Heights-area residents ask for street improvements

HOUSTON Washington Avenue is known to be packed with people on the weekends. Many of them are coming from a night of drinking at bars. That makes for a dangerous situation.

There was an auto-pedestrian accident in July along the stretch of the avenue that's in question. The young woman is still hospitalized and the driver is charged is DWI. It's symptomatic of ongoing traffic issues, and that sparked an unusual alliance among bar owners, business owners and the city, who are trying to address the issues without driving away customers.

Generations ago, Washington Avenue was a road from downtown out to the farms in Western Harris County. What lines Washington Avenue today, the bars and clubs, is an entertainment destination.

But there's a risk to driving there -- and even trying to walk across the street.

Ashley Ponce lives on Washington Ave.

"I think there should be a lot more cross lights on Washington," she said. "'Cause there's probably honestly what, seven lights on Washington, which for 30 different bars on this street, for it have seven lights, that's not anything of a traffic inconvenience."

Lauren Barrash owns The Wave, a jitney that shuttles people to and from bars and clubs. She said she often sees people driving in the emergency lane.

Barrash has operated the service on Washington for less than a year, but it doesn't take long to see that Washington has some serious traffic problems.

"In one bus, it could take me 40 minutes to get down a 2.80-mile stretch," she said.

It takes that long after 2am -- when bars let out, when people get in cars, some of which stop in moving lanes of traffic and pedestrians who walk in traffic.

But now the business owners, even some customers, are asking for more traffic control here. Barrash is among them.

"If everybody cooperates, we all can be infinitely more successful than if we pick up and move and figure it out again," she said.

And the city agrees; it is working with business and homeowners to come up with traffic improvements for the avenue.

Some short-term improvements are in the making.

"We don't have adequate sidewalks," said Christopher Newport, Houston's city regulations liaison. "Do we need to include pedestrian crossing areas? All of these things questions are things that we're looking at a multitude of different answers to."

In the meantime, drivers and pedestrians need to look both ways.

Those recommendations are expected to be released by the city in the next month or two; a longer term plan is due in December, and a lot of them is geared to Washington Avenue.
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