Houston METRO’s Transit System Reimagining Plan approved

Over the past two years, our firm has worked as a member of a diversely skilled team to help Houston METRO comprehensively redesign the city's transit system (look back to this post for the backstory). Houston is a dynamic, fast-growing city, where despite a reputation as a place where one must own a car to live, many areas have developed land-use characteristics indicating a large, untapped market for quality transit. This project has sought to design a transit network which can deliver the type of mobility outcomes current growth patterns demand, through a extensive Frequent Network grid. 

Today, we are proud to share the news of the unanimous passage of the final plan by METRO's Board of Directors, with implementation on track for August 2015. In the history of transit in North America, top-to-bottom transit network redesigns are very rare, particularly for a city of the Houston's size and national importance. This is a great day for Houston, and will be a fascinating case study for transit in North America.

The final approved map (click here for the detailed pdf):

Reimagined Network Plan Feb Revision

19 Responses to Houston METRO’s Transit System Reimagining Plan approved

  1. Christof Spieler February 11, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

    Every city needs to do this!

  2. Tom West February 12, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    Good to see such amibition on the part of Houston.
    However: why on earth did someone thinkg red and green were acceptable colours to put on a map together, particularly when they mean such different things? (Frequent and 60-minute service, respectively).

  3. Thomas February 12, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Great network. Sad to see map’s color are not colorblind friendly…

  4. Robert Wightman February 12, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    Since Houston is the fifth largest city and fourth largest urban district in the US I find the frequency of service to be very low in most of the system.Hourly service is nothing to brag about. I gather that Houston is rather spread out geographically and therefore of relatively low density, designed for the auto.
    It is good to see a basic grid structure to the route system. This should make it easier for travel that is not downtown oriented but I would hate to miss a connection on 30 or 60 minute headways. Do the colours for the LRT lines indicate headway or are they to distinguish between the lines? It is not a good choice if they have a different meaning for Buses and LRT.
    I agree with Tom’s and Thomas’ comments about the choice of colour. Line thickness or something else should have been used to convey service frequency. I have discovered that people without disabilities fail to take into consideration the impact of choices has on those with them. They should print this map in black and white to see if it is still possible to determine service frequencies.
    I am trying to remember you comment Jarrett about the difference between public transport in the US and Canada. It was something that in Canada it was seen as a viable alternative whereas in the US it was seen as a social service to help those who don’t drive. Whatever it is good to see the extent and the grid structure. I spent about 9 months travelling around the US in 2010/11 and was appalled at the poor transit service. Anytime I asked about bus routes to places people looked at me like I was from Mars. I don’t think they thought a 60 year old reasonably well off white person would want to travel by public transit. The only route maps I could get in Baltimore where in Spanish, but it is not that hard to read street names, route numbers and timetables in any language based on the Roman alphabet. I even managed to do it in Greece. There is a city of 40,000 near where I live that refuses to have a public transit system because “It attracts those kind of people.” That is a direct quote.

  5. Marc February 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

    Robert and Tom,
    I think this is a map intended for planning purposes and general analysis, not for actual passenger use. I bet Houston will produce a map for actual use once the new network goes into operation (i.e. it’ll have street names attached to route lines, a route legend, etc.)

  6. Alan Robinson February 12, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    @Robert
    I believe your remembering the comments from Michael in this post. Jarrett didn’t take a public stand in that debate since setting service standards is a political value judgment. Jarrett can provide facts to the debate, but cannot professionally make value judgments.

  7. Robert Wightman February 12, 2015 at 6:03 pm #

    Alan Robinson
    “I believe your remembering the comments from Michael in this post. Jarrett didn’t take a public stand in that debate since setting service standards is a political value judgment. Jarrett can provide facts to the debate, but cannot professionally make value judgments.”
    I realize that he cannot be judgemental but this is not the comment to which I was referring. The one I was thinking about was a quote from a Canadian transit official to a question I believe that Jarrett asked about why ridership in Canada was generally higher than in the US.
    To Marc
    If this is the case then I hope they re-think their colour choices and its usefulness to colour blind people. Please excuse my Canadian Spellings but I cannot keep your American idiosyncrasies straight so I will use that to which I am accustomed.

  8. Colin Stewart February 13, 2015 at 6:27 am #

    Congrats, Jarrett! It`s reassuring to know that the powers-that-be sometimes do listen to reason.

