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Kirby

UberEats expands

Good news for those of you who like having food delivered.

Uber

A larger section of metro Houston now can use Uber’s meal delivery service seven days a week and with more dining options through a new app.

A new UberEats app, separate from the Uber ride-sharing app meal ordering customers have used, launches Tuesday.

“Houstonians have embraced UberEats, but we also know that with a separate app, we are able to give users a better experience,” said Sarah Groen, general manager for UberEats Houston.

As of the app’s launch, 100 restaurants are participating. More are being added to the list, Groen said.

The service’s operation hours have been extended beyond midday weekdays to daily between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Users will be able to browse menus and order food from participating restaurants, and track drivers bringing their food. The service area has expanded beyond downtown and Midtown, and now includes the Galleria area, The Heights, Montrose, Rice Village, West University and Upper Kirby.

Those areas have shown large demand for UberEats, where the company has received many requests from people asking for service, Groen said. In January, the company did test runs in the new areas and registered high demand.

See here for the background. I’m still not the kind of person who likes to order food for delivery, so I’m still not in their market. But if you are, and you live in these areas, then these are good days for you. The Houston Business Journal and the Houston Press, both of which have maps of the expanded service area, have more.

More on Bike Share Houston

Here’s the Chron story on the Council vote to get bike sharing in Houston off the ground.

The plan for the so-called Bike Share Houston program is to intrigue residents and visitors with the technology, then raise funds to install additional locations. The effort is modeled after one started last spring in San Antonio.

The Alamo City now has 20 bike share kiosks at such destinations as the Alamo, Hemisfair, La Villita, the city’s convention center and central library. About 1,000 San Antonio residents have purchased yearly memberships in the program since the first bikes rolled in April.

Bike Share Houston – a joint project of the city, Bike Barn and the nonprofit Bike Houston organization – will begin with kiosks at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Market Square and downtown’s Central Library.

Kim Burley, deputy assistant director of the city’s fleet management department, said the contractor, B-Cycle LLC, will have 120 days to get the system up and running. The company also installed San Antonio’s system and those in Chicago, Denver and other cities.

Bike Houston president Darren Sabom said the three kiosks and their 18 bikes are designed to show Houston residents how the system works. Ultimately, with the help of donors and grants, additional kiosks may be added at select light rail stops and other locations.

Such a network of kiosks could help residents and visitors navigate the Rice University campus, Hermann Park, the Museum District and the Texas Medical Center.

“After stepping off a bus or train, it would fill the gap of the last five blocks of your trip,” Sabom said.

Obviously, the goal will be to get this out to other locations as soon as possible. Things that I can think of to help achieve that goal will be promotion, highlighting bike-friendly routes near and between kiosk locations, and in the longer term street improvements. We should be thinking about locations that could be a good fit for this as well, such as the Washington corridor and the Upper Kirby area, where it might be nice to leave your car in one place and use a bike to get to other destinations. I’m sure there are other possibilities, including some that won’t be apparent until people start using it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes, and to using it myself.

The high rise versus the bar

This is just bizarre.

A long-standing feud between Rice-area bar owners and their neighbors in a high-rise condo has escalated from egg throwing, water spraying, laser pointing and name calling to assault lawsuits.

Just off Kirby Drive on Quenby a small wooden one-story pub and adjacent beer garden named Hans’ Bier Haus cozies up to a three-story parking garage attached to the upscale 16-story 2520 Robinhood Condominiums where a two-bedroom unit is now available for an average $365,000.

[…]

Bar co-owner Bill Cave was charged with misdemeanor assault for his behavior in trying to stop water spraying on his Christmas party. A few days later the condo association and homeowners became subject to a restraining order keeping them from tossing produce, water or anything off their garage onto the bar patrons and bocce ball court below.

[…]

The unpleasantness peaked December 13. The bar laid out a Sunday night holiday buffet and had Ronnie Renfrow’s 15-piece big band set to play. But water cascading from the garage rained down on patrons, the band and its electrical equipment. Kellogg said a trumpet player slipped in the water and broke a finger.

Cave said in court papers that he went to the condo and was eventually successful in turning off the water at a faucet on a condo’s porch. In the process, [condo general manager Art] Frederick said an angry Cave took the concierge by his tie, broke his phone and forced his way up in the elevator. And they have videotape of it all, Frederick said.

The Press was on this just before Christmas. The bar-versus-neighborhood battle is an old, old, old story, though the egg-throwing is new. I’ll say it again, if the bar was there first, then you the condo/townhome/whatever residents are the interlopers. If you didn’t know about this before you bought in, you or your real estate agent did not do sufficient homework, and my sympathy for you is very limited. I look forward to seeing how this lawsuit plays out.

Kirby storm drain construction update

Times are tough all over for retailers. They’re especially tough when the street you’re on is all torn up.

The four-phase project to install new storm drainage along Kirby Drive started in 2004. The latest round peeled back the asphalt at the intersection with Tangley in April and is inching its way toward Bissonnet. City officials expect the phase to be complete by next August.

Shops and strip malls along Kirby have become temporary islands until asphalt isthmuses appear wherever the road is peeled up and put back in place.

On a recent Wednesday, a neon sign glowed “Open” in the window of a Subway franchise, its empty parking lot surrounded by a moat of torn pavement. Farther south, Shipley’s is accessible, but the Starbucks across the street isn’t. To get there, you’d have to make a left turn three blocks later and then double back on the side road where, earlier that day, a truck got tangled in electrical lines and knocked out power to an office building.

At Cova, a high-end wine shop, owner Monsterville Horton IV watched the confluence of three Cats gouging out the intersection of Kirby and Quenby, where traffic alternately stopped and lurched forward.

I just want to interrupt here to say that “Monsterville Horton IV” is easily the best name I’ve ever heard in my life. No wonder he’s Monsterville IV – I’d want to pass that name onto my son as well. Oh, I think “Monsterville Horton” would make a great band name, too.

Still, business owners who remember Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 don’t take issue with the reason for the construction.

“It’s going to save us a lot of hassle and headache,” said Aubrey Mendonca, who owns the Perimeter Gallery, an arts and framing store on Rice Boulevard. “I’m one of the highest-elevated stores in the Village, and I had a foot of water from Allison.”

Mendonca doesn’t fault city engineers for the pace of construction: They’re going as fast as they can, he says.

Public works spokesman Alvin Wright says the city has done what it could to accommodate commerce, including promising to halt construction between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“That’s one of the biggest seasons for the Village,” Mendonca said. “They’ve kept us in mind.”

And he doesn’t think construction alone will be fatal to any Rice Village businesses.

“We did see a few businesses fold because of the economy, but I don’t think it’s a danger of the construction.”

I have to say, I agree that the pace of the construction has been as quick as you could reasonably expect. You can literally see the progress if you drive through the area with any regularity. And in an odd way, I think the traffic on Kirby isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. At least, that’s the case headed southbound; the line of traffic to get through the light at Sunset headed northbound is much longer. I think there’s a Yogi Berra-ish “nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded” effect at play here – I try to take Shepherd/Greenbriar (where there’s now construction blocking a lane of traffic just south of Sunset) or Buffalo Speedway when I can – which surely contributes to the merchants’ lack of business. But it is moving along, and perhaps these businesses’ experience can provide a little hope for those whose shops are along the coming light rail routes. If this is survivable, in this economy, anything is.

Anyway. The status of Kirby Drive, both here and north of the Southwest Freeway, was a subject of discussion in my interview with Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, as all of this is in District C. Give it a listen if you haven’t already.

Interview with Council Member Anne Clutterbuck

Anne Clutterbuck

Anne Clutterbuck

Today’s interview subject is Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, who is serving her second term in District C. There’s been a lot of action in her district of late – the Ashby highrise, the rebuild of Kirby Drive, the Universities rail line – so we had quite a bit to talk about. Clutterbuck has one opponent on the ballot, and another who will run as a write-in.

Download the MP3 file.

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D

Some action on the rail construction front

Finally.

After two years of negotiations with two firms, the Metropolitan Transit Authority may be close to reaching a deal with a contractor to build and operate its next four light rail lines.

“We’re in final negotiations,” said George Smalley, a Metro spokesman. “In a negotiation, though, you never know until it’s really over.”

The pending breakthrough with Parsons Transportation Group comes three years before Metro has said all five of its additional rail lines will be complete. The fifth rail line, the University line, remains in preliminary stages of development; another agreement will have to reached on that line.

Despite the tight time frame for the new lines, Metro officials say they are sticking to the 2012 target date.

[…]

Metro leaders remain confident that the five lines, which total 30 miles, can be completed on schedule.

“We’re still set on that path,” Smalley said, “but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

I’m glad he’s confident, but honestly, I don’t see how it’s possible. Maybe we can get the North, Southeast, and Harrisburg lines done by then, assuming overpass issue doesn’t turn into a lawsuit. Even if we assume that there’s no further litigation coming for the Universities line – not a bet I’d be willing to make – who knows how long it will be before they hammer out an agreement for that line, which will be the longest and most care-intensive line to build. And the Uptown line is a non-starter until we’re sure the U-line is going forward. Frankly, I’ll be happy if all five lines are done by 2014.

But hey, whatever the case, I’m just thrilled to see this next step get taken. It’s way past time for it to happen. Now if we can start talking about where we go from here as well, I’ll be ecstatic.

Multiways

Andrew continues the ongoing discussion of transit options in Houston with a look at multiway boulevards.

Basically, a multiway is an urban thoroughfare combining express through lanes in the middle with local access lanes on the sides. These local lanes are where the real magic is, they provide parking and a space for pedestrians and cyclists that is separated from the rush of traffic in the middle. They also help keep the main lanes flowing by keeping them clear of turning movements.

It’s a long post, with illustrations, so click over and read. I think this is in general a good idea, and while there apparently aren’t any such plans on the H-GAC drawing boards right now, I know they have been discussed before – the 100 Percent Plan from 2003 included, among other things, a call to convert roads like SH6 and FM1960 into Allen Parkway-like “super streets”. While I think that has merit, it’s not clear to me if there would really be the room to convert, say, Kirby Drive to this format. Cost is a big factor as well – the entire 100 Percent Plan had a massive $21 billion price tag on it back then, but I have no idea how much of that was for just this kind of project. Still, those same things could be said about any suggestions for new light rail routes, so let’s just put that aside and consider it at a conceptual level. Check it out.

More on streetcars and sidewalks

Andrew Burleson had a couple of good posts last week that followed up on Christof’s streetcar suggestions and my post about a KIrby light rail line. Here they are: West Gray Streetcar, in which he takes Christof’s concept for a streetcar line on West Gray and runs with it, and Will and Won’t, which gets into the reasons people walk and don’t walk in Houston. I think he’s right on about this:

My contention is that most people in Houston will walk single-digit block distances without complaining too much. If you get into double digits, most people think it’s too far. I’ve told people before, “let’s walk to the train station, it’s about 8 blocks,” and their reaction is, “woah, that’s a long walk!” I’ve told other people, “let’s just walk to the train station, it takes less than 10 minutes and it’s a lot easier than messing with parking.” That gets a more positive reaction usually. It seems that as you get to about 10 blocks distance people think “that’s pretty far.” If you phrase it as time rather than distance, people usually think 10-15 minutes (which is probably more like 12-18 blocks depending on who is walking) is reasonable, and longer than that is “far.”

In my experience, however, once you’re actually walking, people quickly get tired of it if you’re walking on broken old sidewalks or no sidewalks at all. They’ll almost immediately ask “are you sure we shouldn’t just drive?” But on nice sidewalks, especially when there’s retail opening on to the street and other people out walking, most people will go longer distances without noticing.

That’s something that I’ve thought about a lot as I’ve tried to imagine rail lines along Washington and Kirby, as I’ve proposed them. Washington is a street that should be far more walkable than it is, and I know that it’s in line for a big overhaul in the nearish future, but for now it’s got narrow sidewalks that abut the street, with no grass or anything as a buffer, with utility poles and other obstacles for walkers to dodge. Fixing that, hopefully in conjunction with planning for a rail line, will go a long way towards improving that whole area. (Fixing Studemont as well would go even further.) Kirby is reasonably walkable in most places, and it’s already undergoing a facelift north of 59, but for the rail line I’ve proposed something would have to be done to it between Bissonnet and Richmond, and to Yale Street on the north end of the line. I don’t know what can be done about this now other than talk about it and hope to get other people talking about it, so consider this a contribution towards that end. What parts of town should have better sidewalks than they currently do? Leave a comment and let me know.