In 2010, the Houston-Galveston Area Council completed the Northside Livable Centers Planning Study, identifying the “heart of Northside Houston” as the area located near Quitman and Fulton streets. The subsequent Greater Northside Management District (GNMD) Pedestrian/Transit Access Master Plan assigned the area a woeful grade of “D” in pedestrian level of service.
When Houston’s light rail system was extended into Houston’s Near Northside neighborhoods in 2013, extending transit access into the established community north of downtown, investment and improvement began. Access to transit and connectivity increased the significance of safety and highlighted accessibility deficits.
Beginning with the 2010 study, the GNMD orchestrated analytical resources, residents and stakeholders, funding sources, and local governmental jurisdictions to build a team and shepherd a project that will cohesively address community and quality-of-life issues in one of the remaining established Houston neighborhoods that has retained its character.
In 2015, the Houston-Galveston Area Council awarded funding for the district’s first capital infrastructure project for improvements to the pedestrian realm within a mile of Quitman Street. The goal was to address safety and accessibility and to “enhance the sense of place and preserve the cultural fabric” of the area. Partnerships with Houston Metro, the City of Houston, Harris County Precinct 2, and the Goodman Corporation have increased the scope and reach of the project.
TBG Partners was retained as landscape architect and urban designer in 2019 and began working with the input of community stakeholders to design streetscape improvements for the corridor. GNMD also engaged in a workshop process with the University of Houston Community Design Resource Center to develop the “Urban Design Toolkit,” a document identifying specific strategies to create and preserve a cohesive visual urban environment.
The project ensures that the grade for pedestrian level of service will significantly improve via the creation of a safe and accessible pedestrian realm and the addition of bike lanes separated from both pedestrians and motor vehicles. Thoughtful landscaping, cohesive street lighting, and wayfinding signage will ease use of the district, while public art by local artists will keep community values present in the experience of the improved spaces. In addition, streetscape amenities, including benches, shelters, and bike racks, will be located throughout.
When completed in the summer of 2022, the Quitman Pedestrian-Transit Improvements Project should bring together City of Houston and Metro bike lanes, the MetroRail, and pedestrian improvements to create a connected and safe environment reflecting the timeless, historic, and informal urban character of the neighborhood as defined by the community.
Kristin Schuster, AIA, is founding principal of Inflection Architecture and an adjunct professor at the University of Houston College of Architecture and Design.