Thursday, December 13, 2012

US 290 Corridor Public Meetings

FALSE ALARM! Oh well, it's good to let them know we're still out here.


Dear TxDOT,

Thank you for having the public meeting tonight at the Berry Center, Cypress, Texas.

I learned that the bicycle improvements listed in the original FEIS for the Hempstead Highway Corridor will be discussed in the future, and were not a part of tonight's meeting, which focused solely on US290.

The bicycling, alternative transportation, and sustainability communities in Houston are very interested in the bicycle pathway planned for Hempstead, therefore we will be at the future meeting, whenever that is.

Thank you very much.

Peter Wang
League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor #1420

Date: 12/13/12

Texas Transportation Code SS201.811(a)(5) DISCLAIMER: I am not employed by TXDOT, I do not do business with TXDOT, and I will not benefit monetarily from the TXDOT project upon which I am commenting.

FM 2920 to IH 610, Harris County, Texas

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in association with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), will conduct two Public Meetings to discuss a proposed interim design phase project for approved transportation improvements for the US 290 Corridor in Harris County, Texas. Two meetings are being held in order to accommodate the length of the corridor and those persons who would be interested in attending. The same material will be presented at both meetings.

The US 290 Corridor project extends from Farm-to-Market (FM) 2920 to Interstate Highway (IH) 610 in Harris County, Texas. The proposed interim design phase project includes: 1) additional general-purpose lanes on US 290 and reconstruction of US 290 frontage roads, which were included as part of the Selected Alternative approved in the Record of Decision (ROD) (August 25, 2010) for the US 290 Corridor Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) (March 2010), and 2) the addition of an interim reversible managed lane/toll facility in the center of US 290 from the future Grand Parkway (SH 99) to IH 610. The proposed interim design phase project was developed to improve mobility in the corridor
in the near future, as there is a lack of funding to construct the entire Selected Alternative at this time. The Harris County Toll Road Authority would partner with TxDOT to fund construction of the interim design, and would operate and maintain the reversible managed lane/toll facility. Minimal right-of-way would be required to incorporate the interim design phase project on US 290.

An Open House will be held from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. to allow for questions and review of project exhibits. TxDOT staff will be available to answer questions during the Open House. A Formal Presentation will begin promptly at 7:00 p.m., followed by a public comment period. The Public Meetings will be held at these locations:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Sheraton Brookhollow
3000 North Loop West
Houston, Texas 77092
Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012
Berry Center
8877 Barker Cypress Road
Cypress, Texas 77433

The purpose of these Public Meetings is to discuss the proposed interim design, which would incorporate a reversible managed lane (toll) facility on US 290 from SH 99 to IH 610. The US 290 managed lane facility is expected to be in operation until the Hempstead Tollway portion of the Selected Alternative (identified in the ROD for the US 290 Corridor project) is constructed. FHWA and TxDOT are preparing an FEIS Re-evaluation to assess the potential impacts of the proposed interim design.

Attendees are encouraged to view the displays and ask questions before the Formal Presentation. Representatives from TxDOT will be available to answer questions and provide information. The Formal Presentation will discuss the proposed interim project and the issues that will be evaluated in the FEIS Re-evaluation.

These Public Meetings are being held in order to give interested persons an opportunity to express their views concerning the proposed interim design for the US 290 Corridor project. All interested persons are invited to attend this meeting to either speak or submit their comments in writing. Public participation is solicited without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex, religion, disability or family status. Persons who require special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or persons interested in attending the meetings who have special communication needs are encouraged to contact the TxDOT Houston District Public Information Officer at (713) 802-5072.

The Public Meetings will be conducted in English. Any requests for language interpreters or other special communication needs should be made at least two (2) days prior to the Public Meetings. TxDOT will make every reasonable effort to accommodate these needs.

Written and verbal comments from the public regarding the proposed interim design may be presented at the Public Meetings. Written comments will also be accepted via mail or email through January 2, 2013. Written comments may be mailed to TxDOT Houston District, Attention: Director of Project Development, P.O. Box 1386, Houston, TX 77251-1386. Comments will be accepted by e-mail at: Written comments submitted after the Public Meetings must be emailed or postmarked on or before Wednesday, January 2, 2013 to be included in the Public Meetings record.

A digital version of the FEIS, ROD, and engineering schematics of the Selected Alternative and proposed interim design may be viewed and downloaded from the US 290 Program website at These items are also available for viewing at the US 290 Program Office located at Brookhollow Central III, 2950 North Loop West, Suite 1150, Houston, TX 77092 (713-354-1500). The US 290 Program Office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding
federal holidays. Copies are available for the cost of reproduction. Additional information about the project may be obtained by contacting the US 290 Program Office at (713) 354-1500.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Not Cy-Fair, but... West Houston anyway

Inner West Mobility Study Meeting, December 11, 2012

I was highly disappointed to see that Bicyclist comments concerning San Felipe Rd. from Briar Oaks Lane to Willowick were not taken into account in the study draft. This currently challenging section of road could be a good conduit for cyclists coming from W. Alabama, and Willowick who wish to journey onwards to Memorial Park, the NW Transit Center, or the Galleria. The study draft concludes that this stretch of road has only motor and pedestrian factors.

One only observes motorized traffic and minor ped traffic because the road is so badly done. Demand is artificially suppressed. There is potential for bicycle utilization along this route, which is obvious to anyone who has taken up the challenge to ride it in its current condition. It is a gem in the rough.

I hope the authors will take another look at their report and write bicycles into the story. At the very least I insist that the writers of the document make 110% certain that sidewalk mitigations on both sides of San Felipe are recommended, so that the Briar Oaks Lane to Willowick bicycle journey can be made safely and slowly on the sidewalk; something we League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructors do not recommend routinely, but sometimes it is the only way.

{Why I attended... I wanted to see how the COH would address the problem of bicycle connectivity across I-610, the West Loop. They didn't address it}

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bridgeland Farmer's Market

We picked up some free-range chicken and duck eggs, tomatoes, and a gigantic cauliflower. The market is returning January 2013, check the calendar for the exact date, or send an email inquiry.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Vote NO in the METRO referendum

On November 6, vote NO in the METRO referendum. A no vote stops the diversion of METRO money away from transit projects.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Reality check for H-GAC Bikeway Viewer

Scope of comments:
State Highway 6 on the east, I-10 on the south, US290 on the north, and open to the west.

Bikeway needs (dotted purple):
I think most of dotted lines can be eliminated, because they describe suburban and rural roads that are already used by early Sunday morning recreational cyclists who share the roads with other vehicles. They are absolutely not commuting routes.

Proposed bikeways (dotted green):
I very much like Harris County's plan to put bikeways along bayous. Having said that, this points out another need... the need for N-S connectivity in places, even if the dotted green lines were built. We still need facilities where there are actual destinations, like on Eldridge, Highway 6, Queenston, Barker-Cypress, Fry, Greehouse, and the Grand Parkway area. These N-S routes could tie the bayou trails into a grid, which would be very useful for commuting, to help people get to work and school, not just for recreation. There are apartments along Highway 6, and also Barker-Cypress. These users need more infrastructure support than well-off recreational riders.

Please incorporate the H-GAC SH6 North Corridor Study bike-ped recommendations into the Bikeway Viewer.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

METRO can help with IAH-HOU controversy

The City of London has two international airports that I use frequently... Heathrow, and Gatwick. My office is very near Gatwick*, but I can get a non-stop from Houston only going to Heathrow. What to do for ground transport?

National Express runs a coach service between the two airports, with frequent departures (every few MINUTES), it's about an hour run. It's not cheap, it's 25 Pounds if you get a ticket at the last minute. Big beautiful clean coaches, seatbelts, nice.

