Both Red- and Purple-Line connections to Hobby Airport made METRO’s latest shortlist of proposed projects around town. They’re indicated above by the blue segment which runs east from the Red Line’s current terminus at Fannin South and past a proposed spur that’d reach up to the Purple Line’s last stop at Palm Center Transit Center. Together with all the proposed bus route upgrades colored orange, they’d cost the agency about $3 billion to build.
That price tag is on the high end of what METRO expects to have in its budget for projects over the next 2 decades: somewhere between $1 billion and $2.8 billion, according to the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley. Planning for the worst case, the agency also released a plan B — which eschews all airport rail connections in the name of frugality:
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NEW BIRD-SHAPED BOATS PUT FORMER WOODLANDS CRUISER PASSENGERS IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT
A flock of 10 swan-shaped boats has now picked up where The Woodlands’ 6 Waterway Cruisers left off when they were destroyed by Harvey last year — reports the Villager’s Marialuisa Rincon — rendering the township’s shipping channels unnavigable by public transit. (One Cruiser survived, but town officials decommissioned it anyway when they terminated their contract with the boat service’s operator in February.) Now, their “long-necked replacements” have former passengers taking water travel into their own hands through the use of a rudder — and their feet, by pedaling — to get where they want to go. Lake Robbins and anything past the Anadarko Bridge along the north edge of Lake Woodlands are off-limits — but aside from that, it’s pretty much free swim in the rest of the lake, as well as the upper and lower waterways. After hours, all bird boats rest in the Riva Row Boat House opposite The Pavilion. [Houston Chronicle; more info] Photo: The Woodlands Township
BOBCAT TEDDY’S NEW BCYCLE STATION IS READY TO ROLL
The recent docking of a new BCycle station outside the former Jimmy’s turned Bobcat Teddy’s Ice House on the corner of White Oak Dr. and Threlkeld St. brings the total number of bike hubs in the system to around 60. Its installation was supported in part by a fundraiser held at the bar last month during which representatives from Texas Gold Sprint’em — an operator that hosts stationary bike races complete with emcees and accompanying AV equipment — were on hand to organize competition. Now that road-ready vehicles are on-site at the venue, they fill in a gap along White Oak Dr., where no other BCycle station currently exists. [Houston City Planning Department; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Houston City Planning Department
WHAT TXDOT’S TINY 2-YEAR PUBLIC TRANSIT ALLOWANCE ADDS UP TO
Transit-focused fact-finder Allyn West pulls out this nugget from the Texas Tribune’s report on regional transit development: “While the Texas Department of Transportation has a budget of more than $26 billion for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, less than 1 percent of that is earmarked for public transit.” That puts the burden squarely on county and local agencies — including metropolitan planning groups like the Houston-Galveston Area Council — to dig up funding for non-car-catering projects. [Texas Tribune via Allyn West] Photo of Preston St. METRO stop: telwink via Swamplot Flickr Pool
The first stretch of concrete is down along a northern portion of the dedicated bus route that’s set to run up the middle of Post Oak Blvd. between Westpark Dr. and the West Loop. The photo at top looks north to show the freshly-paved southbound lane lying in the middle of the existing roadway, where it’s now making a stop at San Felipe St.
Its next drop-off point: Ambassador Wy., as indicated in the map below:
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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