New friends helped convince me that walking was a reasonable form of transportation—at least in some Houston neighborhoods.
Giving up our car—even for 90 days—required inspiration. Some of that inspiration came from an unlikely source.
Over the past couple of years, we became friends with two couples from the London area. They were both in Houston on three-year energy company assignments. One couple lived downtown, the other in the Museum District.
‘Getting in the car was a last resort’
No one told them that people don’t walk in Houston, so they did. “For three years, getting in the car was a last resort,” explains Irena, who lived near Discovery Green. “It was just a lot more fun walking around.”
Her husband Ben began traveling to Houston about 20 years ago. He’s seen big changes since then. “Houston is so much more walkable than it was in the ‘90s and early 2000s. It feels safer.”
Still, some of their Houston friends were dismayed that Irena would take a 20-minute walk at 10 p.m. from a downtown tennis club to their apartment. “I’m used to walking around London. You get used to being streetwise. Not once did anyone approach me or make me feel uncomfortable.”
‘Walking gave us a real feel for the area’
The other couple, Fiona and Brendan, used mostly a mix of public transportation, Uber and walking to get around Houston. Brendan took the METRO rail to work every day. “It was cheap, efficient, clean and air-conditioned,” says Fiona.
They frequently walked 2-1/2 miles or more from their Museum District apartment on Montrose Blvd. “We’d walk to Discovery Green. We thought nothing of walking back at night from Rice Village. We never felt scared. Walking gave us a real feel for the area.”
They too discovered their walkabouts weren’t the norm for Houstonians. “I think it’s a cultural thing. It’s just the norm for us to walk,” adds Fiona.
Of course, there are at least two kinds of fears about walking in Houston. One is being mugged or killed by an armed assailant. I think that’s what most people worry about. But for most Houston pedestrians, death or injury by automobile should be the biggest concern.
Location, location, location
Our friends benefited from living and walking in safe, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. A map of pedestrian traffic fatalities in Harris County from 2008-2012, for example, shows that only three deaths occurred downtown. But, in many parts of Houston, walking can be deadly. For the first 10 months of 2016, pedestrian traffic deaths jumped 31 percent.
Stephanie and I are fortunate. We live in a neighborhood with sidewalks and slow traffic speeds. We’re inspired to walk for transportation, and we feel reasonably safe doing it. To get more people out of cars, though, Houston needs a much better and safer infrastructure for walking and biking. It can’t happen fast enough.