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!

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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.

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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.