Peter H. Brown
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Making Houston a More Walkable City

Making Houston a More Walkable City
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Photo: James Fremont

 

Pedestrian Pete loves cities and city life; that‘s why I want Houston to be the best it can possibly be (okay, within certain limitations, like weather and traffic) for all of our diverse peoples. There is a great future ahead!

 

All Cities are Unique, But in Many Ways are Much the Same

From a blogger in Helsinki, Finland:

“My neighborhood is a fantastic and lively place to live. Most services are within a couple of blocks; there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from; you can hang out in a number of parks, and connections (street car, subway) to other parts of the city are superb!”

Most city dwellers want exactly this, except for dreamers hoping for greener pastures in the suburbs. Coastal cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, Boston, and New York, offer just that, but not yet here in Texas — Houston, Dallas and Austin. Check out SustainableCitiesCollective, the website for “the world’s best thinkers on the urban future.”

 

More Freeways = More Cars, Construction, Congestion and Neighborhood Disruption

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is about to spend over $70 billion of tax-payer funds on massive new freeway construction in Houston’s central core and along radial expressways like I-45 North, US 290 and US 59. This means extended traffic delays and protracted disruption inside the Loop and beyond. Is it really worth it? Meanwhile, cities really concerned about improving their quality of life (say Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and now even Dallas) are actually dismantling freeways, replacing them with attractive landscaped high-capacity boulevards and parks. It’s cheaper and less disruptive. Astounding fact: Portland has not added a new freeway lane for the past 30 years. Yet, traffic congestion is under control!

So let’s hear from the anti-freeway, anti-congestion, anti-sprawl advocates in Houston? Pedestrian Pete says, “Let’s not knuckle under to the greedy Highway Men!” They don’t care about our quality of life.

 

Why Does TxDOT Only Focus on Roads and Highways and Ignore Mass Transit, Biking and Walking?

It makes no sense, unless the goal is sweetheart contracts for engineers and heavy construction companies, rather than actually solving our transportation problems.

To weigh in: Email Alan Clark at the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC which controls a lot of our federal/state transportation dollars) at [email protected].

 

Pedestrian Pete’s Take

Pedestrian Pete is often astounded by how we invest public dollars in a lot of dumb stuff, like unnecessary freeways and road building instead of mass transit and flood control? But what about smaller items like unhealthy school lunches and short-changing basic school supplies (think pencils and paper) for our kids? Should so many highly paid police officers be sitting behind desks, rather than working on patrol in known high crime areas, armed with GPS smart phones? What about trying to fix our many broken-down neighborhoods, without the benefits of land use and smart regulations necessary to stimulate real change? Other cities have figured it out, but so far, not here in Houston!

 

How Safe Are We Here in America?

Pedestrian Pete feels safe, except for careless drivers. According to Vox.com, “America today is safer place, by far, than 25-30 years ago.” Sure there is some highly publicized violence on city streets and in public places, and endemic crime in low income neighborhoods, but recent statistics show that Americans live “in one of the safest periods in American history.” Murder rates and violent crimes are about half today compared to 25-30 years ago. Sure we need to do better, particularly in predictive, smart policing, in reducing blight and poverty (how about a minimum wage of at least $12 per hour?), and better access to education and health care for all.

So don’t listen to the “America is a mess” politicians pandering to voters’ fears about uncontrolled violence and immigrants on a crime spree. It just isn’t happening. Au contraire, immigrants have made enormous contributions to our economy, to engineering, the sciences and medicine; they provide important global connections, and enrich our diverse arts and culture. Pedestrian Pete knows his Middle Eastern and Indian doctors at M.D. Anderson have enabled my recovery from Stage 4 kidney cancer!

 

So what is Pedestrian Pete actually afraid of?

  • Global warming and the catastrophic effects of climate change.
  • Death and carnage on our highways.
  • Growing poverty and hunger in America, the decline of our middle class, and the immoral “wealth gap.”
  • Corporate greed and big money in politics weakening our democracy. Yes, end “Citizens United!”
  • Prejudice against immigrant families, especially Muslims. (It’s ISIS’ best recruiting tool!)
  • Underfunded public schools, where kids are simply not learning.
  • Political gridlock in Washington, D.C. Too much pandering and “pay-to-play!”

Okay readers, let Pete know what you are afraid of by emailing [email protected]

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt