Tag Archives: Houston transit

Culberson Opens The Door To University Line

It’s probably no secret that recent years have brought some huge changes at METRO… a complete scrubbing of former leadership, the formation and soon-to-be implementation of an entirely new local bus system, and the successful construction of 3 new light rail lines.  For all these reasons, the METRO of today has very little in common with the agency from 6 years ago.

Even still, a few issues have haunted new leaders from the past, like the ongoing stalemate which has prevented Houston’s transit authority from receiving federal funding for two key rail projects… the beleaguered University Line down Richmond and the Uptown Line, currently planned as Bus Rapid Transit.

But as Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle reports, agency leaders may have found a way to bring the stubborn Congressman on board with rail, or at least not continue to stand in its way…

Metro and U.S. Rep. John Culberson have called a truce in their war over a planned light rail line on Richmond Avenue, suggesting an end to an impasse that has stymied local transit development.



The announcement follows months of discussions and comes days before Metro is set to open two new rail lines serving east and southeast Houston. The Green and Purple lines open May 23, the next step in development of a light rail system that has divided Metro and many critics, notably Culberson, since voters approved it in 2003.

From his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Culberson has stopped Metro from receiving any Federal Transit Administration funds related to rail on Richmond or a similar rail plan along Post Oak, later converted to a fixed-route bus system.

Culberson represents voters west of Shepherd along Richmond, many of whom vigorously oppose the rail line.

Recently, Culberson announced he would seek to continue cutting off the Richmond money in the next federal funding bill, but he softened his stance by saying Metro could seek money for the lines if they receive local voter support in a new election.

See here for text of the actual amendment.

Culberson has promised to allow the funding to go through if and only if  voters approve the rail construction through a new ballot referendum.

But let’s be clear on what the Congressman did not promise.  If a new vote occurs, rail supporters can be sure that Culberson and his group will do everything in their power to defeat the measure.  The door to funding may have been cracked open, but it is far from a guarantee.

However given the previous situation, any amount of progress is worth recognition.  This is a huge victory for METRO, particularly Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia.  At a time when the University Line seemed all but forgotten, this move sheds light on a lot of hard work being done behind the scenes.

We’ll learn more next week in a press conference.








After Reimagining Approval, Challenges Remain For METRO

There’s no doubt that the top-to-bottom redesign of Houston’s bus system was the result of lots of hard work.  Since its approval last month, System Reimagining has received national media attention, mostly in the form of high praise from transit enthusiasts and critics alike.

But plans on a page are one issue.  Bringing the new bus network into reality is an entirely different animal, particularly in the case of Houston.

Jarrett Walker, the transit guru that led the design team for Reimagining, is not a native Houstonian or even Houston resident.  But from his interview with NPR, and via his blog Human Transit, he seems to have a grasp of the unique issues surrounding Houston mobility

Houston had it much worse than most cities, for some local reasons.  Along the northeast edge of inner Houston, for example, are some neighborhoods where the population has been shrinking for years.   They aren’t like the typical abandoned American inner cities of the late 20th century, where at least there is still a good street grid that can be rebuilt upon.  In the northeast we were looking at essentially rural infrastructure, with no sidewalks and often not even a safe place to walk or stand by the road.  Many homes are isolated in maze-like subdivisions that take a long time for a bus, or pedestrian, to get into and out of.  And as the population is falling, the area is becoming more rural every year.


Houston’s situation is worse than most; less sprawling cities can generally prevent any part of the city from depopulating in the context of overall growth.  But in any city there are going to be less fortunate areas, and the disastrous trend called the “suburbanization of poverty” means that increasing numbers of vulnerable people are forced to live in places that are geometrically hostile to high-ridership transit, and thus demand low-ridership coverage service.

For all of the reasons Walker states, these same impoverished areas are the ones that will be most negatively affected by the System Reimagining plan.  But the challenge for METRO is that these low-density areas also represent a significant portion of the agency’s current ridership… residents that are fully reliant on the bus system, and have fewer alternative transit options than those in other parts of the service area. If the new system all but discourages the current ridership base, could Reimagining backfire on METRO??

