Long Point Road, which runs for just over five miles from Conrad Sauer Drive in the west to Hempstead Road in the east, has historically been Spring Branch’s main commercial artery; a place where residents came to eat, shop, and play. In recent decades, however, Long Point has fallen into decline. Local businesses closed or moved away. Pedestrian traffic all but disappeared. Motorists driving down the street today are visually assaulted by a bewildering blur of billboards, store signs, and utility poles. Because there isn’t a designated turn lane, drivers turning left must stop in a moving lane of traffic. Bicyclists risk their lives daily on the street.
Fortunately, change may be coming to Long Point. A key element of the Spring Branch Management District’s Comprehensive Plan is a strategy to restore the street to its rightful place in the neighborhood; to make it a destination. “Historically, Long Point was thought of as Spring Branch’s main street,” said Patricia Maddox, chairperson of the District’s board of directors. “Long Point used to be a really high-quality retail street, and now it’s kind of unattractive. So we want to upgrade it.”
The renowned local landscape architecture firm SWA, which recently designed the new Buffalo Bayou Park, has been assisting the District with the Comprehensive Plan and ideas to reimagine Long Point. “Right now, the street really reflects an auto-centric culture, where people are driving from Point A to Point B, pulling into the parking lot, then getting back into their car and driving home,” said SWA principal James Vick. “There’s no obvious gathering place on Long Point that attracts people and instills a sense of civic pride.”
To encourage more walkability, SWA proposes to transform sections of Long Point using so-called “Complete Streets” principles, which could include bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks as well as dedicated turn lanes for vehicular traffic. In 2013, Houston passed an ordinance formally endorsing the Complete Streets approach. “The idea of Complete Streets is that streets should be multi-modal,” Vick said. “They should address the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers.”
To provide some visual order to the street’s chaos, another SWA proposal is to create a set of aesthetic guidelines for Long Point’s store signage. The district could encourage voluntary compliance with the guidelines, or offer incentives for businesses to replace their signage. Utility poles and lines could be also relocated away from the street edge. “Right now there’s just a mishmash of signage, utility poles, parking lots,” Maddox said. “So our plan is to come up with some consistent guidelines as far as setbacks and utility relocation, so that it’s more visually appealing to businesses and customers.”
As Spring Branch’s demographics change, so will residents’ desires for local retail and dining, Vick said. “Because of the close-in location of Spring Branch, it continues to become a more desirable place to live, and will draw a younger population who want places that are more walkable. And I think businesses will respond to that demand.”