The City of Houston’s commitments to expand the Safer Streets Initiative on April 11 and April 17, 2019 are a result of a year’s worth of data analysis and advocacy by LINK Houston, partner stakeholders like BikeHouston, and community members. Nearly a year after Mayor Turner’s initial announcement to expand the Safer Streets Initiative across Houston during Bike to Work Day in May 2018, he reiterated the City’s commitment to improve safety and accessibility for people with disabilities, and those walking, biking, as well as in cars, and announced new commitments on safety education, infrastructure, and law enforcement.We at LINK Houston want to make sure that the commitments made last month are not forgotten. To this end, we have created an inventory of all the announcements to help ensure local officials are accountable to promises they made.The following are public commitments made by Mayor Turner and other City of Houston officials in April 2019:
City Safer Streets Initiative
- A plan of immediate and short-term changes to improve pedestrian safety and accessibility within Houston sidewalks, crosswalks, and intersections.
Changes at Shepherd Drive and 10th Street
- Pedestrians will be directed to the stop at 10th Street which will receive access improvements via METRO’s new Universal Accessibility initiative (proposed to have all 9,000 bus stops to be universally accessible by 2024).
- Houston Public Works will add accessible curb cuts and ramps to crosswalks at Shepherd near 10th Street.
- Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock will develop a plan for further safe crosswalk upgrades on Shepherd near 10th Street with a timeline for completion of said improvements.
- In this calendar year, Houston Public Works will install accessible ramps, a crosswalk, and a hybrid pedestrian beacon (i.e., pedestrian activated traffic signal to stop vehicles) on Shepherd south of 10th Street.
- Houston Public Works will look at other areas in town where similar improvements will also improve safety.
Road Safety Audits
- Houston Public Works addressed most short-term recommendations at the first six of the 12 most dangerous intersections; short-term recommendations will be implemented for the remaining six priority intersections from 2018.
Reporting Safety Issues
- City of Houston added a new service request within its 3-1-1 system, so that anyone can specifically report sidewalk and intersection safety problems (including accessibility concerns).
- An operator script has been drafted for 3-1-1 call center staff to equip for response to calls.
- The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and Houston Public Works will work together to ensure all calls are routed to appropriate city personnel to allow the City to better understand and prioritize safety and accessibility improvements.
Communications and Management
- Mayor Turner will appoint a Safer Streets Coordinator to address and manage safety improvements.
- The City of Houston will establish a Pedestrian Accessibility and Safety Task Force that will focus on drafting long-term recommendations for the City of Houston to pursue.
- The City of Houston will create a dashboard to track deadly crashes involving people with disabilities and people walking or biking.
- The City of Houston will support a Public Awareness Campaign to change driver culture and behavior by reducing distracted driving and raising visibility of pedestrian needs through traditional media, print, and social media.
- The Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities announced increased investment in the Pedestrian Accessibility Review Program, a platform for people with disabilities to report access barriers on sidewalks and committed to completing review of all existing current pedestrian accessibility reviews request by the end of calendar year 2019.
- The Planning and Development Department, Houston Public Works, and Mayor’s Office will create a new sidewalk ordinance that allows for removal of obstacles on sidewalks that pose risk to public health and safety.
- Mayor Turner invited people to a community walk-in event in the near future (two to three weeks) to help him get a sense of what people with a disability experience on Houston sidewalks.
- Houston Police Department will devote greater resources to enforce existing laws like speed limits and the safe passing ordinance.
- METRO committed $10 million this fiscal year to upgrade bus concrete pads, shelters, and adjacent sidewalks.
- The Houston-Galveston Area Council Transportation Policy Council allocated $30 million to METRO for accessibility improvements from Congestion Mitigation Air Quality federal funds. Additionally, METRO will allocate $70 million under their forthcoming METRONext Moving Forward long-range transit plan to advance universal accessibility.
- METRO evaluated all 9,300 bus stops in order to prioritize improvements based on need and present accessibility.
- METRO established a dedicated liaison to the City’s planning committee.
- METRO’s new bus stop standard is now part of the City’s Infrastructure Design Manual.
- METRO is actively working on first and last mile projects to improve safe and accessible access to transit and destinations.
- METRO formed a regional taskforce with City of Houston and Harris County to ensure regional projects are universally accessible and safe.
Gulfton Area Announcements
- Together for Safer Roads will commit $125,000 seed funding toward community engagement, a STEM summer program, and technology pilot study to quantify near-misses to measure progress in the Gulfton neighborhood to improve safety and accessibility.
- Houston Public Works will earmark $500,000 in intersection funds for Hillcroft Avenue and Bellaire Boulevard to work on long-term improvements, including a signalized pedestrian crosswalk, wider sidewalks, new curbs, bigger bus shelters, bike lanes, and possible reduction of motor-vehicle lanes.
In 2018, crashes killed 69 people walking or biking on Houston’s roads. The deadly carnage on our streets is a serious public safety and health crisis. We as advocates must continue our work to hold officials accountable to the promises they made. Collectively, we can’t afford to stall this process.