Houston is blessed to have professional-caliber arts events offered to the public free of charge every summer.
Whether you choose to sit under the stars on the hillside or on a seat under air-conditioned vents and fans, you can watch the drama of Shakespere or tap your toes to the music of Fats Waller at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park.
It's all part of the summer festival on the hill in Hermann Park that ends on September 30. I remember as a teenager attending these events - both with my family and on dates. They were an affordable and fun way to spend an evening.
Don't let traffic or parking worries keep you from this al fresco entertainment. You can ride the train and hop off for a five-minute walk to the theater. Park at METRO's Fannin South Park & Ride lot (Fannin at West Bellfort) for $2.50, then ride the rail for $1. Children under 5 ride free.
If you have young kids, riding the train is a fun way to extend the outing's entertainment. My kids are always asking if they can ride a METRO bus or train on weekends.
Click here for a schedule of events. Click here for detailed instructions on how to get there on METRORail, including bus schedules for buses around Hermann Park.
A recently completed $1.2 million improvement project of Miller included fresh landscaping and more seating in the theater, lighted pathways, more overhead fans and upgraded walkways.
So check it out - and ride METRO to get there.
Drivers of private vehicles aren't the only ones facing pain at the pump.
Transit agencies nationwide are staring at budget shortfalls as their own fuel costs continue to soar. Some are increasing revenues by selling ads - from bus and train cards to shrink-wrapped trains.
New York City Transit already has "brand cars" in which the interiors of rail cars are papered with ads. In April, the agency started placing ads on the exterior of subway cars, according to the New York Post. Now the MTA wants to add flip-book style advertising inside tunnels. Read more at TransitTalent.com.
In Boston, commuters on the T can find this style of advertising, as well as in the Washington Metro. San Francisco's BART became the largest train system nationally to do this in March 2007, when it launched these animated mini-movie ads. Read our blog post here.
In Sweden, entire trains are wrapped.
Money from advertising adds up. New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported $106 million last year, up from $90 million the previous year. The MTA predicts it will hit $110 million this year.
"It's a high priority of ours," Elliott Sander, CEO of MTA said on TransitTalent's blog. "We've made strong progress in generating new revenues, which is critical, given the MTA's challenging financial circumstances."
Here in Houston, we have wrapped a few trains to promote a campaign, but not to raise revenues. Last year, during the Lucy exhibit at The Museum of Natural Science, we partnered with the museum and wrapped a train to promote the event. Now, we have wrapped three trains with the images of our celebrities in the I Ride campaign - George Foreman, Carlos Lee and Chloe Dao.
What do you think about displaying ads on buses, trains and bus shelters to raise revenues? Is it adding more clutter to the environment - or is it a legitimate way to generate more income?
George Foreman, the two-time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion turned electric grill entrepreneur, minister and author, has added another first to his sterling list of accomplishments.
On Wednesday, Big George stepped into a boxing ring in front of a METRO train and autographed a giant photograph of himself that is wrapped around one of METRO's trains.
It's all part of our I Ride campaign - an advertising campaign featuring Foreman, Astros' outfielder Carlos Lee, and fashion designer Chloe Dao. The 30-second commercials featuring each celebrity showcases METRO as a reliable, inexpensive and yes - even glamorous way- to get where you need to go.
The commercials were written and produced by Robert Fritsche, senior writer/producer at METRO. When he and Karl Koch, METRO's Manager of Creative Services, were brainstorming recently on ways to get more mileage out of the campaign, an idea was born.
"We started talking, ‘Why don't we get him to autograph a glove for Frank (Wilson)?' Then it was, ‘Hey, why a glove? Why don't we get him to autograph a train?'" recalled Koch.
That off-the-wall idea became a reality on Wednesday when the Hall-of-Fame boxer emerged from a train with METRO President and CEO Frank J. Wilson, and both stepped onto a boxing ring before Foreman signed the train with a giant, permanent-ink Sharpie pen.
"We were extremely pleased with the turnout of the media. George felt that everything we did was top-notch. It was exciting to see a legend stand in the ring, helping represent METRO," said Fritsche, who coordinated the event.
Today, Bryan Pennington, senior vice president of engineering and construction, hosted our sixth Web chat. The topic: METRO Solutions and the five light-rail lines we are building.
We had 34 people chatting, and we received far more questions than we could answer. Our apologies for not getting to all of your questions, including some pre-submitted ones, but we will do our best to answer some of those later on this blog and to host more chats on this subject. Obviously, changing the transit landscape in Houston with light rail generates a lot of interest, and we thank you for joining the conversation earlier today.
Here's the transcript.
(12:01:48 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Mr. Pennington seems to be a very talented man with numerous flattering credentials. I met him once about two years ago by mistake but he seemed to be a pretty nice guy. It does give me hope that the light rail system will turn out to be an overwhelming success. Now, if we could only get someone with equal talents on the bus end of things, or better yet, allow the talented people you have to actually use their talents. Seems like everyone is focused on the more interesting "Project Pennington" instead of getting their hands dirty with the bus system.
A: Thank you for those kind words. However, I have to say that within METRO, we have many people, who if anything, are even more talented than myself dealing w/ the buses and METRO's other operations.
