Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Afton Oaks and routing the new east-west University rail line

The Chronicle has a story today about strong Afton Oaks opposition to the new light rail line going down Richmond through their subdivision, with the helpful attached graphic on potential routing options of the west end of the line. I've previously stated my thinking on routing the line, and have a few additional thoughts to add.

First, one way or another, I now believe the line needs to end physically at the Galleria, even if that requires a northbound "hook" on the end. A lot of business travelers and conventioneers staying downtown or in the Medical Center might make one transfer to go shopping at the fifth largest mall in America (from the Main LRT to the University LRT), but not two (to the Uptown BRT). The hook shown above doesn't go quite far enough. It really needs to be extended all the way up Sage to Westheimer. This Google satellite map shows that stopping at Richmond would leave too long a walk and would probably confuse visitors. Getting all the way up to Westheimer (or at least Alabama) also improves access to some substantial office buildings west of Sage that can be seen in the map with their long shadows. This Sage hook is also interesting because it leaves all of Post Oak open for the Uptown BRT, creating more overall transit coverage for the Uptown area (map).

Now back to Afton Oaks. My first thought is that a Richmond routing makes a whole lot of sense, and Metro might consider pushing through this opposition (with reasonable accommodations for residents, of course). There really aren't that many oak trees in the median (maybe they could be pruned for power line clearance and kept?), there's a lot of right-of-way, not that much traffic, and it's a much more direct routing.

That said, if Afton Oaks is not an option, there is a routing that is not in this graphic that should be considered. Weslayan and Timmons should not be considered: Weslayan is full of traffic and needs the capacity, and Timmons doesn't get over 59. The Union Pacific railroad right of way is definitely the best option, and gets the most access to the commercial strip along Richmond before turning south. There has been some talk of Edloe, but it would lose access to a lot of Greenway Plaza and this commercial strip (inc. the Edwards theater).

The alternate routing: down the UP railroad RoW, then turn west on the northside feeder of 59. That feeder gets very little use, and could even be reduced to a single lane. Then either hook back up to Richmond, or, more creatively, take it over the new 610 feeder trench but under all of the ramps and the 610 bridge. There's a lot of dead space among the columns under that bridge and those ramps. Seems like it wouldn't be too hard to route the rails through there with a little clever engineering. See here for a satellite map to visualize. This option also completely preserves the Westpark RoW for future commuter rail all the way into Midtown.

I'd love to hear feedback or other creative ideas in the comments.

9 Comments:

At 8:19 AM, July 28, 2005, Blogger David said...

If one were to be entirely pragmatic in terms of ridership and convenience, the line would begin at the intersection of Post Oak and Westheimer, go east on Westheimer to Highland Village and then turn south on Buffalo Speedway to Richmond, then east to Main Street. This gets Galleria/Uptown, Highland Village, Greenway Plaza, Upper Kirby, and Montrose into the system.
But it's important to remember that this line and the Main Street line are not the ultimate urban zone transit backbone that is needed to connect the six major activity centers: Westchase, Uptown, Greenway, Medical Center, Downtown, and Greenspoint. That line is more like an inter-city line, with no stops except at those centers, and probably ought to be almost entirely in freeways except for landing in the hearts of those places. It needs to be fast. If you think about that possibility, you have a little different view of where this basically local service should go that we're discussing now.
And I agree that the Westpark line should be saved for some sort of commuter service, or for part of the backbone.

 
At 8:59 AM, July 28, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I really like that routing. You're right - it hits more key places. I think I'd pick Edloe over Buffalo Speedway though: less critical road capacity loss and better access to Greenway Plaza and the Edwards Theater.

The biggest downside would be the loss of lanes on that part of Westheimer, which are already some of the most congested in the city, esp. right at 610. The Uptown District may rebel. Richmond is a much less congested road that could probably absorb the lane loss better. And you kinda have to realistically ask yourself: would Highland Park shoppers ever use transit?

