east side of Studemont, but it terminates immediately north of I-10, where a well-worn path in the dirt connects you up with the bridge over the bayou and the continuation of the sidewalk at Stude Street. That new sidewalk could split at the underpass to give pedestrians the option of continuing on Studemont to Washington or ascending to Hicks and the overpass for better access to Arne’s and Kroger, and on to Sawyer Street if one is adventurous. I took the #50 bus home from work on Friday when this story was run, and I got off at Studemont to walk home from there. It took me 15 minutes to get from Washington to White Oak – I timed it – so having good pedestrian paths between these two streets will make the new development a lot more accessible. Given the traffic and the parking situation on either end, you’d be better off walking from whatever residence they build to Fitzgerald’s or BB’s or wherever you want to go.

3. At least as important as facilitating pedestrians is connecting this development to the existing bike paths and bike lanes nearby. You could take Hicks to Heights and from there get on the Heights Bike Trail, but that’s a mighty big detour if you’re heading towards downtown. And Lord knows, no one in their right mind would want to bike on Studemont to get anywhere. Look at a map of the area. Isn’t the solution to all this obvious?

GrocerSupplyMap1

This just screams for a new trail along the bayou to get past I-10 and eventually hook up with the existing trails. This picture shows how that would be possible:

GrocerSupplyMap2

Pass under Studemont, and pave that truck path to get to the Heights trail. You’d need to build a bridge over the bayou to connect to the new trail adjacent to Stude Park, which you can’t see in this old Google satellite image, but that shouldn’t be a big deal. I have no idea how much this all might cost, but for something like this that enhances mobility there may be federal grant money available. Or, you know, maybe the developers can kick in on this, since it would greatly enhance the value of their property. This might in fact be an excellent candidate for 380 agreement, one that would offer a clear benefit to all involved. I’m sure there’s a way to make this work.

Ed Wulfe, chairman and CEO of retail development and brokerage firm Wulfe & Co., said as Houston becomes more dense and urban, more warehouses will be converted into residential and commercial properties.

“We are changing land-use patterns,” Wulfe said. “Now the need is greater and the market is stronger. Warehouses can only command so much economic benefit.”

4. Density with transit >>> density without transit. The good people of Super Neighborhood 22 have that comprehensive transportation plan for their area that includes various rail and streetcar options for the Washington Avenue corridor. Moving forward on that would be a huge boon to mobility in the area, and to projects like this one and the ones that will inevitably follow. Look, I know people get skeptical whenever non-car modes of transportation are discussed. Most people don’t want to give up their cars, even a little bit. I get that, but in a city this size that still leaves a whole lot of folks who do want alternatives, and these are the people who will be seeking out dense development. We can do it right and make the whole experience a hell of a lot better, which includes the drivers since they’ll have fewer competitors for road space, or we can do it wrong and make a huge mess of it all. You tell me what the right answer is. Swamplot has more.

The Washington Avenue parking benefit district is now operational

From CultureMap:

Meet the meter

It took a while, but nearly five months after Houston City Council approved the first citywide Parking Benefit District for the Washington Avenue corridor, the meters started charging at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

The City of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department hopes to solve a handful of issues with the new parking system, including a lack of curbside parking and congested neighborhood streets, while promoting alternate means of transportation like walking, cycling and public transit

By defining the bar-studded thoroughfare as a PBD, approximately 60 percent of the proceeds from the meters — which stretches from Westcott Street to Houston Avenue and charges $1 per hour during daytime hours and $2 per hour at night Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. — will fund neighborhood improvement projects like landscaping, street maintenance, public safety, lighting, sidewalk and pedestrian improvements.

Visitors can pay to park with credit card or via the Parkmobile App (one that will allow you to add time via smartphone if you get caught up at happy hour); neighborhood residents and business owners will have designated permit parking areas Thursday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Here’s the official city webpage on the PBD; I blogged about it before here, here, and here. Council will review the district and its results in 18 months. I hope it works as advertised. It’s a straightforward solution that recognizes parking is a scarce resource in some parts of town, and scarce resources should be valued appropriately. It would be great if the PBD provides enough funds to make some infrastructure improvements to Washington Avenue, which has some of the worst sidewalks for what should be a very walkable area anywhere. Via Swamplot, which has some good maps.

Don’t expect B-Cycle in the Heights anytime soon

I know there are a lot of people in the Heights that would like to see some bike share kiosks here, but as The Leader News reports, it will be awhile before that happens.

Although running through arguably the most bike-conscious set of communities in Houston, the bike paths along White Oak Bayou and through the Heights into downtown now primarily sustain a ridership of weekend and evening recreational users, walkers and joggers. (It doesn’t help the White Oak trail that 610/290 construction is closing a big chunk of it from south of the North Loop along T.C. Jester to 34th Street for another year.)

The city of Houston’s B-cycle bike share program largely completed its second phase this week ahead of schedule and now boasts 21 stations and 175 bikes – but they’re all in downtown, midtown, Montrose, the East End and the Museum District-Hermann Park area.

And Will Rub, head of the B-cycle program, says when the third phase is funded, it’s likely to focus on the Medical Center area.

“We might start looking along sites along the Washington Avenue Corridor,” he said, “but that’s down the line.” Way down the line is the Heights, he said.

[…]

Blake Masters, president of the Greater Heights Super Neighborhood, seems strangely calm about the area being passed over so far for the B-cycle kiosks. But there’s a reason.

As part of a Leadership Houston class, Masters studied putting a bike share into Houston before the group learned that the B-cycle program was already on the drawing boards.

“You do have to start somewhere, and to make it succeed, you have to choose the areas with the heaviest pedestrian traffic and people who need to go short distances on congested streets. So far, they’re doing it right.”

He’s encouraged to hear that the Washington Avenue Corridor, which is in his Super Neighborhood, is on B-cycle’s radar. Parts of the Heights would also be “very logical” locations he said, naming the 19th-20th Street, White Oak and Studewood commercial areas. “We’d have to make sure the neighbors are on board with the plans, though,” he said.

This makes sense to me. Bike sharing is for places to which people travel without cars, or for whom it’s inconvenient to get their parked cars for a short trip. That describes places like downtown and the Medical Center, but not the Heights. The Heights is a destination, not a point of origin, for bike sharing; if you’re in the Heights and you want to get somewhere by bike, you probably already have your bike with you. The downtown bike share network, which is somewhat akin to a transit network, is beginning to build spokes out of downtown, with kiosks in Midtown and parts of Montrose. The Washington Avenue corridor, which is directly accessible from downtown, is a natural future spoke of this network. Once this extended network is robust enough to support spokes being built from other spokes and not from the hub, that’s when it will make sense to look at putting kiosks in the Heights, most likely in the locations suggested by Blake Masters. Alternately, as Metro’s re-architected bus route map gets built, or in the event of future streetcar/BRT/light rail construction along Washington, that may make Heights-area kiosks more attractive and useful. The kiosks are coming, I have no doubt about that, but the network isn’t ready for it yet. If you want it to hurry along, do what you can to make the existing B-Cycle network a success.

One size does not fit all, parking regulations department

This makes a lot of sense to me.

A proposed rewrite of Houston’s off-street parking rules could allow some areas to alter the new requirements or ditch them altogether, part of what Mayor Annise Parker said is an effort to allow tailored solutions in this “city of neighborhoods.”

City planners say the off-street parking ordinance, barely touched since it first was passed in 1989, has been made more flexible with the revisions, none more adaptable than the advent of “special parking areas.”

The idea would allow neighborhoods, with Planning Commission and City Council approval, to create parking districts suited to their needs. City planners say the ordinance deliberately is vague about what rule changes would be allowed and who can apply – described only as “management entities” with a “perpetual commitment” to the area – to allow applicants room to find creative solutions for their unique areas.

“What we’re trying to get away from is a one-size-fits-all policy for the city of Houston,” Parker said. “If we pass these changes, we will have the ability to structure solutions on the micro level instead of just the one macro ordinance. I’m very excited about the possibilities.”

The proposed ordinance also loosens rules on how close parking lots must be to a building’s front door, makes it easier for businesses to share parking, allows substitution of bike parking for car spaces and cuts parking for historic buildings.

There’s a lot here to like. All the places where the rules are being loosened are exactly where I’d want them to be loosened. The increasingly dense inner core is not the same as more outlying areas, and businesses in the inner core should not required to provide suburban amounts of parking for their customers if they don’t think it’s needed. Giving neighborhoods the freedom to come up with their own solutions for their own unique problems, as was done for the Washington Avenue corridor, is the way to go. I’m impressed by how flexible the city has been, and judging by the reactions from stakeholders it seems they’ve addressed a lot of their concerns. Council has now approved the changes, with a further improvement added:

Added to the changes Wednesday was an amendment, suggested by Councilwoman Melissa Noriega, that will allow businesses within a quarter-mile of a transit station to get a 20 percent reduction in parking requirements if they build to city guidelines for development in transit corridors, meant to encourage pedestrian-friendly environments.

Good job, y’all. I look forward to seeing how this develops. CultureMap has more.

Ready or not, here comes Chapter 42

Changes are coming to Chapter 42, the section of Houston’s ordinances that deal with density and development, and to Chapter 26, the section on off-street parking for bars and restaurants and what have you.

The revisions would allow neighborhoods to create special parking areas tailored to their needs, reduce parking requirements for historic buildings, allow the substitution of bike parking for car spaces, loosen rules on how close lots must be to a building’s front door, and make it easier for businesses to share parking.

Bar and restaurant owners would be most impacted by the new rules. Some eateries – dessert shops, carryout restaurants – would need less parking, but requirements on most restaurants would go from eight spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area to 10, with bars going from 10 to 14.

“We’re trying to redevelop our city, we’re trying to bring renewal and think over the next 10, 15, 20 years. Part of that is to build more walkability into our city,” said Councilman Ed Gonzalez. “I don’t want the parking requirements to be onerous for a small mom and pop shop. The focus should be on building more businesses in those communities, not building more parking lots just to meet, maybe, an arbitrary number that we’re coming up with.”

David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, a nonprofit that works on quality of life issues, has quibbles with both proposed rewrites, but said his key concern is broader.

“We’re not having the right conversation,” he said. “Rather than do all these Band-Aids – and there’s so many of them going on and they often actually disagree with each other, they’re in conflict – why don’t we just do a general plan for the future in which you say, ‘This is how we want to develop and these are the goals we want to have, and so we’ll build transportation and so forth to meet those goals.'”

[…]

“If council fails to adopt these amendments, many areas between 610 and the Beltway will remain underdeveloped, blighted and abandoned, while development will rapidly continue inside the Loop and outside the city limits,” said builder Ed Taravella.

Some residents are wary, however, saying the push for density inside the Loop has hurt neighborhood aesthetics and created infrastructure problems, compounded by a lack of city enforcement. That would only worsen if development density extends citywide, they say.

The evidence from the 1999 changes to the ordinance is clear, said Jane West, president of Super Neighborhood 22 in the Washington Avenue area.

“Although it was hoped that this redevelopment would create transit-served pedestrian-friendly environment, in most cases that has not happened. And in many cases, problems such as flooding, inadequate drainage, traffic congestion, and lack of sufficient on-street parking have worsened,” she said. “There’s no reason to believe the expansion of Chapter 42 urban standards beyond Loop 610 will yield a different result.”

What I said about this the last time still holds true. There is a need to unify the development code and treat outside the Loop in the same fashion as inside the Loop, but the issues Jane West addresses are real. Ideally, what I want to see out of this is the encouraging of development in parts of town that really need redevelopment, greater emphasis on walkability, more investment in transit, and a sense of urgency about making life closer in more attractive and affordable. A lot to ask, I know, but we only do this every couple of decades, so let’s try to get it right.

Some of the concerns about revising Chapter 42 and the effect it would have on inner Loop neighborhoods can be addressed via increased enforcement, as Mayor Parker noted in the story. I would hope that this acknowledged need for increased enforcement can be addressed in the next budget, since I’m sure there aren’t enough inspectors and whoever else is needed to handle the current caseload, let alone the caseload that would result from the hoped-for boom in construction that updating Chapter 42 would bring. I feel this is even more true for Chapter 26, the off-street parking ordinances.

Heugel’s Anvil bar is just south of the Cherryhurst neighborhood, where June Spencer is civic club president. Heugel has been a good neighbor, she said, but other area bars and clubs and the popular Hugo’s restaurant, despite its on-site parking lot, have created parking problems.

“I have them parking all along the side of my house, the front of my house. They’re loud at night, they don’t even try to be considerate. They throw garbage,” Spencer said. “They shouldn’t give these people permits to open businesses unless they have the appropriate parking.”

While I have some sympathy for folks like Ms. Spencer, let’s be real here: We don’t own the street space in front of our homes. People are allowed to park there. This is a totally normal thing in most cities. Requiring more off-street parking, especially in inner neighborhoods, will result in more parking lots and fewer new establishments being opened. Neither of these are good things. People parking on the street and then walking to a nearby restaurant or bar are not a problem. People creating disturbances and littering are problems. That can and should be dealt with in a way that doesn’t necessitate restricting parking to a special, permitted few. Let’s please aim for that. While we’re at it, let’s also encourage alternatives to more car parking such as more bike parking. We just approved $100 million plus for expanded bike trails, let’s act like we plan to use them.

Finally, as I noted yesterday, you can give feedback on these and other proposed ordinance here. This affects all of us, so if you have something to say, please make sure you say it.

Council approves Washington Avenue parking benefit district

We’ll see how this works.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday formed a special parking district along Washington Avenue, intended to ease the woes associated with the bustling corridor’s mix of bars, restaurants and residential streets.

The plan will add parking meters on about 350 spaces along Washington, and will make it easier for residents to require parking permits on sleepy side streets. The district extends one block on either side of Washington between Westcott and Houston Avenue.

After paying for the meters, two parking enforcement officers and a meter mechanic, the new revenues will be split between the district and the city, with the district keeping 60 percent for enhancements. Projects will be chosen by a committee of local business owners and residents and could include security, lighting, sidewalks, shuttles or a parking garage.

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who, with Councilman Ed Gonzalez, represents the area, cheered the approval, saying it will spur turnover for businesses and protect residents. She said data from other cities shows the meters will add patrons, not drive them away.

