Sunday, November 19, 2006

WSJ on Midtown problems and one potential solution

Soon 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.


At 9:55 AM, November 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, that's a wonderful idea. I was not a regular reader of this blog when you made your original post, so this is news to me.

I often look out from my office window towards the entrance ramp from U.S. 59/TX 288 onto I-45 (Pierce Elevated) and cannot fathom how congestion could be reduced by future widening WITHOUT making the entrance ramp 2 lanes (currently striped for 1) and 3+ lanes for I-45 through-lanes (currently 2).

Your proposal might reduce the number of lanes needed after any Pierce Elevated widening project (or at least delay the need for widening). Maybe TXDOT could look at this potential advantage when considering your Midtown cut-and-cover plan.

I'd like to see this a TXDOT projects list before the end of the decade.

At 6:10 PM, November 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant idea.

At 9:17 AM, November 21, 2006, Blogger b_b_q_bob said...

Having witnessed the effects of flooding in Houston tunnels, I'm not such a big fan of this idea.

At 9:47 AM, November 21, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

They're no worse than Houston underpasses. You put in some pumps and sensors, and if there's a problem once or twice a year, you close it. Not a big deal.

At 3:46 PM, November 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tunnels? Plural? I only know of one vehichle tunnel currently in Houston-the Washburn tunnel, and one former tunnel (the Baytown tunnel) which was removed 10 years ago. These tunnels are/were at sea level and traveled below sea level. This Midtown tunnel would be in an area 45-50 ft. above sea level. Only Allison caused any flooding in this area. With the exception of another storm of this magnitude, pumps should be able to keep up with the rainfall.

At 5:39 PM, November 21, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Since they're cut-and-cover trenches, I was thinking one tunnel southbound under Bagby and one northbound under Brazos - so, yes, two tunnels, plus necessary entrances exits over to Smith, Louisiana, etc.

At 1:56 PM, November 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Tory. I wasn't clear enough. I was responding to b_b_q_bob, and his recollections flooding in tunnels (plural) in Houston.


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