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City of Houston New Sidewalk Requirements

Following City Council approval of the Walkable Places Transit-Oriented Development initiative in August 2020, the City of Houston modified sidewalk standards to enhance walkability of Houston and improve safety and accessibility in the pedestrian environment. In short, there are new “safety buffers” surrounding sidewalks that must be adhered to for new construction and redevelopment. The safety buffer is typically a 4-ft strip between the edge of the road and the sidewalk.

Starting October 1, 2020, the Planning and Development Department began reviewing sidewalks and safety buffers for new construction, renovation, conversion, and addition projects along public streets in Houston. The Office of City Engineers reviews the engineering details while the Planning department reviews location and widths. These changes were implemented to:

  • Streamline the permitting process, provide clarity and flexibility on when and where sidewalks are required

  • Improve walkability and pedestrian safety in Houston

  • Support the Vision Zero goal of ending roadway deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

This new process allows the Planning and Development Department (PD) to review sidewalk widths and locations simultaneously with landscaping requirements along the public streets. It will allow planning staff to enforce the ordinance compliance before it reaches the late stages of the permitting process and avoid unnecessary delays. The new process also gives applicants the flexibility to file an application for the modification of sidewalks or safety buffer standards. There is a non-refundable fee of $1144 required with the modification application and there is no guarantee that the application will be approved. There are exceptions to the new sidewalk requirements:

  1. Existing sidewalk is in good condition and meets current width standards

  2. Sidewalk is within a planned community with alternative paths or trails in lieu of sidewalks

  3. Sidewalk is within a sidewalk easement that provides pedestrian accessibility adjacent to the public street

  4. Street is a grade-separated freeway without frontage road.

  5. Street is a grade-separated freeway with frontage road where PD, Office of City Engineer (OCE), and Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities (MOPD) determines it is infeasible or unsafe.

  6. No roadway or no plans to construct a roadway

  7. Cost for sidewalk is more than 50% of project (determined by CIP) except in the Central Business District, along Walkable Places or Transit Oriented Development streets

  8. The property is located along Fourth Ward streets. Call 832-393-6600 to speak with a staff member for confirmation of requirements.

  9. The applicant has received an approval of modification of sidewalk standards

  10. Certain repair and rehabilitation work will be performed by government entities

A critical component of the new sidewalk requirement is the very common scenario where a property does not have enough space for the required safety buffer and sidewalk between the property line and the edge of the road. In this case, the applicant must either submit an application for the modification and hope the City approves the proposed sub-standard safety buffer/sidewalk or place the public sidewalk within the limits of the property. However, placing the sidewalk within the property means that a sidewalk easement must be provided. The sidewalk easement must be submitted to the City for review and approval, which takes several months due to the easement being routed to multiple departments. So, it's important to check if the ROW has enough space for the required safety buffer and the sidewalk early in the development process in order to avoid delays in plan review.

Learn more about sidewalk requirements with the City of Houston by contacting one of our COH experts.

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