Growing up in Gulfton, Sandra Rodriguez walked just about everywhere.
Her father took the family’s only vehicle to work, so Rodriguez and her four siblings got used to the southwest neighborhood’s patchy sidewalks. When the sidewalks ended or became impassable, they ventured onto the road, navigating around moving vehicles as they made daily visits to the local store, the bus station and their school.
Four decades later, most of Gulfton’s sidewalks have continued to deteriorate, a familiar story across Houston.
Approximately 36 miles of the neighborhood’s streets either lack sidewalks or are in desperate need of repairs, according to a recent report by the city of Houston. Many sections fail to meet the city’s minimum standards or requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
These issues create more than just inconveniences, according to Rodriguez. They have made it difficult for residents to access essential services and, she said, contributed to clusters of pedestrian accidents in a small percentage of Houston streets most in need of infrastructure improvement.
“My family came from Mexico, and this is the area we moved into because rent was cheap, but the community did not have the amenities that it needed for families,” said Rodriguez, who serves as the president of the Gulfton Super Neighborhood Council. “The same is true today.”
Houstonians have long complained about broken curbs and eroding sidewalks. To gauge the extent of the problem, the city of Houston commissioned a series of sidewalk studies focusing, specifically, on Gulfton and Kashmere Gardens, two communities devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
A key gap the studies identified is inadequate funding.
The city offers several sidewalk programs, and there are various funding sources that different communities can tap. But not all neighborhoods have equal access to funding opportunities, and some are not even aware of them, the report found. This has led to certain communities, labeled as “funding deserts,” to fall through the cracks.
In the newly approved budget for fiscal year 2024, the city of Houston allocated $3.3 million to its safe sidewalks program, a part of which will pay for sidewalk improvements in high-priority areas identified in the Gulfton and Kashmere Gardens studies, according to the mayor’s office.
In response to multiple city council members’ requests, Mayor Sylvester Turner added another $1.8 million during the final moments of the budget cycle to pay for sidewalk repairs.
In January, the council also approved a “sidewalk-in-lieu fee” aimed at generating $1.7 million annually to build new sidewalks. Still in the the early stages of the new policy’s implementation, the city has so far only collected $174,300 in fees, the mayor’s office said.
The mayor said his administration will continue to look for additional dollars and implement new projects based on the findings from the latest studies.
“The Resilient Sidewalks Plan is an in-depth look at the broad interconnectivity between mobility, sidewalks and drainage for two communities severely impacted by Hurricane Harvey,” Turner said in a statement. “With the input from stakeholders and those who live in these communities, we now have a significant toolkit to produce an actionable plan to secure funding for future projects.”
See here for a bit of background. Houston has a near-bottomless need for more and better sidewalks, and as admirable as it is to put more money into sidewalk construction and maintenance, that can only go so far. Improving our sidewalks needs to be everyone’s job. Metro has done some work, Commissioners Court has some stuff going on, the city is doing more, so we’re going in the right direction. We just have an awful lot of catching up to do.
Remember, the more options that people have to get from point A to point B without having to drive, the better. It’s not about the highways but it is about the neighborhood roads and the available parking. There are also a lot of people who have no choice but to walk and bike and take public transit, and they deserve a better experience. Every little bit in that direction helps.