Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to Spend $350 Million

Forget Roads; Forget Commuter Rail – Let’s Spend it On Buses!

Tx DOT (The Texas Department of Transportation) awarded $350 million to the construction of the next phase of the Grand Parkway. David Crossley, President of Houston Tomorrow, suggested commuter rail be built along US 290, and challenged Houstonians to come up with other ways to spend the money. There will be a hearing on the plan where we can voice our opinions.

Here’s my idea: Build a series of new Transit Centers and Neighborhood Transit Centers; to serve new express bus routes that connect Houstonians to Uptown, the Texas Medical Center, and other commercial centers. We already have plenty of buses going downtown, but if you work Utpown or somewhere else, you’re out of luck. We should fix that.

The new Transit Centers could be modeled on the Downtown Transit Center, and built at Greenway Plaza, the Memorial City Mall, Greenspoint, and other major commercial centers. The flagship in the effort could be a big new Transit Center attached to The Galleria, with escalators leading up to the Mall.

Neighborhood Transit Centers could be built in dense residential neighborhoods and minor commercial centers. Bigger than a bus stop, and smaller than the Transit Centers I talked about above – Neighborhood Transit Centers would all have bike racks, a Metro Police kiosk, and (depending on need) an attached public parking garage. Ideally they should be on major street corners in the middle of neighborhoods; with easy access for the buses and for everyone who lives there. [i] And of course wherever we build a Neighborhood Transit Center, there should be a simultaneous effort to enhance walkability and bikeability by upgrading surrounding sidewalks and streets; and linking to hike and bike trails.

We could add suburban Park & Ride facilities, too. These are distinct from Neighborhood Transit Centers, by the way. Neighborhood Transit Centers are for denser neighborhoods, concentrate more on riders who arrive on foot or bicycle, and integrate more into existing neighborhoods.

These additional Park & Rides, and the new Transit Centers and Neighborhood Transit Centers would be intended to serve a network of fast, express bus routes that connect Houston’s employment and residential centers. For a preview of the buses, you can look at the new Quickline Buses running along Bellaire Boulevard.

This is no small goal. It’d cost at least $350 million to do it right. But the benefits for our City would far outweigh anything we could get from the Grand Parkway.

[i] The double benefit could be to help rehabilitate housing. The Neighborhood Transit Centers could replace portions of the City’s worst apartment complexes. City Hall could encourage developers to rehabilitate surrounding complexes using Section 42 tax credits.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with this. I work in Greenspoint, and for me to get there by bus requires going downtown. I like light rail, and I even like driving. But it seems to me that the best use of our transit dollars is in buses--and not just more buses, but a smarter bus system. More and better regional transit hubs, BRT, dedicated bus lanes in places, etc.

    The main problem to me is that we separate roads from transit. TxDOT and Metro are two different agencies. TxDOT's priority on spending money will always be on building highways.

    And the other problem with expanded/improved bus service is that buses are totally uncool. The don't have loud constituencies like rail and highways do. So in addition to building new bus infrastructure, at least some money and effort would have to be spent on some smart PR to convince people that riding a bus doesn't make you an uncool, low-class person.