For Houstonians commuting between River Oaks and Downtown, Allen Parkway has traditionally been most convenient. The three-lane highway’s lack of congestion compared to other regional roadways has made it a blessing for commuters. Unfortunately, Houston City Council thinks it’s just too convenient.
After the Allen Parkway Improvement Plan is completed, motorists will see: more traffic lights, pedestrian crosswalks, a reduction in the number of lanes, and more foliage added along the route. Aside from the new plants, all of the proposed additions will make for a slower commute for drivers who rely on the parkway. Shockingly, that’s precisely the goal.
Bob Eury, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority President, said that the changes would increase commute times by only 60 seconds. While that may be true about non-peak hours, it’s hard to believe that rush hour commuters will only be inconvenienced by a minute when unnecessary traffic lights are added. And even if accurate, why intentionally make traffic worse?
Supporters say the parkway’s reimaging will return it to “the peaceful drive it was designed to be more than 80 years ago,” when Houston’s populations was 80% smaller. It seems hypocritical that Mayor Parker regularly emphasizes the need for “better infrastructure” in Houston only to support projects that undermine its usefulness. If she is sincere, why is she willing to waste taxpayer funds in 2015 on a project that will revert the roadway to the 1930’s? The proposal is anything but “progressive.”
Council Member Ellen Cohen, whose district covers Allen Parkway, wants Houstonians to stop treating it as a freeway.
Apparently, Cohen believes too many residents are using the road, which was intended to be a “parkway” not a “highway.” Shame on you, Houston residents!
The more substantive problem, however, is that TIRZ funds are only to be used to “encourage development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner,” not on beautification projects in one of the most sought after districts by Houston-area developers.
Along with reducing the number lanes and adding traffic signals, the proposed changes also include: improving pedestrian and bicyclist access points from Midtown and Montrose to Buffalo Bayou Park, and adding 175 parking spaces for visitors. All of the alterations are dubiously labeled, “public safety measures” by Mayor Parker, Council Member Cohen, and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority. As evidenced by the past, there will be no effective way to stop pedestrians and cyclists from crossing at any point along the roadway, just as they do now.
After looking at the many alternative options, a complete rebuild of the parkway seems the most expensive and inefficient way to reach their goal. Pedestrian overpasses can be built for as little as $500,000 and would be a cost effective alternative that wouldn’t impede the traffic flow. Even underpasses, while not as affordable as overpasses, wouldn’t add to the traffic burden and would significantly reduce the number of pedestrians trying to cross the parkway to get to buffalo bayou.
Houston’s traffic woes are a very real concern to residents and any change that will make the problem worse should be stopped. The inappropriate use of dedicated funds, while simultaneously complaining about the alleged “lack of funds” for core city services is offensive and hypocritical. Bayou City residents’ taxes should be used to improve their quality of life, not squandered on intentionally making it worse.