Resident safety has to be the foremost concern of any Mayor or Council Member. While it is tempting to react to every anecdote or reported occurrence, a thoughtful, data-driven, expert-led approach will produce the best policies in this area, with projects narrowly tailored to meet objectively verified needs, and achieve the maximum benefit from the expenditure of taxpayer funds.
Traffic and Pedestrian Safety
As a City committed to encouraging the health of our residents by promoting walkability, while located in the heart of one of the country’s most dynamic urban areas, traffic and pedestrian safety is a key concern. This is why we had professional traffic engineers perform a city-wide Speed and Traffic Safety Study in 2020 – 2021. The study is an invaluable tool for shaping effective traffic safety policy. Based upon the study, combined with the engineer’s further recommendations provided to Council, I, along with the rest of the 2019 – 2021 Council, voted to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph. Going forward, I would like to pursue the following additional traffic safety measures:
- Address Known Crash “Hot Spots.” One key issue identified by the study is the presence of dangerous crash “hot spots” at locations on or near the City perimeter. We should work together with the Cities of Houston, Bellaire and Southside Place, as well as stakeholders such as the Upper Kirby Management District, to address these danger points.
2. Improve enforcement of existing State laws and local ordinances:
- Enforce State laws requiring minimum parking distances from stop signs in order to improve visibility.
- Enforce local ordinances regarding the use of scooters and other toys in streets, in order to reduce crash risks
3. Follow up on items not fully addressed by the study:
- Identify locations where, because of heavy pedestrian cross-traffic (e.g. various points along Weslayan and Buffalo Speedway that lack traffic signals), additional safety measures, such as painted crosswalks and other traffic-calming items, may be appropriate.
- Study traffic and pedestrian conditions around town center during peak off-hours usage (e.g. night/weekend baseball/softball games and events at the Community/Senior Center) to determine whether additional safety measures, including additional lighting and lowering the default speed limit in the area to 20 mph, may be appropriate.
- Identify the most heavily used pedestrian paths in order to prioritize them for future streetlight upgrades/replacements.
- Investigate alternatives to how we currently address side driveways on corner lots in order to reduce street parking.
The personal security of our residents, both in their homes and on our streets, has to be a primary focus of City policy. While the Virtual Gate is a decent start, its goal of deterrence will not be fully realized unless we take steps to enhance its visibility and that of our officers on patrol. At the same time, residents’ first line of defense will remain themselves and their neighbors, and their ability to identify a threat. With that in mind, I would pursue the following objectives:
- Increase visible police presence at key locations as a passive deterrent to speeding and dangerous driving (as well as other crimes).
- Make sure to include ATM locations within West U (e.g. Whole Foods and Bank of America on Bellaire @ Stella Link) in routine police patrol routes, in order to discourage “jugging.”
- Do more to encourage and facilitate block parties and similar activities as a means of heightening neighbors’ awareness of each other and their immediate surroundings.
- Create a local version of the “National Night Out” program, to encourage resident interactions with our police officers.
- Add multi-lingual signage to City perimeter to enhance external awareness of Virtual Gate and increase its deterrent effect.
Our City’s “old stock” houses, many of them the original homes on their lots dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, are a large part of our City’s wonderful eclecticism, in which the vintage and the ultra-modern co-exist side-by-side. However, many of these homes retain their original “knob and tube” wiring and other fixtures that are not up to code and may even present an increased fire risk. Similarly, vacant homes around the City have not been maintained in some time and may present a danger. In order to balance the interests of the owners of these homes with those of their neighbors, I would suggest the following:
- Look into programs/policies to encourage/assist old stock homeowners to bring their homes up to code.
- Require periodic inspections of vacant homes in order to make sure they do not present a fire hazard.
It has been an honor to have the opportunity to meet you and hear your concerns as I’ve block walked our City from end to end over the past few weeks. If I missed you when I came by, please respond to this e-mail and I would be happy to schedule a time to come talk with you. In the meantime, I hope that you have a wonderful weekend!
John P. Barnes