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 www.transitsystemreimagining.com 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.