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Washington Avenue


I drive through the Washinton on Westcott roundabout every now and then, and find it to be a more pleasant and efficient experience than waiting at a light or playing the “which one of us goes next?” game that you often get at a four-way stop. I’m told there are more such roundabouts in the works at some locations, with Washington at Heights and Yale being on the list. I’d driven through roundabouts elsewhere before – Tiffany and I took a trip to France just before Olivia was born, and the road from Paris to champagne country is littered with them – and find them easy to navigate, but they’re still pretty new here, and some folks may not know what to do with them.

There’s a bill related to roundabouts – HB2214 – that has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate that would require driver’s ed students to receive instructions on how to deal with circular intersections. Monica Savino, President of the WOW Roundabout Board of Directors, gave testimony to the House Transportation Committee in favor of HB2214 as follows:

Since its completion in 2006, our Roundabout has had great success in meeting our goals.

The rate of serious accidents has virtually disappeared and our rate of minor accidents is very small.

During the first full year of operation in 2006, the City of Houston documented only 10 accidents – all minor with no injuries.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has determined that the modern roundabout is significantly more safe than a standard signalized intersection.

Mobility has been very good; currently, we move approximately 34,000 cars per day through the WOW Roundabout.

And we move them; vehicles don’t idle waiting for light changes, they don’t stop and start as they inch their way through the intersection when turns are made as in a four-way stop.

As a result, auto emissions are reduced as are other negatives that traffic congestion can bring.

During the days and weeks after Hurricane Ike, the WOW Roundabout performed as it does on any other day.

I have quickly located several new Roundabouts in the State and there are many more “on the boards”, as they say.

Traffic professionals and communities are finding in some cases that this is a more appropriate solution than the old-fashioned standard intersection.

The Federal Highway Administration is endorsing roundabouts for future projects.
We expect that Texans will see and drive through more Roundabouts in the future.

When WOW is asked by the community, “what are the proper procedures when driving through the roundabout?”, all we can do is direct them to one of the other states that makes this information available for their residents: Washington, Kansas, Colorado, Florida and New York. WOW would like the State of Texas to be the definitive resource for Texans.

Seems reasonable enough, wouldn’t you say? This CTC forum thread, from which I got Savino’s testimony, is asking folks to contact the members of the Senate transportation committee, which includes Sen. Rodney Ellis and Sen. Joan Huffman, to ask for their support of HB2214. A sample letter is included if you want to email or fax their office. HB2214 passed the House on a 142-2 vote, so it shouldn’t be controversial. It just needs to come up in time. And if you need a little incentive, try this:

The power of Jon Anderson and Chris Squire compels you.

Whose TIRZ?

My reaction to this story about whether some development projects that didn’t benefit from getting a TIRZ designation might have been better suited for it than some that did get that benefit is that as long as there are those who get and those who don’t we’ll always have those questions. Maybe that’s an argument for doing away with TIRZes entirely (I suspect such a proposal would not go very far) or for making the rules about them more objective, but I don’t think you’ll ever be able to remove subjective evaluations and, yes, politics from consideration. I also don’t think comparing two recent projects will tell us much, since frankly either of them could have gone either way.

As for the case in question here, there’s no doubt that Sawyer Street needs massive improvements between I-10 and Washington Avenue. Between the successful Sawyer Heights development and the new housing springing up on the side roads, what used to be a low-traffic street for mostly trucks is now heavily used, both to access what’s now there and as a cut-through to I-45 by those who want to avoid the horrible I-10 to I-45 interchange. It’s likely to get busier as the industrial lots in the area get sold off and redeveloped. I believe a proposal to fix and widen Sawyer Street is in the CIP for District H; all I can say is the sooner the better. Perhaps we’d have gotten a good result faster if Sawyer Heights’ TIRZ plan had been accepted, and perhaps we’ll get a better result this way, I don’t know. As long as it happens and gets done right, that’s what will matter.

Catch the WAve

The following is a message from Super Neighborhood 22:

Catch the WAve Day, all day Saturday March 7

Hosted by: SN22, Mayor White’s Office of Special Events, and MECA

Purpose: To showcase area businesses, schools & non-profits, plus an eco-fair and children’s activities

What’s going on:

  • Washington Ave corridor businesses will be offering special values & incentives
  • Grab a go.rev.go electro-cab from one participating business to another (for tips)
  • Eco-Fair from 1-5 in Spotts Park (corner of Memorial Drive & Waugh)**

** Spotts Park will feature live music and performances by MECA, a Children’s Spott with special interactions, and the Eco-Fair, with Go Green reps from city departments, plus a host of green community organizations.

Click on to see the flyers for more details.


District H CIP meeting report

Here’s the Chron story on that CIP meeting for District H that took place last week. The highlights:

Jane Cahill West, president of the combined Washington Avenue/Memorial Super Neighborhood Council, said she was glad to see the MKT (Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad) Trail on the current CIP project list.

