State of Mobility Speech 2022
Text as written on May 18, 2022
May 19, 2022 --Welcome and Thanks
- TAG Houston
- Houston City Council
- Harris County
- METRO (especially their new Chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran)
- Houston Bike Share
- Houston Parks Board
- Bike Houston
- LINK Houston
- Greater Houston Partnership
- And many more.
One year ago, I stood before you all and declared Houston to be the Destination City. A place where people want to live, do business, visit, and see what we are all about. A place for people to walk down the street, look each other in the eyes, and build a community.
How do we know our city is a destination?
We know because over the last 10 years, Houston’s population grew by 10% -- that means 200,000 more people wanted to be here.
We know because passengers arriving at Bush Intercontinental Airport grew by 14% over the 10 years just before the pandemic. The world recognizes that we’re treating our arrivals right, as Hobby Airport became the first airport in North America to earn a 5-Star international rating, as a world class, safe destination experience for every passenger.
We know we’re a destination because the Port of Houston ranks first in total tonnage of all ports across the United States, and they are working to accommodate more capacity by widening the Ship Channel within 5 years with their Project 11.
People are flocking here. Goods are being shipped here. Houston is not only a destination, Houston is The Destination City! Now that people are here, we need to invest more in how people move around that is just not focused on vehicles.
Houston is the 4th most populous city in the United States, and there’s a good chance we’ll be Number 3 before long - watch out Chicago. The mobility system that brought those people to our City served us well, but transporting people to their destination is a means to an end. The end we’re concerned with, the goal we’re trying to reach, is a different type of mobility. People move to Houston not just for point-to-point mobility, they move to Houston for UPWARD ECONOMIC MOBILITY.
People don’t drive or ride transit just for the fun of driving or riding transit. Well, most people don’t, though some people in this room might.
We invest in our transportation system, not to move people around, but to move people toward a better life.
People drive or ride transit to get to their jobs and to go to school. People may walk and bike for their health, but they also walk their children to the park. They are also biking more and more as a part of their daily travel. When everyone has access to a complete transportation system that helps people to work, learn, and play, then they’re on the path towards a better life.
The City of Houston sets everyone on that path by first making it safe for all. Not only in certain neighborhoods and not only for certain trips. Instead, we prioritize safety for everyone using every mode of transportation.
Our Vision Zero program has a very simple goal: eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on our roads by 2030.
2021 was not a good year on our roads. More people died on our roads last year than ever before. It mirrored a nationwide trend during COVID, a trend we must stop. To stop that trend, we built nearly 30 miles of sidewalks, installed over 800 curb ramps, and retimed over 800 traffic signals last year alone. As part of these investments, my Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities and Houston Public Works coordinated to construct 110 sidewalk segments specifically for pedestrian access for people with disabilities.
We partnered with the Harris County Health Department and received funding from MD Anderson to start the City’s first Safe Routes to School program in Acres Home.
We continued our “quick planning” program to engage with the community and build safety improvements faster than ever before, with efforts this year in Briar Meadow with Council Member Tiffany Thomas and in Settegast with Council Member Tarsha Jackson.
We received $4 million from the Texas Department of Transportation for safety projects all around the City. And we applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a $20 million grant to create a new Telephone Road that’s safer for all travelers, prioritizes walking, biking, and transit, upgrades our traffic signals, and improves drainage all along the corridor.
To keep our safety efforts going, I’m personally reviewing the details of the 11th Street Project right now.
To recognize all this work, Houston received the American Planning Association Texas Chapter’s 2021 Implementation Award.
Safer is the start, but for our transportation system to provide economic mobility, we must have full networks so people can travel by all different modes. If access to education is the path to economic mobility, we cannot require students to own a car to get to and from school. We must provide a transit system that’s reliable, attractive, and usable every single day. That’s why METRO’s University Corridor Bus Rapid Transit line is so important. At 25 miles long, the University Corridor BRT will connect our neighborhoods to our universities, from Gulfton, Montrose, Midtown, Greater Fifth Ward, Kashmere Gardens, Denver Harbor, and more to University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and University of St. Thomas. All communities deserve access to these great schools. The proximity to world class higher education is a major selling point for young adults living in Houston.
Commuting should not be a burden and sitting in traffic should not be a barrier to pursuing an education. That’s why we’re working with METRO to design the University Corridor BRT to operate in a dedicated, transit-only lane, making sure the bus runs often and on-time.
We’re also working with METRO to pair high-capacity transit with housing, schools, and jobs. You may call it Transit Oriented Development or Joint Development. We call it Smart Planning, because land use and transportation must always work together.
While the University Corridor will be an outward facing and transformational project, we’re also working on more subtle ways to improve transit. Houston Public Works and METRO are employing small tweaks that most people will never notice, so that our traffic signals help buses and trains stay on time.
And special kudos to METRO for recently completing Universal Access improvements on bus stop #2,500, making them all fully ADA accessible. This milestone shows everyone, including the Federal Transit Administration, that METRO and the City are partners in METRONext, a true long-term vision for transit for all.
While METRO is making great strides, I’m disappointed to say we haven’t seen progress on high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas, but hope 2022 brings good news for that project.
Back to good news—Let’s talk about our bike network and all of our partners who are helping us build it out. In 2021, we added more than 40 more miles of high comfort bikeways, with my thanks to Harris County Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, Houston Parks Board, METRO, TxDOT, H-GAC, and our TIRZ’s and Management Districts.
Go out and ride on brand new facilities on Austin and Polk Streets, ride in Clear Lake and Westchase. And join us tomorrow morning for a group ride for Bike to Work Day.
BCycle, Houston’s Bike Share system, added 23 new stations and served 240,000 trips in 2021. And get ready, because there’s 125 more miles of bikeways in planning, design, and construction right now. A network of over 500 miles of bikeways is coming very soon and eventually Gold Level Bike Friendly Status and a full bike network of 1,800 miles.
We know that the condition of Houston streets can mean a bumpy ride – and a bumpy ride for a car can be a perilous ride for bikes. Our streets must be useable for everyone. That’s why last year alone, we overlaid nearly 250 miles of streets and filled nearly 75,000 potholes. You heard me right, 75,000 potholes in 1 year.
The City’s work on our roads is complimented by TxDOT’s work on key parts of the highway network. The interchange of 610 and 69 is well known (pause to see heads nod)—it’s where two major highways meet up and can be very difficult to drive. TxDOT is spending over $250 million to reconstruct this interchange: improving sight distances, vertical clearances and more. We appreciate TxDOT using Smart Work Zone technologies to communicate project updates, help motorists find alternate routes, and clear incidents more quickly.
Our networks aren’t perfect today. We have hundreds of intersections where streets and rail lines cross each other. Every train stopped across our streets is more than an inconvenience or a potential safety hazard by blocking access, it stops our upward mobility. The Federal government acknowledges this is a bigger problem than any one city can address on their own, so we’re pursuing funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to separate rail crossings and add safety improvements.
The City of Houston’s Office of Innovation is also piloting a technology project to better identify when crossings are blocked and help route people to open routes.
Speaking of innovation, I’m hoping you’ve seen our interactive wayfinding kiosks, which are providing smart city infrastructure to enhance the pedestrian experience for Houstonians and our visitors, adding vibrancy to Houston’s urban landscape and supporting our commercial districts. That’s right, these kiosks are part of our transportation system and our mission to support our businesses.
To meet Houston’s economic and quality of life goals, we must also remember our climate goals. The transportation sector alone contributes nearly half of our City’s greenhouse gas emissions, but not for long. We’re transitioning our municipal fleet to electric vehicles, coupling the purchase of 97 new electric vehicles with investments in electric charging infrastructure. We are working with Evolve Houston – a partnership between the City, University of Houston, Centerpoint, NRG, and Shell – to advance and educate on the adoption of electric charging in the community. And we recently kicked off a historic collaborative between Centerpoint and the City of Houston called Resilient Now to develop a master energy plan including preparation for electrification of both public and private sector fleets.
Our transportation system is constantly evolving to meet the needs of our growing population, not just providing travel choices, but now also providing on-demand food delivery services like Nuro and CoCo. Having shared, electric, and driverless vehicles deliver food to people adds value to every community, while supporting the City’s Resilient Strategy and Climate Action Plan.