Thinking about what the next Mayor can do by 2022 takes me back to where we were before the current administration took office. Six years ago, few people were talking about complete streets, city bike plans, reimagined transit networks, a new Memorial Park, high speed rail, removing freeways or Vision Zero. These are all now in planning stages or implementation setting a new baseline for the next six years. We are really set up for great things if we can just execute. Here is where I would focus for 2022:
1) Give people a choice – In some ways, regional roadway congestion is a measure of success, as all cities with desirable economies experience some levels of congestion, especially in peak travel periods. You know where congestion has gotten better? Detroit. Developing regions like ours must strike a careful balance to ensure that the congestion levels, or the region’s response to them, do not undermine the quality of life and opportunities that attracted people to the region in the first place. While roadway capacity enhancements represent one path to (temporarily) address congestion relief, many cities have looked to provide people choices that allow them an escape from the burden of congestion. It is time to provide people safe, attractive options to move about our city in every neighborhood including a well-connected network of comfortable bike lanes, transit that comes frequently and can move quickly, and simple sidewalks with shade from trees or balconies. These don’t have to cost a lot of money but do sometimes require trade-offs in how we use our valuable city roadway corridors. An idea worth considering: charge for all on-street parking in streets and districts with commercial activity and put all of the money into intersection and sidewalk improvements.
2) A laser focus on safety – Houston is an energy town filled with global energy leaders who achieved their place, at least in part, due to a laser focus on safety. Many companies start every meeting with a safety lesson that reinforces that culture. I recall stories from friends who were sent home from work because they entered a work plant without their seatbelt on. We need to take this same attitude to the design of streets and the way we move around the region. Over 3,000 people die every year on the roads in Texas including at least one every day in since 2003, a streak of 4,592 days. Houston performs better than most regions in Texas on safety outcomes per capita, which is a good start, but not the bar we should hold our self to. We can do more. Lower speed limits and banning texting while driving can go a long way. An idea worth considering: Pass distracted driving and 25 mph speed limit on local streets laws with resources to enforce.
Houston has also started to make great strides in the way we design our streets. The City’s new street design manual provides new guidelines and tools to rethink our streets to serve all users based on the surrounding context. In our city we have world class designers who know how to create great places. We need to focus that energy on creating safe, attractive places that serve the needs of our communities. We have talented engineers who know how to solve problems. We need to make safety the top problem for them to solve.
3) Get the details right – Successful execution often comes down to the details. And designing places that are safer, where more people have choices in how they get around, means getting many small details right. Walk, bike or take the bus around the city. Borrow a friend’s wheelchair and try and roll around for an hour. See all the little things that could have been done just a bit better. Sheltered bus stops with platforms for front and back doors, small gaps filled in the sidewalk or bike lanes that connect to our bayou trails and make the last mile connection. We are at a launching point for major investment in the reconstruction of city streets and are building out a world-class trail system. We all need to be part of the process to make sure the details get done right. An idea worth considering: Innovate and try new things in building great streets across the city so that everyone has examples to look to and say “I want that in my neighborhood!”
Our streets and bayous are our most valuable assets and serve as a platform for our region to continue to thrive. The last six years have seen major steps forward. Let’s carry that momentum and make the next six truly transformative.
Geoff Carleton will be a part of the panel at the second What Can We Do By 2022 Luncheon on Access & Mobility in the city of Houston. This will be Wednesday, August 5, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm with Dr. Carol Lewis, Sam Lott, Kyle Shelton, and Christof Spieler joining him on the panel.
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Geoff Carleton is a Principal at Traffic Engineers, Inc., where he manages the firm’s transportation planning group. He believes in fact-based analyses of difficult issues to support better decision-making and works to find creative approaches to engage a broad spectrum of the community. Among various regional projects, he worked on Metro Transit System Reimagining and is working on the Houston Bike Plan.
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