The Downtown Redevelopment Authority has made final decisions on how they are planning to redevelop Bagby Street along the western edge of downtown and transform it into a more pedestrian and bike-friendly corridor.
This project will see sweeping changes on Bagby starting at Clay Street in the south and extending to Franklin Street in the north. This stretch of road links an impressive number of important Houston hotspots from City Hall to Bayou Place to Jones Hall and to the recently announced Post HTX complex. The original plan had the cycle track continuing east on Franklin for a block to Congress, but it has been dropped from the final plan due to budgetary constraints.
Bagby is between four and six lanes wide, and after doing a traffic study, they found that the lanes are under-utilized. The finalized plan is calling for a reduction to three or four lanes for cars with the additional space given to an off-street cycle track and expanded sidewalks.
The proposed changes and renderings are pretty damn beautiful. I’m pulling these straight out of their presentation, which you can find here.
They’re getting most of the additional space from the eastern lane of Bagby. The available Right of Way (ROW) varies throughout the different segments, and you can see detailed breakdowns in the presentation linked above. You can see a general example below:
I went to the public meeting that they held last fall where they had a full-scale printed mockup of the pedestrian/cyclist realm, and they’ve made some good choices. While not every segment will have trees or planters to protect from poor drivers, many areas will.
One bit of frustration I had was that there is a book dropbox for the library along Bagby. The future design that they chose puts a driveway that cuts right through the cycle track and across the sidewalk to get to the existing dropbox. When I asked about moving it, it turns out that the library has a large subterranean book processing area directly under it, and it would take millions to move it elsewhere. You can see this section in the rendering labeled “Sam Houston Park & Central Library” above. After the December meeting, I walked over to see this book drop for myself, and to be fair, there was a car using it at 8 P.M. on a weeknight.
I had also asked about the possible delineation between the cycle track and the pedestrian zone, and they said that there would be a textured accent band. While that won’t prevent pedestrians from entering the cycle track, they told me that it will allow them to use the cycle track during festivals/special events. Not wonderful considering how haphazardly the Mayor’s Special Events office treats the Lamar cycle track, but I understand you have to give some to get some.
Some sidestreets will see improvements as well with the revised curbs and sidewalks. Also, a raised pedestrian crosswalk will link Hermann Square with the library. Time will tell if downtown commuters will learn to yield to pedestrians there.
A traffic study was done to find current road utilization and project potential utilization in 2040. The results to me were shocking: little to no negative effects on cars even after reducing the amount of dedicated ROW!
First, could this really be true? These projections are based on both the controversial North Houston Highway Improvement Project and the Bagby Street re-alignment being completed. Currently, drivers are able to take both I-45 North or South, but after the NHHIP project, drivers would only be able to go north. I didn’t complete the study, so I don’t know the effect on utilization if the NHHIP isn’t completed. Either way, utilization would still be extremely low outside of peak times.
Looking at the graphic, it’s important to realize that these are exclusively PEAK A.M. and P.M. usage rates. For many parts of the day, and on weekends, these streets are mostly empty. The design decisions did take into concerns from stakeholders such as the many theaters in the area.
The projected utilization is based on the actual volume of cars divided by the theoretical capacity. The first row represents current traffic, whereas the second row represents the traffic in 2040 and post NHHIP. As you can see, most are identical.
Most of this presentation was released earlier this year, but they’ve now set a construction schedule. It’ll be broken into four phases which will be completed between 1Q20 and 4Q21.
Phase 1 1Q20-2Q20: the west side of northern Bagby near the Aquarium, Walker Street, and that raised crosswalk by the library.
Phase 2 3Q20-4Q20: the east side of northern Bagby (north of Rusk) and the other half of Walker.
Phase 3 1Q21-2Q21: west side of Bagby from Clay to Rusk.
Phase 4 3Q21-4Q21: east side of Bagby from Clay to Rusk (including the cycle track).
It’s great to see such a forward-looking project being realized in an area of town that is ripe to have continued residential growth. This project is not only a solid building block for further development and safer multi-modal transport, but it also shows that the Downtown District is apt to make significant changes.
Future potential progressive measures, such as lowering the speed limit to 25 MPH, closing Main Street to cars, eliminating right turns on red, and further road diets are likely only feasible with the backing of the Downtown District and it’s wonderful to see them taking a progressive approach where cars aren’t necessarily king.