Let’s rethink city plans for road diets | Opinion


The leader published an op-ed by Adam Zuvanich on February 23 in support of the 11th Street revamp. In it, Mr. Zuvanich emphatically said, “Now is the time to step back, trust the city’s traffic engineers – who do this work for a living – and give 11th Street Bikeway a chance to work as planned. Does anyone remember Claytie Williams? He said something similar about the weather (and the rape)… “If it’s unavoidable, relax and enjoy it.”

Mr. Zuvanich’s unquestioning faith in the biased “facts” presented by David Fields, Houston’s chief transportation planner, is baffling and staggering.

We are a community of businesses and homeowners in Heights who have come together to form a coalition against this and other road plans City Hall plans to impose across Houston. We call our coalition ARTS – Alliance for Reasonable Traffic Solutions. Looking behind the numbers, we refute many of the facts Mr. Fields cited in support of his specious plan to put 11th Street on road diets to reduce accidents and increase safety. See notes below.

If safety and accident reduction are really a concern, then Mr. Fields’ facts would line up. But they don’t. Unexpectedly, he says there are too many accidents on the 11th caused by too few vehicles having too many lanes to maneuver in. Perhaps. But he says in one breath that there are too many accidents on the 11th, and in the next breath says that there is too much traffic for pedestrians and cyclists to cross safely. So what is it, too little traffic or too much? He attempts to stave off rising population, rigs the Federal Highway Administration’s road diet guidelines, invents the causes of accidents, and more. Moreover, he did not respond to residents’ questions, suggestions and concerns regarding this project, despite Mr. Zuvanich’s assurances.

The thing is, 11th Street is currently meeting Vision Zero goals. Given this, attention should be focused on improving safety at key intersections, foremost among which is Nicholson at 11th and Shepherd/Durham.

Also, the city has not studied or planned for traffic jams during peak periods, which will surely lead to increased air pollution from idling cars and trucks.

Traffic will be diverted to nearby streets in search of a way out of the gridlock, making nearby streets LESS safe. There is apparently no money for traffic calming measures such as speed bumps, speed pads, speed boards, etc. If Mr. Fields’ argument against a hybrid pedestrian beacon at Nicholson and 11th is that cars routinely run stop lights, what does he think is happening at stop signs?

The plan also does not take into account the walkways leading to the businesses of 11, which means that there is no protection for the cycle path at these points. And there are many aisles. Go see the Cavalcade cycle path. The cycle path will only be partially protected and there will be conflicts with cars and trucks entering and exiting the aisles of popular businesses.

We all want safer streets, but based on our assessment, we believe the focus should not be on a complete overhaul of 11th Street costing $600,000, but on fixing other safety issues. high-impact such as repairing sidewalks; redevelop pedestrian lanes and crosswalks; solutions for delays at the Nicholson bike crossing; and proper timing of signals for Durham and Shepherd. Today, floor markings and crosswalks are so faded on many streets that they have become difficult to follow during the day, are often invisible at night, and especially during rainstorms. Bike boulevards (Google it) should also be considered on alternate-route residential streets, along with bike signals on 11th and other similar improvements. These security measures are inexpensive, implemented quickly, and would likely be more popular.

RELATED: City should move forward with 11th Street Bike Path

Mr. Fields, as well as Mr. Zuvanich, will brush that aside, as he has in all of our interactions with him. None of this matters to him. But facts matter, words matter, truth matters. There is no consistent logic to this road diet. We should not have to suffer increased congestion, air pollution and safety problems due to arbitrary and capricious road regimes. Please join us if you think the city should plan better roads for Houston’s future that prioritize the safety of all stakeholders as well as achieving Houston’s zero carbon goals. Sign our petition on https://www.change.org/p/force-a-re-think-on-road-diets-11th-street-lane-reduction.


