A Temporary Home for the Alley Theatre; How Dead Is the University Line?


Photo of MFAH: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool


32 Comment

  • University Line: West Park is the way to go and for which all people involved would agree most.

  • Whewww, that was a close one with the dumb toy train going to Uptown. Hopefully this will put the issue to rest for a few decades.

  • Could someone please explain to me again why we can’t put light rail on Westpark instead of Richmond? It would sidestep the opposition on Richmond, and also take it further away from Post Oak – which is part of the opposition’s concern.
    The last time I asked, the answer was “because the line wouldn’t have good ridership numbers.” But the more I think about it, the more I question this. It’s true that a stop at Newcastle and Westpark wouldn’t get many riders – so get rid of that stop and run the trains express! (The Newcastle stop would primarily serve Afton Oaks anyway, and they’re the ones blocking the line). Build the Gulfton stop instead (my understanding is that’s always been a ‘maybe’) – and you’d more than make up for any lost ridership. Extend the line through the commercial core of Sharpstown and on to HBU, and you’d increase ridership even more. (Not to mention making it a true UNIVERSITY line.
    If you can’t tell, I’m frustrated that METRO is allowing opposition to lig rail on Richmond, to kill the entire University Line, and by extension, any hopes of Southwest Houston getting light rail. Would it kill them to be flexible?

  • The only thing that Culberson seems to forget is just how is the rail going to get to Westpark … perhaps fly? You have to connect it up somehow and Richmond is the obvious choice. His obstructionism of a Houston rail system stinks of cronyism displayed by DeLay that made Metro fund their initial rail system using only Metro money while almost every large city in America got federal money. Way to go, Culberson … the land developers must love you!

  • @ZAW,
    The question isn’t whether to put it on Westpark or not, it’s where to cross over to Westpark from Richmond. At Shepherd/Greenbriar? At Timmons? At Post Oak?

    Where would you suggest?

  • There has to be trade off–so the ridership may suffer on Westpark but the costs have to be significantly cheaper as the right of way is already there .

  • Richmond is ideal because TSU and UST are both on it (hence “University” name), and because there is an established Metro hub for trains and busses at Wheeler (Richmond’s eastern name) and Main.

  • The big ridership loss occurs because Westpark has poor access to the employment centers along Richmond from Kirby to Weslayan. The last University Line plan was to stay on Richmond until Cummins, then cross over to Westpark and miss Afton Oaks altogether.

    But whether or not a light rail line ever happens on Westpark, we can now focus our energy where it belongs: getting exclusive-lane BRT on Richmond through Greenway / Upper Kirby, similar to what is being done on Post Oak Boulevard.

  • Westpark to me has always been the best solution, most of the potential ridership will come from south of it and Metro already owns “most” of the right-of-way. @WR I agree that how to get to Westpark is the question. My suggestion is to use the CenterPoint r.o.w. along side I-69 and build below grade. A cut-and-cover tunnel with a linear park and elevated bike/hike trail. The Tunnel would start at Blodgett and would allow trains to run express services with “limited” stops at Kirby and Buffalo Spdwy or Edloe. I would build a transit center at the Railroad tracks, here riders could transfer to shuttles that follow the railroad tracks, one going down Richmond, another down Westheimer and a third running down San Felipe; perhaps in the future run shuttles south along the tracks to West U, Bellaire and Meyerland. These would allow riders to travel to destinations in Greenway Plaza and Uptown. At Hillcroft TC turn the line south and run to HBU. In addition track could be layed along Westpark all the way to HWY 6 with stops at Gessner, Bltwy 8, and Elridge/Dairy Ashford that would be “commuter rail” using the old Siemens trains that can travel 66 mph. As far as Neartown, Montrose, Third Ward, TSU and U of H; I think a “rapid streetcar” or BRT in the median of either West Alabama or Elgin would be more cost effective than building LRT. BUT MOST OF ALL IT HAS TO BE GRADE SEPARATED, rail won’t work west and southwest without it. peace

