Houston: East River Traffic Plan Goes to Planning Commission
Feature Photo (above): Site of the proposed East River development along Buffalo Bayou, as seen from the Hirsch Road bridge looking west toward downtown. Image: Google Maps
by Adolfo Pesquera
Houston (Harris County) – The developer of East River, a 150-acre master plan community, is scheduled to request variances on its street layout at today’s Planning Commission afternoon session.
Midway, the joint venture developer, is requesting the street widths be 50 feet instead of 60 feet for rights of way designated “local streets” with mixed non single family use. These are new streets, or include or are planned extensions of Bayou City Drive, Port View Avenue, George Brown Street, Herman Brown Street, Third Coast Avenue, Battery Street, Bayou Street, Zydeco Drive and Bringhurst Street.
In addition, Midway wants the city to allow intersection spacing of less than 600 feet along a major thoroughfare for intersecting local streets, and to have the city allow intersection spacing for a local street to be less than 400 feet between two major thoroughfares.
The East River master plan has a mixed use concept that will bring in retail, office, multifamily, townhomes, a theater and hotel, parking garages with ground floor retail, six parks and green spaces, and a hike/bike trail along the Buffalo Bayou.
East River is the former Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) complex; the company has been one of the largest global engineering and construction firms in the nation over the past century. The site is unique for its proximity to downtown–just one mile from the Central Business District–and for its size, being one of the largest tracts under single ownership so close to downtown.
The conceptual land use plan for East River. Courtesy of Midway.
The city staff statement of facts:
The proposed development will be horizontally and vertically mixed use. This will promote an active and lively street-level presence as well as incorporate many of the elements of the new urbanist movement.
With incorporating elements from the beginning and middle of the 20th century, this redevelopment will be friendly to all three modes of transportation: walking, biking, and driving.
Under the current Chapter 42 standards, we could hypothetically provide only one north/south public street throughout the entire development and no east/west streets. Alternatively, we have decided to incorporate several public streets, many aligning with connections to the north of the site, to create smaller and more walkable blocks.
This site will be able to be accessed easily both by future residents of the development and surrounding neighborhoods.
It will also activate the bayou frontage. There will be several connections to the bayou waterfront for pedestrians and the developer is granting an easement to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership to continue the trail system everyone is so fond of on the west side of downtown. Pedestrian bridges are being discussed with Buffalo Bayou Partnership to connect the two sides of the bayou.
The site layout for this development was designed with complete streets in mind. Pedestrians and bikes have received just as much attention as automobiles. There will be dedicated on-street bike lanes along Bayou City Drive, Gregg Street (in accordance with Houston Bike Plan), and Barbara Jordan Avenue. The rest of the development will have shared bike lanes, but the low speeds and traffic calming design measures undertaken will make it a safe development for all modes of transportation.
The developer is committed to promoting a live/work lifestyle with East River. This will be made possible by a truly mixed-use approach and through its proximity to the Central Business District, which is the largest employment center in Houston.
Most of the streets are proposed to have 50-foot rights-of-way with two lanes of moving traffic and curbside parking. There will be adjacent utility easements to accommodate public utilities that will not fit within the street right-of-way.
While this area was not included within the “street width exception area” because it was not expected to redevelop when that area was established in the 1980s, this design is common in exclusively residential areas and will allow the buildings to frame the streetscape.
Pushing them further apart with unneeded r.o.w. would create a more suburban character. Chapter 42 standards require only one intersecting street along Clinton between Jensen and Hirsch. However, many streets are proposed. For the most part, they match those on the north side, tying the neighborhoods together.
The “X” intersections are regarded safer than the off-set “T” intersections would be if we were not aligning with the streets to the north. No streets are required by Chapter 42 between Clinton Drive and Buffalo Bayou. The short distance between Clinton and the bridges across the bayou on Jensen and Hirsch limit the location of intersecting streets to a shorter distance than the standard 400 feet between a major thoroughfare intersection and a local street, but these connections to the north/south thoroughfare system are important for north/south area circulation.
Conceptual site plan for East River. Courtesy of Midway.
About East River
East River is envisioned as a multi-phase, mixed-use regional destination, which will include distinctive districts developed over more than a decade, according to Midway’s executive summary. Seventy percent of the project area is buildable, and Midway is dedicating about 17 acres for park use and green spaces.
East River will open more than a mile of waterfront that was inaccessible to the general public for decades. The civil engineering scope of this project will include new streets, drainage, sidewalks, lighting, bike and pedestrian acess, green spaces, parks and trails. The waterway feature will be equivalent in length to the Woodlands Waterway from Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion to Interstate 45.
The site is approximately the same size as an area of downtown Houston bounded by Main Street and Bagby Street from Commerce Street to Pease Street.
Early stage activities will invite people to experience the site. One early stage activity involved site work that saved 300 trees from redevelopment projects along Post Oak Boulevard in Uptown and other sites around Houston. Those trees were replanted on the property’s northern border, Clinton Drive. The trees will eventually be sited along public streets, pedestrian corridors and in the future parks of East River.
The project in design has several guiding principles. Among these is that it be urban in nature–scale, density, sensibility and aesthetic will fit a multicultural, international city. It will embrace local context and history, connect people to green spaces, and be a committed good steward of natural, cultural, financial and civic resources.
Aerial view of the former Kellogg, Brown, and Root industrial complex east of downtown Houston. Courtesy of Midway.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.