A Pedestrian Oasis

There's a case to be made for banning cars and trucks from downtown Main Street.

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Local blogger Kyle Nielsen put together an essay for the folks at Houston Tomorrow, partly to discuss the tragic death of a young cyclist, who was run over by a Metro train last week, but also to cover the issues with general mobility of vehicles and pedestrians in downtown.

The general thesis of the story was that Main Street — at least the part in downtown that has rail running smack dab down the center of it — should be closed to vehicle traffic much the way it is for a block near what used to be the downtown Macy's. The theory is that doing so would give more room to pedestrians and cyclists as well as prevent problems for motorists.

As Nielsen points out:

"The Vulnerable Road Users Ordinance that was passed by Houston's City Council requires motorists to give 3 feet of space when passing a vulnerable road user (cyclists, pedestrians, etc.). This ordinance makes it impossible for a motorist to legally pass a cyclist on Main Street in Downtown or Midtown."

That is by far the most compelling argument to be made. I say this as someone who routinely bikes in downtown, and I can tell you it is extremely dangerous at times.

Nielsen's suggestion would leave cross streets for traffic to get from one side of Main to the other but would close the actual street to vehicles. With left turns illegal along Main, it actually makes pretty good sense to shut it down.

Nielsen estimates that about 20 parking spaces — all parallel — would be lost, and of course there would be the loss of an entire method of ingress and egress in the downtown area, but I have to wonder if anyone has even done a traffic study of Main Street. Does it really carry so much traffic that closing it would create massive problems on other streets?

The fact that Main is already closed for an entire block in the center of downtown only enhances the argument that a more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly thoroughfare makes a lot of sense. It would also create opportunities for businesses that might not otherwise open in downtown, especially retail businesses, which have become so vital to the city's plans with Macy's packing up and leaving.

Setting aside the safety issue for a moment, perhaps the most important facet of this proposal is how it could transform an entire section of downtown, opening up all sorts of possibilities for events and regular evening and weekend foot traffic. Main Street would cease to be a street and would become a promenade, an actual place for people to walk around, grab a bite, do some shopping, listen to music.

My guess is that developers who provide residential space along downtown would be thrilled by it as well, and it certainly couldn't hurt the tourist trade.

I say get on it, Houston.

 
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4 comments
tireddog01
tireddog01 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Lesson 1, trams do not play well in shared terrain.  No room for error.  Stupid scheme, stupid execution turned once wide Main St. to a canyon inhospitable to autos, pedestrians and in this case the cyclist.

Lesson 2, trams may approach from any direction on any track at any time. Wake up people.

Lesson 3, end the madness, trams must be grade separated or not be at all.  Closing Main St. is not a solution, ultimately you would wall off the entire length of Main and put turnstiles at tram entry points, no general pedestrian traffic would be allowed.  There you go, the tram is a mistake so let's turn the screws on the residents to keep them out of the way of the tram.

blackbird
blackbird

I'd like to see a case made for some of those empty buildings opening up as retail/eating establishments if you could actually walk or bike along Main.  Also, since people would have to get there and park to do that walking, maybe they could establish a few parking lots that would allow people to ride the train in the first place, without travelling to either end first.

zebedatious
zebedatious

Look, when they put the rail there they effectively made cars second class citizens and anyone who's driven down it makes the mental note to avoid Main in the future.  You can't turn left, so you if a left is required you would have done better by traveling down the appropriate street east or west of Main.  Finally, if you're needing to go right, you're not on the right street anyway are you?  I may be one, but I speak for millions.

Rail at street level was a bad, bad idea from the get-go, but now that it's here, you might as well do the smart thing and stop pretending the street is still a legitimate way to travel by car.

zebedatious
zebedatious like.author.displayName 1 Like

Look, when they put the rail there they effectively made cars second class citizens and anyone who's driven down it makes the mental note to avoid Main in the future.  You can't turn left, so you if a left is required you would have done better by traveling down the appropriate street east or west of Main.  Finally, if you're needing to go right, you're not on the right street anyway are you?  I may be one, but I speak for millions.

Rail at street level was a bad, bad idea from the get-go, but now that it's here, you might as well do the smart thing and stop pretending the street is still a legitimate way to travel by car.

 
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