Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
IronTiger

I've never understood the tunnel hate

Recommended Posts

One of the things that I've never gotten is why some people dislike the tunnels beyond the usual reasons (too cold, too dark, too greasy, too confusing) and why "urban" folks (you know, the ones that write blogs about how freeways are the scourge of mankind, and all their like-minded friends) seem to hate them too, which seems contradictory, in many ways, to their own ideals.

For example:

- They promote density by introducing a whole new usable level similar to street level without replacing it. Without pesky things like streets, bike lanes, and sidewalks, you can fit all sorts of stuff down there.

- They keep the downtown in many ways free of commercial clutter. One of the biggest complaints of anti-tunnel people is "It robs the downtown of street life/foot traffic" or something like that, but one of the criticisms of freeways is attracting all those signs, but tunnels keep them out of view. Would you like to have every chain imaginable on street level instead?

- There's no cars to dodge or avoid. Why I don't see anyone praising tunnels (not just in Houston but others) as a "pedestrian paradise" or something is beyond me. It's not even surrounded by a sea of parking lots.

Even other complaints ("it's like a mall", etc.) are invalid. The difference between a mall and a commercial district isn't indoors and outdoors, it's who owns the tenants. Malls typically have one landlord controlling all of the tenants (department stores being an exception), whereas a commercial district has multiple landlords, resulting in a more vibrant experience.

Personally, I think tunnels are the best feature of downtown (besides the light rail and tall buildings, of course) and something more large cities ought to have (or at least do properly).

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't blog about traffic.  I do live and own a business downtown, which will color my responses.  Here are some great reasons to dislike the tunnels

 

  • Zero data reception on your phone, and often no text or cell, in a labyrinth where you are trying meet people for lunch and no one can decide where to go, so eveyone just goes to subway because it's the only place who's name anyone can remember. 
  • Brooklyn Meatball Co. is so delicious that it being sealed off from the world at 3pm just plain sucks.  In fact, sometimes I'll be thinking about those meatballs with that balsamic sauce and how it would hit the spot after having some drinks on Main street and then I'll remember that it is nearby, and even though there are lots of great retail spaces available just one floor up from where it is buried, it's down there locked in a cave and having one of those sandwiches for dinner is just a sad old man's dream and then suddenly I've wandered into Subway and am crying into a shitty meatball footlong.
  • You know that if there is ever a zombie outbreak, it's going to start in the damn tunnels and some object that is required to save the world or whatever is going to inevitably end up being down there and you'll have to fight your way in and out to get it.  SUCKS.
  • They've got those flood gates, so you can't stuff paper towels in the running sink of one of the Subways bathrooms and flood the entire system, causing Pennzoil let you and your colleagues leave early on a Friday.
  • The Chronicle won't let you use their access stairs unless you can prove you're a subscriber, and every conversation you have with them puts you at risk of their "accidentally" upgrading you to twice daily delivery plus La Voz. 
  • Mayor Holcombe's ghost is always down there throwing shit around and complaining about how they should have named Bissonnet Street after him.  Dude is seriously the crankiest spector.
  • Every now and then, especially during knee-high-boot-season like it is now, I'll be in one of the connecting tunnels and think for a second that maybe, just maybe, I've been transported to the world of Star Trek and that big smile comes out and then I round a corner and see a line at a Subway.
Edited by adr
  • Like 9

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hah! ADR FTW!

 

Honestly, I didn't mind the tunnels much when I worked downtown (which has been at least a decade). It kept me off the street, it was good exercise no matter the weather, and it was fun to snake my way all under downtown at lunch.

 

I did get peeved on occasion when a couple big ole secretaries (it was NEVER men, always women) would heifer their way through the tunnels two abreast, effectively blocking the path for those of us not built like Slenderman.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like the idea of the tunnels, but in usual Houston fashion there seems to be no grand plan. Just one connection at a time. It would be great if they could redo the whole system to be more cohesive (no, i'm not talking about the Esperson tunnel lobby), widen some of the hallways, and add more space. Center Point Energy Plaza has the right idea. Wells Fargo could use some sprucing up. What's that 1950's building on Milam? Their escalators to the tunnel system are unique.

 

Capitol Tower will hopefully add some more natural light.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Brooklyn Meatball Co. is so delicious that it being sealed off from the world at 3pm just plain sucks.  In fact, sometimes I'll be thinking about those meatballs with that balsamic sauce and how it would hit the spot after having some drinks on Main street and then I'll remember that it is nearby, and even though there are lots of great retail spaces available just one floor up from where it is buried, it's down there locked in a cave and having one of those sandwiches for dinner is just a sad old man's dream and then suddenly I've wandered into Subway and am crying into a shitty meatball footlong.

 

Well played, sir. But with a name as preciously hipsterish as "Brooklyn Meatball Co.", they'd better be good enough to induce tears. I gratefully await the tunnel debut of their sister institution, Williamsburg Locavore Kale Co., knowing that their presence in the subterranean Habitrails will make things that much easier when we have to take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The tunnel system is not needed.  At all.  Its superfluous.  Completely unnecessary!

 

It would be like having a subway that runs under the RED Line - with the same stops!  Except that they're harder to get to, take more time and energy to find, and they actually only would run about 2 of the 7 miles of the RED Line.  Oh, and the subway wouldn't cross from Point A to Point B in the shortest distance - it would traverse from Point A to Point B in roughly twice the distance winding around in a way that makes one think "This system wasn't ever planned - ever!"   ...even though its been around since what the 1970s?  40 years!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The tunnel system is not needed.  At all.  Its superfluous.  Completely unnecessary!

 

It would be like having a subway that runs under the RED Line - with the same stops!  Except that they're harder to get to, take more time and energy to find, and they actually only would run about 2 of the 7 miles of the RED Line.  Oh, and the subway wouldn't cross from Point A to Point B in the shortest distance - it would traverse from Point A to Point B in roughly twice the distance winding around in a way that makes one think "This system wasn't ever planned - ever!"   ...even though its been around since what the 1970s?  40 years!

Some of us will be thankful when the Russians finally snap that we have the tunnel system.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The tunnels kept me from getting soaked many times on my way to the office when I worked downtown. If they weren't there I probably would have driven to work so I could park in the garage instead of riding the bus and walking the last few blocks. 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I worked downtown the options to avoid the rain made my commute longer than need be, so I just brought a slicker or kept a good umbrella with me!  That way I didn't need to worry about the tunnels.

 

I actually prefer walking outside than underground.  I find the argument about the heat to be the most compelling reason to use them - but even then I still think they aren't needed.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's funny, but one thing that I've always liked about the tunnels was that they are so random.  It just shows how the system developed organically over decades (kind of like IAH).  Whatever charm they have would have been lost if they had been developed according to a master plan with a consistent design.  It's like Houston's equivalent of a quirky village buried underground.  

 

I'm not sure if it has been updated, but my favorite part was always the "hamster tube" sections south of Houston Center with the carpeted walls.  It was like something out of 1970s science fiction.  

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@mkultra - they seem a lot more like folks that got priced out of Brooklyn rather than people who moved there to be an artisanal food star on their parents dime.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The tunnels are what they are.  I've been a Mole Person for so long that they just kind of blend into the landscape for me, but every once in a while we have a new hire who's not familiar with downtown.  Oh, the disorientation they experience of not being able to triangulate off of surface landmarks...  :ph34r:

 

I doubt that they pull all that much street life away.  They're pretty much locked tight by 6 PM, and about the only time that they're really crowded is lunch when the weather's crummy in some form or fashion.  Downtown Houston just doesn't HAVE a whole lot of street life except in certain areas at certain times.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If the tunnels didn't exist, we would have a number of fast food restaurants, dry cleaners, doctor offices, etc. located at street level and the second floor of buildings. I think that would be good for street life both during the day and after. I imagine that some of the tunnel businesses would stay open after 3pm if they could (for example chipotle and the Thai place stay open for dinner). Having a number of businesses at street level, open or closed, creates a safer pedestrian feeling. Also, without the tunnels, I bet ground floor retail rates would increase and displace the dollar stores which are a nuisance on Main Street.

Finally, the tunnels are a "non-space" similar to an airport or walking through hospital corridors. They disorient the pedestrian and provide no context for space or time since they lack sunlight. The private control of the tunnels prevent them from being used as a location of exchange or protest like how public streets can be used.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If the tunnels didn't exist, we would have a number of fast food restaurants, dry cleaners, doctor offices, etc. located at street level and the second floor of buildings. I think that would be good for street life both during the day and after. I imagine that some of the tunnel businesses would stay open after 3pm if they could (for example chipotle and the Thai place stay open for dinner). Having a number of businesses at street level, open or closed, creates a safer pedestrian feeling. Also, without the tunnels, I bet ground floor retail rates would increase and displace the dollar stores which are a nuisance on Main Street.

This. As an employee at 1000 Main, I'm very thankful for the tunnels because I have a ton of options close by. And because Im at the edge of the tunnel loop, I can quickly walk from here to Allen Center, Houston Center, Cullen Center, BOA Center, etc without having to encounter the summertime heat.

But if the tunnels didn't exist, our Downtown street scene would be vastly different. Many of the current buildings' lobbies would've likely been designed with ground floor retail & restaurant space. At least with recent developments, it feels like we're beginning to shift to a healthy balance of both tunnel-level & street-level retail/restaurant space.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If the tunnels didn't exist, we would have a number of fast food restaurants, dry cleaners, doctor offices, etc. located at street level and the second floor of buildings. I think that would be good for street life both during the day and after. I imagine that some of the tunnel businesses would stay open after 3pm if they could (for example chipotle and the Thai place stay open for dinner). Having a number of businesses at street level, open or closed, creates a safer pedestrian feeling. Also, without the tunnels, I bet ground floor retail rates would increase and displace the dollar stores which are a nuisance on Main Street.

Actually, more likely, businesses would have whole separate food courts located inside, which would probably be for business hours only. A lot of other cities (Chicago, Philadelphia) do have this set-up. It would also likely displace bars which actually keep the city going after hours.

I doubt that they pull all that much street life away.  They're pretty much locked tight by 6 PM, and about the only time that they're really crowded is lunch when the weather's crummy in some form or fashion.  Downtown Houston just doesn't HAVE a whole lot of street life except in certain areas at certain times.

Yup. Part of the problem is that Downtown hasn't really had much residential to speak of, which contributes to the whole "lack of street life" problem. As more residential starts cropping up in downtown, there will be a change in that aspect.

And for the most part the food options are terrible.

Well, that's fast food for you. And remember--these things would be on the surface if it wasn't for the tunnels.

Quotes like these below are common complaints I've found, but a lot of them act like the streets don't exist or they're forced to use the tunnels, or because they prefer the streets over the tunnels, the tunnels should be eliminated somehow.

The tunnel system is not needed. At all. Its superfluous. Completely unnecessary!

Finally, the tunnels are a "non-space" similar to an airport or walking through hospital corridors. They disorient the pedestrian and provide no context for space or time since they lack sunlight. The private control of the tunnels prevent them from being used as a location of exchange or protest like how public streets can be used.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finally, the tunnels are a "non-space" similar to an airport or walking through hospital corridors. They disorient the pedestrian and provide no context for space or time since they lack sunlight.

 

LED lighting in the ceiling that would slowly change hue depending on the time of day would help provide some context when there's no sunlight. There's similar lighting on aircraft that changes during the day on long haul flights.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Quotes like these below are common complaints I've found, but a lot of them act like the streets don't exist or they're forced to use the tunnels, or because they prefer the streets over the tunnels, the tunnels should be eliminated somehow.

 

 

I actually appreciate the tunnels in a way - they are such a perfect example of a non-place, that it becomes a learning tool for people to understand the concept. Sometimes I like to stroll the tunnels just to feel nothingness and to be a fugitive and wanderer on Earth.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Tunnels are fine from a practicality standpoint, people can pretty much go wherever they want without having to go outside, which is convenient.  Although I wish that there were some tunnels for trains as well downtown. 

 

They suck from an aesthetic point of view, making downtown Houston look dead and lifeless from the streets, but whatever.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If there were no tunnels, would not the food options be the same at the street level?

 

I tend to think they would. There are many similar places in other cities that shut down for dinner taking up street level retail where we seem have more spacious lobbies.  To me, a bunch of dark Au Bon Pains and Chinese Buffets with chairs upturned on the tables look "deader" than what we have.

 

The options are a reflection of what sells at the price that can pay the rent. The vast majority of folks are looking for quick, palatable and cheap and they are doing so for ~65% of the lunches they eat in a given year, so something that is interesting or novel or good for "once in a while" is hard to manage, especially when you can't pad your margins with beer/wine/booze sales. Folks will choose whatever is nearby that best fits that criteria whether they walk in off the street or out of the basement.

 

The options that break the mold seem to be on the fringes of the highest density office space, and they can serve that occasional "Friday splurge" need.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's funny, but one thing that I've always liked about the tunnels was that they are so random.  It just shows how the system developed organically over decades (kind of like IAH).  Whatever charm they have would have been lost if they had been developed according to a master plan with a consistent design.  It's like Houston's equivalent of a quirky village buried underground.  

 

I'm not sure if it has been updated, but my favorite part was always the "hamster tube" sections south of Houston Center with the carpeted walls.  It was like something out of 1970s science fiction.  

Really? I don't find narrow corridors with blank white walls and brass hand rails charming. I do find the different lobbies charming. I would like for the empty under the street tunnels to have a more uniform and updated feel. 

 

Many of the current buildings' lobbies would've likely been designed with ground floor retail & restaurant space. At least with recent developments, it feels like we're beginning to shift to a healthy balance of both tunnel-level & street-level retail/restaurant space.

I'm kind of glad we have these grandiose lobbies in the Chase and Wells Fargo buildings. We have nothing else close to the monument of man's ego in the form of a landmark (note the Astrodome is not "grand"), in this city. These huge spaces are of course nothing close to the Pantheon or anything like that so please don't get me wrong, but it's not like we have a huge neoclassical city hall with a giant public staircase, a grand central station... While the towers themselves are huge ego phallic symbols, they are not really that public.

 

Please also note I am aware of the San Jacinto Monument, but since it's not Downtown we'll exclude this.

 

I know it would probably be way too expensive to extend these marble entrances into the ugly small sections of the tunnels. Surely they would at least be updated.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@mkultra - they seem a lot more like folks that got priced out of Brooklyn rather than people who moved there to be an artisanal food star on their parents dime.

 

I generally read the articles in the NYT covering the changes wrought by gentrification and casting light on new frontiers for the displaced. Last I'd heard, people getting priced out of Brooklyn were starting to stake claims in Queens, and those priced out of Manhattan had started eying Hoboken. If Houston's a new destination for former Brooklynites, I guess NYC gentrification has really gotten out of hand. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure if it has been updated, but my favorite part was always the "hamster tube" sections south of Houston Center with the carpeted walls.  It was like something out of 1970s science fiction.  

 

A perfect description. When I last worked downtown, I used that section of the tunnels every day for a while when I had a parking contract at a garage several blocks away from the building my office was in. There's definitely a dystopian feel to it, amplified by the fact that one particular leg was usually almost deserted. When you'd find yourself alone in that leg, it was easy to imagine being suddenly transplanted into The Andromeda Strain or THX-1138:ph34r:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A perfect description. When I last worked downtown, I used that section of the tunnels every day for a while when I had a parking contract at a garage several blocks away from the building my office was in. There's definitely a dystopian feel to it, amplified by the fact that one particular leg was usually almost deserted. When you'd find yourself alone in that leg, it was easy to imagine being suddenly transplanted into The Andromeda Strain or THX-1138:ph34r:

 

I think Futureworld may have been filmed in some of the tunnels downtown. I know it was filmed in Houston.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Futureworld may have been filmed in some of the tunnels downtown. I know it was filmed in Houston.

 

I always felt like I was in Logan's Run around the Hyatt Regency. There was some filming for that movie done there but I think it was not used in the film. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Regarding Brooklyn meatball co the guys wife is from houston

Also the tunnels suck the street life out during lunch. It makes downtown seem dead

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Moving the sandwich shops out of the basement won't magically make downtown sidewalks look like midtown Manhattan or San Francisco's financial district.  What will give the streets more life will be more 24 hour warm bodies downtown, and some shopping options.  Both of which are in the pipeline.

 

I wouldn't mind subways instead of street level rail - but realistically, the streets are able to carry the traffic pretty well even without Main and even with FUBAR traffic light timing.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Futureworld may have been filmed in some of the tunnels downtown. I know it was filmed in Houston.

 

It's been a long time since I've seen that one, but the Houston locations usually listed for it are IAH, Jones Hall, and JSC. For what it's worth, Wikipedia says the tunnel shots were done underground at JSC. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Been a while for me, too, but I've got a pretty strong memory of something that looked a lot like the public areas of Two Houston.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

they kill street life.  compare downtown houston street life pre- and post-tunnels.  

 

i also think they kill decent lunch options.  if restaurants are on the street, they can be nicer b/c they don't exists for only 2 hours a day.  but because we have the tunnels, we pretty much are stuck with hundreds of fast food places and an occasional decent restaurant on the street (and no bars to speak of in most of downtown).  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

they kill street life.  compare downtown houston street life pre- and post-tunnels.  

 

i also think they kill decent lunch options.  if restaurants are on the street, they can be nicer b/c they don't exists for only 2 hours a day.  but because we have the tunnels, we pretty much are stuck with hundreds of fast food places and an occasional decent restaurant on the street (and no bars to speak of in most of downtown).  

 

Houston pre tunnels had big department stores, lots of specialty stores, and big movie theaters downtown.  Tunnels didn't kill them, malls and sprawl did.  

 

I first started working downtown in the mid 70s, when the tunnel system barely existed.  Most of the buildings that they connect hadn't even been built yet.  More so then than now, they pretty much rolled up the sidewalks at six pm.

 

The tunnels are what they are.  Aside from the lunch rush one could get up a pretty good head of steam up on roller skates in them if so inclined without bothering a soul other than the occasional security guard.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...