The average American currently drives nearly twice as far each day as they did 30 years ago. Taking a cursory look at two radically different transportation plans for Houston, TX shows how the default position of federal transportation policy is to increase driving—and consequently pollution—by offering billions to states to build new roads and make existing roads wider, while making transit projects wait in line or compete for much smaller amounts of funding.
Photo: Roy Luck via Flickr
This post is the first in a series of case studies about Complete Streets people, places, and projects. Follow the full series over the next several weeks!
Houston’s bold plan to redesign its bus system—the System Reimagining Project—is akin to a prima-ballerina dancing the final act of Swan Lake. The plan is so elegant, the results so awe-inspiring, that it’s easy to miss all the hard work that led to this moment. A comprehensive, creative, and thoughtful public input and outreach process led to broad support for this revolutionary new bus system.
Let’s start with the magic. In 2012, Houston and Harris County’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, or METRO, recognized its bus system needed an update. No one had taken a hard look at the system in three decades, even though Houston had grown into a more polycentric city and METRO had built the first of several planned light rail lanes. Instead of making minor adjustments, METRO’s board, with the nudging of board member Christof Spieler, an urban planner and transit advocate, decided to see what the system could look like if it were designed from scratch. The new plan, an almost complete remodel of Houston’s current bus system, was approved by METRO’s board just three years later, in February of 2015.
A scene from Sunday Streets HTX on Westheimer Road. Photo by Andrew Seng / University of Oregon Emerald via aaonetwork.org
It’s little secret that Houston, Texas, is on the rise. From 2000-2010, Census data shows that the city’s metro population grew by 26 percent to 5.95 million people. In 2013, that number had risen to 6.34 million, and the Houston metro expects to add another 1 million residents by 2020. While this growth is exciting, it also creates new challenges like stress on existing street infrastructure.
Ed Gonzalez served as a Houston police officer for over 18 years. On the beat, he developed a keen sense of the connection between an active community and a safe one. Now he’s working to create a Houston where more residents can enjoy tight-knit, walkable neighborhoods.
Ed Gonzalez currently serves both as a City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem of Houston, and is a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council Advisory Board. Gonzalez notes that many people may not realize that Houston is the fourth largest and most diverse city in America. Gonzalez’s own District H contains a thriving entertainment district, neighborhoods known for historic architecture and landmarks in Texas’ African American and Latino history.
Local residents and officials in Houston, TX met with representatives from Smart Growth America on April 17 and 18, 2013 as part of a free, grant-funded technical assistance program. The workshops aimed to give Houston the tools to develop a Complete Streets policy in their Museum Park Neighborhood, which will lay the foundation for future Complete Streets policies in other neighborhoods throughout the city.
“Museum Park, in partnership with the City of Houston’s Office of Sustainability anticipates that the Complete Streets workshop will take Houston a step closer to achieving a few of Mayor Parker’s stated goals for her second term, such as “sustainable development, public safety, infrastructure and quality of life,” said Kathleen O’Reilly, Vice President of the Museum Park Super Neighborhood. “Museum Park, with its mix of 14 museums, Hermann Park, 3,000 homes, schools, health care, churches and more offers the ideal mix to craft the highest standards for transit and quality of life in Houston. As we launch ReBuild Houston, the timing of this exciting collaborative effort couldn’t be better.”
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program, provides a unique opportunity for US DOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives. The TIGER grant program is also part of the federal interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which encourages collaboration with US EPA … Continued
Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot
New York Times – February 3, 2012
Ilana Preuss, vice president of Smart Growth America, a national coalition of nonprofits that supports economic development while conserving open spaces and farmland, said, “The real danger is not that they will get rid of some piece of software from Iclei” but that “people will be too scared to have a conversation about local development. And that is an important conversation to be having.”
House GOP Takes Aim At Safe Routes To School, Mass Transit
Huffington Post – February 3, 2012
“The leadership of the House is looking to support highways. It seems that they’re not wanting to support bicycle, pedestrian or transit use,” said Deb Hubsmith, director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. The decision was particularly disappointing, she said, because “one of the biggest problems facing America right now is childhood obesity.”
U.S. overbuilt in big houses, planners find
San Diego Union Tribune – February 2, 2012
America has too many big houses — 40 million, to be exact — because consumers are shifting preferences to condos, apartments and small homes, experts told the New Partners for Smart Growth Thursday, holding its 11th annual conference in San Diego through Sunday.
“Smart Growth” Experts Tout San Diego
NBC News – February 2, 2012
“San Diego is investing in the right things,” said Ilana Preuss, vice president of Washington D.C.-based Smart Growth America. “Looking at how you create whole neighborhoods where people can live near where they work, have jobs near shops and schools. We’ve found that that’s really a key to the economic development of the 21st century.”
David Crossley is a busy man. He’s on the board of Smart Growth America and serves on the National Committee of America 2050. His organization, Houston Tomorrow, a SGA coalition partner, works within the Houston region to promote livability, transit, efficient infrastructure, and planning decisions that would benefit the environment. Their ambitious motto: “To improve the quality of life in the Houston Gulf Coast region.” So what do they mean by “improving the quality of life” for Houstonians? Crossley was recently featured in a cover article in a local Houston magazine about his vision for the Houston of his grandchildren, and what will need to change: