Enabling pedestrians

I don’t know how big a deal this is likely to be, but it’s nice to be talking about it.

More than five years after inaugurating its light rail system, Houston is taking its first, tentative steps to make it safer and more convenient for passengers to walk from train stations to homes, shops and offices.

The city’s urban transit corridors ordinance, which it began developing in June 2006, is expected to be considered by the City Council in July. It would offer incentives for developers in six light rail corridors to include a 15-foot “pedestrian realm” with broad, unobstructed sidewalks and other features intended to create appealing, walkable environments.

I got an email in my box from the Planning and Development Department about this. Here it is:

Notice of Public Hearing


The City of Houston Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Thursday, June 11 at 2:30 p.m. in City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby to consider two items.


1)     The proposed transit corridor ordinance. This ordinance establishes mandatory and optional rules along Houston’s designated light rail corridors. This work is the result of an effort begun in 2006 to enhance pedestrian mobility and achieve transit supportive development. More information, including a summary of the proposed ordinance and the draft ordinance, is available on the Urban Corridor Planning website http://www.houstontx.gov/planning/Urban/urban_cor.html.


2)     Amendments to Chapter 42 that address the following topics. The proposed ordinance can be found on the Planning Department’s website at www.houstonplanning.com.


       Average lot size/lot width in new subdivision plats

       Creation of guest parking for six-plus residential units

       Redefining the width and length of shared driveway developments

       Requiring sign posting in residential subdivisions with certain reserves

       Establishing a protocol on naming of partial replats

       Expanded notification on replats and variances

       Extending the Urban Area beyond the 610 Loop to the Beltway

       Building line overhangs encroach 30 inches, five foot for outside stairs

       Require surveyed site plans for single-family residential plats

       Resolve the conflict between Chapter 42 and the Design Manual for

       Lift Station Sites


These ordinance amendments will also result in changes to the Building Code and PWE Infrastructure design manual.


Following the public hearing, the items will be considered at the Regulation, Development and Neighborhood Protection Committee of City Council on Monday, June 22 at 3:00 p.m., City Council chambers, 901 Bagby, 2nd floor.


City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance in early July.


For more information, contact Michael Schaffer at 713-837-7780 or email [email protected].

It all sounds good, though my understanding is that this is basically a finished package that is to be brought for a vote, and not something that’s under discussion. It’s still a good idea to attend the meeting, and talk to your Council member about this, because it’s likely to affect your neighborhood, whether you realize it or not.

The impact of the ordinance will depend on developers’ willingness to comply with its mostly voluntary standards. Those who agree to create the pedestrian zone will automatically be exempt from rules requiring buildings to be set back a specified distance from the street, giving them more space to build revenue-generating offices, homes or shops.

The ordinance is more limited than steps recommended by the city’s consultants and by the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit real estate organization, to promote transit-oriented development.


A Canadian consulting firm that worked with the city recommended more mandatory requirements for developers, including certain building design standards. But the only outright requirement in the new ordinance is 5-foot-wide sidewalks in most of the city — the current standard is 4 feet — and 6-foot-wide sidewalks along streets where transit lines run and intersecting streets close to rail stations.

As an incentive for developers to meet other standards, the ordinance allows building facades to be adjacent to the 15-foot pedestrian zone. The city now requires a 25-foot building setback on major thoroughfares, and developers who want to build closer to the street must seek a variance from the city Planning Commission.

I’m sure there will be a lot more discussion of this, regardless of what effect that might have at this point, and I’m looking forward to it. Houston Tomorrow, which I’m sure will be one of those that will have plenty more to say on this, has this for now.

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  1. Pingback: More on the urban transit corridors ordinance – Off the Kuff

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