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Streetcars and the next step for Houston transit

Christof completed a three-part look at streetcars in Houston (see parts one and two for background) by discussing possible places that streetcars in Houston might make sense. Not surprisingly, they tend to mirror the places where streetcars had been built over a hundred years ago and led to the development of neighborhoods that are still walkable today. All of them look like they would still fit in and be useful today.

Two of the locations Christof flags are of particular interest. One is the Inner Katy Corridor, which is being studied for light rail in the next expansion phase beyond 2012. The other is Kirby Drive, which isn’t identified at this time as a possible light rail corridor, but which (as Christof notes) should be, at least in my opinion. I’ve been thinking about what a light rail line might look like in both of these locations. Here are a couple of Google maps that I’ve put together with my suggestions. Click the More link to see them.


View Larger Map


View Larger Map

These are just my concepts of what an Inner Katy and Kirby Drive lines might look like. There’s a million ways you can quibble with them – Christof thinks that the Kirby line needs to turn down Holcombe instead of taking the path I’ve drawn, for instance. I’ve thought about that and don’t quite agree – I think that comes too close to the Main Street line and thus doesn’t really add much functionality. If I had to alter the southern end of the line, I’d think about having it turn east on Old Spanish Trail and terminate at Almeda, where it would serve the various new and previously existing medical facilities in between. There are other possibilities as well.

There will be many technical, political, and financial issues to overcome before any of this could be turned into something real. I’m more than happy to discuss and debate any aspect of these ideas. The one thing that I won’t yield on, however, is my belief that both of these are needed. An Inner Katy line is already on the drawing board; it’s just a matter of where, and my argument is for a line that serves Washington Avenue and Memorial Park, then connects to the Uptown line, thus providing a one-train ride from downtown to the Galleria. As for the Kirby line, it corrects the one glaring omission on all the current and future light rail maps I’ve seen, which is a north-south route for central Houston, through the densest part of town outside of downtown. There’s enough population to support this line, there are multiple employment and retail centers along the way, the traffic and parking situation is bad and getting worse, and as drawn this route would provide a non-highway means to get from north of downtown to points south, thus potentially helping to ease congestion on the Pierce Elevated. I believe the case for this couldn’t be clearer. The question is whether there’s the will to fight the battles. As Christof said about his imagined streetcar lines, if this is to happen it will be because a neighborhood — residents, merchants, institutions, landowners — decides it wants it. I hope I can do a little something about that.

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4 Comments

  1. JRBehrman says:

    The streetcars of my youth (in Dallas) and the light rail down to Sylvan Beach in my parents’ day reflected dense development derived from strict application of the ad valorem tax, including an Australian-style surtax on ground rents in Houston during the 1920’s.

    Those were artifacts, it turns out, of white-only, middle-class, “good government” and “progressivism” back then, not bad, but not that good, either. In any case, nonoe of that survived the post WWII red- and race-baiting or, for that matter, the cringing-liberal racial patronage that followed that.

    Now, we have racial “diversity” and “inclusion” mediated by a reactionary, privileged, liberal, conservative, whatever … white financial elite — regional vice-presidents and managing partners — and their not necessarily white, but certainly over-dressed or even uniformed, House Staff, you know, like … country-club waiters.

    Missing from City government, for instance, are actually competent or authoritative … engineers. We have a highly decorative PhD from MIT, no less, but nobody really smart who would ever be caught in rubber boots or overalls.

    So, what can the land-speculator wing of the GOP and the slum-lord wing of the Democratic Party, including all those in-between bond-lawyers, surveyors, paper-hangers, cement-mixers, and merchant-bankers (aka arms or drug traders) comprising the “bi-partisan” sector of the public/private partnership rackets support in the way of public transport?

    They would oppose anything other than negotiated tax appraisals and indirect taxation, so how could anything they might support or not veto be … popular?

    They liked and emulated how the Soviet economy worked, so we can expect economic decay and technological giantism + obsolescence despite a bunch of political charlatans blabbering about capitalism. That would be “capitalism”, the expensive clothing and over-priced steakhouses, nothing involving the management of productive resources in markets cleared by uniform prices — a parody of capitalism, sort of like the Soviets’ Potempkin Socialism.

    Since we are not yet quite a Third-World banana republic here, we might want to look at some Brazilian success:

    I would favor local assembly — under foreign license but without paying local or foreign concession-tenders — of high-quality buses, coaches really, powered by diesel-engines but fueled with di-methyl ether — a syngas from various sources.

    We can make that here out of just about any feedstock, renewable or fossil.

    The real difference would be that:

    These vehicles would have priority lanes and traffic light control.

