Bagby Street Reconstruction
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Captures and treats 100% of a 2-year storm, up to 437,600 gallons, in rain gardens.
- Removes 85% of suspended solids, 75% of bacteria, 73% of phosphorous, and 93% of oil and grease from 437,700 gallons of stormwater treated by the rain gardens.
- Reduces pavement temperatures by an average of 21.6°F on a June day as a result of street tree shading, which is projected to cover 70% of the street.
- Avoided 300 tons of carbon emissions by sourcing concrete made with 25% fly ash.
- Sequesters 7,872 lbs of atmospheric carbon and intercepts 38,564 gallons of stormwater annually in 175 newly-planted trees.
- Better accommodates pedestrian needs according to 83% of 345 surveyed visitors. 80% of 480 surveyed visitors said the redesign increased safety compared to the street before reconstruction.
- Contributed to a $53 million or 26% increase in the property values of surrounding buildings between 2013 and 2015.
At a Glance
Former Land Use
Houston, Texas 77002
7.8 acres/12 city blocks (0.62 miles)
The Bagby Street Reconstruction project was a 12-block transformation of a vehicular road that connects downtown Houston to the medical district in Houston’s Midtown, one of the city’s largest and oldest central neighborhoods. In recent years, with the introduction of light rail, the area has experienced growth and an increase in popularity. The neighborhood is mixed-use with numerous multi-family and commercial developments. Instead of following the conventional approach of a universal cross-section for the entire corridor, the design uses block-by-block context-sensitive design solutions tailored to each specific location, with common materials, planting, lighting, and signage providing continuity along the entire corridor. The Bagby Street Reconstruction was the first Greenroads certified project in Texas and has established a new benchmark for streets within Houston and beyond. It has become a model for the city’s future street reconstruction projects and has already formed the basis of design for numerous active reconstruction projects within Midtown.
- The street width was reduced from 4 to 2 lanes, resulting in a 276% increase in pedestrian area, a 42% increase in tree growth area, 13% increase in on-street parking, and 42% reduction in pedestrian crossing distance (from 42 ft to 24 ft).
- 14,584 cu ft of rain gardens capture stormwater runoff.
- Text sandblasted on the curb of each rain garden shows how many gallons of stormwater are treated by that particular rain garden. The text is depressed 3/8 in so that it retains water and becomes more visible during a storm event.
- The street was regraded with intersections at high points to ensure that pedestrian crossings do not flood.
- Metal grate bridges over rain gardens are aligned with parallel parking spaces for pedestrian accessibility.
- 352 LED light fixtures are strategically placed to light pedestrian walkways and illuminate the street at night.
- Lighting is both functional and artistic with 1/4-in openings between the slats of the wood benches so their box-like forms appear to be glowing. Soft glow lighting inside the rain gardens highlights plant material or standing water.
- 33 total species of plantings are native or adaptive, including Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum), dwarf Turk’s cap, and spider lily (Lycoris radiata).
- Long-blade grasses make up 50% of understory brush, not including turf. They blow in the wind to accentuate the breezes coming off the Gulf of Mexico.
- Custom ipe benches built around trees and designed to accommodate a wide variety of uses provide a 38% increase in seating and gathering area.
- The pattern and texture of pavers was specially selected for each individual pedestrian area.
- Custom orange bike racks are made from rusted weathering steel. They are simple metal blades with two holes to lock a bike
This project began with a local drainage study that identified Bagby Street as a logical route for a regional stormwater system connecting to Buffalo Bayou, the largest body of water in Houston. The original plan was to install a typical 60-in stormwater pipe 25 ft below ground. This would have required removing all infrastructure within an 80-ft right-of-way, including many historic live oaks. It was during this stage that the interdisciplinary design team realized the tension between the city’s major thoroughfare plan, which designated Bagby Street as a 4-lane thoroughfare despite relatively low traffic volumes, and the Midtown Redevelopment Agency’s vision of a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly corridor.