METRO has placed a tremendous bet on the Greater Houston area… if given the option will people that do not need the bus choose to ride the bus?  It’s an question that no one has the answers to at this time.  But judging by current trends across the area, this assumption is not a very safe bet.

To make matters worse, METRO doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of critical time they have to educate riders about the new system.  Save for a few vague English-language fliers, the expansive advertising and materials effort for Reimagining has yet to commence.  With the Houston Rodeo now happening in full swing, early March would seem an essential time to get the word out about the redesign, as it is the month where our area experiences its highest MetroRail ridership of the year.  And granted, plenty of riders will be visitors to the city, but many more will be the very people METRO would hope to lure onto new bus service this Fall.

Conversely, the education effort is also behind for affected communities where services are going to change, or be lost altogether.  It will take a massive amount of outreach to citizens in Northeast Houston so that they are informed when these changes occur.  Some citizens have already suggested METRO will be charged with discrimination if these services are cut.

At this point, it’s too early to predict how System Reimagining will be received by the Houston region.  But one thing is quite clear. The work of METRO and its partner agencies is just beginning.  Let’s hope that work picks up steam very soon.

Off the Kuff has more on System Reimagining.

Metro New

A METRO flyer about the new bus system.



Houston METRO “Approves” System Reimagining Plan

In a 4 hour meeting that became heated and personal at times, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County took another major step towards the agency’s System Reimagining plan.

With State Representative Borris Miles, and other elected officials and community leaders present, the plan was approved pending a 60-day intensive study with further recommendations to come back before the board in November.  Basically, METRO is now fully committed to System Reimagining, but has not yet finalized the new routes.

“In reality we will not lock any of this in until March”, board member Christof Spieler said.  “We are required to hold full hearings [on the Reimagining Plan] once schedules have been written, and to allow the public to look at those schedules before this moves forward.”

Before the vote, testimony was given with citizens speaking both for and against the new plan.  Joetta Stevenson, a member with Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood Civic Club, had some very specific concerns.  “System Reimagining is going negatively impact 19 percent of Seniors in the Fifth Ward community. You cannot single out minority and poor areas for less service.”  She noted that residents like herself will lose direct coverage routes to centers like LBJ Hospital and Ben Taub. She also had some issues with the new Flex Zone plans, preferring to keep fixed route service in her area.

In response, Spieler pointed out that the new plans will actually help a large number of Houston’s poor residents by expanding services in under-represented, high-density areas.

“The areas that benefit the most from the this plan are minority and low-income areas.  If you look at population density, [Gulfton] is by far the largest concentration of low-income residents in the area, and they have been dramatically under-served by our system for decades.”

Thus the decision behind METRO’s approval today… move forward with Reimagining, but keep making adjustments to the routes.

Houston has the distinction of being the both one of the nation’s largest and most sparsely populated cities.  In recent years, the city has experienced rapid densification in certain areas, but it’s still a long way off from the density of cities like New York, Chicago, or even Los Angeles.  It’s these challenges that have caused the need for System Reimagining, and also the reasons that residents are so worried about the changes.  It’s important that the region move forward and find ways to improve the transit system, so for that residents should be glad for METRO’s step this week.  Change is rarely easy, but as long as the agency and community continue to dialogue, Houston and Harris County will get the transit they need for the 21st Century.

As Board members made clear, this week’s vote is not the final say for the ambitious Reimagining project. But it does make clear that the days are numbered for the area’s current system. Even with difficulty, change can be a good thing.



Houston: METRO Reconsiders FLEX Service

All summer long, Houston area residents have had the opportunity to learn about Transit System reimagining… the complete restructuring of METRO’s local bus network.  If done right, the plan will connect residents to more job centers and points of interest than ever before, while providing a significant improvement in service frequency.  It’s an ambitious goal, but the agency believes they are almost ready to remake public transportation in the nation’s fourth largest city.

However some parts of the original draft present concerns, particularly converting large swaths of Northeast Houston from fixed route service into FLEX zones… basically a hybrid service between fixed route and METROlift.  This plan has generated some concern from affected community members, and blogs such as Texas Leftist.

