So what’s Mayor Whitmire’s deal with Vision Zero?

The Chron editorial board thinks he won’t be some destroyer of non-automotive transit. I’ll remain politely skeptical for now.

Mayor John Whitmire

John Whitmire insists he supports Vision Zero, the city’s action plan to make Houston streets safer. The ultimate goal is zero people losing their lives in car crashes by 2030. Zero pedestrians killed just crossing a street. Zero new ghost bikes haunting curbs across town where cyclists died nearby.

Some are questioning Whitmire’s commitment to street safety after a few recent moves, including the removal of concrete medians recently installed along Houston Avenue and his ordering a review of bike lanes and other features of the new 11th Street redesign in the Heights.


For his part, Whitmire sees the 11th Street project as something that started with a simple request for a safe crossing at the busy Nicholson Street intersection and morphed into an elaborate design. The result, he says, is a rush-hour bottleneck so severe that fire officials have told him they’ll have to avoid 11th Street entirely. Whitmire said similar concerns on Houston Avenue prompted him to remove the controversial medians: a Metro bus had previously gotten stuck there and a nearby fire station complained the medians made it more difficult for their trucks to turn.

“All I’m saying is use some common sense,” Whitmire told us. “As long as there’s 2.3 million people in the city, you’re gonna have traffic. Houston Avenue is an artery to get up on the freeway.”

He noted that Houston is unlike major American cities organized around transit such as New York. Our city is bisected by several major freeways, which ferry Houstonians to neighborhoods that sprawl endlessly in all directions.

He’s right. Houston is also the nation’s second-fastest growing metropolitan region, with more than 7 million people, according to census data. We could add another 3 million residents by 2040. If everybody brings their cars, streets and freeways will be even more clogged. We need alternatives.

Complacency is not an option. Neither is haste. Scrapping the careful planning of the Turner administration would be a mistake. While advocates were, at times, frustrated by the slow pace of redesign projects under Turner, he deserves credit for encouraging a data-driven approach that included mapping out every high-injury corridor all over the city. That map should be his starting point. It shows that 9% of Houston streets account for nearly 60% of traffic deaths and serious injuries.

We came away from our interview with the mayor persuaded that he intends to keep some version of Turner’s Vision Zero Action Plan. We believe he wants to stop the deaths and injuries and we admire his vision of doing it equitably, making sure, for instance, that more neglected neighborhoods get 3-foot sidewalks before others get 10-foot sidewalks.

Whitmire understandably wants to put his stamp on transportation policy, but we urge him to put Houstonians’ safety before any political considerations or disagreements with strident advocates. A mayor as committed to public safety as Whitmire should take an all-of-the-above approach to street safety that includes traffic enforcement and street redesigns that slow drivers down. In 2023 alone, there were 323 traffic fatalities in Houston. Most were motorists, followed by pedestrians and cyclists. That figure is actually a marginal improvement, eight fewer fatalities than in 2022.

Whitmire told us he would release a comprehensive plan within a few months. The theme will be “options.” That includes modernizing Metro to include ride share programs and more efficient bus routes; installing and raising crosswalks all over the city; improving mobility for motorists; and beefing up traffic enforcement.

Part of the reason why I remain skeptical is because I do drive along West 11th and it’s just not that bad. It’s also a lot easier to cross or make a left onto 11th from one of the side roads now that there are two lanes of moderate speed traffic instead of four lanes of cars going 40 or more coming at you. I’m also squinting at what he’s saying about Metro – what exactly does he see ride share services offering and at what price? We just did a massive redesign of the bus network a few years ago, it’s a hell of a lot more sensible now and the high-frequency routes carry lots of riders, what does he think is missing? Basically, as with some other things we could mention here, the problem is a lack of information about what the plans are.

Texas Monthly has a post up now about how Whitmire is a “20th century Mayor for a 21st century Houston”, and that’s going to live in my brain for a long time. I hope it turns out to be an overbid and not a prophecy. But if it turns out to be the latter, that’s a pretty compelling starting point to a campaign for whoever might challenge the Mayor in 2027.

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2 Responses to So what’s Mayor Whitmire’s deal with Vision Zero?

  1. Bill Shirley says:

    Mayor Whitmire’s flippant “use common sense” derisiveness willfully flaunts his ignorance while demeaning skilled people the have or will choose to leave city employ rather than work in an abusive workplace. All to the degradation of our city’s future.

    He needs to allow himself to be educated if he wants to serve all of this city’s residents.

  2. C.L. says:

    Whitmire is a modern day weather vane – willing to turn any way the prevailing wind is blowing. Follks think HFD got screwed ? That’s a 2023 campaign slogan..but it’s gonna cost y’all a couple billion. Folks don’t like 11th Street being slower but safer ? That was implemented by my predeccesor. Houston Avenue has some medians that created their own traffic diet ? How’d you idiots allow this to happen, blame that on my predeccessor, let’s install raised crosswalks, and get more people in/on ride share programs. HISD under State-appointed Mike Mills is raising hackles and harming our children (an unproven theory at best) ? While I have no authority over HISD, I opposed the takeover, pledge my support for their appointed leadership, but can’t do anything about what they’re doing.

    What’d Alexander Hamilton say ? “Those who stand for nothing, fall for anything.”

    I’m starting to get neck pain from watching Whitmire chase off in multiple directions while getting little to nothing done….which, ironically, sums up his time in the Texas Lege.

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