The Case for Making Main Street for Pedestrians Only

Categories: Traffic

main-street-promenade.jpg
Photo by Jeff Balke
No more red light and turn sign confusion.
Local blogger Kyle Nielsen put together an essay for the folks at Houston Tomorrow, partly to discuss the tragic death of a young cyclist, who was run over by a Metro train this week, but also to cover the issues with general mobility of vehicles and pedestrians in downtown. I am normally skeptical of suggestions on how to improve transportation from people who aren't specifically schooled in that profession, but this essay was particularly interesting and made enough good points to merit a review.

The general thesis of the story was that Main Street -- at least the part in downtown that has rail running smack dab down the center of it -- should be closed to vehicle traffic much the way it is for a block near what used to be the downtown Macy's. The theory is that it would give more room to pedestrians and cyclists as well as preventing problems for motorists.

As Nielsen points out:

The Vulnerable Road Users Ordinance that was passed by Houston's City Council requires motorists to give 3 feet of space when passing a vulnerable road user (cyclists, pedestrians, etc.) This ordinance makes it impossible for a motorist to legally pass a cyclist on Main Street in Downtown or Midtown.

That is by far the most compelling argument to be made. I say this as someone who routinely bikes in downtown and I can tell you it is extremely dangerous at times.

Nielsen's suggestion would leave cross streets for traffic to get from one side of Main to the other, but close the actual street to vehicles. With left turns illegal along Main, it actually makes pretty good sense to shut Main down.

Nielsen estimates about 20 parking spaces -- all parallel -- would be lost, and of course there would be the loss of an entire method of ingress and egress in the downtown area, but I have to wonder if anyone has even done a traffic study of Main Street. Does it really carry so much traffic that closing it would create massive problems on other streets?

The fact that Main is already closed for an entire block in the center of downtown only enhances the argument that a more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly thoroughfare makes a lot of sense. It would also create opportunities for businesses that might not otherwise open in downtown, especially retail business, which has become so vital to the city's plans with Macy's packing up and leaving.

Setting aside the safety issue for a moment, perhaps the most important facet of this proposal is how it could transform an entire section of downtown, opening up all sorts of possibilities for events and regular evening and weekend foot traffic. Main Street would cease to be a street and become a promenade, an actual place for people to walk around, grab a bite, do some shopping, listen to music.

My guess is that developers who provide residential space along downtown would be thrilled by it as well, and it certainly couldn't hurt the tourist trade.

I say get on it, Houston.

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52 comments
sherylgonzales
sherylgonzales

The the male bicyclist approaches from the rear left of the heavyweight Metro bus,  veers right up beside the bus driver's left rear mirror and darts in front of our bus so close to the bumper that we can only see the top of his head and shoulders. The bus driver slams on the brakes and the lucky delinquent lives to ride another day. 

We all watch to see if the bus driver will cuss or rant but he is a professional and somehow keeps his cool.

Little Shaver is making the mistake of believing the optical illusion that a large vehicle is moving more slowly than it is.

Little Shaver is in the habit of making motorists brake and take evasive action every day. Little Shaver creates many close shaves with hunky metal vehicles. One day his luck runs out.


curaecivem
curaecivem

Since the rail is at street level, rather  than elevated, as it should have been, or subterranean, it only makes sense that it will run into objects and crush and mangle them in its path. The idea of a monorail at street level in any high- traffic area is Metro-moronic at its finest. You may expect more tragedies and deaths on all its routes. I only pray that Metros insurer is raising its insurance premiums by leaps and bounds with each passing mangled body or vehicle. The only kind of impact these blockhead companies understand is the kind that effects their bottom line. The kind involving humans and vehicles are, for them, rather an inconvenience.

skquinn1
skquinn1

I see four possible solutions to the problems presented by the Vulnerable Road Users Ordinance:

1. Draft an exception into the law for this portion of Main Street. (By far, not my favorite.)

2. Widen Main Street enough to put in a bike lane. (May not be worth the cost.)

3. Prohibit bike traffic on Main, detour bikes onto either Travis or Fannin, possibly in combination with new bike lanes on those streets. (Probably won't sit well with at least some bikers.)

4. Close this portion of Main Street completely to cars, leaving it for bikes and pedestrians only, as Kyle suggests. (Has some positives but could also cause more problems than it solves.)

There may be others, but we do have other choices that should be examined.

