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Taryn Roberts once was brought to tears while walking along the Heights Boulevard esplanade with her son, a newborn at the time. She said they were crossing a side street when the driver of an SUV – who had stopped in the median and was turning left onto the neighborhood thoroughfare – did not see them and nearly hit them.So when Roberts and her family returned to the esplanade on Sunday, with 2-year-old Gio in a stroller, they were pleasantly surprised to see a series of orange cones and some freshly painted lines at the intersection of Heights Boulevard and West 8th Street. Representatives from multiple City of Houston departments and the Houston Heights Association had staged an example of a potential intersection redesign that provided wider and more clearly defined spaces for pedestrians and cyclists and, perhaps more importantly, caused passing motorists to slow down and pay closer attention to their surroundings.“This is great,” Roberts said. “So many people walk here, and (vehicles) fly through here and they don’t even see.”The popup intersection redesign, as the three-hour event was billed, also was a welcome sight for the family of David Loya, the 23-year-old Heights resident who was killed at the intersection exactly two years earlier when he was riding his bike along Heights Boulevard and collided with a school bus that was crossing on 8th Street. Members of Loya’s family came by to see the temporary setup and visit the white ghost bike that was installed at the intersection, with some of his relatives saying the street needs to be made safer.That’s the goal of the Houston Heights Association (HHA), which pulled together representatives from Houston Public Works, the city’s Planning & Development Department, Transportation and Drainage Operations, the office of Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin and nonprofit BikeHouston to put on Sunday’s event. HHA executive director Emily Guyre said they wanted to “honor David and his family” while introducing the neighborhood and its most well-traveled thoroughfare to some potential changes.“Heights Boulevard was one of the first streets (in Houston) to get a bike lane, and obviously it needs to be updated,” Guyre said. “Our ridership is really high. We’ve got people of all different ages riding on the boulevard, and we want to make sure everyone stays safe.”
A popup intersection redesign on Sunday introduced the Heights neighborhood to a potential traffic reconfiguration while honoring the memory of David Loya, who died while riding his bike two years earlier at the intersection of Heights Boulevard and West 8th Street. (Photo by Adam Zuvanich)
Guyre said the HHA’s long-term vision is to upgrade Heights Boulevard from Interstate 10 to West 20th Street with some of the same features that were on display Sunday, such as wider spaces for pedestrians and cyclists near the outside of the road along with bike lanes that were clearly marked by thick, green lines. She said Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and the Memorial Heights Redevelopment Authority are on board with the idea, but it does not have a funding source and therefore no plan is in place and no improvements are imminent.Houston Public Works director Carol Haddock, who rode her bike to and from Sunday’s event, said the idea is in line with the city’s Vision Zero initiative that aims to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. She said one of the purposes of Sunday’s popup was to solicit community feedback and see if such a traffic reconfiguration would be supported by the neighborhood before a project is pursued.Passing pedestrians were invited to write sticky notes on a poster board set up at the intersection, with some endorsing the changes and others suggesting more signage and traffic signals and better lighting at night.“What we’ve noticed is people on bikes and with their strollers and out walking very much appreciate the attention that’s being paid to them and vehicles are slowing down,” Haddock said. “We’re having really good interactions between people on bikes and people in their cars and people on their feet.”Ian Hlavacek, a managing engineer for the city who painted the green bike lane on the east side of the intersection, said the temporary setup represented “low-cost techniques” that would improve safety without having a significant impact on traffic flow. Vehicles traveling both north and south on Heights Boulevard still had one lane to themselves and could still turn left or right onto cross streets.Hlavacek said the augmented intersection “just feels safe.” Roberts and relatives of Loya had a similar impression, with Loya’s cousin, Jesse Montemayor, saying he’s glad community stakeholders are taking note of the dangerous conditions that led to his loved one’s death and are committed to improving them.“I feel like we’ve got all the right players at the table,” Guyre said. “Everyone has a common goal to increase safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. We’d also just love to see traffic slow down.”
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