WSJ on Midtown problems and one potential solutionSoon after Thaddeus Herrick wrote the glowing piece in the Wall Street Journal on Houston's real estate market, he wrote another less-than-glowing piece on Midtown, which has not developed into the urban neighborhood people had hoped. Thankfully, Kevin at blogHouston alerted me to the article, which was buried inside the B section where I didn't see it. You can read the first four paragraphs of the article there.
Problems include land speculators demanding too much (up to $50/sq.ft. from $10 a decade ago), difficult land assembly, downtown competition, and uneconomic suburban parking requirements. Some people blame bad management and infighting by the Midtown Redevelopment Authority TIRZ. There are some successes, though: a population increase from 450 to 15,000 since 1990, the Randall's grocery store, and tons of townhomes, mainly east of Fannin and San Jac.
You can read my previous thoughts on Midtown here, and I still stand by the assertion that the roads feeding the 527 Spur off of 59 are not only not pedestrian friendly (because they move so many cars), but the businesses along there are perfectly happy with easy parking for those commuters - and easy in-and-out, front-side parking is not a hallmark of pedestrian-friendly, mixed use, urban neighborhoods.
One possible solution comes from one of my earliest posts on this blog: cut-and-cover tunnels under Bagby and Brazos connecting the spur to I45, paid for with EZ-tag tolls. With a little extra work, those tunnels could also offer exits and entrances to the downtown grid (Smith, Louisiana, and others) near the Pierce Elevated, which would take those cars off of Midtown streets and make it much more feasible for them to become pedestrian-friendly, including diagonal street parking like Cotswold. Some of those businesses may not be too happy, but commuters would still have the option of using the surface streets if they need to run an errand or two before getting on the spur (say... the mega-Spec's on a Friday evening...), but all the pass-through cars could go underneath, greatly calming the surface traffic. And, as I originally wrote, the big bonus would be relieving the north-south freeway bottlenecks in Houston through Uptown and Downtown (including the Pierce Elevated) by providing another alternative. I would definitely call that a win-win for both the city and the neighborhood. If you know people with the Midtown Authority or TXDoT, please pass it along. And I have a Word document with more details (including maps) if they're interested.