Leigh Killgore still has her doubts about the plan to reconfigure traffic on a busy stretch of 11th Street in the Heights. She’s worried about the possibility for increased congestion, especially amidst accelerated development in the area, and she’s not convinced that a reduction in vehicle lanes along with the addition of bicycle lanes will make the street safer.
But Killgore, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of the City of Houston’s vision for a road diet on 11th, has decided to stop fighting it. She said she even supports it, albeit begrudgingly.
“My feeling is you’ve got to let it work,” said Killgore, a Timbergrove Manor resident and president of the Super Neighborhood 14 Council. “Let it happen and see what happens.”
After weighing community feedback for the better part of a year, Houston Public Works and the city’s Planning & Development Department recently decided to move forward with the road diet and pushed the project into the design phase. It is being funded as part of the Houston Bike Plan, which was adopted by the city council in 2017 and allocates $1.1 million per year to projects aimed at making Houston safer and more accessible for cyclists.
The city will restripe 11th Street, roughly between North Shepherd Drive and Michaux Street, to change it from a four-lane configuration, with two lanes of traffic going in each direction, into one lane going each way with a center left-turn lane and protected bike lanes on the outside of the road. A median refuge island will be installed at the crossing of the Heights Hike and Bike Trail at 11th and Nicholson Street – identified as one of the most dangerous spots in the city for cyclists – and possibly at other major intersections along 11th.
“We are looking forward to this project. We think it’s really great,” said Clark Martinson, executive director of the nonprofit BikeHouston. “We think it’s really just safer for people in cars and encourages walking and makes it more convenient to make me ride my bike to the front door to all those businesses (on 11th).”
Jennifer Ostlind, assistant director of the planning and development department, said she expects the design phase to last up to three months. She said the road could be reconfigured by the summer or fall.
Ostlind said the city, which held community engagement meetings about the project in March and May of last year, will continue communicating with residents throughout the design phase and still welcomes input. She said city officials also will monitor the impact of the road diet, with the possibility of returning the road to its current configuration if the changes don’t pan out as expected.
“There are no guarantees,” she said, “but a very high probability that it can make a difference.”
Lauren Grove, a transportation planner for the city, said she’s “confident” that the road diet will have the desired effect in terms of calming traffic and reducing collisions. On that stretch of 11th Street, 516 crashes were reported to the Houston Police Department between 2010-19.
Ostlind said traffic studies show that four-lane, undivided configurations – the way the road is now – are the most dangerous. The purpose of adding a center turn lane, and reducing the number of lanes going in each direction, is to limit speeding, sudden lane changes and other forms of aggressive driving.
Some community members have questioned the idea, saying a reduction in lanes will lead to increased congestion.
“I totally understand that people think it’s just going to make things worse,” Grove said. “It’s one of those things that I didn’t believe until I saw it happen in other cities. And it just works.”
After Killgore questioned the city’s traffic modeling, suggesting it did not adequately factor in growth in the area in the coming years, Ostlind said the city considered the data Killgore presented and recomputed its model. The result was essentially the same, Ostlind said.
The city still proceeded slowly and cautiously with respect to the project. Ostlind said city officials waited until the installation of new District C city council member Abbie Kamin, who was elected in December, so they could consult with her and make sure she was on board with the plan.
Now it’s moving forward.
“We understand there’s still some folks who have some concerns about it,” Ostlind said. “We are committed to, No. 1, communicating with the community as we go through the design process. … There’s some things that still need to be clarified. And we’re committed to monitoring how it works once it’s done and implemented.”