Dec 7, 2023 - News

Houston Avenue construction sparks outcries from safety advocates

Dozens of advocates demonstrated for a safer Houston Avenue on Tuesday. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Houston Avenue is undergoing some significant traffic changes, and many folks aren't happy about it.

Driving the news: Houston Public Works this week started construction adding a center median to Houston Avenue from Center Street to Memorial Drive.

  • Schematics show the city will reduce the avenue's five traffic lanes to four and add pedestrian refuge islands, making it safer for people on foot to cross the street.

Why it matters: The project is receiving backlash on multiple fronts.

  • That includes those who believe the median will be unnecessarily burdensome for drivers and others who think the work doesn't go far enough to protect Houston's vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians.

Catch up fast: The construction is mere blocks away from where 36-year-old cyclist James Midkiff was killed by a hit-and-run driver in November on Houston Avenue and Winter Street.

  • Houston police are investigating the crash and have not released a description of the vehicle or the driver involved.
  • A police spokesperson told Axios on Wednesday that more information on the suspect could be released soon.

The intrigue: While the city's bike plan calls for bike lanes along the entire stretch of Houston Avenue, the segment under construction won't be upgraded with them.

  • "The small budget and scope of the project would not be able to incorporate the kinds of improvements and public engagement that would be required to construct high-comfort, safe bike facilities at this time," Houston Public Works spokesperson Katelynn Burns tells Axios. "Future bike facilities may be constructed at such time as the corridor is prioritized for bikeway improvements."
  • The $100,000 project is funded through City Council District H service funds, Burns said.

What's happening: BikeHouston is organizing a petition asking the city to increase its scope of the project to include bike lanes and expand them to the intersection of Houston Avenue and Spring Street, where existing bike lanes end.

  • "It's a fantastic example of a street that needs to be fixed," Joe Cutrufo, executive director of BikeHouston, said at a rally Tuesday along Houston Avenue where dozens of advocates picketed for safer streets.

Meanwhile, Lutheran church Trinity Downtown — with its campus at the corner of Houston and Washington avenues — has been a vocal opponent of the project.

  • Senior Pastor Michael Dorn tells Axios the city reached out to the church for input more than a year ago but didn't heed any of its concerns about the median's impact on the church's traffic flow.
  • The church also posted messages on its marquee blasting the project, which Dorn called a "last-ditch effort" to get the project changed.

What they're saying: "I think [jaywalking is] going to be worse," Dorn said. "Once this project is done, we're concerned that it's going to create a spot for panhandling, which has not been an issue in our area."

  • "The city has basically ignored the concerns that we have about access and safety in this stretch of the work that they're planning to do. We're concerned that we're going to have people cutting through our parking lot, frustrated drivers who aren't going to wait for the light. It's happening more and more right now."

What's next: The construction should be complete in mid-December, Burns said.

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