September 04, 2007
Q&A on the Universities line

Some good questions and interesting answers concerning the Universities line, all of which arose during last week's public hearing. A couple that caught my eye:

Q: Christof Spieler and Daphne Scarbrough asked why plans do not show a station serving the densely populated and largely Hispanic Gulfton area. Instead, tracks along Westpark are shown running directly from South Rice to the Hillcroft Transit Center.

A: The original thought was that outside Loop 610 and the South Rice station we would operate more of an express service, stopping only at existing facilities which are along the right of way and have parking.

However, because we've heard this concern and understand the rationale, we are currently examining possible locations for a station in the Gulfton area. This possible additional station would be included in the Final EIS.

You'd be hard-pressed to find an odder couple than Spieler, who is a transportation expert and an advocate of the Cummins option for the Universities line and who has been pushing for a Gulfton station to make the line serve its route optimally, and Scarbrough, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Metro whose aim is to force a Westpark alignment, and a long-term opponent of light rail in general in Houston. Needless to say, their motivations in asking this question are different.

Q: Three and a half years after MetroRail began running, stoplights along the Red Line still are a problem, with lengthy waits for motorists and pedestrians when no trains or cars are approaching.

Joan Morgenstern and John Douglass expressed concern about similar delays on Richmond at Shepherd, Kirby, Buffalo Speedway, Dunlavy and Mandell, with traffic backing up onto neighborhood streets. How will you prevent that happening on Richmond?

A: The Red Line intersections from Pierce to Montrose go to an all-red phase when the train gets its "go" bar signal. This all-red signal phasing was developed due to the number of drivers that disregarded the "no left turn" signs when the train first began service. Metro, with the city's concurrence, implemented this all-red phasing in March 2004.

Can this be changed? Later this year, Metro is having a traffic engineering firm evaluate all the signal operations on the Red Line to make improvements, so the answer to that question is "maybe." We have to wait on the recommendations. Metro doesn't want to compromise safety.

Traffic signals on Richmond will be different in two significant ways. First, left turns at signalized intersections will be allowed during a protected left turn phase (the left turn signals will be red all other times).

The light rail train can get its "go" signal when straight-through traffic on Richmond has a green signal, which is much less disruptive than all-red phasing.

Second, all approaches to the intersection will have traffic detection, so that the intersection controller can change its operation in response to demand.

There's already an intersection like this on the Red Line, at Greenbriar and Old Spanish Trail, which happens to be right near where I work. Basically, the train, which is traveling along Greenbriar at this point, behaves like vehicular traffic on that street - it waits for the green light. There's a protected left turn in all directions, for which the train sits and waits. To my knowledge, there's never been a train/vehicle collision at this intersection, though I almost witnessed one myself a couple of years ago when a car heading west on OST suddenly pulled out of the left turn lane and blew through a red light; about three seconds later, a train passed through the intersection.

Obviously, you don't want the train waiting at too many red lights, since then it isn't much more efficient than a bus. But having this kind of signaling at some of the intersections above makes sense.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 04, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Mr. Sedlak does not offer an opinion about cross-traffic at lights on Richmond, and later in the interview he discusses gated crossings, which are definitely all-red. but METRO has yet to publicize how many gated crossings and/or protected left crossings there will be on Richmond and Westpark.

what METRO has published in the U Line DEIS is congestion "impacts" at every intersection along Richmond and Westpark for each of the 3 options.

that data paints a more ominous picture for auto traffic along the western U Line than what Sedlak says in the interview, as the net effect of LRT will increase wait times at many intersections, especially on Richmond between Wesleyan and Montrose, and the intersections of Westpark and Wesleyan and Westpark and Loop 610 service road.

Posted by: IHB2 on September 4, 2007 11:59 AM

METRO has never said anything to indicate that they would put gates at any intersection where the train remains in the center of the street. On the Main Street line, there are gates only where the train is running in its own right of way (outside the street) on one or both sides of the intersection, or leaves the street as it turns a corner. If that pattern holds on the University Line, there might be gates at the Wheeler Station area, at places where the line makes a sharp turn, and along Westpark.

METRO has made it clear (and Sedlak repeats it agin here) that signalized intersections will have left turns. That means every intersection along Richmond.

I don't think the traffic issues on this line are along Richmond. They are, as IHB2 points out, on Westpark.

Posted by: Christof Spieler on September 4, 2007 8:20 PM