“People that go out to restaurants and are prepared to spend a significant amount of money want to find a place to park,” Cohen said. “They’re certainly prepared to spend a little bit more to find a place and pay for it.”

See here for the background, and here for more information about what this means. Once the meters are in place, the clock will start on the 18-month pilot period, after which the program can be modified, renewed, or terminated. I think this is a perfectly reasonable response to the problem, certainly a better solution than just giving out residential parking permits, which would only exacerbate the shortage. I look forward to the announcement of the first improvement projects that result from the revenue that this will raise.

On the Parking Benefit District

A proposed ordinance to create a parking benefit district in the Washington Avenue corridor was on Council’s agenda this week, but it was tagged and will wait a week while everyone gets up to speed on it.

CM Ellen Cohen

District C Council member Ellen Cohen says the city has been working with business owners to come up with a plan to test having parking meters,not only better regulate the constant influx of traffic, but:

“To deal with the issues of parking, increased crime, of safety, and neighbors live several streets off, and they walk in the evenings to restaurants and other services there. It’s a great place, but we want to make sure that it works, and so we’re gonna give it an 18 month trial and see how it goes.”

Mayor Annise Parker says contrary to some belief, they’re not creating an entertainment district.

“We’re trying to create a tool, so we can better manage the intersection between the businesses and the neighborhoods, and the public that needs to travel these major thoroughfares. I do hope that taking some of the lessons learned from creation of this parking benefit district will have 18 months to prove itself. We are not trying to create a one-size-fits-all model of this is what a parking benefit district looks like.”

Jane West is president of the Washington Avenue Coalition. She says money generated from parking meters will go to things like more sidewalks, better lighting and overall improved safety.

“This is a rare example of where members of our residential community, our business community and our development community have come together in a consensus opinion, for a proposal before city council. We’re disappointed that is wasn’t vote on this week, but we anticipate a favorable vote next week.”

See here for some background. I think this is an idea that makes a lot of sense. It’s based on the simple principle that parking is a valuable commodity, and it seeks to leverage that commodity and invest the revenue it generates back into the district. If you’ve ever tried to walk along Washington Avenue, you know how badly the infrastructure there needs work. Anyway, courtesy of CM Cohen’s office, here are some documents to help familiarize yourself with this proposal:

The PBD FAQ and flyer, plus the full presentation put together by the city. Be sure to at least read this document.

The left and right halves of the map of the area in question.

We’ll see what Council does with this, but I fully expect it to pass. What do you think about the idea?

Washington Avenue parking

The city of Houston has been trying to tackle the problem of insufficient parking in the busy Washington Avenue entertainment corridor.

What to do about Washington Avenue is Houston’s latest public policy discussion of what government’s role should be in growing business, in helping a fledgling business strip turn into a destination district.

The players all seem to want the same thing: Turnover at the restaurant tables, safe revelry in bars and clubs, pedestrians strolling a well-kept avenue and sprinkling their cash at the storefronts. All the while, people should be able to sleep through it two blocks away.

The city’s parking czar is rolling out plans for what he calls a parking benefit district, which would include residential parking permits to protect nearby homes, better lighting and security, and spruced-up sidewalks. It would be paid for by charging for spaces along the curb.

Don Pagel, whose official title is deputy director of Houston’s Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs, says the avenue’s very success threatens to undermine its future. It is a Yogi Berra philosophy summed up in the Yankee legend’s oft-quoted remark that a New York restaurant “is so crowded nobody goes there anymore.”

Parking is a commodity, Pagel said, just like groceries or furniture, and should be priced accordingly to derive the maximum economic benefit. In practice, this means it should cost more when it is scarce. Charging for parking will not only bring in money that can be reinvested into the neighborhood, Pagel said, but it will ensure that the folks who have money to spend will get the premium spots at the curb. Someone who tries to avoid a $2 parking charge, Pagel suggests, is unlikely to spend $50 on dinner.

“Folks with the most money have the least amount of patience,” Pagel said. They will make one pass along Washington, he speculated, and if they don’t find a space they’ll move on to Montrose or Midtown.

I’m not particularly thrilled about residential parking permits, but everything else sounds pretty good. It’s particularly encouraging to hear officials like Pagel talk about parking as a valuable commodity, one that should be priced accordingly. Among other things, the sidewalks on Washington Avenue are atrocious, so if this parking benefit district can genuinely raise some money, perhaps that can finally be addressed. I have to think that any long-term solution must include better ways to get to Washington Avenue’s recreations without driving and parking – i.e., bikes, mass transit, and remote parking areas with shuttle service. But this sounds like a good start and the right direction, so let’s see how it goes. The Chron’s editorial page has more.

No one likes the new noise ordinance

Look for more changes to come.

The latest participants in the never-ending noise battle are local nightclub owners who feel they have been unfairly targeted after the Houston City Council updated the noise ordinance in October. They have been issued hundreds of citations and have seen club workers arrested.

The noise ordinance sets limits for sound, which are measured by a decibel meter. The revised law now allows a police officer to issue a violation if bass notes coming from a property cause “vibrations or resonance” to be felt at another property. Previously, officers in these situations could not subjectively flag violators – they had to use a decibel meter. Violators can receive up to a $1,000 fine.

Club owners have met with city officials and spent thousands of dollars making sound-deadening improvements, but say they are still getting ticketed. To change what they feel is an unjust ordinance, they’re raising money through a political action committee to lobby Mayor Annise Parker’s administration.

“We’re essentially trying to set performance standards for music venues, bars and clubs, and there’s nothing we have to work with. Right now, compliance is based upon an officer’s subjective opinion instead of having an objective performance standard,” said Joshua Sanders, policy director for Hall Attorneys which represents the Greater Houston Entertainment Political Action Committee.

Neighborhood groups are not happy either, but they insist noise enforcement has broken down.

“What we found was there was kind of a honeymoon period after the amendment got passed, and a task force was formed to enforce the noise ordinance,” said Jane Cahill-West, president of the Super Neighborhood 22, a coalition of civic groups along the Washington Avenue corridor. “And now it’s only rarely being enforced. The worst thing is even when citations are being written, they are not being successfully prosecuted in municipal court.”

The Press had a cover story on this a couple of weeks ago. The old way, defined by decibel levels, was easy enough to understand and enforce, but left residences vulnerable to thumping bass frequencies. The new, more subjective way, corrects for that but leaves everyone uncertain about just what is and isn’t a violation. The city will be taking another crack at it soon.

More on Bike Share Houston

Here’s the Chron story on the Council vote to get bike sharing in Houston off the ground.

The plan for the so-called Bike Share Houston program is to intrigue residents and visitors with the technology, then raise funds to install additional locations. The effort is modeled after one started last spring in San Antonio.

The Alamo City now has 20 bike share kiosks at such destinations as the Alamo, Hemisfair, La Villita, the city’s convention center and central library. About 1,000 San Antonio residents have purchased yearly memberships in the program since the first bikes rolled in April.

Bike Share Houston – a joint project of the city, Bike Barn and the nonprofit Bike Houston organization – will begin with kiosks at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Market Square and downtown’s Central Library.

Kim Burley, deputy assistant director of the city’s fleet management department, said the contractor, B-Cycle LLC, will have 120 days to get the system up and running. The company also installed San Antonio’s system and those in Chicago, Denver and other cities.

Bike Houston president Darren Sabom said the three kiosks and their 18 bikes are designed to show Houston residents how the system works. Ultimately, with the help of donors and grants, additional kiosks may be added at select light rail stops and other locations.

Such a network of kiosks could help residents and visitors navigate the Rice University campus, Hermann Park, the Museum District and the Texas Medical Center.

“After stepping off a bus or train, it would fill the gap of the last five blocks of your trip,” Sabom said.

Obviously, the goal will be to get this out to other locations as soon as possible. Things that I can think of to help achieve that goal will be promotion, highlighting bike-friendly routes near and between kiosk locations, and in the longer term street improvements. We should be thinking about locations that could be a good fit for this as well, such as the Washington corridor and the Upper Kirby area, where it might be nice to leave your car in one place and use a bike to get to other destinations. I’m sure there are other possibilities, including some that won’t be apparent until people start using it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes, and to using it myself.

On getting to walkable urbanism

This story about neighborhood opposition to the Kroger 380 agreement doesn’t quite get at what I think are the key issues that need to be discussed.

[O]pponents of both the Wal-Mart and Kroger deals say suburban-style big-box stores don’t fit a widely-held urban vision for Washington Avenue Corridor. They’d like to see more incentives offered for development by small businesses or in more needy neighborhoods.

“It’s a lost opportunity for how we should be developing our urban space,” said Tom Dornbusch, who lives in Woodcrest. “Why don’t we incentivize something appropriate for these sites rather than just servicing the frontage roads on I-10?”

That five members of Houston City Council opposed the Kroger deal at least shows that neighborhood activists have “raised the consciousness” of some council members since the Ainbinder agreement was approved, Dornbusch said.

Dornbusch is an officer in the Washington Avenue Coalition/Memorial Park Super Neighborhood Council, a coalition of homeowner groups well-versed on planning and quality of life issues in this redeveloping area west of downtown. These groups helped raise matching funds for a Liveable Centers Study of the Washington Avenue Corridor.

Former City Councilman Peter Brown, an architect and urban planner with nonprofit Better Houston, has aided their planning efforts.

Like Dornbusch, he thinks the area is well-suited to become a teeming urban landscape that accommodates both pedestrians and transit, either rail or streetcar, which the neighborhoods have embraced.

But right now, economic development favors “the lands, Pearland, Sugar Land and the Woodlands,” Brown said, and that brings big-box stores to the fore.

“These are the kinds of things that city policy needs to consider, and it is evolving. It is evolving toward smaller urban growth. We’re just not there yet,” Brown said.

The issues here, at least as I see them, are whether it’s a good idea for the city to pursue 380 agreements of any kind in areas where development is likely to occur naturally, and whether the developments that are being pursued in these two 380 locations are suitable and desirable from an urbanist perspective. I can’t quite tell from the story whether Dornbusch and Brown are evaluating these deals separately or lumping them together. As I see it, the two sites are fundamentally different. There’s no reason why the Ainbinder/Washington Heights property couldn’t or shouldn’t be connected to and a key part of the walkable urban vision for the Washington corridor. It abuts a neighborhood to the west and apartments to the south – there used to be apartments to the east as well, but they were torn down to make room for more suburban-style development – and is certainly close enough to be reachable from a future Inner Katy rail line stop or streetcar stop at Heights Boulevard. With the West End Multipurpose Center and some townhome development already there, and who knows what to come in where the Center Street recycling center currently is, the Ainbinder location could be an epicenter of a real urban neighborhood. Instead, it’s going to be more like a sinkhole, separating places that should be connected, and that’s just a shame and a wasted opportunity.

The Kroger location, on the other hand, seems to me to be a much better fit for a supermarket or other car-oriented shopping center. Its neighbors are things like Arne’s, the Sawyer Heights Target center, Party Boy, and a truck depot. Where Yale and Heights have sidewalks that can connect the Washington Heights site to either side of I-10 if you ensure there’s a safe pedestrian crossing there, Studemont has no sidewalk from I-10 north to Stude Street, and from Hicks south to Center there’s only a very narrow sidewalk on the east side of the street. The eventual connection of Summer Street ought to be walkable, but Studemont will still serve as a dead end for anyone on foot. Otherwise, it’s basically cut off from Washington to the south and the Heights to the north. Who would ever walk there? With a long-term plan and control of most of the property between I-10 and Center, and Studemont and Sawyer, you could build something urban, but how likely is that to happen on its own? Washington Heights is close to that, or at least it was before Ainbinder screwed it up. Sawyer Heights isn’t.

Because of that, I don’t have any philosophical objections to a grocery store going in at that location, even though I know it’s going to mess up traffic. The question about 380 agreements is going to be more in the forefront – litigation will do that – but I don’t want to lose sight of the suitability question. I think it’s the more important discussion to have.

Eating good in the neighborhood

The Chron rounds up a bunch of restuarant openings and soon-to-be-openings in and near the Heights; they hedge this a bit by declaring the area of study “Super Heights, which includes the Washington corridor and its fringes, where owners are self-identifying as a ‘Heights-area’ business”. The comments are entertaining to read as well – it’s one part complaining about what actually constitutes “the Heights”, one part complaining about places that didn’t get mentioned, including a couple on White Oak, and one part complaining about the types of cuisine on offer. We do like to complain, don’t we? Anyway, I agree with Marty Hajovsky that while there have always been decent places to eat around here, there’s a lot more now. Check ’em out.

That’s what I call double parking

Did you know that there were hydraulic parking lifts in use in Houston? I didn’t.

District D Councilwoman Wanda Adams, who represents Midtown, attached an amendment to the city budget passed last month that requires the planning department to craft an ordinance in the next three months to regulate lifts.

“When I saw the parking lifts, I was like, ‘Whoa! Do we have standards for these?’ ” Adams said. She’s concerned about the safety of the lifts, which she says don’t look like they can hold much.

The devices have been in use at bars and restaurants in other parts of the country for decades, but there’s only about 25 of them registered at Houston’s Planning Department. (Nine of them were at a now-closed bar on Washington Avenue.

[…]

Sy Zuckerman, an 80-year-old parking lift sales representative at Denver-based Harding Steel, said safety should not be an issue with proper parking lifts.

Zuckerman said he does not know if the lifts at the Houston bars are Harding lifts, but said the lifts he has at condominium complexes are so easy to operate that residents use them on a self-serve basis after five minutes of training.

“It’s a no-brainer to operate the machines,” said Zuckerman, adding that he doesn’t know of a single claim filed against the company’s liability insurance in its 43-year history.

See here and scroll down to “#16. The Model T Vending Machine” to see a more extreme example of this technology from 1936. (You can also see it here.) I don’t have any problem with Council wanting to enact “design and installation standards” or for requiring permitting fees, but they should be reasonable and not restrictive. Especially someplace like Washington Avenue, I’d much rather use vertical space than more horizontal space to meet its parking needs.

If fixing the streets is easy, then tell us how to do it

Lisa Gray writes about a guy who thinks Houston’s streets could be much more user friendly if only we tried a little harder to make them be.

“Houston’s streets behave like alleys,” Nathan Norris shouted to the 20 or so people who followed him like ducklings, single file, on Jackson Hill Street’s skinny sidewalk.

