Monday, December 1, 2014

Houton Tinplate Operators Society

Model trains!!  Come and see them and meet people who love them, work them, and want them to stick around for years and years to come.  Since 1988, the Houston Tinplate Operators Society has existed to do just that, and you can visit their permanent location at Memorial City Mall.

Here are the trains in action at Memorial City Mall...

And more trains...

You can see all these trains in action at the HTOS permanent location in Memorial City Mall in the hallway immediately west of the inside-the-mall entrance to Target.  Here it is...

This photo was taken a few months ago just as HTOS was moving into this spot next to the entrance to Target.  However, if you don't know where to look, it is hard to find.  However, the train guys have spruced things up a bit...

Here is a MAP of the mall.  Note the 'Houston Tinplate Society' west of the inside entrance to Target in the blue section.  HTOS is just west of 'Milano Men's' and can be accessed from the parking lot off Gessner north of Kingsride.

This is a really great place, and long-time mass-transit advocate and METRO buff Dominic Mazoch introduced me to this place.  Pretty cool!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Silly Bus Stops, Volume 1

Louisiana @ Tuam

So many buses come up Louisiana via Spur 527 from U. S. 59.  On the seldom occasion when they drop people off at Louisiana @ Tuam, they used to stop here.

Looking north on Louisiana, the cross-street here is Tuam.  The decorative rectangle on the sidewalk at right along with the lonely metal pole?  This is where the bus shelter and bus stop for Tuam used to be.  I strongly expect very, very few people got on or off at this stop.  METRO could have used the opportunity provided by sidewalk-obstructing construction on this city block to do away with this redundant stop once and for all.

But no.  The agency opted instead to go with its normal bus stop protocol and temporarily move this stop for Tuam to the next block up.  If you look carefully, you can see the new bus stop sign on a temporary base under the trees just past Tuam.

Here is the new stop (moved from the old location about a year ago) on its temporary base.

Click this image and view same on Google Maps.  Pan around this image and look south toward Tuam and north again toward McGowen.  Notice something?  The difference in walk time from this present bus stop location to McGowen and from this present bus stop location to Tuam is so negligible as to not be worth mentioning.

This bus stop is an opportunity for bus operators' runs to be delayed all-the-more for that one random soul using this redundant bus stop.  Same soul could walk from McGowen or Elgin easy-enough.  Such is not only an exhibition of not only this bureaucratic foolishness, but a grave indictment on the political forces and walking intolerances that have forced METRO over the years to adopt a bus-stop spacing protocol and standard that is woefully inefficient and serves only to be the hardening of the arteries of METRO's local and Park & Ride bus service.

Westheimer @ Weslayan eastbound

I'm talking about the blue bus-icon on the southwest corner of the intersection of Westheimer @ Weslayan and just in front of the Wells Fargo Bank.  This bus stop is needless.

This intersection serves the 73 W. Bellfort Galleria branch as well as the 81 Westheimer and 82 Westheimer.  The 73 comes up Weslayan and turns west onto Westheimer.  Southbound, the 73 comes east again on Westheimer and turns south onto Weslayan.

Ordinarily, this bus stop would be fine, but we already have the bus stop west of it serving the HEB Central Market.  The bus stop at the Wells Fargo bank currently does serve as a destination point for people transferring from 81/82 westbound, but that transfer from those westbound buses to the 73 southbound could be made west of here at Drexel and at a location where the westbound bus stop is closer to the street crosswalk.

As for the eastbound Westheimer bus stop at Weslayan?  Let's get rid of it.

Westheimer between Gessner & Fondren, inclusive

There may be in our entire bus system, no greater concentration of bus-stop nonesense than here in these few blocks.

Not including stops at Gessner and Fondren, the orange markers denote all the METRO bus stops between Gessner and Fondren.

Here are all these stops on Google Maps (You will have to zoom into see them in this frame).  Use the zoom buttons at bottom right to zoom in and out.  Drag the map to move it around.  Of course, you can also click at top left to 'View on Google Maps' in a more-expansive frame than I can provide here.

Let's start at the intersection of Westheimer @ Gessner.  This crossing of two of Houston's most-used non-freeway thoroughfares serves bus routes 46 Gessner, 53 Westheimer Ltd., and 82 Westheimer.  The 53 Westheimer Ltd. on its way up to Briar Forest turns north onto Gessner from Westheimer.  Coming south from Briar Forest, it turns off of Gessner and east onto Westheimer.  Hence, the absolute need for the seemingly-redundant bus stop eastbound on Westheimer just east of the Shipley Do-Nuts.

Zoom out, and the fun begins.  Let's go eastbound on Westheimer from Gessner.  Look at the stop in front of Shipley's.  Then head east and see the stop at Tanglewilde.  Then head but 250 yards and you have a stop at Rockyridge.  About 150 yards east of that is the stop at Westerland.

I promise you, the yardages I have quoted make the distances between all these stops seem longer than they already are.  The fact we have stops at both Rockyridge and Westerland is ridiculous.

Solution: Between Gessner and Fondren inclusive, take out every bus stop save those at Gessner and Fondren as well as those at Westerland.  I leave the Westerland stops in to accomodate the Treemont retirement home as well as the apartments all around there as it is legitimately too much to ask for people from that street to walk all the way from there to Gessner or Fondren to catch the bus.

Every bus stop in our system is an opportunity for a passenger to harden the arteries of METRO's system.  Every time a bus has to stop for one person or fifty, there is braking, opening of doors, passengers entering and paying their fare by cash or Q-Card, closing the doors, watching for traffic, and accelerating only to have someone request the next stop 150 yards away.

Crazy!  And METRO has let this go on and on for decades and decades.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Commentary: METRO regular Board Meeting 20 November 2014

As always, video of this meeting may be had at

METRO Board Chair Gilbert Garcia begins with public comments...

1:06 Would not be a meeting without public comments from Mark Hogue...who usually has something interesting to say.  Today, he wonders why we need to spend all the money on route-number changes as well as continues to lament the imminent demise of the routing of the current 53 Westheimer Ltd.

He also iterates people will be confused when the changes come around.  Gilbert and Christof are being very diplomatic with him, and I'm glad they are.  Mr. Hogue has been a fixture in METRO's life for many years.

6:31 Peggy Garrett talks about the 'METRO Moving Forward' presentation from a while back concerning METROLift and the severity of its coming fare-increase, advocating for an incremental fare increase instead of the brute-force $1.15 to $2.50 increase.

11:28 Dominick Mazoch is against how the BRT is being built for the wrong reason: corporate welfare.  Uptown needs to be held to the same standards of transparency METRO is.  "Image is everything.", he says.  Watch the video for his complete comments.

18:19 Otis Robinson, who is always good.  He talks about a community meeting from last weekend in which he was educated on some things he did not know.  He talks up the experience of METRO's staff and other things related to Reimagining.  He thanks the Board for its recent efforts at engaging the community regarding Reimagining.

This is why we have not heard from Strategic Planning in the last two months: a bunch of things are going on Reimagining the northeast of Houston as well as Acres Homes.

31:40 Robert Whitliffe (sp?) regarding METROLift.  "Without it, we don't go anywhere."  Looks like a lot of people are not happy with the proposed fare increase!  And a coming end to multi-ride passes for METROLift as well?  Guess I need to pay more attention to METROLift stuff in that I am not disabled...  :-O

35:21 Andrew Ryans on METROLift and the Q-Card in general.  At 37:40, Judge Jefferson floors me, God, and Jubal.  After all this time, he is still not sure we have the DayPass?  What?!?

