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How local politicians destroyed Union Station (and connecting commuter rail)


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Local leaders missed an opportunity to incorporate commuter rail into plans for downtown ballpark.
By Franklin Denson | March 7, 2013 | Updated: March 8, 2013 8:10pm

When a group of people, either public or private, is willing to exert itself to make something beneficial for the community happen, it's sad when leaders in the public/political sector stand idly by and watch the opportunity slip away.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of commuter rail in Houston. I know. I was there.

The Texas Limited was a passenger train that ran between Houston and Galveston from 1989 through 1996. I started it with the financial backing of George P. Mitchell and others, and a total investment of $7 million.

My background was in the operating department of the Santa Fe Railway Co. It took me six years to negotiate the trackage rights with the railroads, something that had never been done before, at least in this part of the country.

In 1994, while still operating the Texas Limited, an architect friend of mine and I decided to apply for a federal grant, offered under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), to restore Houston's Union Station to a functioning multimodal transportation center. We could apply for $2 million if we agreed to put up a matching $500,000. Harris County agreed to be the sponsor. We did this and were successful in qualifying for the grant. The owner of the station was H.B.&T. Railway Co., which agreed to put up the $500,000 if we would help them sell the property after the restoration was complete.

Commuter trains would now be able to connect the suburbs with the central business district and interconnect with Metro buses.

The architect and I went to Austin to appear before the Texas Highway Commissioners, who administered ISTEA in Texas, to officially be apprised of our Union Station project being selected as an ISTEA grant recipient.

While there, I was approached by a man who told me that he worked for then-Mayor Bob Lanier, a vehement and outspoken foe of rail, and that he had been sent to Austin to either persuade me not to accept the grant or, that failing, to convince the commissioners to withdraw the grant. He seemed to delight in his assignment. He failed on both counts.

The next day in Houston it was announced that Ken Lay, then Enron CEO and later a convicted felon, had put together a prominent group of Houston leaders who would lead a group to buy Union Station as a site upon which to build a new stadium for the Astros. It would be called, "The Ballpark at Union Station." Shortly thereafter, the name was changed to Enron Field, which lasted until Enron's collapse.

I was thrilled to hear of this, thinking now not only of commuter trains coming into the station but also of trainloads of baseball fans, which is what you have in cities such as New York and Chicago.

The architects, HOK of Kansas City, must have also been enthused as they included the name Texas Limited along with tracks coming into the back of the station in the original site plan before ever speaking with me.

About this time, the Harris County Sports Authority was created with Jack Rains and Billy Burge running it. They advised my attorney, Roland Chamberlin, and me that, in order to pursue our project, we should work with a pair of attorneys the authority had retained. After several meetings with them it was clear that nobody at the authority had any interest in trying to help preserve rail at Union Station. This was driven home after I met with Mike Surface, who worked for Harris County. During a meeting with him, he told me that in order to effect a multi-million-dollar construction cost savings the footprint of the stadium was going to be moved south all the way to Texas Avenue, thereby covering the space where tracks could be laid. I did not believe him. I called the lead architect at HOK, with whom I had had previous discussions, and asked if this was true. He told me he had never heard of such a thing. Surface subsequently left the employ of the county and became a developer doing work for Harris County. Recently he and former County Commissioner Jerry Eversole were convicted of and pleaded guilty to bribery. ("Eversole and Surface avoid prison sentences," Page A1, Jan. 5).

After my conversation with the HOK architect, I contacted then-Houston City Councilman Rob Todd who had shown an interest in my project. I related to him this sequence of events. I told him that I thought, in the interests of the citizens, it was imperative that an outside third party engineer be brought in to look into the validity of this construction cost savings story. Todd asked me to appear before City Council to make this request, which I did. They were so interested in wanting to hear about this that they waived the usual two-minute limit. I spoke to them and answered questions for half an hour. That was on a Tuesday. After I finished, Todd canvassed the other council members and came back to tell me that we had a very strong majority. I came back the following Wednesday when they voted. Todd canvassed them again before the vote and this time told me that all of our support had evaporated overnight. Mayor Lanier was there one of the days but I don't remember which. Go figure.

During this time, I met on more than one occasion with members of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance seeking their help. They had previously given me their "Good Brick" award for creating the Texas Limited. To my disappointment in my last meeting with them, two of their members, Minette Boessel and Ramona Davis, implored me to go away.

My friends at the railroads, George Mitchell and other friends, were the ones who helped me. The bringing about of commuter rail service to a restored historic Union Station enjoyed little or no friendship amongst Houston's power structure and establishment.

In 1996, I ceased operating the Texas Limited in spite of its popularity with the public and closed down the little depot we had built in Houston off of T.C. Jester. Its original purpose was to evolve and expand into a larger publicly owned and operated commuter rail system. After repeated failed efforts to interest Metro, the city and the county to get involved, we decided its continued private operation was pointless.

Periodically, since that time, there have appeared announcements in the media concerning renewed attempts to revive Houston-Galveston passenger rail service. (Train spotter? Page B6, Aug. 8, 2012). These attempts at revival, from what I read, are orchestrated by Barry Goodman, a transit consultant. On more than one occasion, they have involved bringing locomotives and cars to Houston and having a "demonstration run" to Galveston and back, all at taxpayer expense I would bet.

Given the fact that the Texas Limited ran on a regular basis for six years what, pray tell, is being demonstrated?

I have moved on. After 1996 I formed F.M. Denson & Co., a commercial/industrial real estate brokerage firm. Drawing upon my background in railroad operations and my railroad contacts I specialize in dealing in land that is or can be rail-served and also provide rail consulting services. My clients include freight rail customers as well as railroads.

Carving out this specialized niche for myself in the commercial real estate world has been very fulfilling. I am delighted to say that I have been able to make lemonade out of lemons.

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Pretty self serving article for the writer. There is a huge difference between running a limited service between Houston and Galveston and running commuter rail all over the region. There were/is no where near enough track to support commuter rail, and, I suspect, no way the existing rail companies would let commuter rail run on their tracks in an large scale operation. Successful commuter rail requires far larger amounts of track than freight, something those who complain about the demolition of the rail right of way along the Katy Freeway conveniently forget.

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Pretty self serving article for the writer. There is a huge difference between running a limited service between Houston and Galveston and running commuter rail all over the region. There were/is no where near enough track to support commuter rail, and, I suspect, no way the existing rail companies would let commuter rail run on their tracks in an large scale operation. Successful commuter rail requires far larger amounts of track than freight, something those who complain about the demolition of the rail right of way along the Katy Freeway conveniently forget.

So you favor the demolition of the tracks? That set us back about 30 years. Commuter rail requires a track like any other train. Double track is better for two way service for sure but one track is a good start. Tell us again how afton oaks owns Richmond still waiting for your answer on that one

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So you favor the demolition of the tracks? That set us back about 30 years. Commuter rail requires a track like any other train. Double track is better for two way service for sure but one track is a good start. Tell us again how afton oaks owns Richmond still waiting for your answer on that one

 

I wasn't a supporter of the Katy expansion because of the amount of private property it took. The project essentially destroyed the commercial property tax base for Spring Valley. However, the single track right of way was nowhere large enough for commuter rail, and all the crossings were at grade. Those factors alone made it unusable for commuter rail. Any rail project would have had to run in the middle of the freeway, and that's not going to happen any time soon. I also think there is little to no demand for commuter rail. The infrastructure can't be used for anything else during slow times, unlike the tollway/HOV combinations that urn down the middle of the Katy.

 

Afton Oaks doesn't own Richmond, but they for sure have an interest in their property not being destroyed to make way for a train just to make it easier for some folks to get to the Galleria. Metro demonstrated with the first rail line that they care little for the people who live along the tracks, or who have businesses. That project destroyed Main as a useful street, and has made turns impractical for large sections of Fannin and San Jacinto. The north side expansion is worse.

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I wasn't a supporter of the Katy expansion because of the amount of private property it took. The project essentially destroyed the commercial property tax base for Spring Valley. However, the single track right of way was nowhere large enough for commuter rail, and all the crossings were at grade. Those factors alone made it unusable for commuter rail. Any rail project would have had to run in the middle of the freeway, and that's not going to happen any time soon. I also think there is little to no demand for commuter rail. The infrastructure can't be used for anything else during slow times, unlike the tollway/HOV combinations that urn down the middle of the Katy.

Afton Oaks doesn't own Richmond, but they for sure have an interest in their property not being destroyed to make way for a train just to make it easier for some folks to get to the Galleria. Metro demonstrated with the first rail line that they care little for the people who live along the tracks, or who have businesses. That project destroyed Main as a useful street, and has made turns impractical for large sections of Fannin and San Jacinto. The north side expansion is worse.

I believe there is little to no demand for toll lanes down freeways but you're defending those. Also you're against rail taking property but do you have any idea how many neighborhoods were destroyed by the construction of interstate freeways in this country? One notable one is the Bronx. But you're okay with that. You are one of the people that has fallen for GM's carefully constructed plan to suburbanize this country hook line and sinker.

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I believe there is little to no demand for toll lanes down freeways but you're defending those. Also you're against rail taking property but do you have any idea how many neighborhoods were destroyed by the construction of interstate freeways in this country? One notable one is the Bronx. But you're okay with that. You are one of the people that has fallen for GM's carefully constructed plan to suburbanize this country hook line and sinker.

Are you seriously claiming that GM was the force behind the creation of the interstate system?

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Are you seriously claiming that GM was the force behind the creation of the interstate system?

 

Yes, GM was heavily involved in the overall suburbanization of this country. This didn't just "happen," it was the result of a long, thorough process by GM (buying out streetcar companies, ripping tracks out of the ground, replacing streetcars with buses) and the government (making interstates, subsidizing housing in the suburbs, underfunding cities, pouring resources into suburbs). We were further along in infrastructure 100 years ago in cities than we are now.

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The infrastructure can't be used for anything else during slow times, unlike the tollway/HOV combinations that urn down the middle of the Katy.

 

Afton Oaks doesn't own Richmond, but they for sure have an interest in their property not being destroyed to make way for a train just to make it easier for some folks to get to the Galleria. Metro demonstrated with the first rail line that they care little for the people who live along the tracks, or who have businesses. That project destroyed Main as a useful street, and has made turns impractical for large sections of Fannin and San Jacinto. The north side expansion is worse.

 

To the first bit, that's not really relevant, since often I drive on katy freeway with few enough drivers to where 2 lanes in each direction would suffice, and the dedicated HOV lanes are completely empty. Since the argument cuts both ways, it's pointless to use it, imo.

 

To your point about AO, it's too bad the city is interested in preserving neighborhoods in rich/affluent neighborhoods, since the north, east and south east lines all go through the middle of neighborhoods, if the community put up opposition (which they did) it was largely ignored.

 

As I live in the east end, I am provided an up close look at how the EE and SE lines will affect neighborhoods they plow through, so I'll get back to you in a few years. Certainly, during construction, moving around has created a slight inconvenience for me, in the sense that for the 6 months they were working on scott/45 I had no idea what lane to expect to use for going straight. Leeland and Scott was about the same. I think the timing of the lights isn't as efficient as it could be at that intersection, but I'm not sure how the extra 30 seconds I might have to wait impacts my life (or my property value). Once the lines are operational, I'll be conveniently able to hope on the rail and get anywhere serviced by rail pretty easily, which I consider to be more positive than negative. 

 

Do you live near, or work near the current main street line? Or is it something that you see as an inconvenience once or twice a year? I appreciate that your mobility might be impacted more if you aren't familiar with the way an area has changed since you last visited, but I also can tell you (from living around light rail for more than a few years), that I have found more efficient ways to move around.

