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Metro Looks At Mass Transit Options For Houston And The Region—Conservatives Don’t Seem To Want To Be Part Of The Discussion

Last week I attended a lunch for local political bloggers that was put on by Metro.

Metro is our transit authority in Houston and Harris County.

The lunch was held in the big Metro train barn out near the Astrodome.

Below is a picture I took that conveys a sense of the place.

The intent of the lunch was for Metro to gain favorable attention from local bloggers. After recently writing off $168  million in worthless assets, Metro could use some good press.

This wasting of taxpayer dollars no doubt further agitated many local conservatives who have long been suspicious of Metro.

There is nothing wrong with a public agency seeking positive public relations. Metro has goals and plans. Plenty of people of all ideological views use mass transit.

Metro has a right to make their case. The public can then decide what they think and how we should proceed.

Among those from Metro attending this blogger lunch were President and CEO George Greanias, as well as Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia. Here is a list of members of the Metro board.

Metro has been pressing hard in recent years for the expansion of light rail. While construction continues, funding is always a problem. The new Republican majority in the U.S. House puts federal dollars for transit initiatives in danger all around the country.  Though Houston light rail funding for the year ahead has been requested by President Obama, it seems that securing external funding for this longterm big-ticket item will be a year-to-year struggle.

My own view is that light rail is not likely ever to expand to the point where it represents an effective transit solution to the multi-county Houston metropolitan area. While Metro, at the moment, serves primarily Harris County, an important goal of Metro should be expansion of  mass transit options to our full region. Light rail is a contentious subject, not just because it is so expensive to build, but also because it’s limited scope in relation to the needs of our full metropolitan area give it the feeling of a scheme more suitable to Portland or Seattle rather than a useful tool for people who live 30 miles from Downtown Houston, Texas.

If I had to pick three top goals for Metro, they would be as follows—

1. Full regional cooperation.-–The potential environmental and fuel-saving benefits of regional mass transit in an area as large of the Houston-area must be realized. People in all parts of our region merit a mass transit option. (As long as they understand that it takes money to fund mass transit.)

2. Certainty that outlying areas of Harris County that are growing have sufficient mass transit options.— Metro must adapt to where people are living in our county.

3. Operational transparency and outreach across the ideological spectrum.—Metro must have local political support to meet the transit needs of millions of people in our area.

Regarding operational transparency, Metro now posts extensive data on how they are spending the public’s money.

Conservative bloggers were invited to the blogger lunch. This is what Metro asserted and I believe it.  None came. If they did not feel comfortable with the idea of Metro paying for the lunch, they could have offered to pay Metro the $10 or $15 or whatever it costed per person. They could have refused the meal. If they’d been excluded from the lunch, they could ask for an invite anytime in the name of fairness.

But it seems that on the whole local conservative bloggers don’t really want to be part of a serious discussion about how Metro should serve the public.What readers of these blogs have so far instead is a post by David Jennings at Big Jolly Politics where he seemed to go looking for a conflict with Metro.

I hope Metro has another blogger function and that bloggers of all political stripes show up. Metro is a public entity and is accountable to all in our community.

I’d be happy to bring my own sandwich if that would make everybody happy.

Perry Dorrell at Brains & Eggs and Charles Kuffner at Off The Kuff were two of my fellow Houston political bloggers who did attend the lunch.

Here is a history of urban mass transit in the United States.

(Below–Metro is looking for a way out from recent negative attention.)

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Houston Area Needs More Buses And Should Move On From Notions Of More Super Expensive Demolition Derby Light Rail Trains

metro mar 15 5.jpg

There has been yet another accident involving the Metro light rail train here in Houston.

(Above—A Houston Press picture of the accident.)

A Metro bus smashed into the train this afternoon and 19 people were hurt. It seems that none of the injuries are serious.

The light rail train is on a track and all it does is go back and forth from the Univ. of Houston-Downtown out to the Astrodome area.

We only have one-light rail route for all of the Houston area. That is all we have for all the years this matter has been discussed.

You have to make an effort to hit the train. It is just on a track and it goes back and forth. The train can’t come out and attack you while you are driving. You’ve got to make an improper turn or run a red light to hit the train.

Yet there have been many accidents involving the train since it began operation in 2004.

Our city does not have enough money to build enough trains to make for effective mass-transit.

Maybe folks are striking back at the train for being such a waste of money.

What we should have in Houston, Harris County, and in our area as a whole is a regional transit authority. We should be making sure that we have enough buses for all people in our region who need a ride.

Here is a post I wrote in favor of a regional transit authority for the Houston area.

This is not Portland, Oregon or some type of some type of imagined utopia for the 5% of the public in Houston that even thinks about how wonderful light rail would be.

This is the Houston area where people often have a hard time getting from Point A to Point B. We need reasonable transportation plans and not this hugely expensive demolition derby we have with these trains.

Go stand out along the very busy Highway 6 between 290 and I-10 and wait for a bus to arrive and pick you up.

It will never happen no matter how long you wait.

Work in this well-populated area and don’t have a car?

You are out of luck.

These trains in Houston are a process driven by a narrow elite that has little to do with the daily lives of people in our region. It is also a process driven by self-interested Metro executives.

Let’s have buses for the masses and not boondoggle trains that enable a small group of people to pretend they live someplace other than Houston, Texas.

(Below—A demolition derby held at the West End Fair in Gilbert, Pennsylvania in 2007.)

March 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 5 Comments

Light Rail In Houston And The Chimpanzee I Don’t Want To Be

It is difficult to know how to feel about the proposed extension of light rail in Houston.

(Above–Transportation in Minsk, Belarus.)

Four new lines, all in the inner loop as far I can determine, are on the table for a vote of the Metro Board in March. The cost of this project is said to be $2.6 billion. 

On one hand, I support mass transit. On the other hand, I support mass transit for all the people. Not just inside the loop.

For example, there is no bus on Highway 6 in-between 1960 and Westheimer. Yet many people live and work in this area and Highway 6 gets more busy each day.

How can we commit $ 2.6 billion for transit inside the loop without addressing all of Houston and the suburbs? (And when will all our Harris County suburbs grow up and incorporate and elect mayors and city councils and establish a police force beyond the Harris County Sheriff? Maybe these folks would get better services if they’d incorporate and find a coherent voice. )

A regional transit authority is clearly needed. Please click here to see my previous post of the likelihood of a regional transit authority in the Houston-area.

Then you have the issue of the folks on each side of the debate.

Seemingly against any extension of mass transit are folks who reflexively oppose government, hate taxes more than they value the future, and who think that if only they can stop the bus from coming their neighborhoods will be able to keep out “undesirables.”  I have supported light rail in Houston so far because it annoys conservatives to such a degree.

On the other side of the rail debate are what are often the most annoying folks of all. Liberals that I share 90%  in common with, but that remaining 10% is a difference in sensibilities that makes me want to send a check to the National Rife Association. An inside-the-loop focus that in the end values pragmatism and order over imagination and justice. These are the kind of folks I see getting most excited over these train cars. 

( And the idea that some have of streetcars for Houston! Oh!  As it says in Ecclesiastes– “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities…..”  Must we spend public dollars to remake a small portion of the county in the imagined self-image of a narrow few? )

Here is part of the Phil Ochs song Love Me I’m A Liberal

I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.

It’s like how I can’t stand chimps and monkeys. I despise them for being so like myself, yet being something I very much don’t want to be.  I don’t want to be a nasty chimp. I don’t want to be a process-orientated  liberal who gets excited about boondoggle train cars in my neck of the woods while folks out in county can’t get a ride to work. Mass transit should not be about what seems cool or neat. It should be about getting people where they need to go. 

So where do I come down on the question of light rail for Houston?

When all is said and done, I’m for it as an extension of government in a small government region and state, as a job creation project, and because of the people it frustrates. It’s not like we’ll spend the money on something useful if we don’t build the trains. As for light rail being part of a coherent transit policy for the entire region, that is not part of the debate at this point. 

Light rail, so far, seems more an inner-loop vanity and a conceit to try to turn Houston into something it is not. But since it’s opponents offer nothing more useful than more highway building and endless government bashing, I say build the damn thing and let them stew. I’m with the chimps on this one. (Because, as I  sometimes face up to, I’m one of the chimps more than I’d like to admit. It can take so much effort not to revert to a less developed state. )

Now if we want to be serious and plan for light rail across the county and region, that’s something I could be on board with.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Houston, Music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Asked St. Jude, Saint Of Lost Causes, To Bless Idea Of Mass Transit In Houston

I’ve called upon St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, to offer blessings to the idea of an extensive mass transit system in Houston and the Houston area. When I reached St. Jude, he told me he was busy working on the idea of a first-rate recycling program in Houston.

( Above is St. Jude as painted by Georges de La Tour. The painting was completed at some point between 1615 and 1620. Here is information about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Young Natalie Turner is patient of the month at St. Jude.  Here is information on St. Jude himself from Catholic.org.)   

The Houston Chronicle ran a story today about prospects for a more comprehensive mass transit system in Houston and the suburbs. (To the extent suburb can be distinguished from city around here.) The story gives a clue why Houston and this area as a whole are so often such a backwards-looking mess.

A Republican County Commissioner from Fort Bend County named James Patterson, who in fairness appears to be in favor of more mass transit, had this to contribute on the idea of a regional transit authority —

“Patterson said he believes most residents of Fort Bend and other suburban counties “are pretty much an independent lot, and they are going to say, ‘We would love to work with Metro … but if there is going to be a Park & Ride lot in Rosenberg, we need our elected officials to be in control of that”

Yeah…those are rugged independent types out in Fort Bend County. I’ll tell you what—why not just give those folks horses and they can ride into work like John Wayne. That will reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The Duke here is saying “Don’t mess with my park n’ride.”

Metro itself is not yet on board with the idea of a regional transit authority either. Why think big when millions of cars are on the road, gas prices are up, the air is horrible, and people are wasting hours of their lives on the highway?

Metro seems to be playing it coy. They are waiting for the day suburban residents are ready to be taxed to help pay for an expanded public transportation system.

I wonder how long a wait that will be.

The next total solar eclipse visible over the United States is projected for 2017. The one after that will be in 2024. Based on what I read today, I would bet “no” on a regional transit authority in the Houston-area by these dates. 

In the meantime, Metro pushes a light rail system that costs billions and offers service to a small number of people. I voted for it not because I believe anything Metro says, but because it irritated conservatives to such a great degree. And at least it’s a job creation program.

St. Jude got back to me on this issue. He said that he was all for desperate cases, and that he feels no person is beyond hope, but that this was more than even he could handle. St. Jude referred me to an acquaintance of his to handle the foreseeable future of a top-flight public transportation system in Houston—  

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Houston, Politics, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments