From the riders’ standpoint, the University Line has two destinations on the west end. One is on METRO’s University Line maps: Hillcroft Transit Center. The other isn’t, but it will likely draw more riders: Uptown.
Uptown is Houston’s second downtown. Most of us think of it as “The Galleria area,” but it’s a whole lot more than retail (though retail is important — we all shop, and there are a lot of people working in all those stores). It’s Houston’s biggest cluster of hotels. It’s a booming high-rise residential area. And, with office towers lining Post Oak Boulevard, it’s Houston’s second largest employment center.
The question of how to serve Uptown with an east-west line has occupied Houston transit planners repeatedly for 25 years. The 1983 heavy rail system would have had a stop at Westpark and South Rice which allegedly served the area; the 1991 monorail would not have done much better with a stop at Richmond and Post Oak. The current University Line options — all on Westpark in this area — look like much of the same.
But the fact is that Uptown is oriented north-south, and it’s a mile long. There is no way a single stop on an east-west line — be it Richmond at Post Oak or even Westheimer at Post Oak — can put all of it within comfortable walking distance.
Actually, we’ve solved this problem. It’s called the Uptown Line. It will run north-south in the center of Post Oak Boulevard. It will stop 5 times in Uptown, putting most of the area within an easy walk. This line was planned in 2002-2003, with a full study including rounds of public hearings. And it will be open by the time the University Line is. This is the way to Uptown.
High-quality transit will be big deal for Uptown. Currently, transit’s commute share in Uptown is less than 10%, significantly less than Downtown or the Medical Center. Even though 4 METROExpress corridors pass within 3 miles, they’re not connected to Uptown well. And, thanks to a completely inadequate street system, traffic is getting worse. That doubly hurts Uptown since the only reasonable way to get around Uptown is by car, even for very short trips. And the out-of-towners staying at Uptown hotels want to get Downtown and the the ballparks and to the museums, and the only way to do that is by rental car or taxi.
The Uptown Line will link to the University Line to connect Uptown to Downtown, Greenway, the Medical Center, and the rest of the urban core. It will also connect to park-and-ride buses in the Southwest Freeway, Westpark Toll Road, Katy Freeway, and 290 corridors to bring in suburban commuters.
Uptown originally developed as a suburban activity center. It distinguished itself from downtown by being easy to get to. That’s no longer true: companies and shoppers looking for easy access from the west side suburbs will go to Sugar Land or Katy or the Energy Corridor. In fact, Uptown is now more congested than Downtown.
Uptown’s response to competition from the suburbs is to become more urban. That’s happening already, with a high-rise condo boom and new mixed use pedestrian-friendly developments like Boulevard Place (that’s it in the image at top). It’s made explicit by the Uptown Houston District:
Anchored by Post Oak Boulevard, Uptown Houston is an urban community of exceptional beauty, sophistication, style and international prominence in the heart of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States.
The District’s Vision includes buildings built up to the street, wide sidewalks, and transit in the center of Post Oak:
That looks like a place I’d like to go. And, whichever University Line option is chosen, it will get us there. But there’s one twist: will we have to transfer? More on that tomorrow.
- Richmond-Montrose-59-Kirby-Westpark (“Culberson”): serves Uptown via Uptown line.
- Richmond-Greenway-Westpark: ditto.
- Richmond-Cummins-Westpark: ditto.
Scroll down for a land use map.
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