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Yale

Yale Street Bridge reopens

Woo hoo!

Heights area residents woke up Tuesday to a bright sunny day in more ways than one, finding that crews had opened the new Yale Bridge spanning White Oak Bayou.

The opening late Monday is roughly 10 months ahead of the original schedule laid out by Texas Department of Transportation officials when the old bridge closed in April. During the lengthy detour, traffic often bottled up along Heights Boulevard between Interstate 10 and Allen Parkway.

[…]

The new bridge has two lanes in each direction and eight-foot sidewalks on each side to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, separated from vehicles by a metal railing. Lighting and railings on the edges of the bridge mimic those from the original bridge.

See here for the background. We were actually expecting it to reopen in February, so this is even earlier than we thought. Isn’t it nice to get some good construction news every now and then? Swamplot has more.

Yale Street bridge reopening sooner than expected

Hooray!

Christmas 2017 is coming very early for Heights area commuters, now that transportation officials have confirmed that the new Yale Street bridge will open in early February – roughly 10 months ahead of the previous schedule.

“They’re working fast,” TxDOT spokesman Danny Perez said Friday, acknowledging the accelerated opening day.

Replacing the Yale Street bridge near the Heights has snarled traffic, which is already impacted when trains block the Heights Boulevard crossing. Without Yale, traffic has poured onto Heights, sometimes backing it up to Allen Parkway.

“We understand the dynamics of anything you close in this vicinity,” Perez said, “and that’s why everyone came together to get this done as quickly as possible.”

[…]

Progress on the span has moved at lighting pace. By mid-November, the support beams were in place and workers were forming the steel rebar. This week, the concrete deck that will be paved for the road was coming together.

“The contractor was motivated to get this work moving, and so were we,” Perez said. “Sometimes, we can move them kind of quickly and provide whatever help we can.”

The schedule – which included expectations that materials and weather would hamper work – was based on established criteria. Construction, however, never ran into serious delays and steel, concrete and other materials were never in short supply.

See here for the background. It’s good to know that every once in awhile, karma works in your favor. The construction has caused a lot of congestion on Heights Blvd around I-10, and I’m sure I speak for many people who have to slog through that when I say that I am delighted it will soon get a little better.

Help a brick out

From Swamplot:

AN INDIEGOGO PAGE has just been launched to crowdfund the removal and reuse of an unexpectedly large group of well-preserved 1930s bricks from thenow-under-deconstruction Yale St. bridge over White Oak Bayou. The group calling itself Friends of Houston’s Yale Bridge Bricks says the funds will be used to preserve the bricks for reuse both around the bridge and elsewhere around the city.

The fundraising effort shares some organizers with Friends of the Fountain, which launched the late-February campaign to crowdfund the de-restoration and subsequent repair of the Mecom Fountain following its short-lived experiment with limestone couture. That effort raised more than $50,000 toward a $60k goal in one month; Bill Baldwin (of both Friends groups) says it the fountain’s fundraiser received over $100k in total, including offline donations. This latest round of online crowdfunding the preservation of National Register of Historic Places structures is starting the bar higher, with a goal of $100,000 shown on the fundraising page.

Here’s a fuller description from the fundraising page:

Because of the bridge’s status on the National Registry of Historic Places, the bridge was technically eligible for publicly funded relocation. After investigation by several local and national historians and engineers, it became unfortunately clear that preserving the entire bridge through relocation would be unfeasible, though the design of the new bridge would incorporate some bricks under its asphalt surface and historical elements from the balustrades and lampposts.

TxDOT originally reported that, “The condition of the bricks would not be known until the asphalt is removed before demolition starts…it is likely that the bricks would be damaged during removal of asphalt layer. The use of bricks on the new bridge would add deadload to the bridge and thus would require increasing support requirements, as well as cost of construction.”

However, once the asphalt of the bridge was removed last week, a treasure trove of beautifully intact, original brick greeted workers spanning the length of the bridge. Over 40,000 bricks dating back to at least the 1931 construction of the bridge are in prime condition to be used elsewhere and saved from the landfill. This has been astonishing discovery that opens up a world of possibilities.

Through a partnership with the Houston Parks & Recreation Department, the Houston Parks Board, the Historic Preservation Office of the Planning Department, TxDOT, the Mayor’s Office, and others, Bill Baldwin and friends are seeking to privately fund the careful removal and storage of these historic bricks.

The bricks will be used in surrounding infrastructure and beautification projects, not just in the immediate area, but in other historically significant locations throughout the city as well.

The fundraising goal for this project is $100,000. Fundraising efforts will be led by Baldwin, who recently co-chaired with Phoebe Tudor the astonishingly successful Friends of the Fountain crowdfunding campaign to restore Mecom Fountain, which raised over $100,000 including off-line donations.

This is a worthy cause, and we would love to have your support!

They’re off to a slow start. I suspect this is the kind of project that will need a few deep pockets, because I don’t think there will be enough small-dollar donations to make the cut. I don’t know what the deadline is for this, but if it’s the sort of thing that floats your boat, have at it.

Meet the toucan light

The first of its kind in Houston, though maybe not the last.

Not that kind of toucan

The new traffic signal suspended above Appel at Yale and Seventh is a first for Texas, but also an adjustment for residents – some of whom are unsure of its benefit.

Called a toucan, as in “two can go,” the signal gives pedestrians and bicyclists a red-yellow-green signal and stops vehicular traffic with a traffic light at the touch of a button. In other spots around Houston, pedestrians can activate walk signs or flashing red lights. Cyclists along Lamar receive a special traffic light along the street’s green cycle path.

The toucan takes the signal to another level, said Jeff Weatherford, deputy director of Houston Public Works, who oversees traffic management.

“The (traffic) volumes on 7th are not really there,” he said. “It will never meet the warrants for a regular traffic signal.”

However, the trail – often bustling with joggers and cyclists and strollers – has enough demand to command its own green lights to stop traffic. Trail users can activate the signal with a button, similar to pedestrian crossings at major intersections. Drivers stop as they would in any other traffic signal circumstance.