 

It's the same as when they build a mega apartment complex, or some huge retail outlet, it impacts how and where I will drive to get somewhere efficiently, if I were to spend all my time grumbling about how traffic sucks because of walmart, I'd be wasting time I could be using to find better ways around it all.

 

Back to AO, it's not like Richmond is the only way in, or out of the neighborhood, and I'd bet it's not even the most efficient way to get in, or out anyway, I fail to see (after having lived with light rail) how this would create more than an inconvenience for a short period of time that someone would find a new way around.

 

Additionally, all of the traffic that has increased on Westheimer as a result of all the retail I think has hampered things a lot worse than light rail ever would, I didn't hear the neighborhood fighting against that.

 

Edit: I can also tell you, that when I am traveling down lower Westheimer I am more inconvenienced by the buses that straddle both lanes of traffic than I am by rail when I drive down main street. So my solution is I avoid Westheimer, or expect to take 5 more minutes to get to my destination.

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Yes, GM was heavily involved in the overall suburbanization of this country. This didn't just "happen," it was the result of a long, thorough process by GM (buying out streetcar companies, ripping tracks out of the ground, replacing streetcars with buses) and the government (making interstates, subsidizing housing in the suburbs, underfunding cities, pouring resources into suburbs). We were further along in infrastructure 100 years ago in cities than we are now.

There's not a lot of question that GM was involved in buying out streetcar companies, but you're not establishing any connection between GM and the government's development of interstates. You're also devaluing the government development of the suburbs by not mentioning that a large percentage of people wanted the lifestyle of having their own house ancar. There's a reason that this is commonly referred to as "The American Dream". This wasn't a huge scam that was pulled on the American public.

When you say that we were further along in infrastructure in cities 100 years ago, you've moved completely into hyperbole. We may have less rail in cities today than we did 100 years ago, but that's just one part of overall infrastructure in our cities. There is no way that you can make a credible argument that there's less infrastructure in today's cities than there was 100 years ago.

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There's not a lot of question that GM was involved in buying out streetcar companies, but you're not establishing any connection between GM and the government's development of interstates. You're also devaluing the government development of the suburbs by not mentioning that a large percentage of people wanted the lifestyle of having their own house ancar. There's a reason that this is commonly referred to as "The American Dream". This wasn't a huge scam that was pulled on the American public.

When you say that we were further along in infrastructure in cities 100 years ago, you've moved completely into hyperbole. We may have less rail in cities today than we did 100 years ago, but that's just one part of overall infrastructure in our cities. There is no way that you can make a credible argument that there's less infrastructure in today's cities than there was 100 years ago.

People "wanted" a house and car because the government heavily subsidized housing in the suburbs as well as schools. If the government wasn't involved nobody would want to go. It was a set up. GM was definitely working with the government hand in hand and they profited tremendously as a result. This has nothing to do with free market it was all a carefully crafted plan by people in power. And to my point in infrastructure it was a lot easier to get around cities for the average person then it is now. There was affordable, frequent transit that went around all American big cities. We are 100 years not even close to caught up. LA is one glaring example.

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A nice curt answer but the Highway Commission in Texas is responsible for mass transportation as well as highway construction and maintenance. If he was there to make a buck on highways he could have done the same with railroads, airports and METRO and everyone know how Metro does business. I think my question was not answered.

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To the first bit, that's not really relevant, since often I drive on katy freeway with few enough drivers to where 2 lanes in each direction would suffice, and the dedicated HOV lanes are completely empty. Since the argument cuts both ways, it's pointless to use it, imo.

 

To your point about AO, it's too bad the city is interested in preserving neighborhoods in rich/affluent neighborhoods, since the north, east and south east lines all go through the middle of neighborhoods, if the community put up opposition (which they did) it was largely ignored.

 

As I live in the east end, I am provided an up close look at how the EE and SE lines will affect neighborhoods they plow through, so I'll get back to you in a few years. Certainly, during construction, moving around has created a slight inconvenience for me, in the sense that for the 6 months they were working on scott/45 I had no idea what lane to expect to use for going straight. Leeland and Scott was about the same. I think the timing of the lights isn't as efficient as it could be at that intersection, but I'm not sure how the extra 30 seconds I might have to wait impacts my life (or my property value). Once the lines are operational, I'll be conveniently able to hope on the rail and get anywhere serviced by rail pretty easily, which I consider to be more positive than negative. 

 

Do you live near, or work near the current main street line? Or is it something that you see as an inconvenience once or twice a year? I appreciate that your mobility might be impacted more if you aren't familiar with the way an area has changed since you last visited, but I also can tell you (from living around light rail for more than a few years), that I have found more efficient ways to move around.

 

It's the same as when they build a mega apartment complex, or some huge retail outlet, it impacts how and where I will drive to get somewhere efficiently, if I were to spend all my time grumbling about how traffic sucks because of walmart, I'd be wasting time I could be using to find better ways around it all.

 

Back to AO, it's not like Richmond is the only way in, or out of the neighborhood, and I'd bet it's not even the most efficient way to get in, or out anyway, I fail to see (after having lived with light rail) how this would create more than an inconvenience for a short period of time that someone would find a new way around.

 

Additionally, all of the traffic that has increased on Westheimer as a result of all the retail I think has hampered things a lot worse than light rail ever would, I didn't hear the neighborhood fighting against that.

 

Edit: I can also tell you, that when I am traveling down lower Westheimer I am more inconvenienced by the buses that straddle both lanes of traffic than I am by rail when I drive down main street. So my solution is I avoid Westheimer, or expect to take 5 more minutes to get to my destination.

 

The City needs to pay more attention to the areas impacted by rail projects. However, I think the politicians are so blinded by seeing their name on the vanity plaques that they just don't care. The one thing they do pay attention to is money, which is why Afton Oaks gets listened to and the Near North Side doesn't.

 

My in-laws live near Irvington and Collingsworth, we live in Timbergrove.Since rail construction started, we can never tell what the best way to go is. And once rail is finished, the side streets we used will be blocked, permanently.

 

AO has access from Westheimer, but that's it Two entrances from Westheimer, 3 from Richmond. Eliminate the ability to turn left off Richmond headed East, and residents will probably have to go all the way to Wesleyan to make a U-Turn, unless Metro deigns to put  one in at Mid. And the people who live on Richmond will have their lives utterly destroyed during construction.

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A nice curt answer but the Highway Commission in Texas is responsible for mass transportation as well as highway construction and maintenance. If he was there to make a buck on highways he could have done the same with railroads, airports and METRO and everyone know how Metro does business. I think my question was not answered.

The grand parkway expansion is profiting Lanier big time.

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The City needs to pay more attention to the areas impacted by rail projects. However, I think the politicians are so blinded by seeing their name on the vanity plaques that they just don't care. The one thing they do pay attention to is money, which is why Afton Oaks gets listened to and the Near North Side doesn't.

My in-laws live near Irvington and Collingsworth, we live in Timbergrove.Since rail construction started, we can never tell what the best way to go is. And once rail is finished, the side streets we used will be blocked, permanently.

AO has access from Westheimer, but that's it Two entrances from Westheimer, 3 from Richmond. Eliminate the ability to turn left off Richmond headed East, and residents will probably have to go all the way to Wesleyan to make a U-Turn, unless Metro deigns to put one in at Mid. And the people who live on Richmond will have their lives utterly destroyed during construction.

And the lives of thousands of people will improve forever, particularly those in afton oaks who will have a nearby rail line to take them to downtown, Montrose, midtown, galleria, and the universities. But they're too short sighted to think of this.

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A nice curt answer but the Highway Commission in Texas is responsible for mass transportation as well as highway construction and maintenance. If he was there to make a buck on highways he could have done the same with railroads, airports and METRO and everyone know how Metro does business. I think my question was not answered.

 

Not if all of his business connections are highway construction companies. All depends on who can scratch a back the best.

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Edit: I can also tell you, that when I am traveling down lower Westheimer I am more inconvenienced by the buses that straddle both lanes of traffic than I am by rail when I drive down main street. So my solution is I avoid Westheimer, or expect to take 5 more minutes to get to my destination.

 

Completely agree.  Buses cause way more congestion than light rail ever would.  It takes, what, 10 seconds for a light rail train to pass by?  How long is a standard red-light cycle. At least a minute, or more. 

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 There's a reason that this is commonly referred to as "The American Dream". This wasn't a huge scam that was pulled on the American public.

 

Subject for another thread in another forum, but....

 

The American Dream is very simply freedom and opportunity. Freedom from oppression, freedom from whatever, opportunity to succeed (which could be argued that is really just another freedom).

 

The definition that you are alluding to, living in the burbs and owning a car with 2.x kids and a nice yard is manufactured by marketing, so yes, this mockery of the real American dream is a scam.

 

America is known as the "land of opportunity", not the "land of success is defined by owning a car".

 

In our National Anthem, we sing "land of the free", not the "land of living in the burbs". 

 

So yes, if you or anyone else believes that The American Dream is defined by owning a cottage with a white picket fence and a nice porch swing, you've been hoodwinked.

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The City needs to pay more attention to the areas impacted by rail projects. However, I think the politicians are so blinded by seeing their name on the vanity plaques that they just don't care. The one thing they do pay attention to is money, which is why Afton Oaks gets listened to and the Near North Side doesn't.

 

My in-laws live near Irvington and Collingsworth, we live in Timbergrove.Since rail construction started, we can never tell what the best way to go is. And once rail is finished, the side streets we used will be blocked, permanently.

 

AO has access from Westheimer, but that's it Two entrances from Westheimer, 3 from Richmond. Eliminate the ability to turn left off Richmond headed East, and residents will probably have to go all the way to Wesleyan to make a U-Turn, unless Metro deigns to put  one in at Mid. And the people who live on Richmond will have their lives utterly destroyed during construction.

 

I had an uncle that lived in Timbergrove off of 18th street. Great little houses in that area.

 

I'll be interested to see how you're surviving the trip to the inlaws once construction is complete, and people have had time to learn new habits. My personal opinion, living near both the line down Scott street and Harrisburg, is that the inconvenience is not that bad. If it created enough of a problem for me, I think the metro website keeps updated regarding how construction is impacting specific areas.

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Subject for another thread in another forum, but....

The American Dream is very simply freedom and opportunity. Freedom from oppression, freedom from whatever, opportunity to succeed (which could be argued that is really just another freedom).

The definition that you are alluding to, living in the burbs and owning a car with 2.x kids and a nice yard is manufactured by marketing, so yes, this mockery of the real American dream is a scam.

America is known as the "land of opportunity", not the "land of success is defined by owning a car".

In our National Anthem, we sing "land of the free", not the "land of living in the burbs".

So yes, if you or anyone else believes that The American Dream is defined by owning a cottage with a white picket fence and a nice porch swing, you've been hoodwinked.

The Heights is a developer driven suburb that has become part of the urban core as it has continued to grow outward. In an additional twist of irony, the reason that streetcars ran to the Heights is that the developer built them in order to market his property (which is the way that many of the early streetcar networks were built). The city of Houston itself is a developer driven marketing ploy to get people out of the existing cities.

I don't think that you can be that selective in the way that you look at history because you're basically choosing a point in time and basing your judgements on that. Inherently, the Heights, Sharpstown, and the Woodlands are the same with differences based on the time that they were created.

It's not a coincidence that the suburban movement started as rural America faded. Some people don't want to live in cities and the suburbs offer the ability to be close to the amenities of a city without actually living in one.

http://www.houstonheights.org/overview.htm

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The Heights is a developer driven suburb that has become part of the urban core as it has continued to grow outward. In an additional twist of irony, the reason that streetcars ran to the Heights is that the developer built them in order to market his property (which is the way that many of the early streetcar networks were built). The city of Houston itself is a developer driven marketing ploy to get people out of the existing cities.

I don't think that you can be that selective in the way that you look at history because you're basically choosing a point in time and basing your judgements on that. Inherently, the Heights, Sharpstown, and the Woodlands are the same with differences based on the time that they were created.

It's not a coincidence that the suburban movement started as rural America faded. Some people don't want to live in cities and the suburbs offer the ability to be close to the amenities of a city without actually living in one.

http://www.houstonheights.org/overview.htm

 

I don't disagree with you at all, however, I do take issue with calling the move to the suburbs the American Dream. The two are not related. Hell, even home ownership is only a part of the American Dream because it offers freedom from rent, or being subject to the rules a landlord would impose.

 

Not that an HOA is really that much less oppressive, but hey, at least a HOA can't tell you that you have 30 days to move out of your house because they decided to sell the property to build a walmart.

 

The case could be made that living in the burbs under a restrictive covenant puts a person farther from living the American Dream, than someone who chooses to live in an older neighborhood in town without a restrictive covenant, since they would be more free....

 

regardless of the above, there are several factors that people take into consideration when making the choice of where to live, family, security, cost, commute, local amenities are but a few of those. 

 

And I agree with your statement that 'the lifestyle of having their own house and a car' is commonly referred to as 'The American Dream' and I was simply saying that it IS a huge scam...

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Fair enough. My intent was to refer to the concept of home ownership as "The American Dream", not specifically home ownership in the suburbs, and I fully recognize that not everyone wants the same thing. I do feel that you are still applying the context of today to a conversation about events that occurred in the 1930s - 1950s without a recognition that it was a significantly different time.

To get back to the original point on rail infrastructure - this conversation started with a relatively simplistic implication that "bad" GM destroyed "good" transit systems with the additional implication that suburbanization was a scam that was forced on the American public without any discussion of the context and the realities of the time. It's always easy to look backward and make judgements, but things are rarely that simple when they are actually happening.

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To get back to the original point on rail infrastructure - this conversation started with a relatively simplistic implication that "bad" GM destroyed "good" transit systems with the additional implication that suburbanization was a scam that was forced on the American public without any discussion of the context and the realities of the time. It's always easy to look backward and make judgements, but things are rarely that simple when they are actually happening.

 

This is 100% fact. Bradley Snell has been researching this for decades. The evidence is out there and it's clear as day. And once politicians start subsidizing in the interests of private companies the ordinary people are basically dangled an offer they can't resist. This country for some odd reason hates cities, cities are notoriously underfunded in comparison to suburbs, and it's been like that since the late 40's.

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This is 100% fact. Bradley Snell has been researching this for decades. The evidence is out there and it's clear as day. And once politicians start subsidizing in the interests of private companies the ordinary people are basically dangled an offer they can't resist. This country for some odd reason hates cities, cities are notoriously underfunded in comparison to suburbs, and it's been like that since the late 40's.

And on that note, I think I'm pretty done with this whole three thread transit conversation because we're just getting deeper and deeper into conspiracy theories that quite frankly, I really don't care about trying to disprove. It's been entertaining.

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this conversation started with a relatively simplistic implication that "bad" GM destroyed "good" transit systems with the additional implication that suburbanization was a scam that was forced on the American public without any discussion of the context and the realities of the time. It's always easy to look backward and make judgements, but things are rarely that simple when they are actually happening.

 

And it's a fair assessment too.

 

Print advertisements, commercials on TV, shows on TV, they've all shaped our current society and what we accept. These things creep up and you don't realize it.

 

Take for instance a recent phenomenon. And you really can't see it unless you are following the technology sector pretty close, but on another tangent (sorry about that, but it's relevant). Plastic has been used for decades to build durable products for consumers. Almost inexplicably, in the past few years smart phone consumers have decided that a smart phone made of plastic means that it's not durable. It has been decided that a durable smart phone is made of aluminum and glass, with no plastic.

 

Why is this? Why is it that in the 1980s plastic was durable enough for use in electronics by children (think speak and spell), in the 1990s plastic was durable enough for pagers and cell phones that sat on our hips (exposed to scratching and scuffing everything they touched), in the 2000s it was good enough for virtually every electronic device we used on a daily basis, from cell phones to remote controls. Through that whole time it's been used for shipping and packaging, it's been used in the engine bay of every vehicle (where it is exposed to high temperatures and other extremes), it's used in factories on microcontrollers, think about all the different places plastic is used and in none of those places is it less durable than glass, or aluminum.

 

So again, why? Apple. Since the early part of this last decade they've been selling mobile devices and convincing people through advertising that their devices are more durable and better because they are made out of premium materials. Marketing, Apple's been conditioning people for a decade to think that plastic is cheap and not any good. And now, outside of people who can think critically about it, it is rote.

 

That's my illustration of how marketing and advertising can shape a group of people into believing something, no matter how true or false it actually is, so yes, maybe scam is a strong word for marketing and advertising, but damned if car companies didn't do a good job of conditioning the human condition in America...

 

So, can we continue the discussion of the marketing and advertisement campaigns and how they shaped what people think today in an off topic area, and get back to union station now :)

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I have to disagree with railroad being part of the original plan for the ballpark. Not that it wasn't planned that way, but it's way too impractical. First, we're talking about "who uses the train". Going up from Galveston won't bring the fans needed to make it worthwhile, neither is routing it up to College Station. Secondly, the idea of a railroad going through a heavily pedestrian area seems unwise at best.

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I have to disagree with railroad being part of the original plan for the ballpark. Not that it wasn't planned that way, but it's way too impractical. First, we're talking about "who uses the train". Going up from Galveston won't bring the fans needed to make it worthwhile, neither is routing it up to College Station. Secondly, the idea of a railroad going through a heavily pedestrian area seems unwise at best.

 

I guess it depends how many astros fans come from the southeast corridor, I'd imagine it was a few thousand per game.

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I guess it depends how many astros fans come from the southeast corridor, I'd imagine it was a few thousand per game.

 

There's a light rail stop in front of Reliant, there will be a light rail stop in front of Minute Maid as well as BBVA. It will be interesting to see how people use these methods for getting to the games.

 

If there were a connection to these LR lines from a commuter rail from other areas???

 

It's interesting to see how the designs for the baseball stadium changed over time, but I don't think the rail component of the baseball stadium was killed just by politicians, at least, not by making that specific individual decision. 

 

I think in this case it was a good choice. I mean, not only didn't they have any passengers, but there was no rail service either. Imagine the outcry from the public if someone said to them...

 

Hey, you're going to pay for a train station, but there'll be no trains!

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The value of bringing it to Union Station is having a downtown rail connection to another city, not just to bring people to games.

 

<devil's advocate>But there's an Amtrak facility in Houston already that is far underutilized. </devil's advocate>

 

While I don't agree entirely, it's hard to see fault in that logic, no matter how liberally the word 'facility' is used to describe the current Amtrak station. And while the Amtrak station is far removed from a hub of local transit, so was the baseball stadium in 1996. Aside from a light rail line that's going in on the same street, it's still as far removed from the downtown metro transit center as the Amtrak station is.

 

The Amtrak station has some things going for it though, there's already a connection into a heavy rail line, and it's a 'facility' that currently exists, no matter if the parking lot doesn't appear to have been repaved since it was first built, nor the fact that you feel like the station could have been used as a set in the movie "The Shining".

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The Amtrak station is at least connected to an active freight line, but anything connecting the old Union Station was abandoned years before. To rebuild a railroad in 1996 would involve cutting through active streets and creating all sorts of dangerous crossings for pedestrians and vehicles.

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