Thursday, May 28, 2015

Feeling much better about METRO's outreach efforts today...and a farewell to Allen Watson

In the past on this blog, the podcast, and/or in private emails to my friends at METRO, I have lamented the rather-drab aesthetic METRO is using for its New Bus Network outreach campaign.
I also had misgivings about the innards of its campaign in regard to its thoroughness in reaching present as well as potential ridership.  

At a meeting held with METRO staffers and community Stakeholders at Noon today and in the last third of a very long Board Meeting, my fears were assuaged.  The look of the campaign may not be as pungent and to the point as I'd like (grey lettering as I linked to above never sold anything as far as I know), but if present ridership by implementation on Sunday 16 August still does not know it's coming, well, I don't know what else we can do for them.

Chief among my happiness catalysts from today is the news what I have suggested will be implemented: teams of people aboard buses handing out brochures on the New Bus Network to every single passenger.  There will also be literature and messages distributed to every single place one could possibly imagine by way of various methods: houses of worship, libraries, television (a little), radio (a lot), special events, videos, banners here and there, displays here and there, on-bus rider engagement (woot!!), METRO retailers, tastefully-executed email blasts, social media, major employers, etc., etc., etc....with the great part of this coming in the last month leading up to Sunday 16 August.

As for today's Board Meeting (video at, it was long, but the Uptown BRT update was long, detailed, and very exciting to see, particularly in light of the Garcia-Culberson Peace Accord.  The meeting was also notable in the agency's farewell to City of Houston-appointed METRO Board Member Allen Dale Watson, who has resigned.

Allen's leadership in the utter reworking of the Procurement Manual for small businesses wanting to have dealings with METRO has flown under the radar over the years, but it was a herculean feat, and he will be missed.  Godspeed, sir!

+ + +

Allen Watson's bio from (retrieved on 28 May 2015 before it was taken down due to Allen's no longer being on the Board)

Mr. Watson’s distinguished 30 year career as a professional engineer included project management and corporate leadership. His experience gained through nine years of working for Harris County’s Public Infrastructure Department and private engineering firms in the Houston-area includes the design of roadways, bridges, water supplies, sanitary sewers, drainage, and telecommunication projects. Mr. Watson joined CobbFendley in 1996 as Engineering Manager and through his project management and leadership skills became a principal in 1999. The combination of Mr. Watson’s technical knowledge with practical, straight-forward communications skills has provided clients, such as the Cities of Houston and Austin, Harris, Williamson and Hays Counties, TxDOT and telecommunications companies with proactive and implementable solutions. Noteworthy projects include: Downtown/Midtown Street Program, SH 45 Tollway, Mercer Park Arboretum, and AT&T’s Hurricane GIS Mapping Project.

Mr. Watson contributed to the number of employees tripling and an average five year revenue growth of more than thirty percent. In 2000 he spearheaded efforts to open a branch office in Austin, Texas and has since successfully opened additional offices in Dallas, Frisco, League City and San Antonio, Texas. In December of 2007, Mr. Watson assumed the position of Board Member and President from one of the original company founders. As President, Mr. Watson’s goals include continued growth, ownership transition and diversification. Mr. Watson retired in June 2013.

Professional and Community Involvement
City of Houston - In 2010 Mr. Watson was appointed by Mayor Annise Parker to the METRO Board of Directors. During his tenure the Board has passed a referendum to increase future revenue, continued construction of three new rail lines, reduced the agency’s debt, improved procurement practices and procedures and approved a new 5-year transit plan focused on substantially improving METRO’s local bus services.

City of Houston - In 2009 Mr. Watson was appointed by Mayor Bill White to the City of Houston Airport Land Use Regulations Board of Adjustments. Specific responsibilities include regulating land use around the City’s three airports to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. In addition, Mr. Watson works with other members of the Board to handle appeals and variance requests.

Greater Houston Partnership - Mr. Watson is an active member of the Aviation and Ports/Waterways Subcommittees, which monitor expansion of facilities at the City's three major airports and at the Port of Houston. These Committees advocate facility expansion to accommodate future travel and cargo projections. He also serves on the Transit Planning Subcommittee which reviews transit initiatives and submits recommendations to the Transportation Committee for analysis and inclusion into the Partnership’s overall master transportation plan.

American Council of Engineering Companies Texas (ACEC Texas) - Mr. Watson served as Chairman of the State Board of Directors, Chairman of the State Legislative Committee and ACEC Houston steering committee. Mr. Watson’s ongoing initiatives with ACEC Texas include regulatory and transportation funding issues.

West Houston Association - Mr. Watson served on the Association’s Drainage Committee analyzing drainage solutions for West Houston and frontier areas of Harris County.

Texas Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE) Greater Houston Chapter - In 1994, Mr. Watson was honored with the Houston Area Young Engineer of the Year Award for his dedication to the engineering field and the Houston community. He has held numerous board positions at the Chapter level of TSPE, including President in 2001-02. During his tenure as President, Mr. Watson focused on membership retention and growth.

Houston Area Engineers Week Committee - Mr. Watson served on this committee for more than eight years organizing a week of activities recognizing the accomplishments of engineers and encouraging others to enter the profession. As the Chairman of the Committee in 1999-2000, Mr. Watson focused on highlighting the benefits engineering provides for every Texas citizen.

MATHCOUNTS - Mr. Watson served as area and state chairman for the MATHCOUNTS program, a nationwide math skills and coaching program with a series of progressive competitions that promotes math excellence for 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. As state chairman he established a permanent endowment fund for the program which reaches over 30,000 students in Texas each year.

Houston Engineering & Scientific Society (HESS) - Mr. Watson served on the Board of Directors and as Chair of this organization. As the Society’s Chair, Mr. Watson was successful in relocating the Society to a new facility in the Galleria Area and hired a new manager to revitalize the business.

Jerry Eversole Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Golf Tournament - Mr. Watson has served on the committee for ten years that organizes this annual fundraiser. The fundraiser has successfully raised more than $1,000,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

Infrastructure Group Texas (IGT) – Mr. Watson served on the Board of Managers of Infrastructure Group Texas, an alternative project-delivery corporation providing unique engineering solutions throughout Texas.

Woodcrest Homeowners Association - Mr. Watson participates in the Association’s quarterly meetings and assisted in the development of the Association’s long-range plan. The Association is part of Super Neighborhood #22 and Washington on Westcott (WOW).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hell has frozen over.

U. S. Congressman John Culberson has been at-odds with METRO over light rail in his district.  In my podcast, he was one of my 'rogues gallery' of the long history of Houston-area mass-transit, though with a caveat that perhaps his opposition to the University rail line was justified.

I never thought he in the continuing years he will undoubtedly serve in Congress would ever budge even a little regarding his continued parliamentary blocking funding for light rail on Richmond Avenue anywhere in his district.  As of yesterday, I can now eat my words.

Read these two links (the first actually links to the second, but the second is so important as to warrant a direct link of its own.

Bulletin from METRO dated 18 May 2015

Joint letter from Congressman John Culberson, R-TX 7th Cong. Dist.

Somehow...  Some way...  And with some sort of black magick, METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia may have pulled off a coup that, if Culberson keeps his word on everything he and Garcia have outlined in their letter, will go down as the greatest achievement of the 2010-2016 Houston Mayor Annise Parker-appointed METRO Board of Directors, dwarfing even System Reimagining: the turning on in earnest of the fountain of federal cash needed for the transit projects our region so desparately needs.

More buses and better bus capital investment...  High-capacity mass-transit from Fort Bend and southwest Harris Counties along Highway 90A...  The list goes on, and I see no better way of going
through all this than to just comment on METRO's bullet points from its above-linked Bulletin.

Support of a state governance bill with a regional focus

This bill is Texas SB 2059 and it speeds up the already-on-the-books laws concerning the coming change in METRO's Board composition triggered by increased Harris County population outside of Houston.  Current law stipulates when Harris County's non-Houston population reaches a certain threshold, a tenth Member, to be appointed by Harris County, will to METRO's Board of Directors be added.  An eleventh Member will then be added to the Board to be a Chairman elected by the rest of the Board.

SB 2059 speeds up the process at which these METRO Board-composition changes will take effect.  Sooner, rather than later, the METRO Board will change utterly to one far more focused on regional mass-transport issues than one that has been as Houston-centric as it has been.

Though he is powerless to stop its adoption by the State Legislature or its dying in committee or in the full Legislature and with the Governor, Culberson has pledged to throw his weight behind it.

These changes are cataclysmic.  Within the next few years, the 'dictatorship', as some have termed Houston's METRO Board majority serving at the pleasure of the Mayor of Houston, will come to an end.  Given the overall record of Houston's Mayors prior to Annise Parker concerning mass-transit, I see this as a very good thing!

This also means for the foreseeable future, any chance of profound changes or utter repeal to the General Mobility Program has been torpedoed.

In truth, this portion of the agreement between Gilbert Garcia and John Culberson is mostly symbolic.  Welcome, but symbolic.

$190 million in Federal Transit Authority funding for future transit projects

Now, we get to the good stuff.

Prioritization of 90A commuter rail
$587 million in matching transit credits

This from the joint letter: "Third, Congressman Culberson will begin work right away to change federal law so that METRO can count $587 Million in local funds spent on the East End Rail Line as the local matching credit for a commuter rail line along 90A, and secondarily for any non-rail
capital project, or any other project included in the 2003 Referendum. Rail on Richmond
Avenue west of Shepherd Drive or Post Oak Boulevard would only be eligible to utilize these credits once approved in a subsequent referendum."

$300 million in federal funds over three years for buses, Park & Ride expansion and HOV improvements

Does this include 2-way HOV on the Southwest Freeway?  What this does not include, though, are monies to make our bus budget bigger, and that is quite understandable.  This money is for a series of one-time purchases of buses and capital improvements that will help our local bus service for decades to come.

METRO's agreement to not oppose changes to federal or state law to memorialize the cooperative agreement

This is a tricky one and gives Culberson room for shenanigans.  Will our John keep his work and not oppose in future by some sort of clandestine-parliamentary skullduggery any of the items in this agreement?

Given the public nature of this joint letter and its existence in the first place, I think the Congressman has put himself between a rock and a hard place.  Should he not keep his word, it could come back to haunt him.  The good people of the Seventh Congressional District of Texas will be the final arbiters of all that, however.

No rail on Richmond Avenue west of Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of Richmond unless voters approve

This is the part that 'blows my mind', to use the now-cliché internet-clickbait motif.  The Afton Oaks neighborhood has been through the years vociferously opposed to light rail on Richmond Avenue going through its neighborhood.

The above verbiage from METRO might lead one to believe John Culberson has softened his stance on light rail on Richmond.  Not really.

The great problem as I see it is the 2003 METRO Solutions Referendum is, twelve years on, getting stale.  Most of the rail service outlined in the referendum has not even begun to be built, much-less funded, and the bus improvements outlined have been effectively nullified by the 2004-2010 METRO Board's refusal to act on these promised improvements as well as the 2010-2016 Board's much-welcomed System Reimagining.

Culberson has always pledged to support the will of the majority of his constituents, and heretofore, his district has, I think, spoken loud and clear on light rail on Richmond, particularly in Afton Oaks.  He has not changed this stance, but he also knows the staleness of the issue.  Having new votes concerning rail on Richmond and Post Oak allows him to keep his word to his voters while having new votes to go on for the future.

Support the will of the voters

This is important.  If the voters, presumably from the whole of METRO's service area, elect to have rail on Richmond and/or Post Oak, what is to keep Culberson and others from in-future blocking funding for same?  John has to keep his bosses happy, and his constituents keep him in office - or not.

+ + +

What has been the hook in Culberson's jaw to make him come to the table and put out this grandiose agreement with Gilbert Garcia?  In my estimation, that hook can only be coming from elements in his district wanting clarity on the rail-on-Richmond/Post Oak issue.  Afton Oaks once again, for better or for worse, dictates to the rest of METRO's service area its light-rail policy.

Wanting clarity on the Richmond/Post Oak rail issue makes Culberson's agreement this week not so surprising.  He simply wants new votes, and I don't much blame him for that.

Another hook in Culberson's jaw may be the rest of the Houston congressional delegation as well as elements in the Harris County Republican Party wanting the federal money-faucet to start going in earnest.

What this agreement does, I think, is codify, though not in law, a broad regional strategy for public transport as well as lay a foundation for future regional inter-government cooperation.  More importantly, the fast-tracking of the METRO Board composition change takes away from a future rogue Mayor of Houston the ability to completely stymie the process of mass-transit improvement, as Mayors Holcombe, Lanier, and White did with such effect.

It also gives a new perspective on Houston Mayor Lee Brown's work in the late 1990s to bring light rail to our city.  However, this work also set a precedent for light rail that is at-grade and stops for red lights, the wisdom of which is to my mind still to be proven.

My friend, Wayne Ashley, in his blog is far-more effusive about this 'Culberson-Garcia Accord' than I.  Culberson could still be forced to go back on his word, and this year's election for Mayor of Houston could produce a maverick with his own ideas about Houston mass-transit which include not so much cooperation with the County and Multi-Cities, which for Houston-area bus riders will not be a good thing.  Yes, I am very guarded about all of this.

If Culberson keeps his word and the next Mayor of Houston does not sabotage everything with a new rogue Board, the agreement between Culberson and Garcia could go down in history as one of the brilliant moments in the history of Houston mass-transit.

We shall see.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Burt Ballanfant leaves the METRO Board

Burt Ballanfant ca. 2007

After many years of service with dignity and sage wisdom, Burt Ballanfant's eight-year term on the METRO Board has come to an end, this Thursday's Regular Board Meeting being his last.  Burt's departure falls on the heels of that of Judge Dwight Jefferson, who is running for Houston City Controller.

The direct link to Mayor Ballanfant's photo and bio is at but as his page will soon be removed from METRO's website, I've included his biographical information at the bottom of this post along with his photo from that page at the top.

As a citizen mass-transit advocate, I found Board Member Ballanfant to be very pleasant to deal with and be around.  He was always genuine, genteel, and on-point with everything he did.  He always asked the right questions, and I believe he like all our Board members has a real desire to make not just his West University Place, but the whole of Greater Houston-Galveston a better place.

I also appreciated his presence as a private citizen and arts fan at Houston Chamber Choir concerts, and hope he will continue to be such.  Godspeed, Burt, and thank you for everything.

+ + +

Burt Ballanfant was appointed to the METRO Board by the 14 Multi-Cities in the METRO service area in February 2007.

Mr. Ballanfant is a fifth generation Houstonian who graduated from Lamar High School and the University of Texas and University of Texas Law School. After law school, he joined the United States Attorney’s Office in Houston where he was twice named an outstanding Assistant United States Attorney. He has been an attorney for Shell Oil Company since 1980.

He previously served on the METRO Citizen Advisory Board and has been a 30-year mass transit user in Houston. He served six years on the West University City Council, the last four as Mayor. During that time, he has also served as President of the Harris County Council of Mayors and Councils.

Among other civic activities, he was a member of the Battleship Texas Commission and President of Concerned Citizens for Washington Cemetery Care while that historic cemetery was merged with Glenwood Cemetery. He is married to Sarah Cobb Ballanfant and has three children; Andrea, Ben and Amy.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bus route branching

Branches: A tree with a single trunk that sprouts forth multiple trunklets, none of which are (usually) as thick as the main single trunk.  These trunklets are branches.

