In public comments made May 16, Houston Mayor John Whitmire doubled down on an ongoing review his administration is conducting of planned transportation projects in the city that involve narrowing or reducing vehicle lanes.

Whitmire, speaking to an audience gathered at a State of Mobility event hosted by Transportation Advocacy Group Houston, said the city "will not sacrifice general mobility for recreation."

The full story

Whitmire paused all transportation projects in March that would modify or change the use of vehicle lanes.

Marlene Gafrick, Houston’s director of planning and development, said the pause is intended to allow the administration time to review projects and decide which roads need to be redesigned.

“Going back to the [transportation] pause, we are doing things right,” Whitmire said at the TAG event. “We have to start doing projects that people will use across our region. Mobility is our No. 1 priority.”

The pause has generated contention among Houstonians, including residents in the Heights and Montrose areas who have spoken out against the pause and in favor of projects along 11th Street, Shepherd and Durham drives, and Montrose Boulevard, among other streets. With some of the projects involving bicycle lanes or shared-use paths, cycling advocates have also taken issue with Whitmire's framing of the projects as for "recreational" purposes, arguing that people should have options beyond cars for how to get around the city.

Taking a step back

The pause was first made public when Whitmire tasked the Houston Public Works Department with evaluating the effectiveness and impact of the 11th Street Bikeway project. That project was carried out as a way to improve safety and reduce speeds along 11th Street, which planners said was prone to a high number of crashes as well as speeding vehicles. The Texas chapter of the American Public Works Association dubbed the 11th Street redesign as the 2024 In-House Project of the year in an announcement in early March.

Erin Jones, public information officer for Houston Public Works, said Whitmire is trying to get a firsthand view of all city of Houston departments and the significant projects, programs and initiatives—a list that includes transportation and mobility.

A closer look

Abbie Kamin, Houston City Council member for District C—which covers the Shepherd-Durham, 11th Street and Montrose projects—said she requested a sit-down meeting with Whitmire to discuss the implications of redesigning the Shepherd-Durham corridor in particular, which she said the Memorial Heights Redevelopment Authority was tasked with doing last week.

“When council has unanimously voted on projects that have gone through community engagement, years of planning and received overwhelming support, I’m concerned when there is an administrative decision to halt infrastructure-based safety and drainage projects,” she said. “We worked hard to get the federal dollars for Durham-Shepherd. At a time when the city is under severe financial constraints, we should not be putting at risk dollars like this that bring much-needed improvements as well as an economic engine that will revitalize the corridor.”

Kamin said she has received 195 comments from residents in favor of the Shepherd-Durham project and only two who oppose.

Whitmire said he has heard thousands of comments from residents who oppose the project.

“We have to be mindful of walkability, pedestrian crosswalks, bike paths, 10-foot sidewalks—I could go on and on about the issues,” he said. “Durham-Shepherd keeps folks off of [Loop] 610. It keeps them off I-45, takes them down to Memorial to the Medical Center to the city of Houston. So, let’s all tell the rest of the story.”

Stay tuned

As of May 16, no timeline has been given regarding the length of the pause.