West U Residents Voice Stern Opposition to METRO Plan

June 23, 2014 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

More than three dozen agitated West U residents told representatives of the Metropolitan Transit Authority that they do not want a bus route running down narrow Weslayan, at a workshop meeting of the West U City Council.

West U resident Frank Vargas said that traffic is “already congested” on two-lane Weslayan.

“It’s already packed. It’s already crowded. If we’re going to have a bus stop every two blocks, it’s going to be a mess,” Vargas said. “It’s going to make matters worse.”

As Vargas’ neighbors applauded his statement, Metro Board members Burt Ballanfant and Cindy Siegel tried to reassure citizens that their input would be taken into consideration. Ballanfant, a former mayor of West U, and Siegel, the former mayor of Bellaire, represent the 14 small cities on METRO’s 9-member board of directors.

The West U council invited the METRO board members and staff to meet with local residents, who have expressed serious concerns about one proposed route in METRO’s 5-year draft plan known as Transit System Reimagined. The proposed Weslayan route would carry bus riders from the West Loop Transit Center though West U, through Greenway Plaza  and north to the Northwest Transit Center.

METRO has held six of 16 public meetings scheduled  throughout the Houston area this summer, to get feedback on its proposal to revise bus transit throughout its territory.

The proposal is aimed at increasing bus ridership in the Houston area by more than 20 percent.

West U resident Jerry Parker urged METRO officials to conduct a survey to determine whether there needs to be a bus route through the city.

“How many people in West U ride the METRO? Very few,” Parker said. “I’d like for you to take a survey on how many people from West U ride buses. I bet you’d get maybe five.”

West U Mayor Bob Fry kept a tight rein on the one-hour workshop, urging residents not to repeat what their neighbors had already said and sharply telling one speaker to sit down after he continued to speak past his allotted time.

METRO consultant Geoff Carleton, of Traffic Engineering Inc., explained the new transit system plan that the agency has proposed.

Since the late 1990s, Carleton said bus ridership in the Houston area has fallen despite increased traffic congestion. The revised draft plan would “connect more people to more jobs,” he said. The proposed changes in bus routes would “decrease the length of trips by 20 minutes or more,” and would “also allow the city of Houston to coordinate (traffic) signal flow.”

Several West U residents said they are concerned about safety issues, as well as more traffic on other West U streets when drivers cut over from Weslayan.

Ann Samuels said, “We’ve already had several close calls with pets and children” attempting to cross the busy street.

Mary O’Leary noted that “about 80 percent of the driveways” of homes on the intersections of cross streets and Weslayan open onto the already busy street. She also pointed out that about 60 percent of the homes on Weslayan were built before 1950.

“There’s not only a concern for the children, but also for the elderly,” O’Leary said.

West U resident Kelly Hall, like many of her neighbors, suggested that METRO look at a bus route on other four-lane streets, such as Buffalo Speedway or Kirby.

Ballanfant got heated responses, when he noted that there used to be a bus route on Weslayan, which cut through town on University Blvd.

“That was a different era,” stated one resident. “I don’t want to go back to the past,” shouted another.

Carleton tried to reassure West U residents that their feedback would be considered by the METRO board.

“We have heard from you tonight, and we will take your feedback tonight very seriously,” Carleton said.

Siegel also told residents their input was important.

“This is about public input. This summer, we are receiving public input,” she said.

After the one-hour workshop, Siegel and Ballanfant continued to meet with West U residents in the council’s conference room.

Metro spokesman Jerome Gray stressed that the draft plan is just that — a draft.

“The draft plan is not the final plan,” Gray said. “The last thing we want to do is put out a plan without people being aware of it.”

10 Responses to “West U Residents Voice Stern Opposition to METRO Plan”

  1. Laura Says:

    My son and a neighbor rode the bus when it ran on weslayan. It was great! Then when metro added the rail they stupidly stopped this route so everyone would have to connect to and ride the rail to get around houston. It was ridiculous and made no sense. Now they want to bring it back?? Sounds like most people don’t want it back! We need the bus on weslayan and more bus service so more people don’t have to use their cars. Metro needs to study san francisco to understand how to design good public transportation.

  2. Lucille Says:

    Nice Neighbor: There is a North/South bus route to Greenway Plaza called the 73 Bellfort Crosstown. In West University, it runs on University between Kirby and Buffalo Speedway. Then it runs on Buffalo Speedway between University and Bissonnet. It has many stops outside of West U.

  3. Nice Neighbor Says:

    Ironic that their ultimate goal to decrease congestion would actually make it worse. What is 20% increase in ridership on an average bus? 4 people?

