February 11, 2009
More transportation conversation

Some good comments and followup to my earlier post about traffic in the inner core. I want to address Cory's questions regarding BRT. The short answer is that I have no particular objection to BRT - it's a perfectly fine technology, and cheaper to implement than light rail. It has a place in the mix, especially in places where the cost of LRT would make it infeasible given ridership projections. As long as it has its own right of way, it's acceptable and may be optimal.

Having said that, I do think light rail is superior, and I agree with Andrew that LRT has much greater potential to attract genuine transit-oriented development. And let's not forget that the 2003 Metro referendum was about light rail - the furor that erupted when Metro scaled back from LRT to BRT was because people thought they;d been baited and switched. We can certainly talk about BRT going forward - indeed, if the discussion is primarily about BRT versus LRT, as opposed to the usual more roads versus even more roads, I'll be thrilled - but for now I'm more interested in light rail.

Well, I'm also interested in the streetcar discussion that Christof started. Andrew has taken his original concept for a West Gray streetcar line and fleshed it out some more. It's a really intriguing concept, and I hope it leads to some more good ideas. Take a look and see what you think.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 11, 2009 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

You may have missed this, but I conceded the point on the 2003 referendum here:

"Since I wasn't actively blogging in 2003 I missed an important input window and those who support light rail won an important election authorizing light rail. Because of this I believe that Metro has the authority to construct a light-rail network that is consistent with what the voters approved. I believe the current fights over this network should be to get the best system possible given the limitations of the plan passed."

I'm more focused on 'what's next' than 'what's now'. As you said, the 2003 referendum was about LRT, and the voters approved that. My hope is that areas outside the Loop can learn the lessons that at-grade LRT is teaching us and make demands for grade seperation, regardless of what modes of transit they choose.

Either way its an interesting discussion. I just wish more people were involving themselves in it.

Posted by: Cory Crow on February 11, 2009 8:24 AM

The lessons that at grade light rail is teaching us? Like the lesson that it attracts a lot of riders at a relatively small cost? Or that it fits into the urban fabric without overwhelming it? Main Street us a pretty good example of what to do right.

(written on board a train passing through Midtown)

Posted by: Christof Spieler on February 11, 2009 8:32 PM

Given the need to reduce the adverse environmental impact of thousands of commuters traveling individually in their automobiles to their workplaces, given the need to reduce our dependence on foreign sources for the fuel for these automobiles, given the knowledge that there is a finite limit to how wide (or how high) you can build the freeways designed for so many individual commuter trips, and given that we cannot continue with the way things are, then it appears to me that the first thing that we have to accept is that the preeminence of the individual automobile as the transportation mode of choice must be discouraged and replaced with other transportation modes. This means that automobile drivers are no longer "kings of the road." This will be difficult to achieve and certainly cannot be achieved without active enforcement of government policies designed to discourage the bad driver transportation habits that developed during the last 50 years. Unfortunately, the surest way to doom this attempt at change is to fail to offer attractive, reliable alternatives to the automobile. That means the BRT has got to be as reliable as the LRT (which my personal experience has shown to be quuite high). Grade separation is perhaps desirable, but the individual automobile driver will have to modify established habits, like not reading street signs, never using turn signals, etc., if we are going to have a reasonably priced grade separation. The way many Houston drivers behave, the only way we can protect them from their own driving is to put a physical wall up that prevents them from doing what is convenient but not particularly safe.

By definition, trolleys do not have grade separation,so they should be for relatively short distances or on routes in which timely arrival is less important (e.g., Saturday morning shopping trips). I'm surprised that the most obvious role for the trolley has not been discussed in more depth, i.e., provide transportation to LRT stations, to intermediate shopping areas, and to secondary destinations like parks, hospitals, theaters, etc. The first place the trolleys should be implemented is in Downtown Houston. The major employment centers in Downtown Houston are several blocks west of Main Street, yet the best lunchtime and evening entertainment venues are east of Main Street. The present bus lines were not designed to encourage workers, visitors, etc. to use them to travel across the CBD. The late lamented "trolleys" (the ones Metro sold to Austin) actually demonstrated a need for such transportation, but the manner in which they were operated was designed to kill them off (drivers not knowing their routes, drivers failing to stop to pick up passengers, changes in the fare, unreasonable limitations on the way to pay the fares, etc.) Other than that, the idea of trolleys on West Gray, Washington Avenue, Montrose Blvd., Kirby Drive, and Heights Blvd. is very attractive. The problem is that many will oppose any move to limit the omnipotence of the automobile. Fortunately, we have the Katy Freeway expansion as proof that this is a not a long-term solution to the needs listed above. Maybe, just maybe, the price of oil will rise sufficiently to kill off the Culberson-saurs and open the way to more intelligent use of public funds for transportation.

Posted by: Temple Houston on February 11, 2009 9:43 PM


Yes I did see that, and I did not mean to imply that you were disputing this assertion. Mainly, I was reiterating it as part of my full thoughts on BRT. Thanks for the followup.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 12, 2009 1:45 PM
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