Well-designed and well-implemented infrastructure connects people to jobs, schools, and services. Safe and accessible sidewalks promote public health and environmentalism. Unfortunately, in Houston people who walk, use a wheelchair, or bike are vulnerable because of non-existent, poor quality, or even dangerous infrastructure. LINK Houston recently piloted S.A.F.E. Sidewalks (Safety and Accessibility for Equitable Sidewalks) in Second Ward to help raise awareness of the importance of safe and accessible infrastructure.

S.A.F.E. Sidewalks involved residents and volunteers auditing sidewalk existence and condition side-by-side. We collected information across a half square mile in the Second Ward neighborhood, collecting data and images of the infrastructure. Connected, safe, and accessible sidewalks existed in some areas but in other areas sidewalks do not exist or are in varying states of disrepair – making walking and rolling dangerous, inaccessible, and unpleasant.

Several stakeholders, including the City of Houston, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZs), Management Districts, and METRO play a role in building and maintaining sidewalks. Most of the investments focus on commercial areas, leaving individuals with the responsibility to build and maintain sidewalks adjacent to their properties, resulting in an inequitable system with an incomplete sidewalk network.

City officials emphasize the value of walkability and promote initiatives such as the Vision Zero Action Plan, Climate Action Plan, and the Resilient Houston Strategy, however Houstonians continue to face poor and dangerous sidewalks due to limited funding sources and political will to prioritize investments and improvements for people who walk and roll. Changes in how the city funds sidewalks may be coming with a new ordinance currently being developed by the City of Houston Planning and Development Department. To view a presentation about the proposed ordinance which would create a “fee in lieu” structure, watch the most recent Super Neighborhood Alliance meeting recording. The presentation starts 20 minutes in. The Planning Department is still ironing out all the details of the ordinance before starting a public comment process.

In the coming weeks, LINK Houston will share additional information about the proposed ordinance as well as an interactive StoryMap about our S.A.F.E. Sidewalk work in our Second Ward pilot community.

March 1, 2022