New Post Oak bus lanes will bring down Uptown

Houston Business Journal Op Ed

It appears that the Uptown TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone), Metro and the city of Houston are all hell bent for leather to build the Guide Way, dedicated bus lanes up the middle of a 24-foot widened Post Oak Boulevard, supposedly to alleviate Galleria traffic congestion. I do not believe that this will solve any problem faced by Uptown office tenants or Post Oak retailers/restaurateurs.

This project will lead to the decimation of the area as larger tenants vacate the Galleria as their leases expire due to accessibility issues. Further, Inside-the-Loopers will avoid Galleria shopping/eating like the plague as east-west traffic on San Felipe, Westheimer, West Alabama and Richmond is snarled by virtually empty buses running from the Northwest Transit Center on the esplanaded Guide Way to the Bellaire/Uptown Transit Center (presumably to be located on Westpark).

Further, within the next decade, I predict that virtually empty buses will ultimately be replaced by virtually empty trains, necessitating yet another round of extraordinarily expensive, additional business devastating construction.

The ridership model developed by and for the TIRZ board is absolutely ludicrous and more to the point, mathematically impossible. After 30-plus years of operation, only 16,000 riders per day take advantage of the entirety of Metro’s Park ‘n Ride program, and most use it to go downtown. The Uptown TIRZ estimates that 10,000 new riders per day will utilize the Park ‘n Ride to Uptown. Do the math: 14 new, specially manufactured narrow gauge buses (narrow because the Guide Way can only be so wide, or high-rise buildings will have to be lowered to accommodate), each bus making 1.5 round trips per hour (Uptown TIRZ’s numbers), fully loaded with 50 occupants (presumably commuters), will only move 1,050 people per hour or 1,575 people per day, if one only looks at rush hour (prime commuting time 7 a.m.-8:30 a.m.). That’s if all buses are functioning, all drivers are showing up on time and all buses are fully loaded. Their model calls for well over 30 percent of the tenants now officing on Post Oak Boulevard to utilize the shuttle service. Ain’t remotely gonna happen.

I don’t think the Guide Way is about public transportation or congestion. If it were, a number of other things would have been considered that might actually address the area’s relatively minor congestion/parking issues: diamond lanes, whereby during certain hours only buses could utilize the right-hand lanes (as we see downtown); van pooling (think Silicon Valley and 11 passenger vans, outfitted with captain’s chairs and WiFi taking you literally door to door, enabling you to work an extra hour a day); car pooling; or numerous other ideas.

Houston can’t afford to fund this theoretical rider count study’s fantasy, offered by so called urban planners, to justify the $43 million they have been paid for their time on this proposed boondoggle, which parenthetically, Metro recently wrote off as a loss. The Guide Way will decimate Houston’s property tax base, cause its sales tax revenues to plummet, and its $200 million budget will be blown sky high before a spade of dirt is turned. My bet is that the right-of-way budget, now at $45 million, will, in and of itself, be off by a factor of five or more. Ask yourself, who will be on the hook for the delta?

Our Rodeo Drive, Houston’s second downtown, will be gravely injured (just as Main Street and Harrisburg were by Metro), its recovery uncertain, and hundreds of millions of dollars will have been flushed down the proverbial toilet. You can take that to the bank.

This Op Ed originally appeared in the Houston Business Journal, May 19, 2015.