  9. Chris, Public Transport February 13, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    But isn’t he already making a value judgement when he talks about “frequency is freedom” in his book? Also, one can infer from his support for transit maps in which frequent lines are made thicker and more colorful and less frequent lines are made less noticeable that he is in favor of frequently operated routes.

  10. asdf2 February 13, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    Another detail that cannot be overstated is that “frequent service” means frequent service for a minimum of 15 hours a day, 7 days a week. A bus every 15 minutes between 6 AM and 9 PM, Monday-Sunday means you can actually use it to get to shopping and entertainment, not just to work and back.
    Having grown up and lived in Houston for 20 years, it is wonderful to see virtually all the places in the city worth going to connected by red “frequent” lines and/or light rail. It is also great to see frequent service on crosstown lines, not just routes going to and from downtown.
    I’m under no illusions that this, or any other transit network is going to get the masses of people out of their cars. But will make a huge difference to college students and people on limited budgets.
    Cities across the country should look at this as a model and ask themselves why can’t they do it too.

  11. Jo Brant February 15, 2015 at 1:12 am #

    I’d love to see something like this for Silicon Valley!

  12. Michael February 17, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

    A move in the right direction. However, until quality transit service is provided to all corners of Houston, the job is not done.
    One thing I do find weird with this plan, is the varied operating hours. Why are all the bus routes, even the core ones, not operating on a common schedule until say 1am?
    Some routes run 18 hours, some 20 hours, some 19. You can’t expect to have a viable transit network, if some you can’t rely on transit late at night in some areas.
    “Jarrett didn’t take a public stand in that debate since setting service standards is a political value judgment. Jarrett can provide facts to the debate, but cannot professionally make value judgments.”
    I don’t know about that statement. I think Jarrett has to make a value statement if he is going to open up a debate concerning this issue. He has decided to promote this idea, so to not take a stand I don’t think is proper. He clearly has a value statement that he promotes in his planning. So I think he does need to stand up and state what he stands for. Because this debate is having serious negative effects in a number of cities.

  13. David Marcus February 20, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    Nice work, Jarrett!

  14. anne April 24, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

    I think this is wonderful. The ONLY thing I feel like is somewhat missing is, well, what about all the people in Cypress (along 290?). 290 is always congested and it seems fitting to have more public transportation along this highway. If not now, then at least in the near future. It will not stop growing.

  15. Savannah April 25, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    When the new route for bus starts I will now have to ride three item instead of two two buses and a train to get to the medical center before the train came to Houston I could ride one bus straight to the medical center this is really unacceptable and so not good I don’t drive I been on the bus for at least 50 years some people will just start driving to work some already started ?

  16. Colin August 7, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    It’s nice to see that this redesign will be implemented. The new service takes effect Aug. 16, 2015. It will be interesting to monitor the results over the next few years. (People should not expect to see significant results within one or two months, although it’s a nice bonus if positive results are visible early in the implementation.)
    One interesting feature on http://www.ridemetro.org is the “dual trip planner” which shows both the old and new ways to make a specific trip. IMHO this is an excellent way to minimize the “it’s so much worse than my old trip” complaints that are often overblown.
    Congratulations to Jarrett and the rest of the team!

  17. Colin August 7, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    There is a color-blind-friendly version of the map at:
    http://transitsystemreimagining.com/web/the-approved-map/
    Personally I would have considered used green for fast and/or frequent routes (similar to traffic signals where green=go), but that’s just a quibble. The important part is that the passengers can easily distinguish where the major travel corridors are. I think the red probably jumps off the map into our eyes quicker than the green would.

  18. Jordan Christley January 4, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

    I think that it is great that Houston has taken the intiative to re-design the public transit system in place; although, I cannot help but wonder. If one of the end goals is to disrupt Houston’s reputation as a city where cars are absolutely necessary, why haven’t the busses been allowed to utilize all of the roadways available to cars? (Namely the many, many freeways that Houston has) This alone disqualifies public transit as a viable alternative to a car in most cases, and because of this inconvenience, the only people who will ever ride the bus are the ones that do not have the option of a car.

  19. bradroack March 11, 2016 at 11:09 pm #

    Chicago really needs to reevaluate it’s bus

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