Norris is a professional urban scold, a consultant for the town-planning firm Placemakers, who travels the country telling developers, neighborhood groups and cities what they can do to improve their street life.

He gestured, disgusted, at what he saw on Jackson Hill — a prosperous-looking residential street. It’s part of fast-growing Super Neighborhood 22, the area around Washington Avenue’s clubs and restaurants.

But Jackson Hill is not a street where you want to linger.

[…]

“I have traveled far and wide, and I have never run across a city that has as much unmet potential as Houston,” Norris wrote. “And the funny thing is that it would take such a minor change for Houston to reach its potential.

“Imagine New York, Chicago or L.A. trying to undo its business-unfriendly culture. That is not going to happen anytime soon. Dallas and Austin are not going to grow a port.

“But Houston could simply tweak some minor functional design regulations, and the developers would start building beautiful places that could provide Houston a vibrancy and hipness that would attract the next generation of leading professionals.”

I like what he’s saying, but I have two simple questions: What exactly are the simple tweaks that need to be done to make Houston’s streets better? And how do they affect existing streets where there’s unlikely to be much new housing construction?

Documenting the problem is easy enough, and Gray quotes Norris at length: Skinny sidewalks (where they exist at all), lack of trees, and utility pole obstruction. I figure a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few I snapped on Jackson Hill the other day.

Where ya gonna walk?

That’s a block south of Washington at the corner of Jackson Hill and Lilian Street; a parking lot for Patrenella’s is right behind where I’m standing. Talk about useless – anyone walking this way will have to take the street, which could be dangerous that close to a busy road like Washington. There were plenty of other examples, all on the same (east) side of the street, or utility poles getting in the way.

(more…)

Infill growth

Anyone who’s been watching Washington Avenue has seen this.

From downtown through midtown and along Washington Avenue, a population growth spurt has taken off since 2000.

One buzz word to describe what’s going on is “infill,” said Jerry Wood, previously Houston’s deputy assistant director for planning and development and now an independent consultant advising the city on census issues.

Wood said that infill, or the use of vacant land in an otherwise built-up area, has happened in such neighborhoods as Rice Military (between Westcott and Shepherd south of Washington), First Ward (near Houston Avenue north of Washington) and Cottage Grove (both sides of Interstate 10, between Shepherd and Hempstead Highway).

“In Cottage Grove, three-and four-story townhouses are replacing bungalows at a high rate,” Wood said. “That’s been true throughout that ZIP code.

They’re also replacing a lot of empty lots and vacant buildings. The growth in that part of town is astonishing, and for the most part good. The main downside, as noted in the story, is that the infrastructure has not come close to keeping up. Most of the streets parallel to Washington are very narrow, with no sidewalks and drainage ditches. Parking is a big problem, and there’s often no room for cars driving in opposite directions to get past each other. (Yes, this includes all of the streets around the Wal-Mart site.) The area desperately needs a comprehensive transportation solution to help deal with this.

The print version of this story had a chart listing population change in several area ZIP codes. Here’s a reproduction of that:

ZIP Code 2000 Pop 2010 Pop % Change ========================================= 77002 13,159 16,885 28% 77003 9,137 10,168 11% 77006 18,861 19,337 3% 77007 22,619 30,538 35% 77008 28,661 30,502 6% 77009 42,474 38,172 -10% 77010 76 366 382% 77018 27,094 25,804 -5% 77019 15,871 18,946 19% 77098 12,355 13,508 9% Total 190,307 204,226 7%

77010 is a tiny area, just a few blocks, on the east side of downtown; Google Maps centers it on Discovery Green, which says to me that the population growth there is likely the result of the One Park Place tower. 77002 is the rest of downtown and a little bit of midtown; if you picture the area in the middle of the Loop that’s bounded by 45, 59, I-10, that’s more or less 77002. 77007 is basically Super Neighborhood 22, which is the main focus of the story. 77019 is River Oaks/north Montrose and most of Midtown, and which includes Estates at Memorial, while 77098 includes 2727 Kirby. Finally, 77003 is EaDo and the Harrisburg area, which I’ll bet shows double digit growth in the next Census as well.

What’s truly curious to me is the two ZIP codes that show negative growth. 77009 is all of the Heights plus a roughly equivalent area east of I-45, which includes places like the Near Northside and Lindale Park. I’ll admit to not being as familiar with the eastern half of the area as the western part, but I cannot fathom it losing over four thousand people this decade. I see fewer vacant lots, not more, and the gentrification of the Heights has brought a little baby boom with it. 77018 is more or less Garden Oaks/Oak Forest, and while its loss is smaller, I don’t understand it, either.

One possible clue to what’s happening may be in the other way the data was presented, in terms of the ethnic makeup of these areas:

Ethnicity 2000 Pop 2010 Pop % Change ========================================= White 84,281 101,825 21% Hispanic 82,379 71,076 -14% Black 18,084 20,470 13% Asian 3,113 7,199 131%

The increase in white population is easy to believe, as is the increase in Asians. It’s the decline in the Hispanic population that’s strange. You can see a graphic representation of this for the whole county at Greg’s place. Obviously, some of the Latino growth in the burbs is fueled by inner city folks moving outward in search of affordable houses and better schools. I have to wonder if some of it is also due to insufficient participation in the Census. All I can say is that I just don’t believe 77009 lost ten percent of its people. I hope a review of the Census process leads to an adjustment of these numbers.

Washington Avenue lite

That’s what someone thinks White Oak Drive is becoming.

Is White Oak Drive becoming a cozier, more walkable version of nearby Washington Avenue as a restaurant-entertainment hub?

One local real estate agent thinks so.

White Oak is more concentrated with restaurants and bars in a much smaller area, said Jeff Trevino, a local commercial real estate agent who has done work on both streets.

Washington is three miles long and the restaurants and bars are spread out, he said. By comparison, White Oak is about a mile long, and many of the restaurants are popping up along a quarter-mile stretch between Studemont and Oxford.

BB’s Cajun Cafe recently announced it will open a new location on White Oak at Studemont.

Tacos A Go Go, D’Amico’s Italian Market, and Christian’s Tailgate are also planning to open soon there.

Already on White Oak are Onion Creek, a cafe and bar; Fitzgerald’s nightclub; Jimmy’s Ice House and Beer Island.

Most of the new restaurants are in old buildings, Trevino noted, which gives the area charm. A greater percentage of bars and restaurants along Washington are in new strip centers, he said.

It’s a little hard for me to judge the comparison, since none of these places are open yet. I’ll say this much – I have no idea where all of the patrons of these future eateries are going to park. The properties that are being rehabbed for the new venues didn’t have much parking space on them, and street parking is already at a premium thanks to Onion Creek. And if you look at a map of the area, there’s not much available on other streets nearby for the Studewood to Oxford area. If the Washington Wave were to extend service to White Oak would help some, but I don’t know how much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted to have all these places opening up so close to where I live, I’m just wondering how they’re going to deal with that.

CultureMap previews the Wal-Mart

Some interesting stuff here.

Restaurants and stores on Heights Boulevard, along with new pathways and landscaping on the boulevard’s esplanade, will be part of Ainbinder Company’s Walmart-anchored retail development in the Inner Loop of Houston, the developer of the project said Friday.

