The way for­ward: Bet­ter light­ing, sig­nals, signs and ramps

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUT OF CONTROL -

By Dug Be­g­ley STAFF WRITER

Re­design­ing Hous­ton-area in­ter­sec­tions so they are safer for pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists is well within reach of lo­cal of­fi­cials. They just need a lit­tle money, a lit­tle time and a lit­tle more con­sid­er­a­tion of how streets are re­ally used.

“There is some pretty good stuff out there, with some chal­lenges,” said Ian Hlavacek of Hous­ton Pub­lic Works, dur­ing a dis­cus­sion of six prob­lem in­ter­sec­tions.

Prob­lems typ­i­cally fall into three cat­e­gories: Driv­ers can­not see pedes­tri­ans, pedes­tri­ans can­not see driv­ers, or the road isn’t built to let them safely share the right of way.

Nu­mer­ous in­ter­sec­tions along Bel­laire in Chi­na­town, im­proved in the past four years, have wide side­walks and nice ramps at cross­ings for dis­abled res­i­dents. Still, the in­ter­sec­tions lack re­flec­tive paint, and ramps are a step or two away from lanes where cars speed around turns.

Tow­er­ing beige pil­lars for street­light poles, meant to give the area a dis­tinc­tive look, also give the in­ter­sec­tions poor vis­i­bil­ity. The wide bases in some spots block driv­ers and pedes­tri­ans from see­ing one an­other.

“From a car stand­point, this is a great in­ter­sec­tion,” said Jeff Weather­ford, deputy di­rec­tor of city pub­lic works in charge of traf­fic op­er­a­tions. “From a pedes­trian stand­point, not so much.”

The re­gion is lit­tered with sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions: Cross­walk lines long faded by the Texas sun or washed away by heavy Gulf storms. Cracked side­walks that end in muddy messes where road trash and de­bris col­lects. A lack of proper signs telling driv­ers to ex­pect bi­cy­clists and share the road where cy­cling is com­mon.

“That’s cheap and easy stuff,” said Christof Spieler, a for­mer mem­ber of the Metropoli­tan Tran­sit Author­ity board who has ad­vo­cated for more walk­a­ble de­sign of lo­cal streets.

A num­ber of op­tions abound, ad­vo­cates and of­fi­cials say:

Light it up

Ma­jor cross­ings in the Hous­ton area, es­pe­cially along frontage roads in com­mu­ni­ties where walk­ing is more com­mon, should be well lit and striped with re­flec­tive ma­te­ri­als to im­prove the chances of driv­ers see­ing pedes­tri­ans and oth­ers. Fon­dren, in south­west Hous­ton, has many faded and poorly lit lo­ca­tions. High-vis­i­bil­ity cross­walks can re­duce crashes by 23 to 48 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing

Many sig­nals in Hous­ton are timed so pedes­tri­ans re­ceive a sig­nal to walk when lights turn green. Some­times that means a driver hook­ing a right doesn’t think some­one is about to step off the side­walk, a com­mon prob­lem in down­town. Re-tim­ing the lights so a pedes­trian gets a slight head start of a sec­ond or two al­lows them to pro­ceed into the in­ter­sec­tion, where they are more no­tice­able.

Don’t hide the signs

Re­strict­ing where peo­ple can take right turns on red is only half of the so­lu­tion to safety. Of­fi­cials must alert driv­ers to the rules with clear, easy-to-spot signs. Along some Hous­ton streets, even where there is a pro­hi­bi­tion on right turns on red, such as Bel­laire and Ranch­ester, the signs are hard to see.

Park­ing pro­tec­tion

In ar­eas such as Mon­trose, on­street park­ing can pro­vide an added layer of safety by put­ting some­thing — cars — be­tween mov­ing traf­fic and pedes­tri­ans.

Bridg­ing the gap

Free­ways slice through many com­mu­ni­ties, such as Gulfton, where apart­ments are on one side and many jobs are on the other. Large pedes­trian bridges in the mid­dle of ma­jor blocks could help get them to work and back home safely.

See­ing red

Along Nav­i­ga­tion and in Rice Vil­lage, ma­jor pedes­trian cross­ings out­fit­ted with flash­ing red lights that give pedes­tri­ans their own mid-block cross­ing have helped cor­ral jay­walk­ing and con­nected peo­ple to des­ti­na­tions. An­other is go­ing in on Mon­trose Boule­vard, near the Mu­seum of Fine Arts, Hous­ton’s new out­door space.

Mak­ing safe spa­ces

Hous­ton-area driv­ers love their turn lanes, but they of­fer lit­tle re­lief for pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists. Adding well-placed me­di­ans, such as along Wash­ing­ton at Pat­ter­son in the Rice Mil­i­tary area, could give peo­ple try­ing to cross the street a halfway point where they could see on­com­ing traf­fic. On ma­jor streets, such as Bel­laire, the me­di­ans also give those who can’t make it all the way across in time a place to wait.

In­creased vis­i­bil­ity for driv­ers, pedes­tri­ans at core of so­lu­tions

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