A Grand Central Station for Houston?Metro recently hired a firm to begin preliminary design on a "Grand Central Station" intermodal terminal just north of downtown (Chronicle). Christof has published his usual insightful and detailed analysis on the CTC Intermodality blog (permalink1, permalink2), and I posted my preliminary thoughts here last spring. A few pros and cons:
- Relatively open land where many existing and planned lines come together
- Makes sense to consolidate Greyhound and Amtrak and link them into the other local lines, which also facilitates Buffalo Bayou and Midtown redevelopment
- Lots of mixed-use land redevelopment opportunity nearby (although one has to wonder about the impact of a Greyhound terminal on the desirability of that development)
- Not really central to the light rail network and job centers, which would be south Midtown
- Flood-prone area
- The staggering $150 million estimated cost
- Heavy commuter-rail focus, which I have written on before and still believe is a major transit mistake for Houston
- Not a destination in and of itself. Getting to the heart of downtown still requires a transfer. David Crossley has spoken repeatedly about how big a mistake this can be, when stations go where it's easy rather than where people really want to go. Metro is aware of this too, which is why they're pushing for the new light rail line along Richmond instead of Westpark - yet they seem to be overriding that wisdom with this choice.
Here's my recommendation to Metro: proceed, but scale down. Design this thing to start small with incremental, modular additions over time as the demand materializes. Start with a BRT/LRT transfer station plus Greyhound and maybe Amtrak (which may not be going through Houston much longer anyway). Don't force the HOV express busses there - they should take people directly to the destinations they want to go and circulate there. Stop calling it "Houston's Grand Central Station," because that creates public expectations and budgets that may motivate unwise decisions in the future (see previous paragraph). You might say that it may evolve into Houston's Grand Central Station over time, but plunking $150M down in one shot is a recipe for disaster. If it helps, try to imagine a national media expose in 2012 with a huge and elaborate building but only a trickle of users: "Houston's Grand Central White Elephant."