In mass-transit, a route can have a main trunk, but then splits into multiple trunklets or 'branches', none of which usually have the same frequency of service as the main trunk.  For transit planners, this can be an easy solution in the paradigm of constrained budgets.  For riders, it can be confusing and frustrating.

Once upon a time, METRO's current 82 Westheimer was a route with branches: Sharpstown, Woodlake, Dairy Ashford, and West Oaks.  A few years ago, the 82's Sharpstown branch was renumbered as the 81 Westheimer Sharpstown, but for the longest time when we METRO riders looked for a bus on Westheimer, we had to make sure the 82 we were boarding was the correct one, lest we wind up at Eldridge when we meant to get off at Bellaire Boulevard!

Additionally, the 82 once upon a time also had said branch going into the Woodlake neighborhood near Westheimer @ Gessner, coming back down to Westheimer via Westerland, but that branch was done away with at least ten years ago.  The 82 still has, interestingly enough, a Saturday-westbound-late-night truncation taking it as far as Dairy Ashford up to about 1:30am, though come System Reimagining's implementation, the Westheimer routing will take one all the way to West Oaks Mall and back with no truncations at all.

In the long history of bus route branching in Greater Houston, the history of Westheimer is tame.  At one time, our METRO had the No. 10 Jensen with about eight branches, from which more than a few of today's routes are descended, and if my history is correct, the old 44 Studewood was the mother of many a current bus route.

And then, there is the current 40 Pecore / Telephone...

In System Reimagining, as far as I can tell, with one exception, there are no branches whatsoever - one of many earth-shattering revolutions in our coming new local bus system along with consistent spans of service across all seven days a week and every non-peak-only route running seven days a week, few deviations, and a greatly-expanded Frequent Network.

What we do have are what are called in METRO's lingo 'long lines' - routes with a high-frequency segment and a lower-frequency extension.  An example is the new 6 Jensen / Greens, the high frequency segment of which starts at the Downtown TC and goes to the Tidwell TC.  The 'long line' extends the route to Greenspoint TC with a base headway on this long line of one hour.

Routes in the new network with extensions are the 6 Jensen / Greens, 11 Almeda / Lyons, 20 Canal / Memorial, 44 Acres Homes, 49 Chimney Rock / S Post Oak, 54 Scott, 60 Cambridge, 80 MLK / Lockwood, 85 Antoine / Washington, and the 137 Northshore Flyer.  A full description of all these routes in a .pdf form may be had HERE via the links found at the bottom of linked page.

The lone route in the Reimagined network with true branches turns out to be the 25 Richmond, which branches out from Wilcrest, one branch taking one all the way to Mission Bend Park & Ride and the other very small branch serving as a turnback for buses traveling the Frequent Network part of the route, taking in the Walnut Bend - Wilcrest - Westheimer terminus of the current 2 Bellaire Westchase branch.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sunday 16 August 2015 = date for System Reimagining implementation!

January, June, and August...  These are the times in which METRO likes to implement service changes through the year with June and August being where they are on the calendar to accomodate school going out of and coming back into session.

Last year's August service changes were on the 24th, which gave me cause to believe the agency for the System Reimagining would choose the latter portion of this coming August as the time for what will be the Mother of All Service Changes, but no.  In an email we community Stakeholders received tonight (20 Feb.) from METRO's Vice President for Planning, Kurt Luhrsen, we learned METRO's planned date for when the new routes will begin running is Sunday 16 August 2015.

Here is Kurt's email to us...

+ + +

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kurt Luhrsen 
Date: Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 7:14 PM
Subject: System Reimagining Update

Dear Reimagining Stakeholder:

As many of you might already know, the METRO Board approved the new METRO System Map at the special Board Meeting on February 11th by an 8-0 vote.  This was a monumental achievement for Houston, and this new bus system, when implemented, promises to improve the transit experience for vast numbers of people throughout the greater Houston region. 

Whether it will be through the dramatic increase in weekend service, the straighter and more easily understood route structure, or the huge expansion of the frequent bus network, our customers will have an easier time getting to jobs, shopping, doctor’s appointments, schools, and so on.  Without a doubt, we could not have reached this point in the process without all of our Stakeholders help.  Your valuable input during the policy development and service planning exercises were the key starting points for developing this incredible bus system.   You all challenged the project team in ways I could not have imagined at the project’s inception, and I think the final plan is better for it. 

However, the work now truly begins as METRO staff are working diligently to re-write 270+ new bus schedules, finalize individual route maps, complete training materials, produce comprehensive marketing plans, etc.  Between now and the planned implementation day on Sunday, August 16, 2015, METRO will be committing to a full scale marketing campaign to get the word out and tell everyone about this great plan and all the places they can get to using it.  For this effort, we hope to be able to engage our Stakeholders once again to help us distribute materials, alert us to events and meetings where we can talk about the new bus system, and generally speak about the benefits the new bus system offers to anyone who will listen. 

For those who would like to see more details about the final plan, it is posted on the project’s website at  Of particular note is the new system map and the detailed route guides that have been updated and posted.  Direct links to these files are listed below:

New System Map:

Route Detail Guide (this is a big document so you will need to give it a minute to load):

Again, thank you to everyone who helped along the way with this project.  It took nearly two years for us to reach this point, but I think the final result was worth it.

For those who would like more information or would like to schedule someone to come and talk to their group about the final map and plan, please contact me and I’d be pleased to arrange that.


Kurt Luhrsen

Kurt Luhrsen  |  Vice President, Planning  |  Metropolitan Transit Authority

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What will be lost?

With the scheduled demise of our current local bus network in August 2015, what will be lost?  A lot, actually, consisting of a lot of headache that infinitely outweighs the sentimental of this ancient mass-transport network that has in one form or another in a single and uninterrupted historical and active continuity dating to ca. 1874 carried this city and region from strength to strength.

This is the mass-transit network that transported Houstonians via mulecar.  It got our town through the latter years of Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, the second half of the Victorian era, the First World War, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the post-war boom, the 'Sixties', the oil boom and bust of the '70s and '80s, the 1990s comeback, 9-11, and today's post-'Great Recession' revival.  This is the network that saw the Bayou City through its years of growth from a frontier village to the fourth-largest city in the United States and one of the great cities of the world.

But it is a network that was never iterated upon past ca. 1990.  It was never allowed to grow and evolve with the demographics of our city and region.  It is old.  It is tired.  And to 'tweak' it will be a far-more difficult proposition than just starting over from scratch with a sleek and shiny replacement.

And while there will be an end of an era come this August, it will be in the end the beginning of a new era in Greater Houston mass-transit welcomed by everyone and remembered down through the years as the start of the point where our local bus service caught up to Park & Ride and light rail and became something of which we could be rightly be proud.

It will be the day when to a great many Houstonians, mass-transit finally became relevant.

Yes, there were mulecar lines in Houston going back to as early as 1868 with HT&B Horsecar Line and Houston City Railway, but those lines were discontinued.  The actual continuity of our present local bus service network does indeed go back to ca. 1874 and the Houston City Street Railway with a line going up and down Travis and radiating from same lines on Washington, Congress, Dallas, and San Felipe.

From the beginning, this network radiated from Downtown with spokes radiating from thence and to all places all over the City.  However, and even as with today's network, going north-south through anywhere but Downtown was difficult at-best.

Look at the greatest extent of our streetcar lines in 1927: everything centering on Downtown...

from Steven M. Baron's Houston Electric, page 81

Yes, we have lots of north-south buses that do not go though Downtown nowadays, but how many of them are on the Frequent Network - those buses that come by your stop at least every fifteen minutes on weekday-middays?  In red, here is our Frequent Network as it stands right now.  Check out the resemblance to the streetcar network of 1927!

Downtown-centric..  Difficult to go north-south save through the very center of our city...  A literal horde of routes all converging in upper Downtown near what is now the Theater District...

