I am the Mad Houstonian!
My bike & I have been using the Houston transit system daily since I moved here in September 2012. To say that the difference between what I am learning to use here and what I grew up with, in southern California came as a shock would be an understatement.
First some stats:
Los Angeles County = 4, 752 sq. mi.
The OC = 948 sq. mi.
Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties are considerably larger than L.A. County and only portions, those large parts accessible from that county and The OC, have transit systems.
Harris County, TX. = 1,778 sq. mi.
City of Los Angeles = 466 sq. mi.
San Diego = 325 sq. mi.
Dallas, TX. = 340 sq. mi.
Houston = 627 sq. mi.
Houston is not only years behind Dallas, but decades behind the extensive network found in the cities and counties I grew up in, in southern California.
San Diego County has 2 transit systems and a commuter rail system, L.A. County has 4 city & 2 regional, transit systems, a growing network of commuter rail routes, and a network of long distance commuter rail extending into 5 counties, reaching even Ventura County and the north part of San Diego County.
The OC, San Bernardino, & Riverside regions have their own transit and are connected to the long distance rail network.
A monthly bus pass in the OC cost me half what I spend a month here on my Q-Card.
This past week Houston Metro admitted the bus system here is a failure in need of a major overhaul, even as it will soon be adding 2 more short distance rails to the one it recently extended.
The citywide coverage of Metro Transit, when looked at on a system map, is lacking, compared to L.A., San Diego and Dallas and the way the routes and timetables are drawn up can be confusing and frustrating and, especially early morning, late night and weekends lacking.
As Dug Begley noted in his report for the Houston Chronicle there is a great need to pay long overdue attention to "changes in patterns of work and travel over the last 30 years", not to mention new residential and retail developments that have sprouted up.
I have not yet rode even a quarter of the existing system but I know enough to be frustrated by what parts of the city and county I can reach, how and when; 5, 14 and more miles, each way, of bike riding is required to go from the last stop of the bus to my ultimate destination, including the San Jacinto Monument, Old Town Spring and the Kemah Boardwalk and no doubt many other high profile destinations I have yet to visit.
Galveston seems out of the question, even partly by bike, for now, especially as a day trip.
I have experienced busses running 10 to 45 minutes, even 90 minutes, late due to traffic on a regular basis.
Routes I use for work commutes don't start early enough, and end too early, on weekends, in one case not even running to my part of town on Sunday, thus making me choose other routes or ride my bike to & from work.
One plus was learning I could take the pet stroller on the bus just as I could in southern Cal.
Metro has revealed major changes in timing, routing and even the naming and numbering of MTA buses - changes that, as Begley reports, "would significantly alter thousands of trips", beginning next year or a little sooner.
The draft plan and its map, with their description of route, name & numbering changes, claim to show how they plan to distribute service more efficiently.
They are encouraging feedback between now and an August or September board vote, then taking a year to implement changes.
I currently live in the Westchase area, work in the Meyerland/West Loop area and my church is on Woodway and Voss.
I took my first look at the new system map and noticed that redundancies were dealt with, including in regards to routes I use daily, some old routes were renamed, re-routed a little and had timetables extended, especially on weekends, and at night, and some interesting new routes were created including one that means I'd apparently have a bus to church on Sunday, when able to attend, instead of having to ride my bike half the distance.
According to the article an obsolete system designed for life in 80's & 90's Houston is moving to a grid system (running buses frequently in crossing patterns); "in other cities, going to a grid has led to increased transit use and better connections between buses and light rail".
A good thing the new plan attempts to do is unclog the traffic mess that too many busses in downtown have long caused.
Another interesting aspect is that there may be what is called in Los Angeles "Rapid" busses, busses that run in dedicated traffic lanes just for them.
All of this is a welcome effort at entering the 21st century for the 4th largest city in the United States, a city many consider to be one of the best places to live and work in the nation.
Now if only Houston could fix the streets and sidewalks and get motorists to actually follow the new 3 ft. law in sharing the road with bicyclists.
****UPDATE - 6/18/14****
For the sake of cyclists on the road drivers need to be educated about the new 3 ft (6ft for vehicles larger than cars) please rule in Houston so that they learn to give cyclists sufficient room, especially when passing us.
Metro needs to make sure bus schedules are found on the busses for passengers to take. Is the only other option making a trip to the Metro store downtown?
When store staff see people taking copies of each schedule on the spinner they need to stop telling them they can't do so and must come back several times to get the schedules.
Better yet....do what most agencies in SoCal did long ago....Create quarterly bus books with all the routes and transit using info in them...Sell the books in transit stores and on the busses for $1. Much more convenient and passenger friendly.