On a Saturday morning at the end of June, a group of transit-knowledgeable Houstonians met at my family’s farm up in Austin County to eat good food and see if we could all come to consensus on some kind of overall vision for regional transit. By the end of the day we could see that we had only defined the tip of the iceberg; but it was the tip that nobody else seems to be talking about.
From the beginning, we agreed that nearly all of the discussion would be about places that should have transit service, and that we’d save any discussion of implementation, including alignments, technology, and political jurisdictions, until the end. That proved to be hard to stick to, but it was obvious from that difficulty why the transit discussion in the region is so chaotic. As Donella Meadows once said, “Ninety percent of policy discussion focuses on implementation, [and] virtually all the remaining 10% focuses on modeling and information. That leaves 0% for the last step of policy formation, which should be first - the establishment of clear, feasible, socially shared goals. What do we want?”
The Houston-Galveston Area Council is currently working on a regional transit framework, but I am concerned that, like its previous Regional Commuter Rail Study, it hopes to deal with implementation, not broad vision. In conversation over the last six months with some people who think regionally about sustainable development there is a lot of concern that a regional transit framework based on rational service goals is not really forthcoming. That’s what drove us to invite a dozen people to the farm for some focused discussion. It’s going to take a little while to get the notes and drawings and information from that session sorted into usable form, but there are a couple of things that we got resolved.
The group developed a set of principles, which is probably incomplete, but which gets to the main issues. All of them are based on the fundamental idea that what we are talking about is delivering transit service to the largest possible number of people in the most efficient possible way. Alignments and technology are essentially special interests that are means of implementing the goals, which so far, in our region, are undefined.
The principles are:
• Go where the people are
• Connect destinations to each other
• Go to transit-ready places
• Go to places that are nameable
• Go incrementally to the next lowest hanging fruit
Another thing we agreed on is that there are four levels of transit service to talk about:
• Intercity - the kind of service high speed rail would deliver to, say, Dallas.
• Regional express - service from, say, Westchase to Downtown that is fast and has very few stops.
• Local express - the kind of service we expect from the light rail system (but it could be other technology as well).
• Local - the service we expect from local buses, almost every other block.
Full Story: Toward a regional transit vision
Source: Chron.com The List Blog, June 6, 2010
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