Starting on Monday, if you want to skirt around the clogged lanes on US 290 (Northwest Freeway), you can pay to ease your commute.
METRO is opening its newest HOT lane on May 20, making it the fourth HOV lane to be converted to a HOT lane. HOT stands for "high-occupancy toll," while HOV means "high occupancy vehicle."
Access to the HOV lane remains free to all HOV drivers.
If you are a solo driver and want to use the HOV lane, you would be charged a toll, ranging from $1 to $5, based on time of day. Solo drivers would need a toll tag on their car.
The Northwest Freeway HOV serves major activity and employment centers, including METRO transit facilities, Fairfield, Beltway 8 and Loop 610. The 13.5-mile HOV lane is expected to eventually carry 9,000 vehicles a day with HOT traffic, up from 7,500 vehicles a day now as an HOV lane only.
HOT lane corridors use a camera-monitoring system to alert emergency units of any incidents within the lanes and to allow for rapid responses. The lanes include automated gates and controls.
The following guest post was written by Margaret O'Brien-Molina, METRO's senior media specialist.
Members of the METRO Cycling Club biked from the Downtown Transit Center to Memorial Park yesterday where they joined BikeHouston and Houston City Council Member Ed Gonzalez for the Tenth Annual Ride of Silence to City Hall.
The gathered cyclists took to the roads in a silent procession, honoring cyclists who have been killed or injured while cycling on public roadways. Cyclists have a legal right to share the road with motorists, but sharing the road requires education for both the motoring public and cyclists. BikeHouston, a cycling advocacy group, is spearheading efforts on that front, working with local government and community outreach to pave the road for safer biking in Houston.
The Ride of Silence proceeded at 12 mph from Memorial Park, with an escort and signs publicizing the event. BikeHouston hosted the event, which has no sponsors or registration fees and is held during National Bike Month. MCC members followed the rules of the road and maintained silence during the ride, which attracted attention from runners and others using the park, as well as Houstonians gathered along Washington Avenue and downtown near City Hall.
Margaret O'Brien-Molina, president of MCC, said, "We have been participating in this event, but this year was exceptionally well-organized. We rode from work directly to the park through downtown and along the Allen Parkway bike trails, straight up to the park. Our riders all had different bikes - cruisers, road and mountain bikes - but they all had the same great attitude."
At City Hall, Council Member Gonzales thanked METRO riders for their participation and invited them to take part in an East End ride to check out the development of the new METRORail Line. He also complimented BikeHouston and BikeTexas' roles in promoting safe streets and Houston's just-passed "Safe Passage" laws.
The new law mandates a three-foot safe zone for cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable individuals. Gonzalez said the event was well-timed, as the physical presence of the group raised awareness of motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to the public roadways. The ride was also a chance to show respect for and honor the lives of those who have been killed or injured.
O'Brien-Molina says the ride fits with MCC's mission. (photo on the right).
"Our cycling club is committed to raising safety awareness, and because most of us work in public transit, we are aware of vulnerabilities and hazards. Our example is important. We feel fortunate to be able to ride and to join others who use our great transit system," she said. "Many are using bikes for more than pleasure, they are using bikes to get to their jobs and their schools, and our buses and trains help extend their reach. We are often asked questions about the system and are glad to be in a position to help."
Starting this weekend, beach-goers will be able to shorten their travel time.
On Saturday, May 18, METRO will open 15.5 miles of an HOV lane on the Gulf Freeway (IH-45 South) for carpool and toll travel on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
The HOV lane extends from the downtown area to near Dixie Farm Road.
On Saturdays and holidays, the HOV/HOT lane opens for southbound drivers from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Northbound traffic will use the lane from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
On Sundays, when traffic from Galveston is heaviest, northbound vehicles can access the HOV/HOT lane from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
This pilot program is designed to ease congestion this summer as Houstonians head to the shore for sun and fun.
The weekend 45 South HOV lane is free for vehicles with two or more occupants. Solo drivers can use the lane for $1 each way and must have a toll tag.
Calling all young professionals in transit - and the young at heart.
The Young Professionals in Transportation - Houston chapter is inviting you to a networking event and happy hour on Thursday, May 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at The Tasting Room at City Centre, 818 Town and Country Blvd.
YPT Houston is hosting this monthly event, giving young professionals a great way to mix and mingle. YPT's mission is to provide career guidance, fellowship and networking through seminars, happy hours and meetings.
YPT is also conducting a national survey, searching for ways to tweak its blog and improve its Twitter feed, Facebook page and its newsletter. Take the survey here - and get a chance to be one of three randomly selected participants to win a $20 Amazon gift card.
The Offshore Technology Conference is coming to Houston next week, and we invite all attendees to ride the rail to Reliant Center.
Billed as the world's foremost event for offshore resources in drilling, exploration, production and environmental protection, the OTC is held every year at Reliant Center. One of the easiest ways to get there is to take METRORail.
Drivers can park at METRO's Fannin South Park & Ride lot for the daily rate of $3 (exact change required) - and hop on the train for $1.25 one way. You can also park at any of the downtown parking lots or garages, then board the train, which runs 7.5 miles along Main Street.
You can buy a rail ticket on the platform with a credit card or cash. You can use the METRO Q® Fare Card, which can be picked up at one of these retailers or at the METRO RideStore at 1900 Main. When you get a Q Card, you must load at least $5 on it.
The OTC runs from May 6 to 9.
Three new lines of Houston's METRORail are almost 75 percent
The light-rail lines - the Green Line (East
End), Purple Line
(Southeast) and the extended Red Line (North) -
are making good progess in the construction process.
On The North Line extension, workers welded a final segment
of rail last week.
Read more in METRO
Connections, our monthly update. And if you like what you read, please subscribe to it.
It will come to your in-box, ready to keep you current on all things METRO.
One of the big excuses for not participating in a car-sharing program is the unexpected meeting or emergency. What happens if the big boss summons you to a meeting downtown, and you're working in the Energy Corridor?
Or what if your kid gets sick at school, and you need to pick her up?
Now, for all those who have shied away from riding in a vanpool or taking the bus to work, there's good news. CarShare, launched this week, allows workers and residents in the Energy Corridor to share a vehicle to run errands while at work.
"It removes one of the major obstacles to sharing a ride to work," said Clark Martinson, general manager of the Energy Corridor Management District.
Interested riders enroll with CarShare, operated by Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Members can reserve a car, then swipe their card on the windshield of the car, which gives them access to the key. To encourage users, the Energy Corridor Management District will waive the $20 application fee, and then contribute $25 of the $50 annual membership fee.
"So the first year will only cost $25," explained Martinson.
You can rent the car by the hour, day or weekend. Hourly rates are about $9 an hour.
Members can even earn credits toward their rental. "STAR vanpool riders and transit riders to the Energy Corridor will be able to rely upon the car-share program in the event they need to travel to an off-campus meeting during the day. Energy Corridor District is extending car-share credits to users of alternative transportation, such as STAR," said David McMaster, METRO's director of Commuter Services.
Martinson pointed out that CarShare would save employers money, too. "As an employer here, I pay my employees 56 cents a mile when they use their personal cars off-site. If they go downtown for a one-hour meeting and come back - that takes two hours. I will have paid them $25. If they use CarShare, I pay two hours at $9/hour. I pay $18. It would cost me less to use the CarShare vehicle than an employee vehicle - the gas and insurance are paid for."
Two Toyota Prius vehicles are in the fleet now, and for every 50 riders who join, Enterprise will add another car to the fleet.
"Think of them as safety nets for a few of those little unexpected life events," said McMaster.
Get ready to celebrate the first day of May with May Day Houston.
May Day Houston is a consortium of community organizations, non-profits and government officials working under the umbrella of the Houston Community Preparedness Collaborative to promote disaster preparedness.
As the fourth largest city in the nation, Houston needs to be a leader in ensuring our citizens stay safe.
So how do you prepare? You need to make a plan, build a kit, stay informed and know your neighbors.
Be sure everyone in your family knows how to get in touch with each other. Designate an out-of-state contact your family can check in with, as local cell networks may become overloaded. Choose a meeting place everyone can go to.
An emergency kit should include food and water to last five to seven days. Download a disaster supply kit list.
Stay informed by tuning in to the Emergency Alert System at 740 AM or 88.7 FM. Sign up for texts or email alerts.
Take the May Day Pledge and commit to taking at least one step toward making our community better prepared for disasters.
Driving to the beach on a weekend should be faster and less stressful, heading into Memorial Day weekend.
Starting on Saturday, May 18, a 15.5 mile stretch of HOV lane on Interstate 45 will be open as part of a pilot program the METRO board approved yesterday. The high-occupancy carpool and toll lane (HOV and HOT lane) will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to southbound drivers. Northbound access to Houston will be permitted from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
On Sundays, northbound drivers will be able to drive on the HOV/HOT lanes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to handle the traffic returning from the beach.
HOV rules require that two plus an access the lane free. Single-occupant vehicles need to pay a fee.
"We believe we can provide some congestion relief," said Vince Obregon, associate vice president of Engineering & Major Capital Projects, who oversees the HOV lanes.
METRO has not determined the fee for this service yet for the HOT lane, which allow solo drivers to use the carpool lanes for a fee.
For access locations to this lane, click here.
If you've got a smart phone, we've just made riding our buses or trains a lot easier.
Today, we officially launched the METRO T.R.I.P. app - a tool that retrieves our schedule information, predicts real-time arrival of buses and helps you plan your trip on our system.
T.R.I.P. stands for"transit route information and planning" - and this free app can expertly guide you, giving you the info you need at your fingertips.
Here are some cool features:
- Where Am I - This will use the GPS in your phone to find your location, then show you the buses, routes and rail lines closest to your location.
- Next Transport - You'll get real-time bus arrivals, as well as scheduled bus and train arrivals.
- Plan Trip - This will find a route for your trip, based on arrival time or transfers and walking distance.
The app works on iPhones, Androids or Windows phones. You can scan a QR code here to download or go to the iTunes store, Google Play store or Windows store.
"This is version one," Randy Frazier, vice president of IT and chief information officer, told the METRO board today. "We want to have continuous improvement. We're going to take feedback and roll into it the things people most want."
So check it out, and tell us how you like using it.
Starting tomorrow night, Houston will turn the lights out, switching
from the “energy capital of the world” to the “energy conservation
The citywide commitment to energy efficiency, dubbed LightsOut Houston,
encourages commercial building owners and their tenants to turn out the
lights at night to reduce the use of non-essential electricity by all
buildings in the Houston area.
Interested? Sign a pledge at lightsouthouston.com.
Downtown Houston has about 35 million square feet of office space. By
eliminating 50 percent of the lights routinely left on overnight and on
weekends, there would be an estimated savings of 8.4 million kilowatt
hours every year. That adds up to about $1 million annually.
So go green by going dark this weekend – the LightsOut Houston challenge runs through Sunday night.
Most accountants and financial analysts toil behind the scenes in quiet anonymity.
But for METRO's Finance Department, diligent and smart work has resulted in three industry awards:
"One of our main goals here at METRO is to enhance and maintain our status as a trusted community partner by establishing and adhering to financial policies that inspire public trust," said Debbie Sechler, METRO's interim senior vice president and CFO. "The recognition of our independent peers goes far in helping us demonstrate to the public that we are committed to achieving that goal."
Georgia Sanchez, the 2012 chair of the GTOT policy review committee, praised METRO's investment policy, calling it "among the best I reviewed this past year. "
Budget Services won its second consecutive award from GFOA. Budget documents were rated in four categories: as a policy document, as a financial plan, as an operations guide and as a communications device. METRO received a "proficient" in those four categories, as well as in 14 mandatory criteria within those categories.
And finally, METRO's Accounting Division captured an award for its comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFR). This was the first time the staff prepared the pension plan financial statements in-house.
"The GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award and the pension plan CAFR awards of excellence in financial reporting are difficult to achieve: The documents are judged alongside other governmental entities by panels and are based on a lengthy list of criteria where the authority must be proficient or outstanding," said Sechler. "All reports have been judged by an impartial panel to meet the high standards of their respective programs, including demonstrating a constructive ‘spirit of disclosure' to clearly communicate its financial story and motivate potential users and user groups to read these reports."
Kudos to the team who helped catapult METRO to award status: Lisa Oliver, manager of Investments & Banking in our Treasury Division; Philip Brenner, director of Budget Services; and Bill McHale, manager of General Accounting.
Here's your chance to help create a better community - one where you can live, work and play.
Dubbed an urban center, these are parts of the city where people from all walks of life can live, work, learn, eat, pray and stay. It is a place that has - or potentially could have - transit options, such as bus, bike and rail; a mix of commercial, civic and residential land use; housing options that range from apartments to single family houses to condos.
There can be large urban centers, medium ones or small ones.
The city of Houston is overseeing this city-wide study that will develop a framework for "urban areas" that encompass regional sustainability principles. Eventually, the city wants to offer private developers a "toolbox" of incentives to encourage better building practices.
Take an online poll and tell planners and officials what you desire in an urban center - and what financial incentives you'd like to promote.
The Downtown Transit Center will be closed to all pedestrians and buses this Saturday, April 20, from 1:30 a.m. until normal service resumes on Sunday, April 21, at 5 a.m.
St. Joseph Parkway, between Main Street and Travis Street, will also be closed to all traffic. Buses on St. Joseph Parkway will be detoured to local streets.
These detours are happening due to construction activity at 1900 Main St., METRO's administration building.
We'll have temporary bus stops where you can catch your buses. Click here to identify your route and the intersection where you may catch your bus.
If you’ve ever tried to shop at the Galleria on a weekend, you know how clogged the lanes can be on Post Oak.
Now, there’s a plan to change that.
Mayor Annise Parker has announced details of a plan to fund construction of a mass transit corridor on Post Oak Boulevard. The plan is contingent on City Council approving the extension of boundaries of the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) #16.