John Sims
John Sims

Says the faggot too scared to put up a real profile picture? Troll harder, bitcho.

Joe Pinney
Joe Pinney

Might as well, really, but more importantly, a more interesting mix of businesses need to locate to Main Street.

John Sims
John Sims

Fuck that. Already hard enough getting about downtown.

Matt Burns
Matt Burns

Nice idea, won't happen though. I think Houston is a pretty decent city, but it's just not built for walking, trains, bikes, etc. Making one street pedestrian only won't solve anything. Houston is just not built as a city for anything but cars, sadly.

Jacob Spacek
Jacob Spacek

interesting proposal. I would like to hear the reasons, if any, against this. This does seem like a great idea so far...

Patrick Chatelle
Patrick Chatelle

It's a terrible idea, we have a rail running on the surface, instead of the elevated one we were supposed to get. Unless you're trying to increase the number of fatalities...

Beth Allen Borgerding Ortuño
Beth Allen Borgerding Ortuño

pedestrian promenades are good for business; that's proven. we also need to enforce the vulnerable road users ordinance that is already on the books. currently Houston police are not held accountable to do anything when they see unsafe driving or parking. i don't know why there isn't an app for this. i'm not being funny - this is ripe for an app.

Carlos Ignacio M
Carlos Ignacio M

I agree. I live in a loft by the Minute Maid Ballpark. Houston has an immense potential to be a very important Cosmopolitan City. This is one of the reasons that I moved to Houston after living in Miami for a few years. It is likely that I will move back to Chicago but not for a while. I like Downtown Houston very much.

Linda Hardy
Linda Hardy

I love State Street! It's where everyone goes to shop. Houston could create the same atmosphere and they should. The city is changing for the better. When I worked down town years ago the streets rolled up at 6pm and it was dead. I see life and rejuvenation coming back. For such a big city, it should be a big draw. It would be another shopping destination beside the Galleria or the Woodlands.

cbit1
cbit1

I could go either way on this decision. The vehicle lanes are particularly useful for searching for curbside parking, necessitated by the endless trips around the block waiting for a space to clear. But they're probably just convenient, not essential.

It's otherwise hard to take Main St. from Richmond to Commerce as a serious vehicular route.

Expanding the pedestrian-only zone several blocks in either direction might be a suitable compromise.

And to all the people making jokes about Darwinism: I hope your descendants evolve a heart.


Lisa Gallo Roth
Lisa Gallo Roth

I think it makes total sense and the suggestion is long overdue. When in a vehicle on Main Street, it is impossible to make note of all the restrictions while simultaneously driving. For someone who is only down there on occasion, this is dangerous not only to the driver and passengers, but for pedestrians and cyclists as well.

Mary Miller
Mary Miller

Making this pedestrian only is not going to stop people getting hit by the train, they just won't be in cars. There is nothing wrong with the way it is, hate the fact that the first knee jerk response is to dumby everthing down to protect people from their own ignorance. Darwin had a point....just sayin...

Carlos Ignacio M
Carlos Ignacio M

You are correct Linda, that is State Street. It was the first street in Chicago that was for merchants and the first main street not to run parallel to the Chicago River. It is a great Street and I was very active in trying to prohibit private vehicles from entering this Street. It was done when Mayor Washington was in office.

chuck219
chuck219

actually, I'm not usually in favor of this sort of thing, but this had merit.  If the pedestrians and cyclists converged here then that likely frees up space on other streets allowing for a smoother flow of traffic.  However, in fairness, the businesses along Main street should get some input.


Christina Vargas
Christina Vargas

Can't turn left anywhere! You have to make a block or two just to get to the other side of the rail. I think it'd be great for businesses. that train hauls all kinds of ass though.. Im sure we'll have more pedestrian/rail accidents. Pick your poison Houston.

Jeff Hunter
Jeff Hunter

Hardly anyone drives on Main Street. It is right turns only. It is cut off in the middle of downtown. Southern Downtown on Main is mostly parking lots. The only businesses on Main Street in Midtown are bars and restaurants. This is a Great Idea and would spur a more lively night industry down there. Do It! People need to use the San Jac/Fannin and Travis/Milam one-ways, anyway.

alan_hanley
alan_hanley

 I agree it should be closed. It could leave room for say an open market with vendors that otherwise would not be able to afford space downtown. 