(12:03:39 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: How will METRO get everything into Richmond east of Greenbrier? The ROW is so narrow!
A: When METRO started planning the University Corridor, we received a lot of input through Council members and the general community. From that, METRO is attempting to balance transit requirements against traffic, pedestrian and even more importantly, residences and businesses. We are designing the system to minimize the real estate requirements, but we may need some strips of land in the Richmond area to allow us to provide for all of the different stakeholders.
(12:04:08 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: How will HFD Station 16 have access?
A: Under the present design, there will be no impact to the fire station, and access will be maintained at all times.
(12:06:21 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: My question is "METRO rushed to build the first tram line, and taxpayers were stuck with a shoddily built system, still leaking Stray Current, where taxpayers will never recover the millions of dollars spent trying to cure the initial problems; now, METRO again rushed to break ground on the Harrisburg line, why should taxpayers not expect another rushed, shoddily built tram system?"
A: I was not here when the Red Line was built, but as a transit professional, I have to say the workmanship on the first line is good. Like any new system, there have been teething problems, but those have largely been dealt with. The stray current is a non-issue. It is true that METRO is maintaining the momentum in the implementation of the transit extensions because there are a large number of people who want to see METRO move ahead as quickly as possible and provide much needed rapid transit in the Houston area as soon as possible.
(12:08:20 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: During his interview on this year's first episode of Metro Matters, I understood Frank Wilson to describe the Quickline bus service planned for Bellaire Blvd. as a forerunner to light rail there. Is this true? If so, I more than heartily applaud the idea.
A: As a general principle, METRO is building up transit corridors. Naturally, in doing this, we are looking at those routes where we already have good ridership. The intention is over time to continue to provide technology which meets the transit demand on a particular route. Using Bellaire as a particular example, if the ridership continues to grow to a level where full BRT or even LRT would be justified, then in time, it would be METRO's intention to do that.
(12:09:01 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will you be attending the 2008 Transportation Summit?
A: The short answer is no. I would like to attend, but given where we are in the implementation of the METRO Solutions program, I think my time is better spent on my day job in the short term.
(12:09:41 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: How are you going to pick testing Labs for the East line?
A: For METRO's testing purposes, as always, there will be a procurement process available to all qualified companies.
(12:11:21 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q : For the base of the rail lines, please consider using concrete premixed with coloring (e.g., brick red color) to distinguish the rail line from adjoining car lanes - this will alert drivers to stay off the rail, and will add an aesthetic touch to the system.
A: To make the transit corridor stand out, I agree. It's a good idea. This can be done in a number of ways. In the past, color concrete has provided maintenance issues in other transit agencies. But at this time, we have not ruled out any particular solution. And we'll be looking at this through the detail design process.
(12:11:43 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will the North line be part of the existing Red line, or will we have to change trains?
A: The North Line will be a continuation of the Red Line and there will be no need to change trains.
(12:12:41 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Once METRO get more trains for the other lines, are we getting the same type of train model that we have now? The Siemens S70 railcars?
A: METRO is going through a procurement process for the future vehicles, so at this time, I am not able to tell you precisely which vehicles we will be obtaining. However, whichever vehicle we obtain will be very, very similar to the existing rolling stock.
(12:13:42 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: When will the southeast corridor break ground?
A: You may already be aware that METRO has recently received the Record of Decision from the FTA for the Southeast Corridor. This is a key step towards commencing our construction. At present, we are planning commencement for September this year.
(12:13:48 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will the rail stations have emergency telephones?
(12:18:51 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: What kind of systems are you looking to provide on the system, & when is the selection going to be made on the light rail?
A: The systems that our contractor will provide are presently being planned. However, they will be very similar to those on the existing Red Line, and of course, will be compatible with the Red Line. By light rail, I guess you mean the vehicles, and this selection will take place in the fall of this year.
(12:19:49 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Where do you plan to locate the maintenance shop on the north line?
A: As I replied to an earlier question, the Red Line and the North Line will become one for operational purposes. We will, therefore, be able to use the existing shop at the ROC (Rail Operation Center near Fannin @ W. Bellfort), at the south end of the Red Line.
(12:20:51 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Considering the current national trends towards mass transit, has Metro seen any indications of increased support for the new lines?
A : I have been in Houston around 3.5 years now, and I have seen a gradual increase in support over that time, but I think the recent events and gas prices have made everybody realize that transit is a key part of transportation for now and for the future.
(12:21:42 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: With the change in facility providers, what is the status of the LRV procurement?
A: The progress of the vehicle procurement has not been affected by the change in facility provider, and as previously answered, the selection will be made in the fall of this year.
(12:23:26 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: So what are the parameters being taken into consideration to provide safe light rail. Also, are we looking at Homeland Security funding?
A: Safety is formatted into all of our project planning. Of course, experience on the Red Line is extremely helpful as we finalize our planning for our future lines. METRO will look at any and all sources of funding to continue to expand the transit network and to provide a safe system.
(12:25:24 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will any of the new lines be elevated above traffic or underground? Currently every line is planned at street level - correct?
