Christof points out that the impending completion of the HOV lane on the Southwest Freeway into downtown will be like a new rapid transit corridor, since it will make the Park and Ride/Express Bus system much more viable for people who live out that way.
Naturally, he also ties this in to the raging Richmond rail debate:
I've heard the suggestion made that METRO should simply run light rail on the HOV lane to avoid disrupting neighborhoods. That would be easier than rebuilding Richmond. But it's wrongheaded on every other count. Suburban commuters - the ones using the HOV lane now - would have a longer trip if they had to transfer to rail. And the inner neighborhoods wouldn't be served at all.
If you want to build a suburban commuter service, you want park-and-ride lots, high speeds, and few stops. That's what we'll have in a few months. If you want to serve the city, you want stations in walkable neighborhoods with good pedestrian access, spaced closer to serve more people. That's the next task.
Southampton's Anne Clutterbuck of District C will be one of three Houston councilwomen presiding over a town hall meeting Monday concerning potential routes for the second leg of the Metropolitan Transit Association's light rail.
She will be joined by Councilwomen Pam Holm of District G and Ada Edwards of District D.
The gathering, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of St. Luke's Church, 3471 Westheimer Road, will lay groundwork for smaller, community-based meetings. U.S. Rep. John Culberson, Houston Mayor Bill White and Metro President Frank Wilson are expected to attend.
A meeting of Metro's directors Feb. 16 concerning the rail line drew about 350 people, some of whom watched the proceedings from a break room on closed-circuit television after the board room filled to capacity.
Metro has set April to begin route evaluation, development of an environmental impact statement and preliminary engineering work. Preliminary findings are expected in October with construction projected to begin in August 2008.
Metro's board heard a staff report Thursday on the agency's new "Communication, Education and Awareness Plan," days before a crucial public meeting on a proposed University light rail line.
Metro chairman David Wolff asked other board members to attend the Monday meeting. "I think we have to be visible," he said. "We have to be out there, we have to be consistent ... open ... factual."
President and CEO Frank Wilson added, "We need to do status reports and updates, so people will know where we are." He said there is "extreme interest from the community" about Metro's plans - particularly for the University line - along with "a lot of misinformation and a lot of fear."
Karen Marshall, Metro director of community outreach and government affairs, said the increased public information efforts include ads in news media and an enhanced Web site.
The site enables residents to submit questions and receive answers, read an online version of Metro Connections, the agency's newsletter, and sign up for "e-mail blasts" of news about Metro Solutions, its long-term transit plan.
Opponents of a Metro light rail line being considered for Richmond Avenue found no allies in their fight to reroute the line to Westpark Drive at West University Place's City Council meeting Monday.
State Rep. Martha Wong, R-District 134, and a small contingent of business owners and stakeholders trying to stop Metro from placing its University Line project along Richmond Avenue appeared before the council to gauge the city's interest in joining them in their effort to route the line on Westpark.
But council members said running the new line along Richmond would prove more beneficial to West U., as well as to people who would use the line to get to the Galleria and Greenway Plaza, the two major employment centers along its route.
Wong said the initial referendum called for the Westpark line to serve both Bellaire and West University Place, but Councilman Mike Woods said having the line run along Richmond makes more sense for the city.
"I don't think it's as appropriate for accessing major employment centers as it is on Richmond, which is what makes light rail successful," Woods said. "There are some very good reasons for it going down Richmond. Greenway Plaza and the Galleria are better served than they would be on Westpark."
Said councilman Dick Yehle, "My definition of a successful line is one that goes where I need to go. The line needs to go to places that people would otherwise drive to and for this line, that's the Galleria and Greenway Plaza."
And if you're a dog owner, here's another reason to favor Richmond over Westpark:
[Yehle] added that a dog park built last year on Westpark to serve West U. residents would likely be lost to construction.
"If you go on Westpark, we have a very successful dog park that solved a big issue in this city, and that would probably have to go away," he said.