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More on carless commuting in Houston

Greg adds on to my recent post about getting to work in Houston if you didn’t have a car.

In the comments of this Kuff post, Robert Nagle actually beats me to the punch in answering the central question. Yes, you can live quite comfortably in Houston without a car. As long as you base where you live as a function of that and are comfortable with all the other accoutrements of your daily routine being dictated by a mostly generous METRO bus schedule.

As suggested by Robert, I choose to live in an area where there are four different routes that intersect my neighborhood. Rush hour options for getting to work downtown have never been an issue for me. I generally have had the luxury of picking the one route that is a) closest to the start of the route to ensure good seating; and b) among the faster options for getting downtown. Since I’ve been stationed elsewhere for the recent political unpleasantness known as Election 2012, I’m limited to one and a half routes, with the “half” being the 402 Bellaire Quickline that drops off at Campaign HQ, but not at home. It’s a half option for me if I choose to stop for breakfast in the AM or make a grocery run in the PM. I just basically transfer from another bus to the 402 in the morning or hop on the 402 to the store and take another bus from there to home (or just walk from the store).

Caveats are everywhere with this, of course. I basically walk half a mile to and from the bus stop. Right about this time of year, that’s more than a little discomforting. And there are rain days that either make the situation modestly discomforting, brutal beyond despair, or worth calling in to inform the boss that my street is flooded. My local retail options are a mile away and I’m about as likely to walk that as I am to take another bus for it. Dining options are either a fairly expensive Pappa’s BBQ within way-too-easy walking distance or cheaper fare in extended walking distance. Weekend runs to church have been either very or fairly bus-friendly regardless of which church I’ve attended in recent years. And making a big monthly run at the grocery store often has me breaking down to pay a few bucks in cab fare for some lucky cabby camped out in the Fiesta parking lot.

Both Greg and Robert are completely car-free, so their concerns are broader than mine. Personally, if I were planning to ditch my autos, I’d look for someplace either in Midtown or the Museum District/Third Ward area, both of which contain plenty of housing options and other amenities near the Main Street line. Tiffany and I have actually talked about doing something like that after the kids are grown and gone. I hope there will be more such options by then, but there are some good ones now.

There’s one more factor to consider that can increase one’s range of options and that’s a bicycle, with which you can live farther away from your transit stop. The number of people biking to the bus stop has been steadily increasing; I know I’ve been regularly seeing bikes on the buses’ racks lately. I talked about biking as part of a transit commute in my initial post, that starting in 2014 I could ride from the Quitman station on the North Line to my office if I could get there easily enough after dropping off the kids at school. If I can ride my bike there after parking my car near school, it would be a snap. Unfortunately, the guidelines for bringing a bike on a Metro train make that completely impractical now. Given how crowded the trains are (*) during rush hour, the only way this is going to change is if Metro starts running more trains during the busy times. I have no idea what if any plans Metro may have about this, so let me address these words to anyone with Metro now reading this: Please make it a goal to allow bikes on trains during all hours. I’d really appreciate it, and I promise I’d take advantage of it. Thanks.

(*) Yes, I said “crowded”. Frankly, I’ve never been on an empty train, but during peak hours it’s not just standing room only, it’s packed cheek to jowl. I feel like the people who denigrate and dismiss rail in Houston must never actually use the service, because I don’t know how you can see it as anything other than useful and heavily used if you had ever ridden on it. Par for the course with some of these guys, I guess.

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7 Comments

  1. Matt says:

    You might consider a folding bike: ” Bicycles that are folded or disassembled and enclosed in carrying bags are deemed “luggage” items and are permitted at all times.”

  2. Valerie says:

    I agree 100% about the bikes on rail issue. I live mere blocks from what will be a station on the north line extension, and I work at UH, but my office is about as far as you can get from both stations that will serve the campus. I look forward to being able to ride the train to campus in a few years, but I would very, very much like to be able to ride my bike to and from the station.

  3. Traveler says:

    In addition to Midtown and the Museum District that you mentioned, living along Westheimer provides access to great bus routes. Those buses run frequently, 7 days a week, allowing me to go completely carless.

  4. Mainstream says:

    I lived without a car in Houston for more than a year, by using rental cars on the weekend and living in the Midtown corridor. The situation was less than ideal : unpredictable weather, the sometimes unreliable buses, some mild safety concerns, poor schedules late at night and on weekends, and to some locations.

    It may be true that people who dismiss rail never use it. It does not connect my home to work, my work to other work meetings, or allow access from my home or work to any other places I generally go. I cannot imagine why I would ever ride it.

    I am still glad to have rail to allow mobility by those visiting Houston, and those who happen to live in the Med Center and work downtown or vice versa, students at Rice or HCC or TSU. If rail linked the two airports, and perhaps also the train and bus stations, it might get broader political support and use.

  5. Robert Nagle says:

    Thanks for the mention (and I was not aware of the bike quota on the trains, thanks!).

    I can’t begin to speculate about how practical it would be to raise a family carless in Houston. There’s an elementary school in my neighborhood (actually about 2 miles away). Apparently very few kids use the bus in this school nowadays; instead their parents drive them to school daily which create all sorts of traffic jams. (It also happens to be my voting location, so election day is particularly hellish). This contrasts with my memory of everyone in my neighborhood taking the bus to school until middle school at least.

    As a perennial job seeker, I have to admit that being carless to look for work is a real drag. First, there is the heat (ugh!). Second, there is the fact that a lot of job listings don’t mention any geographical clues about its whereabouts.

    The transportation problem I face these days is lack of bus service from Houston to Katy (where a family member lives). Apparently there are a few park and rides on weekdays, but nothing on the weekend.

    Tangentially related: I was surprised to learn that between Galveston and Houston, only two buses go there each day. Also, Galveston’s only mass transit option (the streetcar service) was destroyed in Hurricane Ike and hasn’t resumed even though the federal government awarded Galveston a grant to fix everything. http://galvestondailynews.com/story/285742

  6. Ross says:

    HISD doesn’t provide bus service unless you live more than 2 miles from the school. That means very few elementary kids get bussed unless they are going to a school other than the one they are zoned to. The result is that most of them are driven to school. I take my son on my way to work because there’s no way a 4th grader is going to walk down 11th to Harvard by himself.

    Raising a child in Houston without a car would be extremely difficult, especially if he/she participates in sports, Scouts, etc.

  7. Robert Nagle says:

    FYI: My example of the school being 2 miles away deserves more information. In my neighborhood, an elementary student would need to cross 2 major and busy intersections (one of them being Richmond). Making a child walk 2 or 3 blocks might be ok in some neighborhoods, but in my neighborhood it would be extremely dangerous.

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