Sprawl and the benefits of frontage roadsI wanted to respond to Roger Galatas' editorial in the Sunday Chronicle about taming new sprawl in Houston. I was skeptical at first, but came around as I realized he wasn't trying to stop sprawl, but just get higher quality development as we grow. Most of his recommendations seem pretty reasonable, although the devil is always in the details - reasonable suggestions can slide down the slippery slope into oppressive regulations pretty easily.
My only strong disagreement regards frontage roads:
"The Texas Department of Transportation should rethink the purpose and use of frontage roads to make our freeways more attractive. In other states, cities without frontage roads have more attractive freeways."Yes, urban freeways without frontage roads can be more scenic, but they're also a whole lot less functional. My step-daughter just got back from a long road trip to Illinois and Michigan, and one of her primary complaints was the lack of frontage roads (matching my experience in LA): How do I get over there? Can I exit here and still get back on? Where can I get back on? How can I u-turn? Where is the store or gas station or restaurant I'm looking for? It's a nightmare if you're not totally familiar with the area. Frontage roads are a major convenience.
But the best feature of frontage roads is that they put a commercial buffer between freeways and residential areas. Not only does this reduce pollution and noise for residents, it also diffuses opposition to freeway widenings when they become necessary. When TXDoT gets strong opposition to a freeway widening, it's almost always where it goes through a residential area: 10W in the Villages, 59S inside Shepherd, 45N in the Heights.
If people really want better freeway aesthetics, I think the focus should be on better landscaping along with billboard and sign ordinances, not eliminating frontage roads. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.