Walkability Plan, Including Parking Reform, Adopted in Houston

The city of Houston is embarking on an ambitious plan to reshape how new development in the city prioritizes walkability, and deprioritizes the automobile.

August 6, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Downtown Houston pedestrians

Oleg Anisimov / Shutterstock

Dylan McGuinness reports from Houston, where the city has approved a new plan to encourage more walkabiluty, and less reliance on cars, in the city. 

The Houston City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday "on a slate of ordinances that would bring buildings closer to the street, force parking lots to the side or behind buildings, expand sidewalks, and require 'buffer' zones between sidewalks and the road. The ordinances would apply to new buildings and redevelopment only in certain parts of the city," reports McGuinness. 

"The ordinances would create two distinct programs: areas with a “Walkable Places” designation, where the city seeks to foster pedestrian-friendly development; and areas in the “Transit-Oriented Development” Program, where the city hopes to bring the same principles to most streets that fall within a half-mile of a bus or train station."

The latter of those two programs contains a slew of planning reforms, including parking reforms, that will pique the interest of many progressive-minded planners:

For the streets covered by either program, the plan would undo many of the car-centered rules adopted in the 1990s. For example, under those rules, all development on major streets must be set back 25 feet from the road, which results in parking lots facing the streets. Businesses, whether they are in Midtown or Meyerland, must offer a prescribed number of parking spaces for customers. And sidewalks must be 5 feet wide.

The new rules would waive the set-back requirement, bringing buildings closer to the road, and force parking lots to the side or behind new buildings. The transit-oriented development ordinance would cut or eliminate the number of parking spaces developments must provide, depending on the street.

McGuinness includes soundbites from James Llamas, a transportation engineer who served on the committee that drafted the plan, Bill Fulton, director of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, and Margaret Wallace Brown, the city’s planning director, for local insight into the significance of the city's new approach to walkability.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 in Houston Chronicle

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