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An alternate suggestion for Kirby

neoHouston wades into the debate over Kirby Drive and its doomed trees and suggests a different approach to improving mobility in the affected area.

The problem with Kirby Drive is that it is the only North/South connector through what has become a very dense, mixed-use area. Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of a monster. The street is packed all the time. However, the bottleneck zone is pretty small, just the most intensely developed area along Upper Kirby, roughly from Westheimer down to Bissonnet. So, while the road is busy all day, it never really stops moving.

The problem with this particular stretch of road is that you have tons of users from the nearby neighborhoods who need to get to and from their shopping, dining etc who have no choice but to use Kirby, and they clash with the many office workers who come in from 59, and also motorists from that neck of the woods who would like to use Kirby -> Allen Parkway as an alternate route into Downtown.

If you could remove just one small portion of these trips, you’d significantly improve the flow of the road. So how do you do that?

The answer is the network. Kirby is only so packed because it is the ONLY through street. But, incredibly, there are three parallel streets that almost make the connection.

Rather than spending all that money to tear up and rebuild Kirby, causing an absolute traffic nightmare that will undoubtedly put many of the smaller local shops that make that strip so unique under extreme stress, if not out of business all together, the City and the TIRZ should be investing in completing the network of local streets to support Kirby first.

I think there’s a lot of merit to this, though I don’t know if there’s any way to get any of it done. Basically, by extending Lake, Argonne, and Revere Streets, you allow for back-door access to businesses and residences along Kirby, and take some of the short-hop driving pressure off the main road. Looking at the maps of the area provided, this makes a lot of sense. Take a look and see what you think.

The main objection is likely to come from the folks who live along these streets and who I’d venture to guess consider their lack of continuity to be a feature and not a bug. It’s the same reason why Morningside, which not too long ago was a viable alternate route to Shepherd/Greenbriar in the Rice area, is now littered with speed bumps. The residents of that neghborhood didn’t want the cut-through traffic, and I won’t be surprised if the residents of Upper Kirby feel the same way. But it can’t hurt to broach the subject, so here we are.

Even if this were to happen, it’s still not a complete solution for the area, since none of those side roads goes through 59, meaning that the stretch of Kirby between 59 and Bissonnet (which has its own unique problems these days, thanks to some faulty surveying work) would still be on its own. But it would be an improvement on what we’ve got. What do you think?

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3 Comments

  1. Kevin Whited says:

    ** However, the bottleneck zone is pretty small, just the most intensely developed area along Upper Kirby, roughly from Westheimer down to Bissonnet. **

    It will be awesome when that bottlenecked area becomes further congested by regular stoppages caused by the little at-grade choo choo!

  2. And your suggestion for how to improve mobility in that area would be…what, exactly?

    Oh, I forgot. You don’t do constructive stuff. But hey, at least no typo is safe as long as you’re around!

  3. Ian says:

    From a purely traffic engineering standpoint, this is a fantastic idea. One of the best ways to improve congestion is to provide alternatives to congestion, and Houston’s traditional grid network does a heck of a job at that. It’s the areas with holes in the grid that are hurting most (Galleria, Kirby, any post-WW2 suburban area). I think this could be framed in a way to appeal to local residents. I don’t particularly like driving along any of the roads in that area because of all the traffic — and residents have to use those roads ALL THE TIME. By accepting some cut-through traffic, those residents will have several ways to get to their Whole Foods, bookstores, and restaurants. And I doubt those roads will ever become as busy as Kirby, so cyclists will finally have a good, safe way to navigate the area. The only thing worse than driving on Kirby is biking on Kirby. . .