By conducting a traffic impact analysis to show true vehicular travel demand, the design team and the Midtown Redevelopment Authority were able to shift the focus of the Bagby Street improvements toward creating a “livable center” in which the pedestrian environment receives greater attention. The result was a strategy that called for reducing the number of travel lanes from 4 to 2 with periodic turn lanes at key intersections. 50% of the 80-ft right-of-way was reserved for pedestrian and landscape amenities, providing an opportunity to employ rain gardens and other sustainable measures.
The Bagby Street reconstruction influenced the City of Houston far beyond the scope of the single street improvement. It became a catalyst for a policy-level change in the city. The Bagby Street design initially caused some contention within the Public Works and Engineering Departments as it varied greatly from previous, more traditional stormwater management projects. In order to advance the project, the Mayor of Houston and her staff became involved and played a large role in its completion. At the Bagby Street ribbon cutting ceremony in 2013, the Mayor released a Complete Street Executive Order which called for a change in the way streets are designed throughout Houston. This order mandates that the Planning and Public Works Departments work together on all new transportation developments including parking and bike paths. The departments are required to carry out a Complete Streets analysis and produce an annual report for all new developments.
While typical city improvement projects dedicate 1% of a project’s construction budget to artistic elements, the landscape architect and the client chose to devote 4% of the construction budget to aesthetic improvements along the corridor such as custom-made benches, modern lighting, and unique bike racks. $408,292 of the $9,598,220 construction budget was devoted to artistic elements. In comparison, if artistic elements made up 1% of the budget only $95,982.20 would be spent on aesthetic improvements. This additional investment distinguishes Bagby Street from other urban improvements gives Midtown a unique look that cannot be found anywhere else in Houston. This fulfills one of the primary goals of the Bagby Street Reconstruction Project: to create an aesthetic that would become the new brand of Midtown capital improvements. The design of custom-made pieces is now proprietary to the Midtown Redevelopment Authority.
- The design team conducted pedestrian observation and analysis in 2010 during the recession. Social behavior was different during these early studies. There were far fewer people on the street, especially in the evening, because fewer people went out for dinner and drinks. In 2015, the neighborhood is more popular than before, but there are also many more people out on the streets because the recession is over. If the design team had known how popular this site was going to be, they would have made some changes to the design. For example, in some locations with high foot traffic pavers would be more appropriate than gravel or plantings.
- Seeing how the Bagby Street plantings have fared over time has provided valuable insight for future street reconstruction projects. For example, the Louisiana iris has not been as successful in the rain gardens as anticipated, while the Turk’s cap is resilient even in areas with high foot traffic.
Plants: Hawkins Tree Farm, Semarck Landscape Services Inc.
Soils: Live Earth
Lighting: Hadco-Philips Lighting, Targetti, Bega, Louis Poulsen, Winona Lighting, Bartco Lighting
Furniture, Fences, Gates, Walls: Campbell & Shaw Steel, Inc. (custom steel fabrication)
Irrigation: Hunter Industries, Rain Bird, Febco
Lumber, Decking, Edging: Ipe provided by SER Construction
Structures: Steel tree surround provided by SER Construction
Water Management and Amenities: Convergent Water Technologies
Rain Garden Soil Media: Construction EcoServices, Contech
Client: Midtown Redevelopment Authority
Landscape Architect, Urban Designer: Design Workshop
Civil Engineer, Traffic and Transportation, Hydraulics and Hydrology: Walter P. Moore Engineers
Irrigation: Asakura Robinson Company
Electrical Engineer: Shah Smith and Associates
Structural Engineer: Charles D. Gooden Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architects were responsible for developing the master plan and designing the streetscape. They served as the primary consultant on the project and oversaw the entire process from planning and design to construction and implementation. The landscape architects worked closely with the engineers on the road configuration and stormwater management systems. The landcsape architect was also responsible for communication with the City of Houston and Mayor’s office, which was crucial to the success of this project.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellow: Allan W. Shearer, MLA, PhD, ASLA, Associate Professor & Co-Director of the Center for Sustainable Development, The University of Texas at Austin
Research Assistant: Neive Tierney, MLA Candidate, The University of Texas at Austin
Firm Liaison: Alex Ramirez, Steven Spears, and Allyson Mendenhall, Design Workshop
Shearer, Allan W., and Neive Tierney. “Bagby Street Reconstruction.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2015. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs1000