    They would pick-up and drop-off passengers like a subway from really attractive, comfortable, air-conditioned, stations — not just bus-stops — with all sorts of amenities, including lighting, police, competitive market-priced food and drink, well-paid janitors, nice toilets.

    And, the buses, coaches really, would be pretty new, since they would be carefully maintained for a fixed depreciation period, then sold at surplus prices with credit to maintenance staff and drivers who would operate them independently as feeders or jitneys. This is a labor-intensive, rather than professional-fee intensive or the usual debt-ridden solution.

    What’s missing, of course, are the concession-tenders who, like the late-great Commissars, but better dressed, live large off of shabby, incompetent, but sanctimonious and legalistic, City and County government.

  2. JRBehrman says:

    The streetcars of my youth (in Dallas) and the light rail down to Sylvan Beach in my parents’ day reflected dense development derived from strict application of the ad valorem tax, including an Australian-style surtax on ground rents in Houston during the 1920’s.

    Those were artifacts, it turns out, of white-only, middle-class, “good government” and “progressivism” back then, not bad, but not that good, either. In any case, nonoe of that survived the post WWII red- and race-baiting or, for that matter, the cringing-liberal racial patronage that followed that.

    Now, we have racial “diversity” and “inclusion” mediated by a reactionary, privileged, liberal, conservative, whatever … white financial elite — regional vice-presidents and managing partners — and their not necessarily white, but certainly over-dressed or even uniformed, House Staff, you know, like … country-club waiters.

    Missing from City government, for instance, are actually competent or authoritative … engineers. We have a highly decorative PhD from MIT, no less, but nobody really smart who would ever be caught in rubber boots or overalls.

    So, what can the land-speculator wing of the GOP and the slum-lord wing of the Democratic Party, including all those in-between bond-lawyers, surveyors, paper-hangers, cement-mixers, and merchant-bankers (aka arms or drug traders) comprising the “bi-partisan” sector of the public/private partnership rackets support in the way of public transport?

    They would oppose anything other than negotiated tax appraisals and indirect taxation, so how could anything they might support or not veto be … popular?

    They liked and emulated how the Soviet economy worked, so we can expect economic decay and technological giantism + obsolescence despite a bunch of political charlatans blabbering about capitalism. That would be “capitalism”, the expensive clothing and over-priced steakhouses, nothing involving the management of productive resources in markets cleared by uniform prices — a parody of capitalism, sort of like the Soviets’ Potempkin Socialism.

    Since we are not yet quite a Third-World banana republic here, we might want to look at some Brazilian success:

    I would favor local assembly — under foreign license but without paying local or foreign concession-tenders — of high-quality buses, coaches really, powered by diesel-engines but fueled with di-methyl ether — a syngas from various sources.

    We can make that here out of just about any feedstock, renewable or fossil.

    The real difference would be that:

    These vehicles would have priority lanes and traffic light control.

    They would pick-up and drop-off passengers like a subway from really attractive, comfortable, air-conditioned, stations — not just bus-stops — with all sorts of amenities, including lighting, police, competitive market-priced food and drink, well-paid janitors, nice toilets.

    And, the buses, coaches really, would be pretty new, since they would be carefully maintained for a fixed depreciation period, then sold at surplus prices with credit to maintenance staff and drivers who would operate them independently as feeders or jitneys. This is a labor-intensive, rather than professional-fee intensive or the usual debt-ridden solution.

    What’s missing, of course, are the concession-tenders who, like the late-great Commissars, but better dressed, live large off of shabby, incompetent, but sanctimonious and legalistic, City and County government.

  3. eiioi says:

    “The one thing that I won’t yield on, however, is my belief that both of these are needed.”
    .
    Maybe, I really would not want to see any lanes taken away on Kirby. As it is, Kirby and Shepherd are overcrowded because there are so few North-South options for people in the area. Between Chimney Rock and Kirby, a distance of 3.5 miles, there are no good North-South arterials that connect I-10 to U.S. 59, with the exception of the West Loop. River Oaks has is a barrier to adding N-S roads here. This is an unsufficient arterial system.

    Something needs to be done to address the arterial system, which I think is more of a priority in this area than a light rail. More grade separation on Shepherd north of Memorial would be a good start on THAT section. I think it was Christof that mentioned connecting more of the small North-South streets across the East-West arteries.

    There have been more extreme proposals, too, to increase N-S mobility here. At one time, HCTRA (I think) had on their list of proposed projects to study a toll road that would follow the rail line corridor through Memorial Park and actually be a tunnel under Memorial park.

    Rail trips would be a small percentage of trips along this corridor. If rail is done here, maybe it could be on a side street one block over from Shepherd.

  4. Dan says:

    Metro light rail from Katy’s Grandparkway to downtown or at least to Galleria area, now that’s what is needed.