West U Residents Voice Stern Opposition to METRO Plan

June 23, 2014

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.”