Access and Mobility in Houston 2035

Another three and half million people are expected to live in the greater Houston area by 2035. How we will travel from place to place is one of the main issues planners are dealing with now. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports that the second issue of "Tomorrow", published by the Gulf Coast Institute, deals exclusively with issues of access and mobility.

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Those two words are key; access and mobility.

"Researchers say that access is about ends where as mobility is about the means."

David Crossley is president of the Gulf Coast Institute and editor of Tomorrow, he says for too long planners and officials have focused only on mobility. But he says that is changing.

"There was a very interesting meeting at the Houston Galveston Area Council last fall where they brought in 35 or so transportation experts to look at the map of Houston in 2035 and says 'how do you have a transportation system for that'. And in six hours I don't think we spent 20-minutes talking about cars and roads. It was very interesting, I mean this is all new to Houston, but it is coming so fast."

People he says are starting to "get it". For example we have a mobility system that gets us from store to store pretty well. The fact that we have to drive from one store to the next and that each business has to provide a place to park means no one was thinking about access. From a business stand point many acres of valuable land in prime locations isn't generating income it is only providing parking spaces. And this doesn't seem to be what people want either.

The Houston Galveston Area Council is about to release a draft from of its Regional Transportation Plan for 2035. It includes input from citizen surveys that show people want more transit and fewer roads and they want more mixed uses areas to give them more access to people and places.

Crossley says the survey found people also want more greenspace and respect for floodplains. He says this citizen input is new and it's needed.

"We're seeing that citizens really do have a significantly different view of what they would like to see happen and what quality of life means to them than a lot of elected officials have. When economic development is your key goal, then you think that means more jobs. Well, if you're like Atlanta, where the Chamber of Commerce says the key goal is quality of life because if we have a high quality of life we'll have all the jobs we can handle, and they will be higher quality jobs, that's a really different view and perspective."

The problem of course is that even though more officials seem to "get it", as Crossley says, a lot don't and by the time plans and projects work there way through layers and years, they can change dramatically as various influences lookout for their own self interest. But as David Crossley says change seems to be coming faster then it has in the past.

Next Monday morning we'll have more on the area's future transportation needs and learn how Houston could lead the way toward being a polycentric region.

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