  • @eiioi: Edloe makes the most sense for a connection to Wespark, which (and I apologize for my original mistake) is where they have it now. (For some reason I thought they were going on Richmond all the way to Post Oak and then turning south).
    The hike-and-bike people have gotten Centerpoint to accept trails on high-tension line rights of way. METRO could work with them to put light rail lines on those ROWs. If they did that, they could come down on South Shepherd, and take the power ROW to meet Westpark at Wakeforest. Stay on the power ROW next to Wespark until Edloe; then get onto the street. Not that Centerpoint would be easy to negotiate with, but I’ll bet they’d be easier than the US Federal Government and John Culberson’s office.
    The point is that METRO seems to have given very easily up on the University Line. I guess it’s easy to just shrug and walk away when you’re talking about bringing trains to Gulfton. If only the neighborhood were cooler and had more hipsters….

  • @Local Planner: How many people in those employment centers will actually use the trains to commute? There’s a lot more retail south of 59, and I would think plenty of shoppers would use that rail.
    Either way, they could make up for any loss of ridership from not being on Richmond, by extending the line to Sharpstown and HBU.

  • @SimplySid
    Have you driven down Richmond in the last few years? The street condition is so poor that most traffic avoids it, and as such it currently can easily accommodate light rail with the exception of only a few places from UoH thru Westlayan.
    Light rail HAS to include the Greenway Plaza area … to do otherwise is sheer stupidity. the current plans, which I agree with, then divert south and then run along Westpark at that point already … so what is Culbertson’s plan? He must want to kill light rail in Houston, period, as it is a threat to the suburban developers to build new “town centers” … we can’t have a vibrant downtown as they can’t play that game! Follow the contribution money and I bet all roads lead to that.

  • Westpark and Richmond are both inferior to Westheimer. Why the hell didn’t they plan to run it down Westheimer from the West Sam all the way downtown. I can’t think of a single stretch of road with a better mix of residential, work & play type uses. It would be overflowing with riders 24/7.

  • Lightrail on Westpark will be a nightmare at Buffalo Speedway. That section of Buffalo (~100 feet between Westpark intersection and 59 feeder intersection) is already jam packed and backed up during rush hour and now you’re going to run a light rail line through it as well? Nobody walking from Greenway plaza is going to cross 59 to use it either – Richmond through that stretch is by far preferable. I’d echo the ‘just make it BRT on Richmond’ point.

  • @ ZAW: Employment centers are a very big deal in terms of transit ridership, even though commutes are only a minority share of total travel. A lot more employment exists north of 59 than south of it around Greenway. While shopping is a “nice to have” for transit users, employment matters much more, especially dense employment such as you find in Greenway / UK. Not that HBU / Memorial Hermann don’t also have employment (and students) to be served as well. Thus I think BRT should be used on Richmond to connect to whatever other meaningful transit services METRO is providing, like Park and Ride or light rail. This is the Uptown / Post Oak Boulevard approach.

  • The amusing thing is Post Oak is going to be “destroyed” (Culberson’s word, not mine) regardless of what he does, because they are going to build BRT on it, which almost certainly will have the same dedicated right-of-way and traffic priority as LRT would have.

    For those wondering why the light rail wouldn’t go on Westpark instead of Richmond, it actually would go on Westpark. The thing is, Westpark ends at Kirby, and it has to go somewhere east of there, so they chose to have it go down Richmond to serve the University of Saint Thomas (hence the name, University Line).

    The only thing is question is where they cross from Westpark to Richmond. They decided Kirby wouldn’t be ideal, so the last I heard was the plan was to build a new overpass just west of Edloe (I think Timmons or Cummins).

    Thankfully, Culberson won’t be in office forever (and I’m ashamed to have him as my congressman). The University Line would go right near my house, and I’m looking forward to him being out of office so we can finally get federal funds to build it.

  • @WR: so, Southwest Houston can kiss goodbye any hope of getting light rail, because the University Line simply must pass through Greenway Plaza on Richmond. Re-routing it to avoid powerful opposition simply isn’t an option. Better to let the whole project die.
    This does seem to be METRO’s approach to it. I just wish it weren’t.