“It’s a traffic signal to them, no difference at all,” Weatherford said.

The timing is set to give pedestrians time to cross the street. As trail use increases in various spots around Houston, Weatherford said the toucan signals could be installed in other spots where practical and when funding allows it.

[…]

Trammell Crow Residential, developers of two apartment buildings along Yale near the trail, paid for the toucan’s analysis and construction, estimated to cost between $150,000 and $200,000, said Ben Johnson with Trammell Crow.

The company agreed to pay for the signal during discussions with residents skeptical about the developments, which are expected to increase traffic on Yale.

The city will pay for maintenance and operations, including the cost of electricity to operate the signals.

The trail’s new location, however, has alarmed some. To line up the signal with Seventh, a requirement of state traffic codes, the trail curves headed east and deposits cyclists and pedestrians on the east side of Seventh into a median installed in the middle of the street.

The center location is less safe, said Shirley Summers, as she pushed her daughter Molly, 2, in a stroller.

“Cars turning right can’t see where I’m going,” she said last week.

I’m glad to see this, because crossing Yale at that location is indeed scary – traffic is heavy, there’s four lanes of it, and pretty much nobody pays attention to the speed limit. If this works as hoped, I’d suggest the city look at installing another one of these on 11th Street where the trail that runs along Nicholson crosses, because it’s the exact same situation. A word of warning, via a comment on Facebook, is that cars apparently don’t always respect the light at the head of the TC Jester trail. Having now driven past this light on Yale headed northbound, I can tell you that it’s actually kind of hard to see the light as you approach it from 6th Street. There’s a tree on the east side of Yale that blocks your view of the light (or at least, it blocked mine) until you’re quite close to it. Might be a good idea for the city to look into that, and also for HPD to have some traffic enforcement there in the early going. I sure hope this does what it promises to do. What do you think?

Yale Street Bridge to be closed for construction

Three words: Find alternate routes.

There’s about to be a lot of yelling about Yale Street, as the historic span makes way for a modern replacement.

Crews will close the bridge carrying the road over White Oak bayou on April 18 to prepare for demolition. For the next 20 months, drivers in the area will have to do without the segment of Yale.

Signs warning motorists were installed recently by the Texas Department of Transportation, finalizing that construction is imminent. Detours are planned, but many drivers are expecting to avoid the area entirely.

[…]

The bridge, built in 1931, is one of seven bridges in Houston listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though the designation doesn’t save the bridge, it does require a more meticulous process to replace it.

The bridge has been a source of discussion for years, as commercial development south of it has increased. TxDOT nearly closed the bridge in 2012, when trucks weighing more than 3,000 pounds were restricted from using it because of structural concerns.

The last update I have on this is from July of 2014, so no one can say this has been rushed. At least the construction on Shepherd is almost finished, so that will serve well as an alternate route. If you’re the type that blows a gasket when you get stuck waiting for a freight train to pass, though, your only option with an underpass is Studemont. This is going to be a long 20 months. Swamplot, which was first to have this, has more.

What’s coming to the Yale Street post office location

Some more news from my neighborhood.

A Houston developer plans to replace a shuttered U.S. Postal Service building in the Heights with a two-story mixed-use development with space for offices, shops and restaurants.

MFT Interests last month scooped up the full-acre property, and the development company is in the planning stages of bringing a low-rise project dubbed Heights Central Station to the corner of Yale and 11th, said Glenn Clements, the development group’s chief financial officer.

The existing 1970s-era structure will be demolished. The project will include a pair of two-story buildings with office space on the upper floors and retail on the ground. The developers hope to attract professionals and fitness studios in the office space and perhaps two restaurants and up to eight shops at ground level.

The building is not historically significant. But because the site is partially in a historic district, the development may need approval from the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission. Clements said MFT wants the project to have a “retro feeling” to it. The neighborhood was developed roughly between 1900 and 1920, and Clements said MFT hopes the new building would blend in with the older architecture.

“We’re building it in 2016, but it will look like 1916,” he said.

See here for the background. Swamplot reported this a few days earlier, and there’s a lively discussion in the comments about what the parking situation will be like, which ought to be interesting given that both the new Eight Row Flint across the street on Yale and Lola’s on the opposite side of 11th have used the old post office lot as overflow. There’s no street parking on 11th or Yale, and there’s usually not much available on Heights Blvd. Folks who wind up parking offsite are going to need to walk a few blocks, which means that the nearby homeowners are likely going to start complaining. CM Cohen may need to designate a staff member to handle the complaints. Anyway, I look forward to seeing who moves in.

RIP, Yale Street post office

It’s gone.

Clues could have been the overgrown landscaping, multiple notices taped to the doors and, for the keenest observer, the bare pole without a U.S. flag or clanging metal cables.

Headed back to his SUV on Thursday, one man with an envelope threw up his hands and yelled to a lady scurrying to the door with a package: “They moved!”

Indeed, the plan for the Yale Street post office in the Heights at 11th Street to relocate operations has come to pass.

The new station opened this week in a remodeled annex at 1300 W. 19th Street, though the consumer entrance and drive-up drop box is on 18th Street. The location is near where 18th, 19th and 20th streets pitchfork near East T.C. Jester.

[…]

In January 2015, a posted notice on the Yale Street station indicated a pending “disposal action.”

Which I noted at the time. Since then, both of the adjoining locations that were under development have opened. The former Citgo across Yale is now Eight Row Flint, which looks promising, while the large space across 11th at Heights is now one of those walk-in emergency clinics, which I hope to never need. (It’s gotten mixed reviews on the neighborhood chat boards, for what it’s worth.) No idea at this time what the Yale post office location will become, I’m just rooting for something interesting.

As for the new post office on W 19th, I try to avoid that part of town precisely because that three-road “pitchfork” is a pain to deal with. Besides, the location on Cavalcade is a bit closer. Neither is more convenient to me than the old station was, but that’s the way it goes.

Say goodbye to the Yale Street post office

The Heights real estate boom continues apace.

