Planning is under way on East End BRT

The Harrisburg/East End line shares a distinction with the Universities Line: it’s one of only two LRT/BRT lines in the 2012 METRO Solutions Phase II plan that hasn’t been the subject of an Alternatives Analysis study. But otherwise, the two corridors are very different. The Harrisburg line connects neighborhoods but not activity centers, so the expected ridership is well under 20,000 a day, significantly less than might be expected for the Universities Line. Thus the Harrisburg line will be BRT, not LRT. And the politics are different, too: people on the East Side may have concerns about how this project will impact them directly, but there seems to be general agreement that this neighborhood needs better transit. Nobody’s suggesting METRO needs to spend its money in Fort Bend instead, in fact, the most insistent opinions I heard at last month’s open house were from people who wanted the line extended closer to their community.

METRO is considering 4 options for the Harrisburg/East End Corridor. All begin at a connection with the Southeast Line near downtown (Harrisburg service would share the Southeast alignment through Downtown) and extend east to somewhat west of Wayside Blvd:

  • Harrisburg Road. Harrisburg is the heart of this neighborhood; its western portion (past 65th) is lined with businesses, and there are residential neighborhoods to the north and south along most of the entire corridor. But the inner section of Harrisburg is narrow — one lane each way, with buildings built close to both sides — and fitting in transit would be hard. A Harrisburg alignment would end at the Magnolia Transit Center, already a major bus transfer point.

  • The active Union Pacific tracks two blocks south of Harrisburg. This is the only corridor in the Solutions Plan where a railroad right-of-way not only exists but serves the same places as the street alignment. This option would avoid the need to widen Harrisburg, but it would still drop riders in the same neighborhoods and close to the same businesses. In fact, it’s only a block from the Magnolia Transit Center. The rail line is already grade separated at Wayside and 69th, major north-south streets; at other streets, though, it could require crosisng gates. Using it requires the cooperation of Union Pacific, and the freight line has to remain in service.

  • The abandoned rail line north of Harrisburg. The tracks here are torn up, so no railroad cooperation is required. But unlike the active line, which is lined much of the way by industrial properties, this right of way runs right past many back yards. And it’s already in use as a bike trail. Bike and transit and neighborhoods can coexist. But if an equally good option is available, the case for that is hard to make.

  • Navigation. Navigiation has made this list for one reason and one reason only: it’s easy. There’s a wide median along the entire length of the street that could be converted into the transit right of way with no work on the traffic lanes. But Navigation isn’t where the people are. The street is lined by industry, some active and some disused. It’s far north of the center of the East Side neighborhood, and many streets don’t connect. Ridership here would certainly be lower than the other options.

My impression at the meeting was that most of the attendees preferred one of the first two options. Nobody I talked to liked Navigation. But I like what METRO is doing by presenting a range of feasible options. Some may be dismissed fairly readily. But it’s important that the community had the chance to consider them. METRO did a good job at the meeting of outlining what each option meant: they had proposed station locations for each one, and cross-sections that showed the right-of-way required and what was available. With that information, the people who came to the meeting were able to have much more useful discussions; the contrast to the shout-fests on the Universities Line was dramatic. Where ever this line is built, we’ll know that the alignment is the result of METRO and the community evaluating the possibilities based on good information.

The Harrisburg process continues through the spring. In May, METRO will present the results of its analysis of these options and a staff recommendation for which to pursue at another meeting. That will be followed by a METRO board vote to choose an alignment and then the environmental impact study. More at the METRO web site.

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