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.


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).


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.

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