The next hot property to hit the market in the Heights is nearly 1 acre in size, boasts a large shade tree and fronts two busy commercial streets. The current owner is motivated to sell.

On Monday, the U.S. Postal Service confirmed that it intends to sell the brown-brick post office property at 1050 Yale, at 11th Street, and consolidate operations with another station 2.3 miles away.

“Plans are underway to relocate the retail services of the Heights Finance Station to the T.W. House Postal Station,” the service said Monday in a brief statement. “The Heights Finance Station has been placed on the real estate market and will be sold in the near future.”

In a public notice date-marked Friday and posted prominently near the front door of the Heights Finance Station, the agency says the parcel has been determined “excess” and is “no longer necessary” to its mission. If the “disposal action” goes through, the Heights property would join more than 100 other relocation projects announced nationwide as the Postal Service has had to cope with declining revenue in recent years.

Developers will be eager to pounce, said Bill Baldwin of Heights-area real estate firm Boulevard Realty. He said several commercial developments have recently been completed in that area, and more are under construction or on the books.

“The retail people will be vying for it left and right,” said Baldwin, who is also on the Woodland Heights Civic Association board. “That is too valuable of a corner and too much quantity of land. It’s a very desirable location.”

Swamplot first reported this. I should note that the former Citgo station across the street on Yale is set to become a restaurant, and there’s a commercial development going on across Heights at 11th as well, so this immediate area is about to become something very different. I’m not thrilled by losing this post office – I still pay a few bills the old-fashioned way, and we send out homemade-by-the-girls birthday cards to various friends and family, all of which it is most convenient for me to drop in the drive-by mailboxes at this station – but it is what it is. I hope we at least get something interesting out of the sale and transformation of this property, and not another CVS or fast food-oriented strip center.

Yale Street Bridge replacement set to begin

And inevitably there’s an issue.

Time is running out for the historic Yale Street bridge over White Oak Bayou as its condition deteriorates and surrounding development places increasing demands on it.

Some in the Heights- area community believe more should be done to preserve the 1930s-era structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But state transportation engineers say it can’t handle the required loads.

The bridge, just south of Interstate 10, was teetering on closure in 2012 when Texas Department of Transportation engineers lowered its load limit – the maximum weight of a vehicle – to 3,000 pounds per axle. A large, loaded sport utility vehicle could exceed that limit, not to mention the delivery trucks becoming a more common sight as commercial development flourishes along Yale and nearby Washington Avenue.

The lowered weight limit concerned neighbors, who pressed for answers.

“What was agreed upon then was, ‘When we can make it happen, we need a new bridge,’ ” said City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who represents the area. “We have got to be able to accommodate the traffic.”

[…]

Construction of a replacement bridge is scheduled to begin in September 2016. Yet some are not convinced that this is necessary.

“I take the position that the bridge can stay and it has been improved,” said Kirk Farris, a local historic preservationist who has worked with TxDOT to preserve other bridges.

Farris, president of Art & Environmental Architecture Inc., and the Texas Historical Commission prepared the 2011 application that placed the Yale Street bridge on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the application, preservationists said the bridge “is one of a few remaining examples of bayou crossings constructed during the city’s street improvement bond program of the 1930s.”

The last update I had was last January, though I know there’s been action since then. Far as I can recall, this is the first time the subject of preservation has come up. I have to say, as someone who has driven over this bridge many times, I’m not clear on what the historic architectural features of it are. If it’s the exterior barriers, then surely something can be done to save at least a piece of them. If it’s something underneath the bridge, I gotta say, I’m not sure what the value of preservation is. I’d value a bridge that we can all feel comfortable will not collapse under the weight it’s now bearing. If there’s a sensible way to avoid demolition while making it safe, then sure, go for it. If not, well, I can’t say I’ll mourn the loss. I value preservation, but I’m not sure what the value of it is here. In any event, there’s a public meeting tonight at 6:30 at 7600 Washington Avenue to discuss the possibilities. That’s the place to be if you want to know more.

More construction on Yale

It’s Alexan Heights II: Midrise Boogaloo.

The first Alexan Heights on Yale

For residents near Yale and 6th street, Independence Day fireworks were nothing compared to the sparks flying when news of another proposed apartment complex came to light July 5.

A heads-up notification from District C Council Member Ellen Cohen’s office to various residents, land use groups and neighborhood organizations told of Trammell Crow Residential’s proposed plan to build a second upscale apartment complex in the area. Reportedly dubbed “Alexan Yale,” the development would be located on Yale between 5th and 6th streets.

The 4.9-acre site is currently home to Fixtures International and is a block south of TCR’s further-along luxury apartment project, Alexan Heights, which fronts Yale St. at 6th and 7th streets.

TCR did not respond to requests for information on the proposed Alexan Yale.

As described in Cohen’s letter, however, the new project is “expected to include four stories of units over two levels of parking, with one level of parking below grade. TCR has the site under contract and is currently performing preliminary due diligence, and they expect to close the purchase of the property by the end of the year. Once TCR establishes a site plan and unit count, they will perform a new traffic study that will include roadways and intersections included in their previous TIA, while also including new intersections on Yale St., Heights Boulevard, and I-10, as well as pedestrian counts.”

See here and here for some background. As you might imagine, neighborhood residents as a whole aren’t particularly thrilled by this. But there’s only so much that can be done about this, and there’s only so much that should be done about it. Dense development is coming, to the Heights and other desirable neighborhoods. It’s where people want to live, and there’s a lot more demand than there is supply. Condo and apartment developments like these help to fill the gap. Unlike the Ashby highrise, this is an appropriate location for a multi-story structure – Yale is basically a thoroughfare, and it’s right near a highway. If you can’t build a six-story complex there, where can you build them?

(Yes, I saw that Chron story yesterday about the five-story development on Morrison Street in my neighborhood that has my neighbors up in arms. I’ll have more on that tomorrow. That’s a completely different situation, since Morrison is a little side street and there are houses all around the property, while Yale is a thoroughfare and these lots are not close to many houses.)

I get why people are concerned about this. My advice would be not to fight this with the intent of trying to prevent it from being built, because that’s at best a longshot. I mean, if Ashby can get built, what reason is there to disallow this? What neighborhood folks could do, and should do, is engage with the developer and the city to push for some specific improvements that would make the overall development better and would help mitigate the traffic impact. For example:

– Good, sufficiently wide sidewalks running along Yale from at least I-10 to the bike trail at 7th. This is still a sore point from the Wal-Mart development, so let’s not make the same mistakes here.

– Install that pedestrian-controlled traffic light where the bike trail crosses Yale, which Trammel Crow has previously said they’d be willing to pay for.

– Talk to TxDOT about adding that dedicated right turn lane on Yale to I-10 westbound, which should help a bit with traffic flow at that light.

– Longer term, engage with Metro and Super Neighborhood 22 to ensure that the area will have suitable bus service as Metro redesigns its bus routes, and that when and if a rail or streetcar line is designed for the Washington Avenue corridor that this high-density cluster between Heights and Yale, and Koehler and 6th is taken into account as well.

This is unlikely to have a large effect in the immediate term, but it will be better than nothing, and it will position the area for future growth, since surely this is not the last such project to be planned – I mean, no one expects that orange juice distribution warehouse on the east side of Yale to be there forever, right? As I see it, it’s this or be forced to react to the announcement of the next project. You tell me which is preferable. Swamplot has photos of the development area, and Hair Balls has more.

Alexan Heights gets approved

The Leader News updates us on the latest news regarding the proposed development on Yale at 7th.

Alexan Heights on Yale

Houston’s Planning Commission has approved Trammell Crow Residential’s replat application without variance for the site of its 360-unit Alexan Heights mid-rise luxury apartment at Yale and 6th streets, West Heights Coalition’s website reports.

The replat for the 3.5-acre site included properties previously restricted to single family use but recently revised with deed restrictions amendments.

The deed restrictions involved single-family home initially within the block-filling complex’s proposed footprint — properties that the owners did not want to sell and that TCR was able to design around. TCR’s earlier request for construction with a variance failed before the Houston Planning Commission.

A half-dozen or so area residents spoke against the replat request at the May 23 hearing — and others had written and called relevant offices and attended numerous planning commission meetings, WHC sources said.

See here and here for the background, and here for the WHC’s statement. I think people are going to have to come to terms with projects like this and Elan Heights and whatever the next foofily-named high-end apartment project that will replace some existing piece of old Heights development is. People want to live in the Heights, but the houses are scarce and ridiculously expensive. A high-end condo or apartment isn’t a bad alternative for a lot of folks, given that reality. For all of the gentrification that has occurred in the last decade or so, there’s still a lot of low-end properties and vacant lots dotting the map. Trammell Crow, to their credit, is offering to address some of the items on the neighborhood wish list, in particular a pedestrian-activated crossing signal where the bike path traverses Yale, as part of their offer to the city for this space. I think overall we’re going to be better off engaging developers on that sort of thing rather than going full metal Ashby Highrise and hoping for a different outcome. I’m just saying.

Alexan Heights trying again

The Leader News reports that the proposed mid-rise apartment complex for Yale at 7th Street has been reworked in a way that would avoid the need for a variance.

Alexan Heights on Yale

The deed restrictions involved single-family homes within the proposed complex — properties that the owners did not want to sell and that TCR was able to design around. TCR’s earlier request for construction with a variance failed before the Houston Planning Commission.

An advance copy of the new notice was part of a TCR/Maple Multi-Family Land TX letter to District C Councilwoman Ellen Cohen dated April 19, portions of which read: “The replat includes properties that were previously restricted to single family. The deed restrictions for these properties have been amended to allow multi-family so the replat will include all 3.55 acres of the site as an unrestricted reserve.”

The letter to Cohen also says TCR has restricted the project’s driveway on Allston Street to be a service exit, left turn only, to divert traffic away from the neighborhood. And, the developer “is willing to work” with Allston Street neighbors if they seek parking restrictions or “No Parking” signs adjacent to the apartment project.

In addition, the letter to Cohen says that if the city will approve a HAWK signal — a crossing signal controlled by pedestrians or bicyclists — at the bike trail adjacent to the mid-rise’s site, TCR will fund and build it. Similarly, the company “is prepared to make a contribution” to the detention pond/park at Rutland and 6th streets.

See here for the last update, and see here for a copy of the letter sent to CM Cohen’s office, which they shared with me. “TCR” is Trammel Crow Residential. I had thought they’d get the variance that they were ultimately denied, so I’m not going to speculate what may happen here. The neighborhood is still opposed to the idea, or at least the more vocal factions of the neighborhood is opposed. I know there’s a lot of interest in putting some kind of signal at the bike trail crosswalk, so you’d think there might be room for negotiation here. Be that as it may, there is a public hearing scheduled for 2:30 p.m. May 23 at City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby St to discuss this, so we’ll see what happens this time. Swamplot has more.

Alexan Heights update

The developers of the Alexan Heights project on Yale will go before the Planning Commission tomorrow to get a variance that would remove a single-family restriction on part of the property. Some folks in the neighborhood have been petitioning against the variance. The Leader reports from a meeting that was supposed to be between residents and the developer, except that the developer didn’t show.

Plans submitted by Terra Associates, affiliated with several luxury Alexan apartments throughout the Houston area, show a 350-plus unit complex with 4 stories of apartment units over two levels of parking, one of which is below grade. Currently a mixed-use block in the Maple Heights subdivision, the 3.5-acre site fronts Yale between 6th and 7th, with Allston Street its interior border and the Heights Hike-and-Bike Trail to its north.

Last week, Houston Planning Commission deferred its decision on whether to grant a variance request to replat as unrestricted reserved a single-family portion of the site. Since it has twice-deferred the variance request, however, the planning commission must make a decision at its next meeting, with or without the traffic study reportedly being conducted by the developer and expected in mid-February.

