Naw, it happened like this: Houston Tomorrow had its monthly gathering of Houston 2040 last night. Instead of the usual fare, a professional wonk wonkily articulating for amateur wonks his or her vision for Houston's future, this event featured professional and amateur wonks sharing their visions, as well as venerable bands like Free Radicals and Woozyhelmet. I went at 6 pm, when the happy hour started, got a Gardenburger, fries, and a Karbach Sympathy for the Lager, and chatted with my wonky chums. At 7:15 I left for choir practice at First UU, and then I returned just after 10:00.
When I returned and arrived upstairs at Rudz, urban planning wonk and peace activist Raj Mankad was on stage giving the humorous and harrowing details of his Thoreauvian Night in Jail after his little daughter inadvertently scuffed a woman's car by running into it with her bicycle. (The car was parked near Lanier Middle School, in a place where it never should have been parked.) Raj is not much of a drinker, but he looked a bit tipsy as he told his tale. One strong ale could have made him look that way. Perhaps he was just under the influence of the absurdity of his arrest.
It is widely recognized that Houston has a mobility problem. We have frightening sprawl, too many automobiles, too many crappy streets and roads, overbuilding in neighborhoods without sufficient infrastructure to meet the demand, inadequate public transit, lethal conditions for cyclists and pedestrians, sidewalks that make wheelchair travel impossible. This mobility problem, and proposed solutions to it, is topic of discussion número uno at these wonkfests.
While discussing the aforementioned mobility problem, I related for Paige and Carrie (separately) the adventure that my ladyfriend Kayleen had just completed: getting from her apartment near Rice Village to her job at North Shore Middle School via Metro. Until recently, Kayleen had never ridden Metro in 25 years of living in Houston, because she has usually had her own vehicle or someone to drive her wherever she needed to go. Last Saturday, however, her car bit the big one while en route to a funeral, and she does not have the money to fix or replace it.
North Shore Middle School and Senior High School are very close to San Jacinto College's North Campus, at the intersection of Uvalde and Wallisville Roads. Metro doesn't go there: The 137 North Shore bus goes north on Uvalde to Woodforest Boulevard, then turns west toward the Maxey Road Transit Center. While Metro's new route system will provide more routes to community colleges beginning in June 2015, the Reimagined Metro (their word) will not change the North Shore route. (Note: transitsystemreimaging.com is notably out of date already.)
Here's what Kayleen had to do:
- Walk a cold, dark mile to the Dryden/TMC Metro stop to catch a northbound MetroRail car at 6:15 am, in order to get downtown by 6:40, because no bus stops in her neighborhood early enough. Also, she's disabled, and as she puts it "not build for walking."
- Ride to Main Street Square, hop off, walk over to Travis Street to transfer to the 137, hoping that the rail car is not late and the bus is not early.
- This is the easy part, because the 137 takes the East Freeway, so it takes less than half an hour to get to Uvalde and Woodforest.
- Wait in the cold for a co-worker to pick her up to take her the rest of the way.
- Reverse the process for the trip home, although she could ride to the big TMC Transit Center and connect with a 27 Inner Loop to get home—so it's carpool to bus to train to bus.
The whole process of traveling the 19 miles to work took 2 hours; returning home took 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Kayleen is far from the only commuter in Houston subjected to such inconvenience and indignity. Thousands of Houstonians make similar treks every day, which in itself is no consolation. It still sucks. Her only real consolation was that she had plenty of time to read en route. She's going the whole route again today, with the added suckage of rain.
To paraphrase Stevie Wonder, "Wonks, keep on wonkin'." We need your visions. It's not a matter of providing more services at greater cost to our residents, but improving the services we have. It's also a matter of making the city's infrastructure work for everybody. Turning Lamar Street downtown into a bicycle-friendly street is a great idea, but it's only part of a much larger picture. We have plenty of elected officials and unelected bureaucrats who know this, who are acting on that knowledge, but who constantly encounter resistance from the oil tycoons and real estate developers who actually run this town.