Federal Money Rolls In for Uptown’s Post Oak BRT

FEDERAL MONEY ROLLS IN FOR UPTOWN’S POST OAK BRT One of the last few items on Uptown’s to-do list was crossed off Friday: The Houston-Galveston Area Council voted to allocate about $62 million in federal scratch to help pay for the construction of bus rapid transit along Post Oak Blvd. This money, along with continued revenue from Uptown’s recently enlarged tax zone, will fund the estimated $177 million project that, like light rail, will run 60-ft. buses in dedicated lanes between 2 transit centers. Uptown Management prez John Breeding tells the Highwayman that construction could begin as early as 2015. But one notable dissenter, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, doesn’t seem convinced this whole public-transportation thing is gonna work out: “I am afraid we are going to look up in 10 years and say ‘What did we do that for?’ I think I know Houstonians enough to know they are going to want to drive.” [The Highwayman; previously on Swamplot] Rendering: Uptown Management District

44 Comment

  • I’m surprised Judge Emmett hasn’t used a procedural rule to avoid this simply b/c he doesn’t like it. The guys seems to have more power than the Mayor.

  • Judge Emmett seems to have a finger in every pie in Houston. I agree with him most of the time, and he has done heroic work as a mental health advocate, but I think he got this one wrong. 10 years from now the Houstonians that want to drive can still sit in dozens of other lanes along the same route. If they are moving at all, it will be due to those who choose BRT instead of contributing to the traffic jam.

  • Like it or not, Emmett is right about Houstonians. Other than a fringe few, everyone prefers to drive.

    Are they going to take two lanes out of existing lanes for this? The median does not seem wide enough to accommodate two extra bus lanes.

  • I know people have become used to these “federal monies” but federal money shouldn’t be used for projects that aren’t interstate. I wonder what nexus, if any, is used to justify these types of expenditures for city projects.

  • Woah, Dana-X. That type of question requires a fundamental understanding of federalism. We shouldn’t hold our government to such a high standard of intelligence.

  • As usual, most people who support mass transit support others using it…not themselves.

  • Here’s what I say: make drivers suffer. Yeah, I’m going there. Make it worse to drive. Make the traffic back up. Don’t expand any highways for another 20 years. Don’t do it. Force public transit on this town.

    Go ahead, blast me, let me have it. I don’t care. I just spent four fabulous days in Chicago, and I’m so sick to death of all the excuses for why public transit won’t work in this town. We want so badly to be seen as a world-class city, but we’re never going to get there this way. Public transportation can and will work but it’s not going to work if we keep pandering to the drivers who caterwaul constantly about the liberty driving allows us while sitting in the parking lot that is the NW Freeway at rush hour. Oh, but they’re going to get their transportation dollars to drop millions on an expansion of the aforementioned parking lot which will need expansion again in 10 years. What a bunch of garbage.

    It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg question. Will it be demand that drives public transit or will it be the reverse? Right now, nobody is giving me much in the way of choices, but I suppose they will say because I drive to work every day, I must naturally love it. If I didn’t, I’d go ahead and pad an hour to my commute by taking the bus. They call this a “choice.”

    It’s a false choice. Suck it up. Building the kind of public transit that is common elsewhere is never cheap, it’s never convenient, it always comes with a price, but so does catering to drivers. I say, to hell with drivers.

    I understand there is some contradiction underlying this argument. The best public transit system would require hard choices in this town. A lot of nice, historic real estate would probably have to come down to make way for more stations and more tracks. And that kind of system emphasizes the kind of urban density we say we want but often oppose in specific cases. I’m guilty of that contradiction myself sometimes, I’ll admit it.

    But Houston needs to grow up. Force it on us, go ahead. Make life miserable for the suburban commuters we pander to every time this subject comes up. It’s time. The pennypinchers and the naysayers can shove it.

  • This BRT is a just a piece of the puzzle in “solving” Houston’s traffic woes. It’s probably not going to a “silver bullet”, but’s a step in getting some relief. Hopefully, it will get some cars off the road. Hopefully, in ten years it either expands and/ or links up with the light rail.

    The fed’s have always aided the cities with transit funding. The fed’s are currently interested in improving urban air quality. They contribute to interstate projects and mass transit projects. They chipped in $900 million for the ongoing light rail construction.

  • A recent study by the Kinder institute at Rice actually concluded that more than 50% of Houstonians would now actually prefer to have public transportation options and not have to drive everywhere. In 10 years the only thing we’ll be wishing is that we had put this system in place sooner. Just because YOU don’t want to take public transit doesn’t mean everyone doesn’t, and just because someone wants to use transit doesn’t mean everyone does. But a successful city has to have those options. Not everyone can afford to drive a car everywhere they go.

