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Category: Infrastructure

A packed 246 Bay Area commuter bus. All photos: Raj Mankad.

A packed 246 Bay Area commuter bus. All photos: Raj Mankad.

Houston to Galveston by Bus: An Adventure Across Transit Systems that Overlap Without Touching

I reached the sea without getting in a car. Over the course of my journey, which began at Rice University and ended at Stewart Beach, I took one light rail train, four buses, and walked about three miles. Every three or four minutes, I took a photograph with my phone and I compiled a video embedded below.

If the various local and federal pots of money that paid for the two major legs of the trip had been used in a coordinated manner, as part of a regional system, the $7.50 trip would have taken about an hours and a half instead of four.

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Looking at Cite 95. Photo: Carrie Schneider.

Looking at Cite 95. Photo: Carrie Schneider.

Participatory Drawing: Fuel Drips on Concrete

Artist Carrie Schneider reflects on “Horizon Lines” with a new artwork in which she erases cars from an aerial photograph by Alex MacLean of a Houston highway interchange. An animation showing the original photo fading into the artwork and the artwork itself are below.

Since being struck by the first section of Cite 95, I’ve been driving around with the satellite view on my Google maps. Instead of pastel road lines, I’m navigating between driver’s-seat-eye level and aerial perspective, through brown, gray, and green sandcastles punctuated with the titles of sponsored destinations and locations tracked from my previous search history.

More than 30 years after Alex MacLean began the practice featured in “Horizon Lines,” now common in an age of drones, satellite imagery, and Google Earth, he has a lot of company up there. Much of it perhaps less interested in an enlarged collective or artistic perspective than increased height in the vertical distribution of resources, collecting have-alls-and-see-alls in superior, higher resolution space. So it’s mesmerizing, getting to see this landscape that’s so carefully withdrawn, hard to apprehend in more than just peeks.

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Approxmiate location of additional right of way and park, Downtown and EaDo. Photo: Alex Maclean.

Approxmiate location of additional right of way and park, Downtown and EaDo. Photo: Alex Maclean.

Ten Major Changes in the Plans to Expand I-45 You Might Not Know About

Also known as I45NorthAndMore.com, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project has made headlines not only because of the potential removal of the Pierce Elevated, but also of the possibility of turning it instead into a Sky Park.

There’s nothing quite so fetching in urban design these days as a Sky Park, but if you look beyond that glittery, and unlikely, dangling object, there’s a whole lot more to the proposal. Namely:

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Küchenmonument or Kitchen Monument. Courtesy Raumlabor.

Küchenmonument or Kitchen Monument. Courtesy Raumlabor.

Under the Overpass: Lessons from Mexico and Germany

On Saturday, March 14, Metro broke ground on a light rail overpass at Harrisburg that upset many Houstonians in the East End, believing it couldn’t be anything but an eyesore. Can we imagine the Houston underpass as shelter for life instead of an unwanted and dangerous dead space?

Berlin architect Markus Bader recently discussed his “Kitchen Monument” project at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for the RSA/RDA “Plug-Ins” lecture series. The project began with the activation of an underpass with a giant bubble where dances and dinner parties were held. Watch an excerpt from the talk below or the full talk here.

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Trailwood Village greenbelt system, Kingwood, Charles Tapley and his associates. Photo: Courtesy of the architect.

Trailwood Village greenbelt system, Kingwood, Charles Tapley and his associates. Photo: Courtesy of the architect.

Kingwood: The Forest in a Bubble

In the latest edition of Cite, while discussing perceptions of suburbs, Susan Rogers writes, “Big changes have occurred in this landscape of strip centers, shopping malls, subdivisions, and apartment complexes—change big enough to completely eradicate labels, yet somehow they hold.” The enclaves that ring Houston have developed into multi-ethnic areas with their own industries and cultural attractions, both inside Beltway 8 and beyond. The Woodlands is dealing with the issues of a full-fledged city, as a recent article in the Houston Chronicle made clear. Yet Kingwood prevails as an exception, remaining true to its initial design as a secluded White middle-class sleeper community. The reasons are varied, but it would appear that Kingwood’s location, structure, and attachment to Houston keep it a master-planned microcosm.

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Illustration by R.L. Isern and R.E. Harris for Houston Traffic and some Short Cuts for Avoiding it, or the Confessions of a Short Cut Artist , 1983.

Illustration by R.L. Isern and R.E. Harris for Houston Traffic and some Short Cuts for Avoiding it, or the Confessions of a Short Cut Artist , 1983.

Traffic Panic: A Brief History of Farce, Frustration, and Practicality

In November 1980, Houston Post editorial writer Lynn Ashby asked readers if Houston traffic ever made them panic. Not a case of “mild terror,” mind you, but “a major case of panic to the point where you simply will not drive around Houston.” Ashby reassured those who answered yes that they were far from alone. He noted that in 1980 at least two overwhelmed drivers had “passed out on [city] freeways.”

