The 2 new METRO bus lanes — linking a proposed Bellaire transit center to the new middle-of-the-road path up Post Oak Blvd. — won’t run over the actual building at Chick-fil-A’s Richmond Ave location, but they will cut through the property. Last month, the fast-food company agreed to vacate its spot at 5005 Richmond after the State of Texas initiated an eminent domain proceeding against it — and the location subsequently closed. (The 4 strip tenants in Weingarten Realty’s surrounding Richmond Square Shopping Center — BestBuy, Mattress1One, Cost Plus World Market, and Luggage & Leather — are also targeted in the proceeding.)
Adding the new transit route (shown in the map below as a vertical orange line partly covered-over with yellowish-gray) is part of a whole tangle of changes TxDOT has planned for the 610-59 interchange:
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METRO NOW TESTING OUT SELF-DRIVING BUSES FOR HOUSTON
Preliminary tests of the new autonomous buses METRO is studying for potential use in Houston have gone well so far, agency board member Sanhjay Ramabhadran said at a luncheon in Cy-Fair on Tuesday — “although,” he added, “they tend to overheat in the Texas weather.” The next test phase, METRO spokesperson Jerome Gray tells abc13, “will be on the campus of Texas Southern University with a small bus at slow speeds.” If it goes well, a prototype could then graduate to real traffic. Last January, the U.S. Department of Transportation named Houston one of 10 official proving grounds for driverless buses “in part for its miles of HOV lanes that could easily work as testing lanes.” [abc13] Photo: METRO
TEXAS CENTRAL HAS NEARLY A THIRD OF PROPERTIES NEEDED FOR BULLET TRAIN, IT SAYS
Would-be bullet train builder Texas Central tells the Chronicle’s Dug Begley it has secured nearly a third of the properties it needs for the planned rail line between Houston and Dallas. But Begley notes that company “officials have not specified where those tracts are located or how much of the 8,000 [required] acres they include.” The train developer is currently negotiating with landowners to buy up parcels along the route. As for plan B: “Though state lawmakers essentially have barred the company from using state authorities to condemn property, Texas Central maintains it has some options via federal authorities as a railroad, under Texas law.” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of Texas Central public hearing at Woodard Elementary School, Cypress: Marc Longoria via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: TEXAS CENTRAL’S PARKING GARAGE ISN’T JUST A SIDE GIG
“Site plans of both stations (Houston and Dallas) make it clear that the revenue model for this project isn’t selling train tickets — it’s selling parking. This site is ideal for that purpose: there’s no where nearby (walking distance) to compete for parking revenue, and it has a much cheaper land cost than Downtown. If you’re going to make the station 80 percent parking garage, why bother spending the extra money running it all the way to Downtown?” [Angostura, commenting on What Texas Central’s Proposed Houston Bullet Train Station Looks Like in Place of the Northwest Mall] Conceptual rendering of Houston bullet train station from W. 18th St.: Texas Central
The video at top put out by Texas Central pans around the what’s now the Northwest Mall and its parking lot to show a new double-arched bullet train station and parking garage replacing them in the crotch where W. 18th St. and Hempstead Rd. meet the West Loop. Texas Central chose the 45-acre site over 2 others it was considering just south of the mall for the Houston terminus of the planned Houston—Dallas rail line. The terminal building — coded orange in the site plan above — sits between Hempstead and a new road that’s proposed just north of it. The parking garage would be located inside the gray zone indicated between W. 18th and the new street.
Elevated train tracks enter the station after crossing over a new extended segment of Post Oak Rd. Looking southeast from W. 18th St., one of Texas Central’s conceptual renderings of the site shows the tracks tracks heading into the terminal, next to the parking garage:
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Park and Ride
COMMENT OF THE DAY: NO NEED FOR A TRAIN ON I-10 WHEN YOU CAN JUST PARK-AND-BUS “. . . The train isn’t going to travel that much faster than buses, if at all. Also, buses in the Katy corridor make just one stop at most between the burbs and Downtown (the major route is express from the Park-and-Ride lot direct to Downtown). And people play on their phones on the bus (have you never been on one? the park-and-ride vehicles have nice cushy seats and baggage racks). And unless one’s destination is outside the CBD, no transfers are required; you are likely dropped off within a few blocks of your destination, an easy walk. Furthermore, on the highly used Park-and-Ride routes the buses leave every several minutes; you don’t have to time your arrival, the wait time to depart is minimal. Commuter rail never works like that (though light rail can).
The assumption that rail is going to provide superior service simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s likely to be worse service for the patrons than what we have now with the Park-and-Ride buses. Especially since most everyone will have to drive to the station anyway, so no difference there.” [Local Planner, commenting on Was It a Good Idea To Derail I-10?] Photo: Energy Corridor
THE RIDE TO THE BULLET TRAIN AT NORTHWEST MALL One piece of the agreement announced by Mayor Turner this morning with Texas Central Partners, the company behind a planned bullet train between here and Dallas: a promise that the city and the company will work together on transit options to and from the train’s Houston station. “In the memorandum,” Dug Begley reports, “Texas Central notes the likely end of their Houston-to-Dallas line will be south of U.S. 290, west of Loop 610 and north of Interstate 10. The exact site has been long suspected as the current location of Northwest Mall.” All but a handful of stores inside the mall shut down earlier this year. [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of Northwest Mall: Levcor
STARTING IN JULY, YOU’LL ONLY NEED 2 BUS RIDES TO GET TO GALVESTON Since 2013, when the last regular bus service was canceled, taking a trip from Houston to Galveston on public transportation has been a bit of a challenge: It might take you 1 light-rail train ride, 4 buses, a 3-mile walk, and 4 hours. Thanks to a 2-year grant from TXDoT, support from Galveston County and Texas City, and an approval by Houston’s Metro Board today, it’s about to get a whole lot easier. Beginning July 10th, an Island Express route coordinated by the 2 cities’ transportation agencies will allow weekday service between the Downtown Transit Center in Houston and Island Transit’s Downtown Transit Terminal at 25th St. and the Strand in Galveston 3 times a day — with a transfer at the Bay Area Park & Ride — for $9. There’ll be a stop in Texas City, and bikes can ride too. Metro expects about 20 riders a day to use the service. [OffCite; Christof Spieler] Draft schedule for Island Express: Metro
HOUSTON LIGHT RAIL BEATS THE COMPETITION IN PEDESTRIAN, BICYCLE COLLISIONS PER MILE Following 2 deaths over the course of Super Bowl Week and Weekend resulting from cyclist-vs-light-rail collisions, the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley takes a look at how Houston stacks up nationally in terms of train-related accidents. The verdict, after a look through some National Transit Database data: Houston’s rail system has more walker and cyclist hits per mile “than any other major line in the country.” Houston breezes in at less that 100,000 train miles travelled per collision (compared to more than twice as many miles traveled per collision in Dallas, and more than 17 times as many in Boston). Metro CEO Tom Lambert tells Begley it may have to do with Houston’s high number of at-grade crossings and relative lack of barriers to keep people off the tracks. Begley says that the original decision to build the train at-grade isn’t itself unusual given the cost of elevated rail, but notes that “few places outside Houston have built their lines in some of the most congested and pedestrian-heavy areas of their respective urban regions.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of light-rail train dressed for Super Bowl Week: Christine Wilson
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY ISN’T LONG AND SKINNY ALWAYS OUT OF STYLE? “Maybe it is just me, but I feel like the folks that are for the high speed rail are the same people that are against the Dakota pipeline. The HSR will undoubtedly have large environmental concerns for the state.” [Bocepheus, commenting on High Speed Rail Case Heads to Trial] Illustration: Lulu
FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS TO TALK THROUGH HOUSTON’S RELATIONSHIP WITH SIDEWALKS Taking together a recent rash of of essays complaining about Houston’s walkability, public transit, and sidewalk situation, Joe Cortwright over at City Observatory offers some thoughts on why it might be harder for city planners to buff up the city’s walking infrastructure than focus on its car standards: planners, both locally and nation-wide, don’t have as many ways to measure unpleasant walking experiences, or sufficient language to describe them. Cortwright writes that the anecdotes and narratives put forth by Houston’s frustrated would-be walkers are “rich and compelling in their detail, but lack the technocratic throw-weight of quantifiable statistics or industry standards to drive different policies and investments in our current planning system. [ . . . But] this isn’t simply a matter of somehow instrumenting bike riders and pedestrians with GPS and communication devices so they are as tech-enabled as vehicles. An exacting count of existing patterns of activity will only further enshrine a status quo where cars are dominant. For example, perfectly instrumented count of pedestrians, bicycles, cars in Houston would show — correctly — little to no bike or pedestrian activity. And no amount of calculation of vehicle flows will reveal whether a city is providing a high quality of life for its residents, much less meeting their desires for the kinds of places they really want to live in.” [City Observatory] Photo: Flickr userbpawlik
LAND PURCHASES BEGINNING ALONG PROPOSED HOUSTON-TO-DALLAS BULLET TRAIN ROUTE Texas Central Railway’s CEO tells Realty News Report’s Ralph Bivins that owners of some properties in the projected path of the planned Houston-to-Dallas 200mph rail line have already agreed to sell their land to the company, which is hoping to get started on construction of the 90-minute route next year. Tim B. Keith says he’s “encouraged with the progress” of what he refers to as the project’s “voluntary land purchase program.” He notes that “Texas’ Constitution and state statutes have long granted eminent domain authority to railroads such as Texas Central, as well as pipeline companies, electric power companies and other industries,” but calls eminent domain “a last resort.” The line’s Houston station is now planned for “the area along the 610 Loop between 290 and I-10″ after a Federal Railroad Administration review rejected the idea of a Downtown stop because of projected high costs and environmental impacts. [Realty News Report; Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Tokaido Shinkansen Tokyo-Osaka line: Texas Central Railway
In response to word from the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley this week that the Red Line’s Reliant Park light-rail stop might get its station name updated to an even older name, a Swamplot reader jumps on the case with a system-wide list of potential station name changes that might remain unaffected by the sale, rebranding, or demise of any nearby venues or landmarks. Begley notes it could cost Metro around $486,000 to change the Reliant Park stop’s signage. The agency says it would prefer to make the switch at the same time as 2 other station name changes currently under consideration (if they’re approved) — but not until after the Super Bowl, for which a set of cheaper temporary stickers will be deployed to help visitors find NRG Stadium.
The reader, in the spirit of Houston’s budding redesign-it-yourself urban planning scene, suggests that paying up now to swap out all the names that might become a problem later might actually be a long-term cost-saver. The proposed scheme makes sure every station name mentions a cross-street (or maybe a bayou), and keeps some references to existing transit centers, parks, or neighborhoods.
Here’s the full list of suggested switch-outs, separated by rail line, with the current names on the left:
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What’s In a Name
WOODLAND HEIGHTS BUS MAPPERS TO METRO: YOUR NEW ROUTE PLAN MISSES THE TARGET Metro says it’ll be ready to go with its new bus network on August 16, but that hasn’t prevented various groups from petitioning the transit agency to make late adjustments to its route map. One group of Woodland Heights residents is trying to get the new 30 route, which late in the process was shifted east to parallel the new 44 route down Houston Ave into Downtown, shifted west to Watson, Taylor, and Sawyer streets between Pecore and Memorial Dr. before entering Downtown from the west. The current proposed alignment leaves the Sawyer Heights shopping center and its Target without a bus stop. [Not of It] Diagram: Philip Teague
METRO KEEPING NEW BUS ROUTES UNDER WRAPS UNTIL AUGUST 16 Every route sign at every bus stop in Metro’s service area should now have a plastic bag over its head, the transit agency says. Printed on those bags: the same old bus route numbers that’ve always been there, along with a couple of helpful phone numbers. Info on how the route will be changed come late summer should appear on vertical add-on signs lower on each pole. The great citywide bus-stop-sign unbagging (revealing the sign makeovers hidden underneath) is scheduled to take place just before August 16, the day Metro’s revamped route network debuts. [Metro; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Metro