April 14, 2006
More on the Universities rail line

In addition to yesterday's article in the Houston & Texas section of the Chron, there's also this piece from the Heights and Neartown This Week section on the light rail town hall meeting at Rice. Two items of interest: One is a more specific mention of the partisan leanings of the crowd.

While attendees at that March 22 meeting were overwhelmingly opposed to the possibility of a light rail corridor down Richmond Avenue, the split was about 60-40 against a Richmond line Thursday.


With a more even split of proponents and opponents of a Richmond line, the meeting at times became contentious. Cheers and boos greeted some speakers during and after their comments, and Culberson was met with catcalls when he asked to hear only from people who live or work along Richmond.

In my post yesterday on this topic, opinions on the crowd's split ranged from "fairly even" to "about 2/3 - 3/4 of the audience" being against rail on Richmond. I bring this up as a reminder that it's all subjective at this point.

Item two is that this article included more statements from meeting attendees, including those who favor at least giving Richmond the serious study it deserves.

"I want to see information. I want to see design schematics," said Robin Holzer, president of the Citizens Transportation Coalition. "The people who will be providing these things are just being brought in now. I'd hope that (Culberson would) be interested not in having a popularity contest based on misinformation and fear-mongering but on facts that are presented after Metro does its studies and we have enough to come back and have another discussion."

Indeed, today's Chron notes that contracts have just been awarded to do the initial studies for design and preliminary engineering on the Universities line as well as the four existing bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors. According to the article, this will take about six months, with the first reports coming in after three months. Maybe by then we'll have some real facts to debate.

Back to the article:

Proponents argued running the line along Richmond would provide better access to Greenway Plaza and the Galleria.

Said public-transportation advocate Christof Spieler, "Urban rail is cost-effective when it goes where the people are. Metro needs to figure out what to do to make this work before we can make a rational decision."

Said Holzer, "We do a good job of connecting people in the suburbs to the inner city. What we're not doing a good job of is connecting neighborhoods with major activity centers."

South Boulevard business owner Steve Grossman said, "Westpark is a stupefyingly bad design move. You're putting a rail line on the other side of the freeway from Greenway Plaza and the Galleria."

Speaking of where the people are, Rick Casey fills in the blank.

According to the census, the relevant area of Richmond in 2000 had 16,000 residents and 60,000 employees. This includes businesses and residents on the street and within 1,500 feet north and south.

By contrast, Westpark had 9,600 residents and 12,000 employees.

And the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the planning agency for the region, expects the gap to grow by 2025.

By that time, Richmond is expected to have 22,000 residents and 75,000 employees, compared with just 13,000 residents and 13,500 employees for Westpark.

Along Richmond, the rail line would drop off and pick up at hundreds of retail businesses and at the huge Greenway Plaza development, with its high-rise office buildings, its large theater and its Lakewood megachurch in the old Compaq Center.

Put it where the riders are. Seems simple, doesn't it?

Finally, for those who might be thinking about basing their vote in November on how a member of Congress ought to approach this process, Culberson's opponent Jim Henley writes in his blog:

I support Mayor Bill White's effort to ensure a thorough study of all available options for the proposed east-west METRO rail line. The current planning process includes community participation, careful consideration of impacts to local businesses and surrounding neighborhoods, and open discussion; this course of action is the best approach to addressing Houston's long-term mobility. The METRO line is an issue for our city, and our local civic leaders have this process well in hand. [...] Mr. Culberson should refrain from meddling in the difficult but necessary process of evaluating our rail options

You can't say you don't have a clear choice in the matter.

UPDATE: Two posts from Christof that address the issues of process and location.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 14, 2006 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

Chuck - Nasty Word-like codes in the stuff you copied over.

Need a plugin for cleaning those up? I know of one. It's up at Huffington Post's tech notes.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on April 14, 2006 12:28 PM

Thanks - I think I got it cleaned up. I've seen the plugin but I found the documentation a little lacking. Let me look again and see if there's any supplement to it. I've got plenty of stuff that could use the cleanup, unfortunately.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 14, 2006 12:38 PM