  • “I am afraid we are going to look up in 10 years and say ‘What did we do that for?’ I think I know Houstonians enough to know they are going to want to drive ride horses, streetcars, ride trains.”
    Harris County judge in refrence to paving Main Street
    – 1913

  • *and trains”
    typo… sorry

  • The SECOND the Post Oak BRT is completed there will be plans to replace the busses with light rail. The ROW and 3/4 infrastructure will already be in place. The transformation will be easier to complete than the initial rebuilding of Post Oak that will be necessary to put in the BRT. After this building strategy proves its effectiveness, their will be BRT/LRT down Richmond in no time. This is assured.

  • If Houston is really going to add the millions of residents many are predicting over the next few decades, getting everywhere in this town by car will be a physical impossibility.
    Fortunately, I believe even Houstonians have a maximum threshold for traffic. When a drive into town from Katy or The Woodlands takes 2 hours, I’m pretty sure people will be demanding alternatives, even if it’s only to get others off the road.
    Remember folks—every person on a light rail car or BRT bus is one less person you have to share the road with.

  • Grandparkway cost for a 36 mile segment is 1.1 billion dollars.

    The entire Grandparkway is 170 miles when complete. What percentage of the grandparkway runs through areas with population densities less than 1000/sq mi?

    But yeah, lets just keep getting angry about 170 million dollar project that people will actually use.

    I agree with Anse. +1 to him(or her)

  • #3, Post Oak Blvd. will actually be widened through eminent domain, and the number of traffic lanes will remain the same as today.
    This project is really about helping suburban commuters by linking up Park and Ride buses at the NW transit center and a newly built transit center at Westpark with BRT flowing down Post Oak. In many ways this makes more sense than, and relieves congestion better than any of the light rail lines that take over traffic lanes.
    Bus Rapid Transit is used heavily in Latin American cities, like Bogota, Medellin, Mexico City ,and Quito with much success. Since I often complain to myself that many Houston streets resemble closely the maintenance levels of those in Latin America, it should do well here too.

  • And another thing.

    Qualifications for federal funds originate from the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964.That act (though renamed a couple of times) was updated in 1970, 1974, 1976, 1991, 1999,2005, and most recently in 2012. Section B is dubbed the Federal Public Transportation Act of 2012 –The entire bill is named: Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. You can read about it here.

    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr4348/text

    Jesus, its like you guys only listen to fox news when it comes to public projects.

  • I think my approach is currently being employed by the city of Austin. That town is a nightmare to get around. There is no rush hour for I-35; it’s backed up at all hours of the day and most of the night, seven days a week. Getting around downtown is fraught with struggle. I get the feeling they are manufacturing demand for better public transit up there, and it hasn’t done a thing to dent their growth, and they will be a better city for it.

  • “Not everyone can afford to drive a car everywhere they go.”

    This is only part of the story. Not everyone, including those who CAN afford to drive, wants to waste 2 or 3 hours a day in impossible-to-predict Houston traffic. If there was a viable QUICK way to hop around town, I believe mass transit would flourish.
    The problem with the current bus system is it is stuck in the same slow traffic you’re stuck in when you’re driving your own car (except the commuter buses running in HOV lanes). Add in the time it takes to walk to your bus stop in the hot sun, wait for the bus that probably won’t show up when it supposed to, then the time to walk from where the bus drops you off to your final destination, and it’s clear why the general driver doesn’t take the bus.
    If there was a network of quick, convenient, and dependable public transportation that wasn’t stuck in the same traffic as everyone else, going to and from several key areas around inner Houston, I think/hope a lot of people would use it. I think the BRT is a good and affordable start, and if successful, could be expanded to connect to Greenway, Upper Kirby, Montrose, the Light Rail, etc.

  • I’m with Anse. All highways take away from one place and add to another. Things could be much better.

  • #7 FOR THE WIN!

  • Anse; a LOT of us are going there with you! I’m tired of 30+ years of public transportation repression from our local, state and federal officials, particularly John Culberson and Tom DeLay, who thought more concrete would solve all of our problems. It can’t and it didn’t; the I-10 expansion is already approaching capacity. Don’t even get me started on the Grand Parkway, a project that was built to help increase property values for politicians who owned land in that area (John Lindsay among them).

    Reliable public transportation is LONG overdue, and the lack thereof is keeping us from becoming a truly world-class city.

  • “Qualifications for federal funds originate from the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964.”
    My objection is that I believe the original intent of the federal govt was to operate within its limited jurisidiction and thus to remain relatively small and, most importantly, with relatively limited power.

