Houston’s transport

2lmc link to a USA Today story about the large number of cars colliding with Houston’s new light rail system. I’d forgotten the city went ahead with this, as when I was living there around 2000, I couldn’t imagine it happening. It was supposed to be the start of a 40 mile scheme, and searching the Houston Press archives I found some articles giving background from last year:

  • All Aboard the Love Train. Perhaps not worth reading, but scan for an indication of the awful politics involved in getting this kind of thing to happen.
  • Trainspotting. “Ten ways Metro hopes to finally sell Houstonians on light rail.”
  • Rail Splitters. Scroll down to a letter from the week after the new mini rail system was launched. “I don’t see how this system is helping anybody. It runs from one millionaire’s baseball stadium to another millionaire’s football stadium. I’ve seen longer rides at Disneyland. Aren’t mass transit systems supposed to be for people who live in outlying areas, or people who can’t afford cars? This rail line serves neither.”

I was going to write something more about my experience of travelling around the city, but due to lack of time it’s in digestible bullet-point form rather than anything more complicated and wordy:

  • Although I lived in Houston, I was actually around 20 miles from downtown, with much of the space between us being empty.
  • Without a car, the only way to get from where I lived to downtown was using the Park & Ride.
  • The Park & Ride terminal was (I’m guessing) at least a mile away, which in Houston’s sweaty fug is not a journey one wants to make.
  • The sidewalks between home and the Park & Ride were intermittent; apparently it was up to the property owner to put them in.
  • When cycling sweatily along the sidewalks, the only other cyclists I saw were Latinos wearing uniforms belonging to McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, etc.
  • It was rare that I saw anyone walking far. I felt like people were staring if I ever did.
  • There was a little minibus service that started running around the Clear Lake area, with friendly drivers picking up and dropping off at a handful of locations, running every couple of hours. I was often the only person on board. I think the service probably stopped.
  • Neither the Park & Ride or the minibus service ran very late. Or at weekends. But as a student with my days free and no social life this wasn’t often a problem.
  • Even with these two services, there were plenty of places that were impossible to reach without a car.
  • There were more sprawling homes along the road from me, further away from the Park & Ride. And further away from any shops. I could at least walk across the four lanes of traffic and vast parking lots to get to the supermarket, drug store, Denny’s, etc.
  • One time when I was walking across the road to Kroger a man in uniform jumped out of a car and asked if I’d ever considered joining the army.
  • During my first days in Houston I was told there were no buses in the city worth using. When I made it into the city I found plenty of buses. The service was patchy compared to, say, London standards, but usable if you were poor, had time, and didn’t mind sweating while waiting for connections.
  • Many Americans (in my experience) seem to discount what public transport they have because it’s not as perfectly convenient as their own car. And public transport is often used by the poor.
  • Despite everything, I’d expected to see more people walking around downtown. After a few months of occasional trips I realised they were all underground.
  • There’s a seven mile network of air-conditioned tunnels snaking around beneath the skyscrapers, with shops, cafes, restaurants, and every service you could need.
  • The only entrances to the tunnels appear to be in underground car parks or in the lobbies of banks and hotels. If you don’t have a car or money, you shouldn’t be in the tunnels.
  • In the tunnels everyone walks on the right-hand side of the corridors.
  • On dress-down Fridays half the tunnels’ inhabitants are men wearing polo shirts tucked into chinos. Walking on the right-hand side of the corridors.

Comments

  • I share your view on Houston’s transportation system. I am on Holiday in Houston right now and seem to be locked in doors because the Metro bus takes forever to get to the bus stop, you have to call a yellow cab to take you out and the cost is not friendly, no trains, no sidewalks and no people walking. One has to rely on friends and relatives to move around.
    I read your mail by chance because I was trying to find out more about Houston’s transportation system. I think they should improve upon this to make it more exciting for tourists.