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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Houston Tunnels

In August, when the heat and humidity outside seem to be soaring out of control, we feel lucky to have the “climate controlled” option of walking in the Downtown Tunnels.  
Hidden from view (and a surprise to many visitors) a network of more than 7 miles of tunnels and skywalks connect much of the central downtown district and provide a huge variety of services to the 200,000+ business men and women who travel to work in the city center each day. 

Here you can find everything from eating places, hair salons, and retail stores to banks, doctors, opticians and much more. 

We parked in Smith parking garage on Dallas and Smith because the metered street parking did not become available until after 9:00 a.m.  With hindsight it would have been less expensive to use one of the more reasonably priced parking lots in the area.  On the plus side we were able to access the tunnels by the escalator inside the building. 
Color coded tunnel maps are available online, showing all the entrances, if you want to prepare your route in advance and you will find good signposting and the same maps at regular intervals throughout the tunnel system.  Despite this, you will often find small groups gathered round a wall map in serious debate about which direction to take.  We decided to use the maze strategy of keeping to the right all the way round.  

Once underground a whole new world opens up. The tunnels are of varying ages dating back to the 1930’s and construction continues today as new buildings are added to Houston’s growing skyline. Each section of tunnel is owned by the building above and often reflects the character of that building. 

A good example of this is the marble clad section beneath the Mellie Esperson building.  As well as a variety of colors and textures, there are many permanent and temporary exhibitions displayed along the walls and from time to time some arresting artwork or beautiful plant displays. Frequently the tunnel will open into a large food hall or an inviting seating area or you will catch a glimpse of the downtown skyline. 

On East McKinney the tunnel leads into the 2 storey shopping mall of “The Shops at Houston Center” and on into the new skywalk section offering views over to the George Brown Convention Center. 

Be sure to take the opportunity to pop up a stairway into the grand foyer of a large corporation or go all the way up to the viewing gallery of one of the tallest buildings – but that’s a blog for another day.

The visitor’s center in City Hall offer walking tours of the tunnels enriching the tunnel experience with historic information, building statistics and ghost stories.

 We had quite literally walked miles before opting to stop for a drink at one of the many coffee shops!  Restrooms are available in many areas but we have found that you have to ask for a key or a code from the nearest business or restaurant to the facility.  The tunnels are open weekdays during regular business hours – check on line for exact times.  

This is a comfortable, safe and very popular venue with morning walkers of all ages.  We would recommend that you plan to finish your walk by 11:00 a.m. when suddenly the morning quiet is shattered by hordes of hungry workers in search of lunch.  Although the tunnels stay open until 6:00 p.m. they become very quiet after lunchtime.

We covered much of the 8 main linked tunnels leaving only a part of N. Louisiana and Walker tunnels and the disconnected Harris County Tunnel for another day.  Whilst we enjoyed our cool August walk we were both happy to emerge into the real world and the hot summer sunshine.

Enjoy Houston

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