Thursday, February 16, 2006

Winning acceptance for Richmond rail

Update: Chronicle story (see comments).

Continuing our story from last week, yours truly was public speaker #31 out of 47 at the standing-room-only Metro board meeting today packed with anti-Richmond-railers (I was the last speaker on the rail topic). That's 30 people ahead of me, each with 3 minutes to speak, in a room that felt like it was 80+ degrees. Do the math. Fun, fun, fun.

Opinions for and against Richmond rail were raised, with most objections from small businesses along Richmond. There are a few objections I did not address during my speaking time that I wanted to cover here:
  • To those objecting about blocked crossings creating north-south traffic congestion: the Westpark routing has the same issue, so this is not an argument for Westpark over Richmond.
  • The assertion that the majority of Greenway Plaza workers come from the far suburbs rather than inside the Loop: true, but the light rail allows them to take the bus/van/carpool for the commute and still get around during the day for errands, lunch, and business meetings.
  • That there are inadequate east-west alternatives for the lanes lost on Richmond: Do 10+ lanes of 59, plus 6 feeder lanes, a couple hundred yards south of Richmond, not count? Also, if Westpark right-of-way doesn't get used for rail, it then becomes an option to expand Westpark Road.
OK, moving on to what I said. I mainly echoed Councilwoman Pam Holm's desire to see a good process studying all options, keeping in mind the long-term best interests of the city. If, after a fair evaluation, Richmond becomes the choice, I recommended Metro take two actions to alleviate the suffering of small businesses and residents along the route during construction:
  1. Appoint a full-time internal Metro advocate with real power that continuously listens to those along the line and quickly resolves problems during construction and with contractors.
  2. Fund a "Support Richmond Businesses" advertising and signage campaign. I think we saw the heart of our city after Katrina, and we are capable of coming together to support those making a sacrifice for the greater good of the city. If the businesses get the right publicity, citizens will go out of their way to support them. A specific option: maybe Metro could sponsor a daily "Rail construction business of the day" feature in the Chronicle with a half-page profile and advertisement. Another option: temporary signs along the north-south arteries that cross the route promoting the businesses along it. Note to Metro: hire a top-notch PR firm to work out the best program to really drive customer traffic to these businesses.
After I spoke, two Metro board members expressed support for these recommendations and seeking creative ways to support businesses during the hassles of construction.

The bottom line is that Metro is facing a backlash after many businesses suffered and folded along the Main St. line during construction. Metro claims to have learned lessons from that experience, and they need to prove it with this line. If the same problems happen again, the political opposition will get so rancorous that I would venture to say no future lines will get built in this city.

31 Comments:

At 9:04 PM, February 16, 2006, Anonymous nmainguy said...

Tory,
I was there today and heard you speak. I was glad you were the last speaker on the topic because-in my opinion-you stopped everyone cold in their tracks with solutions to assist buisnesses during construction. I found many of the anti's arguments hollow, so it was pleasant to hear that while those that who expressed a preference for Richmond were not dogmatic and demanding in the "my way or the highway" mode many of the anti's were in. What initially started as a discouraging meeting to me, ended on a pleasant note with much thanks to you

 
At 9:14 PM, February 16, 2006, Blogger Kevin said...

# To those objecting about blocked crossings creating north-south traffic congestion: the Westpark routing has the same issue, so this is not an argument for Westpark over Richmond.

It might be the same issue, it might not. It partly depends on the amount of traffic displaced and inconvenienced on one route versus the other. You say you want a study of these matters, but in reality you seem to have made up your mind already without regard to what the study might tell you. It might well be useful to consider those numbers.

# The assertion that the majority of Greenway Plaza workers come from the far suburbs rather than inside the Loop: true, but the light rail allows them to take the bus/van/carpool for the commute and still get around during the day for errands, lunch, and business meetings.

Do you really think this is how suburban commuters coming to work are going to behave? Or is this another example of advocates of a certain way of life wanting to change behavior of people who may not want to change via transit policy?

Real business people in the real world wearing real wool suits in the real heat of Houston in August don't go stand in that heat at a train station to head downtown, to stand in the heat again before transferring to another train, to walk in the heat until they can hit the air-conditioned downtown tunnel system.