Whether passed or denied, however, a version of the project is likely to advance in some form, said Bill Pellerin, land use committee chairman, who also said neither the committee nor the association has taken a position on the proposed project.

Residents, however, were outspoken on the project’s potential impact on traffic in an already-bottlenecked stretch of roadway, on access and flow, on setbacks, on sidewalks, on drainage and on the overall presence of a mid-rise building abutting an otherwise single-family neighborhood.

“The variance is the project,” one attendee said, calling for residents to give the planning commission “reasons to deny it” and to remind commissioners as well as council members that seeking a variance means something is not in compliance. “Stick to the rules,” said another resident.

The West Heights Coalition is leading the resistance, with assistance from RUDH. I have sympathy for the WHC, but I have a hard time seeing how the Planning Commission denies the variance. There’s a similar high-end apartment complex about a mile north, at 2125 Yale, and between 6th and I-10 Yale is basically all industrial. Yale is a thoroughfare in the way that Bissonnet where the Ashby Highrise will be isn’t. It’s true that the traffic is awful right there, but as far as I can tell that’s because of the traffic light that went in after the I-10 service road was extended west of Yale. You could probably mitigate some of this traffic by building a dedicated right-turn lane for the service road, which is something I know was talked about as mitigation for the Wal-Mart construction. Anyone know whatever happened with that? Tweaking the timing on that light to give a longer green and a shorter red for Yale would also help some. I certainly agree that between this, the Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart-related development, and whatever is to come on the San Jacinto Stone site, Yale is going to become an unholy mess to drive on. But given all that, it’s hard to see how this one project will make that much difference.

Yale Street Bridge work set to begin

Good to hear.

Work to rehabilitate the Yale Street Bridge south of Interstate 10 is scheduled to begin in April.

According to the Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering, the process will involve installation of external carbon-strip reinforcement along the bridge beams, significantly increasing the load-bearing weight of the structure, which now is set at 3,000 pounds per axle. Bids are expected to be received in February, with contracts awarded in March and rehab work beginning in April.

The bridge is on a Texas Department of Transportation prioritized list for statewide funding for replacement, with construction anticipated to start in late 2016.

The bridge’s capacity was downgraded by TxDOT from 8,000 pounds per axle last September.

Until the work is completed, monthly inspections of the bridge are slated to continue. Most cars, SUVs and light trucks do not exceed the restrictions, but some do. You can check the weight limit of your vehicle on the sticker attached on the driver’s side door.

The Houston Police Department continues enforcement efforts, as anyone who drives that regularly can attest. Also, the city is remotely monitoring bridge traffic to identify possible overweight vehicle violations. Perhaps the biggest reduction of traffic to the bridge is that with the completion of Koehler between Heights Boulevard and Yale, there is now an easy alternative route via the Heights Boulevard Bridge for northbound and southbound truck traffic. The Heights Boulevard Bridge does not have load limits. For more about the bridge and the rehab project, contact Alvin Wright at 832-395-2455 or alvin.wright@houstontx.gov.

See here, here, and here for some background. With the Alexan Heights project on the drawing board there’s even more reason to get this going. Hopefully this will make the situation a little better until full-on reconstruction can begin.

Alexan Heights on Yale

If you live in my neck of the woods you’re probably interested in the news (via Swamplot) of the new apartment complex being planned for the empty lot on Yale between 6th and 7th. The RUDH January newsletter has details.

Trammel Crow Residential is planning its first project in the Heights, at the corner of Yale and 6th Streets. At their request, Council Member Cohen invited RUDH to discuss our questions and possible concerns. We prepared a three-page document outlining concerns that ranged from potential traffic impacts, streetscape greening and sidewalk connectivity, safe signalized crossings for pedestrians and cyclists, proposed connections to existing bike trails and park spaces and a desire to ensure the appropriate architectural style to fit the fabric of our neighborhood. RUDH also coordinated with the landscape architectural firm that proposed designs to facilitate converting the new drainage detention pond into community park space (south of the hike and bike path and next to Rutland). At the moment, there are currently no plans in place to make the new drainage detention pond into useable green space.

The good news from the meeting is that Trammel Crow is interested in working with RUDH and community leaders to transform this drainage detention pond into a public green space amenity. The developer also communicated their interest in investing in the surrounding streetscapes and infrastructure in a manner that promotes mobility and creates safe connections for pedestrians and cyclists.

Trammel Crow Residential has committed to share their traffic and drainage studies with RUDH when they become available and stated they would perform mitigations as required by the City. We are hopeful this positive collaboration will lead to a sustainable development and mitigate any newly created problems.

The bit about turning the detention pond into usable green space is interesting and encouraging; see this Swamplot post for more on the pond, which has been under construction for awhile. I don’t know why it is that 6th Street doesn’t go through to Shepherd, but given that it doesn’t a well-landscaped community park is an excellent use of the space. I hope RUDH and the neighborhood folks can help make it happen.

The Heights Wal-Mart is now open

On the plus side, the world did not come to an end. On the minus side, it’s still a lousy location for a Wal-Mart and a giant missed opportunity for better, more urban-oriented development.

For nearly 2½ years, Heights-area residents fought against one of the largest corporations in the world, employing yard signs, meeting with City Council members, even filing a lawsuit. It was an intense emotional effort to stop Walmart from opening a store just outside the Heights, its first inside Loop 610.

In the end, Walmart won. Its 153,000-square-foot Supercenter opened Friday at Yale and Koehler streets.

Those living nearby have mixed feelings about the store, ranging from anger to apathy, with some just waiting to see if any of the naysayers’ concerns come to fruition.

But for some opponents, the fight is far from lost. They say their cause always extended beyond just stopping the development of the Walmart.

“It was if you’re going to develop the neighborhood, do it right,” said Rob Task, president of Responsible Urban Development for Houston, a nonprofit born from the controversy over the Supercenter.

This earlier Chron story and The Leader have more on what’s on the inside of this store, and on the Studemont Kroger a mile or so due east that opened the same day. I can’t say I noticed a difference in traffic on Studemont on Friday, but it’s been awful around there for some time now, so it’s hard to say how much worse it could get. We’ll never know what could have been here, we can just hope that what we got isn’t as bad as we’ve feared it will be.

