The Uline options: Greenway

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An urban rail transit line is about serving places where people want to go. A corridor is a string of such places — activity centers, neighborhoods, campuses — and it has different benefits and impacts in each one.

Thus, the best way to evaluate METRO’s options for the University Line is place by place. Over the next few posts, I’ll do that. We start with the largest employment center on the line and the 5th largest in Houston, Greenway Plaza.

Of the three options left for the University Line west of Main Street, only the “Culberson Option” (“Richmond/Montrose/59/Kirby/Westpark”) does not enter Greenway. It’s on the other side of the freeway, with stations at Westpark/Edloe and Westpark/Weslayan. On this map, red is office buildings and yellow is apartments and condos.

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Saying this option serves Greenway is charitable: saying it gives passengers a nice view of Greenway as they ride by would be more like it. In theory, maybe a third of the office buildings in Greenway are within a 1/4 mile walk of the stations on this option. But even those aren’t really within walking distance; the freeway in between serves as a major pedestrian barrier. Here’s what’s between the Westpark/Weslayan station and the office buildings on the west side of Greenway:

Greenway Westparkwalk

It’s intimidating enough during the day, with cars passing in every direction. But would you walk it alone at night? Yes, it’s possible to build overpasses to make the walk safer (though not shorter). But this is already the most expensive option.

The second option (“Richmond/Greenway/Westpark”) is Richmond as far as Greenway, then an elevated section above private property extending down to Westpark. This would put an elevated station right inside the core of Greenway Plaza, near the underground food court and theater. That’s a big improvement in terms of access, and it would certainly look cool.

Greenway Elevated

But consider the buildings on the left side of the map, between Edloe and Weslayan. They wouldn’t be served any better than with the all Westpark option.

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The final option — “Richmond-Cummins-Westpark” — serves the core of Greenway Plaza on Richmond, then turns on Cummins and goes onto a shorter elevated structure over the freeway to Westpark. That’s not as cool looking as an elevated station, but it’s still convenient. It also serves the people who live or work north of Richmond much better.

Greenway Richmond

But the key difference in this alternate is west of Edloe: Lakewood Church, 8, 9, 11, and 12 Greenway, and the apartments on Timmons. Staying on Richmond further serves those areas much better.

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There may be a opportunity to tweak this option, by moving the Greenway West station further west or by adding a station on Cummins a block south of Richmond.

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That would serve the parts of Greenway near Weslayan much better than the Weslayan/Westpark station: 1 block (on pleasant, tree-shaded street) to Edwards, 1 block to the redevelopment of the HISD site, 2 blocks to the Compass Building, 1 block to Lakewood, and just across the street from the Koch Building.

But there’s another thing to consider: Greenway doesn’t really start at Buffalo Speedway. There are office buildings along much of Richmond between Buffalo Speedway and Kirby.

Here are larger scale maps of that area. Red is still offices, green is apartments, institutional buildings are blue, and red outlines are some destinations of note: Lakewood, Edwards, the HISD redevelopment, St. John’s, and Lamar High School. I’ve also added circles to show walking distances around stations: the dotted grey cricles are 1/4 mile around stations, which is is the distance most people will walk (about 5 minutes). Around that is a 1/2 mile radius around stations, which some but not the majority of people will walk. Areas shaded in gray are outside that 1/2 mile circle.

Richmond-Montrose-59-Kirby-Westpark (“Culberson”):

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Both Richmond options serve not only the office buildings on Richmond but also get within 1/2 mile of the two high schools. The Culberson option does neither.

The scorecard:

  • Richmond-Montrose-59-Kirby-Westpark (“Culberson”): hardly serves Greenway at all.
  • Richmond-Greenway-Westpark: serves east end of Greenway well, doesn’t serve west end of Greenway well.
  • Richmond-Cummins-Westpark: serves all of Greenway, could be even better with modified station locations.

The best way to build a successful transit line is to serve high density employment centers. Greenway is such a place, and the best way to serve it is on Richmond.

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