Sep 25, 2023 - Transit

Houston mayoral candidates compare street improvement visions

Nearly 200 people listen to Houston mayoral candidates

LINK Houston hosted the forum Saturday. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Houston's mayoral candidates are offering a range of visions for how best to improve the Bayou City's streets.

Driving the news: Nine of 14 candidates spoke at a forum on the topic organized by nonprofit LINK Houston on Saturday.

Of note: The campaign staff of frontrunner candidate Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) said her congressional duties prevented her from attending.

What we're watching: How the winning candidate's transportation policies align with their promises.

  • Election Day is Nov. 7.

How the candidates answered:

John Whitmire, a Democratic state senator, said the city ought to prioritize redesigns and add crosswalks where they make the most sense with community input.

  • Whitmire recalled a past attempt to get a crosswalk installed at Blossom and Westcott streets near Memorial Park, telling city officials "someone will get killed" at the intersection. He said he was frustrated by the city's answer that it couldn't afford it.
  • "Those are the kind of neighborhood quality-of-life issues that are not big-ticket items that people here this morning could get together and solve."

Lee Kaplan, an attorney, said the city and its partners like Metro should collect more data before redesigning streets.

  • "That's why we have this black eye where we're redesigning a street in the Heights that we … spent a lot of money on design, and now we're spending $150,000 to reverse that," Kaplan said.

Gilbert Garcia, the former chair of Metro, said he would encourage city planners to design streets as if they were in their own neighborhood.

  • "I think there needs to be a whole different mindset and a very strong tone at the top that says it's no longer business as usual," Garcia said.
  • "We have to be much more responsive to the citizens, and we've got to always put ourselves in their shoes, and that will lead us to the right answer."

Robert Gallegos, a City Council member, said he would focus on gathering more community input on building out the Houston Bike Plan, which calls for 1,800 miles of bike lanes.

  • "We need to work with public works to make sure that they do follow that [bike plan] map," Gallegos said.
  • "But to do that, we also have to go back and have more community input," he said, so neighborhoods can express "what they want to see on their streets."

Robin Williams, a police officer, said Houston should strive to compete with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for the best multimodal city in the country.

  • "We definitely can," Williams said. "So, when it comes down to bikers and walkers, a strip painted on concrete that's so thin just won't do."

Julian Martinez, a used car dealer, said the onus is on drivers to have more sympathy for those traversing Houston outside a car.

  • "We are human," Martinez said. "We do love each other. If someone is on the sidewalk walking, let them go. Slow down. One second isn't about to kill you."

Jack Christie, a former city councilman, touted his work with former Mayor Annise Parker on the city's complete streets initiative, as well as his push for the city to help homeowners fund sidewalk construction.

  • "With any new developments we require them to pay for sidewalks," Christie said.
  • "I asked City Council, please [for] the individual homeowners, at least give them the materials and the cement at cost to where we can make a livable city with sidewalks."

M.J. Khan, another former city councilman, said Houston should both plan for the future and invest in sidewalks and bike lanes in the short-term.

  • "Not only do we have to look at how we are doing it today, but the world is changing," Khan said. "Technology is coming. In 30, 50, 100 years, it will be a totally different landscape as far as transportation is concerned."

David Lowy, the self-proclaimed "fun" candidate who wore a circus ringleader costume to the forum, said more people should use 3-1-1 and that the city needs to pay for sidewalks.

  • "The city doesn't want to pay to replace all the sidewalks, but you can't expect homeowners to foot that bill," Lowy said. "We need to replace all the sidewalks."
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