Gulfton: Walking, biking, riding buses – and worrying

About two out of every five people who live or work in Houston’s low-income Gulfton area don’t drive, according to a new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. Walking, riding bicycles or boarding buses to get where they need to go, the report says, many of them are concerned about their safety.

A street and apartment complex in Houston's Gulfton neighborhood. Photo credit: Google Streetview.

A street and apartment complex in Houston’s Gulfton neighborhood. Photo credit: Google Streetview.

The newly released report finds that people in Houston’s Gulfton neighborhood walk and use public transportation more than average Houstonians but have safety and reliability concerns about both.

“Planning From Inside Out: Using Community Responses to Address Transportation, Infrastructure and Safety Concerns” includes data from surveys conducted with people who live and/or work in the Gulfton area. The surveys, which had 306 respondents, were conducted between December 2017 and April 2018 at key locations in the neighborhood and included questions about perception of infrastructure and facilities such as sidewalks, METRO services and bike paths.

Kinder Institute researchers Dian Nostikasari and Grant Patterson, who co-authored the report, found that about 40 percent of the neighborhood’s inhabitants — both residents and individuals who work in the area — do not drive and instead rely on walking, biking and public transit. However, issues such as street safety (tied to dangerous traffic and crime) and public transit service reliability are of great concern.

“The research highlights how engagement with residents can amplify the connections between daily travel challenges, infrastructure and how to improve their ability to participate in city life,” the researchers said. “The Gulfton neighborhood has experienced persistent street safety issues for years, especially along major thoroughfares and near schools. Crime is also a concern in the neighborhood, adding up to a hostile environment for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Despite four out of five survey respondents who said that sidewalks are available on most neighborhood streets, safety concerns may discourage walking. People living in the area identified problem spots for crashes and places where it’s dangerous to walk in the neighborhood’s social service hub at Hillcroft Avenue and High Star Drive, near schools throughout the community and near large apartment complexes at the northern end of Gulfton. Forty-six percent of the survey respondents reported witnessing near-miss incidents involving automobiles and pedestrians, and noted that these near-accidents often threaten especially vulnerable people such as young children, older adults and those who use wheelchairs.

Witnesses who’ve seen either crashes or near-misses blamed a combination of people’s behavior and a lack of safe infrastructures, the researchers said. A Gulfton resident recalled how a woman was nearly hit because she had problems crossing a wide street.

“[The] distance between crosswalks was too far, she can’t cross without running out of time and cars start coming at her,” the respondent said.

When asked about public transportation, more than half of respondents said they were satisfied with bus connections to important destinations, but many of them raised concerns about the reliability of transit service and their own safety around bus stops. In addition, residents who rode the bus regularly reported lower satisfaction with service reliability (68 percent) than those who mainly drive or walk (79 and 75 percent, respectively).

The researchers hope this study will complement official data collected by the Houston Police Department and the city, such as crash data from the Texas Department of Transportation.

“While official crash data provides important information and accountability for reported crash incidents, it does not tell the whole story,” the researchers said.

The study is available online at

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.