Maybe METRO could approach Southwest and United and get them to fund a frequent IAH-to-HOU (Hobby) service, with the argument being that this will help each of them compete against the other, by making it easier for each of the to skim passengers off of the other's network and onto their own.

* My office is on the Gatwick grounds... I walk 8 minutes from the South terminal and walk into our lobby. It's very odd, but very convenient. The hotel is across the parking lot.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

METRO General Mobility Program

Here are some of my ideas concerning getting out of this METRO General Mobility Trap that we've gotten ourselves into, and that cities are so reticent to give up (actually, with good reason from their perspectives).

1. Still give the GMP 1/4 penny to cities, but require that it be spent only on truly TRANSIT READY COMPLETE STREETS.

2. The GMP grant would decrease linearly over 10 years. By 2024 it would be gone. That would give cities lots of time to gradually adjust to its disappearance.

3. METRO would have to spend what it gets back from cities by gradually rolling back the GMP locally in those very same cities subjected to the GMP claw-back, new routes, new facilities. The butter would have to be spread thinly and evenly over the toast, not piled into one area distant from those being taxed.

4. 74% of the METRO taxation area unserved would have to be decreased to 0% unserved by 2024 (well... a stretch goal to be sure).

Keywords: katy, bellaire, memorial villages, hedwig, bunker hill, houston, rebuild houston, METRO, George Greanias, Gilbert Garcia, copperfield, cy-fair, cypress, transit 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Bogota trip report: bicycling and walking

Having heard a great deal about transportation improvements in Bogota, Colombia, I was eager to see them with my own eyes. A business trip to the Colombian oil sector brought me there this week. Here's what I observed.

Fifteen years ago, I remember it was semi-suicidal to cross the street as a pedestrian in Bogota. Also, I don't particularly remember seeing any bicycles there in the 1990s.

Now, there is an environment which is pedestrian friendlier. There are decent walk signals, drivers are much more respectful of walkers, and problem intersections are staffed with actual crossing guard officers whose only job is to protect pedetrians. Some streets have been closed off to motorized traffic, and are foot only. There are ped bridges which span some of the large boulevards (think freeways), so that people don't get run over and hit trying to cross. Some of these bridges are gigantic. Imagine a ped bridge over the Southwest Freeway. The difference from 1997 until today for the pedestrian is a night/day difference.

A similar story exists for bicycles. Now, the city is awash in bicycles, seemingly at about the same participation rate as Seattle. based on my eyeball assessment. Much is spoken about the Sunday "ciclovias" where they close off key boulvards to cars and form a ring route for bikes. Also, some has been written about bicycle paths (European style... seperated from the cars). What I haven't heard people discuss is the fact that there is a tremendous amount of cycling taking place on the old, unchanged street & road infrastructure, and I didn't observe anything in the way of Texas-style car/bike conflict ("get out of my way you a****le!"), and I was looking for it. The bicyclist behaviors are good; overall, helmet use is in the 30% range (higher for middle class riders, lower for working class). There is decent fraction of users who use bike lights at night, much more so than here in the Houston area.

{a roadway similar to Allen Parkway. Note wide walking paths on both sides. Bi-directional bike lane seen on the left. Passenger train running down the middle. Note dramatic pedestrian suspension bridge in the background}

In other words, there has been a strong and successful intervention concerning operator behaviors, for both motorized and non-motorized users, quite apart from the building of new infrastructure. The culture has changed, it has done a 180 degree turn. This is the point I made to Chelsea Young, the new H-GAC bike/ped coordinator, just prior to my Bogota trip. I expressed the opinion that the H-GAC bike/ped subcommittee spends too much time thinking about ways to get more funding to "build stuff" (When? 2040? I'll be 79 years old. With what money? All levels of government are broke), and not enough time trying to change behaviors to make life easier and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians today with the infrastructure we have. My sentiments are shared by John Forester, PE himself, the father of modern traffic cycling principles. Bogota proves that point. You can significantly move forward with the infrastructure you've got.

