Thursday, December 21, 2006

Metro narrows down the University Line options

A Metro board meeting today narrowed down the potential routings of the east-west Universities light-rail line. The Chronicle story is here, along with a link to the west side map and east side map. Metro's official document is here, with summary evaluations of all the alternatives and a good map on p.12. The biggest news is that Afton Oaks is now officially off the table, removing the most vocal opposition group. The line will definitely jump over to Westpark somewhere before Weslayan. Some crossover options I supported, like the UP railroad RoW and Dunlavy, have been eliminated.

The other big piece of news is that they're seriously looking at extending the east end of the line to the Eastwood Transit Center, which would allow local and HOV riders from all over southeast Houston to access the line directly rather than having to connect via downtown (way out of the way). That allows a lot more direct routings for those people to UH, TSU, Midtown, the Medical Center, Greenway, and even Uptown. Kudos to Christof, who's been pushing this idea for a while. I also like that they're looking at much better and closer connections to the TSU campus.

So analyzing the 3 new options on the west side:
  1. The Montrose cutover is the most expensive of the bunch with the lowest ridership. Involves elevation along the side of 59. Lose about 40% of the riders while adding $50 million to the cost. Would barely serve UST, but not be able to serve The Menil Collection. This is the painful Culberson option.
  2. Crossover on Plaza Drive A in Greenway Plaza. Lots of elevated. Misses a few destinations further west.
  3. Crossover at Cummins, near the Edwards Theater. Hits the most destinations, gets the most ridership, and is the most cost-effective. We have a winner.
I like that neither options 2 or 3 lose valuable north-south lanes under 59, which are jammed up enough as it is. My major disappointment is the 2-transfer ride from Downtown to Uptown, which I think will be a substantial inhibitor. I still believe the U-line should curve up to at least The Galleria, and the Uptown BRT should come down to Westpark and then curve out to the Hillcroft Transit Center. That creates a 1-transfer ride from Downtown to the Galleria/Uptown, and gives the Hillcroft Transit Center people a single-seat ride to a larger employment center (116K jobs Uptown vs. 65K in Greenway Plaza - nearly twice as many).

My guess is that this will defuse the most vocal opposition by bypassing Afton Oaks. Hopefully other businesses along Richmond can be reassured they won't struggle during construction because Metro has learned their lesson from the Main St. line and will manage it much better. The best odds of federal funding are the Richmond alignment, and hopefully the big$ Uptown community will put pressure on Culberson to soften his position, since their line won't happen without the Universities line, and that line won't happen without federal funding. Let's hope the political rhetoric fades away and we can come together as a unified community around the best plan long-term for the city.

Metro's calendar calls for a final routing decision by May 2007, and a construction start by August 2008.

Update: Christof weighs in.

14 Comments:

At 11:56 PM, December 21, 2006, Anonymous Tom said...

Crossover at Cummins, near the Edwards Theater. Hits the most destinations, gets the most ridership, and is the most cost-effective. We have a winner.

No. Option #7 gets the most ridership. I thought that what METRO was all about: moving the most people.

 
At 3:16 AM, December 22, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

If Culberson were a reasonable person, then I think that definitely, we could come together as a community, agree that the Cummins line is best for everyone, win federal funds, and improve the city.

Unfortunately, Culberson is not a reasonable person. Look for him to torpedo this.

 
At 6:44 AM, December 22, 2006, Anonymous Christof Spieler said...

Reagrding the option of going up Post Oak to serve the Galleria: it's very much alive. Officially, for planning purposes, the north-south line along Post Oak is part of the Uptown line, but that doesn't mean University Line trains can't operate on it. When I spoke to the board yesterday, I specifically said that I hoped METRO would look into system connection issues like the possiblity of direct trains from Downtown to Uptown via the University Line, and METRO chairman David Wolff responded to my comments to say that those are the kind of things they are going to look into.

I have some more comments on my blog.

 
At 8:28 AM, December 22, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Tom: I meant gets the most ridership of the three they selected. You are correct that #7 has more ridership, but it also costs $100m more and is not as cost-effective overall.

Christof: great to hear it!

 
At 8:37 AM, December 22, 2006, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...

Whoop dee do. It seems the empire builders at Metro will never quit.

I have in my possession Metro's ridership figures for the past 4 years. The #25 Richmond bus route has carried a whopping 7,500 riders per weekday for the past 4 years.