A: Generally, all of the lines are at-grade. We have some local grade separations. For instance, you may have read in the newspapers that in conjunction with the Freight Rail District and the city, METRO is planning a bridge over the existing freight rail line, just to the west of Magnolia. We also have a short section of grade separation towards the north end of the North Corridor.
(12:26:13 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q : Will stations on these other lines be just like the ones on the Red Line---meaning---you can only link two cars together because of block length? Also, will those stations have the same look as the ones on the Red Line?
A: The stations on the extensions will be almost exactly the same as the existing ones in terms of architecture and physical size and layout. Generally, we are planning for two-car trains.
(12:27:43 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Are there any possibilities that the East End line will open prior to 2012?
A: Yes, as the construction proceeds, we will be looking for opportunities to open the lines as soon as possible.
(12:28:35 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: I am currently working on a thesis studying water supply and transportation services (public works) in a rural town in Mexico (Tulum Pueblo). Is there a possibility to for me to go to your office and see how 'public works' are done in the 'developed world'?
A: If you access METRO's Web site, you will obtain the contact details for our community outreach staff. And I am sure they will be more than happy to assist you.
(12:29:35 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: How will someone transfer in downtown from the east line to the north line?
A: METRO is still reviewing the operational details in the downtown area. But at present, we are planning in the flexibility for East Line riders to connect into the heart of downtown, but also to connect directly into the North Line.
(12:31:19 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Is the main street line profitable?
A: The Main Street Line when viewed on a ridership basis for the length of route is the most successful LRT line in the United States. It achieved the projected ridership for 2020 after around 18 months of operation. Having said that, public transit in the west is generally not classified as a profitable enterprise.
(12:32:34 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: How will the university line connect to the Galleria?
A: There will be a direct connection between the Uptown Line and the University Line at Westpark. Although the design is not complete, our focus is on providing what we call a one-seat ride. In other words, we're looking to make a direct connection.
(12:34:46 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will any of the new lines share lanes with traffic, such as the turn lanes in the Med Center?
A: Based on experience from the Red Line, METRO generally is avoiding sharing lanes. However, there are some limited locations where there will be shared lanes. For instance, where it was necessary to avoid major property takings. Again, METRO is trying to find the optimum balance between the various stakeholders.
(12:36:07 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: What are the latest plans for the Montrose at Richmond station (both platforms west of Montrose or split to both sides), and is the next station planned at Mandell or Dunlavy?
A: There are stations at both Montrose and the Mandell/Dunlavy area. METRO is going through the final stages of planning as to the exact location and we hope to be in a position within the next few weeks to provide this information to the community.
(12:37:50 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will landscaping and trees be added to buffer sound as the train goes through residential neighborhoods?
A: As part of the feedback obtained over the last several years from Council members and the community, we understand that landscaping and trees are a fundamental component of our project. As we finish off the design process, we are ensuring that we maintain at least as many trees as exist on the corridors at present.
(12:38:54 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Why are bikes limited to non-peak, non-rush hours on the trains - and is there any plan to change that?
A: I am probably not the right person to answer this question. Of course, there are capacity and safety issues to consider in conjunction with providing the bike community the convenience and connectivity.
(12:39:43 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will you provide wireless access to rail riders?
A: Clearly, METRO would want to make wireless access to all our riders over time, and we are presently looking into the opportunities on the LRT, but no final decision has been made yet.
(12:41:24 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: How come METRO has only gotten 18 of those METRORail trains and not more? This question is because if we had gotten more than 18, chances are there would be more two-car trains running---even if METRO thinks at certain times, only a one-car train would do.
A : As I mentioned in an earlier response, the ridership on the Red Line is far, far better than might have been expected when the line was being planned in the late 90s/early 2000. In the present vehicle procurement, we will be obtaining additional vehicles to meet the ever increasing ridership on Main Street.
(12:42:31 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Are there any plans to bring the university line onto the U of H campus?
A: Depending upon the final design, I expect the University of Houston central campus will have three stations.
(12:45:42 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: What kind of work did you do while in Hong Kong?
A: I lived and worked in Hong Kong over a period of 11 years. I was involved in building all of the original four Metro/subway lines between 1977 and 1988. I worked for both contractors and ultimately for MTRC, the equivalent of METRO.
(12:48:09 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: What would you say is the reason for a lack of support in many places across the US and Houston for Light Rail along with other forms of public transportation?
A: The auto has for a long time been the main form of transportation in the U.S. and the availability of developable land has led to sprawl. However, I think we all recognize the future will be different, and cities will continue to become more dense. In that situation, transit becomes not only more competitive, but also a must. Again, transit is not the only transportation solution. It is part of the overall.
(12:50:47 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will any of the new rail lines be off the streets (say subway or above ground) or have its own right of way? That's what a real urban transportation system is supposed to have, not running on the streets with traffic. Look at what Charlotte, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta have, and tell me if Houston will be on par.
A: Generally, the LRT will have its own at-grade ROW running in the street. For LRT within the Loop, this is the optimum solution for the Houston context. The ridership that we've obtained to date on the Red Line shows that Houston is at least on a par with the cities you mentioned. And I would argue that when further built out, the Houston system could be better than just about any in the country.