Yale Street Bridge load limit reduced again

From the inbox, via CitizensNet:

Yale Street Bridge Load Limit Further Reduced by TxDOT

City of Houston Takes Proactive Steps to Monitor Bridge Usage

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has reduced the load limit on the Yale Street Bridge just south of Interstate 10 from 8,000 lbs. per single axle to 3,000 lbs. per single axle. A standard passenger car with two single axles and a maximum weight of 6,000 lbs. (3,000 lbs. x 2 axles) would meet the new limit, but certain pick-up trucks and sport utility vehicles may exceed the new limit.

The change is not indicative of any recent deterioration in the bridge’s physical condition. It remains safe, but should be used within the new posted load limits. All required signs are now posted, north and south of the bridge, establishing the new load limit.

The Houston Public Works and Engineering Department is exploring options for additional signage to better notify motorists of the new limits. The Houston Police Department will continue to monitor traffic in the area to assure the load limits are enforced. Additionally, the City of Houston will, initially, monitor bridge traffic using a donated camera to assess compliance with the new limits.

The Yale Street Bridge is on a TxDOT prioritized list for statewide funding for replacement, with construction anticipated to start in late 2016. In the meantime, the Houston Public Works and Engineering Department will continue to routinely inspect the bridge for any change in conditions and intends to perform low-cost rehabilitative actions that will allow the bridge load restrictions to be raised back to those previously posted.

With the completion of Koehler between Heights and Yale, there is now an easy alternative route around the Yale Street Bridge via the Heights Boulevard Bridge for northbound and southbound truck traffic. The Heights Boulevard Bridge does not have load limits.

For more information contact Alvin Wright at Alvin.wright@houstontx.gov.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Chron explains what this means in practical terms.

That will put most sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks – even some minivans – over the limit, said Sgt. Teresa Curry with the Houston Police Department’s truck enforcement unit.

“The problem is that pretty much everyone is going to be violating that provision,” she said.

Janice Evans-Davis, spokeswoman for Mayor Annise Parker, said Friday that city and state engineers have determined that the bridge is safe but cautioned that people need to be aware of the load limit.

“If your vehicle is outside the limit, we urge you to go one block east and use the Heights Boulevard bridge as an alternative,” she said. “It doesn’t have a load limit.”

[…]

Given the impossibility of going after every violator, Curry said police will focus on large trucks, which arguably do the most damage to the bridge that’s near the new Heights-area Walmart under construction at 111 Yale.

“My theory is that the 80,000-pound truck is much more of a problem than the smaller vehicle,” she said. “Our enforcement efforts will be directed to trucks that are disregarding the signs.”

Enforcement will include having truck scales at the bridge, said HPD spokesman Victor Senties.

I’d avoid this if at all possible. This press release from RUDH has more.

Funding to rebuild Yale Street Bridge acquired

Good news.

Calling the Yale Street bridge “functionally obsolete” after a recent engineering study, the Texas Department of Transportation has secured “out of cycle funding” to replace the bridge, Councilwoman Ellen Cohen announced late Monday. Cohen said that means the project won’t have to go through federal bureaucracy and that a new bridge could be built within five years.

After an increasingly dire series of surveys of the 91-year-old bridge, a city-commissioned study by engineers from Entech, dated June 1, not only corroborated earlier findings that led to the banning of 18-wheel trucks, but downgraded the vehicle limit to 7,200 pounds — about the weight of a fully loaded large SUV.

[…]

In her announcement, Cohen said she was organizing a meeting between those neighborhood groups, TxDOT and Houston public works officials to occur after Labor Day to discuss a timeline outlined in the memo from TxDOT.

See here for the previous update, and here for the TxDOT memo, which lays out the estimated timeline. Five years sounds like a long time, but with funding secured at least you know it will get done.

Yale Street Bridge to get makeover

You may recall that last November the load limit on the Yale Street Bridge was reduced by TxDOT to 8,000 lbs per single axle and 10,000 lbs per tandem axle, which has resulted in truck traffic being forbidden on the bridge. That hasn’t stopped trucks from actually using it, of course, but they’re not supposed to. Anyway, since then a few more things have happened:

– An inspection and assessment of the bridge by Entech Civil Engineers says that it really should have a load limit of 7200 lbs, which is basically a full-size SUV with multiple passengers.

– Neighborhood leaders sent a letter to the city asking for Something To Be Done about this:

Necessary Action

As indicated above, based on the ratings of the Yale Street Bridge, corrective action is required; based on the current ratings, according to TXDOT, this bridge is either one of the top or the top bridge in Texas eligible for replacement based on TxDOT’s and the Federal Highway Administration’s criteria for distributing Federal and State Funds. The required corrective action is reconstruction of the Yale Street Bridge. Since this is a City-owned Bridge, the process to prioritize the Bridge for replacement and to solicit the necessary funding begins with the City. With City budget and CIP discussion now underway, this is the time to address it so that it will be included in the current CIP priority list. Eighty percent (80%) of the funding would come from the Federal Highway Administration, 10% from TXDOT and 10% from the
City’s budget. This means that this problem can be addressed promptly and with a limited impact on the City’s budget. The Bridge should be reconstructed BEFORE it has to be closed due to low ratings.

– The city sent a reply saying that the Department of Public Works and Engineering was working with TxDOT to apply for federal funds to help with the cost of fixing the bridge, for which candidate projects will be nominated to the Federal Highway Administration in 2012.

Not clear what happens if the project doesn’t get the federal funds, though the city did say that it would try to work it out through the District C Council office. See this press advisory, this letter from CM Cohen, and this story in The Leader for more.

UPDATE: Here’s a direct link to that story in The Leader.

Yale Street Bridge load limit reduced by TxDOT

This hit my inbox on Wednesday afternoon:

Yale Street Bridge Load Limit Reduced by TxDOT

A recent assessment of the Yale Street Bridge over White Oak Bayou performed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) has resulted in a reduction in the bridge’s maximum traffic load rating.