I have yet to ask Metro what the numbers were before LR was built, an important thing to know since numerous bus routes were either eliminated entirely or saw bus frequency trimmed back in order to save operational money for the tram. Overall, Metro's ridership figures have hardly changed since the tram was built.

At the end of the day, all we will have accomplished with rail is to spend hundreds of millions (and ultimately billions), only to find that the entire enterprise will be - at best - a wash. It will make no difference. Criminal.

 
At 8:46 AM, December 22, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Neal: I sympathize with your arguments, but I think there's a bigger picture. See this post:

A hypothesis on the deeper psychology of rail

http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2005/
07/hypothesis-on-deeper-psychology-of.html

 
At 9:16 AM, December 23, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Neal,

Building something that was approved by voters is not criminal.

 
At 10:38 AM, December 23, 2006, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...

Mike said...

Neal,

Building something that was approved by voters is not criminal.

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

Oh, I see. Thou shall not steal except by majority vote.

 
At 11:52 AM, December 23, 2006, Anonymous kj said...

Democracy's a bitch, ain't it?

Not that it matters. This thing is not going to be built anytime soon. METRO will do their analysis showing that his north-side-of-59 option is the least effective and will not get a favorable rating from the FTA. And Culberson will shrug his shoulders and say, "too bad, guess you guys aren't building your train after all."

 
At 5:49 AM, December 24, 2006, Blogger Perry Dorrell, aka PDiddie said...

(BTW it's Timmons, not Cummins, Tory.)

This option is a reasonable alternative; it hammers out a palatable compromise among the opposing factions.

But if a concentrated effort to remove Culberson succeeds in two years, I predict that the train will roll right down Richmond (where it ought to).

 
At 8:43 AM, December 24, 2006, Anonymous Christof Spieler said...

Neal:

"The #25 Richmond bus route has carried a whopping 7,500 riders per weekday for the past 4 years."

That's 7,500 riders on a route that goes as far as Highway 6, about 15 miles from Main. The Cummins option -- about 8 miles -- would pick up 12,600. (And before you say "but those numbers won't hold up in the real world" it's worth noting that in recent history, the ridership estimates for light rail lines (METRORail incuded) have tended to be lower than actual ridership.)

That's not "a wash."

And pdiddie, it is Cummins. METRO also evaluated Timmons (a block away) but found that Cummins had a slightly lower cost and slightly higher ridership. Getting an extra block into Greenway helps.

 
At 9:22 AM, December 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, I read your spot with great interest, though I scarcely know why; at my age, 53, this is all pretty academic as I'll be long retired before any of this comes to fruition. So my question is simply this. I read your piece about the psychology of rail. It's impressive and has some merit, perhaps for a time 50 to 100 years out, (we'll both be deceased by then). But here's my question for the present day. Lets suppose that this Richmond thing gets built, etc. Lets also look at the costs and demographic of the "residents" of the area. Well, West U isn't exactly "on the line", but it serves as something of an example and I know something about it, i.e. million dollar homes where the residents pay upwards of $17,000.00 per year in property taxes, drive Mercedes, etc. Bellaire, it's heading there quick as is the Museum district. Tory, have you ever ridden the 25 Richmond line? Do you honestly know who rides that line? Do you really expect that someone from the demographic that can afford $17,000.00 a year in property taxes is going to ride this? And the new construction in the Greenway Plaza/Uptown area? Sporting "rents" upwards of $2,100.00 per month for a one bedroom apartment. Will they ride the line?

 
At 2:02 PM, December 24, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Upper income home owners, probably not so much. Middle income apartment dwellers, absolutely. Try "flying over" Richmond on Google satellite maps, and you'll notice dozens of quite large apartment complexes within a 1/4 to a 1/2 mile on either side.

Other riders include Metro HOV express bus commuters from the suburbs that need to get around for errands, a meeting, or lunch during the day, and business, leisure, or convention tourists who want to explore or go out to eat without having a rent car or pay a taxi.

 
At 8:08 AM, December 25, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Most Texans don't realize it, but trains are not just for poor people. They're for anyone who wants to get around without a car. Including, as Tory mentioned, business travellers and tourists. Which is why it makes sense to connect your city's most high-profile destinations by train.

I hate to bring up the old "world class" discussion, but one could argue that what separates a world class city from a city that's merely big is that at any given time, a sizeable portion of the people in a world class city's activity centers are non-residents. To bring these people to your city, it helps to have a transportation option besides car and bus.

 

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