(12:51:10 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Do you intend to include additional safety measures on the new lines to prevent vehicles driving into the trains?
(12:52:21 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Will the Uptown Line run in the middle of 610? This is from Memorial to Post Oak Blvd.
A: We are working closely with TxDot to resolve this issue. From my perspective, the middle of 610 would be the optimum solution, but we need to see how the discussions with TxDot pan out.
(12:55:15 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Are there any long range plans to connect the light rail in to a heavy rail line (like the Marta system in Atlanta, GA)?
A: The overall METRO Solutions plan envisages a multi-modal transit system covering a wide area of the city and suburbs. In the downtown/inner Loop area, a connector system using LRT is the logical technology choice. As this is being built out, it is logically then to look at bringing commuter rail in from the suburbs to connect to the LRT system to give riders more choice and make it easier for them to leave their car at home. One of the major connecting points that METRO is presently planning is at the Intermodal Terminal, located near the old Hardy rail yards, just to the north of the downtown area.
(12:57:17 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: What will happen to the trees and landscaping in the center median of the Uptown Line on Post Oak Blvd.? Will they be completely removed to make room for the rail lines and stations?
A: As the final design takes place, we will be working with Uptown to protect for landscaping areas in a median running along the center line of Post Oak. At the same time, we will be protecting for turn lanes to allow customers to access the commercial and retail businesses on either side of Post Oak.
(12:58:47 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: At Braeswood and Greenbriar, the Red line crosses Greenbriar just before the intersection, sometimes leaving cars blocking the rail waiting on the light. Will you be able to avoid this on the new lines? It seems one possible solution would be to make the cars wait before the tracks when the light is red (move the light to before the tracks).
A: As a general rule, we are trying to avoid using gates on the new corridors, which I believe is what you're referencing.
(12:59:32 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Bus ridership is surely at an all-time high right now. Does Metro have any plans to expand bus service? Any hopes for 24hr coverage on some routes?
A: I am not the right guy to answer this question, but METRO is working diligently to respond to the present increase in ridership.
(1:00:03 PM) Bryan Pennington:
Q: Are there future plans to get these rails dedicated lines to run to both IAH and HOBBY airports?
A: Yes, this is included in the long-term METRO Solutions plan.
(1:04:28 PM) Bryan Pennington:
We're out of time now. I'd love to stay longer and chat, but I hope the answers I've given are helpful, and I look forward to doing this again, if there are still a lot of questions unanswered.
The North Corridor light-rail line received a watershed decision by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), making METRO eligible for federal funds and allowing the agency to begin construction on the light-rail line.
Earlier this month, we received a Record of Decision (ROD) for the North Corridor Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (SFEIS). This ROD is the final approval for the federal environmental process, including the extra report requested last fall when METRO announced it was making four of the METRO Solutions corridors light rail instead of bus rapid transit.
Now with the ROD in hand, we can start the real work of building out this line: buying the right-of-way where needed, completing the final design of the rail line and starting the construction. The ceremonial groundbreaking for this corridor is scheduled for this fall.
Last October, the METRO Board of Directors voted to upgrade to light rail rather than bus rapid transit on the North, Southeast, East End and Uptown lines. (See news release here).
The July 2, 2008, ROD stated that the "FTA's decision to prepare a SFEIS in this case was based on a consideration of form rather than substance because no new or changed significant impact that were not previously evaluated in the FEIS were found."
A recent HoustonChronicle column also pointed that out.
The FTA also said that METRO's selection of route and technology (dubbed the Locally Preferred Alternative) meets the purpose and needs of the North Corridor project and "is most compatible with local plans; has the lowest operating costs; has the least impact to historic properties, mature trees, and sensitive noise receivers (e.g. residences); and has the general support of the community."
This Thursday, you'll have a chance to ask anything and everything you've ever wanted to know about the five light-rail lines METRO is building.
The man in charge of building out those rail lines is Bryan Pennington, senior vice president of engineering and construction at METRO. Pennington's been at METRO three and a half years, and brings 30 years of transit experience to Houston.
A honors graduate in civil engineering with a degree from the University of Salford in England, Pennington has worked in the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Europe, Central America and the U.S. planning and designing both bus rapid transit and mostly, rail lines.
At METRO, he supervises all engineering and construction aspects of the light-rail corridors.
Here's your chance to ask any question related to that. Curious how construction will impact your neighborhood? Wonder who to call if that bulldozer is sitting in your yard for two weeks? Maybe you have questions about the environmental impact statement we submitted to the Federal Transit Administration. Or perhaps you want to know about METRO's schedule: What happens when in your neighborhood.
We invite all questions related to this topic. Join the conversation this Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. If you can't join us live, you are welcome to submit a question now on this blog post in the comment section. All questions will be moderated.
Now that we've officially celebrated a groundbreaking of the East End light-rail line, the idea of five rail lines crisscrossing the city is becoming more of a reality.
As more of us ride the rail, there are some rules of the rail - common courtesy - that are always good to keep in mind.
A recent article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out the perils of ignoring basic etiquette. The writer watched a group of noisy teens push their way onto a crowded rush-hour train. A few minutes earlier, the writer missed a train because exiting passengers walking up the stairs blocked her way to the platform.
So what are some habits we should all practice as more of us ride the rail?
Once on board, move to the back when more commuters step on. Let exiting commuters disembark before you step on the train. Don't stand directly in front of the train doors - stand to the side of the doors to give room for those on the train to step off. There have been many times when I've tried to exit, and there are bodies standing directly in front of the doors, leaving me little space to walk off the train and onto the platform.
More suggestions from the Los Angeles Times reporter: Don't shout, don't shove, once on-board, step away from the doors. Don't swing a huge handbag or backpack around - it could hit someone. And offer your seat to the elderly, pregnant women or disabled.
Click here to read more. Do you have etiquette rules you'd like to suggest?
Recently, I received an e-mail from a gentleman who purchased a Q Card from a Kroger but discovered he couldn't reload it at the point-of-sale machine on one of our Park & Ride lots.
"They can be reloaded at Kroger (and I assume on-line), but the most convenient place for me to reload the card is at the P&R since I pass the machine twice each day," wrote the patron. "Though I've been told this is a very common issue, I find it troublesome that METRO hasn't addressed it either on its main page or here on the blog. There must be thousands of patrons with the same problem...with no one addressing our defective cards/issues.
"Given that METRO discourages riders from obtaining multiple Q Cards, I don't see any other choice if I want a card that is reloadable at the P&R. Can anybody at METRO provide a status update regarding this issue?"
Thanks for writing in. We are sorry you had a problem with your Q Card - and here's the update.
A batch of Q Cards distributed at retail outlets was incompatible with the software at the credit vending machines (CVMs) located at our Park & Ride lots. We are still working with the vendors on a solution to this, and are currently testing a fix.
We had a similar issue on the ticket vending machines (TVMs) on the rail platforms but have resolved that.
Unfortunately, with a huge system-wide roll-out of new technology like our smart cards, technical glitches can occur. We appreciate your patience.
In the meantime, if you'd like a new card that can be reloaded at the Park & Ride lots, call our Customer Information Center and ask for a new Q Card to be mailed to you. Call 713-635-4000.
In this new reality of $4/gallon gas, streets closed off to vehicles may offer a new appeal.
In New York, bicyclists will be able to ride their bikes from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park on roads closed to traffic and open only to walkers and cyclists. This 6.9-mile route will be marked off for six hours on three Saturdays in August, reports the Wall Street Journal.
It's all part of New York City's transportation commissioner's plan to get the Big Apple "green" by cutting down car traffic and encouraging walking and biking for transportation.
"We're trying to get people to envision their streets differently," JanetteSadik-Khan, transportation commissioner, told the Journal. She added that most of the 600,000 people who live within a 20-minute bike ride of lower Manhattan will cram into subways, cars or cabs just to go a few miles.
New York's Summer Streets program is modeled after the 30-year-old event in Bogota, Colombia. Every Sunday, 70 miles of streets are closed to cars and dedicated to walking,biking - or even dancing. London and Paris also have a similar program.
Closer to home, El Paso and Las Cruces, N.M., are trying out the idea - and Baltimore andChicago are considering it, says the Journal. In Boston, a section of DowntownCrossing (near the old Filene's Basement) is permanently closed to traffic and for pedestrians only.
What do you think? Would a street closure program - even a temporary summer one - work here and ease us out of our car culture?
Those of you who live in West Houston and drive through tony Spring Valley Village, know not to speed. I remember when I got my driver's license in high school, the warning that was passed down to new drivers: Never speed in Spring Valley.
Now drivers will begin to notice road construction and delays if they wind their way down Voss and Bracher Roads. But that's good news. Spring Valley Village will launch a $3.3 million road improvement project, thanks to METRO.
The design and construction of the Voss/Bracher project - which actually totals $3,305,000 - include the following work:
- Concrete curb and gutter reconstruction of the two-lane roadway from I-10 westbound feeder road north to Lanell Street.
- A concrete bridge that replaces a wooden one.
- Construction of sidewalks on both sides of the street.
- Converting an open-ditch roadway drainage to an underground drainage system.
Spring Valley officials, of course, are ecstatic.
"If it hadn't been for METRO, this city would have had bad traffic issues," said T. Michael Andrews, Spring Valley's mayor. "There's no question about it - METRO has been our guardian angel."
Spring Valley Village is one of six Memorial Villages and was incorporated as a city in 1955. Located 10 miles west of downtown, the city has 3,611 residents in a 1.6-mile area.
METRO is funding Spring Valley's project from its General Mobility Program, which sets aside one-quarter of the 1-cent sales tax revenues for the city, Harris County and multi-city members.
We have spent more than $1.6 billion on road projects since 1987. Last year, METRO paid $106.8 million to the city of Houston, Harris County and other cities in our service area to repave roads, install sewers, build sidewalks and add landscaping.
METRO expects to spend $1.23 billion in the General Mobility Program through FY 2014.
They are runaways, abandoned children, street kids.
They are the kids who have no place to go - until they reach Covenant House Texas, a shelter for kids ages 10 to 21, with most ranging from 18 to 21 years of age.
"This is the population that opts out of all the social services. They are definitely on the street, and we want to change that cycle," says Carolyn Garrard, public relations specialist.
One way to break the cycle - in addition to offering shelter so they can work and attend school - is to help these young adults become a part of their community and give them a sense of pride.
Covenant House has done this by forming the Covenant House Texas Community Action Team (CAT), which participates in regular civic projects in the neighborhood.
One of the latest ones was with METRO's Adopt-a-Stop/Adopt-a-Shelter program. The group adopted a METRO bus shelter at the corner of Yoakum and Lovett in May 2007. Several times a week, the young people empty the trash at the bus stop, and on Saturdays, do a major clean-up.
"On any project, we usually take10 kids out in the community. The kids have a great time. We go to breakfast at McDonald's and are out on projects at 9 a.m. After they're done, they ask, ‘When's our next project?'" says Garrard.
Garrard points out that by giving back to the community, these young people build their self-esteem. "It's good for them to be needed in the communities and in the neighborhood. They get a good sense that they're giving back and helping somebody else," says Garrard.
In addition to helping METRO's Adopt-a-Stop program, the group has participated in cleaning local parks, part of the city's Keep Houston Beautiful program. Last December, the group was recognized for its efforts with an award from Keep Houston Beautiful at the Mayor's Proud Partners luncheon.
For more information on how you can adopt a METRO bus stop or shelter, click here.
Two recent articles tout Houston as a hot spot - an enviable city in which to live, a city that leads the nation in job creation and affordable housing prices.
Kiplinger.com lists Houston as the No. 1 City in the nation in its rating of 2008 Best Cities. (Raleigh is No. 2). With our aerospace, technology and medical companies as our core industries, this energy capital generated more than 100,000 jobs in 2007 while keeping the cost of living below the national average.
Bouncing back from the oil bust of the 1980s, Houston has wisely focused on investing in its downtown. "Upgrades include an expanded convention center, a new stadium, a spiffed-up Main Street and a light-rail system," according to Kiplinger.
Newsweek points out that Houston has morphed into a type of Silicon Valley for the global energy industry. "Urban cowboy? Think suburban geek. Houston has 70,000 engineers and architects (a concentration 60 percent higher than is typical for the United States). The oil boom and weak dollar are boosting demand for their services," says Newsweek.
In addition to the weak dollar, global growth is driving Houston's good fortune. Exports from the Port of Houston - the nation's second busiest port - rose 25 percent in 2007 to $72 billion.
Jeff Moseley, chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership, tells Newsweek that one million people are coming to Houston in the next 10 years - the equivalent of San Antonio's population.
All this good economic news bodes well for us at METRO as we tackle the ambitious project of completing five light-rail lines in four years. Yesterday, we celebrated a ceremonial groundbreaking of the East End Corridor - the first light-rail construction since the Red Line opened in 2004.
With the projected growth that's expected, a well-coordinated mass transit system can't come soon enough.
Streams of confetti, fireworks and the beat of Latin music created a festive mood as East End community leaders, residents and elected officials celebrated this morning the beginning of light-rail in a historic neighborhood where rail began in Houston.
At a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony, METRO Chairman of the Board David S. Wolff said this event launches construction of the East End Corridor and the beginning of 30 miles of light rail to serve our community's growing transportation needs.
"We reached this important milestone because of people who believed in this dream and people willing to act. In other words, leaders," said Wolff.
Mayor Bill White said he was happy light-rail construction was beginning in the East End. "It may have been said in the past, but it cannot be said now - that Houston is overlooking the East End."
The East End light-rail line is the first of five lines scheduled to be completed in 2012. It will be the first line METRO is constructing since the Red Line began operating in 2004.
About 185 people attended the celebration, an event that "was bustling with enthusiasm and anticipation - not just from the event but for what this means," said Karen Marshall, director of community outreach and coordinator of the event.
"The community leaders and the elected officials who spoke sent a clear message that the East End community deserves a high-quality transportation network," said Marshall. "It's happening now, it's real."
Lifetime East End resident Jessica Hulsey, president of the Greater Third Ward Super Neighborhood, was too excited to read her prepared remarks and instead thanked METRO and elected officials, urging METRO to continue its work in collaborating with the community as we build this light-rail line.
The photos above were taken by Ernest Chou, senior community relations representative.
Click below to hear excerpts from speeches by METRO Chairman David Wolff and Councilmember Peter Brown - plus the countdown to fireworks.
Our fourth episode of METRO Matters features Andrew Skabowski, senior director of bus maintenance/operations, who talks about how we're going green in the suburbs with our new MCI commuter coaches.
This summer we road-tested one of the new commuter coaches, and the most common comment from drivers? Passengers said the bus was so quiet they were sleeping right through their stops. Look for these on the road by late August.
Not only do these hybrid coaches offer a comfortable ride, they're also kind to the environment. The D4500 CT model uses the newest low-emission, clean-diesel engine technology from Cummins, along with the Allison electric drive propulsion system.
Click below for a preview of the show.
Below are the air dates for METRO Matters on Comcast's Channel 17.
Sat. 6-28-08 @ 6:30 p.m..
Mon. 6-30-08 @ 5:30 p.m.
