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Houston Heights Streetcar


emmanume

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I made a post on LinkedIn about a week ago:

 

"Imagine a circular bus route using nostalgic streetcar design connecting 50k Heights residents (~0.5 mi walk). In a single seat to most destinations in the Heights and to the red line toward Downtown"

I tagged Kimberly Williams (Chief Innovation Officer at METRO) just for kicks, and she wants to schedule a call about it. I know this does not mean much in terms of materializing anything, but it is cool to see the leadership being engaged with the community. Just out of curiosity, what does everyone here think about this idea?

I went ahead and sketched it up on Figma as well, so take a look! 

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Hmmm. 

Who would this be for exactly? Is this intended as a uni-directional loop, or a true two-way bus line? What do you imagine the headways being? 

I definitely think transit could be improved in the Heights, but I can't honestly imagine in what situation I would ride this loop. 

What I *can* imagine is riding the existing bus lines *if* they were much higher frequency.  One way to help do that might be to identify legs of existing bus lines that could be combined to either create a virtual loop, or add a separate bus route that has the effect of increasing service on those specific section of existing routes.

 

It's not perfect, but an example new loop that takes advantage of existing service might be:

The 85 along Washington to Shepherd/Durham - the 27 along Shepherd/Durham to 20th - the 26th along 20th to Airline - a spur of Airline to the farmers market - the 56 down Studewood to 11th - the 30 down 11th to Heights Blvd - the 40 down Heights to Washington.

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1 hour ago, Texasota said:

Hmmm. 

Who would this be for exactly? Is this intended as a uni-directional loop, or a true two-way bus line? What do you imagine the headways being? 

I definitely think transit could be improved in the Heights, but I can't honestly imagine in what situation I would ride this loop. 

What I *can* imagine is riding the existing bus lines *if* they were much higher frequency.  One way to help do that might be to identify legs of existing bus lines that could be combined to either create a virtual loop, or add a separate bus route that has the effect of increasing service on those specific section of existing routes.

I've actually thought about this as well, in terms of somehow lengthening the current green or purple line up Shepherd/Durham to replicate the actual streetcar that once made living in the Heights attractive in the first place.

I'm not sure if a circulator like the downtown circulator makes sense for the heights, since it has much less density in destinations, but it could theoretically work. The Heights is already getting increasingly better bike infrastructure too, which can make such a short haul bus route less useful.

I agree 100% though, the best thing for the heights would simply be better and/or more reliable access to routes we already have. If this helps increase that access, then that would be fantastic.

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I would like this to serve every Heights resident. I would want a (true two-way) loop that serves destinations that constitute the majority of movement for residents in the Heights  This would provide a single-seat ride for people to ditch their cars, stimulate businesses, and create an experimental microcosm of multimodal transportation that could be used for planning around the city. It would at least make the Heights a more accessible tourist destination for Houston residents and out-of-towners as well.

A key element of this route would be the nostalgia buses, since they pay hommage to the history of the Heights. I would also venture to say that many more people would be willing to ride a "bus" that looks like a streetcar purely because it *looks* more reliable. This would help create a culture shift towards a multimodal way of walking. Imagine families across the heights going for a long evening walk, getting dinner or doing some light shopping and being able to ride the streetcar back home.

The route could probably use some work, and I would love any specific suggestions... As far as frequency, it would need to be no less frequent than 10 minutes to make it reliable, and the round trip should be around 30 minutes. I am going to get in my car one of these days soon and stop at every one of these proposed stops to get a sense of how long it would take to traverse this loop.

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Just my two cents...

Right now the Heights has OK bus coverage. It was better when we had three high-frequency routes (#26, #27, #56) pre-Covid. But even with high frequency buses there are still big connectivity gaps in the Heights transit network to and from the Red Line east of I-45 and the Silver Line at the NW Transit Center. The latter will kind of be addressed by the Katy BRT for a small portion of residents.

To me, you could cut out the west-most north/south portion (between I-10 and 18th St) and make the route into a big backwards C-shape. Extend the north section of the line west along 18th St to the future HSR station and extend the south section to the NW Transit Center using the future Katy BRT infrastructure (or through Eureka Yard and also connect the Railway Heights Market). I'd also be inclined to run the route farther east on Cavalcade (or Link) to tie into the Cavalcade (Lindale Park) and Moody Park stations.

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I think it is a good idea. Looks like you put a lot of work into this. The circular route does hit all the major destinations within the Heights. Headways definitely would have to be frequent. Beyond the stops at the destinations, I think you would have to have stops every 3-4 blocks to be accessible to all of the homes. 

One suggestion I have is instead of having it run along IH10 frontage, extend south to reach Washington Ave on the portion between TC Jester and Shepherd/Durham. This would allow a connection to the 85 and the bars and restaurants along Washington.

Another edit I can think of is instead of having it run along White Oak between Taylor and N Main (which the current 66 route already does). Have the route turn South on Taylor to hit Target and then East on Crockett all the way to N Main and then follow N Main to White Oak Music Hall. This would connect it with the Sawyer Heights Village Shopping Center and 6th Ward.  I understand this could increase run time, but it would be able to break that IH10 barrier. 

I do love the idea of having service on W 19th Street - always felt like it was a miss for METRO having the 26 run on 20th.  

Circular routes are usually frowned upon in the modern transit planning world, but the Heights does seem like a good fit for something like this. Good news is that METRO is experimenting with circular routes now, with the addition of the 309 Gulfton route last year. Who knows, they could definitely be interested in something like this :). 

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So much fun to think about connecting the city like this. When I was working on this, I did find that circular routes can be a little bit of a no-no, since most people are going from A-B, but nice to hear that METRO may consider something like this. I think that there is something very romantic about a single-seat ride around these very historic parts of the Heights. I wish there was a way to even hit Downtown, Memorial Park, and even Montrose, but then it would start to get super long. @Justin Welling just for fun I added your suggestions for hitting Washington and Sawyer Yards. I had originally indeed thought about the Washington portion as well!

In addition to the amenity that this would bring to Heights residents that will use it to increase their quality of life, do you think that for people without a car, this route will also help bridge connectivity gaps already in place? I added the current METRO bus offerings, and I do like that the design largely connects areas that are *not* connected by any single seat rides.

Screen Shot 2022-02-22 at 3.18.38 PM.png

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I think the real need is for nights and weekends when lots of people come into the neighborhood to go to shops, restaurants, bars, etc.  A bus route coordinated with parking lots could help take pressure off of residential parking and provide people with and easy way to get around without having to search for limited parking every time.  You would just need a route that went along Shep, Heights/Yale, Studewood, 11th, 19th and White Oak.  That way you could park at MKT and then take a quick shuttle trip to 19th to shop another quick shuttle to Studewood to go to a restaurant and then back to your car at MKT.  

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