Dutch import seeks to create safer shared space for restaurant district
First introduced in the Netherlands, the woonerf – defined as a street for living – is coming to Grisby Square.
Construction is set to begin on the pilot project designed to make Fortsmith Street a shared space that’s both safer and more aesthetically appealing for pedestrians, cyclists and patrons visiting the Grisby Square restaurant district.
The Energy Corridor District’s Woonerf Streetscape Project aims to revamp the existing and neglected dirt and asphalt lane nestled among rambling Live Oaks and popular restaurants between Stafford and Addicks Howell streets.
Woonerfs – curbless streets that utilize traffic calming designs and very low speed limits – were first introduced in the Netherlands during the 1970s. A woonerf slows traffic in a way that can be safer than conventional street design, explains Clark Martinson, general manager of The Energy Corridor District.
It is a fundamental departure from the standard American approach to traffic management.
Fortsmith will be converted from a narrow two-lane street that often has pedestrians dodging parked cars and loading trucks jutting into the public right-of-way. Instead, the woonerf pilot project will feature a single lane of pavers, angled parking, landscape elements and a sustainable drainage system. Motorists must travel at walking speed. There are no traffic lights, crosswalks, lane markings or curbs.
“The techniques of shared spaces are intended to calm traffic and improve what adjacent property owners have improvised over the years into a more appealing, more pedestrian-friendly streetscape,” Martinson says. “A narrow right-of-way and the need for parking along Fortsmith is not ideal for sidewalks, but a woonerf can allow cars, bikes and pedestrians to more safely intermingle.”
The design will feature lateral pedestrian access to Grisby Square restaurants through a series of spaces across the street, rather than linear access that requires sidewalks.
Even street drainage will be handled differently. The woonerf design uses an inverted crown roadway and permeable pavers, allowing storm water to drain to underground pipes and existing storm sewer grates. Permeable pavers have wide gaps between them filled with coarse gravel, allowing rainwater to pass through to the drainage field below the street.
“When completed, the Fortsmith streetscape will compliment the pastoral, Live Oak atmosphere in the Grisby Square restaurant district, while creating a more pedestrian-friendly place,” says Martinson, “Ultimately, we hope this pilot project will be expanded to enhance the distinctive character of Grisby Square, one of the most unique destinations in West Houston.”