[PHOTOS] Light Rail Expansion Moving Faster Than You Might Think

Categories: Spaced City

light-rail01.jpg
Photo by Jeff Balke
Looking down the Red Line on Main Street from where two new rail lines will cross it.
Since 2004, anyone living or visiting the areas near Main Street, the Medical Center, the Museum District or Reliant Park has probably gotten to experience METRO Rail, for better or worse. Some ride it daily. Some get in accidents with it. Some just gawk. But, one of the busiest stretches of commuter rail in the country has stood alone as Houston's only truly modern form of public transportation.

Click here to view the slideshow of my trip down the rails.

Our snail's-pace movement on public transportation seemed to take another hit in November when a poorly worded and confusing ballot initiative passed, all but squelching any further light-rail development in Houston between now and 2025. When it comes to public options for getting around, our city falls remarkably flat.

But, while many complained, one thing went basically unnoticed. METRO has three new rail lines that are progressing rapidly and could open as soon as 2014. In case you hadn't checked the calendar, that's less than two years away.

I'm fascinated by the light rail, probably because I grew up here and it carries a certain novelty value for me. Plus, I love trains and, unlike a kid who grew up in the Northeast and probably rode the subway to school and the train to the shore, I spent my formative years in a car. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it seems far less romantic.

So, I decided to take to the streets with my camera hanging from my open truck window and document the rail lines currently under construction.



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13 comments
house567
house567

I just found out that U of H is under contract to sell its 4.23 acres of land to a multi-family developer? This pristine forested land (home to various egrets, cranes, and hawks) is located along Braes Bayou at the corner of S. Braeswood and Wyndale tangent to the Texas Medical Center and Devonshire Place neighborhoods. This area would be an ideal location for bicycle-pedestrian ingress-egress for the growing non-motorized commuting population. Will President Khator for protect this land? I unfortunately do not possess the funds to purchase it. Once it's gone, it's gone forever.

After seeing a drilling truck on the property 5 days ago, I asked the drillers what they were doing and they said "soil samples". I called various U of H people and finally got word from Mr. Shawn York of the Real Estate dept. His number is 713-743-3326. He told me it was under contract with a multi-family developer. I've lived at my address almost 20 years. I think U of H has needs to have a "higher" social contract with the City of Houston and preserve the LAST large stand of trees in the Texas Medical Center.

Hermann Park is right there, except there is NO safe non-motorized access to TMC or Hermann Park from the south. The Cambridge-MacGreggor intersection is "dangerous by design". No one "in their right mind" would put their children on a bike and use Cambridge Bike Lanes to the Zoo. The obesity epidemic is growing and the Texas Medical Center sets a poor standard for creating physically active connections between its Main, Mid, and South Campuses, neighborhoods, and parks. Bike-Share is coming eventually, but without the perception of safe access, it is doomed to failure. Perhaps the lure of the highly lucrative garage parking revenue for TMC Inc. is too much to resist.

The children are getting the short end of the stick.

I strongly feel that an 'underweighted" factor of our obesity problem is our built environment. The successful Proposition B vote is an indicator that important changes need to be made. I hope it is not too late.

mikeB
mikeB

You forgot Rice games...

Hilder Mar
Hilder Mar

psh. Not when 99% of the shortcuts youve grown up using are blocked. Im a little glad I moved from Houston, though I miss it sometimes. what a mess

Anse
Anse

People who oppose this just trip me out. It's the worst kind of selfishness imaginable; "I don't use it, so why should I support it?" You wonder if these people have ever traveled outside the state of Texas. And don't give me this nonsense about Houston not being fit for light rail. They built a whole network of tunnels under the city of New York for crying out loud. That had to be 1000 times harder than sorting out this rail system.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Glad to see a piece on this, seeing as downtown construction is keeping me awake at 3 in the morning. :) I do object to your characterization of University line as being more useful than the lines currently under construction, though. Useful to whom?

paval
paval topcommenter

The rail expansion are probably the most interesting projects I have seen in Houston in the 7 years I live here and after the obstacles caused by construction are gone, it will improve the lives of many Houstonians tremendously. The residents along the line because it will reduce car traffic, air and noise pollution. It will offer new ways to move around without a car when it is neccessary, for example when drinking. 

It will benefit the people primarily using the Metro system, socio-economic sectors C and D and increase the area they can reach and find better paying jobs.

 It will also benefit Metro as it will increase ridership and acceptance for a system that is still not the most beloved. It shall also reduce the propensity of accidents by careless car drivers if Metro is more ubiquitous

 It will benefit Houston as it will increase the quality of life of its citizens. 

 Even though I do not vote, I posted several warnings for my friends that vote, that the proposition on the ballot in November was a terrible piece if one was for expansion of light rail, as the YES meant in reality NO. And even though it did not pass this time, 2025 will be here faster than it seems and by then the new rail lines will have gained widest acceptance, so that a new proposition in 2025 will not be an issue anymore. 

This of course if the world does not end today or on the 21st of December

nguyenhm17
nguyenhm17

I have always thought it ironic that the University and Uptown lines have faced the most intense opposition of all the rail lines, despite clearly being the most useful of all the lines planned to the same largely white middle-class people who oppose them. But hey, I guess they all like to sit in traffic on 610 and 59.

jeffbalke
jeffbalke topcommenter

@Hilda Marceleno I'll gladly accept a few changes to the roads if it means better public transportation.

jeffbalke
jeffbalke topcommenter

@Darrell Maxwell I wish the city had a more comprehensive rail program that ran out to both airports, for example, and beyond. It would make so much sense in a commuter city like Houston. But, with as hard as it has been just to build a few measly light rail lines, I'm not hopeful.

jeffbalke
jeffbalke topcommenter

@Kylejack The vast majority of the ridership on the current line is for workers moving between downtown and the medical center. Considering the University Line would connect downtown and the Med Center with Greenway Plaza and the Galleria, it is likely that it would be the most used line of the bunch. In fact, I read a projection that it could be one of the most ridden stretches of rail in the country.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@nguyenhm17 Makes perfect sense, really. Those who don't already rely on public transit don't see its value.

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