Pedestrian Pete Welcomes Mayor Turner
By Peter H Brown
Get ready for a more walkable Houston. We just elected a new Mayor, Sylvester Turner, albeit by a slim margin! I have always thought he could be our first truly urban mayor, a consensus-driven visionary with a strong pragmatic streak, who understands the purpose and potential of the big American city.
Quite often folks say to me, “Keep it up Pedestrian Pete, but I come from Denver (or Boston, DC, or even Nashville,) and Houston is NOT a walkable city.” I agree, we are a car-dominated city, so we have to start doing a number of things right and stop doing a lot of stuff wrong (like all-too-narrow, blocked, dangerous and missing sidewalks,) if we want a more walkable city.
THE RIGHT THINGS:
- Attractive landscaping with shade trees at regular intervals, and strips of green on each side. Decorative bands of concrete pavers signal that pedestrians are important in our city.
- Sidewalk widths and designs should relate to the type of street – more urban or more suburban, and the destinations served. Better city code standards are critical.
- Adequate building setbacks, especially in urban areas, where the distance from a building face to the back of the curb should be a minimum of 18 feet!
- Clearly marked crosswalks at intersections. Adequate timing on pedestrian crossing traffic lights.
- Combine utilities and traffic lights on the same pole where feasible.
- Coordinate bikeways and public transit, especially Light Rail, with sidewalk connections, including safe sidewalks to schools.
- The Public Works Department should embrace the national “skinny streets” standard; less pavement means safer, more economical streets, with more room for sidewalks, landscaping, curb-side parking and bikeways. Stop requiring 12 ft. wide lanes and huge 25 ft. curb turning radii in urban and low density areas. This causes too much pavement and storm water run-off, makes crossing on foot more dangerous, and is an unnecessary taxpayers’ expense.
- The City should provide financial incentives to developers for safe, attractive walkable frontages and interior areas.
THE WRONG THINGS:
- Stop exempting developers from building sidewalks.
- Stop allowing CenterPoint Energy to place utility poles in the middle of sidewalks and ramps for the disabled. This should be ILLEGAL!
- Limit the number of vertical poles at intersections. Separate poles for street signs, traffic, and pedestrian crossing signals are unnecessary. Mayor Parker and I recently counted 18 poles at the intersection of Westheimer and Dunleavy. SLOPPY CIVIL ENGINEERING!
- In general, recognize the poor quality civil engineering of our streets and sidewalks, with ineffective enforcement of the minimal standards we have on the books.
- The Planning Commission should stop giving developers variances for minimal reduced setbacks, which leave little right-of-way for sidewalks and bikeways.
It all seems to boil down to this. It’s not just potholes. Major reform is needed in our Public Works Department, in terms of standards, permitting and enforcement. This is a good job for our new Mayor, Sylvester Turner. Aside from a modern development and infrastructure code, the Mayor could also implement better coordination between the Public Works Department, the Planning Department, CenterPoint Energy, the Super Neighborhoods, and civic organizations. The Mayor needs to bring CenterPoint Energy under control- setting and enforcing reasonable street and sidewalk standards.
BUILD IT RIGHT IN THE FIRST PLACE!
We only have one chance in a lifetime to build our city better, to build it right. How we build – streets, parking, infrastructure, buildings, public areas and green space – directly determines our quality of life, for generations to come.
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@pedestrianpete.com
by Guest Author