The driving force of a project that Uptown Houston District has proposed to the city to transform Post Oak Blvd.? Big beautiful buses. With both residential and commercial developments like Skanska’s 20-story office building popping up along the major transit corridor and METRO’s Uptown/Gold Line nowhere in sight, the District has developed a $177-million project featuring light rail-like BRT to update Post Oak — a street “that has long outlived its original use,” says John Breeding, the District’s president.
In the next 2 years, almost 3,000 residential units will be added, says Breeding. Congestion can be so bad that even off-duty traffic cops can’t ease it. Though METRO has plans for the Uptown/Gold Line, Breeding says that that could take up to 20 years. Instead, the District sees BRT as a solution.
If that reminds you of drawings METRO has done for light rail, it’s not an accident. This BRT service would work similarly, ferrying people up and down Post Oak while protected by candlestick barriers. (And, Breeding says, the street could later be adapted for rail, should that become necessary.)
I interviewed John Breeding in 2010, and the future of transit in Uptown was a major part of the discussion. At the time, he thought that the Uptown Line was ten or fifteen years away, so the 20-year time frame mentioned above isn’t that far off from that. The key to this is that the proposed BRT line would have its own dedicated right of way. If you’ve driven along Post Oak any time ever you know what a difference maker that will be. The Uptown District has had a plan for this for a long time, and if light rail is farther away on the horizon, this will do nicely as a substitute, possibly a placeholder for rail in the future.
Tying Uptown into the park and ride system is also part of this plan. It’s a bit less clear how that will work, but the idea is simply that you need to be able to get people into Uptown without their cars in addition to giving them a way to move around Uptown without cars. Sure would be nice to have the University Line available for that, too, wouldn’t it? I hope all those Uptown business interests that have put so much thought into their vision are reminding John Culberson about that. We’ll see how long it takes to put this part of the plan into action.
UPDATE: I had drafted this post a few days ago, and of course the day I run it there’s a Chronicle story on the same subject. Of interest is this bit at the end:
Metro officials realize improvements are needed, [Board Chair Gilbert] Garcia said. That’s why they back Uptown’s plan.
“There are transit needs everywhere. We know all about them. But Metro’s resources are finite,” Garcia said. “If we can solve the transit needs in this region without stretching Metro resources, like this does, that is great.”
Uptown Houston, which derives most of its funding from the tax increment reinvestment zone funded by property taxes in the zone, will pay between $82.5 million and $91.6 million, Breeding said. The rest would come from $24 million in state transportation funds, and a $45 million grant from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, using federal money the region received.
Garcia said Metro, which approved the idea in September, will continue to support Uptown as it waits for a decision by H-GAC, expected in about 30 days.
If progress goes as expected, Breeding said, buses could start running in 2017.
Uptown’s plans enable Metro to adjust its own priorities, Garcia said. After years focused on building the three rail lines set to open next year, Garcia said, the agency can be more nimble at fixing gaps in service.
The flexibility is built into the Post Oak plans, where trains could one day replace the buses. But in the interim, Garcia said, if buses do the job perhaps Metro can use its resources elsewhere.
That includes the long-discussed east-west University Line. After the East, North and Southeast lines open, and Uptown gets its bus lanes, the University Line remains the one major unfinished light rail line.
It also lies between the downtown rail expansion and the Uptown progress.
“The natural (thing) will be that people will start wondering how we connect the two,” Garcia said.
The conventional wisdom has always been that the Uptown Line, which was always going to be built with local funds, could not be built without the University Line. Doing Uptown as BRT, at least for now, flips this on its head. It’s possible that the existence of an Uptown BRT line could become a catalyst for getting the University Line built. Wouldn’t that be something?