Archive for the 'project news' Category

University Corridor in the hopper for classification as Transit Corridor

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

This summer, the parts of Richmond Avenue and the other streets that make up the University Light Rail Corridor are up for consideration to be officially classified as Transit Corridor Streets in the City of Houston Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan (MTFP).  That’s great news, because it means that the “Urban Corridor” ordinance that was adopted by the City in 2009, can be applied to future new development along these street segments as well as key intersecting streets.  The ordinance establishes performance standards for property owners who “opt in” that begin to define an urban pedestrian environment, specifying a minimum 15 foot pedestrian realm with provisions for what can be in and adjacent to the pedestrian realm.

The City Planning and Development Department is hosting an open house to provide more information on all of the requested amendments to the MTFP:

MTPF Open House

6:00 - 8:00 pm, Tuesday, July 2, 2013

United Way Community Resource Center, 50 Waugh Drive, 77007

For additional details, including a timeline for the approval process, visit the City Planning website on the 2013 MTFP Requests.  Materials submitted by METRO on the University Corridor request can be viewed here:  Preliminary Report, Workshop Presentation.

Urban Corridors moves to the next stage

Friday, January 9th, 2009

In June 2006 Houston City Planning embarked on an initiative to “create a high quality urban environment” along the METRO light rail corridors by changing the way the City looks at development and infrastructure requirements in these areas. After two and a half years of research, public workshops and staff/consultant analysis, the City’s Urban Corridor Planning initiative has entered the implementation phase. The consultant’s report, with recommendations, has been published, along with a description of the City’s implementation approach.  The City is now in the process of developing ordinances to actualize the recommendations of this initiative.

Significance to rail on Richmond. A major goal for from the beginning has been creation of a more walkable, neighborhood-friendly environment concurrent with the building of light rail along Richmond. We believe that this is critical both to the success of the rail line and to the health and vitality of our neighborhoods. New development standards based on the Urban Corridors work currently offer the best prospect of achieving our goal. But the recommendations in the Urban Corridors report are just that; there are still many questions to be answered and details to be worked through. Perhaps most important for us is exactly how the pedestrian realm is defined. For example, we believe that a generous standard for the minimum width of unobstructed sidewalk should be applied along the length of the rail line on Richmond.

It should be noted that these new rules will only apply to new development and redevelopment. Except where sidewalks are rebuilt as a result of rail construction, any improvements resulting from the new standards will only be evident over time.

Planning Committee meets to consider ordinances.  For guidance on how the recommendations should be translated into ordinances, the City has called on the Planning Commission’s Mixed-Use/ Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Committee.

The Mixed-Use/TOD Committee, which is composed of members of the real estate and development community as well as representatives from Houston-Galveston Area Council, Houston Tomorrow, METRO, and City Planning, Public Works and Legal departments, has met three times on this topic. Guided by City Planning Director Marlene Gafrick and Senior Planning Fellow Steve Spillette, the committee is working step-by-step through the elements presented in the Urban Corridors report. At its most recent meeting on December 10, the topic was the pedestrian realm.The Urban Corridors plan proposes a 15 foot pedestrian realm, with 10 feet allocated to utilities and landscaping and 5 feet designated for pedestrian sidewalks (current city standard for sidewalks is 4 feet). The committee was asked to consider:

  • Is the proposed standard for the pedestrian realm with a 5 foot “clear zone” for pedestrians adequate?
  • Where should the standard be applied? -Only on the transit street around the stations? -In between stations? -On cross streets in the corridor?

