Houston restaurants takeover of downtown street extended for another year, signaling what could happen in other parts of the Bayou City

According to David Fields, the city’s chief transportation planner, a seven-block stretch of downtown Main Street is a perfect example of how Houston can redesign its roads.

A pedestrian square to the south. The Metropolitan Transit Authority red line runs down the center of the street. Diners eat outdoors in temporary seats set up on the uncrowded pavement. For about half a mile between Commerce and Rusk streets, the city is allowing restaurants and bars to build eating spaces and gathering areas on the street instead of car traffic.

The measure, called More Space: Main Street, was a pilot program authorized by the Houston City Council in 2020 in response to a struggling restaurant scene in the city’s central business district. The initiative was set to expire at the end of March, but Houston City Council on Wednesday, at the request of District I Council Member Robert Gallegos, approved its extension until March 2023.

Judging by City Hall’s response, however, it could eventually become a permanent feature of downtown and expand to communities across the city.

“Quite frankly, it’s worked and is very popular,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said after council unanimously authorized the extension. “It may be something that will be long term.”

Several businesses use the space on Main Street, including the Little Dipper Bar, Shay McElroy’s Pub, the Flying Saucer and Finn Hall. The city hopes others will benefit now that the program has been extended. Since the start of 2021, that has helped usher in an increase in nightlife along the stretch of Main Street, Gallegos said.

Finn Hall is a food court that opened on December 3, 2018 in downtown Houston. It has 10 dining establishments and two full bars.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

With the success of the program downtown, there is also hope for similar takeovers in other communities across the city – places where car space could be better used by the community or businesses. City Councilman David Robinson said he “encourages” proposals from the Planning and Development Department for other places in Houston that could benefit from a similar setup.

“Obviously it’s a success and was voted on unanimously today,” Robinson said. “Anything from the planning department would be welcome.”

For Fields, the transportation planner, the first thing to do is find the right candidate. If the program were to be extended to other areas of the city, it also asks whether or not this is a temporary or permanent change. Long-term changes, Fields said, would require more monitoring — and more time — because it would likely lead to some sort of construction.

The Main Street discussion is taking place against the backdrop of a shift in focus in Houston on the city’s transportation priorities, and in particular how we use public space currently occupied by cars.

“Our streets are our public space,” Fields said. “There’s nothing per se that says you have to move cars on them. Our streets move cars, serve to park cars, serve to move bicycles, pedestrians. Different parts of our sidewalks and rights of way have benches, have shade. Buses have bus shelters. Different times of the year, there may be a pop-up event on the street. We have parades on our street. This does not have to be be the same thing on all the streets 365 days a year. trying to do more and more is to say, ‘what’s the best use?’ We are no longer set in stone as we were before.”

Where would you like to see a similar setup in Houston? Let me know on Twitter: @jayrjordan

About James Almanza

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