Houston, one of the country’s most dangerous cities for pedestrians, is ramping up efforts to improve the walkability of the fourth-largest city in the nation, according to David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, a non-profit that explores urban issues and growth in the Houston region.
The Houston metro area ranks seventh out of the top 10 cities hazardous to pedestrians, according to Dangerous by Design 2014, a report released by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, a national organization aimed at bringing better development to communities.
The biggest factor appears to be the speed of drivers, as 64 percent of pedestrian fatalities between 2003 and 2012 occurred on streets with speed limits of 40 mph or higher, the report says.
Houston, which previously planned streets solely around cars, is now budgeting money for sidewalks and other improvements to make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, Crossley says. Lower speed limits and changing street designs could prompt people to drive more slowly, he adds.
Last year, Mayor Annise Parker issued an executive order asking city planners to incorporate all types of users when they design improvements for streets.
“I think it is going to be steady, but slow progress,” Crossley says. “There is hope and the improvements are right around the corner. It is going to change because people in Houston want more walkable neighborhoods.”
Houston is increasing its efforts to improve pedestrian safety by rehabbing and repairing older sidewalks and constructing new ones, says Alvin Wright, senior staff analyst and public information officer for the City of Houston’s Public Works & Engineering Department.
In 2012, the city constructed 1.3 million square feet of sidewalks and ramps for pedestrians to use in various neighborhoods around the city, he says. Additional projects are planned through 2017 to improve and rebuild sidewalks, he says.
“There are a lot of opportunities to walk around downtown Houston,” Wright says. “We have seen a lot of growth in the city. Mobility for downtown Houston is extremely accessible.”
Last spring, pedestrians and cyclists in Houston took advantage of Sunday Streets HTX, a pilot program where several streets were closed off to motor vehicle traffic the first Sundays of the month for residents to walk, bike or run along the city’s streets safely.
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