Take a look at METRO's horrible full System Maps of our current local bus network HERE.  What a Kafka-esque spaghetti-bowl of madness!  No wonder we don't have ridership.  Who save someone well-acquainted with our system over years and years could possibly figure out this mess??

This is a network for a Houston that has not existed in a very long time.  Scads of people are moving out west and southwest.  Not so many live in the northeast of Houston or in the east and southeast.  The time for change has come.  And believe, me, a great change is going to happen.

Compare the above current-Frequent Network map with the coming Frequent Network...

No more radial-hub-and-spoke... (could not find a static image - sorry!)

For the first time ever, Downtown will not be the chief transit hub at the expense of all other areas in the city and region.   Getting from north to south in our system will be far-easier than ever before.  The legions of humanity living in the west and southwest will have immensely-improved bus service in a way I never dreamed was possible.  This is how much inefficiency there is in our current local bus network - that our Frequent Network could be doubled in size!

And look at that grid!  Yes, for the first time, we will have a network of local mass-transit based upon the mathematical and geometrical optimization only a grid can provide.  With a grid structure, it will be easy to add streets to the system, upgrade them to the Frequent Network, and if need-be, downgrade them.  This is a plan designed such that it can be iterated upon indefinitely without the need for a gigantic three-year System Re-imagining to ever be done again.

What??!  It's actually possible to have a government agency doing something competent for a change and giving us a local bus network built to respond to the changing demands of our city and region?  Who knew?

What, then, will be lost in August 2015 with the demise of our local, historic, and character-filled mass-transit network going back to 1874?

A lot worth chucking to the dustbin of history...

And with good riddance...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Jeff's rant on METRO's light-rail system

Growing up during the Houston mayorship of Kathy Whitmire, the one word I can remember hearing from her was 'monorail'.  An active proponent of that form of transport, 1992 would see her monorail dream die by the hand of her successor, Bob Lanier.  Within a decade, Mayor Bob's immediate successor, Lee Brown, would see a street-grade light-rail system built in the Bayou City.

Street-grade...  Train cars stopping for red lights.  There was no elevated rail constructed because it would have been hideously-expensive, requiring federal funds to cover the expense, which congressman Tom DeLay succeeded in having blocked.

Well, we have our high-capacity rail transport for human passengers going right through Downtown and the Texas Medical Center as well as offering service to Reliant Stadium, the University of Houston - Downtown, and Northline Mall.  But is our region paying for its lack of vision in regard to elevated rail and its lack of will in paying for same?  Yes!

The jury is out with me still regarding the merits of a Disney-style monorail as opposed to what we have now, but with METRORail online and running for the next half-century, I can now only speak in hypothetical terms.  But it is important, though, to still ask questions.

The election of Bob Lanier as Mayor of Houston in 1991 was a crucial event in Houston's mass-transit history.  Depending on one's point of view, Lanier's election either halted the march of progress or saved our city and region from a horrible boondoggle.  And again, I can't be sure of how well monorail would have done.

What is abundantly clear every time my train has to stop for a red light is Houstonians could have done better and should have.  They could have spoken up for elevated rail in the Bayou City, as expensive as it would have been.  In the person of Bob Lanier and with their ballots in November 1991 with a December 1991 runoff, they spoke loud and clear, putting in a Mayor who was more interested in highways than buses or trains.

Mayor Bob's election began eighteen years of mostly-substandard METRO leadership which, though it did see some bright spots here and there, also saw our present bus network stagnate and prevented from growing and changing with the Houston landscape, paving the way for the brute-force full-scale changes with System Reimagining.

And perhaps we should count ourselves lucky to have gotten light rail at all.  If I understand things rightly, Mayor Brown had to put up a fight for even our at-grade system, choosing to compromise with our speed-slowing at-grade aspect instead of the stoplight-bypassing elevated system our city deserved.

+ + +

In the Ideal Realm, I would tear out most of our light-rail system, building elevated rail along the whole of Fannin and San Jacinto, though getting to UH-Downtown would have been a challenge.  Only the area of the Texas Medical Center with its myriad skyways as well as the Pierce elevated would have seen at-grade service, though the presence of the Pierce Elevated may have made the resultant underpass with the rail impractical to build as it would have impeded a rail station or two from being built.

I would have nixed the East Line entirely, having the Southeast Line continue on to Gulfgate Mall and Hobby Airport.  I would also think long and hard about building any new light rail anywhere.  There is nothing worse than a billion-dollar mass-transit project with no ridership!

As for the Westpark Tollway, I would do one of three things: tear it out completely - replace with either a wider highway with two-way train tracks (two tracks each way, mind you), tear it out completely and replace with a rail-only system - extending through the Southwest Freeway, or make it bus-only with two-way HOV on the SW Freeway.

I'm not sure of the wisdom of any sort of rail along Richmond avenue, elevated or otherwise.  So many stoplights and business-visual-killing elevated rail tracks!

The Uptown BRT would be put on steroids and built as a rail system or a BRT - not sure of the wisdom on either, really, but the dedicated right-of-way between the Northwest Transit Center and the Galleria, bypassing West Loop traffic cannot be denied.

+ + +

Our light-rail is great, but could have been so much better.  Because it is at-grade, it is slow, and getting to Northline Mall is more of a chore than it needs to be.  If it is possible to have the trains travel faster in spots devoid of streetlights, I really wish the agency could make this happen, though frequency of service really cannot be beat save with ridiculous three-minute headways, which may or may not be safe to implement ever.

In the end, it was not Mayor Brown, greedy developers along Main Street and Harrisburg, the Illuminati, or any cabal or secret society which dictated we put down the light-rail we have.  It was We, the People, who did not speak out en-masse for elevated rail.  It was We, the People, who stood by and did not question en-masse the wisdom of gumming our Main Street for all eternity with at-grade light rail.

It was We, the People, who in 1991 killed monorail, not Bob Lanier with his METRO Board majority.  It was We, the People, who allowed Frank Wilson to become the METRO CEO and President he became under Bill White's mayorship.  And it has been We, the People, who have rightly allowed the 'New METRO' to do its level-best to right the ship.

We voted for Mayor Bob.  We voted for Mayor Brown.  We voted for Mayor White.  This is not North Korea or Soviet Russia.  No-one put a gun to our head and said, "Vote for Mayor Bob!!"  And thank heaven, we voted for Annise Parker as Mayor who will go down as perhaps the best Houston Mayor mass-transit has ever seen.  What sort of individual will we put into the Mayor's office come 2016?

Granted, some people whom we elect to whatever may choose to wear different clothes once in office than they did on the campaign trail, but we keep them in office, anyway, right?  In the end, everything right or wrong with Houston mass-transit is our fault, including light-rail.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Partial Commentary: METRO Board Regular Meeting Thurs. 25 Sept. 2014

8 Feb. 2015 - I will never ever get the full commentary for this horrible METRO Board Meeting from 25 September 2015 done.  Hence, I've decided to give you what I have so far.

As-always, METRO's Board Meeting videos are available at

I suggest you watch this meeting in-full.  Bring some popcorn.

+ + +

25 September 3:33pm: I was unable to attend today's regular METRO Board Meeting, but while we wait anxiously for the video to be put online, I do know System Re-imagining was approved by the Board...but not really.  We'll see how things went in full and lurid detail, but this I do know: the meeting video is four-and-a-half hours long, which by METRO standards probably has to be the longest Board or committee meeting in the past four or five years.

As always, Board meeting videos can be found at

The agenda for today's meeting may be had directly at and while it does not have that much verbiage, budget and System Re-imagining told me a week ago when I looked at it this get-together was going to be a long one. 

And let's add to that what I expect was a happy approval of the new procurement policy for small businesses.  Perhaps Allen Watson owned the day?  And let's not forget Terence Fontaine with the monthly update on the ongoing, but lessening, comedy that has been CAF.

Usually by 3:30pm, we have a Board meeting video ready for viewing, but not yet this time.  The file is huge, I'm sure, and with the late meeting ending, I wonder if we will see anything today. 

3:53pm: Well, I've found out there will be no Purple Line until at least April.  This meeting just sounds better and better!

4:09pm: I'm giving up on there being a video posted today.  We'll get our commentary tomorrow.  :-)

4:42pm: Downloading video now.  We'll see just how long it takes to put the commentary together - lol.

+ + +

And now, the meeting!

00:30 Looks like a good crowd.  Equivalent of first five rows are in the room.  Gilbert is having a little difficulty getting a quorum to take their seats.  Lots of Board members present who need to get their boms in chairs!

1:41 Gilbert gets things going.  A huge number of big things to get through today...

2:23 Judge Jefferson is out of town.

2:55 Chief of Staff of Rep. Harold Dutton shares her comments on Re-imagining.  FLEX rears its ugly head right at the start of the meeting!  Yeah, METRO has done nothing publicly really to educate the community on FLEX - or so I believe...

5:00 Christof Spieler does not want FLEX unless it will really work.  In other words, this entire part of System Reimagining might as well be on square-one...because it really is!

7:35 Jim Robinson brings up the issue of reduced span of service.  Good point!  omg, there is waaay more to this project that still needs to be addressed.

9:00 Councilman (Houston) Dwight Boykins actually thank the Board for something: issues concerning the crossover at Beekman Street near the Palm Center.

12:35 Mayor Sue Speck (Multi-Cities) thanks this Board for its responsiveness to the community.

15:55 Joetta Stevenson does not like Reimagining at all.  Joetta did not bring sugar to this meeting.  She laments easy service to medical facilities.  Lack of METRO marketing and giving out information to ridership.  She cites less service to inner-city.  She is on a rampage. 

Is she justified?  Well, she is speaking out in a big way for communities that will be affected by Reimagining in a way we have not seen before.

20:00 Umm...  Mrs. Stevenson, there are hundreds of thousands of poor non-white people whose bus service will by reimagining be greatly improved.  The motion to go 80/20 was made by a black guy: Board Member Dwight Jefferson, whose presence is now greatly missed.  What a bad day to be out of town!

The LBJ connection deserves a further look, though.

I am very thankful to her for bringing up this perspective.

23:00 No, Gilbert, this process has been more than a year long.  But yes, it's been a long time.  Yes, Joetta is on a rampage, but yes, I love her being here and speaking!

23:45 Christof gives a very empassioned response.  'Ridership is about serving our customers.'  He addresses directly the current 1 Hospital.  METRO has been expecting this, and it has now occurred: the torches and pitchforks have arrived!

25:14 Calm down, kids...

25:30 Most of the 'west' part of town is non-white and non-rich and densely-populated.  Christof addresses directly why Northeast Houston is getting less bus service under reimagining.

27:30 Preach it, Christof!  Yes, there are trade-offs, but we can only do what we can do with our limited taxpayer money.

29:00 Dominic!  Yes, get those FLEX zones going at least as a pilot project.  But do it asap.  Joetta has her posse with her.  Good people all, I know, and they are not a happy bunch.

31:18 Dom gets around.

32:09 Bob Yuri (sp?) and Central Houston Downtown Management District's Board and membership looove System Reimagining.

36:55 Otis Robinson, METRO employee, represents his Settegast superneighborhood...and loves System Reimagining and cites Bob Lanier (1990) & Robert Miller (2004) as reimagining-killers of the past. 

He does not care for the wholesale changes of numbers and routes, however.  He cites the loss of the legacy of history in certain routes, especially the 44 Acres Homes.

He disputes low ridership figures on some routes.  And he's worked at METRO 38 years.

48:00 Susan Young with the South Main Alliance loves System Reimagining, and so does her organization.

53:00 Dexter Handley of the Citizen's Transportation Coalition loves System Reimagining.

- Renumbering will be looked at again.
- Service to hospitals will be reassessed.
- Ridership in the Northeast will be looked at again.
- FLEX is an open variable.  Period.
- span of service will be re-looked-at

There will never ever be a moment in which a mystical full-approval of System Re-imagining complete with finished routes, etc. will ever come.  It is abundantly clear the tweaking and twerking of this project, especially regarding FLEX, will continue right up to 7 June 2015 and beyond.

A visual of where METRO's buses and trains are scheduled to be at the moment you are seeing same... is the link to the TRAVIC (Transit Visualization Client) for METRO.  It shows a map of our complete service area with a complete visualization of, using schedule data, where a bus or train should be in our system at any given time.

Of course, it does not give information as to the actual location of any bus or train car - just where they should be located in an ideal world.  However, if you have been wondering what a fully-functional mass-transit system looks like, here it is.

Thank you, METRO Board Member Christof Spieler, for this!

System Reimagining... Is it going to ever happen?

I began this article last month or so and realize that while it is now a bit dated, it is still before the 11 February hopeful-approval of System Reimagining by METRO's Board of Directors.  Ergo, what is below is still relevant and timely.  Enjoy!|

+ + +

System Reimagining...  Is it ever going to happen?

Yes, but METRO had better get a move-on.

I've been somewhat frank recently on Facebook about my misgivings concerning if the public will ever see System Reimagining implemented or whether it will remain forever quagmired in the throes of FLEX discussion.

In September 2014, an epic Board Meeting (video available here) resulted in an approval-in-priniciple of System Reimagining, METRO's attempt at revamping utterly our local bus network and integrating same with light rail and a Park & Ride system which, unlike the local bus network, has been continually iterated upon since its inception in the 1970s and allowed to evolve with our region.

This meeting was supposed to have featured an approval-in-full of the coming network plan, but an ambush by citizens and elected officials from low-population areas slated for a new FLEX service designed to de-rail the process at the last minute at that meeting succeeded in watering things down to where System Reimagining was approved...without really being approved, a move which, I'm sure frustrated METRO staffers hoping for a full-blown green light to start making schedules and what-not for what will hopefully be a 7 June 2015 implementation date.

It does not help that the only meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee since September's Board Meeting has been a fifteen-minute affair this month.  Something is going on, and that something is FLEX: poring over details, field-testing, consulting with said public officials and citizens over how the call centers, etc. could work.

However, I have been assured today [back in January of this year] by a METRO Board member after the meeting all-things pertaining to System Reimagining are going smoothly.  Speaking with this Board member made me feel better: he told me the Planning Department is very hard at work: schedules are being worked out, and yes, buses have been field-testing routes.  The gritty grind of getting this network going is real and is happening!

I guess until FLEX is finalized, and with it, the network, as much as can be, METRO has to be coy.  Hence, no Strategic Planning meetings of any substance for the time being.

+ + +

I have recently been in the throes of culling my paper files and reorganizing everything.  To that end, the first part of this project was straightening my garage and organizing the vast collection of empty boxes, etc. I've kept for such an occasion.  This cleaning-up was absolutely necessary to my cleaning up and organizing my storage unit, which has allowed me to consolidate archives, cull as needed, and give me the peace of mind good organization gives.

Some years ago, I temped at a loan servicing company, and one of my first tasks was to help clean up the file room and completely reorganize the thing.  At the outset, the secretary overseeing our efforts walks into the room in question and says, "This room is a clusterf--k.".  She was not criticizing us, but she did speak the truth.

Cleaning my garage and organzing my storage unit provided for me a logistical base on which to iterate on my new organization.  Cleaning out and fixing that file room allowed the office to go from there and do its work far-better than ever before.

System Reimagining is the cleaning of our file room.  It is the reworking of our garage.  I have spoken ad-nauseum about this before, but I cannot emphasize that enough.

It will give us a clean slate on which to make future network changes and improvements.  The grid of the Frequent Network and the adding (or removing) rungs from the grid quickly and easily will allow us to conceivably have a local bus network that could last indefinitely.

The throes of FLEX vex this METRO Board.  It has vexed this Board so much that it gave in September only tacit approval in principle, but not in fact, to a system our local bus ridership desperately needs.

Enter the next Mayor of Houston.  God only knows what this next Mayor will do.  By way of the City of Houston's absolute Board majority, this new Mayor could torpedo System Reimagining outright.  But if the network has by January 2016 been implemented, it will be far-more-difficult politically and logistically for s/he to do that.

METRO must cut this next Mayor (and God only knows who that will be) off at the pass.  METRO must approve System Reimagining in-full while it still can.

All this being said, there is a temptation to opt for a vast compromise that would see a lot of the 'red' in the proposed Frequent Network sacrificed to assuage certain Board concerns about FLEX and span-of-service (a valid issue with the Reimagining as it turns out).

Why not, then, go with fixed-route service instead of FLEX?  Happily, METRO has already thought these things through and come up with possible schemes for fixed-route service while keeping within our constrained bus budget.  This would eliminate the vociferous objections of Northeast Houston and Acres Homes, and by itself allow the Board through METRO's Planning Department to easily fix the issues of span-of-service and push the entirety of System Reimagining to full approval.

This would eliminate the next few months of FLEX field testing, data collection, reporting-to-the-Board, and all that mess, while allowing the Planning Department to push foward full-force with the mind-numbing details of schedules and how routes and connections will fit together as well as allow the agency to focus fullly on span-of-service.

The problem with this is how much would fixed-route service in lieu of FLEX compromise the viability of the 'frequency' of the proposed Frequent Network?  The entire motivation behind FLEX is not only the best service possible for affected populations, but also money.  METRO's bus budget is limited, and Reimagining remains within current budgetary constraints, as it should, setting a wonderful precedent for how to optimize present resources without the knee-jerk spend-spend-more that plagues government everywhere when perhaps it would be best to use what one has already.

Why under current System Reimagining plans the current 53 Westheimer Ltd. and its routing is doomed

It offers direct service from Briar Forest west of Gessner to Downtown by way of Westheimer between Gessner and Yorktown, the Galleria, Williams Tower, Rajin' Cajun on Richmond, Greenway Plaza, Lakewood Church, and takes the freeway from Buffalo Speedway into Downtown all the way to Main Street Square METRO Rail station and beyond to the George R. Brown Convention Center.  For Lakewood Church folks, it is the route for getting to and from worship.

My friend, Mark Hogue, who for three decades has been an enormous advocate for mass-transit in Houston, faithfully attending METRO Board meetings for all this time with cogent public comments has been campaigning tirelessly for the retention under System Reimagining of this particular route and routing.

Under METRO's current plans for System Reiimagining, this Briar Forest - Westheimer - Galleria - Richmond - Highway 59 - Downtown non-transfer routing is to be scuttled completely.  It is to be done away with completely because were it to be retained under System Reimagining as currently planned, it would violate almost every single underlying philosophy inherent in the coming new local bus network, set to go live in June 2015.

What follows is an edited portion of an email from Wednesday 27 November discussing a number of things I sent to the folks at METRO and who advocate for mass-transport who have given me the privilege to count them as contacts and as friends.  I have left in my lengthy discussion of this said route.

+ + +

the current 53 Westheimer Ltd.  

Bear with me here as I give this a little analysis of my own...

The Richmond Strip:

From my own recollections as well as the info in the above Wikipedia article, the Richmond Strip, which Mark Hogue seeks to avoid at all costs, extends from Chimney Rock westward to Gessner.  The above Wikipedia article seems to imply it ending at Hillcroft, but rest assured of the presence of many a seedy joint all the way out to Tanglewilde.  The Richmond bar/cantina/stripclub scene is by no means dead.

What does the current 53 do?  It provides non-transfer service between Briar Forest west of Gessner, Westheimer & Gessner, Westheimer between Gessner and the western terminus of W. Alabama, the Galleria (though it should be located right under the skybridge to Galleria IV instead of near Post Oak), avoidance of the Richmond Strip entirely, the busy Richmond @ Weslayan intersection (which causes me to ride this bus from time to time when not travelling Downtown), Greenway Plaza, Lakewood Church, and Downtown to the Main Street Square Station via the Southwest Freeway starting from Buffalo Speedway, thereby providing an alternative to the Galleria/Westheimer traffic bottleneck.

The advent of Sunday service for this route made getting around on the Westheimer corridor on that day of the week a lot easier.

Let's consider ridership numbers...

(most-recent available reports)

The current 53 may not be in the top ten in boardings at any day of the week, but it is one of our our twenty highest-performing weekday routes, and on weekends it's solidly in the middle of the pack.

This bus route does a lot of things well and carries a lot of people.  In the paradigm of the current network, it is one of our shining stars.  In the coming re-imagined grid-paradigm, it is easy to see it is an anomoly and I have to, with much reluctance, support its being a regrettable casualty.  Getting from Westheimer to Greenway Plaza will become more of a chore, I'm afraid.

Serving the Briar Forest prtion of the current 53, we have the currently-proposed 153 Harwin Briar Forest Flyer, the intersection of which @ Richmond is west of the Strip.  In getting to Lakewood Church, this bus' terminus at Hillcroft TC is no good as there are no routes that get one to Greenway Plaza.

As I look at the METRO Revised Draft Reimagined Network Plan Map (from whence the above-linked map to the proposed 153 comes, I am reminded this is a plan that is already budget-optimized.  There is no budgetary wiggle-room for the 8 Westheimer to deviate south on Buffalo Speedway to Richmond and back up Edloe to Westheimer.  Such a deviation would bog down the budget and add greatly to the time spent travelling the route, especially during rush-hour.  Such a deviation is the only solution, impractical as it is to avoiding a second transfer from Westheimer to Richmond.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hogue and all the people (me included) who enjoy the anomolous ease and convenience of this singular 53 Westheimer Ltd., I see nothing on the horizon that can be done within the constraints or budget to make for a re-imagined route that can do what the current 53 does without taking budget from the Frequent Network.  For there to be a replication of Mark's favorite bus route, at least two Frequent Network routes would have to be downgraded to blue.  True, the proposed 153 could then be taken away, but that takes away frequency from Harwin, which forces METRO to futz with the 151 Westpark Express and the 152 Harwin Westwood Flyer.

The proposed Re-imagined network plan is designed around not only the geometric efficiency of a grid (I currently buy into this thinking of Jarrett Walker's, btw, wholeheartedly), but also the value gained every inch travelled by a bus.

A complete replication of the current 53 would duplicate service on Westheimer, Richmond, and in Downtown and would create a domino effect, forcing the agency to effectively go back to square one in redesigning the whole of west Houston, which in turn would force a redesign of the entire local bus system to accomodate this change.

Well, if we can't have our 53, why does the inner loop get its 48 Buffalo Speedway?  As I look at this proposed route, it takes what is wonderful about the Galleria portion of the current 73 and injects it with steroids.  The value of what this anomolous-to-the-grid route offers, even though it's only a blue route, is even more amazing than what a replication of the current 53 could offer.

The connection the proposed 48 offers between the Med Center and NWTC is unbelievable.  Not to mention the direct connectivity between those places combined with Rice Village, Greenway Plaza, San Felipe, Highland Village, and West University.  Like the current 73 Galleria branch, I will not use this route all the time, but when I do, it will come in incredibly-handy, particularly as it is the proposed route servicing Rice Village and the southern side of Rice University.

Well, what about this: a proposed route taking in Briar Forest with non-stop service on Westheimer save at the Galleria and ending in Greenway Plaza, avoiding the Strip.  Make this route 'green' (the lowest grade of frequency in the coming system'.  Perhaps make it only a weekend route like the five proposed peak-only routes operating only on weekdays?

To do this, again, we'd have to chuck the proposed 153 and replicate its contribution to the Harwin Frequent Segment in some way.  This gets back to the utter re-design of some parts of the system I was talking about earlier.  And again, this would take away from other routes, the Frequent Network perhaps, compromise the grid with not enough value in return, and create a dangerous precedent that would contribute to the accumulation of eventual route-garbage long outserving its initial usefulness, thereby contributing to another re-imagining a half-century down the road with Lakewood Church being re-located to who-knows-where-bigger-place-Astrodome-Lord-knows-what.

I see no easy solution.  The limited bus budget does not allow it, if nothing else (thanks Mobility funds), and neither does our agency's drive to buck the hooks and snares of customer requests for not enough value in return (wiser and smarter people than I will doubtless correct me on this).

Well, let's think outside the box.  The real issue is the getting from Westheimer to Richmond while avoiding the Strip, yes?  What about this...  A green route beginning at Westheimer at the Beltway with Westheimer stops at Gessner, Fondren, Hillcroft, Renwick/Fountainview, Galleria (W. Alabama), Post Oak, Buffalo Speedway, Edloe, and ending at Greenway Plaza?

Again, duplicate service, and what we have is another 402 Bellaire Quickline, the viability of which for Houston has yet to be proven as the current 402 and future 405 Quickline is/are a guinea pig for future limited-stop signature service.

Well, what about nonstop from Westheimer @ Beltway, taking in Gessner, Renwick (because the proposed 9 is so expansive), Galleria, Lakewood Church, and Greenway?  From where for this service will the money come?

And in the end, this is not just about Lakewood Church, as peopled it may be, and when I say this, I run the risk of parroting my friends in METRO's planning department, it really is about setting a precedent not just for our mass-transit government going forward, but for government in general: not acquiesing to a few at the expense of the many or the whole in return for lesser value.

We have to make the most of our limited resources.

Good government is competence.  Good government is putting the nuts and bolts in the right way to make the machine work smoothly not just for a few, but for everyone or as many people as possible.  We stand at a rare moment when we have a Board who has proven to be one that actually cares about the community it serves and has a real interest in what mass-transit is and could be.

The coming probable-demise of the 53 Westheimer Ltd. is a facet of the switch-a-roo from one mass-transit universe (HouTran, Houston Electric, old METRO, mulecars) to a new one (starting from a clean slate).  In the current network, the 53 works very well, remedying deficiencies in the current system and providing unusual connectivity between improbable places.

In the new network and with our limited funds (a HUGE factor driving everything with this project), something has to give.  And as easy as it is for me to say it as one who will not be adversely affected, the agency has been forced by the dictates of logic, geometry, and finance (especially) to have to do away with something which has for a large group of people to make room to make the lives of a far-larger group of people so much better.

Gone will be the twisting of the current 163 Fondren through the Gulfton area.  Gone will be the Picasso-exhibition that is the stair-stepping current 5 Southmore.  Gone will be the puzzle that is the current 40 Telephone.  Gone will be the 11 'Nance'.

To new existence will be stuff we have either never seen before or have not seen in a long time.  Look at the proposed 48's connectivity between NWTC (which will be the biggest transit hub in alll of METRO) and TMC TC!  Look at the Conan-the-Barbarian right angle of the 9 Renwick!  Look at all that service on San Felipe!  Look at the clean and sleek lines of east Houston and the 69 Broadway forging a mighty red track to Hobby airport.  Yes, there should probably be a train doing what the 69 does currently, but who knows what the future might bring.  The fewer trains we can get away with, the better.

8-minute headway on Westheimer!  8-minute headway on Westheimer!  omgomgomg - all the people who will benefit from the tripling or quadrupling of service on this street!  All we need now are bus lanes through the Galleria - lolz.

How 'bout that schnazzy western portion of the proposed 32 Eldridge!  And the unbelievable connectivity at Mission Bend P&R (should be a Transit Center?)...  And the rocket-buses from Memorial City Mall to Downtown and back!!  And while it's blue, the 66 OST Wayside stands to provide a lot of direct connectivity to a lot of places...  I could go on and on...

Yes, the current 53 will most-likely be no more, but we won't have service on Bingle at all, and the current Plan map screams for same.

As for avoiding the Richmond Strip, the new system will allow for that.  It's just that it will now take two transfers, but without completely junking the whole west Houston part of the proposed map as well as take away from far-more people than would be served by same, I don't know a good solution to allow our Lakewood Church ridership from Briar Forest to be able to do anything other than 153-8-48.

Yeah, this situation is not great at all with that second transfer (or a hot walk down Edloe from Westheimer), and yes, our coming system is not perfect.  In this process, I know METRO has had to make some hard, hard decisions, and within the constraints of budget, it has had to optimize things as best it can within those boundaries.

Of course, there is taking the 153 all the way to Richmond, thereby taking in the entirety of the Strip.  Yeah, this is not fun, and in the wake of being attacked by some drunken fool, I would be a little afraid of that part of town, too.  Without having to take half the map back to square one and compromising the underlying principles of what this transit system needs to be for the next half-century or more as well as staying within budget, I hope a way can be found to at least alleviate the second transfer (Westheimer to Richmond via the 48), which I think for our Lakewood friends the real spanner-in-the-works second to safety concerns about taking that Richmond bus and dealing with characters fresh from a night of partying on the Strip.

This coming Wednesday 11 February 2015 with the reveal of the final network map on which the METRO Board will vote to or not to approve will be quite interesting: will the direct Briar Forest-Westheimer-Greenway-freeway routing be retained in any way, shape or form?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Silly bus stops, Volume 3

As the world waits with bated breath for the 11 February revelation of what should/will be our mass-transit network going forward into the next five years, let's reflect on some more bus stops in dire need of 'reimagining'.

Consider Westheimer between Weslayan and Kirby, inclusive.

Eastbound from Weslayan, the necessity for a stop at the large St. Luke's United Methodist Church is clear.  Any bus stops servicing such places in addition to hospitals, nursing/retirement homes, schools, etc. must be retained and the rest of the bus stop system built around these 'sacrosanct' stops such that there are no redundancies.

The stops between St. Luke's and Weslayan/Willowick??  Not so sure about those...

The stops at Eastgrove & Sutton Ct. are only ca. 925 feet from Weslayan/Willowick are perfectly illustrative of the problem of the segment of Westheimer from Weslayan to Buffalo Speedway: no crossings with lights and existing stops serving few people.  The same holds true for the stops at Timmons westbound and eastbound (right at the Whataburger).

By car, Westheimer between Weslayan and Buffalo Speedway is only 0.70 miles.  Solution: jettison the stops at Sutton Ct., Eastgrove Ln., and Timmons.  To serve St. Luke's, we have to keep the ones at Timmons, unfortunately.

'Unfortunately', because we have Buffalo Speedway, which may or may not under the re-revised Reimagining map to be released 11 February be a part of the new local bus network.  METRO has not put a stop at Buffalo Speedway going east on Westheimer, and it was correct to make that omission - Bravo, METRO.  No bus, I think, has ever gone up and down that portion of Buffalo Speedway, and I strongly suspect the neighbors on Claremont would object somewhat to having METRO on that street - horrors!

Google Maps has the westbound Buffalo Speedway stop farther east than it actually is.  This stop is appropriate for now, though as the stops at River Oaks serve Lamar High School as well as the large St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, they are sacrosanct and must be retained.  Those River Oaks stops can also serve the St. John's School, negating the need for stops at Buffalo Speedway.

And then, there's this:

This stop is located eastbound Westheimer between River Oaks and Buffalo Speedway. This and its across-the-street opposite have no logical, moral, or metaphysical reason to exist. Remove the shelter to a more-profitable location and scuttle these stops permanently.

But they serve St. John's School!  Not really.  Going Eastbound, the kids still have to walk around a fence and through a gate.  They are just as safe getting off with the Lamar kids at River Oaks.

If you are looking at this post soon after it goes up, you will see April 2014 Google Images.  Look at how METRO still has this eastbound bus stop as active even though street repairs make bus-stopping there impossible.  Yet, I'm sure some fool passenger will still want to get off there, and will complain to METRO when the Operator obeys the dictates of safety and common sense and lets them off at River Oaks, instead.  Solution: deactivate this stop during construction and use the opportunity to shut it down once and for all.

Finally, on the 0.70 mile stretch of Westheimer between River Oaks and Kirby, we have stops in both directions at Virginia, both of which serve small shopping centers, but in the greater interest of the literally thousands who bus along Westheimer every day of the week who do not care one whit abut Chuy's or Avalon Diner, the latter of which I highly recommend, the consigning of these two bus stops to the dustbin of history needs to happen.

I would take out the two at Bammell, but they serve Bethany Christian Church.

With all of that, we have this...

Between Weslayan & Kirby, inclusive, on Westheimer eastbound we currently have ten bus stops.  Ten!!  Westbound, we also have ten.

Getting rid of extraneous dross reduces things to six stops both ways.  Still a lot of bus stops, but that's because of the presence of houses of worship, the locations of which prevent a single set of both-way stops serving both at once while still taking in Lamar Elementary while serving the exacting standards of minimum-walking worshippers have along with necessary safety concerns with students.

Westheimer between Gessner and Fondren...  Westheimer between Kirby and Weslayan...  How many other spots like this have we in the METRO service area?  How many more posts like this will I need to make ere METRO wakes up to the fact the number of bus stops in our system could probably be reduced by at least forty percent while still giving seniors, the disabled, and everyone else the same standard of service they have today?

System Reimagining seeks to revolutionize local bus service and how it fits into the rest of our network.  Bus stops are the hardening of the arteries.

They, too, need some 'Reimagining'.

Commentary: Special METRO 14 Jan. 2015 Board Meeting

I tried to make this one in-person, but it was a no-go.  As always, METRO Board meeting videos, minutes, and agendas are available at

Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia moves some things around and goes right into Executive Session, starting the meeting off.

1:46:35 - The length of this Executive Session was a bit long - haha

The rest of the meeting was not worth writing home about.

Bye-bye, all!

Bizzare connections and a System Reimagining update - approval vote coming!!

After finishing the first rehearsal for Shane Monds' DMA composition recital at Rice University (do come - it will be lovely), the object for me was to get from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice to somewhere on Westheimer to catch either the 82 or the 53 home.  I had such a lack of desire to back-track and go via METRORail I probably would have walked up Shepherd or Kirby instead.

I exited the north side-entrance to the Shepherd School last evening at about 7:45pm and lo!  A Rice Shuttle appears heading west toward the gigantic parking lot and Rice Stadium.  I would never know which branch this was because the driver kicked us all off (I think) at Shelter C where lo!  A Greenbriar Apartments shuttle awaited.  As I did not know the shuttle system from a pop-tart, I decided to see where it would take me.

I had hoped to be dropped right off at Shepherd so as to catch the 26/27, but alas no: I had to wait until the end of the line at the Rice apartments at Greenbriar to disembark.  No big deal.  I trekked to Mornigside @ University, thinking I'd probably just walk to Westheimer from here, but when a METRO 73 Bellfort Galleria Branch appeared heading eastward, I thought I'd just take it to METRORail and have done with it when at Greenbriar, lo!  A 26/27 heading northward!  After my trip on the 73 of exactly one block, I was able to catch the 26/27 bus and make it to Westheimer without having to walk there or take METRORail to the McGowen Station and make the easy four-block walk to Smith.

If next year System Reimagining is fully-implemented as currently proposed, Rice University will not be as well-served as I'd like, but it will be better-served than it is now by the 26/27 Inner Loop and the 73 Bellfort Galleria Branch.  What would be quite lovely to have the Rice Shuttle have service all the way to Greenbriar to connect with whatever route goes up and down that street.  This same shuttle could take a rider all the way to the other side of campus near Main Street.

'If', I say?  Well, since the four-and-a-half-hour affair that was the September 2014 Regular Board Meeting during which METRO's approval of System Reimagining in-full was turned to one 'in-principle', and in which the agency's lack of preparation with details about Community Connectors (aka FLEX), span-of-service, and other issues were exposed to the world, the agency save for a presentation on Community Connectors from METRO's VP of Planning Kurt Luhrsen in November of last year and a few words from METRO President / CEO Tom Lambert at January's regular Board Meeting, the agency has been so coy about its work on this project there has not been a proper Strategic Planning Committee meeting replete with any sort of detail-work held since that time.

This is not to imply any Board scuttling off to dark and smoke-filled rooms on the 13th Floor of METRO Headquarters at 1900 Main, however.  On the contrary, the project in these past few months has gotten what I believe to have been the sort of work-over it should have gotten prior to the May 2014 initial roll-out, which I had expected to herald what was mostly a finished map, but which turned out to be only the beginning of a process that has taken far, far too long.

From what I understand from remarks made by METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia at the 29 January 2015 Regular Board Meeting, there has been on the system extensive enough to warrant the maps currently on display at at least somewhat moot.  Then again, perhaps there are not as many changes to individual routes and the Frequent Network as I hope/fear.  Who knows?

What I do know is in how the map approved by this Board (or not) will look, all bets are off, and while we won't be seeing a wholesale abandonment of the proposed Frequent Network, what we will see is a local bus system with a myriad of changes from what we saw in August and a local bus system that is a thousand times better than the one we have today.

Wednesday 11 February at 9:00am will see the Special Board Meeting at which the METRO Board will vote to approve or not to approve System Reimagining once and for all.

Is Board Member Jim Robinson keen enough on Community Connectors to deliver a yes vote and not do as he, rightly or wrongly, did last September and persuade the rest of the Board to delay things even further?

Are Robinson and Board Member Burt Ballanfant satisfied with span-of-service in the new plan enough to vote yes?  What about Board Member Cindy Siegel?  Is she good on the budgetary aspects of this project to vote to approve?

What about Board Member Diann Lewter whose concerns about marketing are duly noted by yours truly?  What about Lisa Castañeda who has, I think, been the least-vocal in her opinion on this project one way or the other?  If things with Jim and Burt get dicey, the deciding vote in a 5-4 Board tally could fall to her.

Even Member Dwight Jefferson, as adamant on this project as he has been, could be persuaded by the siren (or clarion) voice of Jim Robinson.  Heck, even Chairman Gilbert Garcia himself could be wooed by the sensible-minded Burt to seek for a further delay!  The two people we know will vote 'yes' without question are Christof Spieler and Allen Watson.  Christof in September, yes, did vote for a delay, but in that September 2014 vote, our Allen Watson was the lone dissenter, wanting to give the agency an outright and full approval right then and there.

If Jim Robinson and Burt Ballanfant are good on this plan, and after these many months of working on the minute details of scheduling as well as the logistical and political challenges posed by Community Connectors, on which this Board is staking its reputation, they should be, this vote will pass and at long last, System Reimagining will see full implementation.

However, if either Jim or Burt are not keen, the other will back him up, and the vote will fail, rendering the past three years' work on System Reimagining wasted effort.

Wasted effort?  When I think further...not really, actually.  If the 11 February vote fails, future Boards will see what went wrong, and they will know how our area is on stuff like this.  And if this vote fails, we could see the present Board in the nine months it has left try again, leaving out the Community Connectors and opting solely for fixed routes, leaving the idea of FLEX / Community Connectors to a future Board and a future age.

But if this Board does not approve System Reimagining, I have strong confidence a future Houston Mayor and Board will not be so keen on approving a plan of their own down the line, going instead to retaining the tired old network and the status-quo political safety that goes with it for the next few decades.

Jim!  Burt!  Christof!  Diann!  Gilbert!  Dwight!  Lisa!  Cindy!  Allen!

The game is on.