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Car-free Main Street?


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Yeah, I know. Liberal car-hating scum like me are never taken seriously. But as an honorary Houstonian and a well travelled kid that likes his cities big AND exciting, I think Houston needs to seriously reconsider it's traffic patterns through the downtown area. The streets are FAR too wide and the cars FAR too numerous for downtown to ever be the thriving active money spending center we would all like it to be. Installing light rail was a step in the right direction. Denying it the money to be sub or above grade was idiotic. One needs only examine other cities with a bubbling downtown/nightlife to realize that cars and a welcoming downtown center are mutually eliminative. The Burnside district of Portland comes to mind. Not to mention the goddamned eyesore parking lots that plague this fair town. Nothing uglier than an open lot amidst beautiful buildings.

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cars and a welcoming downtown center are mutually eliminative.

Huh?? The mind reels... When one thinks of the most thriving, exciting downtowns in America, certainly Chicago and New York City must be at the top of the list. It goes without saying that both are rather heavily infested with cars. One could go on at great length listing other successful downtowns filled with automobile traffic and also listing failed downtowns that tried to eliminate automobiles with pedestrian malls and such.

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I meant that the streets are too wide in general. I can't remember the standard footage for street width, but I do know that four lanes through the heart of downtown ain't a good thing.

You mentioned Chicago and New York City. Let's start with Chicago. That city is pretty parallel to our beloved H-Town as far as size, suburbs and downtown goes. And believe it or not, it is just as alienating and unwelcoming as Houston is. Due mainly to the traffic downtown. There really isn't a downtown happening spot, ya know, all of that is up and around Wicker Park and Lincoln, where there is more parks and less traffic. Hmmmmm....

And as far as New York City goes, have you ever driven there? I would think that only clueless tourists and taxi drivers would bother driving in that city. Cars do not have the right of way even when the light is green, the pedestrian is king of the road. As it is, as it should be, and look at the results. The most vibrant city in the world. Of course it's not all due to pedestrian friendly streets though, I'm not that dumb. But it plays a big part.

Someone mentioned streetmalls. I have yet to see one that WASN'T thriving.

Nicolette St. in Minneaopolis is doing so well, that the success has spilt over to Hennepin St, one block north.

And the 16th Street Mall in Denver. The only cars allowed on that street are the shuttle busses that run up and down all day long. And I think even that is too much. But the place is bustling day in and day out.

Light Rail

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) here in California was originally designed only to take shoppers from the wealthy East Bay suburbs into San Francisco to shop and dine and be entertained. It is now used almost solely as a commuter train. Point being, trends reverse, and things aren't always as clear cut as they seem.

I can goddamned guarantee you that if MetroRail in Houston adds a (hopefully) sub or above grade line down Westheimer, at least as far as the Galleria, and several radiating lines into the expansive suburbs that make up the population of Houston proper, the city will explode.

Start with trackage rights on the Union Pacific rails that parallel Hwy 290 into Little York, Jersey Village, and all of the Cy-burbs. The Metro park and Ride bus stations already in place are close enough to the tracks to serve as rail stations. Add a few feeder busses and voila! People living in "Houston" will actually come to Houston. Instant faux-density.

Sorry for the rant. I'm just a dumb squatter kid with a grandiose plan for Houston. City's got so damned much potential I hate to see it squandered.

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I like urban stuff, but Im not liberal.....

After all, it WAS SugarLand which has the town square, with walkability, and residences over retail!

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Automobiles and pedestrians will always have an uneasy coexistance. As a pedestrian, I understand that for many (most?) people, driving a car seems to make more sense.

Often it does. Today I bought a TV set, and went through hell getting it home, due to a comedy of errors about finding a taxi driver who understood where Sears customer pickup site is located (same place it's been since 1939...but that's another story).

We currently have a section of Main Street on which automobiles are banned (Main Street Square). The lack of cars hasn't improved these blocks for pedestrians, because most people don't want to be there to begin with. No offense - the fountains are lovely, and the landscaping is appreciated - but there's nothing going on in those blocks.

The most vital pedestrian area I've seen in Houston was in the early 80's, when Lower Westheimer was jam-packed with both cars and pedestrians. In those pre-Jerry Springer/MTV days, this was a sort of zoo for alternative lifestyles. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper and people crowded the sidewalks - not all of whom were transsexual prostitutes. It was a tourist attraction.

Merely eliminating cars is not going to attract pedestrians. There has to be some sort of draw to begin with.

On the other hand, there are places where pedestrians are treated in a spectacularly poor fashion. Ever try to catch a bus at the corner of Westheimer and 610? Before you do, I'd advise reviewing your will. And the W. Alabama/Spur 527 reconstruction project has left pedestrians no option but to rely on quick wits and fleet feet, since sidewalks have been obliterated.

Creating pedestrian-friendly areas is somewhat like promoting retail downtown - there has to be a critical mass, enough to make it worthwhile. We're back to the chicken-or-the-egg question.

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I agree with you on most parts in your post.

There is at least one city (that I vaguely remember) which has decided to limit automobile traffic in the area with heavy taxes and fines if they don't have a permit to be there.

In regards to Mainstreet Street Square, once something expands or is built out to Main street MSS then things should be fine. They just need to do something with the West Building or convert a parking lot to something like a building.

Of course, we've all discussed this before in a previous thread.

Ricco

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You mentioned Chicago and New York City. Let's start with Chicago. That city is pretty parallel to our beloved H-Town as far as size, suburbs and downtown goes. And believe it or not, it is just as alienating and unwelcoming as Houston is. Due mainly to the traffic downtown. There really isn't a downtown happening spot, ya know, all of that is up and around Wicker Park and Lincoln, where there is more parks and less traffic. Hmmmmm....

Okay, let's start with Chicago. Have you ever walked or driven down North Michigan Avenue? Wide streets full of cars and sidewalks packed with people. It apparently seems plenty welcoming for millions of people every year.

And as far as New York City goes, have you ever driven there? I would think that only clueless tourists and taxi drivers would bother driving in that city. Cars do not have the right of way even when the light is green, the pedestrian is king of the road. As it is, as it should be, and look at the results. The most vibrant city in the world. Of course it's not all due to pedestrian friendly streets though, I'm not that dumb. But it plays a big part.
Yes, I have driven in New York City, any number of times. You kind of step on your point on this one... if cars and a "welcoming downtown center" are "mutually elmininative" how does New York City manage to be the most vibrant city in the world while having wide streets PACKED with cars. Thank you for making my point for me and proving beyond a doubt that, in fact, cars and a "welcoming downtown center" are NOT mutually exclusive.

It is misleading to say that cars do not have the right of way, even on green lights in Manhattan. That often appears to be the case, because the cars can't move through intersections because the traffic is backed up, then once the traffic clears the intersection, the pedestrians have taken over. If you really think cars in Manhattan don't have the right of way even on green, try stepping in the street in front of a taxicab at midnight or so, when the traffic is relatively free-flowing.

Someone mentioned streetmalls. I have yet to see one that WASN'T thriving.

Nicolette St. in Minneaopolis is doing so well, that the success has spilt over to Hennepin St, one block north.

And the 16th Street Mall in Denver. The only cars allowed on that street are the shuttle busses that run up and down all day long. And I think even that is too much. But the place is bustling day in and day out.

That's nice. You've come up with two successful pedestrian malls, both of which have buses running in them. Maybe you haven't seen one that wasn't thriving because many of the failed ones have been torn out. In the 1970s many downtowns closed major streets and converted them to pedestrian malls as a way to attract customers. The success of such conversions has been minimal, and twenty years later most have been converted back into traffic streets. "Of the roughly 200 pedestrian malls that once dotted the country, at least half are in some form of transformation..."1 The following excerpt from a research project by Carol Sullivan2 on the impact of pedestrian traffic on downtown health begins to explain the situation.

... most approaches to downtown revitalization include improvements to the pedestrian environment in an effort to approximate the environment of the shopping center.

...The United States is filled with beautifully designed pedestrian malls and streetscapes lined by empty buildings. "Attractive" pedestrian environments do not actually attract anyone. Conversely, many urban places which have not been provided with pedestrian "amenities" are crowded with people and thriving businesses. Grey, in his study of People and Downtown, concluded that:

"Malls and public spaces ...depend for their value upon their relationship to peoples' activity patterns. It must be understood why people are there and how they use the immediate environment."3

Others agree that pedestrian malls have been less than successful.

One of the biggest fads in the 70s and early 80s was the malling of downtown America. Cities all over the United States closed off streets to traffic and parking, planted trees, built fountains, installed benches, all to create pedestrian-friendly retail areas.

Many towns are ripping out those malls.

...no one realized how important auto traffic would be to the health of downtown retailers.

We've got traffic sailing by our cities instead of stopping in them...

Ann Arbor tried it differently. The city permits two-way traffic on its downtown Main Street. But parking is limited; sidewalks are extra-wide for outdoor cafes; and the city closes the street several days each summer for art fairs and other special events. The result is a bustling atmosphere all day and evening.4

1 Jennifer Steinhauer. 1996. "When Shoppers Walk Away From Pedestrian Malls." New York Times (5 November). p. C4.

2 Carol Sullivan. "Form and Function in Downtown Revitalization." Doctor of Architecture dissertation. The University of Michigan.

3 Grey. People and Downtown. 1970. p. xix.

4 John Gallagher. "Taking back the streets." Detroit Free Press. September 23, 1991. p. 6F.

Here is a link to a chart showing some details of pedestrian malls. Of the 72 listed, 56 have been at least partially reopened to automobile traffic. 9 are listed as successful and have remained closed to automobile traffic (3 of which allow bus traffic). An additional 7 are listed as "struggling" and in 5 of those, reopening to automobile traffic is proposed.

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  • 2 weeks later...
how does New York City manage to be the most vibrant city in the world while having wide streets PACKED with cars.

I think you just answered your own question.

They key word is *PACKED*. Cars and a welcoming downtown center are not mutually eliminative. But a fast-paced flow of cars *is* prohibitive to a welcoming downtown center.

Because the downtown Houston streets, as they are now, basically exist as a mechanism for getting the suburbanites in and out of the area as quickly as possible, it is not a welcoming downtown center.

If I had it my way, downtown houston would not have any one-way streets. However, this will never happen. Doing such a thing would increase the average sugarland commuter's travel time by an extra ten minutes, and the outrage would be incredible in this super-impatient, immediate-gratification city.

And, having said that, removing cars from the certain streets would not necessarily be detrimental to downtown houston, but I think you would have to do it is only once the pedestrian and bicycle/bus/whatever traffic got heavy enough to justify it.

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In total honesty, I see both sides of your points in regards to streets being "clogged" with traffic and "No cars" in downtown.

I believe that Main and adjacent blocks will eventually be heavily residential, to that end, I think it would be best if main would be closed off to most vehicles unless it's a delivery or emergency vehicle.

To that, I would also suggest that a couple of the streets be closed off and made into dead ends. I'm not proposing ALOT of them, perhaps only two streets or 3 streets. This would allow for a 3 car train and thereby, allowing to increase capacity in the future while at the same time allowing the owners of buildings nearby not to worry about leaving or entering their buildings and getting themselves killed in traffic.

It would also allow kids to be able to have a place to play/hang out in the evenings.

Ricco

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In total honesty, I see both sides of your points in regards to streets being "clogged" with traffic and "No cars" in downtown.

I believe that Main and adjacent blocks will eventually be heavily residential, to that end, I think it would be best if main would be closed off to most vehicles unless it's a delivery or emergency vehicle. 

To that, I would also suggest that a couple of the streets be closed off and made into dead ends.  I'm not proposing ALOT of them, perhaps only two streets or 3 streets.  This would allow for a 3 car train and thereby, allowing to increase capacity in the future while at the same time allowing the owners of buildings nearby not to worry about leaving or entering their buildings and getting themselves killed in traffic.

It would also allow kids to be able to have a place to play/hang out in the evenings.

Ricco

Well, maybe as Main gets developed more and more, cars will begin to avoid it anyway.

It's already kind of unpleasant to drive, not only because the train runs right down the middle of it, making it one lane in each direction, but also because of that pedestrian fountain thingie that makes it a less than desirable thoroughfare for someone looking to zip across downtown.

I don't think anything should be closed off until the area gets built up -- which I'm guessing is at least 15 years down the line. Get some pedestrian activity in there first, and *then* start worrying about the safety of the pedestrians. That's how I feel about it.

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Just a thought....to get people out of cars and onto sidewalks there must be atmosphere, that's what people want. Where you can just be without necessarily spending any money. Colors, art, architecture, food smells, people milling about, music.....Music, that's one thing that's missing. Music without having to go into a club. We need street bandstands. I dont' know if any other cities have them, but little round, covered areas with electricity scattered around downtown, maybe converted parking lots so that people can stand and listen, but more so that there is sound in the streets, but carefully placed so as not to be close to the residential units. Since our weather is nice year round, it might be a unique, feasible idea.

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I'm really against the idea of shutting off streets. A good street grid is imperative to traffic flow and efficient use of land. That's why a lot of "new urbanist" thinking really pushes grid development. That being said, the streets downtown really are too wide and focused on traffic flow. To me there's a really easy solution - take out a lanes of traffic and replace them with diagonal parking. This

- creates a buffer for pedestrians from traffic and noisy buses

- creates more parking places and therefore lessens the need for parking garages and reduces the economic attractiveness of surface lots

- by narrowing the streets tends to slow down traffic, making it still more attractive for pedestrians

- It's cheap - basically just restriping. With meters installed it can even bring in money to the city.

- The availabilty of on-street parking also supports street-level retail, since potential shoppers in cars are far more likely to stop if they think there is convenient parking nearby.

To me this is a real "win-win". It was part of the thinking behind the Cotswold project design. At present it seems like it would make more sense to focus on making downtown a good retail/pedestrian environment than worrying about kids running around. I doubt that families with kids will ever be a significant portion of downtown residents.

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I think the city of Houston should dedicate the entire section of Main Street that runs through downtown to be a pedestrian only zone and detour automobiles to Main Street's adjacent streets like Travis (w/exception of light rail). I only say this because Main Street Square is what they started and what they should branch off this idea to further development of a "strip like" retail development even further down Main.

I really wish more commercial retail could be brought to downtown Houston a little bit faster than what its doing. I know the development of 16th Street Mall in Denver developed in a period of less than 2 years.

Although I do excuse the fact that Main Street Square has only been open for a little bit under a year, but walking down Main Street, i haven't seen any proposals or new projects. No sign of any noticable progress that i can see as of yet. Anticipation has seemed to have slowed down tremendously. BAR HOUSTON even closed. I haven't seen any signs of Shamrock.

Perhaps i'm just a little impatient because i'm just as excited to see Houston progress as prime U.S. destination as anyone else on this board. I already see Houston as a fascinating city but i just want to see Houston to have more energy in its downtown area.

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SubDude, I really like your idea of street side parking. I think you're right on all accounts there. Personally, I hate all automobiles and think the entire planet should be ridden of the scourge, but that's what compromise is for, eh? Cuz Houston definitely needs one, especially downtown.

