WAS IT A GOOD IDEA TO DERAIL I-10? Earlier this week Harris County Judge Ed Emmett appeared to pass judgment on one aspect of the Katy Fwy. widening completed almost a decade ago: “We cannot go back in time and undo some poor decisions, but we can learn from those decisions. One of the most glaring mistakes was the failure to convert the abandoned Katy rail line to commuter rail. Think about it, we had a straight shot from Katy all the way into Downtown.” But ripping up the tracks did not render a future rail line along the path of I-10 completely impossible, notes Dug Begley: “Though the rail line was removed, Metropolitan Transit Authority paid for overpasses along I-10 to be built to rail standards, meaning that if the region ever wanted to use the freeway for light rail, that is possible. Larger, commuter, trains, however would not be able to operate in the freeway.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: cemaxx (license)
COMMENT OF THE DAY: DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT THE WEATHER “I lived in Washington, DC for 8 years and the typical Washington summer day is every bit as miserable as a Houston summer day. (There are somewhat fewer of them, of course.) And all summer, the streets were crowded with people walking. In the dead of winter, when it was 20 degrees out, the streets were full of people walking. The difference is that the city was built for walking; sidewalks rarely vanished mid block. Pedestrian crossings weren’t a mile apart. There were relatively few city streets eight lanes wide to get across.
Obviously the central city density was a big part of that, but funny thing: people seem to actually like walking. Part of that time I lived in Arlington, VA, which is about like the Heights in density, and I thought nothing of walking 15 minutes up the street to the Metro station or the main boulevard where the shops and cafes and whatnot were. I also would regularly visit friends in Takoma Park, MD, another surburban-ish area, and . . . people walked.
When I was in college in upstate NY, people walked (most students didn’t have cars on campus, because why would you have a car on campus). People walked 20 minutes downtown on subzero nights to go drinking. People trudged up the giant hill to campus in snow and wind. They could wait for the campus shuttle bus a lot of the time . . . but mostly they didn’t. They walked.
There are very real reasons that people don’t walk as much in Houston, but the weather ain’t one of them.” [John (another one), commenting on Comment of the Day: Walking Is Not Native to Houston] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WALKING IS NOT NATIVE TO HOUSTON “. . . I do think Houstonians tend to really regard walkers as oddities of nature.
Our climate doesn’t really foster a natural desire to walk outside so it is a strange sight to see someone actually — outside. Walking. As a native Houstonian, it has taken me decades to realize that walking along a bayou trail — and using relevant sidewalks to get to/from it — is actually quite nice.
That being said, I’m more mindful of fellow pedestrians when I’m in my car. I yield for them not only out of lawful duty, general Southern courtesy, but also as a slight ‘Atta boy!’ for them actually walking.” [Wolf Brand Chili, commenting on Comment of the Day: Unlearning That Nasty Stopping for Pedestrians Habit] Illustration: Lulu
THE RIDE TO THE BULLET TRAIN AT NORTHWEST MALL One piece of the agreement announced by Mayor Turner this morning with Texas Central Partners, the company behind a planned bullet train between here and Dallas: a promise that the city and the company will work together on transit options to and from the train’s Houston station. “In the memorandum,” Dug Begley reports, “Texas Central notes the likely end of their Houston-to-Dallas line will be south of U.S. 290, west of Loop 610 and north of Interstate 10. The exact site has been long suspected as the current location of Northwest Mall.” All but a handful of stores inside the mall shut down earlier this year. [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of Northwest Mall: Levcor
WHAT’S BLOCKING THE BRAYS BAYOU TRAIL That sign posted just west of Chimney Rock declaring that the Brays Bayou trail “connects 31 miles of uninterrupted, off-street, multi-use trails and greenspace from the Ship Channel to George Bush Park and the Addicks-Barker Reservoir” is more aspirational than accurate at this point, a Houston Parks Board official admits to David Olinger. (“It got ahead of itself, let’s put it that way.”) Olinger set out to walk the supposed marathon-distance-plus continuum, but found it blocked and interrupted by construction zones, an unidentified fork to a neighboring bayou, and dead ends, including some fronting 7-miles-worth of land adjacent to Arthur Storey Park the parks board is still in the process of acquiring: “I tried walking west from Kirkwood and waded into knee-high weeds. I tried walking north on Kirkwood and found no trail. I drove up and down Kirkwood, searching in vain for Arthur Storey Park. Finally I consulted a map — and found the park about 2.5 miles northeast from the westbound Kirkwood dead end.” The Bayou Greenways trail system is expected to connect that length of Brays Bayou by 2020. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Brays Bayou trail: Jan Buchholtz
COMMENT OF THE DAY: SOME ADVICE FOR WHEN THE TRAIN ISN’T MOVING AND YOU NEED TO CROSS THE TRACKS FOR SOMETHING SUPER IMPORTANT “Some ‘stalled’ train advice: 1. Never crawl under. Always climb over the coupling. 2. NEVER CLIMB OVER THE COUPLING! I was with my bike team waiting for a stopped train in this part of town. Beer was on the other side of the train, so after some time some of the cyclists started discussing crawling under or climbing over. I said not to do it, that it was too dangerous. I was assured that when the train started it would do so ever so slowly and gently. One of the cyclists started to get between the boxcars to climb over the coupling (see #1) when the train VIOLENTLY LURCHED into motion and scared the crap out of everyone. It turns out the train starts very slowly near the front, but very quickly near the end.” [Memebag, commenting on Where Lyons Ave. Will Go Down, West St. Won’t Go North, and Fifth Ward Trains Will Continue Through] Photo: Ruben Serrano, via Swamplot Flickr Pool
BIG I-45 DOWNTOWN REROUTING, GRAND PARKWAY EXPANSION GET GO-AHEADS Yesterday was a big day for Houston freeway expansion and reconfiguration: On Tuesday, the Texas Transportation Commission gave the go-ahead for construction to begin in late 2020 on the first of 7 separate projects that will move I-45 from the west and south sides of Downtown to its east side, paralleling U.S. 59 behind the George R. Brown, reports Chron transportation writer Dug Begley. Separately, the commission also selected design and construction crews for the next segment of the Grand Parkway, from I-69 near New Caney to I-10 east of Baytown. How grand that section of the Grand Parkway actually ends up being may depend on your perspective: This segment of the Houston area’s fourth ring road is expected to cost $1.25 billion and open in 2022 — but the tollway will have only a single lane in each direction. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Diagram of I-45 rerouting: TxDOT
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE NO-BIKE-LANE BIKE PLAN “There’s even a more simple plan: Make the right lane 12 ft. (or more) and the left lane 10 ft. Don’t stripe new bike lanes or overly alter existing regulations. Don’t plan. Don’t get approvals. Don’t p/o motorists with the silly bike lanes that bikers fear and never use. We just need a little extra space for cars to pass us by. And: Motorists will like having buses and other heavy vehicles in the larger right-lane, too . . . you don’t even need signage.” [Chris M(2)., commenting on Comment of the Day: Houston’s New Bike Plan Is Just a Plan] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON’S NEW BIKE PLAN IS JUST A PLAN “The plan is really just a recommendation of where to put lanes. The decision of actually putting in the bike lanes in a given spot will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, mainly as roads are rebuilt. Most of the money can come from TxDOT, TIGER, TIRZs, etc. It’s much easier to get that funding if you have a plan already in place. An example: Maybe your local CIP project involves tearing up a road and replacing it. Instead of repainting the road with the old 12-ft. wide lanes, maybe make them a reasonable 10-ft. wide and spray in a line for a bike lane. That’s a cheap addition to a project that doesn’t involve a lot of overhead that would normally come from a separate project to put in a new bike lane somewhere.” [Biker, commenting on Houston Bike Plan Up for a Vote Again This Morning Amid More California-ization Fears] Illustration: Lulu
