On the Road

Menage à transit: Could three-way street strategy ease Houston congestion?

Menage à transit: Could three-way street strategy ease Houston congestion?

News_Three Lanes

After decades in which car drivers remained masters of their own street domain, two guest stars are finally winning some attention: Bicyclists and pedestrians. Like any new experience, the three-way sensation is cause for growing pains among many commuters, be it vehicles unwilling to share the roads, above-the-law bicyclists or jaywalking pedestrians.

The palpable need for a paradigm shift is being taken up by New York's School of Visual Arts student Ron Gabriel. For his masters thesis, Gabriel monitored a busy Manhattan intersection (Park Avenue South and 28th Street), identifying naughty navigating and general misuse of the streets. Check out the graphic analysis video below:

Gabriel's vision is the "3-Way Street" campaign, which advocates for all users of the streets to understand their interconnected roles. The campaign doesn't advocate three separate lanes, but a change in mentality of how to compose choreography between curbs.

Statistics bolster Gabriel's thesis. From 2000 to 2009, more than 47,700 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. — the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing roughly every month. What's more, 688,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, meaning that on average, a pedestrian was struck by a car or truck every seven minutes. Of course, reseting our commuting mentality is not just about safety, but also quality of life: How can we re-learn to enjoy getting from point A to point B?

Houston is no stranger to the perils of cars vs. everyone else politics. The Houston metro region ranks ninth among the most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians in the nation, according to a report from Transportation for America. However, rumblings of transportation progress can be felt on both the grassroots and bureaucratic fronts.

In February, State. Rep. Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving) and Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) filed "Complete Streets" legislation, requiring the Texas Department of Transportation to "recognize that bicycle, pedestrian and transit modes are integral elements of the transportation system" and develop safer streets for people to walk, bike or drive. 

TxDOT recently incorporated Context Sensitive Solutions into their design manual and adopted a policy of considering pedestrian and bicycle design in all road projects. And on June 4, the People Powered Parade for Complete Streets launched at City Hall, marching towards the Free Press Summerfest at Eleanor Tinsley Park while garnering signatures for their petition for Complete Streets.

Regarding Gabriel's plan, METRO CEO George Greanias tells CultureMap, "Granted, it's a study of New York, but the point applies to any city where you've got to ask, 'Are we creating an environment where we're not putting barriers on anyone who wants to get around without a car?' "

Greanias admits that Houston has much work to do before it can confidently answer that question. "We've provided great access for cars, but look at the condition of our sidewalks, or the lack thereof," he said.

Implementing the infrastructure will not only physically get people around more safely and efficiently — it will also signal that the city values non-drivers.

"When you don't put in a bicycle path or sidewalk, it communicates that those modes are not important. But when METRO builds more bus shelters or demands wider sidewalks, it says that we not only value these alternatives, but actively support them," Grenias said.