The TransMillenio true bus rapid transit (BRT) is a great success in Bogota. I say "true" because it has dedicated lanes taken away from cars (gasp) and sheltered platforms where customers pre-pay before boarding and the platform is level with the floor. METRO's HOV buses fails on both these points. The vehicles are the same config as the artiqs METRO used to run, but a different brand. When you see the bus after bus after bus coming down the guideway all day long, and every bus is full, and you see the scope of the TransMillenio coverage on the map, you can see what a hugely important asset this is to Bogota. If you took away the Trans with the shake of an evil magic wand, the city's economy would crumble. It would be like shutting down New York's subway or London's Tube. Taking away some car lanes and given them over to the BRT has resulted in a huge net increase in the number of people you can move across the metro area.

But car drivers do pay a price. There is no congestion tax, but you can only bring your car into the central city on certain days, based on your license plate number. If you look around, you see 2-3 people in each car at rush hour. People cooperate to get each other home; what a concept. There would be no way to have mostly single-occupant vehicles in Bogota. Again, the system would come to a halt.

Remember, Bogota is 7 million people with a density of 11,000 per square mile. Houston is 2 million at 3,450 per square mile. Bogotanos had no choice. They had make the choices they made more than 15 years ago in order to have a working city now. But let's also keep in mind, the per capita GDP in Colombia is $6,685, in the USA it's $48,147. Colombia is one-seventh as wealthy as the USA, per person. If they could make these changes, why can't we?

The upside is that with all of this walk- and bike-friendliness now Bogota is becoming a new trendy tourist location and bringing even more economic development to the city.

Tourists enjoying the Usaquen district of Bogota on foot. I enjoyed a delicious "parillada mixta" (mixed grill) and a Club Colombia extra-dry pilsner at a posh restaurant in Usaquen on 2 March 2012. Photo by Google+ User Loon Lio. Posted to the public Internet. More photos here.

Peter Wang, LCI

"Bicycles Make Everything Better"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Transportation choice is like salt

Politicians are not valuing transportation choice. This has to change. Salt is a substance which is not valued very much... you can buy a lot of it for little money. But if you OMIT THE SALT from the $100 a plate gourmet meal, the meal is wrecked. We're in the same situation in HGAC... many of us perceive that our lives are "missing the salt", but the politicians don't get it.

It's highly instructive that people pushing for transportation choices often have lived in places in the past where there was transportation choice. People who have never left the sunbelt are less likely to be aware of the advantages.

Our aging population

Elderly people shouldn't have to leave their homes because they can't drive any longer.

Harris County hasn't bought in yet

People who live in Unincorporated Harris County really get nothing in the way of services that could be called "sustainable" by anyone. The County has built a basic network of cars-only roads. There are very poor sidewalks. Bike accommodations on the County roads? Zero.

METRO happily takes our tax dollars but we get no local service; not even demand-response METROLift for the handicapped.

Walking is a human right

This idea is tailor-made for our region, which is very politically conservative place. It's based on the US Constitution, and the original intent of the Founding Fathers.
2nd Amendment - "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Therefore, if the Government constructs obstacles to you owning a gun or ammunition, your civil rights are being violated. The US Supreme Court has recently been overturning gun laws in Washington DC and Chicago based exactly on this principle. 

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

If the Government establishes obstacles to you possessing the holy scripture of your choice, or to you building a church, they are violating your rights. If the Government establishes obstacles to you owning a printing press, they are violating your rights.

Now let's look at "the right of the people peaceably to assemble".

What if the government establishes obstacles to you "assembling" with other citizens in your community? Remember, the technology of the 18th century for "assembling" was WALKING. Could it be construed that the Government is violating this basic human right of yours?

I claim that the ability to walk in your community and to assemble peaceably with other citizens is a basic human right, and I claim that our local Governments are in some sense violating this right. At least they not are allowing it to be expressed fully.