It's early in the game, but there are proposals in the works to make various parts of Houston's inner core more pedestrian-friendly.
After two years of work, Houston's Department of Planning and Development has released recommendations that cover pedestrian zones, building styles, driveway spacing and other elements of development in corridors served by Metro's light rail lines.
The goal is to produce urban environments where transit riders could walk to various destinations, reducing the need for driving.
Proponents of stronger local planning said the new policies would help the city accommodate population growth in its core without disrupting established neighborhoods or increasing traffic congestion.
"It's real progress," said David Crossley, president of the nonprofit Gulf Coast Institute. He serves on an advisory panel working on the proposals.
Some real estate professionals and organizations, however, said the policies could increase costs and create more problems than they solve.
"It would be a mistake to use mandatory building requirements as a means to force Houstonians out of their cars and onto hot sidewalks," said Kendall Miller, president of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a nonprofit group that seeks to limit new restrictions on real estate development.
And before anyone starts up about the heat, I'm going to point to TxElectricRy's comment on the story, in which he says "Houstonians from ages past must have been made of tougher stuff." Eight months out of the year, Houston is a pretty nice place to be outside walking around. The other four aren't so pleasant, but some of us would still choose walking in the heat to walking in the snow; having done plenty of the latter growing up, where I didn't have a choice, hot days don't faze me. And hey, you can still choose to drive during those times, no matter what Kendall Miller says.
The recommendations fall into two broad categories: requirements for the "pedestrian realm," which would encompass sidewalks and related amenities, and rules or incentives to promote development styles that provide opportunities for transit riders to walk among homes, workplaces and entertainment.
The new policies would apply to new development or redevelopment, but not to existing buildings.
The proposals encompass the existing Main Street rail corridor and the planned north, southeast, East End and Uptown corridors. Proposals for the University corridor, for which Metro only recently chose a final alignment, will be developed later, city officials said.
In all the corridors, the city would require a 15-foot pedestrian zone from the curb to the front of the building. Sidewalks would be on the 5 feet closest to the building, with the other 10 feet set aside for landscaping.
Also in every corridor, the city would enforce restrictions on the spacing of driveways so pedestrians would have to stop less often for cars pulling in and out of businesses. City officials haven't determined how far apart the driveways would have to be.
An area including downtown, east downtown and Midtown would be designated as the "core pedestrian zone," where the city's requirements would extend to design features such as bringing buildings close to the sidewalk and devoting a large share of the building facade to doors, windows or other features to avoid long stretches of blank walls.
In other corridors, the building design standards would be voluntary and generally would be limited to areas within a quarter-mile walking distance of transit stations, said Steve Spillette, a senior planning fellow. Developers who met these standards would be exempt from certain requirements such as parking or building setbacks.