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Category: Infrastructure

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.

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.

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.

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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Excavators at work on Brays Bayou Hike and Bike Trail. Photos: Allyn West.

Touring the New Brays Bayou Greenway (So Far)

All the work gussying up Buffalo Bayou is what’s getting all the press, but there’s a lot happening along Brays Bayou, too. It began last summer, when a little link of the trail was framed and poured, connecting Mason Park from 75th Street to Forest Hill Boulevard. Since then, another 1.5 miles have been all but completed. Now, you can jog, walk, push a stroller, and ride — without having to negotiate intersections, fight F-150s, or leave the banks of the bayou — from Lawndale Avenue to Old Spanish Trail. Eventually, says Richard McNamara, Bayou Greenways Program Manager, it’ll run “between Broadway . . . all the way to Eldridge in Alief for approximately 26 miles of continuous trails.”

Of course, there are not as many things to stop and take pictures of on Brays Bayou — no dandelion fountains, no Jaume Plensas, no Lost Lakes, no pedestrian bridges — but this trail will be used differently. It provides easy connectivity for those who shop and live on opposite sides of I-45 between Griggs and South Wayside. And it’s a convenient corridor for students and other bike commuters trying to get from the East End to the Med Center, Rice, UH, or TSU.

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CenterPoint utility ROW at Memorial Park. Photo: Amanda Li Chang.

Kinetic Energy Corridors: CenterPoint and City Teaming Up on ROW Hike and Bike Trails

Last Friday, City of Houston and CenterPoint Energy officials gathered in Memorial Park to announce two separate significant agreements: one to convert city streetlights to LED and one to allow the city to develop hike and bike trails on right-of-ways (ROWs) on CenterPoint land. [The Rice Design Alliance, which publishes this blog, awarded a $4,200 grant in 2013 to Rice School of Architecture professor Gordon Wittenberg to study these ROWs.] The ROW agreement will give the city access to 400 miles of utility corridors that could be considered for hike and bikes. This follows the Bayou Greenways 2020 program, currently under way, which will put hike and bike trails along every major bayou in the city.

However, as Mayor Parker noted, the bayous run mostly east to west. This agreement will allow for a more complete network by adding key connections along CenterPoint ROWs, many of which happen to run north to south. Others might provide critical links across other gaps. The agreement is made possible by legislation passed in Austin in 2013, after years of negotiation, which would limit CenterPoint’s liability for personal injuries on their land.

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End of East End Line at Altic Street. Photo: Allyn West.

What Kind of Overpass Will Metro Build for the East End?

The East End Line is split in two. One section stretches along Harrisburg Boulevard from Downtown and stops at Altic Street; the other picks up at 66th Street and ends at the Magnolia Transit Center. Between them is a gap of six blocks — with two sets of freight railroad tracks cutting across the middle — that have frustrated residents and business owners since at least 2008 and have delayed the line’s completion.

Some have wanted Metro to build the line over the tracks, some under. Last week, board members voted to go over. The unanimous vote came after two hours of exhausting testimony from some of those East Enders and other disinterested (so they claimed) parties, along with four statements pleading for another month of debate from city council members Ed Gonzalez and Robert Gallegos, state representative Carol Alvarado, and Senator Sylvia Garcia — all of which Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia presided over as a kind of King Solomon with a stopwatch. During her three minutes, one Eastwood resident, a former Metro employee who’s in favor of the underpass, urged Garcia: “Do not desecrate our neighborhoods.” And then a business owner who runs a used car dealership on Harrisburg pleaded with him: “We want it to go over [just] to get it done with.” Another business owner added: “You’re killing us.”

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Dock and Share: B-cycles at Summer Fest and Sunday Streets HTX

Houston B-cycle has rapidly emerged as a viable and successful bicycle sharing program, and is poised to grow. The system includes 29 stations now and is averaging 1,850 checkouts per week according to Will Rub, Director of Houston Bike Share / Houston B-cycle.

B-cycle has planned a temporary station, or Virtual Kiosk, at the east entrance of the Free Press Summer Fest crowd on May 31 and June 1, as well as one at Liberty Station on Washington Avenue for the June 1 Sunday Streets. The bicycle-sharing program is an ideal way of getting to these events, and avoiding parking hassles, if potential users understand how the system works. And that can be a challenge.

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Pierce Elevated in Downtown Houston. Photo: Russell Hancock.

Will the Urban Highway Reclamation Movement Come to Houston?

It’s not just San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Saint Louis, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and Providence anymore. Even Dallas is doing it. Dallas! Cities nationwide are demolishing, rerouting, moving underground, or capping urban highways — reversing the devastating effects of the golden age of the automobile.

The results have been outstanding: cleaner air, less noise, better traffic flow, more greenspace, increased walkability, greater property values, and significant economic development.

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Photographs by Tom Colbert and Raj Mankad. Illustration by Sarah Welch.

The Alps of Pasadena

In the process of developing Cite (93), a special issue on the environment, guest editor Tom Colbert and I drove all around the Houston region, from the bay to the piney woods, photographing landfills. We were inspired by Dr. Robert Bullard, a contributor to the issue. His 1979 study of solid-waste disposal in Houston revealed that five out of five city-owned landfills and six of the eight city-owned incinerators were sited in Black neighborhoods. That research helped spark an international environmental justice movement. In his article for Cite, Bullard describes the low-tech methodology behind the 1979 study: “If we noticed a hill in the usually flat landscape, we investigated it because a change in topography often indicated a dump.”

With that history in mind, Colbert and I wanted to create a comprehensive photographic guide to Houston’s “mountains,” but our region, it turns out, has far more manmade changes in topography than a team of two can document over a couple of weekends. In this post, I share a series of photos that show one of the most mind-boggling sites in the Houston area, the Alps of Pasadena.

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