Monday, January 30, 2023

Restarting NHHIP brings Pierce Sky Park back to life

This week we have another excellent guest post from Oscar Slotboom.
The Chronicle recently reported on the closure of the midtown McDonalds restaurant and planned relocation of the Greyhound bus terminal, both of which are notorious for attracting elements that are not conducive to the revitalization of the area. The article mentioned the potential of a park on the current Pierce Elevated, if and when the delayed North Houston Highway Improvement Project can move forward.
This is a good time to mention a website I created in 2015 when the current plan for NHHIP was first presented to the public: advocates a recreation-oriented park on the Pierce Elevated. This is in contrast to other proposals which had depictions showing artsy designs and pathways which were not suitable for recreation (or at street level), for example
All the reasons for a recreation-oriented park are detailed at the website, but here are the key points:
  • The Skypark should be designed to serve downtown Houston residents, and attract more residents to downtown. It should not be designed or intended for visitors to downtown or tourists (which are scarce in Houston).
  • A recreation-oriented facility will attract downtown residents to the facility on a regular basis, much like the Memorial Park loop is heavily used. This will ensure substantial use of the park. On the contrary, an artsy or non-recreation facility will likely attract visitors on an irregular or occasional basis, possibly leading to underuse or sections seeming to be deserted.
  • The facility should have wide paths to accommodate walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and other modes like scooters. There should not be any bottlenecks. The Highline in New York City is mostly narrow with frequent bottlenecks, so it is not suitable for recreation.
  • A recreation-oriented facility should be less expensive for initial construction compared to an artsy design.
  • Artsy features and/or commercial components (e.g. restaurants) can be included initially or in the future, but will be enhancements which build on the success and pedestrian traffic of the recreation-oriented features.
Page 83 of this Downtown Redevelopment Authority document appears to suggest paths suitable for recreation, but the overhead view is very high-level (lacking details) and is surely preliminary. There is plenty of space available, so recreation paths for walkers and bikers should not be narrow or constricted.
The opposition effort has resulted in a long delay to NHHIP and the potential Pierce Elevated park. While there is now a local agreement to move the project forward, TxDOT is still awaiting FHWA clearance to proceed, and the recent 28% surge in highway construction cost will surely cause more delays. As of now, work to relocate I-45 to the east side of downtown is not scheduled, and the earliest start is probably 2028, with the first half of the 2030s more likely for starting work and a park becoming available in the second half of the 2030s. But there is always the chance of a faster schedule, to lessen the damage caused by the opposition effort.
I-69 Midtown, sink elevated freeway below ground Listed for bids in June 2024 (subject to change)
I-10 on north side of downtown, including I-45 Interchange Planned for bidding in 2027 (delayed from 2024)
All other downtown work, including I-45 relocation Not scheduled, probably start late 2020s or early 2030s.
Below are depictions from

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