Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Broadway

Beautifying Broadway

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Not that Broadway

Broadway between Hobby Airport and Interstate 45 may offer a first impression of Houston to first-time visitors, but not the one many civic boosters would like.

The 2 miles along the main road between the airport and the highway include strip developments and aging apartment complexes. Grassy medians along the road are scattered with few trees and shrubs. Little landscaping or lighting welcome travelers or residents coming home.

“Tired” is one word used to describe the area by Anne Culver, the president of Scenic Houston, a nonprofit working to raise $7.5 million to upgrade the area.

“You only have one shot at a first impression,” Culver said. “For many coming to Houston, that first impression is Broadway. … It’s not welcoming.”

Civic leaders envision a Broadway lined with oaks trees, flowers and shrubs in median. Gravel pathways and benches would be placed along the road in the now patchy esplanades. Art Deco-style LED lights would illuminate newly paved walkways and crosswalks.

The push to improve the street comes as Hobby is expected to bring an estimated 1.5 million new passengers annually into the area once its international terminal opens in the fall and as the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston nears.

[…]

Scenic Houston and the Hobby Area Management District, the district set up to boost economic development in the area, say it’s the right time to do whatever they can to make the area look as good as it can. They have set out a $7.5 million plan for trees and LED light fixtures up and down the roads. Along the esplanades, gravel and walkways would wind in between benches, flowers and the new lighting. Sidewalks would be improved. The groups are working to raise money from private donors and some funding will come from the management district.

“This was a great opportunity to step into the breach,” Culver said. “If you’re coming in from the airports, the first impression for miles is that the city is unattractive.”

I’d argue that the stretch of I-45 in from IAH, with its unending stream of used car lots, strip clubs, and billboards, is the uglier and worse-impression-making of the city’s entry points. At least Broadway provides a nice view of Sims Bayou. Still, I take their point. Any reasonable thing we can do to make the city look better is worthwhile. Given that TxDOT is already paying to rebuild the street, it makes all kinds of sense to make the upgraded street more functional, which in itself should help to make it more attractive. I tend to fly United so I don’t get this way that often, but I will look forward to seeing how this turns out.

Saturday video break: Beautiful

Another installment of Same Name, Different Song. The song is “Beautiful”, and our first contestants are G. Love & Special Sauce, featuring Tristan Prettyman:

I do love me a good duet. G. Love has a new album out that you can download from Noisetrade if you like what you heard.

For a different Beautiful song, here’s the one and only Carole King:

Did you know there’s now a Broadway musical based on the life of Carole King, called “Beautiful”? I learned that when I went trawling YouTube for this song. Here’s Jessie Mueller, the actor who plays Carole King in this musical, channeling her on The Today Show:

Pretty fair impersonation there. Did you hear at the end where one of the Today Show ladies said that Carole King needed to see “Beautiful” on Broadway? Well, I’m sure you can see this coming:

Moments like that are often staged, but even without King’s assurance that they had no idea she was there, it’s obvious from the surprise and delight on the cast members’ faces that they were truly in the dark. It’s quite a moment, worth watching even with the choppy editing. Here’s the YouTube link, which has more about the show, for those of you that might want to see it.

San Antonio moves forward on streetcars

Last month, the city of San Antonio announced it would form a citizens advisory committee to help guide the creation of a starter streetcar system. It has now done so.

The commission’s prime task will be to advise VIA’s board of trustees whether or not to move forward with a streetcar project. It will also study how the project would impact the community, [VIA Metropolitan Transit board Chairman Henry] Muñoz said.

The group will look at potential funding sources and quality-of-life issues. Its work will also help finalize a streetcar feasibility study, which is due later this year and was jointed funded by VIA and the Downtown Alliance, a group of center-city property owners.

Appointing the commission is the right next step in determining the feasibility of rail in San Antonio because it will couple the technical expertise of engineering consultants with the viewpoints of stakeholders, Muñoz said.

“I think it is an incredibly diverse group that represents the kinds of perspectives that a community like ours needs to look at on a project of this importance,” he said.

I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with. Something that runs along Broadway into downtown, which would serve Brackenridge Park, the San Antonio Zoo, and potentially both Trinity and Incarnate Word Universities, could do very well. Maybe on the downtown end it could also serve the AT&T Center and/or the Alamodome, I don’t know. Hopefully the commission will take all of that into account. San Antonio is a tourist town, and its downtown gets a lot of visitors, so a decent system could be a real boon for that industry.

They’ll get support from the Mayor as well.

“It’s time for San Antonio to make a significant investment in mass transit,” [Mayor Julián Castro] said. “The details of that need public input and planning, but there’s a resolve not just to plan but to act.”

Though details on funding sources are scant, the mayor signaled that the city needs to position itself to receive whatever federal funds might become available.

“I think that’s particularly true now that you have the Obama administration now focused on infusing cities with stimulus dollars for transit, particularly transit that is linked to development,” he said. “San Antonio right now is a non-starter on that issue, and we could remake the urban core of the city by investing in mass transit.”

Castro’s remarks on Wednesday were his strongest and most pointed yet, that rail must connect the city center to its outer areas — and spur economic development along the way.

I think he’s right that there’s no better time than now for San Antonio to take this on. I wish him best of luck in getting it done.

Streetcars in San Antonio

San Antonio is looking to Portland for inspiration as it contemplates a streetcar system.

In the 1990s, driven by a plan to infuse the inner city with new residents, transit advocates drew up plans to link several districts by streetcar and encourage dense, walkable, mixed-use development designed around the rail line.

As it turns out, the little streetcar line — four miles from end to end — is an economic powerhouse, according to Portland officials. They say some $3.5 billion has been invested within two blocks of the streetcar line’s footprint. More than 10,000 new housing units and 5.4 million square feet of office space have been built in the same area.

San Antonio officials are looking to replicate that.

Henry Muñoz, VIA Metropolitan Transit’s board chairman, said he expects the agency to break ground in two or three years and will announce in the next month a citizens advisory committee to help guide the creation of a starter streetcar system.

“It’s something that could have potentially enormous impact on the city center of San Antonio,” he said.

[…]

While the idea of streetcars in San Antonio is in its infancy, Muñoz envisions lines running both north-south and east-west, connecting some of the city’s great cultural centers, sports facilities and public institutions. From Mission San José, a line could run north, to the southern border of Alamo Heights. And a perpendicular line could run from the AT&T Center on the East Side to Our Lady of the Lake University on the West Side.

Muñoz said he’s uncertain how much could be built initially because of the expense.

During conversations in Portland, San Antonio leaders rattled off a number of key sites that potentially could be accessed by a streetcar system: Southtown, HemisFair Park, the Convention Center, the River Walk, the Alamo, Municipal Auditorium, Market Square, Museo Alameda del Smithsonian, several college campuses, the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Alamodome and even Fort Sam Houston.

Any site accessible by streetcar would stand to benefit from the line, including the Museo Alameda, for which Muñoz was a driving force, and the Pearl Brewery, whose owner had representatives on the Portland trip.

In a joint effort between VIA and the Downtown Alliance, the Inner-City Rail Circulator Study is under way as well.

The feasibility study, due to be released this fall, will help determine whether San Antonio can support a system, how much it would cost and where it would be aligned. But it’s clear that local officials aren’t waiting for the results to move forward on planning.

There used to be a streetcar system in the early part of last century that ran up Broadway to Alamo Heights, past where Brackenridge Park now is. In addition to being historically true, it just makes sense. I hope they dare to think big about this. Which means thinking about more than just streetcars.

It’s clear there’s been a shift in thinking among local leaders, who in the past have advocated for light rail. They say a streetcar system, which is smaller in scale and cost, could prove to be a gateway to larger projects for San Antonio.

A starter system would allow people to “kick the tires” and get used to rail, which could lead to support for larger light rail and commuter lines that move more people longer distances.

[…]

For now, San Antonio will remain the largest city in the country without rail. The notion makes Muñoz cringe, but he sees San Antonio at a crossroads.

“People recognize that we’re at a critical juncture for our city’s future,” he said. “We have to provide them with an environment that helps them shift their thinking. That’s the moment we’re living in today.”

Taking this approach, and focusing on the area in and around downtown seems like a good idea for starters, though if the hope is to eventually incorporate light rail, I hope they leave themselves room for dedicated right of way. Part of the problem now, as the story notes, is that San Antonio isn’t very dense, and it has been resistant to density, though new Mayor Julian Castro is a fan. Maybe they can use this process to help them do mixed-use and transit-oriented development in a way that Houston still hasn’t quite figured out. I wish them luck in getting it done.

On a related note, I see that Dallas may be catching streetcar fever as well. Dallas of course already has a successful rail system in place, so this would be an extension of that. They may have an easier time getting it off the ground as a result.