The assessment was performed under the state’s program to monitor bridge safety across the streets and highway network called BRINSAP (Bridge Inventory, Inspection and Appraisal Program).

The Yale Street Bridge rating was reduced from a previous maximum weight load of 40,000 lbs and 21,000 lbs for tandem axle to a new rating of 8,000 lbs per single axle and 10,000 lbs per tandem axle. This lower weight limit does not impact use of the bridge by passenger vehicles or small trucks.

However, due to the new ratings, the City of Houston is restricting truck use of the bridge, effective immediately. This restriction will apply to all commercial truck traffic, including standard semi-tractor trailers, large panel vans, delivery trucks and buses.

The Houston Fire Department (HFD), Metro and the Houston Independent School District have been notified and have made route changes as necessary.

Signs noting the restrictions and directing trucks to Heights Boulevard south of I-10 were installed on Tuesday, November 22, 2011. HPD’s Truck Enforcement Unit has been notified and their assistance in enforcement has been requested.

The bridge is safe and is expected to continue to provide service over the long term to the public for traffic within the load ratings.

That’s a pretty remarkable change. The RUDH folks have been yelling about the Yale Street Bridge for months now, mostly out of concern for the truck traffic that the Ainbinder Wal-Mart will generate. One presumes this will have some effect on that.

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.

The Ainbinder traffic impact analysis for the Height Wal-Mart

When last we discussed the Heights Wal-Mart development, we were awaiting a traffic impact analysis (TIA) on the roads around the site, which was to be done on behalf of Ainbinder, the developer of the project. For your perusal, here is the TIA of the Wal-Mart development. I want to quote you a paragraph from the executive summary:

The results of this traffic engineering study indicate that the construction of IH-10 frontage roads and resulting changes in traffic patterns will impact both mobility and traffic operations within the study area on a much greater scale than the new trips generated by the proposed Washington Heights development. Furthermore, it was found that the addition of the proposed retail development is not expected to cause a significant reduction in LOS beyond what is expected for year 2012 No Build conditions.

“LOS” is “level of service”, and it refers to the congestion and wait-time conditions at intersections; they are given grades from A (always smooth flow, no problems at all) to F (“Unstable traffic flow. Heavy congestion. Traffic moves in forced flow condition. Average delays of greater than one minute highly probable. Total breakdown.”) based on what is observed or projected. What Kimley-Horn, the firm that conducted the TIA for Ainbinder, is saying is that the intersection of Yale and the under-construction I-10 service roads will start off as an F even if the Wal-Mart site is still an empty lot in 2012.

Does that sound credible to you? It doesn’t to me. I used to take Height Boulevard south past I-10, for several years after dropping my kids off at preschool. It was not unusual for me to have to sit through one light cycle on Heights, but that was because the duration of the green light for the southbound approach at I-10 West was only about 15 seconds. (Believe me, I timed it myself out of frustration more than once.) The folks coming from the I-10 West service road, who were the bulk of the traffic and were mostly turning left (south) onto Heights had a nice long light, and had no trouble. (A corollary to this was that the green light for the southbound approach at I-10 East, which included a protected left, was much longer. This was the only way onto I-10 East between Yale and Studemont, so a fair number of vehicles turning left from the I-10 West service road turned again onto the eastbound service road.)

The point I’m making is that before the current construction, the traffic at this intersection wasn’t bad. Most of it was for vehicles getting on and off the freeway. On Yale, traffic was even less of an issue, as there was only one light, where the westbound service road dead-ended into Yale. A few people going south on Yale would turn left at the un-signaled intersection onto the eastbound service road, but my observation was that most people heading south on Yale were aiming for either Washington Avenue, or points south, where Yale merged into Waugh Drive. This was also the only way to get onto Memorial Drive west, as that entrance is inaccessible from Heights/Waugh southbound.

What would make traffic at Yale/I-10 so much worse once there’s a service road there to connect to points west, or to handle people now exiting at Yale? Obviously, people will use this to get onto I-10, but one presumes these people are currently using either the entrance at Studemont or the entrance at Durham/Shepherd. The people who will some day exit at Yale are presumably now exiting at Studemont, making the U-turn, then turning left at either Heights or Yale. We’ve already established that pre-construction this was no big deal. Where’s all that extra traffic going to come from? Other than some reshuffling from Studemont and Durham/Shepherd, it’s not obvious to me. It’s not like there will be more residences or businesses putting traffic onto Yale by 2012.

Well, except for the one factor that this TIA wants you to think won’t be much of one, that being the Wal-Mart development. But if Yale at I-10 was going to be a nightmare anyway, then it’s not their fault, is it? How fortunate for them that TxDOT is there to take the hit for this.

Anyway. There’s a lot more to the TIA, but a couple of other points need to be mentioned. One is that the 380 agreement the city signed with Ainbinder doesn’t mention the service roads, or the intersections at Yale and Heights. The stuff that Ainbinder agreed to do as part of the 380 involve widening Yale between the train bridge and Koehler so as to allow a left turn lane into the development, and adding a left turn lane from Heights onto Koehler once the apartments in between have been torn down. The TIA suggests adding as mitigations a right turn lane from Yale onto I-10 service road westbound, and a left turn lane from Heights to I-10 westbound, but as neither of the 380, it’s not clear who would pay for them. With the TIA claiming that Ainbinder’s development would not be responsible for this traffic, don’t expect them to make any offers. Oh, and the TIA doesn’t include their full data sets, and this report apparently differs from a previous one. We’re taking their word for it on this.

Another point, separate from the traffic issues, is that the bridge on Yale between Koehler and I-10, the one that goes over the bayou, has a gross weight limit of 40,000 pounds. This wasn’t discussed before because the sign indicating this weight limit isn’t easily visible from the street. Here’s a photo so you can see what I mean. The tare weight, which is to say the empty weight, of a typical 18-wheeler is 30,000 to 36,000 pounds, and the legal maximum is 80,000 pounds. That would seem to be a problem, given the limitations of that bridge. How many 18-wheelers a day come into a Wal-Mart facility?

