December 21, 2006
Making it easier to be a tourist

Tory writes about Galveston's image problems and the effects on its tourist industry. He branches off from there into a discussion on how to make it easier to be a tourist in Houston and take advantage of the stuff outside the city that's worth seeing.

I was talking with a friend (Alan) recently about our prospects for tourism targeted between Galveston and Kemah. Galveston has real potential to be like Charleston, Savannah, or Key West. I think the beaches aren't much of a factor for any of those towns. It's about having a historic walking experience in an interesting town, which Galveston can provide.

Alan also made an interesting pitch for Houston to Galveston commuter rail on existing freight tracks. Most readers know I'm not usually a fan of commuter rail for Houston, but he made an good case. In addition to Galveston, tourists would be able to ride the train and then catch a shuttle bus to visit Space Center Houston, Clear Lake, Kemah, and League City's quaint downtown shops. There's already a trolley to get around on the island. Not having to rent a car and navigate a strange town is a big plus for tourists. Assuming Metro offered express bus service from the airports to the new intermodal terminal north of downtown, tourists could truly get away with being carless. And, of course, the train could move plenty of Houstonians wanting to visit for a day or a weekend without fighting traffic on 45 (or if they want to send their non-driving teenagers). Finally, it might even attract some long-haul commuters during the week if it offered a comfortable ride with big seats and wireless Internet access.

I think there's a lot to this. Driving in a strange town, even with a GPS product like NeverLost in your rental car, is stressful. Having to figure out where you can park, and having to worry about finding your car again afterwards just adds to that. Being able to walk or to take public transportation to whatever your destination is for the day is much more pleasant. It's just less to worry about, and you can concentrate on what's going on around you rather than street signs.

And from a tourist's perspective, by the way, trains are way easier to deal with than buses. The reason for this is simple: With a train, all you have to do is count stops between your origin and your endpoint. The station names are usually announced as you arrive, too. With buses, you have to follow street signs as you would in a car, and may need to depend on a map or the driver to tell you when to get off. I've taken both buses and trains in places like Kyoto and Athens, and the trains were always preferable.

That's one reason why the light rail line (soon to be multiple lines) in Houston is so important, especially for visitors. The red line links downtown and places like the Museum District in a way that makes it trivial for any carless, never-been-to-Houston person to visit some of the things that we have that are worth seeing, just as they would be able to in cities like Chicago or New York. Now, if you're the spouse or companion of a business traveller to Houston, staying at a downtown hotel without a car (because you took a cab or a shuttle to your lodging), you can do stuff during the day when the other person is doing business. In a few years, if all goes well, you'll have more options, like the Galleria. I say that's a big value add to the city, one that doesn't get enough attention.

As such, if that concept gets extended to points south, like the Johnson Space Center, Kemah, and Galveston, so much the better for Houston. Maybe the economics of this don't work for what Tory is describing. I'm the wrong person to ask about that. What I am saying is that as a vision, it's a worthwhile one to explore. There are plenty of things to see and do around here. The more accessible they all are, the more likely we all are to actually see and do them.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 21, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

One of the more innocent pleasures of riding the Tube in London is looking at the map of each line that's posted in each train car. Fodder for the imagination!

Posted by: Linkmeister on December 21, 2006 12:50 PM