    That fire ant has long escaped its original habitat though.

  • I have a crush on Purdue. Knowledge is a powerful thing. Unfortunately, in this Country, so is ignorance.

  • “There is no rush hour for I-35; it’s backed up at all hours of the day and most of the night, seven days a week.”

    Horse crap.

  • Congrats Anse for saying exactly what needs to be said. The auto addicted seem to think that freeway construction is somehow cost neutral or “free”. A city is full of differing needs and economic levels, all important to it working as a whole…and I mean “city” in terms of the whole region. I would love to live near a reliable transit line (even a bus) that had limited stops and was not in main lane traffic. We all have a responsibility to make this mess work, and if your wallet is too tight to be a paying participant in an urban environment, consider another option. We have a new anachronym to supplement “NIMBY”….”UPAMWA”…You pay my way. They want everyone else to pay for what they use, but not to pay for anything that benefits the city as a whole.

  • I do not understand why people believe that more public transportation will turn Houston into a ‘world-class’ city, or for that matter, public transportation being a requirement to make a city ‘world-class.’ One must remember that cities such as Chicago and New York were established prior to the widespread use of private vehicles as a transportation option. Houston became a major city more recently, and therefore was developed with private vehicles in mind because they had become a widely used mode of transportation by that time.
    Why some public transporation advocates are thrilled to make ‘drivers suffer’and to ‘force’ transit upon the Houston populace is beyond me. It is one thing if someone prefers to drive less, or not at all, but it is another thing to force these views on others who do drive in Houston, because it is not illegal to do so, nor will it ever be illegal. People can decide which mode of transportation works best for themselves and their families without ‘help’ from activists.

  • Ah, buses up the middle of Post Oak, like a rusty saber slicing up a silk dress–in a word, hideous–the rest of the city gets cool light rail, Post Oak gets buses–would you see buses up the middle of Rodeo in Beverly Hills–or Buses up the middle of North Michigan Avenue–

  • @bwdance, the suburbanization of Houston, which started in the 50′s/60′s and went full tilt in the following two decades, necessitated a transportation policy that focused on the automobile commuter. Those days have not completely ended, but the tide is turning. The new trend is to people moving downtown, inside the Loop. It can’t be sustained if we continue to focus on the needs of people who don’t live in those areas. Development will follow better public transit. It will happen, the same way it happens for highways.

  • Anse has my vote for comment of the day.

  • Anse hits the proverbial nail on the head!

  • Blah, Blah Blah, Anse–if Westside Houstonians continue to rally against rail it really doesn’t matter –the Westside I’d where light rail is needed–it’s were everyone lives!–this bus route is like something out of Good Times–I’m completely unimpressed –you can spout info on public transportation until you’re blue in the face, until you get light rail on the Westside this all is just rhetoric

  • Not sure if it’s part of the master plan, but I’d make the BRT buses look exactly like the trains downtown–inside and out–of course sans the fact they’ll be on rubber instead of rails.

  • @Anse (#17),

    And yet, despite up to 8 hours of bumper to bumper traffic on I-35, the essentially parallel rail line there is a abject failure, with much less ridership than Houston’s. And most would agree that Houston’s Red Line is a success partially due to decreased bus service.

    When is this so-called pent up demand for rail going to manifest itself? Any day now…

  • @Realitycheck

    And an informal poll based on my personal experience concludes that more than 90% of people I work with would rise public transportation to work if it were available in their area.

    But all of that is meaningless. I’ve encouraged many of these same people to take the bus to work – drive to the P&R (identical to a suburban parking lot for a commuter rail station), and be dropped off one block from work (FAR superior to nearly every conceivable subway system). But they can’t be bothered to do it.

    As much as people like to wax grandiloquent about the joys of transit, or even force others to be re-educated into a transit worshipper (see comment #3), they really just want other people to use it.

  • Let’s admit it, there’s nothing “sexy” about a bus, especially the boxy patriotic Metro bueses. Even if they dress up the buses to be futuristic and appealing, they’ll still be buses. Rail has always been “sexy” (ie. appealing, fun, cool, etc.) whether your riding on light rail in Houston, Dallas, or St. Louis or riding the subways in New York.

    But, with a price tag of $177, the Post Oak BRT seems like a decent compromise. It’s a little cheaper than rail, but the same function; mass transit in a dedicated right-of-way. And as added bonus, there shouldn’t be any Metro buses clogging up the regular lanes. And when the time is right, the route could be upgraded to light rail (not sure who easily though).