But the latest reimagining update shows that METRO is reconsidering the draft proposal on FLEX, based largely on community input. In addition to the original draft, there are now some proposed alternatives to FLEX, including entirely fixed-route options.  Here’s a rundown of the new plans, excerpted from METRO’s update…

1)  Original Draft Plan

Flex option 1

2) Reduced Size Flex Zone
Flex option 2
3) Fixed Route Service (optimized for Cost) 

flex option 3

4) Fixed Route Service (optimized for Coverage) 

flex option 4

(Excerpts from METRO’s full update on reimagining)

First it’s really good to see METRO’s willingness to incorporate so much of the feedback within their updated presentation. It shows that the agency is truly concerned with giving Houstonians and multi-city residents a system that works best for them.  Secondly, the expanded options give the public a greater ability to choose what works, instead of being forced to adjust to an unfamiliar new system when it is implemented.

METRO also admitted (after this blog’s original suggestion) that ridership on the 52 Hirsch north of Mesa Transit Center was high enough to justify the retention of a fixed route.

Given that Northeast residents will be the ones most affected by reimagining, METRO’s careful consideration on these plans is needed and appreciated.  Northeast Houston may decide that a FLEX option is what works best for them… they may not.  But at least now they have more information on the matter.  We’ll see what is adopted in the final plans, but kudos to METRO for getting this far.

Crane Insane: Downtown Houston Construction Update

By now, most Houstonians are used to seeing the occasional crane in downtown, and even more so in the Texas Medical Center. There is always something being built anew in the Bayou City these days.

But as we enter the latter part of 2014, Downtown construction is about to go from a small group of projects to insane with cranes. This rapid growth, the largest growth spurt seen in Houston since the 1980s, will also have it’s fair share of growing pains. As Swamplot reports, traffic can get tricky…

IF YOU’RE wondering what the late-night traffic holdup is in and around Main St. and Texas Ave. over the weekend, here’s your explainer: 180 mixing trucks are going to be lining up to pour a continuous stream of concrete onto this site surrounded by Main, Texas, Fannin, and Capitol streets downtown, where D.E. Harvey builders is putting together a little office building — now slated to rise 48 stories — for the Hines CalPERS Green development fund. The action starts at 7 pm on Saturday and should finish up around 3 in the afternoon the next day.

Weekend street closures are just the beginning. If you are a frequent visitor to downtown, start planning some alternate routes now. By the fourth quarter of 2014, downtown should see 15 simultaneous projects (possibly more) entering the high construction phase. That translates to a lot of blocked streets!

The motivation behind the copious construction is in part due to the business community’s self-imposed deadline of having a new and different downtown by the 2017 Super Bowl. Hopefully everything can get done by then, but for the meantime, Houstonians are definitely going to notice the changes.

Here are some pictures of the 609 Main construction this weekend, along with a preview of the coming rail stations…


Here is the crane base for 609 Main 


A view of the assembly crane (needed to construct the primary cranes) with a second project crane in the background.


Some projects will be completed this year, like the Houston MetroRail expansion. Here is a view of Central Station for the Green and Purple Line. 


Here is the Main Street portion of Central Station. Houston’s new rail transit services should start in December 2014




Could Worsening Traffic Congestion Hinder Texas Growth?

If you asked most people “what is the life-blood of Texas?”  The first answer they would probably give you is “oil”.  “Water” or “money” could likely come in as other popular answers.

The answer that more people need to consider?  The life-blood Texas, or of any state is roads.  Everyone in the Lone Star State depends on roads to get from point A to point B, to put food in grocery stores and restaurants, and to move other goods and services across the nation and the world.  But from the recent inaction of the Texas Legislature, one wouldn’t know that roads are so important to a rapidly growing state.  Here’s an interesting take from Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune

Among America’s biggest cities, Houston has emerged as a national leader in job growth since the recession, spurred by a low cost of living and a booming energy industry. Bob Harvey, president of the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development group, regularly chats with local employers and those thinking about bringing new jobs to the city. Listening to complaints about Houston traffic comes with the territory.

But last summer, Harvey observed a shift. In conversations with business leaders, concerns about congestion began surfacing more frequently and with greater urgency.

“I can now pretty much count on it coming up in every conversation,” Harvey said late last year. “It’s just the furious amount of growth we’ve seen in the last couple of years that has overwhelmed that problem.”

Variations of Harvey’s experience can be found in other major Texas cities. As the state has outpaced the other 49 in economic growth over the last decade, Texas has seen a surge in its population that’s expected to continue for years to come. 

But the prospect of 20 million more Texans by 2050 has both urban planners and business leaders worried that not enough is being done to prepare for the state’s more crowded future and the potential drag on the economy that might come with such grinding traffic.

Population is going to double. Transportation doesn’t come anywhere close to doubling,” said Tim Lomax, a research engineer with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “Is the congestion in the Texas cities going to get so much worse that instead of Texas being a place that attracts jobs, it becomes a place that repels jobs?”

It’s a burning question that everyone in the state needs to be asking. But the conversation starts with funding.  Republicans in the legislature say that they do not support raising taxes to support Texas’ infrastructure needs, nor do they advocate for spending existing money such as that from the ‘rainy day’ fund.  If the state doesn’t start trying to tackle this problem, it will hinder economic prosperity.  More from the Texas Tribune…

In 1999, computer manufacturer Dell made headlines when it acknowledged that Central Texas traffic had contributed to its decision to expand in Tennessee rather than at its Round Rock headquarters north of Austin. Concerns that the company’s decision would be followed by a wave of copycats never materialized, but regional traffic problems remain a serious concern, said Jeremy Martin with the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

“It has impacted expansion opportunities,” Martin said, though he declined to give specifics. “Companies want to be close to where their employees live and want to make sure there’s adequate transportation and real estate available.” 

“Adequate transportation” by most standards is not exclusively roads.  Several Texas Metros, including Dallas and Houston are working hard to improve mobility in their respective regions.  Both are investing heavily in various forms of public transit.  Local solutions are critical to help the state’s traffic woes, but the legislature in Austin should not expect for municipalities to bear the full burden, or the cost of preparing for Texas’ future.

All the more reason to make transportation a central issue of the 2014 elections.  Texas voters need to hear from state lawmakers about their plans for road and infrastructure funding, and need to know that those lawmakers have the political will to solve these issues.  If roads are indeed our life-blood, let’s not wait for a heart attack.


‘Re-imagining’ Public Meetings Scheduled

After the big announcement earlier this month, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas is ready to move to the next major phase in its System Re-imagining plan.  METRO has released it’s schedule of public meetings to gather input about the proposed system changes.

The public meetings are in addition to feedback that METRO is able to receive right now via the website, by phone and by email.  Here’s the info from METRO’s website.  All meeting times are from 6pm-8pm…

METRO is excited to share the Draft Reimagined Network Plan with everyone, so if you would like a speaker to present the plan to your organization or community group, or have a question about the plan, please email Reimagining@RideMETRO.org.

We will also be conducting a series of public meetings to share more information and receive feedback on the Draft Reimagined Network Plan.

May 28 — Magnolia Multi-Service Center, 7037 Capitol St.

May 29 —Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 W. Gray St.

June 3 —Ellis Memorial Church of Christ, 412 Massachusetts St.

June 12 — Trini Menenhall Sosa Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd.

June 16 — HCC – Northwest College (Spring Branch Campus), 1010 W. Sam Houston Pkwy. N.

June 19 — HCC – Southwest College (Alief Hayes Campus), 2811 Hayes Rd.

June 26 — Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center, 6500 Rookin St.

July 9 — White Oak Conference Center, 7603 Antoine Dr.

July 10 — Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center, 3810 W. Fuqua St.

July 15 — Westbury Baptist Church, 10425 Hillcroft St.

July 20 — Third Ward Multi-Service Center, 3611 Ennis St.

July 21 — Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, 4605 Wilmington St.

July 22 — Mangum-Howell Center, 2500 Frick Rd.

July 24 — Northeast Multi-Service Center, 9720 Spaulding St.

July 28 — Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, 6719 W. Montgomery Rd.

July 31 — Kashmere Multi-Service Center, 4802 Lockwood Dr.


Hopefully community members, especially those that most depend on METRO’s services, will make it to one of these meetings, have their voices heard. and allow METRO to address some of the concerns that have arisen with the new plan.