Thoughts on recent transportation newsThe Chronicle has had several transportation and transit related articles in the last few days. The first, on different agencies and plans for commuter rail, discusses Metro vs. the freight rail district vs. the city of Galveston. All three proposed lines have flaws that could potentially make them as stupid as Austin's new line (Christof's word, not mine). Two stop at the 610 loop rather than getting into key core destinations because of inside-the-loop rail congestion. The third, Metro's 90a proposal, stops in Missouri City, rather than continuing to where all those med center workers actually are in Sugar Land. That's because Metro's service area does not include Ft. Bend County.
It's almost like all of them want to build a white elephant so they can then point to the low ridership and make an argument to sink a lot more into extending it to where it actually should have gone in the first place. And nobody is talking about the critical problems of commuter rail in multi-centric, job-dispersed Houston: it is slower, less frequent, far more expensive, and drops you farther from your destination (in the heat, humidity, and rain) than express commuter buses in HOV lanes - all of which will be canceled as the rail lines get built. Why are we so hell bent on rushing headlong to a less convenient and more expensive transit system?
The second story is on the mayoral candidates and their mobility plans. Most of it sounds pretty reasonable. Except this:
If transit can't serve a low density city with buses, what the heck is the answer? It sure isn't rail, which is all about heavy density and ridership. And if you look at what happened after the Main St. line opened, "integrated" is a code word for "we're going to cut your convenient, direct, single-bus route and make you transfer several times to different trains and buses." Oh, and system ridership will drop sharply as a result. Great plan.
[Peter] Brown said, “You can't serve a low-density city like Houston with a bus system.” (huh?!) He did not specify what he wants Metro to focus on instead, but called for the bus and rail systems to be “integrated.”
“We've got to have a rationalized plan for rail, and bus to feed the rail,” Brown said. “We've got to encourage people to live closer to where they work.”
As far as "encouraging" people to live closer to work: it's not like people are idiots and want to live as far from work as possible. They weigh up a lot of factors to make their housing decision, including affordability, schools, home quality, amenities, and balancing the demands of two different commuters that are likely to change jobs several times. Every job center in Houston has tons of housing all around it - but there are very good reasons most of the employees in those job centers don't choose that housing.
Or maybe Peter wants the major employers of Houston to leave for the suburbs where their employees are, draining the city's tax base?
Lastly, there is this op-ed today urging Metro to take care with the light rail planning and construction. It ended with a challenge of sorts:
Our city's brightest minds and most experienced voices need to articulate a vision for the city's future growth and its transportation solutions that is in-step with the historic heartbeat of Houston.For the record, mine is here and here.