The project, called Washington Heights, is planned for 23 acres near the southwest corner of Yale Street and Koehler, just south of Interstate 10 and the Heights community. Much of the project will be located on industrial land vacant land that formerly was the site of a Trinity Industries steel fabrication plant.

“We are going to take this land from a factory site to a fairly upscale development,” said developer Bart Duckworth, principal in the Houston-based Ainbinder firm.

Washington Heights will also spread onto land Ainbinder is acquiring on Heights Boulevard, south of the freeway. An old apartment project there will be demolished to make way for the new retail space, Duckworth said.

You can see the back end of the apartment complex here, looking east from Koehler Street. I’ll reserve judgment on that for now, but I’m pretty sure extending this development across Yale like that isn’t going to alleviate anyone’s concerns about traffic. I’m already envisioning a new traffic light being installed at Yale and Koehler to handle the exiting and left-turning vehicles.

Real estate broker Lance Gilliam of the retail division of Moody Rambin Interests has been handling the project.

Gilliam hopes to attract chef-driven restaurants, local boutiques and non-chain outlets to the retail space on Yale and Heights Boulevard, as an extension of the restaurant development that has occurred along Washington Avenue in recent years.

“We have really made an effort to reach out to the Houston, and also to Texas cities including, Austin, to see who that is out there would best serve this community,” Gilliam said. “We want shops that are unique and add to the community.”

Color me skeptical of that effort. I’m not sure how many driven chefs will want to share space with a Wal-Mart, but I suppose anything is possible. Maybe if pedestrian access between this site and Washington Avenue is improved, and/or if the Washington Wave extends service in that direction, it might make the proposition more attractive to the kinds of chefs and restaurants they seem to want. Or it might not. I know that when they were filling out the Target site on Sawyer that I was hoping for some decent food options, but what we got was Chili’s, Panda Express, and Freebird’s. Seems to me that’s the more likely, and more fitting, outcome over there, but I guess we’ll see.

Ainbinder is seeking an agreement with city officials to make public improvements to the area on city owned property, Duckworth said.

Under the proposal, Ainbinder would spend $6 million to widen and expand streets around the project, beautify nearby bridges, improve drainage, build new sidewalks, and create a crushed rock path and landscaping in the esplanade of Heights Boulevard, he said. Ainbinder would be reimbursed for the public improvements over time as the project reached completion and occupancy goals, in a government sponsored program that has been used for other projects around the state, Duckworth said.

The “government sponsored program” Duckworth is referring to is apparently a 380 Agreement. Which apparently has to be approved by Council first. Expect there to be some pressure applied to Council members about that. Usually, other Council members will defer to the District member on matters like this in their district, so watch what CM Ed Gonzalez says and does very carefully.

Walmart’s trucks will enter the store property off of Koehler Street, next to Berger Iron Works.

There’s already some truck traffic on Koehler, for the Berger Iron Works and for San Jacinto Stone, but for the most part we’re not talking 18-wheelers. Better hope widening Koehler is part of the plan.

New jitney rules coming

City Council is preparing to make some changes to its ordinances regarding jitneys.

The goal of the new rules, some of which also will be established by mid-September in a “green” ordinance that will govern the use of zero-emissions vehicles, is to “allow the market to function appropriately,” said Chris Newport, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs.

Newport said the previous rules are outdated and inhibit new ideas.

“The changes create a flexible framework and set the foundation for the industry to grow without standing in the way of technology and investment,” he said.

Erik Ibarra, owner of Rev Eco-Shuttle, said that is exactly what the new ordinance will do. The changes to the ordinance may “regulate us out of business,” he said.

I’ve written about RevHouston before. Ibarra’s concern appears to be because his service is currently neither fish nor fowl. Jitneys are being defined as having between nine and 15 passengers and operating on a fixed route. If that sounds like the Washington Wave to you, go to the head of the class. RevHouston is using a jitney license that Ibarra got to keep from getting tickets for not complying with taxi ordinances, but his service is for six and fewer at a time, and really is more like a taxi since it’s not on a fixed route. The city says it has a plan for that:

Although Ibarra’s two six-seat vehicles would be allowed to continue operating under the law under an exception, he said the new ordinance may not allow him to grow or to purchase more vehicles.

City officials say Ibarra’s company will be able to operate as a pedi-cab under the “green” ordinance, which the council is expected to consider in mid-September.

[…]

Ibarra said he is concerned that his company’s growth potential will be limited before the new regulations are in place.

He agrees that many of the changes proposed in the ordinance will be good for the industry but questioned why his company will be left in limbo.

“Why not put the green ordinance first?” he asked, noting that he would be in “regulatory purgatory” for six weeks. “It just seems backwards to say, we’re going to regulate you out of the market first, but don’t worry, we’re going to set up a green ordinance for you. … If this passes, they’re not going to prevent other companies from growing, just my company.”

I’m sure there’s a reason Council is doing the jitney update before the green ordinance, but regardless of that it does potentially leave Ibarra in the lurch. What happens if the green ordinance doesn’t get passed, for example? It probably won’t matter in the end, but I can’t blame the guy for fretting about it. As for his concern about his company’s growth potential, I must say that classifying RevHouston as a form of pedicab makes sense to me. As long as the green ordinance wouldn’t forbid him from operating, say, a ten-passenger eco-shuttle, I don’t see the problem. Am I missing something?

Mayor Parker on the proposed Heights Wal-Mart

Hair Balls has an update.

Walmart spokesman William Wertz told Hair Balls that Walmart is considering the expansion at this time but no plans have been approved.

“We can confirm that we are looking at this site, but discussions are preliminary, and we aren’t ready to say any more at this time,” Wetz said.

Mayor Annise Parker is also emphasizing that plans are tentative, in a statement to Hair Balls:

This is not yet a done deal. The property has been assembled for a major retail venture. When that moves forward, there will be careful review for impact on traffic, mobility and city infrastructure. I encourage Wal-Mart, or any other retailer interested in the property, to open dialogue with the Greater Heights and Washington Avenue Super Neighborhoods 15 and 22 as well as other neighborhood groups and civic clubs in that area.

You can count me as being interested to hear what the Super Neighborhoods have to say. The rest of the story has a bunch of dueling quotes about the merits of Wal-Mart and the character of the area. I’ve got to say, I dislike Wal-Mart as much as the next urban elitist, but even I find some of the concern about its construction at that location to be overblown. The site in question is basically a brownfield. It’s not like they’re looking to build on 19th Street. I’m not particularly worried about the effect a Wal-Mart there might have on Heights boutiques, I’m worried about the effect it may have on traffic in the area. I still don’t think Yale can handle the demands of having a Wal-Mart right there. It’s possible that impact can be mitigated, but I’d need to see the details, which would include that “traffic, mobility and city infrastructure” review the Mayor mentions.

Honestly, I’m not sure why this is being called a “Heights Wal-Mart”, even as I use that terminology myself in the title of this post. Technically, the Heights extends as far south as Washington, but let’s get real – nobody thinks of Yale at Center as being “the Heights”. With all due respect, it’s not “the Heights” that will be directly affected by a Wal-Mart there, it’s the Washington corridor. Has anyone asked the people who live in those apartments on Washington and Center just west of Yale, in whose back yard this thing would be, what they think?