Carlos Ignacio M
Carlos Ignacio M

This is like a man arriving home and sees his wife with another man in the couch and screams: "That's it! I am putting an end to this!!! I am selling the couch"! This was a very sad accident and maybe what needs to be done is to create a very restricted passage for pedestrians when crossing the rail and the platform. It is very sad that this happened, very sad.

Richard Crishock
Richard Crishock

They created a "pedestrian Transitway Mall" in my home town (Erie, PA) in the 1970's and it made it very tough for the businesses along the route. In the 1990's, the city removed it, and reopened the street to cars. It is now much better for commerce and traffic. Not sure what the answer is, but blocking off Main St. to cars seems like a bad idea.

RebeccaS
RebeccaS

I think this is a great idea and can see a lot of potential for more businesses to open. I live near downtown and frequent many of the stores, bars and restaurants and I really enjoy walking down Main Street and stopping in different places. The train/traffic situation is going to get worse when the new line from EaDo to Theater District opens -- I"m excited about this because this will be a really convenient way to get around. There isn't that much vehicle traffic on Main to begin with and I think most of the cars/trucks that are there took a wrong turn anyway. So, yeah, let's kid of the cars on Main I'd love to see more people coming and visiting downtown.

Linda Hardy
Linda Hardy

Chicago has a street like that. I think it's a great idea for businesses.

Robert Blain
Robert Blain

MAYBE from Polk to Capitol... but to take all cars off Main Street throughout Downtown and Midtown would destroy the businesses that call it, or the blocks coming off it along one-way streets, home.

Jww Weghorst
Jww Weghorst

That train almost got me a couple of times. It's just that most people who are down there, aren't regulars. They are either looking for a place to park, are lost or are trying to go to a job interview or jury duty. That train also hauls ass. Slow it down!!

Sabrina Sutherland
Sabrina Sutherland

Can we drink in the street like New Orleans. ? Then yes , if not then why bother !

Daveed Bravo
Daveed Bravo

Sounds like it would also lead to increased business activity, looks good.

wargarrett
wargarrett

Get it done! There are so many benefits to this!

Carlos Ignacio M
Carlos Ignacio M

The two largest pedestrian Downtown areas have elevated trains. The number one New York and the third largest, Chicago.

Omar Alejandro
Omar Alejandro

It's already safe enough, people just need to learn to pay attention ... 1 occurrence like the one that happened recently shouldn't doom metro to rethink safety over and over and over again.... Just the other day I pulled a lady back from the rail as the other train was coming because she was on her phone. Let Darwin settle them out.

sp0ka
sp0ka

This is such an obvious and cheap to implement idea that I'm surprised the Downtown Management District hasn't already implemented it. Main St. is already a street you only drive on if you make a wrong turn, after all.

And like others have said, this isn't exactly a novel idea, and making downtown safer for bikes and pedestrians will only increase the profits of downtown restaurants and bars.

I'd love to see this happen!

Reppin2
Reppin2

That should have been done from the beginning.  Use Denver's 16th Street Mall as a model.  It works.

Stangu Photos
Stangu Photos

They could also open more rooms for shopping like Houston used to be like and the increase of shoppers will happen, making drivers more aware of pedestrians. Downtown needs more shops!

MadMac
MadMac

I really like this. Honestly, I'm surprised there have not been more auto/pedestrian accidents and deaths downtown.

john1914
john1914

That stretch of Main is difficult to drive on and I suspect that if you closed it, people wouldn't miss it. As long as you can still cross it as he's proposing, this idea is great.

Hector Garza
Hector Garza

Ppl learn to look both ways before you cross, DUH!!!!

thequesoqueen
thequesoqueen

I'd like to see a section of Westheimer (say between Montrose and Dunlavy) pedestrian only too. 

skquinn1
skquinn1

@Lisa Gallo Roth The restrictions are actually pretty simple: no left turns between Wheeler and Wood (I think, it might be Naylor), and no driving on the tracks.

chuck219
chuck219

@thequesoqueen thedifference is, that would cause problems, including people detouring through the neighborhoods more than they already do.  that's a legitimate traffic artery.


h_e_x
h_e_x

@thequesoqueen I'd be ok if they just brought back the Westheimer Art Festival and closed the street for a weekend once a year.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@thequesoqueen how about instead of closing a street, all of the self absorbed idiots just pay attention to their surroundings.......

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