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Mayor Turner’s Paradigm Shift includes regional BRT, TOD, flexible funding

Speech at TAG Houston event

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Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner explained the paradigm shift to the Transportation Advocacy Group - Houston at a luncheon on Tuesday, according to the Houston Chronicle:

“The solution is to increasingly take advantage of other modes of travel,” Turner said at the event, hosted by Transportation Advocacy Group – Houston Region.
Turner said state and federal money available for transportation is too heavily focused on highways. In the past two state transportation referendums in which voters authorized more TxDOT spending, the added money was restricted to only non-tolled highways.
“This limits the flexibility the region needs for improvements,” the mayor told the crowd of around 400.

The speech outlined five mobility strategies that he believes are key to the Houston region’s success:

1. Encourage well connected urban centers with transit-oriented development

“Having denser places with a mix of nearby uses means that you can live, work, and play in proximity to this area. When you add the right mix of infrastructure to this design, this means more people will be able to walk or bike or ride transit for many of their travel needs.”

“From the regional perspective, we can then connect the center together with strong multimodal investments - especially transit - further reducing vehicle trips in the region. How can we do this? From the public sector, we should prioritize our mobility investment to strengthen existing and new centers. We need to focus our limited funding in these areas, where mobility demands are highest and the opportunities to create sustainable regional strategy is the greatest.”

2. Use a multimodal approach to provide for mobility needs

“Indeed more roads have led to people driving more.”

“In some cases, added capacity actually detracts from quality of life.”

“Our core urban areas have vibrant enjoyable areas where walkability should be prioritized, in some cases even over an automobile. Widening streets can make the streets less appealing as a pedestrian. Houston’s lower Westheimer area is a great example. This historic Montrose area is already compact and walkable, full of restaurants and street life, and is a treasured part of Houston’s eclectic culture. The City should build on the strengths of this area by improving lower Westheimer to enhance pedestrian activity and support the small businesses and the local neighborhoods.”

“Clearly we need a better way to efficiently move more people and commerce on existing infrastructure. The solution is to increasingly take advantage of other modes of travel - to move people on existing roadways.”

“In 2013, the City formally embraced a Complete Streets approach to mobility maintenance ... Some of these projects are now in design, but this doesn’t mean that we put a bike lane on every street. However, it does mean that we strategically consider the potential need for bicycles and other modes for every project, not just moving cars.”

“We should look at the future of this system (HOV lanes on freeways). The old model was primarily one of residential trips from suburban areas coming into employment centers in the urban core, but the region has also seen growth of jobs and destinations in suburbs and additional residential inside the 610 Loop. That’s why we need two HOV lanes on all freeways. These growth patterns warrant frequent and reliable two way systems and enables two way Bus Rapid Transit on HOVs. We should consider HOV lanes on loop facilities as well, including Beltway 8 when reconstructed. I encourage the Harris County Toll Road Authority to think creatively about these opportunities.”

“The 2010 Census shows that the City of Houston’s daytime population increases by 577,000 daytime commuters Monday through Friday, a 27% increase. That is greater than the population of the City of Atlanta.”

“Transit and carpooling improves access to jobs and services. The bus system will be the backbone for moving more people quickly on limited street right of way.”

“As we get denser and our mobility needs grow, we will have to make choices on how to use limited space on streets to move more people faster. Some areas of our city now have the right density and mix of uses where these type of enhanced bus transit services are an opportunity to move more people on our streets. Westheimer outside the loop is an example. Getting long range transit planning is needed to identify these opportunities. Metro has not adopted a long range transit plan since 2003, when their long range plan was adopted. I urge Metro to update that and the City will be a partner.”

“We must also look to changing the culture of riding buses in Houston. Many people look at transit as only for the poor or hipsters, but if we are going to provide for our mobility needs, yet maintain the quality of life, transit must become an option that appeals to a wider spectrum of individuals.”

“I’ve talked a lot about bicycles and hike and bike trails. We are moving aggressively in that direction. We need to build a city that is more walkable and pedestrian friendly. We don’t start building that design tomorrow. We need to start doing that right now.”

“We will always build roadway capacity in this state. That will not change. But we should not limit ourselves just to roadway capacity. It must be multimodal in concept or we will lose our competitive edge.”

3. Continue to improve the efficiency and safety of systems that move the region’s freights and goods

“The freight rail system is now surrounded by fully developed communities, especially in the urban core. This leads to a number of challenges for our communities. Too often trains end up blocking our roadway crossings. Horn noise affects quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

“More grade separated rail crossings are needed, especially in our urban core.”

“Rail companies must be at the table in helping to fund these improvements and the City stands ready to partner with all railroads to improve the system for all users.”

4. Be more strategic in pursuing mobility funding

“We need the state and federal funding to allow for not just roadway capacity, but we need flexibility to also support other travel modes. The state’s Proposition funding - such as proposition 1 and 7, in 2014 and 2015 respectively - were generally limited to roadway improvements. This limits the flexibility the region needs to fund improvements for other transportation modes.”

“TXDOT must now be consistent with the new day, that we cannot just focus on road construction that we must focus on multimodal. The sooner that the cities get together and recognize that there are more people in these urban centers and the funding that’s appropriated must benefit the urban centers, the better off we will all be.”

“The same thing applies to Federal legislation - we need more flexibility. Our priorities for highway funding must be revisited as well. As we spend highway funding, we should prioritize fixing what we have first rather than adding more.”

“Rather than new or wider roads for purposes of encouraging land development, we much focus investments in the urban core where connectivity needs and congestion strains are the greatest.”

5. Enhance coordination and partnership of regional agencies

“I certainly want to acknowledge TXDOT, because Quincy (Allen) has just been a huge partner with the City of Houston and Public Works. And at the same time, I don’t want to beat up on them too bad when I need their help. I’m not crazy. So TXDOT does excellent work, Commissioner (Jeff Moseley). Excellent work. Excellent work. We just need more of your funding in the Houston region.”

“Our users expect a seamless system that works together. When one agency makes improvements, it should consider how these improvements affect the improvements of others.”

Watch the full speech:

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