However, this would add to the ridiculous amount of street work taking place downtown. My girlfriend seriously thought that they were tearing up parts of the streets, then fixing them, then tearing them up again. It certainly seems so. They need to get that stuff done with before anything else can happen. Because as long as there's tractors in the road and detoured traffic and changed bus stops and dust in the air and pedestrian bridges, people won't come around. Lord knows it shooes me away.

Downtown really is taking off though. Less than a year ago, main street was pretty dead, even on weekends. But nowadays it's a pretty happening place. I hope this trend continues and the city takes the right course of developement. The time is now.

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Eliminate cars and you are guaranteed to have a dead downtown. This is the worst idea I have ever heard. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, or any of the other great downtowns would never do anything this ridiculous. I think downtown Houston's streets are perfect, some wide and some not. No more ridiculous ideas.

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  • 9 months later...

Buffalo, NY is now returning cars to its Main Street after more than 2 decades of empty storefronts and inactivity. The plan is to have rail and cars share the right of way.

It is pure folly to close streets off to traffic. It has even failed in Paris in the Les Halles n-hood. THAT area has turned into a drug supermarket for heroin.

ahem

ps: I am a liberal and hate cars AND support traffic CALMING only.

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One thing I must say - regardless of having cars downtown or not - they should at least follow the traffic laws. Even the bus drivers run red lights. I find it completely rediculous to see poliece officers wasting their time pulling cars over for speeding when hundreds of people die every year for running red lights.

As far as having cars downtown etc....my thoughts are allow them...but the real issue to me is better urban planning....let me rephrase - some urban planning. I have never seen a city where there was so much idle land so close to downtown.

Aside from how do cars interact.....well, to be honest, I think the weather has the most to do with an idol downtown. There is a reason the tunnels are downtown.

With the heat, people become accustom to not living much of a life outsie. I lived in Arizona for a couple of years and it was the same thing. I remember a friend of mine that lived in Manhatten, and he was the essence of a new yorker - particularly the walking part. One time he was telling me about how when he moved to Arizona, it was so hot that he drove from one side of the strip mall to the other.

If I were in charge of working toward a vibrant metro area that doesn't require cars - I think good mixed use buildings with access to commerce inside and outside. In addition, I would focus on more of a neighborhood feel. For instance - I think the Washington street area could be excellent - and with all the townhomes going in in that area - it would be nice to have a nice ecclectic bar/eatery to go in across the street of many townhomes. For example - the on Bonner street there are probably 100 townhomes going in over a 5 block area. It would be a prime location for a great eatery with good food, casual atmosphere, and some variety to be located right on Bonner. It could easily have a dual purpose menu for day vs. night.

Anyway, If I were an entrepreneur that is what I would do....land is cheap, and there are plenty of people that like to go out on the town....you get 3-5 different stores like that in the area, and it becomes more popular, and before you know it - A few blocks away, it is more appealing to for functional chain stores to enter....like Blockbuster, Randalls and dry cleaning....what else do you need....

you get a few of those type places going in, and it will quickly turn the areas.

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Well, traffic light cameras would fix all the red-light running. Unfortunately, there seems to be alot of opposition from them. I wonder why people oppose it, unless perhaps they know they are guilty of habitually running them.

Oh, and the creepy thing about Arizona, is leaving a bar at midnight, walking out on the street, and feeling like the sun is still beating down on you in complete darkness. What's even creepier, is feeling the concrete on the ground, only to find it is cool to the touch, while the air is still hot to breath. Now that's hot!

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Well, traffic light cameras would fix all the red-light running. Unfortunately, there seems to be alot of opposition from them. I wonder why people oppose it, unless perhaps they know they are guilty of habitually running them.

Oh, and the creepy thing about Arizona, is leaving a bar at midnight, walking out on the street, and feeling like the sun is still beating down on you in complete darkness. What's even creepier, is feeling the concrete on the ground, only to find it is cool to the touch, while the air is still hot to breath. Now that's hot!

I agree completely......you and I are in alignment on many things. I remember when I first moved there, two things jump to mind. First, I remember coming out from a movie theater at about midnight and walking into the parking garage and feeling all of the heat from the concrete structure just wrapping around me.

The second thing to put it into perspective was I remember going to the swimming pool at night and not being able to cool off because the water was too hot. I had to make it relatively cold - so I would go into the hot tub to get really hot, then go into the pool to feel cool. Funny thing is by the following May, the water was too cold to go into the pool because I had adjusted.

Talking about red lights - funny thing is Phoenix used to be rated the worst for red light running - they got red light cameras, and you know what.....the problem no longer exists.....well, at least not compared to Houston. Since moving here I have had 3 serious near misses that had never occured anywhere else I have ever lived....nothing even close.

What gets me is the arguments being used. I have heard people saying things like...what if the car is stolen and they run a red light...I will get a ticket. As if everyone in the city is driving a stolen car. The other one I have heard is what if it is 3 am and the light "just isn't changing" and you want to go through it....

Here is a perspective - 75 people die every in the US from being struck by lightning. 200 people die in the US every year from changing lanes on the freeways. 246 people died in HOUSTON in 2004 from running red lights.

I have had people go around me because I was stopped at a red light, and run the red light.

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One thing I must say - regardless of having cars downtown or not - they should at least follow the traffic laws. Even the bus drivers run red lights. I find it completely rediculous to see poliece officers wasting their time pulling cars over for speeding when hundreds of people die every year for running red lights.

agree with you here. it can be scary being a pedestrian downtown the way people drive.

Aside from how do cars interact.....well, to be honest, I think the weather has the most to do with an idol downtown. There is a reason the tunnels are downtown.

With the heat, people become accustom to not living much of a life outsie. I lived in Arizona for a couple of years and it was the same thing. I remember a friend of mine that lived in Manhatten, and he was the essence of a new yorker - particularly the walking part.

then how to explain people in manhattan walking from place to place when its 100 degrees or 10 degrees. obviously their heat comes in waves and doesn't last as long as ours, but it does get really hot and that doesn't slow down the city. and if you look at their winters and the amount of rain they get, they have some pretty unfriendly walking weather.

for us, from now to May is great.

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agree with you here. it can be scary being a pedestrian downtown the way people drive.

then how to explain people in manhattan walking from place to place when its 100 degrees or 10 degrees. obviously their heat comes in waves and doesn't last as long as ours, but it does get really hot and that doesn't slow down the city. and if you look at their winters and the amount of rain they get, they have some pretty unfriendly walking weather.

for us, from now to May is great.

Well lets see....it gets up to 100 pretty much anywhere in the Continental US. The difference is

Here is some data about the temperatures:

NYC

Average High Temperature Years on Record: 33

YEAR Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.

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In all reality this city is so spread out that it makes it very difficult to walk anywhere. ....but that is the whole argument isn't it.....

I still think it has a ton to do with the weather, but also the zoning of course.

I don't think the weather has a lot to do with it...it is the zoning and the city design (or lack thereof), which of course is fueled by an abundance of cheap real estate, which gives people driveways for their SUVs and greedy developers room for pedestrian unfriendly strip malls and TxDOT room for mega freeways for the "locals" to motor along on. Why walk when you can sit in 71 degree comfort in your Yukon and drive from one side of Highland Village to the other?

I used to live in Singapore, which feels like Houston in June/July pretty much all year round. Everyone walks around there without complaint. Even with the presence of quite possibly the world's best subway, main drags (such as Orchard Rd.) are always packed with people.

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I think you just answered your own question.

They key word is *PACKED*. Cars and a welcoming downtown center are not mutually eliminative. But a fast-paced flow of cars *is* prohibitive to a welcoming downtown center.

Because the downtown Houston streets, as they are now, basically exist as a mechanism for getting the suburbanites in and out of the area as quickly as possible, it is not a welcoming downtown center.

If I had it my way, downtown Houston would not have any one-way streets. However, this will never happen. Doing such a thing would increase the average sugarland commuter's travel time by an extra ten minutes, and the outrage would be incredible in this super-impatient, immediate-gratification city.

And, having said that, removing cars from the certain streets would not necessarily be detrimental to downtown Houston, but I think you would have to do it is only once the pedestrian and bicycle/bus/whatever traffic got heavy enough to justify it.

I think Houston is in a transitional phase not in it maturity stage of planed mobility. In order for any city to work well commerce must flow and that means transportation needs to flow. Because people want to live in homes out of the city this mean that they will drive in and some other chose to live in town. and this means that they need to go to work as well. before I write you a book on my thoughts about this. Let me just say Houston as a city will continue to work because it will have to develop well with sprawl. you can not have an Urban core without having a suburban plan for transportation, community development, management and so on

the fact that streets are wide has to do with Houston's original plan. When Houston's founding "brothers" came from New York to develop Houston. the downtown grid was drawn then and has not changed too much since then.

there have been several projects downtown that have focused on developing ground level or street level aesthetically pleasing elements like fountains. street lamps, sculptures, intricate details that depict the history of the city and I can keep going on for a while here.

However I won't. the name of the project was: Metropolitan Transportation Plan (or was it: Beautification Project) What ever it was these issues have been address.

[With this project the city of Houston Narrowed portions of some streets (Preston, Congress, Franklin and Commerce just to name a few) Preston even curves to and fro in front of the county records office and before it crosses main st]

But they are not the end-all-project that will correct everything. they were merely steps in the improvement of downtown

You anti-SUV kooks crack me up!

I used to hate SUVs, too, until I could afford one.

We love ours.

What do you drive? An old Subaru?

I love my SUV too Coog. However I could only afford a Kia Serento

I don't think the weather has a lot to do with it...it is the zoning and the city design (or lack thereof), which of course is fueled by an abundance of cheap real estate, which gives people driveways for their SUVs and greedy developers room for pedestrian unfriendly strip malls and TxDOT room for mega freeways for the "locals" to motor along on. Why walk when you can sit in 71 degree comfort in your Yukon and drive from one side of Highland Village to the other?

I used to live in Singapore, which feels like Houston in June/July pretty much all year round. Everyone walks around there without complaint. Even with the presence of quite possibly the world's best subway, main drags (such as Orchard Rd.) are always packed with people.

Even without zoning the city of Houston looks much like any other city in the US. Now, there are plenty of exceptions but the good majority of Americans land scape looks like Houston.

the city develops were developers see it fit (profitable). and most of the time through a little research the customers determent < us you and everyone else influence were things get built because developers follow the money

Edited by eelimon
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I've been to many zoned cities and don't see much difference from Houston.

Also, as long as people can afford to drive an SUV they will. If they can't afford it they'll get rid of it. Most people can still afford to drive it.

Also, aren't oil prices dropping a little.

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Yeah, I know. Liberal car-hating scum like me are never taken seriously. But as an honorary Houstonian and a well travelled kid that likes his cities big AND exciting, I think Houston needs to seriously reconsider it's traffic patterns through the downtown area. The streets are FAR too wide and the cars FAR too numerous for downtown to ever be the thriving active money spending center we would all like it to be. Installing light rail was a step in the right direction. Denying it the money to be sub or above grade was idiotic. One needs only examine other cities with a bubbling downtown/nightlife to realize that cars and a welcoming downtown center are mutually eliminative. The Burnside district of Portland comes to mind. Not to mention the goddamned eyesore parking lots that plague this fair town. Nothing uglier than an open lot amidst beautiful buildings.
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Why walk when you can sit in 71 degree comfort in your Yukon and drive from one side of Highland Village to the other?

I used to live in Singapore, which feels like Houston in June/July pretty much all year round. Everyone walks around there without complaint. Even with the presence of quite possibly the world's best subway, main drags (such as Orchard Rd.) are always packed with people.

71 degrees - as opposed to 99 degrees - of course......temperature.

As far as Singapore - lets put this into perspective a little bit....do you have any idea why people walk everywhere there? Most people don't own cars. do you know why most people don't own cars - for starters, cost to purchase. Second cost to register. And you know you don't want to piss off the Govt. in Singapore, so I am sure anyone that drives there has their cars registered.

A Toyota Corolla costs over $50,000 USD, and over $15,000 to register.....enough said.

You anti-SUV kooks crack me up!

I used to hate SUVs, too, until I could afford one.

We love ours.

What do you drive? An old Subaru?

SUV's are nice...what is funny though is looking at the Gas total after they leave - I saw one the other day $90 to fill the tank.....NICE...to compound things more people in Houston CHOOSE to live 30 miles away from their jobs. I heard a lady on the radio that said her commute was basically from the Woodlands to Sugarland every day....what a joke....

Drive whatever you want - just don't delicate flower about gas prices because you made the choice to drive what you drive.

I think Houston is in a transitional phase not in it maturity stage of planed mobility. In order for any city to work well commerce must flow and that means transportation needs to flow. Because people want to live in homes out of the city this mean that they will drive in and some other chose to live in town. and this means that they need to go to work as well. before I write you a book on my thoughts about this. Let me just say Houston as a city will continue to work because it will have to develop well with sprawl. you can not have an Urban core without having a suburban plan for transportation, community development, management and so on

the fact that streets are wide has to do with Houston's original plan. When Houston's founding "brothers" came from New York to develop Houston. the downtown grid was drawn then and has not changed too much since then.

there have been several projects downtown that have focused on developing ground level or street level aesthetically pleasing elements like fountains. street lamps, sculptures, intricate details that depict the history of the city and I can keep going on for a while here.

However I won't. the name of the project was: Metropolitan Transportation Plan (or was it: Beautification Project) What ever it was these issues have been address.

[With this project the city of Houston Narrowed portions of some streets (Preston, Congress, Franklin and Commerce just to name a few) Preston even curves to and fro in front of the county records office and before it crosses main st]

But they are not the end-all-project that will correct everything. they were merely steps in the improvement of downtown

I love my SUV too Coog. However I could only afford a Kia Serento

Even without zoning the city of Houston looks much like any other city in the US. Now, there are plenty of exceptions but the good majority of Americans land scape looks like Houston.

the city develops were developers see it fit (profitable). and most of the time through a little research the customers determent < us you and everyone else influence were things get built because developers follow the money

I believe that the developers follow the money...of course. However, cities with zoning help dictate where developers build what types of structures. I am all for a free market society; however, to be honest, I feel like the city of Houston spends 90cents on 60 cents of service and quality, where other cities would spend 100cents for 100 cents of service and quality. Basically, what I am trying to say is the lack of planning and zoning ends up creating situations where repairs and re-construction takes place all too often. In the end, this is wasteful. The property taxes here are outrageous, and so are the assessments. I know I know....Texas doesnt have any state income tax.....but that doesn't really matter because most places have relatively the same sales tax, but the property taxes are 1% instead of 3%. I would be willing to bet that people in Texas pay pretty much as many taxes as many other cities.

I've been to many zoned cities and don't see much difference from Houston.

Also, as long as people can afford to drive an SUV they will. If they can't afford it they'll get rid of it. Most people can still afford to drive it.

Also, aren't oil prices dropping a little.

Oil prices dropping - it is all relative. yes with respect to their highs in the summer; but compared to last year at this time they are significantly higher. Oil is definitely a seasonal commodity, with the Summer being the highest price time of year because of all the travel etc. So, I will say they are dropping if they don't reach $70 next year in the summer.

The bottom line to me is Houston is a city in the midst of a transition, but in 5 years what will it look like? I am not optimistic considering the marginal progress Midtown has made in the last 5+ years. The commercial development is so minimal in some areas of mid-town. The Geographic area inside the loop that is undeveloped, or completely run down is enromous, and the way developers are picking the land to build on doesn't seem very community oriented. Now, I know that developers are out to make money, but considering a house in the Uptown area sells for $200/SF - and they sell, seems like an awfully good indication that if you build something in an area that is established you can get a premium for the structure. Therefore, it seems to me if you were to work on more mixed used communities the area in general would grow and become established much quicker.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Why walk when you can sit in 71 degree comfort in your Yukon and drive from one side of Highland Village to the other?

I used to live in Singapore, which feels like Houston in June/July pretty much all year round. Everyone walks around there without complaint. Even with the presence of quite possibly the world's best subway, main drags (such as Orchard Rd.) are always packed with people.

71 degrees - as opposed to 99 degrees - of course......temperature.

As far as Singapore - lets put this into perspective a little bit....do you have any idea why people walk everywhere there? Most people don't own cars. do you know why most people don't own cars - for starters, cost to purchase. Second cost to register. And you know you don't want to piss off the Govt. in Singapore, so I am sure anyone that drives there has their cars registered.

A Toyota Corolla costs over $50,000 USD, and over $15,000 to register.....enough said."

Singapore is so close to the equator, so I don't see how it is "71 degrees" in the summertime. Even so, I want Houston to become more of a walking city. I know, I know, the city is really hot in July or August. Why not establish walking during the other months? When it is really hot:

* Take an umbrella

* Put on deodorant

* Wear light clothing

* Wear sunscreen

* Take a nice, cool drink

"You anti-SUV kooks crack me up!

I used to hate SUVs, too, until I could afford one.

We love ours.

What do you drive? An old Subaru?"

It's not so much that it is an SUV in the first place; It's the lack of fuel efficiency. While I am okay with large cars, at the same time, they ought to be fuel efficient. Since oil is becoming too much of a liability, there should be government standards on fuel efficiency. The automakers should obey us, as this oil thing is going to go out of hand soon.

Edited by VicMan
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I want Houston to become more of a walking city. I know, I know, the city is really hot in July or August. Why not establish walking during the other months? When it is really hot:

How do you purpose to to make the entire city walkable? Remember the city expands over 600 sq miles. Houston needs to establish several "livable villages." Where they can be reached and linked by rail and once you get there you can access every thing by walking. Houston already has several edge cities and other neighborhoods were this can be done:

Downtown

Galleria

Greenway Plaza

Rice Village

The Medical Center

Greens Point

Energy Corridor

Memorial City/ Town and Country

WestChase

Gulfgate

Meyerland

Midtown

Montrose

Heights

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Yes, this is my idea too. There can be several areas which have everything needed for walking.

Other neighborhoods (e.g. West U, Braes Heights) can be "partially walkable", where people can walk as long as they are within the neighborhood and do not have to carry large loads of items (then again, one could somehow buy a shopping cart and use it).

Also there should be the new pedestrian lights with countdown timers and intersections with legal diagonal crossing.

Edited by VicMan
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  • 5 months later...

oh i love midtown, never realized it was so dense, great place to walk, nice area, i think main should be car free though, i mean have you seen how small of a space those cars have along the train, the sidewalks are wider than the roads, might as well make the whole thing car free, revolve around the train, but idc what they do, its all good

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So what happens when driveways and entrances to parking garages are blocked off to make way for a continuous pedestrian/light rail corridor? By state law, an owner of property must have access to it, if necessary granted through his neighbor's property via the most direct and reasonable approach. The law was implemented to handle rural property issues, but what would happen if parking garages with entrances/exits along Main Street were suddenly blocked off? The implications could be scary...I'm not sure, though.

Also, if Main Street became a continuous pedestrian corridor into Midtown, where there are crossings only at major intersections and a disrupted grid everywhere else, then you'd have a lot of dead-end streets turn up throughout the corridor. That would be extremely confusing.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma has returned its downtown pedestrian mall to vehicular traffic (although there isn't much of that there at present).

Here in Denver we have a nice setup with the 16th Street Mall. No vehicles except for the free busses that run in one lane each direction to move people from one end of downtown to the other. The busses have no seats, and are just for people standing, and I believe run on natural gas. They run right past the Denver Pavillions shopping center, and the entire mall seems to be quite a nice and thriving place for an urban area. Light rail crosses the mall on Stout and California for people to catch the train, and there are main bus terminals at each end of the mall connnecting people to other routes than just the free mall busses. Works pretty well. Our light rail here is at grade level also, and there have been the occasional collission with a car or truck, but not as often as in Houston I don't believe.

As for Houston's Main St. as a mall...I am not sure about that. The train takes up too much space, and could pose a hazard to pedestrians. As it is though, there is not enough room for cars. They should have elevated or buried the train, IMO.

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As for Houston's Main St. as a mall...I am not sure about that. The train takes up too much space, and could pose a hazard to pedestrians. As it is though, there is not enough room for cars. They should have elevated or buried the train, IMO.

Yeah, this should have been a discussion (if it weren't already) about two or three years ago.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma has returned its downtown pedestrian mall to vehicular traffic (although there isn't much of that there at present).

Here in Denver we have a nice setup with the 16th Street Mall. No vehicles except for the free busses that run in one lane each direction to move people from one end of downtown to the other. The busses have no seats, and are just for people standing, and I believe run on natural gas. They run right past the Denver Pavillions shopping center, and the entire mall seems to be quite a nice and thriving place for an urban area. Light rail crosses the mall on Stout and California for people to catch the train, and there are main bus terminals at each end of the mall connnecting people to other routes than just the free mall busses. Works pretty well. Our light rail here is at grade level also, and there have been the occasional collission with a car or truck, but not as often as in Houston I don't believe.

As for Houston's Main St. as a mall...I am not sure about that. The train takes up too much space, and could pose a hazard to pedestrians. As it is though, there is not enough room for cars. They should have elevated or buried the train, IMO.

Chicago did it on State Street in the 80's. The idea was to create a pedestrian mall downtown to compete with the suburban malls, some of which are outdoors (and amazinly successful even in the dead of winter). It only lasted a few years. People hated it, and they eventually brought the cars back. Recently, the Chicago Tribune ranked it as one of the ten biggest blunders in Chicago history.

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A lot of cities tried the pedestrian mall concept back in the 1970s, and in almost every case they were converted back to streets. Denver and South Beach were about the only consistently successful examples. The malls usually tended to drive away business, not attract it. That was one objection I had to "Main Street Square". It seemed they were ignoring the poor track record for that kind of project.

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I just read an article on Ybor City in Tampa and they too have re-opened 7th Street (the main drag) to pedestrians on all nights except Saturday night (basically, the same as the Historic District in Houston).

The pedestrian traffic in most cities is almost never enough to really justify the closing of a street to vehicles as a routine and it seems that a lot of people are so trained at walking on sidewalks that they don't bother walking in the street, even if it's closed off to traffic.

Of course, that changes if you have like a Mardi Gras/Super Bowl block party type deal, where the crowds of ridiculously large.

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The pedestrian traffic in most cities is almost never enough to really justify the closing of a street to vehicles as a routine and it seems that a lot of people are so trained at walking on sidewalks that they don't bother walking in the street, even if it's closed off to traffic.

Exactly. It reminds me of some of the unrealistic goals displayed on this forum.

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The biggest problem with all this stuff is that in houston there isnt much demand for urban style places. To make the city better you'd first really have to reign in the sprawl. Look at portland. They dont have all the coolness now just because they built it and they came, its because they also put in measures to stop sprawl.

As for pedestrian malls, interesting how the idea tanked. but it makes sense. I think the best option would be to have narrow streets with diagonal parking and wide sidewalks. Cars go slower sense its narrower, and pedestrians are safer, but the overall biggest plus is that with that you can actually park right in front of where you want to go. I think that having good street parking is first to make a difference. since people will be able to get to the shops easier, the shops will do better, and eventually the area will become popular. when that happens people will want to start living closer so they will buy townhomes and take the light rail instead of driving since that would be simpler and boom, you are in a situation where you can start building big huge developments.

As for outdoor ped malls, it makes sense they went under. why drive all the way to the inner city to shop in an mall that is exaclty the same as the malls in the suburbs, only you cant park anywhere.

Really, the only reason why i can see DRIVING going to a mall period is so that you can have a day out shopping under one ROOF(something tells me the indoor mall will rise again)

Of course, i would love to be able to do regular everyday shopping and going out to eat in an urban neighboorhood and not have to worry about driving to a central location like a mall.

Edited by zaphod
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narrow streets filled with cars parked on the sides and lots of pedestian traffic is a potential receipe for disaster. what happens when emergency vehicles need to get through in a hurry-ambulance-fire etc. also what happens when the area changes in 15 or 20 yrs? need to upgrade or rebuild into something diff. and more useful....narrow streets become a problem. all that stuff is fine in cities that have relegated themselves to stagnating for 100+ yrs. in Houston it isnt a good idea, for this is a forever changing city.

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narrow streets filled with cars parked on the sides and lots of pedestian traffic is a potential receipe for disaster. what happens when emergency vehicles need to get through in a hurry-ambulance-fire etc. also what happens when the area changes in 15 or 20 yrs? need to upgrade or rebuild into something diff. and more useful....narrow streets become a problem. all that stuff is fine in cities that have relegated themselves to stagnating for 100+ yrs. in Houston it isnt a good idea, for this is a forever changing city.

Plenty of cities get by just fine with relatively narrow streets and on-street parking. There's no reason to think it's a "recipe for disaster" as long as the streets are wide enough for emergency vehicles and people follow the rules about yielding to emergency vehicles. I don't think you can create an effective pedestrian zone unless it is designed to emphasize sidewalks, not traffic flow. Zaphod's comment makes great sense:

I think the best option would be to have narrow streets with diagonal parking and wide sidewalks. Cars go slower sense its narrower, and pedestrians are safer, but the overall biggest plus is that with that you can actually park right in front of where you want to go. I think that having good street parking is first to make a difference. since people will be able to get to the shops easier, the shops will do better, and eventually the area will become popular.
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