• At community meetings, Mr. Fields focused on reducing collisions. But 11th Street is not identified as a problem street in the Houston Vision Zero Plan-Nov 2020 “high wounds” map. [See page 14-15 (https://houstontx.gov/visionzero/pdf/VZAP_Final%20Report.pdf)] The city’s own brochure shows no reported fatalities in crashes in the 10-year period ending in 2019.

• Of a total of 506 accidents over a 10-year period (city data), 71% occur at six intersections: Shepherd/Durham (156), Dorothy (21), Yale/Heights (125) and Studewood (59 ). While Mr Fields suggests that the crashes are due to speeding and erratic lane changes, there is actually no data to support this claim. Driver distraction, DUI, etc. are also not quantified. (https://www.letstalkhouston.org/11th-street-bikeway) We also don’t know how many “crashes” are minor fender bends where no one was injured.

• The average crash benchmark for Texas four-lane highways is 356 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles. Using the city’s own data, most crashes (156) occurred in Durham/Shepherd (31% of the total). Thus, the rest of 11th Street (Dorothy to Michaux) has 350 accidents, which equates to 266 accidents per 100 million vehicle miles, or 25% less than the benchmark. So from Dorothy to Michaux, 11th Street does not exceed the crash markers that justify the project. In fact, it was totally misinterpreted throughout. We understand that the city plans to rework signage in Shepherd/Durham to reduce accidents.

• We noticed that the city is using old data from the period between 2014 and 2019. We know that many new apartment complexes were built in high places during the pandemic, which most likely increased the numbers of population. Analyzing the outdated data, however, we noticed something else. Historical population growth in the Heights is 260% greater than that used in the city’s forecasting models to determine traffic congestion on 11th Street. US Census data indicates that the population of our neighborhood increased by 13% between 2014 and 2019 (https://communityimpact.com/houston/heights-river-oaks-montrose/data-reference/2020/12/21/data-heights-river-oaks-montrose-area-has-added-over-15000-residents- in 5 years/). This represents an increase of 2.6% per year. By https://www.letstalkhouston.org/11th-street-bikeway#! “1% is generally considered a reasonable growth rate for built-up urban areas. For this project, this was used as a starting point. A detailed assessment of growth trends and new, planned and approved developments was conducted to refine the analysis. It was discovered that the newly generated traffic was not (sic) evenly distributed throughout the Heights community, and traffic along 11th Street is not expected to increase significantly. This claim is at its best, as any nearby resident can tell you.

• Even using outdated traffic volume and capacity data, eastbound traffic on 11th Street already exceeds federal traffic capacity guidelines for road diets for a 2-hour period beginning at 4 p.m. h. probably doable below 750 vphpd” or vehicles per hour per direction. The city chose to display the 800 vphpd limit so they could say that traffic is over capacity for only one hour. And that guideline assumes a traditional road scheme that reduces four lanes to three lanes with a center lane. Since the plane has no turn lane, the guideline is too high and no specific guideline is available for drastic lane reductions without a turn lane. More importantly, federal traffic capacity guidelines would be exceeded for more hours in the day, or at a higher capacity than indicated in Mr. Fields’ plan if correct population statistics were used or a count more recent traffic was carried out. The last traffic count was carried out in 2019.

• The pedestrian and bicycle light at 7th Street and Yale was apparently permitted to be placed there due to the fact that it is not a public street subject to Texas transportation guidelines. It is a public street east of Heights Boulevard and, for all intents and purposes, superficially appears to be a street between Heights Boulevard and Yale. If so, then the question arises whether public money was used to place a stop light there? And why not find a way to place a Hybrid Pedestrian Beacon (or PHB or HAWK Beacon) at Nicholson and 11th Street when it’s the one thing most in demand?

• Finally, road diets are a waste of taxpayers’ money. Houstonians are about to experience a massive increase in their tax bill. Taxpayer loathing for City Council members and other City Hall politicians will be greater than ever because consumers experience unprecedented price hikes on necessities such as gasoline, which cost now double what it was a year ago. Road diets can also negatively affect the market value of a business or home, especially if a traffic jam ensues.

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