Wed. 7-2-08 @ 8:30 p.m.
Fri. 7-4-08 @ 6:30 p.m.
Sat. 7-5-08 @ 6:30 p.m.
Tue. 7-8-08 @ 6:30 p.m.
Thur. 7-10-08 @ 7:30 p.m.
Sat. 7-12-08 @ 6:30 p.m.
Mon. 7-14-08 @ 5:30 p.m.
Wed. 7-16-08 @ 8:30 p.m.
This morning, National Public Radio featured a Congressman who's been biking to work for the past 12 years.
Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer says to fix the oil crisis, we need to create a bike-to-work culture in every state. He heads the bipartisan Congressional Bike Caucus.
The beauty of biking? He's never been stuck in traffic and never had to search for parking. He says 40 percent of all trips in this nation are two miles or less.
Click here to listen.
At METRO, we have installed bike racks on our buses and have an active bike club among employees.
When you're rushing to or from work, nothing beats slipping into an HOV lane - if you have the proper number of occupants, of course - and zipping along while hundreds of other cars are crawling in congested traffic.
But if you drive the HOV lane, there are some safety tips to keep in mind.
If you're not familiar with the rules of the HOV lanes, driving rapidly in these restricted lanes can lead to problems. Accidents in HOV lanes are not uncommon.
"It's often a total disregard for the signs and gates," said Raney. "Obey the posted signage, and pay attention to the hours of operation that are on the signs. Follow the directions, and you'll be in good shape."
So here's a primer. There are five types of ramps marked by color-coded diamonds:
- One-way ramps: Are an entrance by morning, an exit by night.
- Two-way ramps: Are entrances and exits, both mornings and evenings. Look at directional signs to follow the flow of traffic safely.
- Cross ramps: Allow access to/from both sides of the freeway.
- Slip ramps: Allow you to merge into or out of freeway traffic.
- Wishbone ramps: Give access to/from feeder roads on either side of the freeway in the direction of traffic flow.
You must have at least two occupants to ride the HOV lanes, unless you are on the Katy Freeway, Monday through Friday, 6:45 a.m. to 8 a.m. During that time slot, you must have at least three occupants to be in the HOV lane.
The following vehicles are not allowed:
- No vehicles towing trailers.
- No trucks with more than two axels or a gross weight capacity of one ton or more.
- No bicycles.
Motorcycles with one rider are allowed.
Click here to read more about HOV lanes and view a system map of the ramps.
What happens if your car breaks down while you're in an HOV lane?
"Slow down, go to the far right shoulder of the barrier wall," advises Raney. "There's actually a 4 or 5-foot shoulder with a white curve line that's painted on the lane. This allows one person to pass, and you won't block the lane."
Then call METRO police at 713-224-2677.
Do not get out of your car to fix a flat.
"We employ our own wreckers. It's a free tow. We will not take you home but will take you to a safe place. We will fix your flat if you have a flat tire. We'll give you gas if you've broken down," said Raney. "We will help you any way we can to assist you to get out of the HOV lane."
Raney said it's better to call METRO police to tow your vehicle, rather than another tow company, because the wreckers METRO uses know how to enter the HOV lanes and remove cars in tight spaces.
"It's a different type of environmental lane. On a freeway, you have more room and a shoulder. This is pretty tight quarters," said Raney.
One more tip: Before you enter an HOV lane, check the overhead lights on the HOV signs. If there is an accident ahead, warning lights will be flashing.
METRO marked a milestone yesterday with the approval by City Council of a consent agreement that gives us permission to build five rail lines on city streets.
But that agreement covers more than permission to build five light-rail lines.
METRO is also giving something to the city: $300 million of utility upgrades. For example, if a sewer line needs to be larger or needs to be replaced due to age, METRO will install a new one.
"That's a tremendous benefit to the city of Houston to have larger sewer lines brought to you by METRO," said Sandra Salazar, spokeswoman for METRO Solutions.
The agreement also gives METRO the green light on moving forward with our Signature Bus service that will have enhanced bus shelters with bus arrivals flashed up in real time - and traffic signals which we will be able now to tweak and synchronize to keep traffic moving smoothly.
We also received permission to the right-of-way for commuter rail.
Councilwoman Wanda Adams said at yesterday's meeting she will work to make sure "the community's voice is heard."
METRO is working on that goal, too, with the formation of Community Advisory Boards (CAB). We created one in the East End Corridor where construction and an official groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for next Friday.
"CABs are an integral part of METRO Solutions' communication strategy," said Kimberly Williams, METRO's associate vice president of corporate projects. "CAB members ensure that METRO Solutions will have a two-way communication system, rather than a one-sided information funnel."
The East End CAB has both supporters and critics of METRO, including civic club presidents, leaders from the East End Chamber of Commerce and Management District and designees of elected officials.
"Their opinions and questions are truly representative of what folks out there are thinking and asking, so we take careful note of what they say, and we make sure we address the issues they bring up," said Linda Trevino, the METRO Solutions Stakeholder Affairs representative for the East End.
For example, at the first East End CAB meeting, participants issued a list of questions to METRO, and at the next meeting, we responded with written answers.
With the consent agreement approved, we will now be forming CABs for the other corridors, as well.
Today, City Council overwhelmingly approved a consent agreement between the city and METRO to build five light-rail lines on city streets.
The vote was 13-2. With this agreement, we can move forward with Phase 2 of METRO Solutions and our goal of completing all five lines by 2012.
The consent agreement details exactly how work will proceed on city rights-of-way.
But as METRO President & CEO Frank J. Wilson told employees today in an e-mail, this agreement is more than a document about water line dimensions and pavement specs.
“It signals a shift in how Houston wants to craft the region’sfuture, recognizing that an integrated mass transit system - light rail, commuter rail, buses – is vital to our economic growth and quality of life,” he said.
Today’s consent agreement represents the end of a long process of negotiations with the city – and marks the beginning of a new era of mass transit in Houston.
Next Friday, June 27, we will host an official groundbreaking ceremony on the East End line.
Tomorrow is the third annual, national Dump the Pump Day in which transit agencies nationwide are urging people to take public transit, save gas and help save the environment.
If you’ve never tried METRO before, it’s a good day to take a ride – and then make a commitment to ride public transit one day a week.
Sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association(APTA), the 2008 National Dump the Pump Day is promoting public transit – and taking a bus or train to work is one of the fastest ways to ease the pain of high gas prices.
“With gas prices higher than ever and financial concerns affecting everyone, now is the time to save money and ride public transportation,” said APTA President WilliamW. Millar, in a statement. “The National Dump the Pump Day on June 19 is an opportunity for people across the country to make a difference in their wallet as well as in the environment.”
Here’s how individual households can make a difference:
· Householdsthat use public transit save more than $1,399 a year in gas.
- Taking transit can reduce your need for a second car, an annual expense of $6,251.
- The average household spends 18 cents per dollar on transportation, and 94 percent of that goes to buying, maintaining and operating cars
- Those who live in areas served by public transportation save $18 billion annually in congestion costs.
Considerthe following savings on a national level:
· Public transit use saves 1.4 billion gallons of gas every year – or almost 4 million gallons of gas every day.
- Mass transit saves the equivalent of 300,000 fewer auto fill-ups every day, or 108 million fewer cars filling up every year.
- Every year, public transit use saves the equivalent of 34 supertankers of oil, or a supertanker leaving the Middle East every 11 days.
And then there’s the environmental impact of public transit:
· Public transit reduces carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually. That would be the same reduction if every household in New York City, Washington, D.C.,Atlanta, Denver and Los Angeles completely stopped using electricity.
- Those who live within one-quarter mile of rail or one-tenth of a mile from a bus stop drive about 4,400 fewer miles every year compared to those with no access to public transit. This equates to using 223 gallons of gas less per year.
Still not convinced?
Try our commute calculator that tells you how much you spend driving versus taking METRO.
And if you’ve never taken METRO before, use our Trip Planner to navigate your ride, or call our Customer Service center at 713-635-4000.
If you’re already a METRO rider, we’d like to hear from you. Tell us how taking public transit has helped your household budget. Do you hop on the bus to save money or to reduce your carbon footprint?
Metrolink, the regional commuter rail system of Southern California, has introduced the train equivalent of a hybrid to its fleet: an energy-efficient locomotive.
"This is sort of the train version of a hybrid car that shuts itself off when it's not moving," Denise Tyrrell, Metrolink spokeswoman told MassTransit magazine.
The $2.9 million MotivePower MPXpress commuter locomotive is 10 feet longer than Metrolink's current locomotive and will be able to pull 10 cars, instead of the six cars it normally pulls.
Pulling four extra cars means an extra 1,200 passengers and more room for more riders who leave their vehicles behind, pointed out Metrolink on its Web site.
The two-story, "green" train emits about 42 percent fewer nitrogen oxides, 70 percent less carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons and 60 percent less particulate matter compared to a cargo-hauling locomotive that meets minimum emission standards.
Automatic start-stop technology reduces idle emissions by at least half.
Click here to read more from Metrolink.
Here at METRO, we are working on commuter rail as part of the METRO Solutions referendum approved by voters in 2003. The Phase 2 implementation plan includes accelerating components of the 2025 METRO Solutions Plan to provide more regional service, including 28 miles of commuter rail. This commuter rail would include US 90A, connecting to Fannin South Station, US 290, connecting to Northern Intermodal Facility and a Galveston line.
It's likely that commuter rail will first serve Missouri City, the 290 corridor and Galveston, said METRO's Bryan Pennington, vice president of planning, engineering and construction, in a Feb. 15 Web chat.
Once we build a commuter rail line, would we consider a "green" locomotive?
"We are reviewing a number of technologies for a variety of commuter rail options, and something like this might be suitable. We will consider once we get the policy go-ahead to advance specific project concepts.," said John Haley, METRO's associate vice president of strategic development of commuter rail.
"Our first step needs to be to select a line and make everyone ‘green' with envy that we are going on commuter rail. Locomotives would come into play then," he continued.
Click here to read an excellent summary by Christof Spieler, of the Citizens' Transportation Coalition, on why Houston needs commuter rail and summaries of studies done by Harris County and the Houston-Galveston Area Council on commuter rail options.