Are Houston Streets Safe? ‘Walkability Audit’ To Determine Sidewalk Safety

Freeways have allowed exponential growth in Houston. But one group continues to push urban planners to make areas like the Museum District more walkable. AARP conducted a recent survey and found that big improvements could still be made.

Members of AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, took to the streets of the Museum District to conduct a “walkability audit” to determine how safe streets are.

This is Marla Turner with AARP.

“Are they friendly for cyclists? Can the roads be shared with mothers with strollers? Can they get across the street? Are there curb cuts? Can we share the road with the cars and buses and everybody? That’s really what this is about.”

She says Houston was just named one of the most wal;kable cities in Texas, that doesn’t mean the city has its act together, when it comes to bicycle and pedestrian safety.

“However, we also have the great honor, of being one of the most dangerous cities in the country, in terms of pedestrian fatalities. So, yes we may be walkable, and you can see out here, there are tons of people walking, there are dogs, cyclists, whatever, but is it safe?” 

Turner was joined by bicyclists and people like Maria Palacios, who’s been in wheelchair since she was an infant, thanks to polio. She says the sidewalks could be better.

“That’s not necessarily the fault of the City of Houston as much as Houston itself, the weather and many other contributing factors. But the truth is that many sidewalks are dangerous to the point of being broken, being uneven. Somebody who is in a wheelchair like myself, especially in a manual wheelchair. I mean, we face these dangers everyday.”

The survey found sidewalks in disrepair, or poorly designed. In other areas, sidewalks were warped to the point of being impassable by someone in a wheelchair or walker. Some of the crosswalks weren’t any better. At one intersection, the walk signal didn’t last long enough to allow the group to cross before the light changed. Matt Dietrichson likes to take in the city on a bicycle, without putting his life on the line:

“I’m much more afraid of that happening. I mean, when a car comes past you at like 40 miles an hour and it’s a little closer than you’d want to be, it’s kind of scary. So, I think that safe passing ordinance will do a great job. It sets an expectation and more than anything, I think it’s raising more awareness to making it more conscious of what is expected by both sides, and to make everyone safe.”

Houston City Council is considering that safe passing ordinance, which would require motorists to give pedestrians and others three feet of space. The group says without the law, improved infrastructure is even more important.

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