May 08, 2006

Interesting article from Sunday about a part of town I don't get out to all that often.

Westchase began developing in the early 1970s on land still grazed by cattle. Today, 25,000 people live in the district, and more than 56,500 work within its boundaries. It is one of Houston's strongest markets for office space.

The Westchase District, a management district created by the Legislature in 1995, recently commissioned an award-winning master plan to help it overcome some of the obstacles to realizing its vision. These problems include a severe lack of park space and a suburban-style design that doesn't lend itself to creating diverse, walkable neighborhoods that increasingly attract the most desirable employees for major companies.

"What people want today is the lifestyle," said Jim Murphy, the district's president. "It is critical that we have an environment where people can go out to lunch, recreate or live close to where they work. Corporations recognize and support efforts like ours because they know it's to their benefit."

I think the key to understanding why people want the lifestyle that Murphy describes is because it gives them something they can't get otherwise: More time in the day to do what they want to do. Driving and parking, especially driving any kind of distance or driving through busy thoroughfares with long light cycles, and parking in lots, takes up more time than you think. How much more free time would you have if your commute were reduced to a ten-minute walk? (I've always thought one reason why my freshman year of college was such a success was because I was no longer commuting three hours a day to school, and thus had plenty of time to study and goof off.) And yes, people will even walk in Houston if that's what they get out of it.

Of course, walking doesn't have to be the only option:

The Metropolitan Transit Authority chose not to include Westchase in its rapid transit plan approved by voters in 2003, a decision that has drawn some criticism.

"The lack of connections to Westchase in the Metro Solutions plan is a huge problem for the region," said David Crossley, the president of the Gulf Coast Institute, a nonprofit research group on urban issues. "Because of its location, it could serve as the gateway from the western suburbs into the urban system."

Metro's plans include possible additional expansions of its transit system, including a route along Westpark that would cut through the southern part of Westchase. Completion of the lines authorized in 2003 is scheduled for 2011, Metro spokesman George Smalley said.

An extension of some kind from the Galleria area would have some appeal, and would certainly go through some reasonably dense and heavily trafficked areas. It'll be worth thinking about.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 08, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

Our subdivision is right on the edge of Westchase. We like living here. Everything we need is within five miles of us, usually even closer than that. Tim works in Westchase, which is what prompted us to look in this area.

I've had the chance to attend a couple of the luncheons that Westchase has for the member businesses (our home association's board members are invited as a courtesy) and I've had the chance to see how hard Westchase works to improve their area and inform their members. They're doing a fabulous job.

Posted by: Sue on May 8, 2006 2:09 PM

I agree with Sue. I live close by and it has been interesting to watch the Westcahse area develop.

As to the exclusion of a link to the Metro rail lines from teh 2003 ballot proposal, it would not surprise me if there was a little "back scratching" going on HCTRA gently urging MTA to back off any such proposal until the Westpark was completed and in service.

I think some rail linkage with the Galleria area makes a lot of sense if done properly. It would alleviate some traffic along Westheimer between the Loop and the Beltway, but until the "pedestrian friendly" area of Westchase is complete, it would likely need to be served by a park and ride type facility to have decent ridership. Currently there isn't enough population density.

Posted by: Patrick on May 8, 2006 5:25 PM