Promoted as “safer, improved bikeways are coming to Third Ward,” said Rodney Ellis, Precinct One County Commissioner. He has deemed that the Third Ward community has set mobility and infrastructure goals through several studies and plans, including the Third Ward Mobility Assessment report and, most recently the Third Ward Action Plan under Mayor Turner’s Complete Communities initiative. His initiative’s one goal in particular – to expand bike lanes and facilities – is addressed directly through the proposed rapid implementation bikeway network. The City of Houston-Harris County partnership seeks to meet that goal, which will ultimately improve neighborhood mobility and increase safety and comfort for all road users. This is the verbiage used to describe the purpose of the Precinct One initiative, but many people and business owners in the community believe it will make their jobs harder and adversely affect their business’ success.
In 2021, Juneteenth was established as a National Holiday by President Joseph R. Biden. Precinct One City Commissioner Rodney Ellis, an avid bike rider, celebrated this monumental event by taking a bike ride with colleagues from Galveston to Emancipation Park celebrating Juneteenth. Precinct One County Commissioner Ellis is on a crusade to encourage, enlighten, and motivate more Houstonians to take their bikes to the streets, which means Houston must be ready to accommodate these new bike riders.
This is an excellent initiative except for one issue. How will it affect the consistent growth of Third Ward? When the city creates bike lanes, the city must transform the double-traffic lanes into single-traffic lanes. This will cause much more traffic congestion on Blodgett St., one of the busiest streets in Third Ward since it is a major entrance for Texas Southern University (TSU) for the Student Center and Parking Garage.
Councilwoman of District D, Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz held a community meeting where the community overwhelmingly opposed the bike lane plan but more importantly cited the lack of transparency and true community engagement. “Although the agreement was initiated before I took office, I found that the community leadership was not engaged including the pastor of the local church sharing Blodgett. The community should always have a say in the spending of taxpayer money especially when plans can affect their mobility and safety.”
While interviewing Edward D. Pettitt II, MPH, Vice President of the Greater Third Ward Super Neighborhood #67, he gave a very detailed and thorough explanation of the lack of transparency that exists with county leadership. Dr. Carolyn Evans – Shabazz, Houston City Councilwoman of District D asked for access to the plans on more than one occasion and was not given any plans that she requested. According to Mr. Pettitt, “In March 2018, Rodney Ellis announced, “$15 million to improve infrastructure near TSU and another $15 million to projects around UH.” While most residents welcomed the drainage and safety upgrades, many were confused why such upgrades were tied to bike lines being installed on each of the streets. Though there were a number of engagement meetings, mostly virtual, since the 2018 announcement, none of the surrounding civic clubs or super neighborhoods (Greater Third Ward SN67 and MacGregor SN83) were directly engaged. And none of the feedback or questions asked afterward in early engagement meetings were compiled, followed-up, or incorporated afterwards. When designs were finally presented to residents, they were at an advanced stage, and it was clear that the engineers and planners had already made their siting and design decisions and were not willing to change course. Of particular concern to residents are the TSU events and student housing entrances unique to Blodgett, which tend to backup traffic in their current configuration, for which neither the city nor County have fully addressed residents’ concerns.”
Mr. Pettitt is spot on with understanding the needs, growth, and vision of the community to create a better Third Ward for long time and new residents.
Mr. Pettitt continued to share his insightful opinion on the concerns and needs of all Third Ward residents. “As someone who personally supports multi-modal safety and accessibility improvements, including bike lanes, it frustrates me when the city and county don’t engage the residents affected most by their placement. If the municipality had consulted residents properly early on, they could have addressed their concerns and found a design that maximizes the safety and accessibility desires of cyclists while mitigating the traffic concerns of residents. Unfortunately, the lack of proper engagement from the city and county has driven a wedge between residents – between long-term residents and newcomers, between cyclists and non-cyclists, and along the lines of race and socioeconomics. We need an approach to community engagement that reaches a wide range of stakeholder groups early in the process and gives them access to engineers and planners to address their concerns and educate them on possibilities, constraints, and alternatives. Residents who don’t ride bikes need to understand how these improvements will benefit them or at least not make their daily commute more difficult. Residents also need real answers to legitimate concerns, like the TSU parking entrances situation on Blodgett.”
Mr. Pettitt has been a consistently engaged resident of Third Ward who cares about the continued growth of the Third Ward Community and its residents. He wants Third Ward to preserve its cultural prominence and allow for the growth and expansion of all Third Ward residents no matter their ethnicity. Perfectly articulated by Mr. Pettitt, he explains his understanding of Precinct One County’s plans for the Third Ward.
“My takeaways from the Town Hall meeting:
1) Though it gave people a chance to be heard, these kinds of “airings of grievances” are not actually useful to the planning process – they’re the result of a broken planning process.
2) Though some residents (and civic leaders) could benefit from additional education on cycling safety (dodging vehicles and using the sidewalks are not feasible alternatives for cyclists), many residents have valuable lived experiences and useful subject matter expertise that would have been helpful earlier on in the planning process.
3) Third Ward residents are not anti-bike lanes; they’re anti-top-down approaches that don’t value community involvement and input.
4) It’s not a matter of too much or too little engagement; it’s a matter of the right kind of engagement at the right times.”
“We’re excited and poised for this opportunity to strengthen and deepen our community’s collective efforts to revitalize, preserve, and protect the historic Third Ward.”
These were the words of our leaders, so please take the time to hear the concerns of the citizens of the Third Ward. At HoustonBikelanes.com, they state that the City of Houston Planning and Development Department has met with and will continue to meet with the Third Ward community members to discuss the area’s bikeway network plans. Well, I think it is time for city leaders to walk Blodgett Street blocks and speak to the people who live there, work there, and serve the community daily. Then we can utilize city funding in a way that will directly benefit the Third Ward community.