# That there are inadequate east-west alternatives for the lanes lost on Richmond: Do 10+ lanes of 59, plus 6 feeder lanes, a couple hundred yards south of Richmond, not count?

No. The fact remains you're removing lanes from an important east-west artery, one that's an alternative to 59.

Also, if Westpark right-of-way doesn't get used for rail, it then becomes an option to expand Westpark Road.

Has that been proposed by anyone? By METRO? By the city?

We could build an elevated rail and solve the entire problem, but nobody's proposing that either. *shrug*

 
At 12:54 AM, February 17, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

"Real business people in the real world wearing real wool suits in the real heat of Houston in August don't go stand in that heat at a train station to head downtown, to stand in the heat again before transferring to another train, to walk in the heat until they can hit the air-conditioned downtown tunnel system."

Really? So, since this suit-wearing lawyer parks his car on the edge of downtown every day and walks to and from his office, courthouses, lunch, bank and anything else he needs in downtown, all without benefit of the tunnels, I must not be a "real" businessman.

I don't doubt that their are numerous blowhards who think themselves too important to walk outside. I see them everyday alone in their Suburbans. But, the 40% of downtown workers who ride mass transit to work don't think it's too tough. Frankly, having walked downtown in a suit for 8 years, I can't help but think the air conditioning whiners are wimps.

Feel free to prove me wrong.

 
At 7:56 AM, February 17, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

METRO has not gotten past one pesky little obstacle.

METRO will have a tough time with the wary voters, taxpayers, and poor minority, elderly and handicapped bus transit dependent riders who have been herded like "sheeple" onto the unsafe, unreliable, and underutilized "transit backbone" tram.

The Houston City Charter vote back in 2001 made it absolutely clear that METRO can not run the tram down Richmond without a specific majority vote.

See Article II, Section 21.

http://www.houstontx.gov/charter/charter-2.pdf

METRO Pres. Wilson is too arrogant to realize they are spending a lot of TAXPAYER money planning their wasteful tram line that would not pass if the vote was held today.

 
At 8:29 AM, February 17, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Chronicle story:
http://www.chron.com/disp/
story.mpl/front/3665984.html

I have to say I was both shocked and flattered by the number of quotes I got in the Chronicle article today. I literally cobbled together notes and ideas for what I would say during the 100 minutes of speakers ahead of me, just thinking I would quickly echo the comments of others and then sit down - just 60 seconds or so in a literal ocean of oratory that day. Most of the room had cleared out by the time I spoke. I have to say, it's a little unsettling to think that something that seemed so inconsequential at the time is getting this kind of scrutiny.

Thanks to everyone for the very kind compliments.

Since the Chronicle article won't stay up long-term, here are my quotes for the archive:

'Long-term best interests'
Whatever the board decides late this year, it should "keep the city's long-term best interests in mind" and "build something our children and grandchildren can be proud of," said blogger Tory Gattis.

Gattis also said that if Richmond is the choice instead of Westpark — the designated route in a 2002 referendum on Metro's transit plans that was narrowly approved by voters — the board should appoint "somebody with real power" to advocate for business and residents during construction, and ride herd on contractors to minimize harm.

Metro should also "consider a well-funded 'Support Richmond Business' campaign," Gattis said.

 
At 1:59 AM, February 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have worked for a company on West Alabama near Greenbriar for almost a decade. My husband created his 'small (art related) business' from nothing in this area almost 20 years ago. Like many long term local business owners in these inter-connected blocks, he built his reputation by repeatedly providing high quality and good services to this community and beyond. I find it disgusting that you discount this area's commercial establishments as seperate from this area's personality. Cramming rail down Richmond will only drive out the individual tennacity that has kept this area unique and prosperous through many hard times. If you want big box store after corporate outlet - move west or south. Leave us be! Enough has been destroyed in the name of progress.

 
At 5:47 AM, February 18, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Good point. If Urban Rail was truely deemed "Good" for Houstonians by Houstonians, where there was an actual demand for it, you'd have one of the nation's "big fish" like BN already offering it, and making a profit.

 
At 10:24 AM, February 18, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

"METRO will have a tough time with the wary voters, taxpayers, and poor minority, elderly and handicapped bus transit dependent riders who have been herded like "sheeple" onto the unsafe, unreliable, and underutilized "transit backbone" tram."

