Routing the new east-west light rail line
People have started speculating on specific routing for the new east-west Metro light rail line from the Galleria to UH, so I thought I'd make my own amateur recommendation/ prognostication. In a few years I'll either dig up this link to show how brilliant I was; or, more likely, you'll never hear about it again. I highly recommend opening a separate browser window to follow along with a Google map, zooming in and out and switching to satellite view at will. Makes it a whole lot more fun than just reading some text. That said, let's begin from the western end near the Galleria and go east:
- Post Oak/610 at Westpark: Some people will argue for Westheimer or Richmond, but the reality is that "The Galleria" is not a single point-destination, but a whole cluster with more jobs than many other cities' downtowns spread over a large area. Look at the Google satellite map for the tall buildings that leave long shadows. To serve those effectively, Metro has realized that a long north-south BRT line is needed rather than a simple end-of-line point-drop at Westheimer and Post Oak. So the light rail should start at the southern tip of that line. Longer-term, if the Galleria/Uptown line gets converted from BRT to light rail, it could just turn here and continue down the east-west line - no transfers needed. Also, longer-term, there may be commuter rail along the Westpark right-of-way to far west Houston, and it will need to connect up to the core network here. This brings up another "nice to have" if possible for the east-west line: don't align it along the straight-as-an-arrow Westpark right-of-way that goes to far west Houston. If that commuter line does happen one day, it would be nice to be able to bring it farther in than 610 at 59 - ideally all the way to the Main St. line for easy transfers to downtown or the medical center. The included picture above nicely shows the super-straight Westpark corridor on the south side of 59.
- Down the Westpark corridor to the Union Pacific freight rail line, under the Westpark bridge, up the west side of that UP freight line, and then an elevated ramp (or not?) over the freight line and into the median of Richmond. Satellite map link. Richmond is an overall better routing than the Westpark corridor. There's a lot more existing and potential commercial and high-density residential along it, including Greenway Plaza, plus access to the Menil and University of St. Thomas. Westheimer and West Alabama do not have enough right-of-way. This route avoids the Afton Oaks residential neighborhood and taking out their nice oak trees. It also avoids losing lanes in Weslayan for the north-south jog, which is already packed and cannot afford to take the hit.
- Richmond all the way to Spur 527 off of 59. Then it gets tricky. Richmond becomes Wheeler. Wheeler is not only narrow with probably inadequate right-of-way, it goes through a residential area and right smack through the middle of the TSU campus. Doesn't seem like a good idea to have thousands of students crossing tracks going to and from class. The Wheeler routing also goes along the south edge of UH, which is ok, but not ideal because it will require some long walks to the far side of campus. But there is a good alternate routing.
- Follow the Spur 527 feeder up to Alabama. Then go east along Alabama right into the center of the UH campus (including through the UH stadium parking lot). West Alabama has a lot more right-of-way available for rail in this part of town, and would provide much better access to HCC. The Ensemble/HCC stop would be the transfer station between this line and the Main St. line. It would run a block north of TSU, but it looks like a stop at Burkett would create an easy walking route right to the center of campus (map). And it would be far more convenient for UH students, getting close to the core of campus without necessarily cutting across a lot of common student walking routes.
- Alternate: since I originally typed this, I have gotten information that Alabama may have insufficient right-of-way to keep two lanes each direction along with rail. I think it actually would be ok with only one lane each direction, like Main, but if it is problematic, then I think splitting the line between Alabama and Cleburne makes sense, just like the Main St. line splits between Fannin and San Jacinto in the Museum District. If routing up the Spur feeders from Richmond becomes problematic, I also understand it is workable to put it along or underneath the 59 elevated until it connects up with Cleburne or Alabama down to TSU. Here's what that area looks like.
Comments/debate welcome. And if you agree with it, and know anybody inside Metro with any influence, please, by all means, forward this to them.