Mayor's Office

State of Mobility Speech

Text as written

Mayor Sylvester Turner May 27, 2021 --Welcome and Thanks

  • TAG Houston
  • Houston City Council
  • Harris County
  • TxDOT
  • HGAC
  • Houston Bike Share
  • Houston Parks Board
  • Bike Houston
  • LINK Houston
  • Greater Houston Partnership
  • And many more. 

I want to start by asking you all a question.  And I want you to answer out loud.

How did you get here today?

Most of you answered that you drove here, right?

Of course, you did.  That’s the city we have built for so long.  That’s the choice we have invested so much money in.  After years and years of investing in our City, we know people use what we build.  Our biggest investments, by a wide margin, is our investment in our roads.  And people have taken us up on that investment and mostly travel throughout our region using those roads.

Believe it or not, it is not the only way people travel.  People use ALL the modes we invest in.  Decades ago, we invested in METRO and today we have one of the most successful bus-based Park & Ride systems in the country. You might not know it, but Houston is a walking and a biking city too.  We have people using every travel choice we give them, and they use every one of those choices every single day of the year.  You might drive to work Downtown, or you might ride METRORail to the Texas Medical Center.  You might walk with a colleague to lunch or bike with your child to school.  And a system that provides you these travel choices, one that grows those systems and lets everyone travel safely by whichever mode they choose: that is the future of Houston.  We have embraced our paradigm shift from a Driving City.  I now envision Houston as a City for all, served by all modes.  Houston will be a multimodal city.

Why should Houston be a multimodal city?  Why shouldn’t we continue to build more roads, wider roads, faster roads, everywhere?  Because the more roads we build and the more space we dedicate to DRIVING, the more space we lose for DOING. You cannot fully experience Houston from the freeway. If we focus so much on roads for the trip, we miss being a Destination.

And Houston’s future is a Destination -- a destination for residents and visitors from across the country and all over the world. A place where people want to live, want to do business, want to visit and see what it’s all about.  It is impossible to be a destination at 70 miles per hour.

To be that Destination City we must be a Walkable City, one where people can walk out of their home in Acres Home, or walk out of their hotel downtown, or walk out their Air B&B in Montrose, and walk safely and comfortably, along sidewalks and across streets, to a café or an office, to the Convention Center or a store. This past year we made our City more walkable with 50 miles of new and reconstructed sidewalks, we piloted the first ever Slow Streets project in Eastwood, and we conducted the City’s first Connectivity Study, working with Council Member Kamin to improve connections between Montrose and Midtown. We also promised that everyone could walk safely and released our Vision Zero Action Plan.  Because we can eliminate death and serious injuries on our roadways.

To be that Destination City we must be a Bikeable City, one where people can bike at any age along our existing 340 miles of bike facilities today or the 1,800 miles of bike facilities we’re planning.  This year alone, we added 13 miles and have another 50 miles in design or construction.  And people can bring their own bike or use our 800 BCycles, including 100 electric bikes provided by Harris County Precinct 1.

To be that Destination City we must be able to connect to transit and ride it anywhere we want to go.  METRO is a great partner to us with METRONext as their guide for the future.  METRO  operated even in the midst of the pandemic, they opened the METRORapid Silver Line in August with dedicated bus lanes along Post Oak Boulevard connecting Uptown Houston to two major transit centers, and they’re now kicking off their first BOOST Routes: the 54 Scott and 56 Airline/Montrose to provide a Better Walk, a Better Stop, and a Better Shelter.

To be that Destination City we must imagine transit as even more than Metro’s buses and rail.  We need transit to connect us to the whole state of Texas and beyond by moving more people in fewer vehicles and at higher speeds.  At this scale, we’re working with Texas Central on their High-Speed Train Project, so that residents, businesspeople, and visitors can travel from Houston to Dallas in 90 minutes.  Imagine having left Dallas less than 2 hours ago to join us in person for Houston’s State of Mobility speech. That is Houston as a Multimodal City, as a Destination City. It is my hope that Texas Central and its investors will remain true to their commitment. At the same time, my conversations with U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg have been very positive and simply put, supportive.

Let’s be clear.  I am not saying people won’t drive.  People will.  And we will continue to accommodate people driving as one of their travel choices.  This year alone, we built or reconstructed more than 70 lane miles plus overlaying nearly 200 lane miles, retimed traffic signals at 800 intersections and implemented the City's Advanced Traffic Management Central Software to make our roadways more efficient, more comfortable, and safer.

But when we talk about our roadways, we must always make sure our roadways serve our City, not dominate it.  We must use our roadways to support our community, the people who live here and the businesses they serve, and not overwhelm us with traffic, concrete, and noise.  That is why I maintain that the North Houston Highway Improvement Project could be the project of a generation and it could be transformational.

It cold be re-constructed with drainage and flood mitigation as a priority, designed with a footprint that only takes that right of way that is needed; constructed to be compatible with transit infrastructure and METRONext; designed to enhance neighborhood connectivity, green spaces, trail connections along the banks of Buffalo Bayou, White Oak Bayou, Little White Oak Bayou, and Halls Bayou; and the construction comes with a firm commitment to provide just compensation for all relocations and displacements especially as it relates to housing.

Over the last 30 days, Chairman Bruce Bugg and I have met in person and have had several conversations in hopes of moving this project forward. Those discussions continue.

We must keep our vision in mind: Houston is a Destination City; Houston is a Multimodal City.  Houston is not just a city of roads.

Once we start using our transportation planning to envision Houston as a Destination City, the potential we can unlock becomes infinite.  Streets and parking lots that were previously only dedicated to moving and storing cars are not offering the city their full value and can become so many other things. This year, we created the More Space Program that allows restaurants to convert 50% of their unused parking spaces and use the space to serve customers during COVID restrictions. We then extended the concept to More Space: Main Street, where the City is closing certain blocks of Main Street to vehicle traffic and allowing restaurants and bars to serve customers in the roadway.

Opening our transportation vision is not only on land.  Embracing the value of our waterways, the Port of Houston now has early stage approval for the widening of the Ship Channel that will, with industry support, also lead to the deepening of the same channel, allowing us to move more freight in less space.

Why stop at waterways?  For us to be a true Destination City, our transportation must take us to the stars. Six years ago, we became a licensed federal Spaceport. We have invested in infrastructure at this Spaceport and last week City Council passed two major projects that will be building ‘space infrastructure’. When we say Houston is a Multimodal City, we recognize that even the astronaut walking to the ship is a PEDESTRIAN.

To keep moving Houston forward, to become this Destination City, we must continue to work with our partners.  During this Texas Legislative session, we have worked with our long-standing partners at TAG (Transportation Advocacy Group) as they led advocacy for transportation funding even amidst a pandemic plagued legislative session.  They kept the message going and strong through virtual conversations with House and Senate leadership with their Lege and Learn and Under the Dome series and consistent and aggressive advocacy.  They educated lawmakers early on, and these investments have paid off with major legislation now in its final stages of session about to cross the victory line.  They include legislation:

  • for counties to implement Transportation Reinvestment Zones.
  • allowing TxDOT bonding capacity once more with the Texas Mobility Fund;
  • studying the impact and road consumption of all vehicles to better determine equity for future transportation fees and taxes; and
  • Expanding the authority of our very own Gulf Coast Rail District beyond commuter rail

It should also be noted that no transportation dollars were cut from the budget – something many were concerned would happen

We are not at the finish line yet and our work is not done.  There were many bills that did not make it, including an effort to set speed limits based on context.  We will continue to pursue this and additional Vision Zero-based legislation and push for policies that promote the safety in our movements and mobility.

If you want to see the vision for our future transportation system, TAG’s MotionMAP, is a great resource.  The MotionMAP illustrates our regional collaboration and collective consensus for the projects that matter most to our City and region.  We cannot move forward unless it is together.  TAG, in working with its partners – METRO, TxDOT, HCTRA, Port Houston, the City of Houston, and others continues this critical work to move us all forward.

Let me ask you one more question.  When you hear our plans, when you understand our vision as a Destination City, when you recognize just how multimodal Houston is:

How will you travel to next year’s speech?

Because the choice will be yours.