People have always had the urge to find means to make life easier
People have always had the urge to find means to make life easier and make the turn of events faster. No wonder since due to a fast-phased milieu the humans have made for themselves, everybody has to keep up so as not to be left behind. Man has devised different means to improve his rhythm and now we have state-of-the art computers, advanced robots that could function like how humans function, microchips that could save data from around the world, mobile phones that could lead you to your destination or that could let you watch your favorite movie while traveling to work, and of course, different means of transportation that could bring you anywhere in the city in no time.
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Houston is a place not different from the others. People there have been hoping for improvements to cope with their environment. “The Texas State Legislature authorized the creation of local transit authorities in 1973. Five years later, METRO was made by the Houston area voters and with it is the approval of a one-cent sales tax for the operations. 1979 marked the opening of METRO operating in the service of different areas: Houston, Bellaire, Bunker Hill Village, El Lago, Hedwig Village, Hilshire Village, Humble, Hunters Creek, Katy, Missouri City, Piney Point, Southside Place, Spring Valley, Taylor Lake Village and West University Place” (METRO – Metropolitan Transit Authority).
METRO is in response to the problem of congested streets and traffic jam in Houston. In 2001 METRO Solutions was developed and approved in 2003. The aim was to improve multimodal transits in the different regions and the board has allotted approximately $640 million for the development of the project. June 2005 marked the operation of the $2 billion phase implementation plan that includes the following:
“NearlyA 30 miles of Light Rail Transit – In the North , East End , Southeast , Uptown and University Corridors. 28 Miles of Commuter Rail Transit (CRT) – along U.S. 290 from Cypress Park & Ride to Intermodal Facility and along U.S. 90A from Missouri City to Fannin South Park & Ride/Rail Station. 40 Miles of Signature Bus Service/Suburban Bus Rapid Transit – Southeast Transit Center to Texas Medical Center, Uptown to U.S. 90A CRT line, Gessner and Texas 249/Tidwell. 10 New Transit Facilities – Intermodal Facilities serving different transit modes (Commuter Rail, Light Rail, buses, etc.), Transit Centers and Park & Ride lots, and HOV/HOT Conversion – modify one-way, reversible High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to two-way High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.” (METRO Solutions)
“METRO services include 40-mile Suburban Bus Rapid Transit that has special designated bus stops and stations for a more defined route and destinations, Intermodal Facilities, Transit Centers, Park and Rides, HOT/HOV Lanes that has dual tolled facilities in major corridors in existing Bus/HOV corridors. Red Line Capacity Upgrades that will allow additional capacity to meet the growing demand for the system, METRORail which is a 7.5 mile light rail service from the University of Houston to South of Reliant park.” (METRO – Metropolitan Transit Authority). The rail has 16 stations that can link people to different commercial destinations and institutions, and METROLift provides transportation to people with disabilities.
Though METRO has opened the streets wide for its citizens, issues and dilemmas inundated its grounds. One of which is the appearance of beggars and bums in the different stations. According to Lawrence Simon, one of the supporters of METRORail, “The platforms became bum-magnets and that he rarely get to a platform without having to pass by at least one actively-soliciting beggar” (Houston’s Clear Thinkers). Some residents say that the mass transit, particularly the light rail, does not really answer the needs of the people on mobility. Two critics, Torri Gattis and Tom Kirkendall, support that notion. Kirkendall said, “Why people who need mass transit the most — i.e., folks who cannot afford the cost of buying and maintaining a car — support light rail, which certainly does not improve their mobility and, by drawing resources away from mobility projects that would, probably harms it.” (Houston’s Clear Thinkers). Another issue is that board members dwell so much on the planning stage that the implementation stage is nowhere in sight. According to a blogger called Lockmat, other cities’ ra il projects get approved easily, one thing very different from the projects being planned and organized in Houston. Also an issue here is the planning of a light rail when in reality, people in Houston need more buses and HOV lanes since the location structure of Houston is more suitable for the latter option. Culture shock is also an issue here. since the people of Houston have always been car and automobile users and the idea of the METRO is quite new to them. Stepping out of their “comfort zones” may not be as easy as the board thought it would be. Since the Rail’s operation, the assurance of safety has become one of its dangling issues and according to a joke in Houston, the light rail has become a “private weapon of mass destruction”. In its first two months of operation, it has been involved in different traffic accidents and now being termed to as “Wham-Bam-Tram” or “Streetcar Named Disaster”. Regarding this matter, people are blaming the wrongly designed system and partially, the drivers of the light rail. Not only that, since they rail cars have to be repaired after every accident, the expenses are really high and that’s one thing taxpayers get pissed about. The oppositions believe that the answer to Houston’s problems is the construction of more efficient roads. Added by Atty. Tom Kirkendall based on the aftermath of hurricane Katrina wherein most of the survivors were automobile owners who were able to escape from that scenario and those who got trapped were those who don’t have cars. According to him, Houston could suffer the same dilemma as experienced by the residents of New Orleans and Atty. Kirkendall emphasized through that point why the need for a Mass Transit is irrelevant. Dr. Barton Smith, an economics professor in Houston University said that the Mass Transit, particularly the light rail, will not help improve the economy since only a few would support the idea since suburb-to-suburb commuting isn’t well accommodated by the system.
On the other hand, some citizens show their support to the vision of METRORail. According to the supporters, they see the METRORail as the answers to the growing problems of traffic jams, long commutes, clogged freeways, polluted skies, endless road constructions, and non-existent support for the mass. In an expanded version of the 2007 Houston Area Survey, almost 80 percent of residents throughout the region named public transportation as their first or second choice among three options for easing traffic congestion (Snyder). Another point provided by the METRORail supporters is the fact that with its implementation and operation come a pedestrian-friendly community. Furthermore, it will be a start of a more successful Houston since there won’t be a lack of transportation anymore. A Mass Transit will also ditch the government’s problem of building and creating more parking spaces and will also scrap-off on the face of Houston the massive parking problems, of course, if they are to promote automobiles instead of a Mass Transit. Another point was given emphasis by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). if the government could get the citizens to support and ride on the Mass Transit on a regular basis, the administration would no longer have to purchase imported oil or fuel. Mr William, APTA president said, “Increased use of public transportation is the single most effective way to reduce America’s energy consumption, and it does not require any new taxes, government mandates or regulations. With today’s growing concern about energy security, transit is emerging as a critical part of the solution. With the less use of oil or gasoline or fuel is the issue of a clean environment” (US Mass Transit Ridership Increasing). Mass Transit promotes an earth and environment friendly mode of transportation. “ A reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 500 million pounds a year with corresponding decreases in nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds ” (Camacho). Another is that the other public utility vehicles would be working in good condition already since automobile owners flock the streets, the non-owners had to wait for buses for a long time.
The debate on whether to support the Mass Transit or not is in the hot pot. Different points were made by both sides in order to get their messages across but the entire picture would tell us that the biggest problem is not the Mass Transit itself but the welfare of the residents of Houston. They could give their points-of-view but the question is, are they being listened to or are they being heard? And if indeed the government could hear their voices, are those sentiments b eing considered? A divided city could only make things worse and wouldn’t give answers to those who have been waiting for the right answer.
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