Where’s Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart has bought a tract of land near the Heights.

The store would be part of a larger development just south of Interstate 10 near the northwest intersection of Yale and Center.

[…]

A development site plan obtained by the Houston Chronicle shows a 152,015-square-foot Walmart flanked by a parking lot for 664 cars and additional retail spaces for a bank, fast-food restaurant and other stores.

[…]

Retail sources said the new Walmart likely would be one of the chain’s Supercenters, which average 185,000 square feet and combine full grocery and general merchandise, according to the company’s website.

In addition to serving residents in the Heights and other surrounding neighborhoods, the new store would seek customers from a growing population around the Washington Avenue corridor.

Swamplot and Prime Property have more on this. Here’s the question I have: How are people going to get to this place?

Google map view of the area

Google map view of the area

Here’s a link to that Google map; click the thumbnail for a larger image. The only real access to this site will be via Yale. The freight train tracks to the south completely cut off traffic except at Heights, Yale, and Patterson off to the west. Note that Bonner, the west end of this site, dead ends at the tracks. You can’t walk there from Heights Blvd except from Center. Koehler, to the north, only connects at Patterson. How are people going to get there?

You could, I suppose, connect the two pieces of Bonner, which would help. (Would the developer pay for that, I wonder?) You could also connect Bonner and maybe Bass Court to the eventual I-10 service road extension that will link Durham/Shepherd to Watson/Sawyer. (Note that as of today, you can only access Yale from I-10 on the westbound side.) I don’t know what the timeline is on any of these things, nor do I know if such connections are part of TxDOT’s plan. I do know that if you’re depending on Center Street to move traffic, I’d be worried. Center is a narrow little road on which traffic flow can be impeded by someone parking, and it’s used by a lot of trucks because of the various industrial sites that remain in the area. I figure the developers have a plan for all this, I just can’t quite picture it myself.

Finally, I have to wonder what the Super Neighborhood 22 folks think of this. It doesn’t seem to fit in with their vision for the Washington corridor. I’m getting an Ashby Highrise feeling about this. Typically, there’s already a Stop Heights Wal-Mart Facebook page. I don’t much care for Wal-Mart and don’t foresee myself shopping there – our Costco membership and the Target on Sawyer meet our needs quite nicely, thanks – but it doesn’t offend me that they’re looking at this parcel. I just don’t see how they’re going to make it work.

One more thing:

H-E-B said it recently made an offer on the Ainbinder parcel but was later informed that a counteroffer from Wal-Mart Stores was accepted, spokeswoman Cyndy Garza-Roberts said.

“We will continue to look for sites to bring an H-E-B to the Heights,” she said.

No question that there’s a crying need for a grocery store around there. If the Wal-Mart in question includes groceries, that may ameliorate the complaints somewhat. But the questions about how do you get there from here would remain had H-E-B won the bid. Marty Hajovsky and Nancy Sarnoff have more.

Streetcars on Washington Avenue?

Some big things may be coming to Washington Avenue.

Super Neighborhood 22 — a council of civic clubs in the Washington Ave. corridor — will hold a meeting May 24 to discuss its proposed master plan for transportation in the area.

To deal with increasing development, density and congestion, the neighborhood envisions a streetcar on Washington Ave. to move pedestrians and a trench near Center Street capable of carrying four freight or commuter rail lines, allowing traffic to pass uninterrupted overhead.

The neighborhood’s meeting is scheduled for at 6:30 p.m. at DePelchin Children’s Center, 4950 Memorial Drive. The super neighborhood, one of 88 such groups in the city, covers the space between Buffalo and White Oaks bayous and between the West Loop and Interstate 45.

Super neighborhood president Jane West and vice president Tom Dornbusch said the meeting aims to gather input from community members in hopes of building a consensus around the plan, giving it more weight with policymakers.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the game, instead of letting all these other entities decide where the best place is to put transit through our corridor,” West said. “We’re trying to decide where and how that transit should be directed.” West and Dornbusch both cited Harris County’s plans for commuter rail along U.S. 290 as a reason for action. Many of those commuters work downtown, West said, and must pass through Washington Ave. to get there.

“Super Neighborhood 22 is in the direct path of that route,” Dornbusch said.

I highly recommend you take a look at their detailed presentation of the various options. I got a much better idea of what they had in mind after looking at it. I was all set to write something about how I didn’t like the idea of streetcars on Washington Avenue because that seemed like giving up on the idea of an Inner Katy light rail line, but they’ve got it more than covered. I love the trenching plan for freight and commuter rail lines, and the streetcar network they envision to complement it makes a lot of sense. There’s more, too – sidewalks, hike and bike trails, and so forth. Give it a look, and attend the meeting on Monday if you can.

A win for the Washington Quiet Zone

Some good news for those who live in and around the Washington Avenue corridor.

Come late April, train horns should be quieter through the Washington Avenue corridor from just north of Interstate 10 to Harvard Street.

Union Pacific and two other railroads use the rail line that parallels the corridor, and federal rules currently require them to signal their approach to road intersections in the area. Residents who live nearby are weary of the horns, which sound day and night, and have been working to create a quiet zone for years.

I’ve said before, I can hear those horns from inside my house more than a mile away, and they sound at all hours. This will be a huge improvement in these folks’ quality of life.

Still more on the Heights recycling center

You may recall that the city had proposed selling the neighborhood recycling center on Center Street to the Admiral Linen business next door, and that this move was opposed by residents in the area. The city is still considering this possibility, and the residents are still opposing it.

Harold Hayes, director of the city’s Solid Waste Department, said last week the department hasn’t shelved plans to sell the property at 3602 Center St. The city’s real estate division is searching for an alternate location for the recycling center, he said.

But residents in the area, who are organized as the Washington Avenue/Memorial Park Super Neighborhood Council, oppose the idea. The coalition’s president, Jane Cahill West, characterized the idea as “a fire sale” and a “sweetheart deal,” and said selling the Inner Loop property would be like selling the “crown jewels.”

[…]

City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who represents the area, said Mayor Bill White intends to pursue the offer from Admiral Linen. He said he will host community meetings in the coming weeks to discuss the issue.

“It hasn’t been resolved where to relocate. I think that needs to be worked out. Should we sell the property, number one, and number two is, what’s the timetable to have an alternative plan? That’s where it is right now,” Gonzalez said.

[…]

Members of the Super Neighborhood coalition think the city should keep the Center Street property, lease part of it to Admiral Linen, then use the proceeds to develop a parking garage on the site which could help solve parking problems associated with the growing entertainment scene just blocks away on Washington Avenue, West said.

“Selling that property will be to the detriment of our community and to the city at large,” West said. “There’s not enough land in the Inner Loop as it is for the city to provide services we need.”

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of selling this location, if there’s a good alternate location in hand and the city gets a good price for it. But there isn’t an identified alternative yet, and West is correct that this isn’t such a good time to be selling prime property like that. Surely the city would fetch a much better price for the place in another year or so, by which time there may be a viable alternative that folks can live with. In the meantime, I think it’s worth exploring the option the Super Neighborhood folks have proposed, which might just give everyone at least some of what they want.

