Transit Corridors Planning in HoustonLast Wednesday I got to attend David Crossley's monthly Livable Houston meeting at the Houston-Galveston Area Council offices. David and I have our disagreements, but the topics, dialogues and debates are almost always engaging. The subject this month was Transit Corridors Planning, presented by Guy Hagstette, Mayor Bill White’s special assistant for urban design. He presented a document that recently went before the Planning Commission (no online link I can find, unfortunately). In his words
"...this concept focuses on new policies to encourage high-quality urban development near transit corridors, stabilization of nearby residential neighborhoods, and a planning process for central city areas experiencing rapid change."The bottom line is that, for light rail transit investments to make any kind of sense, lots of high-density, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use, urban-style development needs to take place near the transit stations in order to supply ridership. The rest of the world does this via zoning, which is an anathema to Houston.
This proposal seems to be a pretty innovative approach, with the right balance of guidelines, incentives and disincentives instead of rigid regulations and requirements. And they are very clear that it is not zoning (no land use designations) and that it will only apply near "high-capacity transit" - i.e. rail, not bus routes. Still, as they say, "the devil is in the details", and its success will definitely depend on the specifics of implementation.
Even if you are opposed to the light rail plan (and my own views are mixed on the extensions), if they're going to get built, we should all get behind making them as successful as possible. Nobody wins if they fail. Even if some people might feel vindicated in the short-term, it will hurt the city as a whole in the long-run. And high-density, high-value, high-tax-base real estate developments around the corridors are critical to that success.