  4. Nice Neighbor Says:

    This plan makes me think of Bissonnet near the museum district (thru Ashby high-rise area) It is also one lane each direction, has a bus route, and is a disaster. I used to travel thru there to work, and at peak hours it took me 30 minutes to get from my house to Main St. (which is only a few miles!) Drivers would DEFINITELY cut through on Academy and College.

    If they INSIST (and my preference would be NO bus routes) on a North/South bus route to Greenway, why not Buffalo?? At least it is 4 lanes and the houses are set back further.

  5. Lucille Says:

    Resident: I’m not sure there was a Building Code in the 1940s. If Metro gets their way, West U should insist on the smaller busses for the reasons you give above. The Weslayan-Bissonnet intersection has always been a nightmare, so I avoid it. Most of the streets to and from West U seem more crowded now which may be due to recent construction. I think the reason the West U sponsored meetings are held on weekdays and evenings is to accommodate city officials and employees who conduct them.

  6. Resident Says:

    I was not able to attend the meeting, as most young professionals with family probably had similar commitments regarding children, school, and work. On a side note, why can’t council meet on the weekends when interested people are able to voice their opinions or even just to witness government in action?

    My concerns are similar to all of those opposed, but I have additional concerns that regard the only pedestrian friendly intersection that connects the west side to central west u. University and Weslyan is the only intersection with a light that is lined up on both sides and is safe to cross on foot. Bus drivers will virtually make this intersection impassable.

    I realize they have a hard job, but nearly every bus driver I’ve seen in Houston cannot hold their lane and egregiously, even blatantly, run red lights and disregard surrounding traffic and pedestrians. Do we really want this inside our city?

    Unless West U wants to buy all the houses with Weslyan frontage, the street won’t be widened. If there were rules in place, Lucille, they’d be documented in the building code – they are not.

    I’d also like to point out that taking out these main arteries would make fire and emergency vehicles navigate down more residential streets, which, as we all remember with the charts and parking discussion, can be quite a challenge. Imagine your house on fire, or your parent having a heart attack and two metro busses are blocking traffic in both directions on Weslyan and the emergency vehicle has to go down Rice or Marquette or College or pick your street to work around Weslyan to a house in the 4100 block.

    If this is a foregone conclusion and political money is at stake (sad to think that this would be the case) – they need to look at a route that goes down Buffalo. It is straight, wide, and can handle the traffic. Can anyone really envision METRO navigating the curve at Weslyan and Stella Link?

    Sorry for the long post.

  7. HashtagHarry Says:

    When has common sense ever been taken into account when Metro and/or politicians are involved? A bus will likely have a route on Weslayan, even though people who live in West U do not ride Metro buses.

  8. GoldBacon Says:

    Like I said before, I live on the corner of Weslayan just south of University. My garage opens up to Weslayan, so I’m definitely opposed to the bus line running down this residential street. At the end of the day though, the BIGGER concern is the fact that running a bus 35 times a day in each direction is going to cause traffic congestion, and that will make motorists cut through the neighborhood. Academy and College streets will be the preferred cut-through. Colonial Park is on Academy, and College is a main route for kids walking to/from West U. Elementary.

    Anybody with an ounce of common sense knows this is a bad idea. I wasn’t at the council meeting so I can’t speak to the atmosphere in the chamber. Did the mayor and council members seem supportive of their neighbors’ concerns?

  9. Lucille Says:

    Although I am no longer a resident, I would like to comment on this subject. The bus route on Weslayan ran on the section from Bellaire to University. It started a distance from West U so it wasn’t empty when it got to West U. The main complaint is that the new Weslayan route would have the bus continuing to Bissonnet and back during unknown hours. It is irrelevant, but in the early days, it was always understood that building a big house on Weslayan was not a good idea because there was some reason why it could be widened. I don’t know if the rumor was based on local myth or if eminent domain or easement issues could surface. Also, I kind of remember, and Burt Ballanfant’s memory is better than mine, a smaller version of a bus running on Weslayan along the route being discussed. I rode the bus often through the years, and do remember using the smaller bus to and from West U. The smaller bus or shuttle was better in the neighborhoods with narrow streets but they couldn’t carry many riders.

  10. MIchaels family Says:

    We are wholly in agreement that a bus route down Weslayan is a very bad idea. It’s already difficult in the morning to turn left onto Weslayan from the College Court area. Also, the lights at Westpark and the SW Freeway are not timed properly at Weslayan and cause back ups blocking the intersection during 5:00 traffic. This plan should not go forward.

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