The street designs that define most American suburban centers may have worked for smaller populations. But we’re finding as population grows, building wider and faster streets, maintaining 10-acre superblocks that restrict vehicular access and favor low-density development ignoring pedestrian/bicyclist access actually creates more traffic, longer trip times and far less interesting places.
The Energy Corridor District’s long-range Master Plan calls for eliminating the bottlenecks resulting from its conventional development, and instead creating multimodal streets that improve access to more places – a design proven to enhance livability, while making land more attractive to denser, livelier development.
Where conventional values prevail, streets get wider and faster, and the area becomes less vibrant as people and value are exported to farther away suburbs. This phenomenon has been experienced in cities throughout the United States since the mid- 20th century, with vibrant, traditional downtowns embracing conventional highway building, arterial widening, and superblock development. Many of these same cities are now embarking on significant initiatives to revitalize their downtowns with traditional, slower, multimodal street networks. Where traditional urban values prevail, places come back to life.
Traffic research demonstrates that denser neighborhoods full of mixed land uses end up with decreased traffic volumes and shorter average trip lengths. But, as density decreases and land uses becomes less mixed – in essence, becoming more suburban – the roads become faster, average trips get longer, and traffic goes up.
Adding intersections distributes traffic better, and reduces the time motorists spend waiting at red lights. Shorter blocks make walking more direct too. Research data actually shows that parallel streets will move more traffic than the same number of lanes on a single street.
A prime candidate for putting this concept into practice is Eldridge Parkway, arguably the most congested roadway in The Energy Corridor District. Conventional wisdom prescribes widening Eldridge from four lanes to six. Three years ago, the District was actively pursuing such a project. Now we believe widening Eldridge would only induce more cut-though traffic from trucks, discourage people from walking and biking, and hinder fruitful social and economic exchange.
Rather than widening Eldridge, it would be more valuable to fund a new street, add intersections and create a finer grid. The District proposes to link the northern portion of Eldridge with Enclave to create the eastern street. The southern portion of Eldridge would continue north along S. Mayde Creek Drive at the edge of Terry Hershey Park to the I-10 frontage road. This approach distributes traffic between both streets.
Coupled with the District’s proposed bicycle network, the parallel streets would share the traffic load, shorten trip lengths, and allow Eldridge Parkway to become a “complete street” serving all users. This paradigm change adds economic value to the retail businesses and multifamily complexes along Eldridge, rather than widening roads, which only encourages people to speed past.
This bold idea presents significant challenges, though. It is a long-term vision that requires discussions with developers and landowners, coordination with the City of Houston, land swaps and re-plotted new parcels creating new town center options for the Eldridge Enclave Corridor.
We hope landowners, developers, residents and employees here will work together so that we can help create a more livable place by transforming a conventional suburban area into a new suburban model, where smart planning and development meet to facilitate both mobility and commerce.