37:45 Bus Operators are, in a pilot program at least, to be selling Q-Cards on buses?  The intent is good: not penalize those people who do not have Q-Cards, but the fact our operators will have more paper to have to push around while they are keeping us safe on the buses is not a good thing.

This whole part of the meeting is a wonderful exposition of the flaws in our current fare-media techonology.

42:00 I'm not sure I like the concept of anyone save METRO sponsoring any part of our bus system, but for Greenlink and (perhaps) Q-Cards, I don't think METRO gives up its right to 'speak out' with these limited forms of extra-agency sponsoring/paying-for any part of our services.

43:45 Andy Skabowski gives an unintended indictment of our current fare-system technology: the system had to be jerry-rigged to make our current daypass work.  Wow.

45:37 Andy's correct.  The DayPass is effectively a Q-Card and a DayPass both.  In order to not inflate the DayPass' stats, I continue to use a Q-Card.

48:25 Ruby Dixon talks about METROLift's proposed fare hike and its suspension policy and the steepness of steps on METROLift vans.  Andy Skabowski iterates the agency looking at better options that are more-commercially-available now.

54:25 Mark Smith's question on Reimagining: "Why"?  Mr. Smith is normally all-right, but now he's pedantic.  He's still funny, though.  He talks about people paying cash at moments when buying a Q-Card would be very easy for them at that moment.

58:32 Preach it, Mark!  We need a true 24-hour DayPass once more!  And yes, we need to spend the money to upgrade our fare system (or replace it entirely).  Gilbert's chair breaks on him.

59.50 Maria Palacios of the Houston Center for Independent Living.  Her organization doesn't like the proposed METROLift changes, either.  She brings up Jim Laughlin, a former director of METRO's Transportation Services.

1:03:44 Board Member Dianne Lewter chimes in.  Her father, who can no longer walk, is now on METROLift.  don't think Mrs. Palacios was expecting that reply...  :-O  Maria responds effectively.

1:05:00 Board Member Dwight Jefferson weighs in about the costs of providing METROLift services and how METROLift is always the one item over-budget and how the agency provides this service beyond METRO's service area at times.

Jefferson also makes the point made by an advocate of the disabled there are disabled people who could use fixed-route services who, due to METROLift's low fares, opt for METROLift, thereby adversely affecting METROLift's performance over time.  Hence, the proposed fare increase.

His final point is striking a balance between cost and quality of service.

1:09:00 Mrs. Stephenson thanks the Board for coming to the recent community meeting.  She laments the overcrowding on the trains in late afternoon as well as one person sitting in pee accidentally due to the cloth seats!

1:13:29 Board Chairman's report...  The introduction of METRO's first female police chief and the first Black American METRO police chief.  Go, Chief Vera Bumpers!

METRO CEO Tom Lambert recognizes other METRO Police promotions.

1:18:55 Dianne Lewter named one of 'Houston's fifty most-infuential women' by a magazine.

1:19:30 Gilbert Garcia recognizes Tom Lambert's thirty-five years at METRO.  Tom was METRO's first Chief of Police - wow!

1:29:00 Working Committee reports...  Setting policy for service outside METRO's service area...  Nothing much with Finance/Audit...  The new government/public affairs committee is starting up.  Staff for the two new rail lines are being hired.

1:34:00 CAF update = all is going according to plan and METRO staffer Rosa Diaz is always on-point with everything she does

1:38:40 System Reimagining...

A very productive meeting with Northeast Houston and Acres Homes communities was had recently.  Finally, the Big Huge Presentation on FLEX...

Yes, this is the sort of detailed presentation we should have seen back in May or June.  I get the feeling that a lot of critical details have been ironed out with the people in Northeast Houston and Acres Homes.

1:46:15 Within the FLEX Zone in question...door-to-door service with a phone call an hour in advance.

1:53:45 Board Member Jim Robinson talks about span of service with emphasis on people in service jobs that dictate odd hours.

2:08:08 No different than getting to a stop just after the once-every-hour bus passes...

2:16:18 Span of service is a big issue.  I predict we will see an 18-hour span of service at minimum for these Community Connector Zones.

2:17:30 Agreed, Gilbert.  The survey will cost a lot more than $32,000 methinks.

2:21:00 Gilbert's going to Dallas to get a sense of how FLEX works there.

2:21:30 May.  We won't get a real sense of what the network will be with a final form of FLEX until May.

2:23:00 Chairman Garcia goes to the Consent Agenda items...

2:25:00 Gilbert and Dianne talk about how the mechanics of quorums affects times when lots of Board Members want to go to various functions in and out of METRO.

2:28:58 Garcia adjourns the meeting.

May.  Not until May.  Not until May 2015 will the world really see a true glimpse of what the Re-imagined bus system will look like.  The Community Connectors have won the day, and those advocating for them have succeeded (for better, I think) in hamstringing the process to where there may never ever be a vote on a 'final approval' of Re-imagining.

Never a final vote?  Well, 7 June 2015 is the implementation date for the Re-imagined network, but what I think will happen is there will be prior to the May 2015 Board Meeting a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make quite sure the Jim Robinsons of the world are made happy and satisfied with the new Community Connectors (aka FLEX) to the point where Board approval of System Reimagining at that May 2015 Board meeting will be nothing more than a rubber-stamp.

This past September's Board Meeting was chiefly characterized by nothing less than an ambush by the Northeast Houston and Acres Homes elected officials and a loud cadre of citizens, all from low-ridership areas that succeeded in watering down what was supposed to be the approval of the whole of System Reimagining from a lock-stock-and-barrel approval to an approval 'in principle'.

In the end, this may not be a bad thing.  Even the 'New METRO' of Annise Parker has now been proven to be anything but immune to the grand inertia that is so much of the workings of any government.  Yes, in lolly-gagging around with the details - or lack thereof - of FLEX, METRO was caught with its pants down.

I was wondering what was going on with no real details in May of this year as to how FLEX would work.  I'm not sure who or what dropped the ball at that time, but President & CEO Tom Lambert did the right thing and take full responsibility for the agency's not being more-proactive with getting the word out about FLEX.

I strongly expect the continuing mopping up of the CAF fiasco and debacle has taken a lot of  Tom's energy.  I also suspect METRO did not foresee just how vociferous the opposition from Acres Homes and Northeast Houston would be.  That recent meeting with the community in Kashmere must have been quite something (lots of pitchforks and torches).

Kurt Luhrsen's presentation from today's meeting gives us the sorts of detail and hustle on this project we should have seen back in April and May.  All of this should have been ironed out with dialogue en-masse with elected officials and the community before the roll-out in May or in the weeks right after that day.

As for marketing, Kurt and all angels are envisioning direct mailings, posters, and other static forms of communication.  The pulpit is also a good way of getting out the word about this apolitical topic.  Houses of worship in what are currently the coming five FLEX Zones need to be encouraged to let their flocks know of the changes to come.

As for the three months in the pilot program set to begin in January, yes, it will take that long for the agency to really get a feel for the ins and outs of what is for METRO and Houston a brave step into the heretofore uncharted universe of Flexible bus service.  Planning will by the end of April really get a handle on the nitty-gritty details of all this.

There is a terrible lot at stake.  This new service must be done right the first time.  There will be no second chances at this for a few decades.  The kinks must be ironed out.  The unforeseen vagaries must be excised.  All this must be done because if this system works in getting people to and from where they need to be in these far-flung-in-METRO's-service-area low-ridership areas, the genuine goodwill built up in the communities affectted and the community at-large will set a precedent for how good government can work as well as carry the cause of good mass-transit forward for years to come, which will be of great benefit to Acres Homes, Northeast Houston, and everyone else in the Greater Houston-Galveston region.

Friday, November 14, 2014

An Open Letter from the Galleria to all of Houston and to METRO in particular

Dear METRO and all who use METRO's services:

You probably think this is from the staff and management of the Galleria shopping mall.  Wrong.  This missive is from you: the agency and frustrated bus rider who heading eastbound on Westheimer hits Yorktown from about mid-November until the first week of January...taking about an hour to get from Yorktown to Mid street.  Ditto for westbound from Mid to Yorktown...

I am the myriad of factors that laugh at METRO's Reimagining.  Greater frequency of bus service means a greater clump of buses getting caught at the West Loop.  Nothing more.  Sure, your bus service will run better than ever before the rest of the year, but during the holidays, you're my b*#(%, bus schedules, at which I laugh and throw away.

Frequent Network?  Feh.  BRT on Post Oak?  Bwahahahaha!!  Why do you guys bother to have bus schedules in effect on the Westheimer corridor from turkey day to New Year's Eve?  It is pointless.  Life is pointless.

I am the sclerotic car-centric culture of the 1960s Loop 610.  I am the 'special sauce' that attracts every SUV, maddened shopper, and kid wanting to get on the ice rink.  I am the TxDoT that heretofore has been completely obsessed with the car, the car, and the car.  I am the needless bus stops at McCue & at Alabama (eastbound).  I am lights that are not timed properly.  I am the West Loop.  I am Neiman-Marcus and all the other stores that attract traffic.

And I delight in your chaos.  I revel in ten buses in a row going eastbound clumped all together at a standstill.  I wallow in the futility.  I bathe in your angst.  And I want you to shop at the Galleria!

Christof Spieler, O Valiant One whose magnum opus, Reimagining, really will make the lives of at least half-a-million souls better, your efforts in my domain at Christmastime are in vain.  The things I throw in METRO's direction near the turn of each year are far beyond the agency's control.

There is but one solution: tear down the Galleria to its foundations and turn that land into a dump.  That'll get traffic moving again - to get away from the ugliness!!

Seriously, though, the solutions to this mess will involve a few kings' ransoms and will involve nothing less than elevating the Loop at Alabama and allowing buses to go through there, making that section of the street a bus-only portion of the roadway.  There will always be traffic at the Galleria, but the way for buses can and must be made easier.

Only then shall I be neutralized and your bus-riding Christmas made sane.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Commentary: The last (probably) METRO Procurement Committee Meeting 23 September 2014

A simple end to an epic project...

Chaired by Board Member Allen Watson, the presently-active Procurement Committee was tasked about a year and a half ago with streamlining within local, state, and federal law the process by which small businesses are selected to do business with METRO.  The video of what will most-likely be the 'swan-song' of this committee was held today.

0:05 Allen Watson starts off the meeting.

0:15 Rosa!!  The horror of it all!!

2:11 Board member Diann Lewter thanks Allen for his work.

2:23 I would re-name another committee, adding Procurement to its name and function.

2:45 Kim (last name?) from METRO's Procurement Department starts her short presentation.  The program for procurement of small businesses is ten years old, and a refresh of policies and procedures was due.  Hence, this committee.

She goes on to describe some last changes made to certain requirements and goes on to the new pilot program for the re-done procedures and policies.

9:22 Allen talks about why the committee was created.

12:03 Kim thanks her staff for its work in this project.

14:55 Allen calls for a motion to send the new Procurement manual to the Board.  Diann seconds.

15:19 Allen Watson adjourns the Procurement Committee for probably the last time.

Video of this meeting may be had via

Friday, September 19, 2014

Commentary: METRO Strategic Planning Committee Meeting 15 September 2014 - brilliant committee discussion on FLEX

The last Strategic Planning Committee meeting before the adoption (hopefully) of System Reimagining was held this week.  Video and the agenda for this meeting can be had at

00:38 Geoff Carlton of Traffic Engineers, Inc., the principal consulting firm on System Reimagining begins what will be for the most part a mere formality.  Not sure why the committee is bothering to have Geoff give the overview except to make quite sure everyone is on-board with all the details.

The last thing we need is for some random thought to enter a Board member's head at the last moment, causing them to hesitate to vote to send System Reimagining to the Board at all or vote not to adopt same on the 25th of this month.

02:24 Geoff waxes happily over there being 1100 public comments on the Draft Plan (now the Revised Draft Plan) for System Reimagining.  Feh!  There should have been 11,000 public comments, but the comments received were to the point and gave the agency a strong idea of the will of the people in this matter: for the overall plan with some changes needed.

03:48 METRO received public comments from more than a hundred zip codes - nice geographical spread.  If we didn't have many comments, at least the ones we have gotten are from a comprehensive cross-section of METRO's service area.

06:30 Board Member Burt Ballanfant raises a really good point.  The mighty jist of all the public comment was in support of the creation of a new network supplanting the old.  To a person, I don't think anyone advocated for the retention of our tired, old current local bus network.

Of course, people had lots to say about specific routings, etc., but no-one seems to have wanted to torpedo the project entirely.  To have achieved even this level of success speaks volumes about the quality of people working on System Reimagining from the Board all the way to the janitors.

06:40 Board Member Dwight Jefferson has a place at the table at this meeting.  A jacket is draped across the back of his chair.  Either he was around and had to leave or Burt put his own jacket there for whatever reason.  Or maybe it's Board Member Allen D. Watson's...

06:59 Board Member Diann Lewter mentions 'some of our more-active riders' believing there was not enough done by METRO to really get the word out about System Reimagining to the general ridership.  I have to laugh a little because I am one of those 'more-active' riders!

My thoughts on this are enough for a post of their own, but this I will say: when System Reimagining is implemented, it's going to shock a whole lot of people!  LOL

09:20 Geoff references the 21 November 2013 METRO Board meeting in which the hypothetical 80%/20% ratio between ridership-focus and geographical coverage-focus for System Reimagining was arrived at and adopted by the Board.  That meeting was perhaps the most-important get-together for the Board since METRO's first Board meeting ca. 1978 and one of the top five moments in Houston-area mass-transit history.

10:30 It was thought that under System Reimagining, 0.5% of ridership would be outside a walking-distance of 1/2-mile of bus service.  In fact, that number looks to be more like 0.04% - a stunning achievement for METRO, Traffic Engineers Inc., and Jarrett Walker...

10:49 94% of riders will be able to use the same bus stop they always have.  Crazy-good!

12:56 Red = Frequent Network; Blue = less-frequent; Green = lowest frequency
METRO has since the start of the System Reimagining process used these colors to label its routes in an informal way.  These color-labels will be a permanent part of METRO's network-planning process and route-branding from now on, it seems.

No late-evening service on green routes - that could generate some complaints down the road.  Alas, with a project such as System Reimagining, there are trade-offs resulting in winners and losers with hopefully there being a lot more winners than losers.

At this time-point begins a big discussion on what will be phenomenal weekend service.

15:37 The maps Geoff shows here illustrating what our weekend service will be...  O...  M...  G...

16:57 Geoff flips from coming-Sunday-service-map to current-Sunday-service-map and back again - If this does not excite you on what our weekend local bus service will be, you are dead inside.  :-)

17:43 Burt Ballanfant asks about weekend service to the Medical Center and catches Geoff a little off-guard.  I still cannot believe there seems to have been no pushback on the demise of the current 1 Hospital.

21:27 Geoff starts discussing how METRO will, to the end of maximizing service within the current budget, continue to make small, but judicious modifications to the coming network even after System Reimagining is adopted.

He also goes into what METRO's planners will do once the plan is adopted.  It will be a massive, massive project.

23:38 The most-detailed explanation of METRO's implementation strategy and timetable post-adoption yet seen...  The brain-breaking work will be done from October through December as all three iterations (weekday, Saturday, & Sunday) of all eighty new local bus routes are fully-scheduled and are optimized to work with each other.  Here's hoping the streetlights in the Galleria cooperate with the new network!

Plan implementation is still planned for June 2015.  Geoff should have explained the word 'deadheading'.  For the record, deadheading is running a route with no paying passengers.  I also think Geoff refers to buses having at the ends of their current routes to drive back however long to their garages.

26:35 Discussion on public safety aspects with the new network

33:42 Geoff addresses other topics.  He talks about FLEX, branding, etc.

36:46 Two-way HOV lanes?  Yes, I'll take some of those!  This would be such a boon for METRO and would blow open our bus service, especially on the Southwest Freeway where I think two-way HOV could be put in very-easily, though at the expense of one lane of traffic each way.

No, we're not getting those on US 59 anytime soon, but it's a lovely dream.

37:25 Board Member Jim Robinson gets the FLEX discussion under way...

46:46 YES!!  Board Member Spieler hits upon the very thing that will ultimately make FLEX work: keeping the same drivers on the same zones/routes year after year, allowing them to get to know their customers.

51:00 Jocelyn Thomas is a rare public speaker at a committee meeting, but she has good things to say about the proposed 7 Richmond going along Blodgett and bus-traffic issues resulting.  The perfect example of constructive and critical public input of the sort that will make our system better...

58:50 Discussion before the motion is made and approved to send System Reimagining to the full METRO Board for approval.

59:47 Member Spieler wants route changes that changes the network map to go before the full Board for approval.  Allen Watson wonders if that will put too much work on the Board's plate, but Christof's point is good: the Board needs to know and be responsible for what's going on.

1:01:17 Burt Ballanfant praises the Board and agency on its handling of the community regarding the Harrisburg Overpass and how this same competence was used for System Reimagining.  He makes the motion to move System Reimagining to the full Board.  Diann Lewter seconds the motion.  A great thing to have someone other than an Annise Parker-appointee make that motion...

During this time, Christof talks about the Board needing to be more hands-on about approving service standards.

1:09:14 System Reimagining is sent to the full METRO Board of Directors for approval at next Thursday's Board meeting.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What a year it's been...

It was about this time one year ago I saw a METRO Facebook post about this video.  Yeah, Mary Sit at METRO first posted it to the METRO website in late July 2013.  I did not see it until the month following.

But when I did, my life was made better, and it is a moment that will stay with me for a very long time.  Seeing government actually doing something the people could really get behind and that would directly improve their lives excited me to no end.  It is this excitement, created from the video, that gave birth to this blog and on-hiatus podcast.

It has been an exciting trip, and it's only going to get better.  System Reimagining will (99.999% sure) will be approved by the Board in September with hopeful-implementation in June of next year at which point our Board can look to the future of the agency past their tenure, which should end in 2016.

2004-2010 was at METRO the worst of times, perhaps.  2010-present-and-beyond-hopefully = the best of times: a can-do Board filled with good people with good common sense who actually care about our city, multi-cities, and region enough to think boldly while doing their due diligence in asking the right questions.

A all-too-rare thing in government.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

18 August 2014 Strategic Planning Committee meeting Commentary

As Christof Spieler said, this particular meeting of this committee was to be the Big, Huge, Giant System Re-imagining Draft Plan with public comment once-over.  That bit of fun has been moved to the Regular Board Meeting to be held two days from now.  It will be a long and arduous meeting, to be sure.

The meeting video may be had at and its from this video the timestamps below come.

1:30  Kurt Lurhsen wishes the Board would approve the System Re-imagining Plan..right now!  haha

1:40  240 unique schedules - three for each of the eighty routes in the current plan: What an enormous job it will be to get these schedules together.  We can only hope they have revised and special schedules for Xmas-time-December-Galleria!

2:23  Amen, Christof!  However, I am still convinced bus-stop spacing will require a full-blown consolidation effort with public input.  This, however, I think will have to be a job for the 2016-20?? Board.

2:35  Oh, brother.  Few things in the system frustrate me more than drivers having to slow-drive through a route because they are ahead of the computer-clock.  Being early for a bus operator is a cardinal sin for so many reasons, and because of this, METRO has on every bus a clock-machine that lets a driver how much ahead or behind they are relative to the various timepoints they need to make.

If a driver is ahead of schedule, they must either drive the bus slower than molasses to get back in-sync with the timepoints or just stop the bus altogether.  If my trip is making really, really good time, it's a real pain in the neck to have to stop for three minutes at some intersection or wherever because of the seemingly-arbitrary nature of this system - a schedule and system that does not take into account Christimastime traffic and other traffic variables.

Here's an idea: we currently have three times of the year for service changes: June, August, and January.  Add another service change time: late-November to deal specifically with Christmas-time traffic in the Galleria.  It will take a year or two with the re-imagined system to fully come to grips on what a Christimastime schedule should be, but it can and must be done to deal with traffic in the Galleria.

3:25  Yeah, System Re-imagining implentation is going to be massive on a scale METRO has never before experienced and may not experience again for a half-century.

4:10  Heck, if METRO is looking for volunteers, I'll have to see if I can step in and help out.

5:19  The very moment the Board approves System Re-imagining is the moment the significant others of Jim, Kurt, etc. become METRO widows/widowers for the next ten months or so.

6:44  Earlier, Kurt mentioned field-testing of schedules being an element.  Lots of field-testing, we hope!

8:55  Yes, but we all know the Board will, whether anyone has concerns or not, will approve the Final Plan.  If Christof Spieler, whose blood, sweat, and tears have been spent on this much-needed project, has to make a pact with Mephisto and Baal to ensure Board approval, he will see it done.  I know that from now through the September Board Meeting there will be lots of preliminary things that could be done in this interim time.  Let's allow the agency to spend a little money to save a lot of time later on.

10:20  This is why we love Burt Ballanfant.  He asks the right questions.  And yes, it's for that reason we love Jim Robinson, too!

11:00  Jarrett Walker is a public-opinion and education guy as well as a philosophy guru.  Traffic Engineers, Inc. is nuts-and-bolts.  Not sure if this was made clear through the System Re-imagining process.

12:23  Hee, hee, hee...  You know it, Christof!  7 June 2015 = the Mother of All Service Changes!  LOLOL!!!  Hey, Christof!  More like "twenty magnitudes" of changes!

14:00  What will be involved with bus-stop changes?  A post of mine from a few months ago goes into great detail.

14:58  Yes, Kurt, but what is the protocol for bus-stop spacing?  Couldn't we go to wider bus-stop spacing outside of Downtown?  In Downtown, I've been made to understand ridership will not tolerate wider bus-stop spacing, unfortunately.

16:00  Oh, my Sweet Mother of Q-Card Terminals, I wish the Board could approve this thing NOW!!  The lead-time in ordering parts, but the biggest job will be the Board's: figuring out what needs to be on all the signs plus branding, etc.  17:50  Go, Diann, go!!

17:56  Mr. Ballanfant, the TripApp is in my mind still in a Beta-testing phase, especially with System Re-imagining coming up.  Is the fleet fully-equipped with the GPS thingies the TripApp needs to track all the buses?

19:10  Ye gods, all these details!!  Diann is absolutely right.  To have to go over all ten-thousand bus stops.. a second time correct something done wrong would be horrible.

19:49  YES!!  Every bus stop needs its own number available to the general public!

21:23  Our current in-bus stop announcement system is pretty good, already, but it does get 'off' at-times.  After sunset, this can be a problem.

22:25  Many congratulations to METRO, and particularly to Kurt Lurhsen, for being able to retain such a staff through the years.  Bravo!

26:20  Succession planning - yes!!  Especially when the next Board comes on board in 2016...

I wonder if METRO is getting set for a wave of retirements at the Administration Building...

28:00  Methinks Kurt was not quite detailed enough in his initial talking to the Committee re staff request budgetary considerations

For a while, the meeting goes into mind-numbing (but necessary, I know) contract minutiae...  35:45  Good lord, even Dwight can't keep it all straight - haha.

38:00  The second presentation begins...with a request for a study that could ultimately lead to the Wonkatania, that Mystical Train to Galveston of surprise, whimsy, and fun!!

46:47  The problem is, Kurt, aside from UH and TSU, the Southeast Line doesn't really go anywhere.  The East Line goes to the middle of nowhere.  Not high-density of population and jobs.  And no great landmarks.  

48:00  The East and Southeast Lines were most-likely built for developers and not for the public at-large.  Had there been a real push from The Powers-that-Be in the late '90s and early 2000s, we could have had train service from airport to airport and to the Northwest Transit Center, Galleria, etc.  

The Powers-that-Be put the trains where they wanted them, and no amount of preaching, mediums, séances, etc. would have swayed them to build otherwise.

I have no faith this new study will go anywhere.  Until Galveston becomes a place where umpteen people will want to get to via train, a return of passenger train service between Houston and Galveston will never, ever come about.

The meeting lasted about fifty-two minutes and is a perfect prelude to Thursday's shin-dig with the full Board.

Friday, August 15, 2014

No August Special Board Meeting after all - This is a good thing!

As I write this (on Thursday evening), and only a few moments ago, I got word from as good a source there is METRO will not be holding a Special Board Meeting solely dedicated to System Re-imagining after all.  The Regular Board Meeting on Thursday 28 August of this month will be mostly dedicated to going through citizen input regarding the Draft Proposed System Map the agency will hopefully implement in June 2015.

The fact the Board has decided to not hold a Special Meeting tells me two things: 1. Board members were not able to move their schedules around and 2. The nature of public comment on the Draft plan is such that having a Special Board Meeting to discuss same is not needed after all.  The vibe I'm getting is there has been at METRO a lot of work behind-the-scenes in this very-busy agency, but that there have been no indications in the landscape of public opinion of there being landmines to bring down System Reimagining or water it down such that a resultant network would be much like what we have now.

From what I've heard, public comment has been pretty good, though again, it will be veeery interesting to see what the FLEX areas and Acres Homes has to say along with West University residents.

This month's Board meeting is going to be a long one.  An exceedingly long one...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Annise Parker METRO Board's greatest task

In the spring of 2010, Houston's then-newly-minted Mayor Annise Parker, part of whose election platform included a cleaning-house of our region's beleaguered mass-transit agency, appointed replacements to the City of Houston's majority on METRO's Board of Directors: Gilbert Garcia (her nomination for Chairman), Allen Watson, Christof Spieler, Dwight Jefferson, and Carrin Patman (later replaced by Diann Lewter).

Annise is now in her third and last two-year term as Mayor, and with the ascent of her successor in January 2016 will presumably come a new slate of METRO Board members.  And God knows what clown or brilliant saint We, the People of Houston, will elect.

Mayor Parker took office in January 2010 and immediately appointed a METRO Transition Task Force, the findings of which in March 2010 gave her cause to bring in her five new appointees to replace the ones put in by the previous mayoral administration.  The first Board meeting of these new Board members was in late April 2010.

This Board's history may be divided into three phases, the first beginning in April 2010 and consisting of righting METRO's ship in regard to getting rid of its controversial then-President/CEO, Frank Wilson, restoring the agency's standing with the Federal government regarding transit funding and BuyAmerica, and a host of other issues.

This phase could be said to have been concluded for the most part by mid-2012 when the Board transitioned into finally being able to go forward into the future.  System Re-imagining began at this time and in spring 2013, the immense process of bringing about a more-streamlined and organized Procurement Manual was begun (more on that in a future post), thereby making it easier and less-confusing for small businesses to get the ball rolling on doing business with METRO.

We are now in August 2014, at which point the new Procurement Manual is just about or is altogether complete and in-force.  Revamping certain aspects of how METRO goes about its public safety and real estate doings is in the works as the agency heads toward a foregone-conclusion-approval of System Reimagining in September-ish of this year, which will be another milestone and one that marks this METRO Board's transition into the third and most-important phase of its existence: setting up METRO for success in such a way the 2016 Board can take up the reins easily.

In part, it will take the Board appointees from the Multi-Cities and Harris County to speak out and loudly when and if the new Board decides to go back to the bad-old-days of 2004-2010.  

As to what Gilbert, Allen, and all angels will need to do to leave things in good order and to do as much as they can to leave behind a Board culture in which doing the right thing is not only possible, but expected, I don't know.  They are wiser than I, and are doubtless thinking on these sorts of matters already.

It will above all require the election of a Mayor of Houston who genuinely cares for mass-transit and who is competent to appoint quality people to the Board and then goes ahead and appoints those people

Without this, we are sunk.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Predictions for this month's Special Board Meeting

With the close of public comment on METRO's Draft Proposed Network Map, work has begun on integrating as much as possible the tenor of the public comment and input on same gathered over the past three months into a Final Proposed Map that will go before the METRO Board for a final vote in what is most-likely to be Thursday 25 September.

In advance of that fateful day will be at least one Special Board Meeting this month in lieu of a normal Strategic Planning Committee meeting, the sole agenda item being the presentation to the Board by the agency the public comments and the going-through these comments, including responses to the Online Survey (now closed).  I've mentioned this meeting before, and it promises to perhaps be the longest Strategic Planning Committee meeting to date.  It will certainly be among the most-interesting!

In advance of that meeting, I feel the need to make some startling predictions as to what the biggies issues raised at that meeting might be - in no particular order...

1. The numbering of the Acres Home bus

It doesn't matter me personally how any bus in this system is numbered, but if Acres Homes can retain a route numbered '44', it would be a good thing!

2. The lack of a single bus taking one from Town & Country (or further west) along I-10, servicing Memorial City, Northwest TC, and Downtown

The current 131 Memorial, even as infrequently as it runs, is as close to a 'rocket-bus' as any local route we currently have.  It's awesome!

3. The lack of deviations to the Hillcroft TC of the proposed 41 Fondren and particularly the proposed 42 Hillcroft

Riders of the current 132 Harwin and the current 163 Fondren are on those buses to get Downtown.  As currently proposed, the 41 Fondren and 42 Hillcroft (Hillcroft not even being on the Frequent Network!) would require an ill-conceived transfer to and from the Harwin Frequent Segment to get to Hillcroft TC.  This is untenable.

4. The lack of inclusion in the Draft Proposed Map of the Heights TC

In writing, one has to sometimes 'kill their darlings'.  I cannot imagine the same does not hold true for mass-transit.  However, the proposed 20 MLK Lockwood Calvalcade and proposed 54 Airline Montrose hardly route away from the Heights Transit Center whatsoever.  A deviation to that transit center for both buses would not hurt anything, yes?  Ditto for 53 Almeda N Main.

However, it is true these three routes already intersect at the west terminus of W. Calvacade @ N. Main, negating in theory the need to deviate to a transit center and waste minutes in doing so.  I say let's trust in the wisdom of METRO planners, put a bunch of good shelters at this intersection, mothball Heights TC for now... [CORRECTION: I had originally lamented the lack of a bus running directly on Heights Blvd.  Wrong!  In my gorgeous Google Map of the Draft Proposed Network, I had omitted the north (blue) section of that route that runs all along Heights Blvd.  Mea culpa.]

5. Clarewood House no longer having direct connectivity to Westheimer or Richmond, and therefore Downtown therefore requiring a transfer - 30-minute frequencies in the current system, but with a required transfer in the new system to get to the Frequent Network.

Deviating the proposed 7 Richmond to pick up Clarewood House would be a real problem.  The whole point of System Reimagining is to fix the rampant inefficiencies inherent in a deviation like this one, not make new ones.

I'm not sure what METRO is going to be able to do for Clarewood House. 

6. The lack of a single bus route taking one to multiple hospitals in the TMC as the current 1 Hospital does, however inefficiently.

7. The lack of Quicklines, rapid east-west transit including light rail

Quicklines, as METRO envisions them, work well in terms of return on ridership where there are, as is the case on Bellaire Blvd., a small number of stops with lots of ridership on each.  Contrast that to Westheimer, where there are umpteen stops with very few people on each, certain stops of course being the exception.

This is why, as I understand things, METRO is not currently envisioning Quicklines on Westheimer or anywhere else.  The current 402 Bellaire Quickline will in the coming network as the 5Q Bellaire Quickline serve as a guinea pig.

We have to remember, folks, the coming reimagined local bus network does not just change utterly our local bus route system, but also force-changes the time-schedule for each and every route in the system.  Every old data model, paradigm, scenario, etc. we have used for our current network becomes next 7 June obsolete.  Though how certain routings work in certain ways will remain relevant to the discussion, literally everyone on earth will start with our new local bus network in the same patch of unchartered territory.

8. And of course...  FLEX.

Look to that Special Board Meeting lasting at least two hours, and if public comment is on the agenda, Lord help us!

UPDATE: As of at least 14 August, there will be no Special Board Meeting about all this in the month of August.  Most of the regular Board Meeting on 28 August will be concerned with sifting through all the public comments about the Draft Plan.  It promises to be a very, very, very long meeting. - JR

Friday, August 1, 2014

Draft Map public comment...closed!

As of this past Midnight, the nigh-on-three-month window of time for you to give METRO a piece of your mind over the System Re-imagining Draft Proposed Map is over and done with.  8 May of this year was the big huge unveiling of this draft proposed network to the greater Houston public and the world which began this time of public comment which has included numerous public meetings as well as an online survey.

With this ending of public comment comes the process of bringing about and (hopefully) adopting a Final Proposed Network Map as our new transit network going forward - a reimagined transit network carrying us into a bright future.

+ + +

Kurt Luhrsen, Jim Archer, and all angels in the Planning Department are chomping at the bit to get the Final Proposed Map approved as soon as humanly-possible.  Everything in their implementation-logistical plans hinges on the 'switch' being flipped to the new network from the old on Sunday 7 June 2015.  To that end, the Board needs to give the green light.

In lieu of a normal monthly Strategic Planning Committee meeting in August will be a Special Board Meeting with all Board members for the sole purpose of going through all the public comments, online survey responses, and voodoo incantations from happy and irate individuals and making sense of all of them.  This meeting should take place in the first two weeks of August (hopefully - this is speculation on my part only as of this writing).  Everyone has been warned it will be long, 'grueling', and very interesting.  I have not been to a METRO Board Meeting in a few months, but I'll definitely be around for this one.

Once that meeting is done, METRO will continue the behind-the-scenes process of getting the Final Map together, accommodating as much public input as it can while keeping the integrity of the efficiency of the new network, and if all goes well, this final map will be presented to the full Board at its regular meeting on Thursday 28 August.  Presumably, there will be lots of continued Board discussion that day followed by the post-meeting taking the map back behind-the-scenes and working on it even more.

Look to Board Member Cindy Siegel and others to successfully push for another Special Board Meeting in the first two weeks of September to further work on the thing.  The Board will get the final, final, Final Map sometime in advance of the 25 September regular Board meeting at the same time it is presumably posted to METRO's website for public consumption.

Thursday 25 September is currently the date slated for the METRO Board to vote System Reimagining up or down.  By this time, I cannot imagine the map not being worked on to at least the passing satisfaction of every single Board member.  Archer, Luhrsen, et al are breathing down the Board's neck for its okay to go forward with implementation.  We may rest assured there being a 99.999% chance the final Board vote will be on this date, and we may rest assured there is (at least in my estimation) at least a 95% chance of this plan being approved.

And once that vote is done and approval is given, Kurt and his friends as well as Dominick Mazoch, Mark Hogue (hopefully), Mark Smith (perhaps), I, and many others in and out of METRO will breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The biggest revolution of all

The most-novel thing arising from System Re-imagining is not the Frequent Network.  It's not the fact Northwest Transit Center will boast more routes connecting with it than anywhere else in METRO's service area.

Currently, a good number of local bus routes do not have service on Sundays.  In fact, on Sundays, our Frequent Network is reduced from about ten routes (weekdays) to only service running directly on Westheimer to Hillcroft from Downtown, especially between Hillcroft and Chimney Rock (81/82/53).  Saturdays is a little bit better with about two or three streets running Frequent Service.  But even on Saturdays, there are a good number of routes that have greatly-reduced service or no service at all.

With the Draft Proposed Network Map, all but about four or five routes will run seven days a week with frequency equivalent to weekday/midday!  Those routes not running on weekends are odd routes that serve only weekday-rush hour spans of time.

True seven-day-a-week service in mass-transit of any sort...  This, I do not believe, has ever been done in the history of our region, and may very well be for many people the single-greatest game-changer with the coming new network of local bus service.

With this and the grid-based paradigm on which the new network will be based, METRO finally abandons the age-old ridership model of going to work in Downtown and going right home again with nothing in-between and with only a little bit of service on weekends for grocery trips.  I also see in this a strong attempt by METRO for the first time ever at making local mass-transit much-more appealing to people other than those who cannot afford an automobile.

Upon further thought, though, perhaps the biggest revolution with System Re-imagining is not even seven-day-a-week service, but that the fact the agency is even being allowed to pursue this project in the first place.  Again, I say this: please, next Mayor of Houston, for Heaven's sake, please don't appoint a do-nothing METRO Board who will mess this all up!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More thoughts on FLEX

As currently proposed, we stand to have five FLEX zones: 395 N. Shepherd FLEX398 Jensen FLEX377 Mesa FLEX378 Kashmere FLEX, and the 376 FW/DH FLEX.  

Overlaid with old routes, here are the proposed Northeast Houston FLEX zones...

When I call our current network a Salvador Dali - Jackson Pollack nightmare, this is what I'm talking about.  Look at all that duplicate service, twisting, and turning for so little return on ridership!

And now, these four zones overlaid with re-imagined routes...  Red lines are fifteen-minute-or-better Frequent Network routes.  Blue lines are half-hour frequency.  Green are one-hour frequency.  Note the hourly route from the 376 FW/DH Flex Zone to the Fifth Ward / Denver Harbor Transit Center.  Ditto for the 378 to Kashmere TC...  The 377 connects at Mesa least according to the current online .pdf route details whereas the interactive draft map has the dropoff/connection point at Kashmere TC.

And here is the 395 N. Shepherd FLEX...

My understanding is that how pickups and dropoffs will work for these FLEX zones will differ somewhat from zone to zone.  METRO has not at this writing released full details as to exactly how this will work.

What I do know is this: if I'm living in these areas and if I can be sure I will be reasonably safe walking, and if it's not two-hundred degrees outdoors, I will walk to and from the one-mile-approximate each was to and from the bus.  The lack of a great deal of connectivity to the Frequent Network is a real problem.  Clearly, this is a system for seniors in that I can walk to and from my fixed routes far faster than the two-hour call-in-advance requirement all the zones will presumably require, a phone call that will effectively begin my trip right then.

One hates conclusions based on partial information, therefore, I am not dismissing FLEX outright.  It will be interesting to see how METRO can alleviate the problems caused with the two-hour call-in-advance time requirement as well as how efficient routings and the driving of these routings can be.

FLEX is a brand-new creature to the Bayou City and our region.  It will be fascinating to see how it works out, but for the few people affected by these new FLEX zones, right now it seems riding the bus will be a far-more complex venture than ever before.

May I be proven wrong.

Monday, July 28, 2014

FLEX: an introduction and why it could torpedo System Re-imagining

FLEX.  as in FLEXible...

It is a concept in mass-transit used in many places for those parts of communities that do not have enough ridership to justify regular fixed routes, but enough ridership to justify at least some coverage.  In the METRO service area, these areas of sparse ridership still needing at least some coverage are large swaths of Northeast Houston and parts of North Houston.

The theory is this: bus takes a regular fixed route through a FLEX zone, but according to passenger requests made in advance by phone or other means, deviates from that regular fixed route within the geographical limits of the FLEX zone to pick up and drop off passengers.

Having to phone METRO two hours in advance for a pickup is the bothersome aspect of this, but I'm not sure of any way to shorten this time without unduly vexing our bus operators.  How METRO solves this conundrum, if it can, will be interesting to see.

Unfortunately at this writing, METRO has yet to put out a proper presentation as to how its iteration of FLEX zones will work.  For an idea of how FLEX works in other places, watch presentations from Tampa and Cape Cod on their FLEX services, which I think will differ from METRO's somewhat.

We stand to get FLEX zones with METRO because the agency opted to be aggressive in resource re-allocation on ridership-numbers focus as opposed to geographical coverage.  With this intense ridership emphasis, it stands to reason there will be those who would have their bus coverage reduced, but not eliminated completely.  Those people are in the sparsely-populated Northeast Houston and parts of North Houston.  These people are getting fewer routes, but they are getting the flexibility of a bus coming near or right to their door to pick them up.

Unfortunately, again, to get that bus pick-up, they have to call METRO at least two hours in-advance.  As an African-American friend of mine put it: 'METROLift for able-bodied people'.  And we know how well METROLift works sometimes: mostly well, but not always.

A friend of mine used to live where he would catch the current 137 Northshore.  And he is feeling for the people in those areas of town near where he once dwelt.  To see the full effect of the changes in the coming FLEX zones, look to my rendition of METRO's current network overlaid with the new Draft routes and FLEX zones.

Look at all the miles and miles of routings being done away with in favor of FLEX!  This is a consequence of the budget-constrained way in which METRO has to go about the whole project of System Re-imagining: no reduction of local bus resources, but no increase, either.  And the offing of these old routings, which had very little ridership, anyway, is part of the reason why the draft Frequent Network stands to be so immense.  That many local bus resources were freed to be put elsewhere.

But there may in all this be a perception of 'discrimination' of one sort or another, I think.  And it is this perception of discrimination on the basis of geography or income - but not race - that I think METRO Board Member Jim Robinson may latch onto re the FLEX zones.  Robinson, more than anyone else on the Board, publicly advocated for making sure no-one had their bus service taken from them entirely.

METRO has a hard sell in store regarding FLEX.  To really help make the proposed Frequent Network what it desperately needs to be for the future while remaining within budget, METRO needs to free local bus resources for re-allocation.  To this end, METRO needs these FLEX zones, which allow buses to not take their former circuitous ways through sparse-ridership neighborhoods save when they truly need to, thereby saving money spent on gas and repairing wear-and-tear on our vehicles.

FLEX could play into the reservations of Jim Robinson concerning ridership coverage, which, in turn could sway other members of the Board, starting with Siegel and Castañeda, perhaps, and then going on to Ballanfant and Lewter with the other four (Spieler, Garcia, Watson, and Jefferson) digging in their heels while the great part of the imagination and power of the Draft Proposed Map is watered down into something resembling the frequency issues we have with the current network.

I'm probably hyping things way too much in that in all the critical votes on System Re-imagining, there has been unanimity without exception, even from Jim Robinson.  There was also unanimity from former Board Member Carrin Patman, and I think former Board Member Jim Stobb, replaced by Jim Robinson in late October 2013, was on-board, too, though I admit this was about the time when I really started paying attention to what our Board was up to and, thanks to System Re-imagining, taking a real interest in what METRO was doing.

But we must respect the fact that people don't always think in pure and logical ways.  The current draft proposed transit map - unveiled for public comment on 8 May of this year, is pure and logical and devoid of public input.  The Final map on which the Board will vote in September will have probably a good number of changes based on this public input.

But we do not know for sure the Board will vote for this Final Map.  Anything could happen, and should 'something' go down, FLEX will have at least something to do with it.  Once Board approval comes, we can all rest easy, and so far, the Board in its public appearances at committee and regular full meetings has not been opposed to what's been done so far or spoken out about anything related to System Re-imagining.  Again, though, until Board Chair Gilbert Garcia declares a favorable vote for adoption of this final map in September-ish, we cannot rest easy.

Make Jim Robinson at least not too perturbed, and all will be well.  And we can be quite sure Christof and Gilbert, for whom System Re-imagining is their magnum opus of the work they have done on the METRO Board these four years on, will make sure everything is done to keep the concerns of our Mr. Robinson at bay.

And I think it will be easy to keep him at bay.  While asking the right questions and having certain reservations, he has nevertheless always been enthused with the concept and at least most of the resultants of System Re-imagining, and if FLEX can be dealt with in the right way and sold to the public well, I see no reason why the September-ish 2014 Board Meeting with a unanimous vote of approval of System Re-imagining will not be of the advent of a brilliant new transit network a moment of wondrous celebration laced with more than a little relief and awe at what will be the start of a new era in Houston mass-transit.

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Dream METRO Transit Map...and why it will never exist.

My 'Dream METRO Transit Map' will never exist because I've learned my efforts to make such a thing are - at this point at least - pointless.

More than once, I have taken to Google Maps or some photo-editing program and done up my 'dream' METRO route map - visions of Quicklines and light rail as far as the eye can see and dancing in my head.

As I was not brought on to the community System Re-imagining Stakeholder Task Force until this past 27 February's METRO Board Meeting at which I made what is still my only set of public comments in front of the METRO Board, I came to this dinner party late and far past the previous summer's intense Stakeholder Workshops.  I regret not being a part of those, but watching the video archives of these meetings was still a lot of fun.

It is through this Stakeholder process and to a much-larger-and-much-longer extent intensely watching every video and reading every article on this project I can I have come to learn I am no transit planner and that most or all of my dream-maps for METRO would never had worked.  Not having the copious amounts of data METRO has at its disposal, in no way could I ever have come up with the level of detail the System Re-imagining planners have put into the Draft Proposed System Map, which will be finalized and sent to the METRO Board for approval later this summer and autumn.

What do I want, then, in a 'dream' transit network?  Again, the time was - and not that long ago, I might add - where I would answered that question with an image of a map.  Having been enlightened on many things, I've learned to think of these things more conceptually.  After much thought, I've realized in the light of history what I want from my transit network is one that does not stay static for years on end.

We need a transit network that grows, expands, contracts and changes with our region.  We need transit planners who are allowed to make these changes happen and who are competent enough to make these changes come about with the level of care and detail we see today in System Re-imagining.

And what a foundation for decades upon decades of competent iteration System Re-imagining gives!

The proposed draft Frequent Network from

Look at that above grid upon which our new network will be based!  It's so easy to add and take away and change to the mathematical soundness and geometric efficiency a grid offers, even I could create such a mass-transit network halfway-decently.  New streets can easily be added, upgraded to Frequent Service (or downgraded, if need be) with little muss or fuss.

I want a system that puts high-capacity transport modes such as light rail in smart places where there will always be high ridership.  Nothing is worse than a billion-dollar project no-one uses.  Tumbleweeds and dust bunnies at the new and expensive train station?  Horrors!

I want a system that gives people real cause to have pride in their mass-transit in a way Houston has not had since before the first world war.  The years 1905-1914 were the great hey-day of mass-transit culture in our town, and I want that culture to make a big comeback and stick around.

I want a system that is allowed to do its thing by future METRO Boards who actually care (like our current Board seems to) about the agency, its mission, and most of all, the people of our region.  2004-2010 Do-Nothing METRO Board?  Never again!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An early tangible harbinger...

During each calendar year, METRO puts out three sets of Service Adjustments for local, Park & Ride, light rail, and anything else METRO does for the general public regarding mass-transit: January, June, and August.  June and August are scheduled around the end and start of the school year with 'school-tripper' buses going offline in June and starting up again in August.  These 'school-trippers' are not publicly advertised, but are around to help alleviate overcrowding in mornings and afternoons due to scads of kids out and about getting to their classes and home again.

January and August have historically been times with greater numbers of service changes than June (timed for scuttling the school trippers for summer), but 7 June 2015 will mark a bigger June service adjustment than usual: the Mother of All Service Adjustments with the 'switching-on' of the new and re-imagined local bus network in one fell swoop: there will be a last sunset on our current local bus network.  The following sunrise will see the new network come online.

Thursday 25 September 2014 will see the regular METRO Board meeting in which the System Re-imagining Final Plan approval will more-than-likely come.  From the moment onward when Chairman Gilbert Garcia declares the vote to be (hopefully) in-favor, a massive logistical project begins which I have described in an earlier post: getting the new network implemented.

From 25 September 2014 onward, the Re-imagined network becomes a living, breathing thing.  From that Board meeting onward, every Service Adjustment will be directly reflective of the tangible reality of this new network and for a time, the demise of the old.

1 July 2014 saw a remarkable moment that brings out the sentimental part of my nature: the release of the last set of proposed service changes (for implementation in August 2014) with the old network still in full-force and the new network still nothing more than corporeal fog in a somewhat-misty future.

No doubt, January 2015 service changes will reflect the new network in at least some small way.

June 2015 service changes will on the normal pamphlet be written thusly: "o... m... g..."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Acres Homes 44 no more??

If the route-numbering aspect of System Re-imagining holds, then yes, there will be no more METRO local bus route named 44 Acres Homes.

It's times like this I wish I had had a far-better grasp of routing histories throughout the METRO system with the old schedules to go with them.  I would be able to give you better background information on the current 44 Acres Homes.  However, for our purposes, it suffices to say the current 44 has been around long enough, and Acres Homes has enough pride in its identity to have 'adopted' this route as a part of its culture to the point where this part of town has the nickname, 'The 44'.  If METRO gets any slack for its new route-numbering in System Re-imagining, it will be from Acres Homes.

From south to north, re-imagined routes running east-west west of Main and Downtown are numbered 1-29.  From west to east, routes running north-south are numbered 30-69.  Routes numbered 70-99 run all directions, but they are in an order running from south to north.  They include those routes around FM 1960, among them the 94 Acres Homes.

METRO is opting for a logical route structure, but methinks has not quite hit the mark.  If it were me, I would have everything west of Downtown running east-west numbered 1-60 with odd numbering.  I would have everything east of Downtown running east-west numbered 1-60 with even numbering.  Everything running north-south, I would number 61-99 running in an order from east to west.

The few peak only routes as well as the Intercontinental Airport and some other routes, including the 120 FW/DH Northshore Flyer are numbered in the 100s.  Park & Ride route numberings are in the Draft Map mostly-unchanged.  The 300s are the FLEX Zones, there are no more 400s, and the 700s will continue to be the rail shuttles.

This route re-numbering accomplishes a number of things.  It first of all creates a more-intuitive system for the mass of humanity moving into our city.  And, it communicates to everyone this is not the old network we all grew up with and that this proposed network is not a continuation of the old local bus network that dates back even all the way to days of the mulecars of the mid-to-late 19thC.

This proposed network of local bus service combined with our other transit offerings is absolutely new.

It is fresh.  It is clean.  It is modern.  It is relevant.

And it does a lot of things differently than our current network does.  The current 44 Acres Homes is a very-different thing from the proposed 94 Acres Homes.  METRO believes the people of Acres Homes need to know this, and in part, it is the reason for the proposed demise of the old number 44.

However...nothing in this Draft Map is set in stone, including route numbering.  METRO is more about ridership than anything else.  If the proposed 94 needs to be re-numbered the 44 to get people on the bus, METRO will, kicking and screaming, do that.

And regarding the Final Proposed Map to be presented to the METRO Board this autumn for approval, I will have, yes, a list of predictions of what the Final Map will do compared to the Draft Map.  As of this writing, we are about two months removed from that remarkable day when the final network map that will literally transport us forward into the future will to the world at least be revealed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A glorious sight

I have been resistant on getting a smartphone.  The expense scares me as well as the attractiveness to thieves.  However, there are moments when one would have come in very handy.

Thursday 3 July saw me at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) sing along with other adults the final Evensong service of the Royal School of Church Music Gulf Coast Summer Course for Girls.  Upon finishing, I walked south to Walker to catch my Westheimer-corridor bus (or buses as it turned out) home.

Along the way, I came across what will become the Central Station transfer points for the East and Southeast Lines.  Right then, I wished I had that phone-camera to catch that glorious snapshot.  The ultimate wisdom of Lee Brown who pushed through light rail come hell, high water, or Marvin Zindler's restaurant reports has yet to be proven one way or the other, but this much is sure: upper Downtown is changing and is changing fast.

It was brilliant seeing the Capitol and Rusk Central Station transfer canopies just about ready for business - well, about ready for the arduous testing that is to come.  Thanks to CAF's delays on getting new rail cars to us and other things going on, perhaps, I've heard through the grapevine the East and Southeast Lines may not go into revenue service until December of this year!

Testing the lines and testing the incoming rail cars will take months and months (can't leave any stone unturned), and integrating all this new stuff with the Red Line will be very interesting.  The next eighteen months will be for the entire agency, what with System Re-imagining and the opening of the two new rail lines, as busy and as hectic as any such span of time in its history.

But I am just pleased that things are progressing at all.  Whether light rail turns out to be a boondoggle or deus ex...train, doing nothing at all to help alleviate Houston's traffic woes would have been worse if only for the cultural damage to mass-transit doing nothing would have caused.

I cannot tell you how excited all this makes me once more for the re-imagined local bus network to go live next year!  By this time in 2015, the sleek, new network will be running along with our trains, and the Harrisburg overpass construction will be under way (we hope), setting the stage for the final portion of the East Line all the way to Magnolia Transit Center.

I am a happy camper and a happy transit rider.  And coming across all this Downtown rail progress, it was very tempting to step onto one of the station platforms replete with cones and barricades - perhaps I would be the first private citizen outside of METRO's purview to have done so.  I resisted and went on my merry way even happier than I already was in the wake of music and worship at Evensong.