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Turner reiterates the need to rethink transportation

New audience, same theme.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s transportation future – and perhaps its economic vitality – relies on more options than new freeway lanes to make room for more cars, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Tuesday.

“The solution is to increasingly take advantage of other modes of travel,” Turner told business and elected leaders at a lunch event hosted by Transportation Advocacy Group – Houston Region.

The mayor, who has talked about a transportation “paradigm shift” since taking office in January, mentioned a laundry list of mobility projects that Houston must embrace, ranging from regional commuter rail to improved pedestrian access.

Nothing by itself can abate Houston’s growing congestion, the mayor acknowledged, but together the options could reform how people travel. Also, he favors a better balance of state and federal transportation funding, which heavily supports highways over public transit in the region.

“We will have to make choices on how to use limited space on streets to move people faster,” Turner said, noting that nine out of 10 working residents in the area rely on their own vehicle to get to and from work.

Houston today – and in the future – is a far different place than the one its highways initially served. Rather than a development pattern focused solely on downtown, Houston is an assortment of small, concentrated job and housing centers. Turner said the city’s transportation should reflect that by offering walkable solutions and local streets capable of handling the traffic in places such as the Texas Medical Center and Energy Corridor.

“We can connect the centers together with regional transit,” Turner said. “We need to focus our limited funding in these areas.”

[…]

As mobility options increase, the mayor said it will be up to officials to focus attention where certain transportation solutions can do the most good and ignite the least political furor.

“I will not force light rail on any community that does not want it. I will not do it,” Turner said. “We must stop trying to force it on places that do not want it and give it to neighborhoods and people in this city who want it.”

Minutes after his speech concluded, listeners were already dissecting the mayor’s statement on light rail and its obvious reference to the decadelong discussion of a proposed east-west rail line along Richmond Avenue to the Galleria area.

See here for thoughts expressed by Mayor Turner to the Texas Transportation Commission in February. I wouldn’t read too much into that comment about “forcing” rail into places that don’t want it. For one thing, the opposition to the Universities line has always been loud, but there’s never been any evidence that it’s broad. The evidence we do have suggests there’s plenty of support for that line in the neighborhoods where it would run. In addition, recent remarks by Turner-appointed Metro Chair Carrin Patman suggest the Universities line is still on the agenda. Perhaps there’s a disconnect between the two – in the end, I can’t see Metro putting forth an updated rail referendum that includes the Universities line over Mayor Turner’s objection – but I doubt it. I would just not read too much into that one statement without any corroborating evidence. Houston Tomorrow, which has video and a partial transcript of Mayor Turner’s remarks, has more.

Beyond that, this is good to hear, and even better to hear more than once. The reality is that as with things like water and energy, there is only so much room to add new road capacity, and it starts getting prohibitively expensive, in straight dollar costs as well as in opportunity costs, to add it. It’s far cheaper to conserve the capacity that we already have, which in the case of transportation means getting more people to use fewer cars. I talked about all this at the start of the Mayoral race last year, and I’m heartened to see that Mayor Turner’s priorities have been in line with many of the things I was hoping for. A lot of this talk still needs to be translated into action, but you can’t have the action without the talk first, to make people aware of the issues and get them on board with the solutions. The Mayor has done a good job of that so far, and it’s great to see.

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2 Comments

  1. Joshua ben bullard says:

    Let’s talk about facts with Mayor Sylvester Turner,what he knows, a-he is representing a city with a closed entry system of “taxi’s” and the entry is owned by one private citizen and Turner took hundreds of thousands from him and his friends to allow this one man to bleed out the drivers and Houstonians while a open market uber takes over the majority of the market share. Can you imagine turner looking you in the face and saying ” well we can’t have these cab drivers own their own right to labor ,that would flood the market” why does turner allow uber drivers unlimited entry into the Houston market and he allows town cars and jitneys and limo’s unlimited,but for some strange reason Mayor Sylvester Turner won’t follow the Tx constition art 1 sec 3 ,he won’t do it because of all the reported monies he took,money that was taken from taxi riders that should have been able to keep that money with their family’s.point is ,Turner cannot be foul and crazy with the taxi medallions on Monday then turn around and claim to be some transportation czar,this man has people advising him.improperly and securing him one term at city hall,the fact that Turner is outright acting discriminatory against one set of workers over another group of workers is sad ,outrageous and has no place in Houston Government. “because under Mayor Sylvester Turners administration, He shouldn’t force people to pay a private citizen for their right to work” end right to labor fees in Houston,Abolish the taxi medallions, #FreeHoustonTurner

  2. Steve Houston says:

    Josh, your delusions of the importance of the topic aside for the moment, I don’t recall you fussing at ANY other Houston mayor about this, EVER. The sane people on here seem to realize that Turner has been very busy on a myriad of issues that the general public seems to care about a great deal more and even some of Turner’s strongest detractors (here and elsewhere) seem to believe he has been making a substantial impact in a variety of ways to their liking, those coming around to appreciate Turner a growing group.

    Even if you dismiss the fact that since term limits was instituted decades ago, no Houston mayor has served a single term regardless of how much cronyism took place, and as I recall, every single one of those mayors took sizable campaign contributions from those in the taxi industry, the wrecker industry, developers, and all the usual power players. Turner did not invent the existing system nor has he really had that much to say about plans to make changes as he reviews huge contracts, negotiates employee concessions, and tries to restore some order to the things that MOST people care about. As such, do you have any CREDIBLE reasoning regarding your repeated claims or are you just so desperate for change (as in “Are you a well paid lobbyist for one of these companies?”) that it blinds you to all else going on?

    Uber learned from Austin that pouring crazy money into a referendum campaign wouldn’t work, the equivalent amount for Houston would be astronomical, so now they are greasing the wheels of those higher in the food chain, largely people that loudly espoused the wonders of “local control” not long ago. I haven’t used a taxi or other ride service locally since before Paul was in college and as someone a lot of friends ask to give them a ride (everything from trips to the medical center for treatment to various conventions to whatever), I’m all for a rational reduction in regulations across the board. So I ask you again, as I have in the past, given the complete indifference of the vast majority of Houstonians on the issue, why are you now so focused on this one and Turner’s limited role?