TXDOT TO PIERCE ELEVATED: YOUR YEARS ARE NUMBERED, PROBABLY Pending a vote next month by the Texas Transportation Committee, some early-stage projects connected to TxDOT’s plan to reroute I-45 and the whole downtown freeway exchange system could be getting started a few years sooner than TxDOT officials initially thought they would, Dug Begley writes in the Chronicle. (Those early stages include the reworking of the bottleneck on northbound US-59 where Spur 527 now peels off 2 of the freeway’s lanes just before SH 288 merges into the mix.) The first few projects “are incremental compared to the overall plan,” writes Begley, but “officials say [the projects] are important and send the clear message: The I-45 freeway is relocating and the elevated portion along Pierce will be abandoned and maybe demolished within the next dozen years. . . .Work on revamping the freeway intersections is slated for late 2020 or early 2021.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pierce Elevated: Russell Hancock
HOUSTON-TO-DALLAS BULLET TRAIN PUTTING THE BRAKES ON ALL THOSE LAWSUITS The company planning to build a bullet train between Houston and Dallas appears to be altering the legal strategy it had been using to try to get landowners to allow crews on their land to survey property along the proposed 240-mile route. Texas Tribune reporter Brandon Formby says Texas Central Partners has withdrawn 17 lawsuits across the state (including one in Harris County that had a trial scheduled for July) and settled 21 others that had sought court-ordered access. Officials of the private company now say they will seek an “open dialogue” with property owners about letting crews in. The company tells Formby it has already reached land-purchase options with more than 3,000 landowners, accounting for 30 percent of the total number of parcels it needs, and 50 percent in the 2 counties along the route adjacent to Harris County: Grimes and Waller. The company announced last week that the train is now expected to begin operating in 2023. [Texas Tribune; Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Map of proposed high-speed rail routes: Texas Central Railway
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW HOUSTON’S PARK(ING) PROPONENTS SHOULD TAKE IT TO THE STREETS “While I understand, generally, the sentiment behind this initiative, I think in Houston it may be a little misguided. If we want a more walkable environment, with fewer buildings set back behind parking lots, we actually need more on-street parking spaces (to both accommodate business patrons arriving by car and help buffer pedestrians on the sidewalk), and fewer off-street ones.” [LocalPlanner, commenting on The SUV-Sized Parks Parked By City Hall Will Expire in About An Hour] Photo of Park(ing) Day: Allyn West
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE HIGH-SPEED RAIL BUBBA RESCUE SCENARIO “HSR going bankrupt isn’t the worst deal around. Consider: TCR takes a bunch of Japanese + hedge fund money, fails to pay off capital costs, goes into receivership, forfeits the right-of-way to the state for failure to pay back taxes, TxDOT leases right-of-way for 99 years to a consortium of investors led by Tilman Fertitta, after which all trains have cocktails and coconut shrimp served on board. I wouldn’t complain.” [Purple City, commenting on Land Purchases Beginning Along Proposed Houston-to-Dallas Bullet Train Route]
HOUSTON IS THE UBER OUTLIER Houston appears to be the only market in Texas in which Uber is willing to put up with regulations that complicate its business model, writes Madlin Mekelburg in the Texas Tribune — following the rideshare company’s abrupt cessations of service in Midland and Galveston on Monday. In Austin, Uber and competitor Lyft are currently funding a campaign against a recently passed city ordinance that would require more intensive background checks involving fingerprinting of drivers — a safeguard Uber accepted in Houston. “Sarfraz Maredia, Uber’s general manager over Houston, declined to say Tuesday why the company wouldn’t accept the same policy in Austin,” Mekelburg writes. “‘It has become clear that Houston is the outlier in how it has chosen to regulate,’ Maredia said. ‘The rest of our markets have focused on passing modern ride-sharing regulations. As a result, our expansion strategy in Texas has changed to focus on launching only in markets that are consistent with that policy.'” [Texas Tribune] Photo of Houston Uber HQ, 5714 Star Ln.: Uber Houston