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
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 Uptown PAC angling to stop both a planned Dinerstein highrise (which they say would increase area traffic) and the Post Oak Blvd. dedicated bus lane project (designed to reduce area traffic) has been ramping up for a legal fight lately: On Monday the organization asked the city to stop approving permits for any new highrise developments in the area, and to stop work on the bus lanes, both pending the completion of a new traffic study. Paul Takahashi writes that the group is also taking legal fund donations and looking at filing lawsuits over the matters.
What is the PAC worried about, exactly? Back in 2014, when the group formed to fight the bus lane project and a nixed AmREIT tower previously planned next to the Cosmopolitan condos (where many of its members reside), spokesman for the group said it was worried that ambulances wouldn’t be able to quickly move through increased gridlock stemming from additional development. The talking points have expanded significantly since then; now ABC 13 reporter turned hired investigator-slash-media-attention-consultant Wayne Dolcefino is on the case (the self-consciously horse-centric video below was released late last month), and recent talking points even include calls for the bus lane money to be used to fix flooding issues in not-in-Uptown Meyerland and Greenspoint instead:
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Stop Requests on Post Oak
YOUR CHANCE TO TALK ABOUT LOWER WESTHEIMER BEFORE THE REDO PLANS GET DRAWN UP A meeting is set for 6pm Monday for anyone with opinions about what the Montrose section of Westheimer Rd. should or shouldn’t look like, as the ReBuild Houston folks turns an eye toward the corridor. Traffic consultant Geoff Carleton tells Dug Begley that bike infrastructure is low on the project wishlist, as bike lanes are already planned for W. Alabama. Carleton says that widening the road, which Metro’s larger buses can’t currently fit down, will be a hard enough sell already, adding that current priorities are for Westheimer to be both “walkable and transit-friendly.” A list of links to previous studies of the area’s transit situation is included on the city’s meeting info page. [Houston Chronicle] Image of Lower Westheimer study area: City of Houston
SAVING UPTOWN, HOUSTON’S MASTERPIECE, FROM THE SCOURGE OF DEDICATED BUS LANES The Uptown Property and Business Owners Coalition is out today with a new website (portrayed here) meant to drum up opposition to the Uptown District and Metro’s plans to install dedicated bus lanes down Post Oak Blvd. The lanes, the last vestige of what was once a plan for an Uptown light rail line, would run from dedicated bus lanes linking to the Northwest Transit Center all the way to the proposed Bellaire/Uptown Transit Center near U.S. 59 and Westpark, where they might someday intersect with a University Line traveling eastward from that point. But the team behind the website wants none of it: “Uptown is a Houston masterpiece. Why do they want to ruin it?” reads the copy on the home page. Meanwhile, an introductory blog post on the site encourages readers to attend a friendly “town hall” meeting, tomorrow night at the Uptown Hilton, in the company of “hundreds of angry business owners and Uptown area residents.” [Save Uptown; previously on Swamplot]
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:
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GOT ANY BIG IDEAS FOR METRO’S FUTURE? You know you’ve thought about Metro. And it just so happens that Metro has been thinking about you: Officials plan to spend the next year and a half imagineering a revamped transit system, almost as though from scratch, and they’ve set up a 15- to 20-minute survey to solicit feedback from folks who actually ride the things. Metro’s Christof Spieler explains to KUHF: “You can’t bring in an expert and get the right answer because there’s no one right answer to [the] question. So the first stage of this, which is what we’re getting public input on right now, is actually what should our goals be. What kind of system are we trying to operate? What is the purpose of that system?” If you wanna chip in and take the survey, click here. [KUHF; Transit System Reimagining; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Allyn West
HOUSTON’S NEW SHORT BUSES Metro will roll out a fleet of these 15-passenger van-like buses this week on 13 underused routes, reports The Highwayman’s Dug Begley: “Following a voter referendum to continue giving a quarter of Metro’s sales tax collections to local cities for road repairs, the agency said smaller buses would be a better fit for routes where conventional 40-foot buses were mostly empty.” According to a press release from Metro, the shorter 27-ft. buses will have “all the amenities” of the conventional ones, with “header signs, interior pull cords, and audio/visual announcements.” You’ll be able to see them for yourself tomorrow at the Southeast Transit Center on Scottcrest; the buses will begin running routes Wednesday and Thursday from the Magnolia TC on Harrisburg and the Acres Homes TC on Little York. [The Highwayman; Ride Metro] Image: Write on Metro
The driving force of a project that Uptown Houston District has proposed to the city to transform Post Oak Blvd.? Big beautiful buses. With both residential and commercial developments like Skanska’s 20-story office building popping up along the major transit corridor and METRO’s Uptown/Gold Line nowhere in sight, the District has developed a $177-million project featuring light rail-like BRT to update Post Oak — a street “that has long outlived its original use,” says John Breeding, the District’s president.
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The hip-hop spokeskids for Houston’s transportation agency are out with their second CD — though, as Houston Press music editor Chris Gray notes, it appears that in at least one video by the Transit Boyz, the rapping progeny of Metro employees have been replaced by puppets. Puppets modeled after the Beastie Boys. A few other references are thrown in too: “We like big buses and we cannot lie.” Yes, they really did just say that.
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FREE CNG BUSES WILL CRISSCROSS DOWNTOWN Beginning next spring, a new free shuttle service called Greenlink will connect the George R. Brown Convention Center to City Hall — and about 20 stops along the way. The fleet of seven 30-ft.-long buses running on compressed natural gas is being paid for by the Downtown Management District, Houston First (the new corporation that now operates the convention center), and British gas company (and new Downtown tenants) the BG Group, with help from a grant from the Federal Transit Administration. Buses will run every 20 minutes along the 2.5-mile route from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm on weekdays only, and every 7 minutes at lunchtime and other peak traffic times. Update: Stops haven’t been chosen yet, but here’s a route map. [Houston Chronicle] Photo: George R. Brown Convention Center
THE AIRPORT DIRECT SHUTTLE’S LONG GOODBYE After a ride on Metro’s newly discounted but still cold-as-a-meat-locker Downtown-to-IAH shuttle, Texas Watchdog reporter Steve Miller hears from an Airport Direct staffer just how last-ditch an effort last month’s price cut was. The new $4.50 one-way fare has increased revenue only slightly, the staffer reports, “but it will have to do more or the plug will be pulled in June.” In less-direct language, a Metro spokesperson backs up that statement. [Texas Watchdog; previously on Swamplot]
Has Metro ever made a more expensive mistake than spending $42 million on a contract with a Spanish rail-car construction firm that violated federal procurement rules? Now that the American subsidiary of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles has agreed to return $14 million of that money, the answer is yes: That would be the $41 million Houston’s transit agency reports it spent on developing an intermodal terminal at the corner of Main and Burnett streets just north of Downtown. Metro CEO George Greanias confirms the agency has given up on the design (above), which would have included a giant octopus-like dome, bus bays, a commuter rail terminal, a “kiss-and-ride” area, and maybe a Metro RideStore, restrooms, newsstands, food stands, and gift shops. There will still be a Burnett Transit Center station with a North Line rail stop, but Greanias tells the Chronicle‘s Chris Moran the trashed design would have been too expensive to run. Metro may have even killed the bus station part: Greanias says they haven’t decided whether any other modes of transit will connect to the light-rail line at that location.
Image: Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects
$4.50 FROM DOWNTOWN TO THE AIRPORT That shuttle service Metro’s been running from Downtown to IAH just got a whole lot cheaper — and added a few stops on the way. The Airport Direct service used to leave from the transit center at 815 Pierce St. with maybe one or 2 passengers a trip and cost $15 one-way ($10 if you could show a valid plane ticket). As of yesterday, the ride now costs $4.50, but stops also at the Main St. Square station and the Four Seasons, Hyatt, and Hilton Americas hotels before heading up the freeway. The transit agency has been losing $1.5 million a year on the every-30-minute service since it was introduced more than 2 years ago. [Houston Chronicle]
PEARLAND FINDS ITS PARK AND RIDE SPOT Metro will build a Park & Ride lot on 12 vacant acres at the gateway to the Southfork subdivision, at the southwest corner of Highway 288 and Airline-Ft. Bend Rd. (otherwise known as County Road 59): The board also authorized staff members to execute a design-build contract with the unidentified property owner that ‘will allow them to build the complex in accordance with Metro’s specifications and do it quicker,’ [Pearland assistant city manager Jon] Branson said.
The facility will be a base for commuter shuttle buses between the Pearland area and Houston, including the Texas Medical Center. It is expected to provide much-needed traffic relief for residents who live in or near Shadow Creek Ranch and Pearland Town Center, [Metro vice president Kimberly] Slaughter said.
The Texas 288 corridor averages about 96,000 vehicle trips a year, Branson said.
When the shuttle facility opens this fall, it will have parking to accommodate 750 vehicles. Another 750 parking spaces will be added later, Branson said.” [Ultimate Pearland]