Light Rail Expansion Signals an Urbanizing Houston

“Change comes hard, but things do change” — those were the words of a Houston reporter almost 20 years ago, commenting on the stranglehold sprawl-oriented real estate interests had on the city.

Brian Wallstin of the Houston Press was referring to the highway-based model of growth that has come to characterize the region, a topic Streetsblog explored in a recent series.

Houston is preparing for a $1.6 billion expansion of its Metro light rail. Photo: Dallas Morning News

But even back then, Wallstin implied, Houston’s good-old-boy network was standing on shifting political sands. And he was right — things do change.

The latest evidence comes from Michael Lindenberger at the Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog. Lindenberger reports Houston has received $900 million to expand Metro light rail. The federal grant will further a $1.6 billion project to expand Metro’s Red line and build a new 7-mile Purple line. It is the first time America’s fourth-largest city has received a major federal grant for passenger rail, a major milestone for the city, he says:

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was in Houston to hail the large grants. Hutchison has championed mass transit in Texas, and nationally, since she served in the Texas Legislature.

“This agreement is an important final step for the $900 million in federal support that we’ve worked to obtain over the past decade for the Houston METRO,” said Hutchison. “We’ve traveled a long road to get here and during that time, Houston METRO has grown into a model for other cities across Texas and America. This event represents 35 years of bipartisan work in building an outstanding mass transit system.”

Houston METRO officials say 30 percent of its commuters headed downtown or to the city’s large medical district ride METRO to work and back.

Elsewhere on the Network today: M-Bike.org explains that while Detroit’s suburbs might be terrible for cycling, the city — with its grid system, light traffic and growing number of bike lanes — has a lot to recommend it. Discovering Urbanism wonders what the rise of the “megalopolis,” or amorphous mega-regions containing multiple urban centers, means for the future of urban areas. And Boston Biker cheers the expansion of the city’s new bike sharing system, Hubway.