Posted: Aug 26, 2009, 2:41 PM
Join Date: Feb 2008
Houston: City moves to encourage pedestrian zones
FINALLY... Houston is ready to bring the "big Z" to the Big H... well at least in a very small area.
City moves to encourage pedestrian zones
Walker-friendly areas would be near rail stops
By MIKE SNYDER Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Aug. 19, 2009, 6:55PM
Passengers stepping off trains in Houston's expanding light rail network will be more likely to encounter walkable environments and interesting destinations because of action taken Wednesday by the City Council, city officials and transit advocates said.
The council unanimously approved changes in development codes intended to promote dense, urban-style development along the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Main Street rail line and five planned extensions. The pedestrian zone requirements and incentives were developed through more than three years of work by city officials, consultants, development experts and others.
Councilwoman Toni Lawrence said the changes, coupled with plans to expand urban development regulations from Loop 610 to Beltway 8 and high speed rail proposals under consideration for commuters, will have a major impact on automobile-dependent Houston. The measures take effect immediately.
“I'm excited about it,” Lawrence said. “We're behind cities our size to move forward with rail.”
The changes drew support from real estate organizations including Houstonians for Responsible Growth, which generally resists new development regulation. But others who have followed Houston's efforts to encourage so-called “transit-oriented development” offered only qualified praise, noting that the city's consultants recommended more far-reaching changes.
“On the whole, it's a teeny-tiny step in the right direction,” said Andrew Burleson, a development consultant and blogger. While the incentives for enhanced pedestrian amenities aren't sufficient, Burleson said, the measure makes progress simply by providing a good definition of “quality urban development.”
The new rules will require unobstructed, 6-foot-wide sidewalks — two feet wider than the current standard — for new development along transit corridor streets and certain intersecting streets near transit stations. In most other areas of the city, the sidewalk standard will be increased to 5 feet.
Developers who provide additional amenities such as transparent building facades and doors that don't swing into the pedestrian area would be permitted to bring their buildings closer to the street, providing more space for revenue-generating shops or offices.
Mayor Bill White said the changes reflect the need to prepare for how people might want to live in neighborhoods served by transit. However, he played down the immediate impact of the measures, saying the development transit proponents hope to see often takes 15 or 20 years.
The new development created under the new measures will become part of the daily lives of more than 160,000 people the Metropolitan Transit Authority expects to be riding its trains by 2030. Within the next five years, the agency plans to add five new rail lines to the Main Street line it opened on Jan. 1, 2004