Defending the Pierce Elevated and other thoughts on TXDoT's plansAfter my post a few weeks ago on Purple City's alternative I45 plan through downtown, TXDoT very graciously brought in myself, Oscar Slotboom, and the editor of Purple City (preferring anonymity) to discuss the suggestions. They had pretty comprehensively analyzed the plan and raised many issues for discussion. It's unclear how much of it will be incorporated (I didn't get the impression it would be much), but they were very open-minded and analytical throughout the conversation. Clearly everybody wants to come up with the best possible plan, and their existing one is very good - but even very good plans have potential for improvement.
My biggest concern still exists: the MaX lanes don't connect continuously through downtown, meaning that express transit services trying to get from one side of the city to job centers on the other side are going to have trouble. The Purple City plan attempted to fix this by keeping the Pierce Elevated, which is certainly controversial. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there are advantages beyond mobility/traffic capacity/MaX Lanes to keeping the Pierce Elevated that are not being considered.
Right now, the Pierce creates a clear dividing line between two very distinct neighborhoods (and management districts): downtown and midtown. If it weren't there, would giant downtown office towers start being constructed in midtown? Would they destroy the character of midtown? Would the land suddenly appreciate to downtown levels and make simple retail, apartments, restaurants, or bars financially infeasible? Midtown is one of Houston's great neighborhoods - do we really want to put it at risk? (full disclosure: I live there)
Imagine if the Pierce had never been built: downtown and midtown may never have evolved as distinct neighborhoods - it might have all been one big downtown. That would have diluted downtown over a larger land area, probably with more surface parking lots. The current land area constraint of downtown forces intensification in a way that is probably good for downtown, and allows midtown to flourish separately with a distinctly different character. They're almost like Manhattan vs. Brooklyn (on a much smaller scale, of course) - would Brooklyn even exist in its distinctive way if the East River didn't divide it from Manhattan? Maybe the Pierce Elevated is the East River of Houston? Kind of puts it in a different context when you think about it that way, eh?
There have been other discussions over at HAIF on keeping the Pierce, mainly to help preserve many blocks of newly thriving EaDo from being consumed by the widened 45+59 on that side under the new plan. In any case, I hope this sparks a wider conversation about the potential value in keeping the Pierce and/or modifying the new I45 plan.
Speaking of TXDoT plans, they're holding a public meeting tomorrow/Tues on their plan for express bus lanes along 610W connecting the NW Transit Center to Post Oak. Oscar Slotboom of Houston Freeways believes the plan has very serious flaws, which he has detailed here, include diagrams for a better design (and I tend to agree). In this case, it looks like TXDoT - in a well-meaning effort to be responsive to public input - has made some crippling compromises to satisfy the Uptown Park folks. While I respect TXDoT's efforts to be responsive, they also have a duty to build good systems that serve the entire region well, even if that sometimes means that narrow special interests don't get their way. Please check out the critique and alternative, and if you agree then please send feedback to TXDoT, whether online or at the public meeting. If enough of the public says these kinds of bad compromises are unacceptable, maybe they'll make changes. And while you're at it, maybe mention that the Pierce Elevated isn't so bad... ;-)