City Council Sets New Rules Aimed At Creating Walkable, Transit-Friendly Streets

Three Houston neighborhoods will be included in a pilot program as the city unveils new development standards that emphasize alternative transportation.

Gail Delaughter / Houston Public Media
METRO light rail train on Scott Street in the Third Ward.

Houston City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to pass a so-called “Walkable Places” ordinance intended to promote walkability, biking and transit use.

The Walkable Places ordinance was the result of more than two years of planning, and the new regulations will allow higher-density developments in certain areas, that bring buildings closer to the street instead of having parking out front like a suburban-style development. Pedestrians would be able to enter those buildings directly from the sidewalk, and parking would be shifted to the back of the building.

"This is indeed a big day for everybody who really has been striving to make Houston a more walkable city but really just couldn't figure out how," said At-Large Council member Sallie Alcorn. "In these areas of town that are redeveloping and becoming denser, we're actually going to make it easier and not harder for people to create safe, attractive pedestrian-friendly areas."

Alcorn said the vision includes sidewalks widened from six to 10 feet, a four-foot buffer zone between the road and the sidewalk, and more windows on the first floor of commercial buildings.

The city plans to pilot the Walkable Places program in three Houston neighborhoods in close proximity to downtown. Those include Emancipation Avenue in the Third Ward, Midtown between Bagby Street and the Eastex Freeway, and Hogan Street in Near Northside.

The City Council also amended the Transit Oriented Development ordinance that was first approved in 2009. With what the city says has been significant public funding in transit corridors, officials said they wanted to make sure that development meets the intent of the measure.

The ordinance addresses corridors within a half-mile of a bus or train station.

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