H-GAC transit study suggests new bus routes, village and business connectivity

The Woodlands Township, along with the Houston-Galveston Area Council, has been deliberating ways to get cars off the streets of Town Center, tweak its park and ride system and determine if a feasible plan for bus service to the various villages can be implemented and used by residents.



The results of those yearlong efforts were unveiled in early November in the township transit plan. The goal of the transit plan is to increase mobility in Town Center and the villages as well as in emerging commercial and residential areas, according to H-GAC.



"We're not looking at Town Center to provide a benefit for the commercial businesses there, we are trying to deal with the issue of having about 200,000 people looking to park to shop," The Woodlands Township director Mike Bass said. "Town Center is a big economic generator, and you hear more and more people complain about parking. I don't know what the solution is other than a transit system."



The plan, however, only provides recommendations and serves as a sort of blueprint for possible decisions the township may make regarding transit.



"This helps lay the groundwork for expanding transit and getting additional funding," Bass said.



Town Center plan



The two components of The Woodlands current transit system consists of the park and ride program, which essentially earns enough money to pay for itself, and a free trolley system that is underutilized, according to the township.



The township and H-GAC identified a need to improve transit options in The Woodlands after determining that the resident population in The Woodlands area would increase by 52 percent by 2040, and employment population would increase by more than 100 percent during the same period.



However, the transportation framework in Town Center cannot support the expected growth, H-GAC Transportation Planner Carlene Mullins said.



"During midday there are so many people in such a small area, and it's just going to continue to grow," she said. "There is a lot of development planned for [Town Center], with high-rises, condos and offices spaces, and those roads can't be expanded because [there is no] right of way."



One of the three primary components of the plan, along with improving mobility in both the region and The Woodlands area in general, is to improve mobility in Town Center. The plan recommends implementing a Town Center bus service and cycling and pedestrian routes that would link to transit centers. Under the proposal, there would be three new bus routes linking Town Center to Hughes Landing, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital and Riva Row, with several stops along the way on each route.



According to the study, the total capital cost for the three routes would be nearly $2 million and would also require purchasing 11 new buses at a total cost of $3.3 million. Those expenses would likely be offset by federal grant money, Bass said.



Regional plan



During the summer the township conducted a survey of users of The Woodlands Express park and ride service. The results of that study led to minor changes in the system's operation, primarily departure and return times for the service's buses.



Recommendations under the transit plan include expanding the existing service by adding new destinations and offering later services to users. The plan also suggests adding a new pickup location in Town Center, which could be a $5.5 million transit center that is being considered by the township.



Bass said the transit center could serve as both a parking lot and a hub for buses and other transit options. In addition, by adding a transit component to a parking garage, the facility would qualify for federal funding.



"Right now, out of the $5.5 million, we're only paying $1.4 million," he said. "The rest is coming out of grant funding."



The plan also suggests testing bus service from downtown Houston to The Woodlands—what mobility planners call a reverse commute. Under the proposed reverse commute plan, users would take a bus from the downtown Houston transit center to destinations at Springwoods Village and ExxonMobil south of The Woodlands, and to Town Center and Hughes Landing in The Woodlands.



"There is so much traffic now that going into [The Woodlands] is worse than traffic going out," Mullins said. "If we can get people to take the bus from downtown Houston to The Woodlands, or Springwoods Village, that would get a lot of people off the road."



In addition to reverse commute services, the plan includes recommendations for extending park and ride stops from downtown Houston to Midtown and from Greenway Plaza to the Galleria.



Village connectivity



During the process of compiling the township transit plan, a contingent of The Woodlands residents requested a plan be put in place that offers bus service to and from various villages in The Woodlands and Town Center. A proposal exists in the plan that includes a pilot route to the Panther Creek Village Center. The route could extend to the Village of Sterling Ridge if it proves to be successful.



Many of those who requested bus service to the villages are senior citizens and those who rely on other forms of transit.



"The first route we are looking at is Town Center to Panther Creek, and possibly extending it to Sterling Ridge," Mullins said. "It would go past The Forum, Copperwood Apartments where a lot of those residents use Interfaith [of The Woodlands] or The Friendship Center to get to the Community Center for events."



However, Lloyd Matthews, Indian Springs Village president and former township director, said he believes such a plan may not be feasible.



"Shopping center owners do not want to allow their parking lots used to provide business to the mall and Town Center areas," he said. "I don't think putting public transportation in the villages will work. You can solve the problem for a few people but not many."



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