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]
METRO JUST MEANS AFTERPARTIES ARE OUT OF THE QUESTION On the way to asking a larger political question, a personal testament to the moderating influence of going car-free: “See, in the past month I’ve had absolutely no problems getting to where I want to go. I can grab groceries, visit friends. The other day I took my primary romantic interest to dinner and a movie. We hopped a few buses to the Marq*E, headed back across town on a 20-Long Point to Ninfa’s/Navigation, then grabbed two buses back to her place. Thing is, it was a 3:30pm movie. You can get anywhere on the bus, but you have to do it *early*, because if you stay out too late the buses stop running. Transit doesn’t alter your mobility, it alters your lifestyle. I can hop a 40-Telephone and grab some extra-large CFS at the Dot Coffee Shop. But I can’t do it at 3am. I can catch a 25-Richmond to the drum and bass night. But to get home will require an expensive cab ride, unless I jet the party when other people are still showing up. Basically, transit has an incredible power to make you square.” [Keep Houston Houston]
It’s now a whole lot easier to figure out how to get around Houston using public transit: Metro routes have at last been embedded in Google Maps. Which means if you use Google to plan a local trip, figuring out how to get there by bus or rail is now as simple as choosing “By public transit” from a dropdown menu. Schedule info is right there too.
So far, the public transit option shows up whenever you use Google Maps to get directions in Houston — or you can start from a separate Google Transit gateway here. Not yet activated for Houston: Google’s Transit Layer, which in other cities lets you see all the routes at once.
Even more convenient: If you can get Google Maps on your mobile phone, you now have access to bus and train directions and schedules there too. Here’s a video demonstrating how that works:
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We all know riding bikes on trafficked Houston thoroughfares is dangerous. Finally, though, someone’s doing something about it.
No, not putting in bike lanes—that would be absurd. A notice on the Metro website reads:
METRO will soon equip its local fleet with bike racks to help you navigate congested streets on your way to bike trails, work, school or other destinations.
Join us as we kick off this new chapter in METRO transit history. [emphasis added]
Let’s hope this attempt to take bikes off the streets is effective.
Photo: Flickr user richardmasoner