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May 30th, 2016:

One year of the Green and Purple light rail lines

Ridership keeps trending up, but it’s hard to get a handle on the details from this story.

HoustonMetro

Monday marks one-year of Metropolitan Transit Authority’s two newest rail lines. Well, most of Metro’s two newest rail lines. The last mile or so to the Magnolia Park Transit Center will not open until after a long-delayed overpass is completed early next year.

The lines, which were years behind schedule, also have struggled to exceed expectations each month in terms of average daily ridership, but remain above Metro’s earliest estimates.

The Green Line along Harrisburg failed to average the 2,014 daily riders in its earliest months, but use has since picked up. For the past six months, it has averaged more than 2,600 riders on weekdays.

Meanwhile, the Purple Line, which connects the central business district to neighborhoods southeast of downtown  — passing by Texas Southern University and the University of Houston – has not reached the 3,913 riders Metro predicted each work day consistently, but is close to that over a six-month average.

Still, as some critics note, buses often outperform the new lines, though sometimes the comparisons are not ideal. In Metro’s previous bus system, prior to August, the Route 52 Scott bus that served the universities and southeast Houston residents around MacGregor Park averaged 5,511 daily trips, nearly 1,600 more than the Purple Line.

The bus, however, covered a larger route and hit other major spots the rail line does not.

Though the Red Line – Houston’s original light rail – far exceeds the ridership of bus lines, the Green and Purple lines are still outperformed by some buses. In March, the most recent month for which route-specific ridership is available, 14 frequent bus routes had more than 4,000 riders daily, something neither rail line achieved.

See here, here, and here for some background. I wish reports Dug Begley would just give us the actual numbers, instead of describing them to us. What does “the Purple Line…has not reached the 3,913 riders Metro predicted each work day consistently, but is close to that over a six-month average” even mean? Just give me the numbers and let me figure out the rest. As for the comparison to bus line ridership, it’s apples and oranges. Those high-ridership bus lines also outperform all the other bus lines, too. That’s why they’re part of the high-frequency bus network. If you look at the chart, one of the bus lines with a lot of riders cited is the #25 line, which runs on Richmond. There’s a reason why the Universities Line had the highest ridership projections of all the light rail lines other than the Main Street line. If you can draw a comparison between the new rail lines and the bus lines they supplanted, that’s one thing, though even that would be limited since the old bus lines were longer than the rail lines are. Otherwise, it’s contextless noise. The next comparison of consequence will be next May, when we see if the Green and Purple lines have continued to grow or if they have stalled out.

Typhoon Texas

Someplace new for the summer.

Not far from Katy Mills Mall, rainbow-colored slides tower seven stories high over a new water park that has taken shape on 25 acres.

A short hill with a waterfall running through it greets visitors. Inside, they’ll find nine water rides, a 25,000-square-foot wave pool, a lazy river and a Texas-style barbecue restaurant. About 18 acres sit next to the park for a planned expansion.

“It’s finally come to reality,” said Johnny Nelson, a former city administrator for Katy who first discussed the idea of a water park next to the 175-store outlet shopping mall back when it opened in 1999.

Katy has been known more for its powerhouse high school football team and popular mall than for any particular tourist attractions. The Katy MKT Depot and a nearby caboose stand as proud reminders of Katy’s railroad past, but they’re off the beaten path and not huge draws.

The rapid growth of the region, and surveys indicating residents wanted more in the way of family entertainment in the suburb induced city officials to come up with amenities that would attract large numbers of visitors. The water park may be one of them.

Interest in the $50 million Typhoon Texas facility, which [opened] Saturday, has been high on social media. It is anticipated to draw 400,000 visitors each year during its summer operating seasons, according to Byron Hebert, the current city administrator.

It will serve as a main lure in a burgeoning suburban district that already boasts restaurants, hotels and store chains. These attractions will soon be complemented by a $150 million public-private development that includes a 2.5-mile boardwalk around a pond, a hotel, a 55,000-square-foot convention center and an 89-acre nature park.

“To have a water park, to have a mall like Katy Mills, to be doing the work they’re doing in downtown Katy to renovate it too, and then the boardwalk – that’s millions of millions of dollars in capital investment that the community sees,” said Chris Tanea, marketing manager at the Katy Area Economic Development Council. “The city is going to reap huge benefits because of it, but it extends beyond that.”

[…]

Hebert noted that city leaders were pitched water park proposals on six prior occasions; they rejected each, deciding to wait for a private developer to tackle the project. They got their wish last year, and ground was broken in August.

He predicts that the city’s sales tax revenue will increase by at least 2 percent because of the water park, but said it’s too early to say what will be generated by the coming Boardwalk District, which will take several years to finish.

“Katy has really begun to brand itself as a regional destination for this area,” Tanea said. “The goal is to bring more people in because there is so much to offer here, and we still have space for growth.”

One expert, however, sees “virtually no economic impact” for the Houston area as a whole.

“It’s just increasing the entertainment dollars in Katy that would have otherwise gone to other parts of Houston, so it’s more of a direct impact on the immediate Katy area,” said Bill Gilmer, director for the Institute of Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston. “Certainly, San Antonio has its own water park, and so does Dallas, so nobody will be driving from over there.”

Maybe, I don’t know. I’m well familiar with the argument that new entertainment options don’t really have an economic impact but instead just redistribute the collective budget for leisure spending in an area. It’s one of the linchpins of the case against subsidized stadium construction. I feel like big-ticket items like a water park have more than a basically zero-sum effect, however. They’re an indulgence that I think a fair number of people will splurge on, with the payment for it not necessarily coming out of their existing allocation for fun. For sure, it will have a positive effect for the area, and will no doubt put a few bucks into many teenagers’ pockets. For an awful lot of people, it’s now the closest option for that experience. Even for me, it’s not really much farther than Splash Town, and it’s closer than Schlitterbahn Galveston. I admit, I’m thinking about taking the kids out there sometime this summer. The park hours are a little odd; they’re open till 10 most Fridays and even some Thursdays, but generally only till 7 on Saturdays. Not sure why they do it that way – why not till 10 on Saturdays, too? – but whatever. We still like going to the Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels – I have family there as well, which is another reason we go – but this will be on my list as well. What do you think?