Urban corridors initiativeSo I attended the City of Houston Planning Department's event on the urban corridors initiative on Saturday at the GRB. I'd say about 100 or so people attended. The goal is to improve our development regulations around LRT/BRT transit stops to get the most value out of those transit lines, and that means mixed-use, high-density, pedestrian-friendly. They're going to be holding individual workshops for each line, which you should definitely check out if you live along any of the planned lines.
Their logic is pretty compelling:
- Millions of people are moving to the Houston metro over the next 2-3 decades, hundreds of thousands of them into the City of Houston itself
- That's a lot more cars on the road, straining our existing grid and freeways
- A significant number of those newcomers would consider living in high-density, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods if they're available, and they would walk and take transit for more of their trips
- We can get a lot more value out of Metro's planned LRT/BRT network in the core if we encourage this type of development near the stops
All indications are that the end result will be a form-based development code targeted near the stops, with some mix of incentives. Existing single-family neighborhoods will be protected.
They asked for our input on what we would and would not like to see. I pushed for two elements I consider key:
- Sidewalk awnings/shade (including tree canopy), to protect from the sun and rain in our tropical climate.
- Diagonal street parking wherever possible (like Cotswold), backed up with extra garage or other parking in the rear, if they want the mixed-use ground floor retail to have any chance at all. I've heard the term "teaser parking" used - insufficient parking in front of a store that people think they will be able to get when they set out on a trip, but they're willing to drive to the more inconvenient parking in back or down the block if necessary when they get there. The pedestrians will not be enough to support the ground retail, and they will have to offer some convenient up-front parking if they want to compete with traditional strip malls to draw customers. Diagonal street parking is best way to do that and keep the urban feel, and it could be either in the public street right-of-way or on the private property (in place of the strip parking lot the developer would usually build). Let's face it, Houstonians are not trained to parallel park.