All of the documents linked in this post, as well as this summary doc, which notes these and other issues, came to me via RUDH. There will be a public meeting tomorrow, January 26, to discuss these items:

PUBLIC MEETING
WEDNESDAY JAN. 26th
6:30 to 7:30 PM
Council on Alcohol & Drugs
303 Jackson Hill Street
Houston, TX 77007

Here’s a map to the location. See you there.

A view of the “Heights” Wal-Mart site

I was thinking last week that I didn’t have a good feel for the geography of the site for the proposed “Heights” Wal-Mart. So I figured the thing to do was to drive over there and take a few pictures. I did that on Friday morning, and put them into this Flickr set for your perusal. There are comments on each picture, and here are a few additional thoughts.

– The south side of this property is bounded by the train tracks that come in from 290 and continue on into downtown. Unless a new road is built from Bonner to Yale on the north side of these tracks, the site will have no access on the south.

– Bonner is the west edge. It’s not a street so much as it is two cul-de-sacs, one on each side of Koehler, with the southern cul-de-sac terminating at the tracks, and the northern one dead-ending before I-10. You could, as I noted before, extend Bonner across the tracks, to meet its corresponding cul-de-sac on the north side, and the I-10 service road extension may connect to it as well, though I have no idea if TxDOT plans to do that or not. Without at least one of those additions, you could have an entrance to the site on Bonner, but you’d only be able to get to it via Koehler.

– While the property extends to Koehler to the north, the northwest corner of the site, at Koehler and Bonner, is the home of Berger Iron Works, which is very much a going operation, and quite a cool one from the look of it. It fronts on Bonner, with a small office and attached employee parking lot across the street, but the shop, which fronts on Koehler, has street access. I don’t know how much traffic this generates.

– Koehler runs from Yale to Shepherd/Durham and points west from there. It is also the entry and exit point for San Jacinto Stone, which was already receiving customers and sending out trucks at 7:30 AM, which is about the time I took these pictures. West of Bonner, it’s residential, with cars parked on both sides of the street. That will be an issue if Koehler becomes an entry point for this Wal-Mart, since with cars parked on even one side, Koehler is too narrow for bidirectional traffic. It also has “traffic-calming devices” on it, also known as speed bumps, which suggests to me that the residents in this area were complaining about cut-through traffic long ago. Koehler also has no sidewalks and open drainage ditches, so no one will be walking to Wal-Mart as it is currently configured.

– There’s another little cul-de-sac north of Koehler between Yale and Bonner, called Bass Court, which like Bonner dead-ends before I-10. According to this Chron story, it will be widened and will connect to the service road extension. As with Bonner, there are people living there. I have no idea what they think about having a Wal-Mart so close by.

– There are a couple of streets that extend west from Bonner between Koehler and the tracks: Schuler, which is closest to the tracks and which ends at Patterson; and Eli, which extends to Durham/Shepherd and thus could also serve as access to the Wal-Mart site. I did not explore either of these streets. There’s a large abandoned commercial site at Schuler and Bonner that is currently for sale. Eli appears to be residential.

– I’ve said that Bonner is a cul-de-sac on the north side of the train tracks as well, but that’s not really true. It meets up with Allen Street, which then proceeds west right next to the tracks. Connecting the two sides of Bonner would make Allen Street another access road for the site. As it happens, the morning I was taking these pictures, I met a young man on the north side of Bonner who was walking his dogs. He lives in the apartments that front on Center and back up to the train tracks. I asked him if he’d heard about the Wal-Mart, and he said he’d heard rumors about a grocery store being built there. I told him Wal-Mart had bought the property, and he immediately expressed concern about the traffic it would bring. Make of that what you will.

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.

More on streetcars and sidewalks

Andrew Burleson had a couple of good posts last week that followed up on Christof’s streetcar suggestions and my post about a KIrby light rail line. Here they are: West Gray Streetcar, in which he takes Christof’s concept for a streetcar line on West Gray and runs with it, and Will and Won’t, which gets into the reasons people walk and don’t walk in Houston. I think he’s right on about this:

My contention is that most people in Houston will walk single-digit block distances without complaining too much. If you get into double digits, most people think it’s too far. I’ve told people before, “let’s walk to the train station, it’s about 8 blocks,” and their reaction is, “woah, that’s a long walk!” I’ve told other people, “let’s just walk to the train station, it takes less than 10 minutes and it’s a lot easier than messing with parking.” That gets a more positive reaction usually. It seems that as you get to about 10 blocks distance people think “that’s pretty far.” If you phrase it as time rather than distance, people usually think 10-15 minutes (which is probably more like 12-18 blocks depending on who is walking) is reasonable, and longer than that is “far.”

In my experience, however, once you’re actually walking, people quickly get tired of it if you’re walking on broken old sidewalks or no sidewalks at all. They’ll almost immediately ask “are you sure we shouldn’t just drive?” But on nice sidewalks, especially when there’s retail opening on to the street and other people out walking, most people will go longer distances without noticing.

That’s something that I’ve thought about a lot as I’ve tried to imagine rail lines along Washington and Kirby, as I’ve proposed them. Washington is a street that should be far more walkable than it is, and I know that it’s in line for a big overhaul in the nearish future, but for now it’s got narrow sidewalks that abut the street, with no grass or anything as a buffer, with utility poles and other obstacles for walkers to dodge. Fixing that, hopefully in conjunction with planning for a rail line, will go a long way towards improving that whole area. (Fixing Studemont as well would go even further.) Kirby is reasonably walkable in most places, and it’s already undergoing a facelift north of 59, but for the rail line I’ve proposed something would have to be done to it between Bissonnet and Richmond, and to Yale Street on the north end of the line. I don’t know what can be done about this now other than talk about it and hope to get other people talking about it, so consider this a contribution towards that end. What parts of town should have better sidewalks than they currently do? Leave a comment and let me know.