The city’s success amid the national recession of the 1970s drew an influx of migrants to Houston during the decade. Area roads bore the evidence of this migration by the early 1980s. Traffic conditions deteriorated and congestion reached its highest-ever point in 1984. In 1970, stop-and-go conditions occurred for about 90 minutes per day. By 1982, the city faced more than seven hours of daily bumper-to-bumper traffic. The Houston Chamber of Commerce estimated that congestion cost the city roughly $1.9 billion ($5.4 billion in 2014) per year, more than double its cost in 1975.

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Intersection Plan. Courtesy Energy Corridor District.

Intersection Plan. Courtesy Energy Corridor District.

A Vision for a Walkable Energy Corridor

The Energy Corridor District is not an obvious candidate for becoming walkable. Office towers oriented to parking garages, single-family homes on cul-de-sacs, and the Katy Freeway define much of the landscape. Yet, at the Rice Design Alliance’s recent Walk Houston civic forum, Clark Martinson, General Manager of the Energy Corridor District, presented an ambitious vision for a walkable Energy Corridor. Ideas ranged from adding sidewalks, expanding the trail network through the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, and building an air-conditioned bridge across the freeway to a transit oriented development with multi-modal transportation functions at the METRO Park and Ride location. A video of the talk and an excerpt are presented below.

There is amazing growth happening on the west side of Houston right now. It is greater growth in office development than we have seen in 30 years; however, the Class A office tenants today and the millennials they are hiring don’t want the old campuses. They don’t want the old buildings. They want something that is not so dependent on the private automobile.

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Bagby Street. Photo: Claudia Casbarian.

Bagby Street. Photo: Claudia Casbarian.

Complete Streets Are Coming to Your Neighborhood Soon. We Hope.

Almost a year ago, on November 1, 2013, Mayor Annise Parker signed her Complete Streets Executive Order calling on City employees to do all they can to make all streets safe for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transport. Though a single proclamation cannot change a city overnight, a rapid transformation is possible because of ReBuild Houston, the multibillion dollar road-building and drainage initiative created by the 2010 Proposition 1 vote.

The Design
What would Complete Streets look like in Houston? One pilot project to consider is in Midtown — Bagby Street between I-45 and the Spur. The Midtown Redevelopment Authority asked Design Workshop out of Austin to redesign the street to take better consideration of pedestrians while using various environmentally sound principles to reduce the negative impact of street construction and improve water quality. You really should walk down Bagby. Notice the bulbouts — curb extensions that allow for a shorter pedestrian crossing. Notice simple design elements that respect the pedestrian, such as benches for resting or for sitting and enjoying the space. Notice how investments in good streets can also serve water quality.

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Photo: Paul Hester.

Photo: Paul Hester.

A Farm in Every Neighborhood: Plant It Forward’s Ambitious Vision for Houston

If this topic interests you, buy the new issue of Cite, “The Beautiful Periphery.” The issue is available for purchase at Brazos Bookstore and River Oaks Bookstore, as well as the bookstores at the Menil Collection; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Contemporary Arts Museum; and the Blaffer Art Museum. Read more from Cite 94.

“Our vision is a farm in every Houston neighborhood,” says Colleen O’Donnell, Sales Manager at Plant It Forward. “We are really trying to change the landscape of the city and how people get their food while providing opportunities for work to our refugee neighbors.” She describes a future in which you can send your kid down the street to pick up arugula for dinner, that you don’t have to go to Whole Foods, that you can walk to a farm.

Plant It Forward launched in May 2012. Dr. Bob Randall, the visionary behind Urban Harvest, inspired the founders when he claimed that a person could make a living with an acre of land in Houston. Plant It Forward tested this idea by matching refugees who left behind farms in their home countries with land, tools, and knowledge of local conditions.

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Love at the pulga on Airline Drive. Photo: Paul Hester.

Love at the pulga on Airline Drive. Photo: Paul Hester.

Airline Market Mile: Inclusive Design for Growth

This article proposes a mobile fleet of community-service-oriented trucks and a marketing campaign to strengthen one of Houston’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The full text appears in the new issue of Cite, “The Beautiful Periphery.” The issue is available for purchase at Brazos Bookstore and River Oaks Bookstore, as well as the bookstores at the Menil Collection; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Contemporary Arts Museum; and the Blaffer Art Museum. Read more from Cite 94.

Every weekend, tens of thousands of people converge on Airline Drive’s flea markets to shop and enjoy live entertainment. It’s rare to see pedestrians in droves in other Houston suburbs, but here families and teenage couples, dressed in their best, flock to simple outdoor eateries as they make their way through the pulgas. The selection of merchandise ranges from cowboy boots and household appliances to religious paraphernalia, records, dresses for quinceañeras, oversized colorful piñatas, puppies, and live birds. But shopping is only part of the carnival atmosphere of carousel rides, live music, and soccer matches replayed on television. Food counters overflow with roasted corn, tacos de trompo (typically pork marinated in pineapple juice that’s hard to come by elsewhere in Houston), and freshly prepared churros. Unlimited combinations of fruit dressed with chile powder, lime, salt, cream, and soda make for refreshing snacks on hot summer days. There are sculptures of elephants and giant ducks; especially popular with children are the life-sized fiberglass dinos in the “Dinosaur World” exhibition that was carefully rebuilt after it burned down a few years back.

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