Houston Tomorrow (formerly the Gulf Coast Institute) recognized in 2003 that a Richmond Avenue transit line is the ideal option to connect the activity centers from Main Street and the universities to the Greenway and Uptown/Galleria areas. A Richmond Avenue light rail line would meet most, if not all, of the generally accepted conditions for urban transit success. A well-planned urban transit system that supports the livability and economy of urban life will have a crucial role in preserving highly valued green space around the region. Connecting Houston’s key economic centers should be a top priority for METRO in considering the development of this light rail system.
Business and property owners typically realize greater benefits from urban light rail the closer they are to the nearest station. It is somewhat surprising that many Richmond area businesses and homeowners were portrayed as having already taken a position in opposition to a possible light rail line down Richmond Avenue. In keeping with its mission as an independent research organization, Houston Tomorrow chose to explore this issue by conducting personal telephone interviews with area property owners.
We selected a varied sample of business owners listed in a letter from State Representative Martha Wong to METRO expressing opposition to one of the proposed options along Richmond Avenue. The eighteen interview respondents in the Richmond area represent a mix of business types: property management firms reflecting a mix of retail, restaurant, and residential (7); retail establishments (5); restaurants (3); service businesses (2); and a local neighborhood association (1). Several key themes emerged from the interviews:
• General support for rail in the Houston region;
• Considerable concern about the impact of rail construction on individual businesses;
• A belief that commuter rail should precede further development of urban rail and that to do otherwise is poor planning; that rail along Richmond would create rather than relieve congestion on surface streets due to narrowing of the roadways;
• The perception that rail construction caused many business failures along Main Street and has had lasting negative impact on the character of the district;
• A lack of trust and confidence in METRO based upon its perceived mismanagement of the Main Street project and its perceived lack of transparency regarding current plans;
• Widespread willingness to contribute ideas and recommendations to improve current and long range plans for urban transit;
• A broad desire to remain informed of the issues and new developments regarding the next phase of METRORail.
Only one respondent explicitly declared opposition to rail in general, stating, “I’m not for it.” The remaining 17 respondents indicated their support for rail. Eight offered an explicit statement of support for rail while the others made statements of preference for a particular location or supportive comments such as these:
• “Houston needs more mass transit.”
• “We expect 6.5 million people by 2010, so we need more transit…”
• “Houston needs some type of mass transit for the right reasons”
• “We are supportive of upcoming rail anywhere…”
• “I’m for rail. I haven’t said that in just that way before.”
The full 5-page report contains a more detailed breakdown, including further quotes from the business owners. (506 kb pdf)