A Better Plan for the Downtown Ring

Should a major freeway plan consider the needs of cyclists? Of transit riders?

And if we’re going to tear down and reconstruct the entire downtown freeway network of the fourth-largest city in America, shouldn’t the final result have better geometry than the mid-century structures it replaces?

The PDFs below contain an analysis of Houston traffic patterns, a critique of the current plans for Downtown Houston’s freeway ring, and an alternate proposal. My schematic requires less right-of-way, creates a continuous managed lane network for commuter buses and BRT, and eliminates all left-hand exits, among other improvements.

Comment, as always, is welcomed.

A Better Plan for the Downtown Ring – Report (5.5MB)

A Better Plan for the Downtown Ring –  Schematic (67.2MB)


8 thoughts on “A Better Plan for the Downtown Ring”

  1. Man, great analysis. I really like the recommendations of repairing the street grid in the north end of Downtown. I was at a Central Houston breakfast this week, and I think that this desire was mentioned. I’d float this past them as well. The more suggestions the better.

    One thing I noticed so far. The label for the “Houston Avenue Bridge” in your plan seems to be where Sabine Street / Heiner Street intersect with Allen Parkway. Maybe I’m not following it as closely as needed, or it extends to Houston Avenue at some point, which isn’t necessarily shown on the map.

    Some interesting thoughts that I hope spur more dialogue. Great work.

    1. Thanks. The bridge over Allen at Heiner/Sabine is a southward extension of Houston Avenue. If you start at Washington and head south, instead of feeding onto the Pierce Elevated, you go over Buffalo Bayou on a low speed bridge that drops back down to a stoplight at West Dallas. This way your main connection between Old Sixth Ward and Midtown is an urban avenue instead of a feeder road.

  2. This plan is infinitely better than the TxDOT plan. I wish they would just adopt this now. There really needs to be an organized push for this over the current plans.

    One minor suggestion I would make is with regards to the East Freeway. While HOV/HOT facilities do not currently exist along it, the H-GAC 2040 RTP plans for 2-way HOV/HOT along it. As this is certainly a long term plan, ramps allowing access from the East Freeway MaX Lanes and 59, 45 and downtown ought to be built now in this phase, before the planned lanes on the rest of the freeway.

    But that is a minor point; the plan is still fantastic and needs to be pursued.

  3. You’ll need to do something to create surface street traffic calming and prevent offramp surfing. Check out this image: http://i.imgur.com/GZ9A1cF.jpg

    I’ve drawn in red where two surface streets get completely gridlocked in the mornings as thousands of 59s drivers attempt to bypass the i10 ramp by using surface street. There are a few other spots on your map that allow for the same thing.

    1. There’s already a ramp at McKee; I just moved it a block to the north. And Lyons Avenue is a major transit route, so you wouldn’t want excessive amounts of traffic calming there.

      Overall, there are fewer high-speed surface streets in my plan. For example, Saint Emanuel Street stays two lanes (and gets bike lanes), instead of being turned into a feeder road.

  4. I like the BRT & bike plan. I really like the new Western Gateway Downtown entrance (send that to the city please). But I don’t like the freeway plan. For one, there’s no better way to unite neighborhoods then the total removal of a highway. Storefronts & aesthetic improvements to a MAX lane Pierce Elevated is really just lipstick on a pig. While on the topic, your plan attempts to knit Midtown but leaves the east side with a double decker span, an even more daunting barrier then they single overpass they currently have. TXDOT’s plan actually better knitted both Midtown & East End residents to the center city in this aspect by removing the Pierce & submerging the 69/45 on the east side, with the potential for a deck park.

    The part that upset me the most was “Preserving Interesting Freeway Architecture.” We should not be preserving these unsightly freeway overpasses and instead, look for ways in this freeway plan that would simplify overhead lane structures over Buffalo Bayou in an attempt to better unify our newly renovated Buffalo Bayou Park to Downtown. Combined with your Western Gateway idea, this could dramatically reshape the entire western face of Downtown.

    Also because its TXDOT, while I like the idea of MAX lanes, I fear TXDOT would just end up going for the money grab and turning these into toll lanes with demand-specific pricing.

    1. We definitely want to let as much light as possible reach Buffalo Bayou.

      Regarding new vs old highway infrastructure, there’s two factors you may not have considered. For one, most of the existing structures don’t meet current spec, so if they’re replaced, the new ones will be wider.

      Take, for example, this ramp, which goes under one of the two straddle bents that I would like to see preserved. Right now, that ramp is 28 feet from barrier face to barrier face. If we rebuild it, it’ll be 36 feet.

      The other factor to consider is sunlight. A single, large overpass will have areas underneath it that never see the sun. But several smaller overpasses with gaps in them will allow the entire ground to receive partial sunlight. The existing 50’s/60’s ramps may lack in aesthetics, but it’s pretty green under there.

      1. While I agree several smaller overpasses allow more light through, it’s the arrangement of all the support piers that create a psychological barrier, making it look more dangerous looking then it actually is. While I like hiking, biking, and photographing) from these trails, it always seems like crowds won’t go north of Sabine St, even with new trails open.

        I agree we don’t need a wide over pass. We just need something even more “open” compared to the current freeway architecture here presently. Maybe a cable-stayed or arched bridge structure with lanes stacked atop each other to reduce both width & piers could be the solution. Better knitting Buffalo Bayou Park to Downtown, in combination with your wonderful Western Gateway roundabout could be a total game changer.

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