Post Oak Boulevard would be widened to allow bus rapid transit lanes within the median, while preserving six lanes of auto traffic. Bus rapid transit is a high-capacity, public transit system using buses that can travel on dedicated lanes, a variety of rights-of-way, or busways separated from street traffic.
Read more details here.
Two of METRO's most skillful bus operators are scheduled to compete in the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) International Bus Roadeo in Indianapolis.
The International Bus Roadeo is a test of skill and talent as bus operators from transit agencies nationwide maneuver city buses around a timed obstacle course and test their skills at tight turns and quick stops.
Darrel Willis won first place in the state competition on April 14 in Austin. First-place winner on the local level is Frank Gonzales, who will be representing METRO as the local first-place winner. Willis will be representing the state of Texas as the state first-place winner.
The International Roadeo will be hosted by IndyGo from May 3 to 7.
It's been at least seven years since METRO had a state-level winner. We are very proud of these two outstanding bus operators who garnered top honors in their profession.
The next time you step aboard a METRO bus, you could be riding with some of the best drivers around.
Houstonians are not the only ones who hate traffic. Singapore residents do, too.
Last week, a delegation made up of both government officials and the engineering firm AECOM chose Houston as one of three stops in the United States to study how we handle HOT and HOV lanes.
This Southeast Asian island city-state, with a population of 5.31 million, boasts the world's fourth leading financial center, one of the five busiest ports in the world, and the third highest per capita income in the world. So what did Singapore want to learn from METRO?
"The project they are trying to do is 10 km of elevated reversible HOV lanes - so two-lane reversible HOV lanes," said Nadir Mirjamali, program manager of Capital Projects, who oversaw the visit. "Our HOV lanes are reversible and they wanted to see how our entry and exit operate - how we protect entry and exit."
METRO has been using HOV lanes for 34 years - those are the dedicated lanes for buses, motorcycles, vanpools and car pools. We have recently converted three HOV lanes to HOT lanes, allowing people driving solo in cars the option to pay a small fee to use the lanes, thus making it a High-Occupancy Toll Lane, or HOT Lane.
"We were such a pioneer in the field of HOV lanes," said Mirjamali, who has worked at METRO for 24 years. "In the late 1970s and 1980s, it was the biggest network of HOV lanes in the nation. We are still the biggest, in terms of the number of cars and passengers using them."
Luo Peiqi, an engineer with the AECOM Singapore office, said Houston's T-ramps are unique.
Last Monday, the delegation visited TranStar, the multi-agency consortium that provides transportation and emergency management - and the next day, visited METRO, including experiencing our HOV and HOT lanes in a van driven by Mirjamali.
"They were impressed how we take safety first, as far as trying to protect wrong-way entrance into our HOV lanes through various types of gates, devices, signals and signs, " said Mirjamali. "They took a lot of pictures. They had a questionnaire when they came in with lots and lots of questions."
Click here to read more about our HOT Lanes. And check out our award-winning I Hate Houston Traffic website here.
If you're riding METRORail this weekend, be aware that there will be a service interruption tonight at 8 until Monday, April 15, at 4:30 a.m.
Service will stop between the Downtown Transit Center and UH-Downtown Stations because of construction activities for METRORail expansion. We are building three light-rail lines: the East End Line, the Southeast Line and the North Line.
We'll have dedicated "Rail Shuttle" buses every 10 minutes during regular rail service hours in that area. Click here to see a map. Thanks for your patience.
This Friday and Saturday, come out and enjoy live music, an outdoor movie night, painting parties and art cars - all free of charge.
It's a two-day "7th Annual Midtown Art in the Park" event to celebrate the installation of what's being billed as the city's largest full-scale mural.
The mural - and all the events at the festival - will take place at 2800 Main at McGowen, the site of the future Super Block Park.
Avoid traffic by riding METRORail to the McGowen station and hopping off right in front of the festivities.
"The artistic influence in midtown is what makes this area really unique to Houston," said Matt Thibodeaux, executive director of the Midtown Management District. "By having the largest mural in the city of Houston, we are encouraging and supporting the artistic cultural vibe of midtown."
So party on the street and take METRORail to this free event. Here's the schedule:
Friday, April 12, beginning at 5 p.m.
Saturday, April 13, beginning at 8 a.m.
Yesterday, METRO celebrated its milestone of 100 million boardings with the second highest single-day ridership in the month of April.
The ridership yesterday was second only to the ridership on April 4, 2011, when the NCAA Men's Division Basketball Tournament played at Reliant Stadium.
Our two new S70 H2 rail cars enjoyed an estimated 980 boardings on the 10 trips made by the two combined cars. Our estimated total boardings yesterday were 44,809.
We’re four years ahead of schedule in reaching 100 million boardings, thanks to all of you who ride METRORail regularly.
Click here to watch a short video of our morning ceremony, including a flash mob dance and comments by Mayor Annise Parker, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia.