PEDESTRIAN PETE JOINS FREE PRESS HOUSTON
by Peter H Brown
Hi, Free Press Houston readers! I’m Pedestrian Pete – a guy on a mission – to make Houston a MORE WALKABLE place, especially the inner city. I’m excited to embark on this partnership with Free Press Houston and look forward to bringing you news, reviews, and things you can use, as we work to turn Houston into a walking city.
We start off disadvantaged, as probably the most car-centric, pedestrian unfriendly city in the U.S. with a pandemic of obesity to boot. But we have a trump card – and that’s you, the FPH readers, millenials, and everyone who loves great urban places.
In the U.S. we are 200 million strong and we, by a large margin, demand walkable urbanism. What does this mean? Denser, mixed-use development districts; safe sidewalks, bikeways and rail transit to get us there; and bountiful street activities. Not just sidewalk cafes, but all sorts of shops, restaurants, art-spaces, and enough real funk to make it really interesting.
This reminds me how easy it is to lose track of time walking on Manhattan’s Upper East Side or just about anywhere in central Paris, savoring the many sights, sounds, smells, signs, street vendors and all sorts of people; the sheer enjoyment of just wandering in the big city. It’s cheap and wonderful entertainment.
We need more “people-watching” in Houston. There are too many vacant spaces, vacuous parking lots, too much ugly, too many car-only domains. There’s not much there there, to quote Gertrude Stein, and even less in between.
Check out walkscore.com, and you’ll see that Houston ranks 44 (out of 100) in walkability and 35 in public transit! But the true measure is not just the density of destinations, it’s how many people are on foot at any given time. For example, Montrose Blvd has a high walkscore, but I have never counted more than 12 pedestrians on its entire length at any given time. Lower Westheimer, in fragments, has a good dose of fascinating urbanism, in spite of the broken, missing, and awfully narrow sidewalks, compounded by those awful vertical obstacles — the poles, wires and transformer boxes littering the sidewalks, even blocking ADA handicapped ramps.
That, by the way, is illegal and a violation of federal law! I (as a professional pedestrian) call all those tangles of power lines and wires “litter on a stick!” and they make my walks unsightly and unsafe.
So what can we do to make Houston a more walkable city?
- First and foremost, just start walking. For all of us, hopefully where there are a lot of attractive destinations. Park that car and start walking. Take public transit, or hitch to a bike rack, and start walking.
- Burn some shoe leather in districts of the city with a lot of “street bustle,” places that are already walkable. Bagby and West Gray in Midtown, the Main Street corridor around Isabella Court (walk over to the Weights & Measures restaurant at 2808 Caroline), Rice Village and The River Oaks Shopping Center on West Gray, or 6th Street or 19th Street in The Heights. These are just a few great places to explore on foot.
- Don’t forget to explore City Centre out on I-10 at Beltway 8 or Sugar Land Town Center. In spite of a long drive to the suburbs, these are definitely walkable places.
- View Pedestrian Pete’s video “Litter on a Stick” and walk that extra mile.
File a complaint! Call 311 at the City and complain about nasty potholes, dangerous sidewalks and crosswalks, and utility poles blocking sidewalks. Email the Mayor’s office at email@example.com. With enough calls, we will get their attention!
- Email me at pedestrianpete.com with a photos of the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ll publish the best photos.
Check back here mid-November, and twice a month thereafter, for future articles and updates. And remember, there is no invisible hand out there to make our city a better place. It is up to us.
Pedestrian Pete is the alter ego of Peter H. Brown, native-born architect/urban planner and former City Councilman (2006-2010), and long-time quality of life advocate. Contact Pete at Peter[at]pedestrianpete.com.
by Guest Author