 
At 9:13 AM, July 28, 2005, Blogger David said...

Of course, one of the principles that we've put forward is "no loss of existing transportation capacity." That would mean no loss of lanes on Westheimer or Buffalo Speedway. With the refusal to consider elevating the line, that leaves either removing any kind of medians as well as expanding right of way. TxDOT wouldn't blink about the latter.
One reason to put it on Buffalo and maybe impact car traffic is the Lamar High School and St. John's playing fields. Either traffic should be reduced to less than 20,000 a day on Buffalo or those playing fields should be closed, because they're too close to all those flying particles.
The major reason we can't consider this round of transit lines to be part of the urban backbone is because it doesn't have dedicated, separated right of way. So that brawl is still out of in front of us.

 
At 12:48 PM, July 28, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

You all fail to recognize that only a handfull of snobbish Highland Park shoppers would ever set foot on the friggin' taxpayer-subsidized "alligator."

The bureaucrats and central planners do not understand human behavior.

Unless Mayor White adds to his "Caesar" proclaimations that in addition to Houstonians not having the right to change a flat tire, they no longer have the right to operate a motor vehicle; thence, everyone is to be herded like sheeple onto METRORail.

 
At 8:34 PM, July 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sheesh tom, tell us what you really think... Such smooth talk will get you over that 10,000 vote mark in the next election for sure.

 
At 5:18 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

anonymous,

I don't predicate my comments on the hope that if I use politically correct rhetoric or tell them what they think they want to hear will somehow dupe a yellow dog straight-ticket Kerry voter to change a long conditioned behavior.

I am consistent in my position of opposing government waste, fraud and abuse of precious taxpayer resources.

This is not the forum to comment further on your post.

 
At 11:04 PM, July 30, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"my position of opposing government waste, fraud and abuse of precious taxpayer resources."

I'm another anonymous but I would just like to say that this isn't the forum for rambling on about your "position" either. This post by Tory asked for creative ideas about the east-west Uni rail line, not whether or not you agreed with rail in general.

In the future, I think it would benefit everyone if we could please just stay-on topic instead of wasting everyone's time with random political rhetoric.

 
At 10:12 AM, July 31, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

I too like the idea of bringing the light rail closer to the Galleria. Even though Richmond/Sage is a bit less than 1500' from the south end of the Galleria making it reasonably close, I think the line would be much more appealing if it actually connected directly to the Galleria (all in air-conditioned, sheltered comfort...).

But the big question is what's the long-term vision for that line. Is it meant to run along Westpark and extend outward and outwards? If we take David's approach that these lines are essentially ribs that will connect to a more significant backbone, then we can stop thinking of this line as serving people way out there.

Maybe the best ultimate routing for this line is to go through the Galleria and somehow swing back down to the Gulfton area before connect-in with the Westpark park-and-ride (where it would link with the future backbone). Or vice versa. I think a lot of Galleria shoppers would use the park-and-ride lot to ditch their cars if they could then take the train the final mile or two directly into the heart of the Galleria, especially during Christmas season.

Frankly, I think parts of the routing in the Uptown area have got to be elevated or underground. I think one could develop an attractive overhead profile to match some of the futuristic-looking streetscape amenities and signage that Uptown has invested in to brand the area.

 
At 4:08 PM, July 31, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Anonymous,

It appears, had you been a passenger on the Titanic, you would have told the person who insisted the ship was sinking, and that it was lunacy to be discussing which pattern to arrange the deck chairs, and state that "this isn't the forum for rambling on about your "position" either."

"In the future, I think it would benefit everyone if we could please just stay-on topic instead of wasting everyone's time with random political rhetoric."

METRO has already stated they are not sure that the east/west rail scheme will meet FTA's critera.

Further, I predict that METRO's east/west tram scheme will not survive scrutiny, let alone a federal court challance on the Certification of Financial Capacity.

You're all too deep in this fantasy football-like rail exercise.

 

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