Sugar Land Looks at Becoming Less Car-Centric

In suburbia, the car is king. But as communities look to the future they’re finding residents want more options for getting around. Sugar Land, Houston’s southwestern neighbor, is one of them. From the KUHF NewsLab, Wendy Siegle explains.

Sugar Land
Imperial Sugar area to be redeveloped but developers are preserving iconic eight story red brick structure

Like most suburban communities in the Houston region, Sugar Land is growing, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon. A 30 million dollar minor league baseball stadium is expected to be up around 2012 and the historic Imperial Sugar Mill next door is getting refashioned into a new multi-use development in the near future.

Both projects mean this older part of Sugar Land is likely to become much more popular, making it ripe for heavy congestion. This is something local resident Gavin Peterson says the area isn’t exactly ready for.

“Developing in this area that we’re in right now by the sugar factory, it’s not really built for a lot of traffic.”

The city knows this, which is why it’s spending 200,000 dollars on a mobility plan to discover how best to get its current and future residents from point A to point B. Patrick Walsh is Sugar Land’s transportation director. He says with all the new entertainment spots popping up, Sugar Land needs to think hard about its long-term transportation goals.

“So the city is looking at: ‘How do we connect these activity centers? How do we move people from one to the other? How do we get people from our residential areas into the activity centers?”

Resident Sandy Hellums is on Sugar Land’s citizens’ Mobility Advisory Committee. She says the biggest problem right now is lack of options.

“It is very difficult to move around as a pedestrian in a lot of our entertainment districts. There is no alternative in terms of pubic transportation. There’s no rail; there’s no buses; it’s pretty much your car and that’s it.”

Transportation director Walsh says more transit alternatives are exactly what the city’s exploring. He says Sugar Land hopes to double the number of its walking and biking trails over the next five to ten years and is coming up with ideas for intra-city transit options, like trolleys, that would link different parts of the town. Hellums has been tuned into the changing desires of residents at town meetings.

“I’m hearing that over and over at all of these things that people, especially with introduction of the baseball stadium, people would love to be able to bike to one park, jump on the trolley, go to the science museum and then walk over to the baseball stadium. I mean that would really be the ideal where you could spend your whole weekend in Sugar Land and not have to use your car.”

Of course the city is merely in the ideas phase right now. Once Sugar Land lays down concrete plans, coming up with the money to actually fund them will be another challenge. But the city  is moving in the right direction, according to Pat Woskowiak the transportation program manager for the regional planning organization HGAC.

“Sugar Land is kind of at the forefront in a region of thinking ahead, planning ahead, and trying to get all of their ducks lined up so that as funding become available, they have projects that they’re ready to implement.”

For now, Sugar Land is just trying establish a unified vision for the future. And who knows? Public transit could take hold in this part of suburbia in the years to come.

For more information, visit the City of Sugarland’s Comprehensive Mobility Plan website.