TEXAS VIEW: A step in the right direction for Victoria

By Victoria Advocate

Victoria is taking a big step forward with its plan for rebuilding Crestwood Drive.

The Victoria City Council recently approved a plan to add a 5-foot sidewalk and an 8-foot hike-and-bike trail to the street when it is rebuilt during the next few years. This move indicates our historic city is, at last, moving in the right direction.

The city has to overcome decades of inattention to pedestrians and bicyclists. Most of Victoria was built at a time when all planning was focused on moving motorized vehicles from Point A to B as fast as possible.

Modern cities, however, recognize that good urban planning accommodates both vehicles and pedestrians. In fact, residents today demand this as a basic amenity, making it urgent that Victoria catch up and be able to attract newcomers and businesses along with retaining existing ones.

One way Victoria can do this is when it’s time to rebuild existing streets, like Crestwood. As part of this process, the city needs to carefully examine how the streets can be re-engineered to promote access for pedestrians and bicycles.

In the case of Crestwood, the answer was fairly simple — if the city starts with this mindset. The wide street contains a lot of unused parking that will be converted to sidewalks.

The cost for this terrific change also is remarkably small. The entire rebuild of Crestwood from Ben Jordan to Main streets will cost about $11.3 million. The portion for the sidewalks, though, is only $152,000. That’s because sidewalks require only about 4 inches of concrete – a lot less than a street engineered to handle hulking vehicles.

The answer might be more complicated when it comes to rebuilding other streets, but the city needs to keep the same mindset. North Street is badly in need of rebuilding and likely will be the next capital project after Crestwood is completed. Portions of this street, particularly near the Victoria Community Center and the Youth Sports Complex, are wide enough to accommodate both a sidewalk and a hike-and-bike trail. Other sections of North might require additional right of way, or perhaps accommodate only a sidewalk or bicycle lanes.

The city can’t let the search for the perfect solution get in the way of one better than what we have now. That happened with the rebuild of Red River Street, which the city unfortunately decided had to be repaved exactly as it was.

The city still should revisit that decision as the rest of Red River gets rebuilt. The street could be a gateway leading University of Houston-Victoria and Victoria College students to Riverside Park. The traffic count on Red River is low enough to allow for a lane reduction to accommodate either a 5-foot sidewalk or bike lanes.

For some, this change in mindset is a work in progress. People and planners need to quit thinking of pedestrians and bicyclists as nuisances or less important than vehicles. They need to quit using the argument that the city should remain inaccessible because not enough people dare to walk or bike on the streets as they are designed now.

The plan for Crestwood indicates real progress. If Victoria is to realize the promise of its 2035 comprehensive plan, then this will be only a first step.