Tag Archives: Northeast Houston

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 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.