Your editorial “For Metro mobility” (Sunday, September 9, page B11) makes no sense to me. You start out by talking about Houston’s “coolness” as pointed out in Forbes magazine and how we got that way – “jobs, great economy, interesting arts scene, terrific restaurants…and a diverse population.” You correctly point out that one of the ways that Houston is not cool is the weakness of our mass transit and mobility and that the region has to strengthen both of those categories.
Those are indeed two areas where Houston is woefully behind the cities that we compete with for business growth and young talent, so it is indeed critical that we have a good transportation infrastructure. However, you completely baffle me by saying that the way to get a strong start on that infrastructure is to vote “For” the coming Metro referendum. That is exactly the wrong way to get a good start on building our mass transit and improving mobility.
If we want to have strong mass transit, then it is essential to vote to stop general mobility program (GMP) funding, and that means voting “Against” the referendum. Let’s spend transit dollars on transit by ending GMP and giving Metro the funds that it needs to provide adequate busses, improved bus routes, bus shelters, and the light rail transit system that we voted for in 2003. Let’s stop sending transit dollars to Harris County whose goal it is to draw population out of Houston and into the unincorporated areas of the county. Let’s stop sending transit dollars to the small cities in the Metro area so they can have lower property tax rates than Houston.
Once again we citizens of Houston see the County government and a few land developers trying to keep Houston from being the great cosmopolitan city that it can be. The GMP was originally put in place as a way of denying Metro sufficient funds to build a robust rail-based transit system. The referendum that will be before the voters in November is the next step in that anti-transit plan. It is not a compromise. It is the obvious result of arm twisting and threats from County officials to go to the Legislature in January to wrest control of Metro from the City. But, if the voters of the Metro service area state strongly that they want transit dollars to go for transit, is the Legislature – overwhelmingly controlled by folks that say that they want local control of government – going to vote to go against the will of the people?
Harris County, which already gets a huge amount of money from the property taxes of Houston property owners and the $5 road and bridge fee on Houston vehicle registration,spends almost none of it on transportation infrastructure in Houston. Sending transit dollars to the County is just another way of Houston’s citizens subsidizing growth in the distant suburbs instead of within the city. Yet surveys and demographic shifts tell us that it is to transit-rich and walkable locations in the city that more and more folks want to move – particularly empty-nesters and young professionals.
It makes no sense for the citizens of the City of Houston to continue to subsidize the transportation infrastructure of the County and small cities within the Metro service area to the detriment of transit in the city. If, as your editorial states, it is desirable to reduce congestion, then the best ways to do that are to provide better public transit and to increase the desirability of living near job centers. Subsidizing the paving over of the Katy Prairie (Commissioner Radack’s stated dream) is just another way of increasing congestion on the freeways and tollways, as can be seen almost daily on the recently widened I-10 West (no longer just the Katy Freeway).
The delay in the construction of the University and Uptown light rail lines has already held up between $3 and 4 hundred million in proposed development along those routes. That’s a lot of tax dollars and jobs lost for now, and those might be lost forever if “For” votes win. There are now almost 10,000 apartments either under construction or proposed in the Uptown / Richmond Corridor / Montrose area and hundreds more planned for Midtown and Downtown, and the residents of those apartments will be prime transit riders, if there is transit for them to ride. If not, then they will just add to the congestion.
If businesses can’t find great places for their employees to live and work in Houston, then they will instead go to the distant suburbs, and Houston will be hollowed out. Cities such as Denver, San Diego, and Dallas, cities that we compete with for corporate headquarters and start-up businesses have learned that, and they are developing sophisticated transit systems to feed workers to their business centers – reducing congestion in the process.
Do we really want to stay on the top of Forbes’ “coolest cities” list? A vote “Against” the Metro referendum on November 6 will give us a far better chance of staying there than the “For” vote you recommend, because ending GMP will be the best way to provide high quality transit and reduced congestion in the near future.
In closing, I include a quote I found in doing some online research the other day: “In Will Hogg’s 1929 City Planning Commission Report, Hare & Hare’s advise on adopting a city plan to include [planning] & parks, “... the people of Houston and their officials will have to decide whether they are building a great city or merely a great population.” Are we interested in building a great city, or do we want to just sprawl all over the surrounding prairies, woodlands, and wetlands?
Daniel B. Barnum