Mayor Sylvester Turner spars with Third Ward residents over controversial bike lane expansion

A proposed street rejuvenation became a point of contention during Tuesday's Houston City Council meeting. 

Photo of Kennedy Sessions
Mayor Sylvester Turner sparred with Third Ward residents over proposed bike lane project during Tuesday's City Council meeting. 

Mayor Sylvester Turner sparred with Third Ward residents over proposed bike lane project during Tuesday's City Council meeting. 

Karen Warren/Staff photographer

Tensions sparked at Tuesday’s Houston City Council meeting after District D community members said they weren’t civically engaged on a possible bike lane expansion on Blodgett St. and Tierwester St. 

At the meeting, some community members favored adding bike lanes to the street for accessibility, while others said more lanes would create parking issues and add even more traffic congestion next to Texas Southern University—an already busy area. 

A complicating factor in the equation is that the bike lane expansion project also includes drainage, sewage and flood prevention updates which all parties agree would help alleviate flooding in the Third Ward area. For context, District D compromises the northern area of the city from Midtown southward to Beltway 8; it also includes Sunnyside and two of the city’s largest college campuses, the University of Houston and TSU. 

The joint expansion project between the city of Houston and Harris County costs $12 million—of which the City will contribute $377,000. 

According to Mayor Sylvester Turner, the project is already underway but can be gutted if District D Council Member Carolyn Evans-Shabazz chooses to send it back for review. Turner added that he couldn’t promise the agenda item would come back for council approval.

“There will always be another mayor, you can always bring it back to me, I’ll receive it. But I don’t want anyone to blame me when the rain comes,” Turner said.

Nonetheless, Third Ward residents said they’re tired of construction projects happening in their community without their consent and pointed to the lack of communication between the county, the city, and residents. 

“This lack of community engagement between the city and the county is putting residents against each other,” Edward Pettit, Vice President of Third Ward Super Neighborhood, said. “Even for those of us who are deeply engaged, it’s hard to figure out who is supposed to be doing what. Who’s supposed to be speaking with us? Where are these updates? There’s no one person who’s telling us what’s going on?” 

In response, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin said residents’ frustration is misdirected and stated the city is just participating in a county project. 
“Your coming here raising your voice at us, and I look at it and say I have nothing to do with this,” Martin said. “Has anyone taken it up with your commissioner and gone to them?” 

Pettit said when he raised concerns, he was pointed to the City Planning & Development Department despite the county heading the project.

"What we’re saying is it's a larger issue,” Pettit said. “We don’t like the approach that we’re getting that beggars must be choosers. You either give up your right to the people of the city or you don’t get the funding.” 

Evans-Shabazz said the lack of community engagement is an issue for such a large project.

“There’s a need for a conversation here before we proceed with moving forward on building anything,” Evans-Shabazz said. “I know this is about drainage, but we also know that once you pay the bill, nobody listens.” 

Council members also expressed a desire for more communication on the project from the Harris County Commissioners Court, which oversees the county's funding of such programs. The Council is set to vote on the item on Wednesday.

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