This is why Tom's rhetoric never sways anyone who doesn't already share his agenda. None of these statements are true. And worse, now that the initial line is operational, one can see that his comments are untrue.

To the annonymous poster, I cannot for the life of me understand why you would oppose bringing more potential customers near your store. Given that your store is on Alabama, it will hardly be affected by construction, but the success of the Main Street line gives a hint of the number of people that would use the University line. My office is on Main Street, fronting the Preston Station. I use the train often to run errands and frequent businesses for lunch. It is quiet and clean and attractive. Main Street, once the ghetto of Downtown, is now it's featured street. The same could be true of Richmond.

I know of no big box stores that have been built because of the rail, but I have shopped at numerous small restaurants and shops along the line. I am an avid supporter of this line, because I would use it to travel to the Richmond businesses. If METRO submits a workable plan for construction that protects and supports the businesses along Richmond, why on earth would you want to discourage myself and the other 15,000 daily riders from coming to your neighborhood?

It seems to me as a small business owner for the last 13 years, that any vehicle that increases traffic by my business is good. The businesses on Richmond should be working WITH METRO to make a smooth transition to a rail line, not against it.

 
At 2:46 PM, February 19, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Redscare,

If you noticed last week, a whole lot of people do not buy METRO's baloney about the Utopian tram, and turned out to try and give METRO a piece of their minds.

I have waited a number of weeks now for the FY2005 report to the FTA NTD so I can evaluate the true numbers the FTA requires METRO to disclose.

Here is a summary of the METRO FY2004 report that included nine months of wasteful tram operation:
Light Rail (nine months of operation)

Vehicle Revenue Miles (VRM) 473,368

Passenger Miles (VPM) 13,757,568

Operating Expenses (OE) $14,134,691



FUNDS EARNED (fare box)

Light Rail $ 1,486,925

MB (Buses) $42,006,466

--------------

Total $43,493,391



------------------------

BAZAN Comment– METRORail generated 3.4% of the (fare box) cash collected in FY2004.

-------------------------



Sales Tax $365,049,373

Federal Funding $127,618,345

----------------

TOTAL FUNDS EARNED $553,197,499



-----------------

BAZAN Comment– METRORail generated 0.27% of the total revenue METRO collected in FY2004; whereas, "WINDFALL" Sales Tax collections accounted for approximately 66% of total revenue, and federal taxpayer disbursements totaled over 23% of total revenue.

-----------------



Unlinked Passenger Trips (UPT) 5,349,726



------------------------

BAZAN Comment– Derived METRORail FY2004 Statistics:

Revenue/VRM $ 3.14

Operating Expenses/VRM $29.86

--------

TAXPAYER SUBSIDY/VRM $26.72

TAXPAYER SUBSIDY/UPT $2.36 *



*The operating expenses do not include significant costs for Rehabilitation/Reconstruction/Replacement/Improvement for existing service (yet this was a start up situation).

+++++++++++

METRORail reported the TVM revenue for January is again down, and is 56% less than the Jan. 2004 amount,
yet, METRO has collected $101.4 million in "windfall" sales tax revenue in the last 30+ days.

It is not in the taxpayer's best interests to continue to squander precious transit funds, then issue billions in bonds which will "indenture" future generations to pay off the bureaucrat's folley.

 
At 6:28 PM, February 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, it really doesen't matter how many times you repeat the word "tram". LRT is not a tram or a trolly-though both are legitimate forms of transportation.
I still-to this day-do not have a clear understanding of where you are coming from unless it is some twisted logic that gets you more buisness through your Minority, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (M/DBE) by the COH. Your one-note rants have become as predictable as the sun rising in the east. Do you have any alternatives or solutions regarding a University Line?
I attended last Thursday's board meeting but I didn't see you there or hear you speak. I saw and heard Tory and 30 other speakers; pro and con. Why didn't I see you?

 
At 6:30 PM, February 20, 2006, Anonymous nmainguy said...

{opps...I'm the anonymous in the above post}

 
At 8:38 PM, February 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

NMAINGUY,

First, I did not appear in January, as METRO delayed providing several documents which were essential to document my intended topic.

I blew off February, as I wanted to get my mitts on the METRO FY2005 report to the FTA NTD. I need that report to add to the data from FY2004, along with two other disclosures requested under the TXPIA.

Further, the deadline for the TXOAG to issue an opinion on another TXPIA request to TXDOT is February 23, 2006.

I expect to be able to sign up for March.

Second, "Light Rail" is merely a tram given a new name to restore the negative image it earned.

http://www.lrta.org/mrthistory.html

------
BAZAN

 
At 8:41 PM, February 20, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

nmainguy,

I am opposed to wanton waste, fraud and abuse of our precious taxpayer resources by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats.

 
At 9:43 PM, February 20, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

Tom:

I've never heard a peep from you about the now $2.8 Billion Katy Freeway that will add only 30,000 in capcity, so your professed campaign against fraud and waste seems somewhat disjointed. It appears that wasteful spending is that government spending that doesn't please YOU. Last I checked, my vote counts as much as yours. And I, along with 52% of voters, approved this rail line.

Your Metro calculations leave out many obvious points too, but I'll wait till you put together a coherent argument before I respond.

 
At 10:38 PM, February 20, 2006, Anonymous nmainguy said...

Tom,
Again, I ask: Do you have any alternatives or solutions regarding a University Line?
You seem to be reliant on METRO documents to inform any response you may formulate. Can you not come up with your own alternatives
without waiting for METRO, TXDOT and/or TXOAG to publish their findings, analysis and other data?
In the end, it should be a simple question for someone who seems to think he is so well versed in all matters transit: what are your alternatives? Where are your solutions?

 
At 1:02 AM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've come to realize that Bazan's hatred for public transportation in Houston truly borders on psychosis.

Pity.

 
At 12:12 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Redscare,

If you have ever gone fishing, you may appreciate the fact that if you only have one line in the water you likely will not catch the whole school of fish.

The voters approved the "Solutions" scheme which included 50% increase in bus service. METRO continues to slash bus service throughout the service area.

Since the entire media parrots METRO's spin, I do not need to duplicate their tortured and manipulated statistics. I am looking for the part of the wasteful tram story METRO does not crow about.

Bazan

 
At 12:13 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

nmainguy,

Sen. KBH keeps shoveling miliions upon millions of taxpayer pork to METRO for studies, which seem to all come up with a recommendation for more urban rail. YET, when METRO applies to the FTA, which is supposed to follow certain guidelines, the Urban Rail option seems to fail the minimum tests.

Now, are you asking me to come up with alternatives and solutions that Americans have already spent far too much of our precious tax money to the Consultants to solve?

 
At 12:28 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Anonymous,

Your lame attempt to insult me or to try and sway others ignorant of the facts into thinking my opposition to wasteful Urban Rail is due to a mental disorder is ludicrous.

I do not hate public transportation. I accept that we need a safety net transit system, and buses are more agile, and of greater utility.

When the "transit backbone" tram breaks, or is stopped by a mere few inches of accumulated stormwater in the streets, METRO dispatches BUSES to rescue the hapless riders.

 
At 2:16 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Thomas said...

I'd prefer to see the NTD's FY05 numbers before making a decision as to how "wasteful" the "tram" is. The train was only operational for nine months of FY04, and wasn't even operating a full schedule until the FY was almost over. I'd like to see if the numbers are any different after a full year of full operation.

I would, however, like to know how Metro classifies fares that are not purchased on buses or train stations. It's likely that most of the people riding the train purchased their fares from sources other than the TVMs at the stations, which is why TVM revenue is so low.

Anyway, back to topic: Tory, thanks for being a "voice of reason" at last Thursday's board meeting. I especially like your suggestion that Metro appoint a single point of contact to quickly resolve issues that arise during construction. I think one of the reason Main Street businesses were so frustrated during construction was because Metro and its contractors kept pointing fingers at each other instead of resolving the issues.

Also, I drive down Richmond on a regular basis. It's an incredibly busy street, and I just can't imagine traffic lanes being taken away for rail. Either land is going to have to be taken to widen the street or the train is going to have to be elevated. Both options are expensive and disruptive. I can see why the community is concerned.

