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Category: Urban Planning

Washington Avenue. Photo: Raj Mankad.

Houston’s Draft Bike Plan Lays Out Ambitious Vision for City’s Future

The last time Houston made a bike plan was 1993. Many of the streets declared official bike routes then are among the least safe places to bicycle. Take Washington Avenue. Every few hundred feet, a yellow sign with an image of a bicycle declares “Share the Road.” The street, however, has no dedicated bicycle path — not even a narrow one. Cars race down the 12-foot-wide lanes feebly painted with ineffectual “sharrows” that have faded from the friction of tires. Only “strong and fearless” cyclists, who represent less than one percent of the total population, attempt such routes.

The signage on Washington is visual clutter, or worse. It sends the wrong message to potential cyclists, according to Geoff Carleton of Traffic Engineers. If the city designates a route for bicycling, he says, it should be comfortable enough for “enthused and confident” riders, not just the spandex-clad racers in pelotons. Ultimately, says Carleton, a city’s bike facilities fail unless they can reassure the largest segment, as much as 65 percent of the total population, of potential cyclists: those who self-identify as “interested but concerned.” (The other group is the “no-way no-hows.”)

The Houston Bike Plan, a new draft released by the City of Houston, details just such a future. Made public and presented to the Planning Commission, the plan was crafted by Traffic Engineers, Morris Architects, and Asakura Robinson, a team comprising most of the designers behind METRO’s New Bus Network, a dramatic reimagining and restructuring that’s receiving national attention for its success. A grant to BikeHouston from the Houston Endowment provided part of the $400,000 budget for the new plan with additional funds coming from the City, Houston-Galveston Area Council, and the Houston Parks Board.

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Mayoral Runoff Candidates Sylvester Turner and Bill King On Parking, Parks, Pollution, Preservation, and More

In October, OffCite published this summary of the responses to a questionnaire sent to mayoral and at-large candidates. Sylvester Turner, who received the most votes for mayor but not an outright majority, was among the original respondents. We approached Bill King again after he secured a place in the runoff elections, and he responded. Today, as early voting begins, we share the complete responses, as provided by the candidates, below. Early voting runs through December 8; Election Day is December 12.

You can learn more about how the questions were compiled and read full .PDF versions here.

Please provide a brief biographical statement (i.e., education and employment background, any elected offices you have held and years held).

Sylvester Turner: I have served in the Texas House of Representatives [since] 1989, where I am currently Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Legislative Budget Board. I was Speaker Pro Tem from 2003 to 2009. I chair the Harris County Legislative Delegation. I co-founded the law firm Barnes & Turner in 1983. For the past 18 years, I have owned American Title. I graduated from Klein High School, where I was valedictorian. I received a BA in Political Science from the University of Houston in 1977 and a JD from Harvard Law School in 1980.

Bill King: I grew [up] the son of a union pipefitter, and earned my undergraduate degree from the University of Houston — becoming the first in my family to graduate from college. I went to U of H law school at night, and since then have spent my life building businesses, helping a wide range of local civic organizations, and speaking out on our toughest problems. I am running for Mayor because City Hall has taken its eye off the ball and failed to address the financial crisis that threatens our future, and I have the know-how and the political will to hit these problems head on — and turn our city finances around.

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Flij, a temporary tent in the plaza of the Institut du Monde Arabe, 2014. Photo courtesy of Oualalou + Choi.

“Our responsibility as architects is to invent the form of public-ness:” An Interview of Tarik Oualalou

The seventh annual SPOTLIGHT: The Rice Design Alliance Prize was awarded to OUALALOU+CHOI, formerly KILO Architectures. Founded by Tarik Oualalou and Linna Choi in 2000, the firm has offices in Paris and Casablanca and recently completed the Moroccan Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015. You can see their full talk at The MFAH here. Before Oualalou and Choi accepted the award, Oualalou gave an interview to Cite Editor Raj Mankad, which is presented in an edited form below.

Raj Mankad: You took a tour of Houston with architectural historian Stephen Fox yesterday. Tell me your impressions of Houston?

