Lemons to Lemonade: Salvaging the Metro Universities lineI've been doing a little thinking and research on the most recent developments with the planned Richmond/Westpark Universities light rail line, and there might be an option here that could please enough people to work (or at least not anger them enough to block or sue) as well as create a workable line with sufficient ridership. The saga has had a few twists in the last week, with Culbertson announcing his opposition to a Richmond alignment (and he has the power to block federal funding on the Transportation committee), and a new Clutterbuck/Culbertson proposal that has quickly been opposed by Councilwoman Ada Edwards due to high numbers of private property/home takings. A link to the full-size map of the Clutterbuck proposal can be found in the right-side column of the Chronicle article here. It would involve running it along the north side of 59 from Dunlavy to Edloe, with the loss of 50-75 homes and making a mess of the 59 feeder. I also can't see how it could possibly get on Edloe from the feeder to cross over 59.
Because it hits a lot more jobs and residents, I've generally been supportive of a Richmond alignment if enough traffic lanes could be preserved, and was hopeful that it would work out with a bypass of Afton Oaks. At this point, with Culberson's opposition, a substantial alignment along Richmond looks unrealistic. Another part of me has been supportive of the Westpark alignment, because the transportation nerd in me hates to see perfectly good right-of-way go unused. Is there a way we can run it on Westpark but still get most of the ridership a Richmond alignment would have? I think we can.
If you look at this older analysis map by Christof (full-size link, or click on the image), you can see that the real critical nexus is Greenway Plaza centered at Edloe and Richmond. It's important to remember that it doesn't matter where the route line goes - all that matters are the actual stops. If your building is next to the line without a stop, you have all the hassles with none of the benefits. Metro has been talking about elevating the line to crossover 59 from Richmond to Westpark - an expensive proposition. An alternative, if it ran along Westpark with a stop at Edloe, would be an air-conditioned pedestrian skybridge with moving walkways that would deposit people right at Norfolk/City Club and Edloe between Lakewood Church/Compaq Center and the Renaissance Hotel and Greenway Plaza Food Court. I used to work there, and there are a lot of nice underground walkways that connect up all of those buildings. A pedestrian skybridge should be substantially less expensive than something that has to support the train itself. I think it could fit parallel and just to the east of Edloe. Using Christof's quarter mile walking circles from the intersection of City Club and Edloe, it doesn't capture quite as much as a couple stops along Richmond, but it gets the substantial majority. You can view a Google satellite map here.
(Alternative update: an in-and-out rail spur over the Edloe bridge to near City Club/Norfolk, similar to the Main St. line near UHD where the trains can stop and switch tracks in the return direction)
Taking the line east along Westpark from there, a stop at Kirby is also within walking distance of most of the Kirby office buildings south of Richmond (note the red dots on the map), not to mention tourist-and-local favorite Goode Co. BBQ. That may sound trivial, but I noted on a recent trip to Denver that they hype their historic Buckhorn Exchange restaurant has a light rail stop. A stop at Greenbriar would be within walking distance of many apartments, office buildings, and retail towards Richmond (see satellite map).
The question is how far east on the Westpark corridor to go. The right-of-way eventually runs out, but it's also critical to serve The Menil Collection and the University of St. Thomas (it is the "Universities Line", you know) along Richmond. Metro has shown an alternative that goes up Greenbriar to Richmond, but Christof has pointed out the complexities and traffic nightmare of that option. If you look carefully at this Google satellite map, you can see there is actually enough Westpark corridor right-of-way all the way to Dunlavy. You can also see that Dunlavy has less residential along it than Hazard, Woodhead, or Mandell, meaning less opposition. The line could curve on a bridge over 59 and then run up Dunlavy to Richmond, getting it on Richmond at just the right point to serve the Menil and UST. The bridge would be tricky, but that's what engineers are for. If we really wanted to think a little bigger and out of the box, there was talk in the past of covering the 59 trench to create land. A small portion of that could be done here to double the size of Dunlavy Park as well as create the necessary space to curve the line up Dunlavy street. That extra land for the park could help soften any neighborhood opposition. There may even be enough room for an entire soccer field and an ever-popular dog park.
(update 8/9: drove part of the route tonight. There is definitely enough space on the south side of 59 as far east as Dunlavy, and I believe there is enough space on Dunlavy for two tracks and two narrow lanes while keeping the oak trees but losing street parking.)
So let's sum up the advantages of this routing:
- Neutralizes most of the Richmond opposition
- Neutralizes any lawsuit about the Westpark wording on the voter-approved ballot measure
- Gets Culberson on board to get the needed federal funds (which also helps offset any slight ridership penalties for this routing)
- Utilizes unused Westpark right-of-way
- Preserves mobility, left turns, and median trees on most of Richmond
- Substantially fewer construction hassles with Westpark than Richmond
- Saves the cost of flying the rail line over 59 at Greenway Plaza (although, to be fair, that same money will go into the 59 crossing at Dunlavy)
- Still connects the dense residential and jobs of Greenway Plaza with an air-conditioned moving-walkway skybridge (or an Edloe spur)
- Still gets the office buildings on Kirby south of Richmond (and Goode BBQ)
- Gets a lot of residential, office, and retail at Greenbriar and the Westpark RoW
- Menil, UST, and Montrose office buildings connected
- No crossing and traffic nightmare at Greenbriar/Shepherd and both 59 and Richmond
- Doubles the size of Dunlavy Park (soccer field, dog park)