  • Empty grandstanding by Culberson. METRO isn’t in the financial position to build the University Line and won’t be for at least a decade. There’s no guarantee that he or his language are still going to be around by the time METRO actually gets ready to build.

    Also, METRO’s own engineering drawings show the line transitioning across 59 from Richmond to Westpark just west of Greenway Plaza, so his language only affects the portion of the alignment between Timmons and Shepherd. That’s less than two miles, and METRO could redesign the line to stay on Westpark for that length if need be (although it would lose a lot of ridership by missing Greenway Plaza).

    Finally, considering that the Uptown Management District is about to build bus rapid transit along Post Oak, which is essentially rail without the tracks, he hasn’t protected that street from being “destroyed” at all.

  • Culberson has succeeded in killing what Houston voters – and his constituents – have approved repeatedly since 1978. His argument? It’s welfare. It doesn’t help that METRO doesn’t kick and screaqm and that the Mayor won’t fight. Yes, it’s dead for the next decade – at least.
    Personally, I think Richmond is a poor choice. Try Alabama instead, come down Kirby and keep going.
    It would also be handy to come down University or Rice, through the Village and then up Kirby to Westpark. However, those folks that live there have the $$ to block that route!
    So…nothing will be done until a new generation of politicians is elected to do the will of the people. The result: more traffic on Kirby, Richmond, 59, the Galleria and etc. Finally TXDOT will be forced to spend about a billion dollars (for which we cannot vote on) to wreck everything for 5 years with only one result: more road gridlock. How do I know? Because that’s what has happened every 10 years for the last 30!

  • Connecting employment centers with transit is far more important than connecting shopping districts.

    People go to work and leave work at rush hour, when congestion is the worst and transit is most needed. People shop more in off hours, when it’s much easier to drive.

    People at most bring a laptop bag to work – fairly easy to manage on a train. When they shop, they tend to carry many bags, many of which are breakable or perishable – not so train friendly.

    The current Red Line would not be a success without thousands of doctors, nurses, and interns from the south part of town parking near OST and riding the rail in to work. The Red Line is successful in ridership because it connects two very large employment centers. It connects no shopping districts of note. The same pattern is seen throughout the world.

  • The real issue is District 7 makes no sense. It stretches from the Museum District all the way to West of Jersey Village! It was created for one reason; to disenfranchise inner city voters by lumping them with suburban districts so that Republicans retain power. Look at Houston’s districts. They are a joke. Our “democracy” continues to fail us.

  • METRO is a joke. Most of you have it right – connect employment centers and large residential communities. Why wasn’t a line right down the middle of I-10 ever proposed when they recently redid the entire freeway on the west side of town? We could have connected Katy, The Energy Corridor, Memorial Park, a Park and Ride, and Downtown all on one line. What about the proposed new i-45? TxDot plans do not have any lines in them. Where’s Metro? Again, could connect The Woodlands, Greenspoint, northside etc. Instead we have random lines that go out to the barrio (as opposed to the increasing densifying non barrio areas). Maybe this is Culberson’s argument (welfare, not logic) and I agree with it.

  • You know, there’s a big wide pedestrian bridge sitting unused over the South Loop, by the old Astro World property. What if it were dismantled and moved over to the Southwest Fwy to connect Greenway Plaza with points south? This would solve the problem of connecting Greenway Plaza to trains on Westpark, and it’d have the added benefit of allowing workers in greenway Plaza to walk to the restaurants on the other side of the freeway.

  • @ZAW
    It’s just concrete and rebar. Nothing special. It would be cheaper to build in place.
    And there’s no truck that could transport it. And it would crumble on the way there.
    And there are businesses in the way on the Westpark side.
    And walking across the bridge when you have no other choice (because all parking was on the north side of 610) is different than using the bridge when you have several other choices at Greenway including driving your own car, carpooling, taking a local bus, or taking an express bus from the suburbs.
    If the light rail won’t connect in a very easy way to GWP, it might as well not be built west of Main.

