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Can we share these lanes?

Metro is rethinking how the light rail lines run in parts of downtown.

Traffic woes and collisions along the newest light-rail lines in downtown have Metro leaders toying with the idea of backpedaling on their promise not to close parts of the lanes to cars.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s new Green and Purple lines in downtown that run eastbound along Capitol and westbound along Rusk for about a mile continue to confuse traffic signal timing and drivers. The trains and vehicles have had several collisions in these shared lanes as drivers make turns, as well as enter and exit parking garages for downtown buildings.

Now Metro is – albeit cautiously – considering ideas to close the lanes to vehicular traffic where practical.

“There is zero intent to change this without getting a lot of input with the stakeholders,” board member Christof Spieler said, while acknowledging some changes may be needed to improve timing and safety for trains, drivers and pedestrians.

City officials, downtown business leaders and drivers, however, remain skeptical that dedicating the lanes to trains is going to be a solution.

“(Former Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO) Frank Wilson promised the community and the City Council that these would ‘never’ be train-only lanes in order to get agreement to allow them to operate downtown,” said Jeff Weatherford, deputy director of Houston Public Works in charge of traffic operations and maintenance.

I guess I’m not surprised there are issues with the trains sharing a lane with car traffic, but I did not know there was such resistance to the idea of separating the two. I suppose the entrances to and exits from downtown parking garages, which by the way can snarl traffic pretty effectively themselves, are a major obstacle to any kind of change. I’m sure there are some minor tweaks that can be made to improve things a bit, but more than that seems unlikely.

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8 Comments

  1. neither here nor there says:

    Prior to beginning the project they were made aware of the strong possibility of accidents, they chose to proceed also knowing that they were putting rail on flood zones.

    They, also, knew that they would disrupt traffic, wonder what the cost is to motorists who idle as they train goes by, not to mention lights not in sync.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    I think this is all part of the design, not an unintended consequence. Metro is social engineering, at its worst. Metro’s message to drivers: if you won’t get out of your car, we will punish you for your insolence.

    Is it any wonder that Spring just wants Metro to leave it alone?

  3. neither here nor there says:

    Bill, actually the reason for the train is development. Where the lines go the neighborhoods change and become developed.

    Toll roads and beltways, do the same thing.

    Government using money to help developers, so the question is where do you prefer a tax base.

  4. mollusk says:

    Let’s see if changing the color of the train ends to red from a fairly invisible gray has an effect. We have a white car and a red car – the white one gets a lot more people absent mindedly trying to change lanes into it.

    Another issue is that there are a lot of people in the Med Center and downtown who don’t go there very often. Crikey, they get flustered by one way streets – it’s got to be mind blowing to be presented with a big blandly colored train that can’t make a quick turn or stop. Familiarity with what’s there helps a lot.

    Streetcars used to be pretty universal, and our grandparents survived. Of course, nothing is going to be 100% foolproof.

  5. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    The particular train lines under discussion aren’t having a huge impact on anything developers are excited by right now. They provide really handy connections from downtown to points south and east of the city center. Municipal courthouse, county courthouse, federal courthouse, sports venues, parking, UH main and downtown campus, all of that stuff is more accessible due to the train lines.
    Is southeast Houston suddenly a big gentrification target?

    I don’t think there’s an elegant way to deal with the way the lines interfere with turns across the tracks from Rusk and Capitol, though. Either people are lining up in the train lane to await the opportunity to turn, or they’re turning across the train lane. There’s not ordinarily heavy traffic along those routes. Even during rush hours or events, delays are minimal, and no greater than existed before the tracks were installed. People figured out the lanes through the Medical Center – they’ll probably figure out the lanes downtown, too, in time.

    It’s unrelated to Spring, because Spring folks aren’t complaining about Metro’s administrative acumen. They’re complaining about how the poor people who ride Metro will bring crime, and since there are already poor white people in Spring, it’s pretty clear they’re talking about the other shades of folks. If they wanted to complain about how poorly Metro is administered, they should really complain about that instead about of the poor brown people who ride the bus.

  6. neither here nor there says:

    RW – it does not happen immediately but it will happen, price some of the property near the rail that heads east. Go back and look what the value was 5 years ago.

    Between downtown and the Medical Center the area has changed and is changing. We rely on cars now but expect that to change in the not too distant future. Mass transportation will be a determining factor. England no more will allow gas or diesel vehicles by 2040.

    If we could only get rid of those yards that must be green with grass that requires tons of watering.

  7. C.L. says:

    I haven’t yet heard of a Houston car vs. Metro train accident that was attributed to train error…

  8. Jason Hochman says:

    Having an at grade rail system is simply not a good idea, for a sprawling city with a large population. It may be ideal in a smaller city, but there is a reason why street cars have disappeared. It seems that Cristof Spieler is in charge of all transit in Houston, and, the fact is, the redesigned bus routes that went into effect two years ago aren’t working, ridership is down and most (not all) METRO drivers need to improve their personalities to rise to the level of Ralph Cramden. METRO wants to attract more well to do riders, who will commute to their good jobs and to events downtown, but it’s not working. The elites who want to save the planet are in their BMWs, driving right past the bus. All of the elites who are around me, avoid me, because I have the bad habit of pointing out all of the little things they can do every day to save the planet–but they’re not doing them.

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