In a recent and rather expansive article, USA Today offered its readers a definitive declaration about a certain Texas city…
You don’t know this Houston
They go on to justify the statement…
Over the past decade, the USA’s fourth-largest city has quietly become not just a powerhouse of intellect and culture in Texas, but a major player on the world stage. The Bayou City’s economic boom and urban renaissance have made Houston not just a magnet for travelers, but a permanent residence for many casual visitors.
Houstonians know what you’ve been thinking: urban sprawl, traffic woes, Big Oil and NASA. And though the city’s 2.3 million residents do have to navigate a swath of land roughly the size of New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston and Miami combined, they’ll gently tell you that you’re living in the past.
And on these points, they would certainly be correct. Houston’s urban renaissance is happening so fast, even residents of the city can’t keep up with it. That swath of land that we are all having to navigate often feels like a never-ending construction zone. New high-rises, multi-family and home construction projects seem to start every week, and street closures/ road work are pretty much expected. If Houston is to be the nation’s next great city, it’s certainly wasting no time preparing for the big debut.
But one growing pain stands out above many others in this grand transfiguration… curbing the city’s pervasive car culture. Houston has literally grown up in the personal automobile era, and has embraced that one form of transit far beyond any other.
City leaders are now wishing to dial that culture back with some landmark projects that emphasize other modes of transit. A re-design of Allen Parkway will slow down vehicle traffic while adding traffic signals and better parking access to Buffalo Bayou. Here’s more on the changes from Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle…
Partnering with the Downtown Houston Management District, city officials expect to start construction on a redesigned parkway after July 4, the date of the Freedom Over Texas celebration in Eleanor Tinsley Park just north of the parkway. The goal, downtown district president Bob Eury said, is to finish the work in time for Free Press Summer Fest in late May 2016.
The redesign shifts the eastbound and westbound lanes south and converts the existing westbound lanes into an access road and parking area.
Between the lanes, officials plan grassy medians planted with small trees, meant to calm traffic and bring back some sense of an enjoyable drive.
The addition multiple traffic signals and cross walks will provide safer access runners and cyclists, and (at least from the city’s viewpoint) a more pleasant experience for cars as well.
Already under way is another project for cyclists. The Lamar Street Bikeway is Houston’s first ever two-way, on-street dedicated bike lane, and is set to open in Mid-March. The lane includes new painted cross walks and traffic signals, providing for safer east-to-west trail connection through downtown. Of course this Bikeway comes at the expense of a lane previously used for automobile traffic, so it will slow driver speed on Lamar.
The Downtown Bikeway is currently under construction, set to open next month.
These changes may seem inconvenient to drivers in the short-term, but they are a most necessary adjustment for the future of the Bayou City. As we continue to add more new residents, it becomes imperative for Houston and its surrounding environs to develop transit alternatives to the city’s “car only” culture. Despite what some may believe, there are many more forms of transit than just bus or light rail.
Hopefully with two downtown projects happening in rapid succession, pedestrian and cycling improvements will be spurred in other areas of the city. For drivers, the learning curve may be stiff, but that’s only because change is long overdue. It’s time for the Bayou City to leave its auto-centric mentality in the past, and embrace a more cycle-friendly, pedestrian-friendly future.