Houston's public transportation provider is removing a pair of floating bus stops at a major intersection in the Heights neighborhood – just months after they were installed – because of safety concerns and complaints from community members.
Two raised concrete platforms with ramps to the street were installed on Heights Boulevard at its intersection with 11th Street as part of the City of Houston's recent redesign of 11th, which included the addition of bicycle lanes and a reduction in vehicle lanes on the east-to-west thoroughfare. The platforms were designed to be used by METRO bus riders, who historically have used existing bike lanes on the outsides of Heights Boulevard as their bus-loading space, but had not been utilized since the 11th Street project was completed in March.
METRO said in a statement that its chief safety officer determined the new configuration – with the floating bus stops situated in between the bike lanes and single vehicle lanes on each side of the boulevard – "did not provide the safest environment for bus passengers nor others on the road." The removal of the platforms, which is ongoing, also was supported by the Houston Heights Association and the super neighborhood council that represents the area, according to Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin.
"While I'm always open to new ideas, the positioning really didn't work," Kamin said. "We saw a lot of vehicle crashes, a lot of confusion. It didn't have the intended purpose that it set out to do."
METRO spokesperson Tracy Jackson said the agency is spending about $150,000 to remove the floating bus stops, located just north of 11th on the northbound part of Heights Boulevard and just south of 11th on the southbound side. One already has been removed, she said Tuesday.
The bus stops on that part of Heights Boulevard are returning to their previous locations on the opposite sides of 11th, according to David Fields, the chief transportation planner for the city. Bus riders will go back to sharing the bike lanes with cyclists.
None of the other changes implemented as part of the 11th Street project are being impacted by the removal of the floating bus stops.
"This is not indicative of our usual coordination with the city, but in this instance, the safety hazards could not be ignored, and safety will always dictate how we move forward," METRO said.
Fields said the idea behind the floating bus stops was to provide separate spaces for cyclists and bus riders, adding that some are in place in other parts of the city. He also said that while some drivers might feel like they have not had enough space to operate to the left of the concrete platforms, the vehicle lane remained wide enough for a bus.
Neither Jackson, Fields nor Houston Heights Association executive director Emily Guyre said they were aware of any collisions near the floating bus stops between vehicles and either pedestrians, cyclists or bus users, although Guyre said there have been multiple incidents in which drivers have run into the platforms or inadvertently gone atop them, causing damage to their vehicles.
Removing the floating bus stops will not have a negative impact on overall street safety in the area, according to Fields.
"Having them come out is not going to make 11th unsafe," he said.
Guyre said the Houston Heights Association, which represents homeowners and businesses in the neighborhood, has not taken a stance on the overall 11th Street project, which she described as divisive within the community. Some fiercely opposed the changes beforehand and have remained critical, while others have praised the work for its safety benefits and accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians.
This is the first time since the project was completed that the Houston Heights Association has requested any related changes, Guyre said, adding that the reconfiguration of 11th has had the desired effect of reducing vehicle speeds.
"That was the goal," she said. "We want to make sure that it's safe."
Another change with safety in mind could be coming to Heights Boulevard, where the northbound and southbound lanes are separated by a tree-lined promenade that features public art installations and a walking trail. Guyre said her organization has asked the city to lower the speed limit on the road from 35 mph to 30 mph, which would put it in line with 11th Street and some other thoroughfares in the neighborhood.
Kamin said that the request is working its way through a city council committee. She also said she's encouraging Heights High School, which is a few blocks to the east of Heights Boulevard, to apply to have a school zone implemented in response to a new Texas law authored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston. Kamin said the law allows high schools to be surrounded by school zones, which previously were limited to elementary and middle school campuses.
"With all of this, safety is the top priority," Kamin said.