September 24, 2007
Revitalizing Montrose

This sounds interesting.

With a little motivation, a group of like-minded people could change the look of one of Houston's major streets.

The idea to revitalize Montrose Boulevard and make it one of the city's few walkable corridors has been floating around for decades. In 2006, a group of residents and business owners formed the nonprofit Montrose Boulevard Conservancy with those goals in mind.

"Our vision is to re-establish Montrose as a major thoroughfare corridor that it was originally meant to be," said John E. Walsh Jr., the organization's vice president and secretary.

"I don't know how many people remember that Montrose was a boulevard that had an esplanade," said Montrose resident Claude F. Wynn, a developer and group president.

This makes a lot of sense beyond just improving the look of the boulevard. You really do see a lot of pedestrians on Montrose, especially between Richmond and Westheimer, and again around Bissonet in the Museum District. They should be better served by it. And as always, providing more and better options that allow for leaving the car behind helps to improve mobility for everyone.

As Buffalo Bayou is revitalized to the north and Hermann Park to the south adds a larger-gauge mini train with more stops to facilitate better transportation around the park, a walkable Montrose Boulevard connecting the two would lead to a large segment in central Houston where cars are no longer necessary.

"This will be one of the more extensive systems we have for pedestrian connection," Walsh said.

People also would be able to hop on the existing Main Street rail at Hermann Park and possibly the future University Corridor light rail if it runs down Richmond traversing Montrose Boulevard.

I don't understand the "possibly" in that last sentence. All options for the Universities line would cross Montrose at Richmond. The Culberson option would then jog down Montrose to 59 before continuing west, but there would still be a station at Richmond and Montrose. The only way people will not be able to hop on the U-line at this location is if the line doesn't get built.

A large part of what is needed to make the road more walkable is a better sidewalk, Walsh said.

"The sidewalk doesn't exist in some places. In others it's broken or too small so it's not a complete system at this point," he said.

Speaking from my experience documenting the Robinson Warehouse demolition, I can tell you that the sidewalk between West Dallas and Allen Parkway needs a lot of repair work. That's on the east side of the street, where at least there is a sidewalk. I'm not sure how you retrofit one on the west side, but if you can it would be nice.

Shade is needed to make it palatable and density is required to attract more people.

Metro's University Corridor rail line could help bring pedestrians to the area, while shade would be a part of the project.

"It's kind of frustrating to have a city that has a reputation that it is hot and sticky when in fact this is an outdoor city nine months out of the year," Wynn said. "People will follow shade. It's not about how Disneyland you make it. The walkability is related to shade."

Yeah, that's always amused me, too. Speaking as someone who commuted for four years in New York, I'll take temps in the 90s when I walk over temps in the teens any day. It's the presence of snow, ice, and slush on the sidewalks that makes walking truly miserable. Your mileage may vary, but I see it as Wynn does: Houston's climate overall is far more pedestrian friendly than a lot of places where you have no choice but to walk. Embrace it, don't fear it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 24, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston