Using Data to Advocate for Safer Walking Conditions in Houston

Author: Kathy Pettit
Date Posted: December 1, 2020

Between 2010 and 2017, 149 people were killed or injured while walking in the Gulfton neighborhood of Houston. These dangerous pedestrian conditions limited the ability of residents of the majority-immigrant community to safely get to school, work, or places for exercise. The city recognized the need for improvements and designated Gulfton as one of Houston’s Complete Communities, a mayor’s initiative to ensure that neighborhoods have equitable access to quality services and amenities. To address these issues and make the case for new investments, community groups in Gulfton collaborated with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University to organize an audit of the neighborhood’s pedestrian conditions in the summer and fall of 2018. The Houston Endowment's three-year grant for their Urban Development, Placemaking, and Transportation program supported this research effort. 

To complete the audit, community leaders, citizen volunteers, and Kinder staff and students participated in neighborhood walks to assess the availability and conditions of sidewalks, bikeways, street lighting, and buildings. Researchers found that 36 percent of the area’s street segments lacked sidewalks, and 41 percent of existing sidewalks were obstructed by gaps, parked cars, and overgrown trees or shrubs. 

Researchers shared the report with the city agencies and the community, and Gulfton residents included the study in their revitalization plan released in late 2018. Community organizations and residents continued to advocate for investments to make their neighborhood safer.

From these community-driven advocacy and data insights, the mayor selected Gulfton as the first neighborhood for the first phase of the Houston Safer Streets program, a collaboration between the city of Houston and a coalition of private companies called Together for Safer Roads (TSR), in April 2019. As part of the Safer Streets program, TSR provided $125,000 in resources to support a community-based planning effort and a transportation-related STEM education program. In addition, Houston Public Works committed $500,000 for improvements such as signals at pedestrian crossings on their major corridor, wider sidewalks, new curbs, and delineated bike safety lanes. TSR and Kinder are working to assess the project’s progress toward making walking and biking safer for Gulfton residents.

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