Afton Oaks and routing the new east-west University rail lineThe 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.