Take the Washington Corridor survey

From the Public Works department:

Washington Corridor Survey



Dear Resident,
The Quiet Zone program would like to hear your concerns regarding the proposed improvements
presented at the 2nd public meeting on August 26, 2009. Improvements include:

  • •Median work at TC Jester, Patterson, Heights Blvd and Harvard.
  • •Portions of Allen Street converted to one way, Sherwin convert to one way.
  • •Proposed closures at Thompson and Bonner.
  • •Durham and N. Shepherd additional signage and redo pavement markings.

Public comments will be taken until Monday, October 5, 2009 at 5:00pm. If you responded during our
first comment period, we have your response and there is no need to respond again. The Department of
Public Works and Engineering will review all the information and comments regarding the project.

Click over and give your feedback. More on the Washington Quiet Zone here and here.

District H townhall meetings

From the inbox:

Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzalez is sponsoring two town hall meetings in District H.

Heights town hall meeting, 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10 at Reagan High School, 413 E. 13th St.

Washington Avenue Corridor town hall meeting, 6-8 p.m. Monday Sept. 14 at the West End Multi-Service Center, 170 Heights Blvd.

The goal of both the forums, Gonzalez said, is to discuss various issues that are directly affecting residents of the district and to have an open discussion.

Residents are urged to invite family, friends and neighbors to this event.

Participation is critical to work toward improving the quality of life for all of District H, said Gonzalez.

For more information please contact Jason Cisneroz at 832-393-3003 or at jason.cisneroz@cityofhouston.net

At least now we know what he does with his time

Apparently, Orlando Sanchez, our do-nothing County Treasurer, is a closet urbanist. I’ll direct you to Greg for a thorough review of Sanchez’s vision for Washington Avenue, to which there’s not much to add. I will note that Sanchez continues to be two-faced about light rail, and that he managed to write this entire piece without mentioning that there’s a pretty active Super Neighborhood group that’s been thinking about this sort of thing for (I daresay) a lot longer than he has. (And not to toot my own horn, but some of us have been thinking about the light rail possibilities in that corridor for awhile, too.) But at least now we know he’s done something other than play Solitaire during his time in office.

The party corridor

I’d meant to get to this NYT article about the Washington Avenue corridor last week, but never quite got there. I suppose the main thing I’d add is that while the new stuff has replaced unmemorable things, a whole lot of history has vanished as well, including a variety of live music outlets like Rockefellers and the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, plus the venerable Pig Stand, whose old location across the street from Beaver’s is now being converted into something modern and high-end. On balance, today’s Washington Avenue is an improved place for the city and its residents, and will some day make an excellent light rail corridor; it’s already dense enough and features enough attractions to be worthwhile. But anyone who remembers these places will wonder about what might have been if they had survived.

Roundabout

I drive through the Washinton on Westcott roundabout every now and then, and find it to be a more pleasant and efficient experience than waiting at a light or playing the “which one of us goes next?” game that you often get at a four-way stop. I’m told there are more such roundabouts in the works at some locations, with Washington at Heights and Yale being on the list. I’d driven through roundabouts elsewhere before – Tiffany and I took a trip to France just before Olivia was born, and the road from Paris to champagne country is littered with them – and find them easy to navigate, but they’re still pretty new here, and some folks may not know what to do with them.

There’s a bill related to roundabouts – HB2214 – that has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate that would require driver’s ed students to receive instructions on how to deal with circular intersections. Monica Savino, President of the WOW Roundabout Board of Directors, gave testimony to the House Transportation Committee in favor of HB2214 as follows:

Since its completion in 2006, our Roundabout has had great success in meeting our goals.

The rate of serious accidents has virtually disappeared and our rate of minor accidents is very small.

During the first full year of operation in 2006, the City of Houston documented only 10 accidents – all minor with no injuries.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has determined that the modern roundabout is significantly more safe than a standard signalized intersection.

Mobility has been very good; currently, we move approximately 34,000 cars per day through the WOW Roundabout.

And we move them; vehicles don’t idle waiting for light changes, they don’t stop and start as they inch their way through the intersection when turns are made as in a four-way stop.

As a result, auto emissions are reduced as are other negatives that traffic congestion can bring.

During the days and weeks after Hurricane Ike, the WOW Roundabout performed as it does on any other day.

I have quickly located several new Roundabouts in the State and there are many more “on the boards”, as they say.

Traffic professionals and communities are finding in some cases that this is a more appropriate solution than the old-fashioned standard intersection.

The Federal Highway Administration is endorsing roundabouts for future projects.
We expect that Texans will see and drive through more Roundabouts in the future.

When WOW is asked by the community, “what are the proper procedures when driving through the roundabout?”, all we can do is direct them to one of the other states that makes this information available for their residents: Washington, Kansas, Colorado, Florida and New York. WOW would like the State of Texas to be the definitive resource for Texans.

Seems reasonable enough, wouldn’t you say? This CTC forum thread, from which I got Savino’s testimony, is asking folks to contact the members of the Senate transportation committee, which includes Sen. Rodney Ellis and Sen. Joan Huffman, to ask for their support of HB2214. A sample letter is included if you want to email or fax their office. HB2214 passed the House on a 142-2 vote, so it shouldn’t be controversial. It just needs to come up in time. And if you need a little incentive, try this:

The power of Jon Anderson and Chris Squire compels you.

Whose TIRZ?

My reaction to this story about whether some development projects that didn’t benefit from getting a TIRZ designation might have been better suited for it than some that did get that benefit is that as long as there are those who get and those who don’t we’ll always have those questions. Maybe that’s an argument for doing away with TIRZes entirely (I suspect such a proposal would not go very far) or for making the rules about them more objective, but I don’t think you’ll ever be able to remove subjective evaluations and, yes, politics from consideration. I also don’t think comparing two recent projects will tell us much, since frankly either of them could have gone either way.

As for the case in question here, there’s no doubt that Sawyer Street needs massive improvements between I-10 and Washington Avenue. Between the successful Sawyer Heights development and the new housing springing up on the side roads, what used to be a low-traffic street for mostly trucks is now heavily used, both to access what’s now there and as a cut-through to I-45 by those who want to avoid the horrible I-10 to I-45 interchange. It’s likely to get busier as the industrial lots in the area get sold off and redeveloped. I believe a proposal to fix and widen Sawyer Street is in the CIP for District H; all I can say is the sooner the better. Perhaps we’d have gotten a good result faster if Sawyer Heights’ TIRZ plan had been accepted, and perhaps we’ll get a better result this way, I don’t know. As long as it happens and gets done right, that’s what will matter.

Catch the WAve

The following is a message from Super Neighborhood 22:

Catch the WAve Day, all day Saturday March 7

Hosted by: SN22, Mayor White’s Office of Special Events, and MECA

Purpose: To showcase area businesses, schools & non-profits, plus an eco-fair and children’s activities

What’s going on:

  • Washington Ave corridor businesses will be offering special values & incentives
  • Grab a go.rev.go electro-cab from one participating business to another (for tips)
  • Eco-Fair from 1-5 in Spotts Park (corner of Memorial Drive & Waugh)**

** Spotts Park will feature live music and performances by MECA, a Children’s Spott with special interactions, and the Eco-Fair, with Go Green reps from city departments, plus a host of green community organizations.

Click on to see the flyers for more details.

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