    $177 million is still quite abit. But, it seems like the project being funded by the Uptown District and the fed’s. Build it! And at least the area wants improved mass transit, even if it’s just a not-so “sexy” bus for the time being.

  • Regarding Austin’s rail…why, praytell, did they choose to run a line to Leander? It is my understanding that you can’t even get to the UT campus on that thing. Are there any stations in downtown? How can you possibly point to that as an example of a failure? It’s a start, it is not a done deal.

    Somebody mentioned the Grand Parkway; it runs through miles of empty farmland, but in ten years that will almost assuredly change. They are manufacturing demand for that highway, and it will increase. Big box retail and strip malls are the future along that road. But people assume that rail will not inspire similar, though hopefully more pedestrian-friendly, development.

  • This makes 100% perfect sense if it allows Park & Ride buses along the route as well (with no transfer necessary from Park & Ride buses to the BRT).

    Being able to zip nonstop from a P&R to an Uptown office building would be fantastic for probably many people out there especially as Uptown continues its constant addition of new buildings and people.

  • Austin’s 1900 people per day is humiliating.

  • @Anse #36

    Austin’s siting of its route and stops are the result of the political process. Anyone operating on their own set of priorities without having to consider the cost of the tradeoffs can have a brilliant plan. When you actually have to do it, it gets kind of messy, inefficient and billion dollar over budget-y. Any and all Houston transit projects will have the same complication.

    P&R is your answer to how Houstonians view mass commuter transit. It is used fairly consistently by about 25% of people that go downtown.

    Every city has commuter traffic problems, and the pain seems to even out ~1hr one way for normal suburbanites in my anecdotal experience with Houston, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, NYC an LA.

    Some people will drive from Columbus, and others pay $2k per month for 800 sq. ft. in Midtown, but these are outliers as are the folks that want to condemn those that don’t think like them to misery out of spite.

  • Another huge problem is that if one lives in the burbs and needs to take P&R bus to another P&R to switch to one or two more buses to get downtown and then walk for a couple of blocks…. That would take much longer than just sitting in the traffic for 1 hour while listening to morning radio and sipping a coffee.

  • Anse (comment #36),

    Austin’s rail uses the right-of-way of old freight route. Capital Metro had already purchased this corridor years before. The rail is classified as “commuter rail” and never runs in the street like our light rail does. Houston has considered the possibility of running mass transit down current and former railroad R.O.W.

    Austin’s rail serves downtown and the eastside with a few stations. UT is not connected by rail and suffers from connectivity and convenience.

  • I think it’d be really fascinating to study suburban workers form different areas (Katy, Woodlands, Pearland, Sugar Land, etc.) commuting to the same job downtown for the past 20 years and see how their travel times have adjusted over time. Even with the freeway expansions, I’m guessing it’d be worse for every worker when compared to 1994?

  • A lot of talk here is about public transit in general, but nobody is complaining about that Kafkaesque hellscape known as Post Oak/Galleria. Whenever I say “I have to go over by the Galleria” I get responses like, “better leave now before the lunch crowd” or “If you hurry, you might avoid rush hour” but everyone really knows that the rush there never ends, it just changes names depending on the time of day. If you’re lured by that siren song of shopping, then you have to deal with a mess of stores all stacked so close and yet impossibly far away. Going to both Nordstrom Rack and DSW for example, which are directly across the street from each other, requires you to deal with traffic, circle a parking lot for 5 minutes, wait for someone to pack up a stroller, get in and out, then try to find a way across a mess of traffic and then start circling all over again. You can walk, but it’s a street with near-white pavement and no shade, making a blinding walk that is oppressively hot and god forbid you fall prey to one of those traps disguised as crosswalks, which at first seem to give you enough time to cross the eight lanes of traffic, but somehow exist in a faster place in time. That combined with lanes full of angry drivers, all sharing the same rapidly waning interest in traffic laws and an obliviousness to the neighboring soft-bodied pedestrians makes for a dangerous crossing. If anything, the BRT might change how the area is perceived and make it a little friendlier.

  • Has anyone else noticed that this will only connect BRT with it’s southern terminus Park and Ride? The northern segment to the NW TC won’t be taken up (by TxDOT until 2018. Not connecting both Transit Centers from the outset may hurt ridership. Additionally why stop at the NW TC? Why not acquire land that is currently the NW Mall parking lot and create a second TC that can serve the future Hempstead Highway tollway, future commuter rail, and rapid transit (BRT or LRT) all in one location. Commuter rail making a stop here and a second one Downtown (post office site?) would make for easy commuter rail to rapid transit transition–it would solve the last mile issue for a far greater number of potential riders.