“It’s amazing how putting tape on the ground can change people’s behaviors,” said Taylor McNeill, Associate Designer with Asakura Robinson, as cars parked in newly marked spots.
A one-day event, Saturday, April 29, used tape, chalk, trees, cones, and barrels to rapidly redesign a Houston intersection to be an inclusive, vibrant, and safe space for all types of users whether on foot or riding bicycles, wheelchairs, or cars. It was organized by McNeill and his colleagues, along with the East Downtown Management District and Rice Design Alliance. (Note that Rice Design Alliance is the publisher of OffCite.) Sponsors and in-kind donors included Kossev Realty Group, Trees for Houston, Bike Houston, Keep Houston Beautiful, Houston Sports Creek, Houston Dynamo, Wile Interests, and Taco Deli.
Asakura Robinson implemented phase one of a vision for Live Oak and Dallas streets that won the top prize of a charrette held by the Rice Design Alliance in partnership with the East Downtown Management District. The challenge for the charrette was “to transform the underutilized streets of EaDo and intersections identified in the program area into a multimodal streetscape that can support EaDo as it continues to mature into a vibrant community.”
This low-cost intervention created a roundabout to increase driver awareness, a median that could be turned into a pop-up market, narrower street lanes to calm traffic, and, most importantly, community appreciation through engagement from residents of the neighborhood. There was an art installation, street chalk, and free breakfast tacos from Houston’s newest taco obsession, Taco Deli.
Residents responded positively, hoping that the concept sticks. Houston City Councilman Gallegos and members of the Houston Police Department spoke with residents, showing what can happen when a physical space is used for engagement.
Anton Sinkewich, Executive Director of the East Downtown Management District, said, “I’m excited about the potential of what this could mean. It seems that [residents of] Live Oak Street have fallen right in and used this as if it has been here for years, and with the low traffic counts we have on these streets, installing a median would hopefully be something we could do permanently.”
This "tactical" approach produced interventions that residents can respond to before the city and management district spend thousands on design drawings that require permits and may not accurately respond to the needs of users. The resulting public conversation and experimentation goes beyond what takes place under normal policy and bureaucratic framework. Paint and semi-permanent traffic calming devices (flexible delineators, reflective markers, botts dots, etc.) can lead to more permanent changes over time, as has been the case with many plazas in New York. With a series of small investments, in a short period of time, EaDo could achieve a sense of place unlike anywhere else in Houston.
At the time of this writing, the tape remains in place and continues to shape how people drive, park, and walk at the intersection. The trees from Trees for Houston will be planted permanently.