THE MCCONAUGHEY IS STRONG IN THIS ONE A mere 6 months after Jim Carrey, Metro is out with its own riff on last year’s series of commercials for the Lincoln MKCemceed by a dusk-cruising Matthew McConaughey. But there’s no Texas Longhorn blocking the road for Metro’s version (above), meant to uh . . . re-introduce the transit agency’s newly reimagined bus service, scheduled to kick off in 4 months. Mixed into the atmospherics is a bus driver’s subtle diss of folks’ reliance on some of the old, less popular routes axed in the bus-map redo: “Where’re you really going on the road less traveled? Probably nowhere really great.” [Metro] Video: Metro
After a year and a half of redrawing, presenting, and tweaking, Metro’s “reimagined” transit plan was approved by the transportation agency’s board today. The interactive map above shows the whole system in all its reconfigured glory, including the new rail lines currently scheduled to begin running in April. Bus routes will switch over to the above route system in August.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: TURNING HOUSTON INSIDE OUT “It might be that the best outcome for Houston is for the Inner Loop to have an exurban quality of life. Send commuter rail out to the suburbs — not for the suburbanites to commute to downtown — but for the Inner Loopers to commute outbound in the mornings to densely clustered (out of necessity) suburban tall office towers surrounding the stations, and then back into town in the evenings.
This is more viable than the traditional idea of New Urbanist suburbs with transit connecting them to a downtown core since politically none of Houston’s suburbs are on board with cultivating a small town ambience, but are ok with letting office builders do their thing.
To be sure, suburbanites would still commute to downtown but it will be seen as an aberration. Downtown will still have things to do after dark, but other areas of the Inner Loop, connected by LRT/buses/cars/bikes/sidewalks, will do a much better job of providing the QOL aspiring exurbanites may crave.
Suburbanites will, of course, still commute to a large extent to the office towers in their suburb. But they will do so by car, and won’t care about the urbanist quality of life (in other words, nothing will change for them).” [anon22, commenting on Here’s the Freshest Satellite Photo of Downtown Houston You’ll See All Day] Illustration: Lulu
WHY METRO TRAINS ARE ALREADY ROLLING AROUND UH No, the new light-rail lines won’t be ready to carry passengers anytime this year — if you’re looking for a ride, check again in 2015. But over the next couple of weeks, you may see a Southeast Line train or 2 skirting the western and southern borders of the University of Houston. Starting today, Metro will be shuttling vehicles along the path shown in red on the Purple Line map at left, from the corner of Elgin and Scott Streets through MacGregor Park to the vehicle storage facility just past the Palm Center Transit Center — for safety testing.Map: Metro
Metro has posted the latest designs for the enormous Hughes St. overpass along Harrisburg Blvd. on the far-east segment of the East End rail line. The $27-to-$42-million bridge is meant to carry cars and Green Line passengers over the Union Pacific East Belt freight rail line that runs north-south just west of Hughes St., between the soon-to-open East End line’s between the future Altic and Cesar Chavez stations. The posted design concepts, Metro notes, combine a “garden” wall and a wall noting a few 4-digit numbers important in the history of the neighborhood with a ribbon of white LED lighting above and blue accent lighting underneath and along the columns:
WHEN HOUSTON HAD A PLAN, AND FUNDING, FOR A DOWNTOWN PEOPLE MOVER Digging into 40-some-year-old documents resting comfortably in the Houston Metropolitan Research Center at the Julia Ideson Library, Christopher Andrews pieces together the story behind the Downtown People Mover once planned for Houston. Houston was approved to receive $33 million in federal funding for the project in the mid-seventies, along with 4 other cities, but withdrew its application shortly after Harris County voters approved the creation of Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1978. After Houston dropped out (along with Cleveland and St. Paul), actual downtown people movers ended up getting built in Detroit and Miami. “The City of Houston’s 1976 proposal to the UMTA,” writes Andrews, “called for a 1.09 mile system, composed of 2.25 lane miles of track bisecting the ‘heart of the downtown core,’ stretching from the Cullen Center to the Harris County complex. It was intended to be fully owned, operated, planned and financed by the City of Houston, and was said to garner ‘strong and wide local support.'” A later report commissioned by the city showed alternatives to that north-south route along Milam St., including an elevated line running down Main St. past (and into) the (recently demolished) Foley’s building. [Not of It] Renderings: Sperry Systems Management/Houston Metropolitan Research Center
COMMENT OF THE DAY: RAILROADED “Southern Pacific (not Union Pacific, as one writer claimed), demolished this station in 1959. Critics may blame Houstonians for failing to rally and save the building, but the fact is that the modern architectural preservation movement didn’t start until the early 1970s, and even my architecturally hip home town of Chicago let some classic beauties like Louis Sullivan’s Stock Exchange slip away before public sentiment for preservation began to build. The first downtown railroad-station preservation-restoration project did not take place until 1973, when the Southern Railway’s vacant Terminal Station in Chattanooga was transformed into a restaurant and hotel complex.
If anybody has any photos of the interior of the SP station in Houston I would like to examine them for a book I’m writing about what happened to each of the big downtown stations in North America. SP’s Houston Station was designed by Texas’s most celebrated architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick, who also designed the Shamrock Hotel, the T&P station in Fort Worth, and dozens of admired hotels, factories and commercial buildings. Photos of his T&P station are all over the Internet but SP demolished his Houston station before anyone had a chance to make any good photos.” [F.K. Plous, commenting on The Secret Train Station Hidden Downtown] Illustration: Lulu
No, no one’s expecting Metro’s 2 new light-rail lines to open any sooner than late December (as Swamplot reported last week), but some progress toward that goal is now visible on portions of the East End and Southeast lines: “Live wire” or powered testing of the downtown tracks began this week. The photo at right, sent in by a reader, shows a Metro train moving unescorted along the tracks on Capitol St. for the first time.
Here are some of the purty watercolor renderings the Uptown District has been presenting of what Post Oak Blvd. will look like after the addition of 2 dedicated bus lanes down its middle. The proposed changes to the thoroughfare won’t take away any of the 6 existing car lanes or 13 existing left-turn-signal lanes. There’ll be a few modifications, though: new protected-left-turn signals will be put in at West Briar Lane and Fairdale, for example, and 3 median openings will be closed. The space for the buses and 8 transit stations along the Boulevard between the West Loop and Richmond Ave will come from acquiring 8 feet of right-of-way from each side of the existing street. The bus lanes and light-rail-style stations will go in the median:
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO BUILD A SUBWAY IN HOUSTON “A subway WILL work in Houston, albeit at a significantly higher cost. I’m a civil engineer who builds tunnels, nationwide. They’re not even significantly more expensive in Houston than elsewhere. Tunnels in LA, NY, Chicago, Montreal, London etc all have to deal with bedrock — which is very expensive to tunnel through. Instead, Houston uses open-cut excavation and massive soil amendments + ground water pumping to tunnel. For example — the depressed portions of US-59 from Shepherd to Montrose (or the depressed portion of Beltway 8 from Boheme to I-10) are essentially a tunnel with no roof because they’re lower than the bayou and the ground water table; it took expensive soil amendments and pumps to build that, the same as a subway. Our commuter rail tunnel projects in LA are bidding for between $18M-$20M per mile of track, while the at-grade portions are only about $4M per mile. We consistently find that tunnels cost about 4x-5x as much as at-grade track. Meanwhile, elevated track costs roughly $25M a mile (6x at-grade costs). . . .” [Ornlu, commenting on Comment of the Day: How About a Rail Line Along the Bayou?] Illustration: Lulu