Traffic is and will probably always be a pervasive issue for the city of Houston. That happens when your region is spread over 1,000 miles and is expected to grow to nearly 10 million people in the next 30 years. It is also at the forefront of the minds of most Houstonians who are forced to endure it nearly every day of their lives.
But, finding ways to mitigate congestion and all the ancillary problems that accompany it isn't easy. The first place most people look — particularly in a city like Houston that hasn't favored alternatives to cars — is public transit. METRORail ridership in Houston is sky high despite the few lines available and expansions are coming albeit slowly.
Looking around town, it seems that at least a few places could benefit heavily from more public transportation, specifically direct, dedicated routes like rail or rapid bus transit services. Look at how it funnels people to Texans games, the rodeo, the Texas Medical Center, Hermann Park and the major universities like UH, TSU and Rice. Getting more options to places were people gather is key. We've already voiced our advocacy for running one new rail line to the Botanic Gardens. Here are five others.
Not only would this give people who want to exercise or picnic an easier way to park and get to and from the park (and the Houston Arboretum), but it will help to ease traffic congestion in a few years when the golf course is complete and we have a PGA Tour stop close to downtown. The fact that the east/west lines in downtown don't extend down Memorial to reach not only the park but areas in between is ridiculous.
When METROrail was first being dreamed up, airport transit was certainly on the wish list, but it was costly, much more so than the first Red Line, which only went six miles. The idea was to see if one small line would achieve ridership (check) and foster more interest in other rail lines (check). Now, a line to Hobby is on the drawing board and up for voter approval in November. IAH may be farther away, but it's the bigger airport with the greater need.
For a moment, picture the Galleria during the holidays. Imagine the parking. Visualize the screaming and insulting gestures from other drivers. We've lived it. It's awful. But, the Galleria is still the city's preeminent holiday mall (and major place of business throughout the rest of the year). They vetoed the idea of rail, opting instead for rapid bus transit. Now, they need to figure out how to connect it because God knows people would be much happier taking some kind of rapid transit to and from that mall before Christmas, especially people who work in the area.
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We bring this up specifically because some kind of rail or rapid transit would not only directly benefit this thriving part of our community, but the entire west side of town. Getting people to and from the Beltway on that incredibly busy side of town makes tremendous sense, especially when you consider the Energy Corridor is just a few miles to the north.
The Big Suburban Neighborhoods
Without question, our biggest traffic problems stem from commuter traffic, much of which is born in The Woodlands, Katy, Kingwood, Sugar Land, Clear Lake and Pearland. It is the very reason we pour more concrete and add HOV lanes. But what if we could get legitimate commuter rail to these places and cut the number of people on the road by a decent percentage? How much would that alter not only our safety as drivers but our perception that you have to own a car to live in Houston? We think a lot.