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Big Changes to Houston's Transportation. But Are They All Good?

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Houston’s transportation is getting a facelift as we move towards becoming a more commuter-friendly city.

After a long and arduous road, the Metro’s Green and Purple light rail lines finally arrived earlier this summer. Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago our bus system was given a complete overhaul, in the most significant bus route redesign in decades. And with an agreement now inked between Metro and John Culberson, the road is paved for more transit projects to make headway. As with all change, there’s no shortage of opinions regarding the ambitious plan. So, is our evolving transit system a positive or a negative?

Urban planner Alex Garvin is definitely a fan of the changes, namely Uptown’s transit plan, which includes two dedicated bus lanes connecting to the Northwest Transit Center. He believes the $192M project will inspire development along Post Oak Boulevard. One project already sprouting up is billionaire Tilman Fertitta's 650k SF mixed-use luxury tower near the Galleria (pictured), which will have hotel, office, residential, retail and restaurant components. Fertitta is also a fan of the bus lanes, pointing out that the new buses are sleek and stylish. Meanwhile, Uptown developer Giorgio Borlenghi recognizes that construction will be a pain, but thinks the project will be a positive.

Still there are skeptics, like Caracol owner Tracy Vaught, who wonders who will ride these buses. Virtually no one, says Jay Wall III in an op-ed he wrote for the Houston Business Journal in May. Wall believes Uptown TIRZ’s estimate of 10,000 new riders heading Uptown is a fantasy. He argues that of the 16,000 daily riders, most are heading downtown, and he predicts that in the next decade empty buses will be replaced by empty trains. Developer Jim Noteware called the proposal a “runaway train” in another op-ed, saying they’re not focusing on the right area to combat congestion. And to make matters worse, a Homeowners Association is suing Metro, claiming the Uptown Transit plan is in violation of a 2003 referendum because it won’t support a light rail component. Above, a rendering of Post Oak Boulevard.

On a more positive note, the new Purple and Green Lines are already stimulating growth. One development set for the East End is a Glassman Shoemake Maldonado-designed mixed-use project, New Hope Housing at Harrisburg (pictured), which will have 175 SROs, 4k SF of retail, and 8k SF of office space on 1.5 acres off the Harrisburg Line. The project is expected to cost $25M and will break ground this winter with delivery slated for 2017.

A few weeks ago our bus system was completely revamped after facing years of declining ridership, and the change was met with mixed reviews. While the shift increased some rider’s morning commutes and made navigating the bus system confusing, others were happy to experience a faster commute with more frequent service. And a week of free rides didn’t hurt. Supporters applaud the fact that rather than direct everyone downtown, the new system accommodates riders’ diverse needs, which is necessary for attracting new riders.

Metro and John Culberson (pictured) managed to reach an agreement earlier this summer that could push several transit projects forward. The two parties ironed out several areas where they can work together to help solve traffic issues. In the letter to Houston citizens, Culberson agreed to help Metro acquire funding for a commuter rail line on the Route 90 Alternate, and Metro agreed that a referendum for the Rail on Richmond or Post Oak transit would need voter approval before moving forward. Culberson, a Richmond rail opponent, also agreed to support the project if voters passed the referendum.