Houston, and its global petrochemical hub, remain in the eye of the storm

Experts in hurricane risk and economics said if Ike had hit landfall 30 miles to the southwest of where it did – which would have put it centered on top of the ship channel – damages easily could have exceeded $100 billion.

Since Ike, billions more in petrochemical investment has poured into the Houston region, along with between 500,000 and 600,000 more people. Add all of that to the previous risk, and some see a recipe for disaster.

“There is a possibility, under the right storm, of killing a devastating number of people, and having a devastating effect on the economy,” said William Merrell, a Texas A&M University at Galveston marine scientist. “The more we look at it, the more appalling it is.”

Source: Houston, and its global petrochemical hub, remain in the eye of the storm – Houston Chronicle

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Bike events expand, but find uphill battle

“Share the road” might be a mantra for bicyclists, but it’s proving a tough sell in some parts of the Houston area, while being embraced in others.

Two local events, a week apart, illustrate the challenge of integrating bike culture into a car-centric metropolitan region.

The image of hundreds of bicycles zipping along brand-new freeway lanes without a car in sight might seem like a fantasy to cycling advocates, but it will happen on Saturday as officials give cyclists the first crack at the newest segment of the Grand Parkway for a charity event.

Source: Bike events expand, but find uphill battle

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A ride, a death, a city figuring out its cycling future

Up-to-date, verifiable counts for cyclist fatalities can be tough to obtain, but  online databases and Houston Chronicle archives show that nine bicyclists were killed this year through Nov. 29 in the Houston area, excluding crashes in rural areas of counties adjacent to Harris County. That compares to 14 in 2014.

Even with the likely decline, however, cyclists say more must be done to reduce accident rates, especially inside Houston’s city limits.

“Yes, we have an awesome Buffalo Bayou trail system and a few other new ‘bike friendly’ features in the city, but these are more for the recreational cyclist, not the average commuter who uses the streets to get around town, school, or work,” Garcia said.

Source: A ride, a death, a city figuring out its cycling future – Houston Chronicle

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Planned high-speed rail line won’t come downtown

The Federal Railroad Administration has eliminated from consideration both paths that would have carried the trains to Houston’s central business district. The agency is overseeing environmental approvals for the multibillion-dollar line proposed by Texas Central Partners.

The decision essentially gives Texas Central “our target landing zone,” CEO Tim Keith said, although the company still must procure numerous federal approvals, hold public meetings, raise money and acquire land before construction could begin.

If these hurdles are overcome, the rail station would give the area around Northwest Mall a catalyst for growth, as the end points of the rail line could generate significant economic development. To downtown boosters, though, the decision represents a missed opportunity to complete the line to Houston’s core.

Source: Planned high-speed rail line won’t come downtown – Houston Chronicle

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3 months in, new Metro bus system pleases many, irks others

Slumped in his seat, earphones firmly in place, Elijah Taylor closes his eyes as his bus bounces rapidly down Washington Avenue toward downtown.

Some bounces are more severe than others because the driver is speeding along, making great time at the expense of a smooth ride. As a result, Taylor is running a little early to make his downtown connection on his way home from his flange manufacturing job in northwest Houston.

Quicker trips are becoming more common for Taylor and thousands of other riders, although considerable uncertainty lingers regarding the seismic shift in bus service that the Metropolitan Transit Agency started on Aug. 23.

Nearly three months into what many consider the most significant operational change any American transit system has made in three decades, Houston transit officials and supporters are calling the new bus network a rousing success. Critics, however, point to broken connections and to transit-dependent riders whose service has been cut as Metro tries to appeal to riders who have the option of driving.

Source: 3 months in, new Metro bus system pleases many, irks others – Houston Chronicle

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Taxi Wars: Uber Takes Houston

Some of the company’s drivers, meanwhile, say Uber is squeezing them, saturating the market to the point that it’s impossible for most of them to make a living wage. “They want to own Houston, and they will,” said one driver, who asked not to be identified because she feared the company would disable her account. “But those of us out here, doing the work … we won’t see a dime they don’t want us to have.”

Yet none of the company’s problems — not even the highly publicized case of a driver accused of sexually assaulting a passenger — seems to have dented its popularity. “I use it everywhere,” said Sami Tamska, 30, who moved to Houston last year. “Here, Dallas, whenever I go anywhere. It’s all the same.”

The enthusiasm of customers like Tamska suggests that Uber is here to stay. What remains to be seen is how the rules of the road will evolve for the company and what that will mean for riders.

Source: Taxi Wars: Uber Takes Houston | Al Jazeera America

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Bus changes drawing attention from riders, transit pros

“Houston is really the envy of a lot of cities who have thought about this,” said Joseph Kopser, co-founder and CEO of RideScout, an Austin company that compiles transportation options such as bus scheduling, bike-share locations and traffic information onto a single smartphone map.

Transit experts are watching how Metro educates riders and promotes the new system. They also will monitor reaction from riders and the logistics of making wholesale changes in a city’s bus service overnight.

“This is the biggest in terms of degree of total change that, I believe, has happened in the U.S. in a long time,” said Jarrett Walker, a transit consultant and author who helped steer Metro’s early process that led to the new network.

Source: Bus changes drawing attention from riders, transit pros – Houston Chronicle

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Luxury bus service aims to meet growing Houston-Dallas travel demand

After a successful stint operating service between Dallas and Austin, Danza, the founder and CEO of Vonlane, is expanding his fleet and offering trips between Houston and Dallas starting Monday. One-way tickets on buses replete with amenities are $69, with service aimed at business travelers.

The company is one of a handful looking for a foothold in the growing market of ferrying people among Texas’ metro areas. Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio all are growing, freeways are strained to capacity and more people are looking for more choices as business increases among the cities. Plans for a privately funded high-speed train between Houston and Dallas are in the works, but even optimistic projections have its opening day six years away.

Travelers in the Houston and Dallas areas are eager for more options.

“If all those are modes are successful, then it shows you how strong both of those markets are and how there are opportunities to serve it,” said Patrick Jankowski, vice-president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership. “By adding another choice, it is an example of how the market has matured and how strong the markets are.”

via Luxury bus service aims to meet growing Houston-Dallas travel demand – Houston Chronicle.

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Uber safety dispute shows balance between personal choice, regulations

The “creepo” who agreed to pick up Mel Smith about a month ago from a Midtown bar probably never got a chance to put her location into the Uber app.

“I always look at the picture,” Smith said of the photo that pops up when she requests a ride via Uber, which connects drivers with passengers looking for a lift.

Smith canceled the ride quickly enough that she didn’t have to pay. She waited a few minutes, opened the app and requested a ride again. This time Smith got a driver more to her liking – a woman – and made it safely to her Washington Avenue apartment.

Like thousands of others who hop into cars with Uber’s “driver partners” every day around the country, Smith was entering an emerging realm characterized not just by changing technology, but by challenges to traditional notions of the role of government in regulating consumer services like paid rides. Surging demand is outpacing enforcement as questions arise about the adequacy of company oversight, and Uber clashes with regulators in city after city.

via Uber safety dispute shows balance between personal choice, regulations – Houston Chronicle.

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Former DOT head: Investment critical to ease congestion

Keeping the tax the same and expecting growth in population and driving to lead to revenue increases hasn’t worked. The Highway Trust Fund, the bank account for the gas tax, has been repeatedly bailed out because it isn’t bringing in enough money. It’s on the verge of insolvency again.

Meanwhile, former officials like LaHood aren’t optimistic when it comes to the highway system.

“America … is one big pothole right now because, I say, we have not invested over the last decade,” LaHood said, noting other major world economic powers like China are lapping the U.S. in infrastructure investment. “The simple solution is a big pot of money… The money that built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam.”

via Former DOT head: Investment critical to ease congestion – Houston Chronicle.

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