July 1, 2022



Houston green lights speed bumps for several neighborhoods

5 min read

Houston City Council on Wednesday formally approved hundreds of speed cushions in neighborhoods throughout the city as a backlog of thousands more requests grows by the day. 

In a unanimous and uneventful vote, council members stamped approval on speed cushions, including bumps and humps, already installed in 42 Houston neighborhoods. The speed cushions were brought about through the city’s ailing Neighborhood Traffic Management Program, which has all but lost the financial momentum it originally had when it was created in 2015. The program was intended as a streamlined way for residents to request speed cushions for their neighborhoods but has now turned into a coveted luxury afforded only to a handful of streets and areas in any given council district each year. 

Vocal council members lamented the lack of funding and the effectiveness of speed cushions as the reason so many requests have piled up. Even after discussions at two separate council meetings, the fix isn’t clear. 

For residents on Bethlehem Street in Oak Forest, they fear the city’s policy on speed cushions thus far will lead to tragedy. In recent years, the city has installed speed humps on several east-west residential streets in their neighborhood—but not on a small stretch of Bethlehem Street between Ella Boulevard and Oak Forest Drive. Drivers have caught on to the gap, residents told council members Tuesday, and have begun speeding down Bethlehem to avoid the humps on other streets. 

“This is a four-tenths of a mile section of road with approximately 80 children who bike and ride to school every day,” said Cameron Clark, who lives near Bethlehem and spoke during Tuesday’s public comment period at council. “Bethlehem has become a major thoroughfare as a result of prior city action where a majority of parallel roads have two to three speed cushions already installed. We’re just here to ask for the same treatment.” 

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The street is sandwiched between Candlelight Park and two schools. For Kelley Gerace, one of more than a half dozen people who spoke on the issue Tuesday, it’s only a matter of time. 

“We all know our children make mistakes here and there,” Gerace said. “One time a mistake is going to happen and we’re all going to regret something that can’t be undone. We’re trying to teach our children safety, but we’re also trying to prevent something that truly can be prevented.”

It’s a story that plays out time and time again in neighborhoods throughout the city. When speeding traffic becomes a problem, and the city installs speed cushions on problem streets, drivers will find the path of least resistance and take their traffic to another street without the impediments, essentially kicking the can to another road instead of solving the problem of speeding. 

Mayor Sylvester Turner sympathized with the residents’ concerns but said the solution is through a more thoughtful approach. 

“The piecemeal approach is not working,” Turner said during public comment Tuesday. “It needs to be a much more wholistic discussion.” 

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a news conference at the 90th Winter Meeting of United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) on January 19, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a news conference at the 90th Winter Meeting of United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) on January 19, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Turner explained that the city is working to redesign its streets to wholly slow down traffic, not just in specific spots. One example is the redesign of 11th Street in the Heights, where the city plans to reduce the number of car lanes from four to two in an effort to slow drivers and limit the possibilities for dangerous lane changes. 

During Tuesday’s public comment period, District K Council Member Martha Castex-Tatum said the speed cushions weren’t necessarily as effective as they are often thought to be. 

“We’ve been given a report that the speed cushions cause drivers to slow down 3 mph,” Castex-Tatum said. “The Public Works department has veered away from spending taxpayer dollars on speed cushions because of the effectiveness.” 

Under the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program, the Public Works Department fields requests and initiates traffic studies on streets throughout any given neighborhood in question and determines the best plan of approach. While residents might want a series of speed cushions on one troublesome street, the department often suggests peppering the entire neighborhood with humps and bunps—which has turned into a costly and potentially ineffective measure at reducing speeds. 

The program was originally funded through the city’s general service fund, the same pool that finances services like the city’s police and fire departments. But as the years went on, funding for speed cushions in the general service fund dried up, forcing council members to foot the bill through their individual council district service funds. There’s simply not enough in each council members’ district service fund to finance each request. 

Some council members, such as District I Council Member Robert Gallegos, can only fund two to three requesting neighborhoods per year. Others, including District H Council Member Karla Cisneros, also said their hands were tied financially. 

Martha Castex-Tatum, District K city council member, listens to discussions during a Houston City Council meeting Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2019 at City Hall in Houston, TX.

Martha Castex-Tatum, District K city council member, listens to discussions during a Houston City Council meeting Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2019 at City Hall in Houston, TX.

Michael Wyke / Contributor

“One of the conversations we have to have as a council is, is it fair to have to fund those through our council district service funds as opposed to the general fund?” Castex-Tatum said. “I know we’ve done less of the speed cushions through the general service fund, and they’re only being funded through council district service funds or private dollars or partnerships with neighborhoods. We have 15 neighborhoods (in District K) that are also waiting on speed cushions. Speeding is a problem in the city of Houston.”

By now, residents in countless neighborhoods—from Clear Lake to Willowbrook and Alief to Trinity Gardens—are waiting for the city’s Public Works Department to initiate those traffic studies and slow down speeding drivers on what should be quiet residential streets. 

While several residents spoke on Bethlehem alone, District C Council Member Abby Kamin, who covers Oak Forest, said they’d have to wait in line like everyone else. 

“In queue for District C, I can’t speak for other offices, we have 35 applications for speed cushions ahead of you,” Kamin said. “Unfortunately, there is limited funding because it has to be funded through council district service funds now. We’re doing everything we can to look at this and work with you all. In certain neighborhoods, we’ve been able to partner and find some private funds for these.” 

It is possible for neighborhood groups or individuals to pay for the studies and speed humps, but the process isn’t clear and it could be costly. One speed cushion costs roughly $6,000 to fabricate and install, Castex-Tatum said. Public Works often recommends dozens at a time. 

Turner urged At-Large Council Member David Robinson, who chairs council’s Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee, to address the issue during an upcoming meeting.

So the story isn’t over for those on Bethlehem Street. They’ll just have to be a little more patient—apparently more patient than the drivers plaguing their neighborhood. 

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