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Upper Kirby versus Trees for Houston

The chairman of the Upper Kirby TIRZ writes a letter in defense of the Kirby storm drain/street widening project that was recently criticized by Trees for Houston.

On the Kirby Drive Storm Drainage and Mobility Improvements Project, however, Trees for Houston is making a mistake using the issue about the trees along Kirby to obscure two more critical issues: street flooding and mobility and safety along one of our busiest and most vibrant residential and commercial streets.

Just last week, a 30-minute summer rain storm caused street flooding in the neighborhoods along Kirby Drive. If we had a sustained storm, let alone a catastrophic storm, like Tropical Storm Alison, most people would quickly trade the present trees along Kirby for the cars they would have to abandon or the homes they would have to pump out. We didn’t create this drainage problem, but we are here to improve it.

The number of cars traveling on Kirby in both directions has increased beyond anyone’s expectations, and the new developments currently under construction will only add more cars to the road. It is unsafe for both cars and pedestrians. The new design for Kirby will increase the mobility and safety of this important street. Period.

We are undertaking this project so that we can create a model thoroughfare for the next 50 years. Indeed, the existing trees will be replaced in greater number. We are un-dertaking this project because when we balance all of the goals that this project must address, we realize that we need to replace trees in order to accomplish all objectives. The remaining right of way will be much more pedestrian-friendly, the power lines will be buried underground and there will be more trees along and in this important boulevard. Approximately nine out of 10 landowners along Kirby Drive agree.

We applaud Trees for Houston and the worthy contributions it has made to our city over the years. We hope that we can continue to work with it in Houston’s best interest. In the meantime, we are moving forward with a plan that takes a larger view and is the right thing to do.

BUDDY BAILEY
chairman, Upper Kirby TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) No. 19

I don’t know that I agree with all his assertions, and I’d love to see a citation for that “nine out of ten landowners along Kirby Drive agree” statistic he pulled out, but as he and his group appear to have won the fight, I’m not sure that it matters much. I will say, however, that while is statement about the number of cars travelling on Kirby increasing beyond expectations (and, I’d argue, sustainability) is true, it really points out the need for alternatives to driving in that area. Traffic flow may be improved by the Upper Kirby project, but no capacity is being added. I’ve harped on this subject before and I’ll say it again: Traffic conditions on streets like Kirby can only get worse, and the only real option we have to mitigate against this is transit. That’s not on any blueprint or long-range plan right now (at least, none that I know of), but I say it needs to be, before Kirby becomes undrivable.

On a related note, the subsequent letter raises an interesting point:

Think outside the curbs and shift some of the traffic load from Kirby to South Shepherd. If South Shepherd Drive from Richmond north to where it comes together with Kirby at Allen Parkway were slightly widened and improved, improvements to Kirby can be done without losing trees. It is a rare instance where two parallel streets come together, so the through traffic is indifferent to the actual street taken. At the southern end, both streets connect directly to the freeway access roads, giving motorists essentially identical outcomes.

If it is done my way, the storm sewers get built, the trees stay put, Shepherd moves up in quality and the redundancy means that a problem on one route does not totally shut down the north-south flow.

BRUCE ANDERSON
Houston

As someone who regularly drives on Shepherd, I can tell you that the biggest problem is the lack of any kind of turn lane. Every left turn on Shepherd causes a backup and lots of lane-changing. Given that a big part of the reason for the imminent demise of Kirby’s trees is the conversion of its Darwinian turn lane into a wider median-with-pocket-turn-lanes, I don’t see how you can accomplish what this guy suggests on Shepherd without needing to widen it a lot, and I don’t see how you can do that. It was bad form, obviously, to have built Shepherd in such a narrow way, but we’re stuck with it now. Nice try, but not gonna happen.

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3 Comments

  1. Kevin Whited says:

    ** I don’t know that I agree with all his assertions **

    Do you know which ones you disagree with (and could you share)?

  2. Specifically, I’m not sure I agree that the “remaining right of way will be much more pedestrian-friendly”. I think wider sidewalks, along with the existing trees, would have been optimal. What we’ll get will probably be better, but I don’t know by how much.

  3. Ian Hlavacek says:

    “The new design for Kirby will increase the mobility and safety of this important street. Period”

    This statement muddles the issue. Everyone obviously wants to make Kirby as safe as possible, and the median is going to be the biggest part of achieving that safety. What the TIRZ is really fighting for is comfort — particularly the comfort of drivers of large vehicles. The narrow lanes on Kirby right now are not comfortable, but they’re not particularly dangerous. However, removing the distance between peds and vehicles (which will be moving faster because of wider lanes) while simultaneously removing the maturing trees that add an additional layer of protection for pedestrians WILL make the strip of road LESS safe for anyone who tries to walk it. Period.