Tarik Oualalou: It was a pleasure to see it with him because he is knowledgeable in facts and ideas and gossip, which gives an insider understanding of the city. But I have to say, it was a very big surprise. [This is] the first time I have come to Texas. I’ve known Houston through the eyes of our students — the Rice School of Architecture students in our Paris studio. I understand the city through what they say and what they do. Coming here, I realize this city has some incredible things going on and is also incredibly unlucky. Its relationship to landscape is very American in that the landscape defines the city at its core … the parks, the trees lining [the streets], all this is very beautiful.

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Fortsmith Street. Photo: Raj Mankad.

Houston Has a Woonerf

Houstonians want better sidewalks, if the consensus among mayoral and city council candidates is any indication. Please give pedestrians a safe place. Away from the cars. Why, then, did the Energy Corridor Management District invest $391,000 into a design that expects pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to share the same lane?

First, a trip to The Netherlands. From the late 1960s to the 2000s, urban planner Hans Mondermann broke all the rules. Rather, he dispensed with rules. The streets he designed are “naked.” No stop signs, no speed limits posted, no traffic lights. Instead, drivers intuit risk from the lack of curbs, material choices, lane widths, and other cues. They slow down. Mondermann’s hunch was that people would manage themselves in the safest and most efficient manner if their attention was heightened. Several decades of data have proven him right. As Linda Baker writes for, it sounds crazy, but it works. The “woonerf,” or street for living, was born. Or reborn. Sharing the public realm goes back to the earliest cities on the Anatolian coast like Khirokitia and Çatalhöyük (6,000 BCE).

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Parking Day Houston 2015, rdAGENTS What if Houston Wall. Photos: Rice Design Alliance.

Paradise at the Parking Lot

Parking Day, in Houston and all over the world, just happened last Friday. Organized in San Francisco in 2005 by design firm Rebar and embraced by landscape architects, designers, architects, and others worldwide, the event draws attention to the overwhelming amount of concrete dedicated to parking, and what might otherwise go there. On Parking Day 2011, there were 975 parks built in 162 cities across 35 countries and on 6 continents, and the event keeps growing.

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Medford, Oregon workshop. Photos courtesy James Rojas.

Reimagine Your Neighborhood Through Play: An Interview of James Rojas

On Tuesday, May 5, at the Leonel J. Castillo Community Center, artist and urban planner James Rojas will lead a public workshop. Rojas uses hundreds of repurposed, colorful objects to enable participants to visualize their ideas, memories, and hopes for their community. The event is free and open to all ages. Light refreshments will be served. The event is sponsored by the Rice School of Architecture, Rice Design Alliance, the Kinder Institute, and the Office of Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Gonzalez. In the interview below, Rojas talks about his background and methods with Raj Mankad, the editor of Cite: The Architecture + Design Review of Houston, which is based at Rice.

Raj Mankad: You have a degree in urban planning from MIT. How did you end up setting up play instead of working in a traditional urban planning office?

James Rojas: When I went to MIT, I was sitting in class. The professor was talking about what makes a city good or bad. I wanted to figure out where East L.A. fit in. I wanted to examine why I like that place even though other people might think it is a bad place.

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Draft Vision Statement. Source:

Opening Conversations on Houston’s General Plan

On January 28, Jennifer Ostlind, Manager of Development Services in the City of Houston’s Planning and Development Department, gave a short presentation of the draft vision (short) and goals (lengthy) for Houston’s General Plan at a packed meeting hosted by Houston Tomorrow. Should it be approved this summer by City Council, Houston will be one step closer to having its first General Plan.

While admirable in many ways, the extremely broad draft vision and goals do not reference land use policy and/or zoning – the usual tools of a General Plan. In fact, when the news broke last August that the city was going to create a General Plan, the mayor said, “planning does not mean zoning.” If a General Plan for Houston does not mean land use regulation, what will it do, exactly? The draft goals provide some clues but no clear answers. No maps were shown.

“Where is the meat?” asked one of the attendees.

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