the University Line: now there are six

6 Map

Today, the METRO board narrowed 50 different alternative routes for the University Line: three in the east and three in the west.

So where does this leave us?

First of all, today’s vote was a sign that the process worked. Of the six options now only the table, only three were along those proposed by METRO in July. The other three came from public comments. Clearly, METRO is listening. That doesn’t mean everyone will be happy, but its does mean people are being heard.

Secondly, we now have ridership and cost numbers. (in this pdf, along with maps, schedules, and more) METRO released estimates not only for the six short listed options, but for 23 additional rejected options. That’s a very useful level of transparency, and it will make the discussion that continues more informed.

The big news is west of Main, where an “all Richmond” option is now off the table. Politically, that means no rail in Afton Oaks. But it will also upset neighborhood and business groups west of the Loop who have been pushing for rail on their section of Richmond.

The three options here are all combinations of Richmond and Westpark. The first stays on Richmond only as far as Montrose, then jogs south to an elevated structure above the north edge of 59, and picks up Westpark at its beginning at Kirby. This option is there because Congressman Culberson wanted it. The other two options keep rail on Richmond as far as Greenway Plaza. One crosses 59 just west of Buffalo Speedy, with a single elevated Greenway Plaza station. The other stays on Richmond to Cummins, adding a second Greenway station.

6 West Map-1

All options continue as far as Hillcroft along Westpark, with a connection to the Uptown line at Post Oak.

6 West Map2

The cost – ridership comparison here is striking:

6 West Graph

Culberson’s option combines the highest cost with the lowest ridership. It also goes directly above residential backyards in a neighborhood that supports rail on Richmond and that voted 80% against Culberson in November.

Also notable: staying on Richmond just three extra blocks to add a second Greenway station adds almost a thousand daily riders — and lowers the cost by reducing elevated track.

Incidentally, staying on Richmond as far as Sage would have added another 1,600 riders, but at increased cost. Long-term, it may well have helped the city more — there are politics here getting in the way of good planning. But the two Greenway options still capture the most important activity centers along Richmond and the densest neighborhoods, and by connection with the Uptown line they still serve Uptown and the Galleria.

East of Main, the first big story is that rail through TSU is finally off the table. The second is that METRO has now added the Eastwood transit center, with is buses to the East Side and Clear Lake, to the University Line.

There are three options on the table now. One is the Alabama option that METRO has considered earlier: from Main, trains would run in Wheeler to 59, then run under 59 to Alabama, then follow Alabama to a terminus at the Southeast Line at Scott Street on the western fringe of the UH campus. The other two options would follow Wheeler all the way to Ennis before turning north, putting a station right next to TSU. One option would then follow Alabama to UH. The other would continue to Elgin, turn right, cross the Southeast Line at Scott, follow the northern edge of the UH campus with a station near the arts, music, and architecture schools, cross under 59, an terminate at Eastwood. This would also allow future expansion northwards to connect to Harrisburg.

6 East Map

Here, you get what you pay for. Stopping at Scott is cheaper but gets accordingly less ridership. It’s also a literal dead end. From a system standpoint, the connection to Eastwood — and the possibility of a future connection to the Harrisburg line and Galveston commuter rail — makes a lot of sense.

6 East Graph

METRO also announced a time schedule: Draft Environment Impact Study work (with more public meetings) from now to March, selecting a route in May, beginning construction in August of 2008, trains running by 2012. They also repeated their plan to do construction in short time windows — Richmond won’t be torn up for 4 years.

I’m sure many people are saying, “enough already — get on with it.” I sympathize — I have things to do other than go to more public meetings. But today proved the process is working: public input is leading to better options, and that means a better transit system and a better city to live in.

Make our forum a better place to visit by leaving your thoughts.

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UPDATE:

In the forums, IHB2 brings up the fact that all three western options impact the residential neighborhoods soputh of Westpark between Edloe and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, which the rejected UPRR crossover option would not have. I’ll post more on this later.

Also, Houston Strategies has posted. And BlogHouston wonders what Culberson will do.

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