Nearly two weeks ago METRO released the System Reimagining proposal, arguably the biggest service adjustment in METRO’s existence. METRO is currently welcoming feedback on the system. I hope most feedback will be positive, as the reimagined system should provide an opportunity for ridership for more people, and to a larger area of the Houston region, without an increase in costs or major infrastructural improvements. The reimagined system helps to reduce redundancies in coverage and increases the number of “frequent” bus routes throughout the region, creating a grid-like network of bus routes in which riders rely on transfers to reach their destinations.
I looked at the map of new routes and how they would impact my commute, and I thought about improvements needed to accommodate more riders and transfers. Examine proposed routes yourself to learn their physical coverages, frequencies, and surrounding conditions. I could think of no better way to examine the proposed routes than by bike. You can do the same. Then send your comments to METRO or attend a public meeting. It’s time for Houstonians to own their transit routes.
I followed the northwest portion of the proposed 11-Heights-Dallas-Telephone route that goes through the Heights and Montrose into Downtown and then on to the East Side. I kept in mind any infrastructural improvements that are needed, like bus stops, curb cuts, benches, signalization, crosswalks, or bus shelters that would make transferring and ridership more accommodating and comfortable. A more detailed route analysis can be found on my personal blog.
1. Most importantly, METRO and the city should focus on improving the pedestrian realm along frequent bus corridors and at transfer points. This includes adding striped (zebra) crossings and crosswalk signals. METRO and the city can seize this opportunity to create driver awareness and possibly a bit of civic pride by using some creative crosswalk designs, with relatively low overhead, simply painting and updating crosswalks. It’s amazing what a new coat of paint can do for some intersections.
2. METRO can reallocate resources like bus shelters along to-be-abandoned routes. METRO needs to provide better comfort and convenience for riders, as the reimagined system will depend on increased transfers.
3. As Houston continues to mature, growing in population and density, METRO has the opportunity to capture additional ridership especially near centers of new multifamily and commercial development.
4. For Heights residents, the proposed 11-Heights route will be a great connection to Montrose, Discovery Green, and Downtown. However, riders may find that transferring to the 14-Washington or taking the proposed frequent 20-MLK-Lockwood-Cavalcade to the light rail Red Line may be a more convenient way into Downtown.
5. Houston drivers are already the least courteous and some of the most dangerous, so pedestrian accidents and close calls will continue, unfortunately. Houston was ranked the seventh most dangerous city for pedestrians, so merely adequate crossing conditions should not be the norm when a transit system is going to make even more people cross major thoroughfares to access their bus routes.
This transit reimagining is an overhaul of a system that many people depend on. METRO has an opportunity to continue to promote this effort, using all available tools to educate residents of the proposed changes and the overall benefits of public transit. Houstonians, own your city, and own your transit. Take a walk, a drive, or grab your bike and helmet and document improvements that will make your commute, and those of other Houstonians, more enjoyable, efficient, and safe. Get out and ride your route!
Christopher Andrews holds an MA in Political Science from Marshall University and a BS in Urban and Regional Planning from Michigan State University.
Eric Jaffe on Houston’s Plan to Get an Amazing New Bus System for No New Money; Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle on Metro unveils major change to bus service, awaits public outcry: Proposed fix would entail major changes to existing routes; Jarrett Walker on Houston’s transit, reimagined