  • “If the light rail won’t connect in a very easy way to GWP, then it may as well not be built at all west of Main Street.”
    That does sum up METRO’s standpoint on it I think. Nobody in Uptown, Gulfton, or Sharpstown will have light rail because they won’t do the line if it won’t go past Greenway Plaza on Richmond. It’s a real, crying shame that they’re so bloody inflexible.

  • @ Steve – Why no rail on the Katy? Culberson, of course. It would have been easy to accommodate at the time with relatively less incremental cost, but it conflicts with the idea of a Suburban in every garage.

  • I don’t think METRO is going to get the citizen or political support for urban light rail until they man up and build a commuter rail line or two connecting the suburbs to the urban core. There’s been talk for years about a line on US90A through Stafford, and that’s a good option, but nothing gets done. As Steve said, they owned ROW along the I-10 corridor and pissed that away. They also owned ROW on the Westpark corridor, but those tracks were pulled up and a tollway put in their place. A line along Highway 3 from League city to downtown would attract commuters who hate the 45 minute drive up the always under construction Gulf Freeway.

    METRO says commuter rail is not needed because they have a bus system in place and HOV lanes to get people into town. But each bus only holds 50 riders. A 6 car heavy rail train moves 800 to 1000 people with less energy used per person, and less pollution per rider. Commuter rail would actually have a chance at reducing some traffic congestion here, whereas light rail at grade takes traffic lanes out of commission and does very little to reduce congestion. As built so far, it is just a swap out for regular bus service.
    Denver is building rail out to their airport, which is so far out on the plains it makes IAH look like it’s intown. By sometime next year, a convention goer can land at DIA, take a train from the lower level, and be in downtown Denver in about 30 minutes. In the meantime, Denver runs express busses to their airport from suburban park and ride locations that allow you to park for free on a lot and take the bus to your plane. Without having to go downtown first. If Denver can build a rail line to the airport, surely the “Space City” can figure out that engineering challenge as well.
    I don’t endorse what Culberson has done, since he’s basically allowing federal funds ( my tax dollars) to be diverted from Houston to Philadelphia or Denver. However, METRO needs to see the situation for what it is, and if they were to build support for rail by getting suburban Republican voters to ride it and like it, Culberson and his ilk would be left to look like the obstructionists to progress that they are.

  • @ZAW
    The point of building rail is to connect destinations. If the rules prevent the agency from doing that, then they shouldn’t build rail until conditions improve. What is the point of building rail to pretend like destinations are going to be connected by rail when they aren’t?

    If rules had prevented the Red Line from being built on Main Street, and instead, everywhere north of OST, it had to be on the east side of 288 and 59, I would’ve said not to build it until political conditions get better. Downtown wouldn’t have been connected, and neither would Midtown, the Museum District, or TMC. Instead, you’d have an expensive line that connected Rodeo to Eado and which nobody used.
    Expensive investments which yield little benefits in return take away money from real projects in future.

  • @Shady Heightster
    The tracks along Westpark were not usable, so they were removed. The entire ROW, a 50+ foot strip from west of Fulshear to Buffalo Speedway, is still intact and is available to Metro. Perhaps east of Buffalo Speedway, it could be below grade, and if not, the rail still passes in the vicinity of Uptown and GWP.
    Why not propose that a commuter line be built here? Work to get it on the ballot. Or is it more satisfying to complain about what was done 10+ years ago and how Houston is behind other cities?

  • @ShadyHeightster

    METRO still owns the ROW in the Westpark Corridor. They just sold a portion to HCTRA for the Tollway. They still own enough to run light rail on.

  • Westheimer is already ugly. Put elevated rail there.

  • @eiioi: I still think they could make up for any lost ridership by extending the line out to HBU. I would think that Harwin Drive/ Savoy Drive + Sharpstown Mall Jewelry Tower + Arena Place + HBU = Greenway Plaza as an employment center. I’m also not convinced that people would shy away from a pedestrian bridge over 59. But I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that.
    (Have you seen HBU’s Ten Pillars Master Plan btw?)
    I think the one thing we can agree on, is that Culberson’s move was wrong – indicative of a complete lack of value and of understanding of transit, and a total lack of concern for his Urban Constituents.