February 22, 2007
Exploring the Neartown options

Christof continues his tour of the Universities line route options, this time with a look at the Neartown area, which as we know wants the line built on Richmond. He's got the usual maps and diagrams to make everything clearer, but I want to highlight a couple of things.

[T]he Richmond alignment...provides a broad swath of transit accessibility through Neartown -- basically, everything south of Alabama is within walking distance. That includes a lot of people and a lot of retail and restaurants; it also includes the Menil and St. Thomas.

The location of the center station is an interesting question. The community petitioned METRO last year for a station between Montrose and Shepherd, and METRO's been showing one since, at Dunlavy. That location nicely fills the gap, putting a lot more places within reach of transit, and the Neartown Association has endorsed it. But an equally good argument can be made for locating this station at Mandell, closer to the Menil and the Richmont Square apartments. This is related to the location of the Montrose station, too: METRO shows it straddling Montrose, but Neartown would like to see it to the west of Montrose, closer to UST and the Menil. That's a discussion that's already happening, but it has more urgency now as METRO moves closer to a locally preferred alignment.

Back in the early 90s I lived right near this area, on Branard just off Woodhead. Dunlavy and Mandell are just a block apart, and it's not a particularly long block, so having the station at one place or the other is only a minor variation, as the whole area would be served with either one. And this is the key, because the Culberson option, which would have the train run along US59 through this area, would not have any stop at all between Montrose and Shepherd. A whole lot of people in this area will be a ten minute hike or more away from a station under that alignment. You tell me how useful that will be to the residents there.

There's a final factor to consider in Neartown: the neighborhood is changing fast. That's been happening for 10 years now, as bungalows get replaced by townhouses. Even more is on the way: there are currently two multi-story apartment and condo projects under construction directly on Richmond just in the Neartown area, and there are surely more to come. These projects aren't coming because of rail, but rail could reduce their impacts by putting new residents on trains instead of in single-occupant cars. Just over a five year period (1996-2001, before 59 construction), the volume of traffic along Richmond here rose more than 15%. The question is not whether we have the status quo or light rail; it's how we handle growth: trains, or more traffic lanes?

Richmond is another one of those streets that I just won't drive on any more if I can help it. It was a pain in the butt getting from Woodhead to Shepherd and making the left to get onto 59 back in 1993, when I last lived there. It's much worse now - I've seen the line in the left turn lane stretch almost all the way back to Hazard, which means there's only one lane of through traffic squeezing by. One way or another, something will have to change, and I think Christof has it right: if it's not the rail line, it'll be street widening. The choice is not rail or nothing, it's rail or something else disruptive. The neighborhoods have made their choice. Will they be listened to?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 22, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles