Houston-area transportation officials approved a plan Friday to use $61.8 million in federal funds to help build bus-only lanes along Post Oak Boulevard in the Uptown area.
The project, sponsored by the Uptown Management District, widens Post Oak to add two center lanes for buses that will shuttle riders from two Metropolitan Transit Authority transit centers into the bustling Uptown business area. The $177.5 million project is slated to start construction in 2015, said John Breeding, Uptown’s president.
Breeding and other Uptown area business leaders told the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council the project could be a game-changer in terms of how people commute into the area to work and to shop.
“We are convinced it will improve mobility well beyond its neighborhood,” said Jack Drake, president of the Greenspoint District.
See here and here for the background. The plan to install BRT as a (temporary?) replacement for light rail along the Uptown Line has gotten the bulk of the attention, but the addition of HOV lanes is likely the bigger deal. Somewhat strangely to me, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who voted No, expressed skepticism about that aspect of the plan.
“I am afraid we are going to look up in 10 years and say, ‘What did we do that for?’ ” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.
Emmett, chairman of the transportation council, said the project followed the rules and on paper warranted the funding commitment from local officials.
That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s the right project to solve the Uptown area’s serious traffic problems, said Emmett, expressing doubts that Houston residents would get out of their cars to take a bus to work.
“I think I know Houstonians enough to know they are going to want to drive,” Emmett said.
Unlike downtown, where park-and-ride buses drop commuters off right in front of major buildings, someone leaving an office on Post Oak would have to cross wide grass medians and wait at an outdoor transit stop in the middle of the street.
“When it’s 95 degrees, is anybody going to do that?” Emmett asked.
You hear that “it gets hot in Houston” argument often for why non-car-oriented projects won’t be worth it. It’s true we have hot summers, but that’s only three months out of the year. The rest of the year is great weather for being outside. We’re still talking about a fairly short distance to walk to get from bus to building. I’m sorry, but I don’t see this as a good reason to oppose the plan, especially given how awful traffic around the Galleria is. I think plenty of people would be happy to have an alternative to that.
One argument that I can see is that once you’ve taken a bus into Uptown, you’re stranded when you want to go to lunch. Downtown there are tons of options in easy walking distance – if you drive into downtown to work, depending on how close your garage is to your office, you can likely get to numerous lunch places in the time it would take you to walk to your car. I don’t know what the situation is like Uptown. But that’s where the rest of the plan comes in – the BRT line will help you get around Uptown, perhaps someday connecting to the University line as well. Throw in a future B-Cycle expansion as I’ve been suggesting, and I think you’ve got it mostly covered. Metro and the Uptown District will need to educate businesses and employees about what their commuting options will be in the future, but I’m sure they’ll take care of that. I think this is a good idea and I think it’s going to make a positive difference in the area. What do you think?