“But I urge you to extend the MKT Trail right of way to Memorial Park,” she added.

The $1.9 million bike trail is being built along the former railroad right of way in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Construction on this trail is well underway – they’ve dug the path along 7th Street near Heights Blvd, and have poured concrete for some of it. I’ve been meaning to take a walk on some of it and take pictures.

Cahill West also asked the city to add reconstruction of the heavily trafficked Sawyer Street; upgrades to security and lighting for West End Park, 1418 Patterson; and establishing quiet zones along Houston Avenue and other streets with major rail crossings.

The “quiet zone” issue come up recently. That stretch of Sawyer Street, basically from I-10 to Washington Avenue, is basically everybody’s alternate route from the Heights to downtown – it avoids the nasty I-10/I-45 interchange, which backs up traffic as far back as Heights Blvd and beyond. I talked about it a year ago when it looked like there was going to be some imminent residential construction in the area. That hasn’t really happened yet, but there are signs advertising what’s to come, and the cross streets between Sawyer and Houston Avenue are still seeing action.

Other current projects already on the CIP list for District H include:

  • The $10.3 million reconstruction of North Main Street from Interstate 45 to Airline Drive, estimated for completion Oct. 27;
  • Replacement of water lines in the Gardendale area, estimated at $8.3 million, scheduled to be completed last month, and north Houston’s Ellena Gardens subdivision, $4.46 million, to be completed Sept. 12;
  • Market Street paving from Lockwood to Wayside, $7.3 million, estimated for completion Sept. 12; and,
  • Little White Oak Bayou Trail, $1.17 million, to be finished in September.

Upcoming projects on the list include:

  • A new prisoner processing center in partnership with Harris County, $38 million;
  • Hempstead Road and Washington Avenue reconstruction in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation, $23.8 million;
  • Yale Street paving from Tidwell to Parker, $10.4 million;
  • Yale Street rehabilitation, Phase I, from Interstate 10 to 17th Street, $9.3 million;
  • Yale Street rehabilitation, Phase II, from 17th Street to Loop 610, $6.5 million;
  • Little York paving, from Airline to Hardy Street, $9.7 million;
  • Moody Park Community Center expansion and park, 3725 Fulton, $3.5 million;
  • and,

  • Buffalo Bayou Trail, from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street, $2.08 million.

What else would you like to see get done? You can contact the District H office at 832-393-3003, or the office of Council Member Melissa Noriega, who ran this meeting, at 832-393-3005, with questions or feedback.

More on streetcars and sidewalks

Andrew Burleson had a couple of good posts last week that followed up on Christof’s streetcar suggestions and my post about a KIrby light rail line. Here they are: West Gray Streetcar, in which he takes Christof’s concept for a streetcar line on West Gray and runs with it, and Will and Won’t, which gets into the reasons people walk and don’t walk in Houston. I think he’s right on about this:

My contention is that most people in Houston will walk single-digit block distances without complaining too much. If you get into double digits, most people think it’s too far. I’ve told people before, “let’s walk to the train station, it’s about 8 blocks,” and their reaction is, “woah, that’s a long walk!” I’ve told other people, “let’s just walk to the train station, it takes less than 10 minutes and it’s a lot easier than messing with parking.” That gets a more positive reaction usually. It seems that as you get to about 10 blocks distance people think “that’s pretty far.” If you phrase it as time rather than distance, people usually think 10-15 minutes (which is probably more like 12-18 blocks depending on who is walking) is reasonable, and longer than that is “far.”

In my experience, however, once you’re actually walking, people quickly get tired of it if you’re walking on broken old sidewalks or no sidewalks at all. They’ll almost immediately ask “are you sure we shouldn’t just drive?” But on nice sidewalks, especially when there’s retail opening on to the street and other people out walking, most people will go longer distances without noticing.

That’s something that I’ve thought about a lot as I’ve tried to imagine rail lines along Washington and Kirby, as I’ve proposed them. Washington is a street that should be far more walkable than it is, and I know that it’s in line for a big overhaul in the nearish future, but for now it’s got narrow sidewalks that abut the street, with no grass or anything as a buffer, with utility poles and other obstacles for walkers to dodge. Fixing that, hopefully in conjunction with planning for a rail line, will go a long way towards improving that whole area. (Fixing Studemont as well would go even further.) Kirby is reasonably walkable in most places, and it’s already undergoing a facelift north of 59, but for the rail line I’ve proposed something would have to be done to it between Bissonnet and Richmond, and to Yale Street on the north end of the line. I don’t know what can be done about this now other than talk about it and hope to get other people talking about it, so consider this a contribution towards that end. What parts of town should have better sidewalks than they currently do? Leave a comment and let me know.