Saturday, March 22, 2014

Elder transportation a big missing piece in Cy-Fair (part 1)

Someone who has lived and worked in Cy-Fair might reasonably expect to look forward to a bright and happy retirement. Maybe they worked in the lucrative energy industry for their career, bought an affordable home and paid off the mortgage long ago; their property taxes would be capped from further increases after age 65; an excellent Cy-Fair ISD school system, continued affordable housing, and an abundance of jobs which would tend to bring the children and grandchildren back to the Houston area.

Yet the big missing piece in Cy-Fair retirement is... what do I do when I cannot drive myself around any longer?

Everyone ages at different rates, but eventually we all can't drive any longer. There is really no such thing as someone who can safely drive their whole entire life, despite exceptional stories we may hear about so-and-so's Grandpa who is still driving at 90. That's great for him, but even he is going to have to quit someday, and what does he do for the rest of his life if he lives in Cy-Fair? He might be of sound mind, able to walk, but if he can't see well enough or react fast enough to drive a car, he might as well be in jail as far as our motorized culture is concerned.

We pay the METRO sales tax in our area, but METRO long ago decided, and it continues to affirm, that it does not want to or cannot afford to provide local transit to our neighborhood. Also, many people in our area oppose transit because of their belief that transit breeds crime. I personally don't agree with this view*, but given that they often let METRO know how they feel, this makes METRO even less inclined to bring local transit out here. We also have no paratransit (METRO LIFT on-demand services to the disabled), because Federal law requires that METRO only provide paratransit within the regular transit service area. In Cy-Fair, we are outside of the regular transit service area.

So what do we do? How do we prepare to live through that portion of our lives when we or our parents can no longer drive a car for ourselves / themselves?

More installments to come. If you have ideas, write to me at pwang01@gmail.com


* Criminals long ago (since Bonnie & Clyde) discovered the tactical advantages of using cars to commit crimes. They steal cars if they have to. I ride METRO when I can in the city, and I don't see people carrying stolen HDTVs on the bus or light rail.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Houston's "Lifestyle centers" - little islands of walkability in a raging car sea

The Houston vision of "lifestyle centers", or mixed-used commercial developments, seems to be one of isolated islands of walkability in a raging, boiling, frothing, crashing seascape of cars only... no bikes, pedestrians, or transit, no independent transportation for people who can't drive (under 16, the elderly, seriously handicapped, etc).

The very best jobs and closest jobs for people in Bridgeland will always be in the Energy Corridor and Westchase, so if Mr. Peter Houghton of West Houston Association is really concerned about getting his residents to the best, closest, highest paying jobs without getting on a freeway (or tollway), he should become an aggressive advocate for suburban transit modes, which will get them from Bridgeland and communities like it to the famously high-paying Houston energy jobs. In the short term, this will be cost-effective, quick deployment modes like vanpool and bus rapid transit, with commuter rail slated for the long term (vanpool and BRT use roads, but at least you can surf on your phone while someone else drives, and they use the road and energy resources much more efficiently).

Let's admit it - the jobs in a lifestyle center are not at all likely to match up in quantity or quality with the jobs at BP's WestLake campus, or ConocoPhillips and Shell Woodcreek north of I-10. A lifestyle center will have retail & restaurants, a real estate broker (affiliated with the developer itself), personal services like massage, yoga, hairstylist, nails, dentistry, family practice medicine, a small law office... and lots of unleased space, most likely.

Additional food for thought - minimum wage workers in a lifestyle center's retail & restaurants might not be able to afford a car in order to report to work. How is that staffing plan supposed to work? These people need transit also. No transit = no workers = no services delivered = no revenue = no profit = rents not paid = someone's asset is going to be "non-performing".


- Peter Wang



Houston Chronicle, January 2, 2014

By Lindsay Peyton

He {Peter Houghton} said mobility issues affect the quality of life for residents - adding that their expectations have changed over the years.

"The days of endless rows of houses and having to get on a freeway to shop are over," Houghton said. "Consumers and homebuyers demand more than that. They want shopping developments in their own neighborhoods and to go to work without getting on the freeway."

He said "lifestyle centers" - or mixed-used commercial developments - have become central features in master planned communities.

"You see them happening in The Woodlands, Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch," Houghton said. "The next ones will be in Cy-Fair."

Already restaurants and shops are popping up along U.S. 290, he added.

"We're seeing the Cy-Fair area start to dip its toes into the water," he said. "Once you get offices, retail and restaurants follow suit. I'm very excited about what the area will see in the next 20 years."

Houghton expects more businesses to locate in the area - now that the development of the Grand Parkway is moving forward.

"As people start to drive the Grand Parkway, they will realize they can get quickly to both sides of town," he said.

In the meantime, the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce plans to foster further discussions addressing infrastructure in the community, Martone said. "We're the entity that supports growth," she said.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Top Job Centers

Houston Tomorrow sent me a really nice graphic, attached.

What it shows is that even our here in the suburbs we're really in the "hot" zone for proximity to jobs; of course, we who've lived here for twenty years and have worked in the Energy Corridor and Westchase have always know that, which is why we came... but it also shows that a minimum-investment (Bus Rapid Transit) system going north from I-10 up State Highway 6 could be very useful in connecting Cy-Fair / Copperfield to the employment centers, and it would greatly debottleneck State Highway 6 and I-10.

Bus Rapid Transit would be a faster service more like Park & Ride buses than like slow local services.



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Greater West Houston Subregional Planning Public Meeting Feedback

The sub-region is pretty much choking on single-occupant vehicles (SOVs), and vehicular miles traveled (VMTs). Both the local arterial grid and the freeway / tollway traffic are getting absolutely unmanageable. The stress and delay and impact on personal life and business are growing exponentially.

We need to stop confusing Persons (Passengers) and Cars/Trucks. They are not the same. A Car/Truck is not a Person. We have to increase Passenger (People) Miles Traveled, while decreasing or at least keeping VMT level, while expanding the Passenger (People) carrying capacity of the transportation system overall.


Transit

It's pretty amazing (not in a good way) that we have a huge commercial district, the Energy Corridor District, with more jobs than the San Diego CA central business district, and it's impossible to get to it from the NW, NE, and SW corners of the study area using transit. When you consider the massive local congestion around the I-10 at commute times, and when you look at the construction cranes building more space for thousands of workers who will be driving SOVs if nothing is changed, then you can see it's a recipe for a gridlock.

I have lived in the study area for twenty years, and have paid the METRO 1% sales tax all that time, and I have no local transit, and no prospects for ever getting any that I know of. I am seriously considering leaving this area after having made my money in the energy industry. This has to be addressed. By the 2040 time horizon of this study, I will be 79 years old. Clearly, absent changes, this won't be an area where I can “age-in-place” after my car driving days are over.

Westchase has better local transit along Westheimer, Richmond, and Gessner, but it suffers from the same handicap as Energy Corridor in getting people in from the NW, NE, and SW corners of the study area.

I can only speak as someone who lives close to SH6, but I think there is so much potential for high-speed, high-capacity transit along SH6 / FM1960. It could eventually go from Sugar Land and wrap around all the way to Bush IAH airport.

I don't want to be caught in the debate about bus vs. train for this transit line. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Personally I think, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) would be much faster and less expensive to initially deploy, and would be more appropriate for testing demand in places that have never had any transit before.

But the main point for SH6/FM1960 transit are: (1) infrequent stops, (2) fast accelerating vehicles, and most important of all, (3) dedicated guideways for the vehicles. We want to transit vehicles to make way down SH6 at 50 MPH when the SOVs are stopped in gridlock. Drivers will think, “Man, how do I get on that one! I gotta get out of this traffic!”.  That's how you build demand and ridership.

This SH6/FM1960 line would connect to the transit grid at the Addicks P&R and at Briarforest (let's extend the 53 all the way to SH6), and Westheimer.

At Addicks P&R, we need a really frequent and fast set of circulators to get people from the P&R to local businesses quickly. The #75 bus is a crosstown, not a circulator. A bike station and bike rental would allow some to get to work by the mode. No one will be walking; the distances are too great.

At Briarforest and/or Westheimer, we definitely need shelters for bus riders, who will be waiting to connect, possibly in rain, for connection to the SH6 BRT.

Speaking of Westheimer, Westheimer also needs to be a BRT corridor, from SH6 all the to at least the Galleria, if not all the way Downtown, with a dedicated guideway for the transit vehicle. In it's full elaboration, the BRT could run out to SH99 Grand Parkway, and take commuting travlers off of the completely clogged Westpark Tollway to important work destinations (Energy Corridor via #75 bus, Westchase, Galleria, Midtown, Downtown).


Bike/Ped

The Terry Hershey Trail and George Bush Park trails are huge cycling assets. The TxDOT FM529 bikeway is pretty good, not bad. Both of those assets run E-W.

The sub-region is just starving for N-S bike/ped connectivity, especially north of I-10. Fry, Greenhouse, Barker-Cypress, Queenston, SH6, Eldridge are as bike/ped unfriendly as you can get, although Fry is OK where it has wide shoulders north of FM529.

The real problem is a political one, and that is that Harris County has been absent on purpose from the issue of incorporating bike/ped as a roadway design element... Because they think they are “done” when they design for cars alone. They only build “Incomplete Streets”.

In 1960, seatbelts were an “amenity” that you could order as an option on cars. You had to pay extra for them, and then GM or Ford would be happy to install them. This is pretty much the attitude that Harris County has towards sidewalks; an amenity that improves quality of life, but not strictly necessary. The decades will show, and they are showing in our bulging waistlines and the Harris County Hospital District expenditures on diabetes, that sidewalks are strictly necessary. Harris County will not even consider on-street bike accomodations, even though there are newer and safer ways to do this by segregating the flows to some degree. This out-moded thinking has to end if the region is to move away from SOVs.

If you don't have widespread bike/ped accomodation, you can't feed a transit system. If you can't feed a transit system, you can't move out of SOVs. If you can't move out of SOVs, the sub-region will continue to choke on the traffic, and personal lives and businesses will be harmed. That's the “do nothing” scenario. If we aren't going to do anything, why have this study? Just to feed transportation consultants in 2014?

A real emphasis on bike/ped in the sub-region should be on feeding the transit grid, and overall the  West Houston sub-region has to adopt a Complete Streets approach.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Subregional Planning Comes to Greater West Houston

The Greater West Houston area, home to nearly 660 thousand residents and 388 thousand jobs, has seen significant growth over the last 20 years.

H-GAC has initiated a comprehensive transportation and land use study for West Houston. The Greater West Houston Subregional Planning Initiative will examine strategies for improving travel on the region's freeways, toll roads and surface streets, as well as transit, pedestrian and bicycle systems. H-GAC invites the public to a meeting on October 15.

Greater West Houston Public Meeting
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Wolfe Elementary Gym
502 Addicks-Howell Road.
Houston, TX 77079

The study will collect information to analyze existing land use and envision future land-use scenarios (including protection of environmentally sensitive areas and green spaces). A series of short, medium and long range projects will be identified to help improve mobility throughout the study area, which is bound by FM 529 to the north including the US 290/Beltway 8 interchange area, SH 99/Grand Parkway to the west, the Campbell/ Blalock/Fondren corridor to the east and Bellaire Boulevard to the south.

The public will have an opportunity to participate through public meetings scheduled over the next seven months. An online survey is available at www.mywesthouston.com

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bridgeland Shell on Fry Road destroys shoulder usability for cyclists


Notice how Bridgeland Shell on Fry Road has continued the grass actually into the shoulder of Fry Road, thereby forcing bicyclists to move into the lane of heavy 50 MPH  car traffic? If they try to ride through the grass, they risk a fall, especially if they have narrow road bike tires.

This is entirely unsuitable, it's similar to what Cy-Ranch High School did a few years ago to the same shoulders, and they fixed it. Shell needs to fix it also.

Timewise Shell
10902 Fry Rd.
Cypress, TX 77433
(281) 213-3268

Open 24 Hours!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Donate money NOW to save the Deer Park Prairie! Three week extension granted

I just donated $100 !!!

http://www.bayoulandconservancy.org/#!save-deer-park-prairie/c19cm

Overtime for Deer Park Prairie!

“Prairie-grass-roots” fundraising effort gets reprieve

In the most ambitious conservation land fund drive of its kind ever launched in Texas, $3.2 million dollars was raised from individuals to help save the Deer Park Prairie - in less than one week!
Led by Bayou Land Conservancy, with its prairie partners, the Native Prairies Association of Texas, Katy Prairie Conservancy and the Houston Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, the fundraising blitz of the past week has gone into “overtime” for this special 53-acre piece of “platinum-quality” prairie.

Due to the record number of individual donors who came forward, the Deer Park landowner has agreed to extend the deadline from August 20th to September 10th, providing Bayou Land Conservancy with 3 more weeks to raise the remaining $800,000 necessary for the $4 million purchase.
Jaime Gonzalez, Education Director for the Katy Prairie Conservancy, said “For the landowner to provide this extra grace period, when so many people were just hearing about this special prairie for the first time, is a true blessing.”

“The turnout of individual donors in such a condensed time period has been nothing less than phenomenal,” said Jennifer Lorenz, Executive Director of Bayou Land Conservancy. In her 20 years of land conservation fundraising experience “there has been no comparison to the donors of this campaign who expressed genuine shock that such an ancient prairie still existed, and that conservation organizations were trying to compete with hot housing market development pressure. Their enthusiasm was palpable.”