Thomas

 
At 2:34 PM, February 21, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks. I too am concerned about the loss of lanes on Richmond. I've seen a quote from Metro that they think they can keep 4 lanes of traffic, but it will be messy. The Westpark corridor is so easy - not to mention safer from a car-collision standpoint - sometimes I think they should just go with it, take the ridership hit, and let the development happen over time around those stations, assuming Federal funds are possible with that alignment. There would be extra walking from places like Greenway Plaza, UST, and the Menil, but certainly in the realm of reasonable.

 
At 5:17 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thomas,

I should be able to pick up the FY2005 data in the morning. I'll scan it and have it on CD-Rom if others want a copy. Send a self addressed CD-ROM envelope to

P.O. Box 2786
Houston, TX 77252

---------

As a long-time commercial property appraiser, I have the traffic counts from Main, Fannin and San Jacinto Streets. Waiting for more recent counts to show how dramatic the reductions are.

Bazan

 
At 9:56 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous nmainguy said...

Tom Bazan said...
nmainguy,

Sen. KBH keeps shoveling miliions upon millions of taxpayer pork to METRO for studies, which seem to all come up with a recommendation for more urban rail. YET, when METRO applies to the FTA, which is supposed to follow certain guidelines, the Urban Rail option seems to fail the minimum tests.

Now, are you asking me to come up with alternatives and solutions that Americans have already spent far too much of our precious tax money to the Consultants to solve?

Tue Feb 21, 12:13:29 PM CST

Yes, I am once again asking: What are your solutions? Don't hide behind Senator Hutchinson. There are no tax dollars involved for you to formulate alternatives. You have the option to either put up or shut up. In other words, you either can or you can't.
Which is it?

 
At 10:14 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

nmainguy,

I never said there was merit in the University line, so why do I need to devise a solution?

OK, since you asked, I propose the NO BUILD OPTION.

 
At 11:26 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous nmainguy said...

Tom Bazan said...
nmainguy,

I never said there was merit in the University line, so why do I need to devise a solution?

OK, since you asked, I propose the NO BUILD OPTION.

Tue Feb 21, 10:14:50 PM CST

Thanks,
All I asked for was for you to be on the record. It was like pulling teeth but at least you finally came through.
Now we can move forward and you can sit on the sidelines and observe since you have admitted you have nothing more to contribute to an on-going issue that is clearly going to result in something being built.

 
At 7:43 AM, February 22, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

nmainguy,

Now we can move forward and you can sit on the sidelines and observe since you have admitted you have nothing more to contribute to an on-going issue that is clearly going to result in something being built.

Well then, why not build a BRT line, or devote the funds to some other kind of enhanced bus service? Why build rail? The bottom line is that Metro has forced us into a no-win scenario -- Westpark or Richmond -- when the real issue ought to be whether we pursue a cost-effective transit solution or an utter boondoggle.

Tom reminds people of this, because in debating minutiae, the bigger picture seems to be lost.

 
At 8:46 PM, February 22, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

nmainguy,

I am trying to make a contribution to the debate.

I seek to force METRO to restore bus service to the poor, minorities, elderly and handicapped bus transit dependent riders throughout the service area.

Also, since the 90 miles of trams in Houston had all been shut down once, this 7.5-mile toy train will too face the day it will be decommissioned.

I seek to see that day sooner than later, saving taxpayers more than less!

 
At 5:07 PM, April 08, 2006, Anonymous Michael Staton said...

Why is they don't make it elevated intead of tearing up the streets all the way through town and causing wrecks and traffic jams?

 
At 9:08 PM, April 09, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The rule of thumb I've heard is elevated is double the cost and underground is triple the cost - and the feds take that into account when choosing projects (it would count against us big time). A big part of the elevated problem is elevated ADA-compliant stations - which essentially require elevators. Elevateds also tend to destroy property values on both sides - note the El in Chicago.

 
At 10:07 PM, November 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see rail on Westheimer not on Richmond. Westheimer makes more sense and has more people destinations than Richmond.

 
At 10:38 PM, November 09, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Greenway Plaza, The Menil, and UST are pretty big destinations not on Westheimer, which has extremely narrow right-of-way and is packed with cars all the time and can't afford the capacity loss. Richmond is wider and could afford to lose some capacity, esp. considering that a 10-lane freeway with 6 feeder lanes runs parallel to it a few hundred feet away.

 

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