One committee member questioned whether a 5 foot sidewalk standard would be sufficient long-term as density increases; another asked how this standard compares to those employed in other cities that are implementing light rail lines. Neither of these questions was fully addressed. However, a key point made by the Planning Department was that within the 10 foot planting/utilities zone there would be flexibility to expand the sidewalk area (e.g., using tree wells and paving in between). In some locations that would mean that virtually the entire 15 feet could be walkable. The committee generally agreed to follow the consultants’ / Planning recommendation on the dimensions of the pedestrian realm. However, at one point photos were shown of pedestrian design in the Woodlands, where they employed 4 foot planters for trees and 6 foot sidewalks. Some members of the committee asked the Planning Department to look into the possibility of modifying the proposal to fit this scenario, yielding a 6 foot minimum pedestrian clear zone. When Gafrick noted that Parks and Recreation had specified 5 foot planters, members suggested looking at tree types that might be more compatible with a smaller planting well or ways to design the wells to maximize the walkable area while also providing for healthy trees.

On the topic of where the standard should be applied, the discussion moved toward the idea of defining a 5 minute walk zone around each station where the codes would apply. Thus, in locations where stations are close together the potential for a continuous walkable corridor would be established. There was also some discussion of how these codes might apply to future stations and other areas of town. Some committee members suggested that there might be a mechanism for an area to opt in to the Urban Corridor codes even if there were no transit station currently planned. One member even suggested that the City needs to complement the new development ordinances with actual investment in walkability, perhaps making use of TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) funds.

Committee meetings are open. The Mixed-Use/TOD Committee meetings are open to the public but only committee members and City staff are permitted to participate in the discussion. Visitors are asked to sign in and introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting. The next meeting is January 14 with additional meetings to be scheduled if necessary.

What: Planning Commission Mixed-Use/TOD Committee Meeting
When: Wednesday, January 14, 3:30 - 5 pm
Where: 611 Walker, 6th floor, Raia Conference Room.

A major milestone passed on the path to rail on Richmond

Monday, July 21st, 2008

On June 18th, Houston City Council approved the Consent Agreement for Phase 2 METRO Rail and the METRO Solutions Plan. The consent agreement is the compact between the City and METRO that governs use of public streets and city right-of-way, responsibilities for project management, review of the design and plan, operation and maintenance and who pays for what. This agreement covers all five lines of the expanded light rail system.

The signing of the consent agreement has enabled METRO to begin construction on the East End Line; additional steps must be completed for the other lines. On the University Line, these steps include completing and submitting the Final Environmental Impact Statement and securing federal funding.

METRO board to vote October 18th!

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

METRO board meetingSince April 2006, volunteers have worked ceaselessly to make sure METRO does what we need them to do: build neighborhood-friendly rail on Richmond Avenue.

The biggest decision we’ve been waiting for — and working towards — is nearly here. The METRO board is expected to vote at their October 18th meeting. They will choose an alignment for the University line, and we’re counting on them to choose the Cummins option west of Main Street.

Once again, we will come together to show the decision makers our strength in numbers. We’re planning to attend the METRO board meeting downtown and speak up for rail on Richmond. Will you plan to join us?

METRO narrows the options

Saturday, December 23rd, 2006

For six months, METRO has studied more than 50 University line options — most proposed by the public — to assess their cost and ridership potential. All of them run from Wheeler Station on Main Street to the Hillcroft Transit Center on Westpark.

On December 21, 2006, the METRO board narrowed it down to three options. They will continue to analyze these three options until their March 2007 publication of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS):

  • Richmond to Cummins to Westpark
  • Richmond to Greenway Plaza Drive A to Westpark
  • Culberson’s option: Richmond to Montrose to 59’s north lip to Kirby to Westpark

Of these, the Richmond-to-Cummins-to-Westpark option brings the highest ridership at the lowest cost. This alignment works the best because it:

  • Stays on Richmond far enough west to serve both Neartown (including U. St. Thomas and the Menil) and Greenway Plaza very well
  • Has a good connection to the Galleria via the Uptown line
  • Shifts to Westpark to serve Gulfton, the densest residential neighborhood in the entire city
  • Costs $100 million less than our idea of continuing all-the-way-down Richmond to Sage before heading over to the Hillcroft Transit Center

We have been asking METRO to put the University line where the people are, and this line would do just that!

Read METRO’s press release
Read METRO’s briefing document