Improving Mobility and Mobilizing a Transformational Area Master Plan
It didn’t take long for development to take advantage of the new Park Row extension, a hallmark project completed this year by The Energy Corridor District (ECD), one part of a plan to facilitate connections between major energy campuses, new residential developments and transit.
On the ground level, the first half of The Energy Corridor District’s 2014 efforts feature new sidewalks and bus shelters, a road where once there was none, hundreds of tree plantings along Interstate I-10, continued efforts to promote multi-modal transportation solutions, community-connecting events and the beginnings of an improved Fortsmith streetscape.
The view from 10,000 feet, though, reveals a deeper mission focused on transforming The Energy Corridor District into a place that is all about connections.
This year, The District embarked on an ambitious program to develop an Area Master Plan designed to transform The Energy Corridor. The goal is to connect public and private spaces with unique, appealing streetscapes, more transportation options and easy access to parks. A place, in other words, with a strong sense of place that for years to come will increase the attractiveness and competitiveness of The Energy Corridor.
“We want to make The Energy Corridor the best new urban core in the U.S.,” explains Clark Martinson, general manager of The ECD. “If we can optimize the interconnectivity, function and value of private and public plans, we can help create enduring value for each property owner in The District.”
More than $2 billion in new private investment is expected for The Energy Corridor over the next several years, explains Martinson. An Area Master Plan seeks to enhance and leverage those assets by taking a regional and visionary urban planning approach.
2014 enhancements so far
Park Row was extended, connecting Highway 6 north of I-10 beyond the Addicks Park and Ride to an area where already a residential apartment complex is springing up and several new business campuses are planned. It is the first phase of a plan to extend Park Row through to Eldridge and will transform connections north of I-10.
The New Freedom Sidewalk project added four substantial pedestrian improvements, including needed sidewalks along Park Row and Memorial Drive that removed barriers, reduced unsafe conditions and increased access to public transportation, employment and shopping, while easing entry to West Houston’s extensive hike and bike trail network.
Speaking of pedestrian safety, the District embarked on an intersection enhancement project with TxDOT for six crossings along I-10 West from Kirkwood to Barker Cypress. The project will eventually improve pedestrian ramps, crosswalks, signals, lighting and aesthetics to provide a safer place for walkers, bicyclists and the disabled.
Two new bus shelters were installed bringing the total to 14 that The ECD has helped bring to the area. All were pressure washed recently.
In Grisby Square, The District will award a construction project for the Fortsmith Street Woonerf project, designed to enhance one of Houston’s unique dining destinations.
Along 1-10, more than 900 trees were planted. Elsewhere, District crews kept constant vigil on litter, mowing and weed removal along major thoroughfares – maintenance that makes it clear to see where the District begins and ends.
The District played a strong role in the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s (H-GAC) Subregional Transit Planning, advocating for multi-modal transportation solutions that may encourage people to get out of their single-occupancy vehicles.
One result: H-GAC directed its study team to consider a new scenario in which a mixed-use pedestrian and transit-oriented model using high-capacity, high-speed transit could connect The Energy Corridor, Memorial City/City Centre, Town & Country and Westchase.
To improve bus transit, The ECD worked closely with the ground-breaking Re-Imagining METRO study. METRO recently announced a draft plan for a larger service area and seven-day-a-week routes in The Energy Corridor. (For more see the following newsletter article).
CarShare– the ECD and Enterprise program to provide shared vehicles at work for people taking alternative transportation – announced lower overnight rates. ECD staffers promoted CarShare at several events – including EnergyFest, Technip’s Earth Day Fair and numerous Bike to Work lunch-and-learn sessions – to spread the word that people have an option to enjoy a shared car at work, thereby overcoming the main objection to carpooling, vanpooling or bus riding. Enterprise and The ECD have been working on a third CarShare installation.
A winter commuter survey garnered more than a 1,000 responses from Energy Corridor employees who weighed in on their view of transportation options. The District is using their opinions to investigate some unique solutions – like CARMA, a real-time, ridesharing information system that makes seat capacity known and available to passengers, provides convenient ticket purchasing options and enables extensive reporting capabilities.
EnergyFest 2014 moved to a single Eldridge Parkway location, bringing live music, kids’ activities, merchants and restaurants from The Energy Corridor and more to an appreciative crowd. Two consecutive years of EnergyFest have also introduced people to a street filled with interesting retailers and restaurants. The result may be an Eldridge merchants association, facilitated in part by The ECD.
The 2014 Energy Corridor Bike to Work Day drew new cyclists and garnered morning televised news coverage of both the ride and the post-ride party at Terry Hershey Park. Featuring vetted cycling routes and convoys with veteran bicycling commuters, the 10th annual event continued The ECD’s quest to introduce people to the benefits of biking to work.
Security and public safety
The District continued a vigilant program to provide a safe and secure environment with two Houston Police Department (HPD) patrol shifts per day, seven days a week.
ECD staff work closely with HPD officers, an HPD tactical team for hot spot response and a neighborhood code enforcement officer. The District’s quarterly Security and Public Safety free luncheon in April offered a fascinating firsthand look into the world of HPD SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics).
Area Master Planning
Texas A&M University’s Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning students presented the first part of a site plan designed to consider the entire urban realm with transformational transportation solutions and amenities that could increase the attractiveness and coherent feel within The District.
In April, The ECD held a forum on the future of The Energy Corridor, seeking views from numerous Energy Corridor companies and developers.
Those views, coupled with The District’s own Livable Centers vision, led to the creation of an Area Master Plan proposal that will engage top urban planning and architecture experts.
“With the impressive development projects planned for the next five years, our community faces a grand opportunity, and equally grand challenges,” says Martinson. “Transportation, urban design, economic development, maintenance, construction, public safety, beautification – if we can connect these under a central vision for both private and public spaces The Energy Corridor will remain a high-quality place in which to work, live and invest for years to come.”
Those are the highlights from a busy first half of 2014. Much more work takes place on a day-to-day basis, from managing construction, seeking grants to maintaining public spaces and advocating for the community in front of numerous government agencies. There’s more work to come. Stay tuned.