Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Midtown Houston's Circulator?

Midtown Houston is seeking feedback regarding a possible bus circulator system in Houston's Midtown District. (You could win a $25 Amazon gift card!) With Midtown's exploration of a circulator system, it joins many of Houston's other districts considering similar systems, as reported back in July of this year by the Houston Chronicle's Dug Begley.

Given the expansion and ridership of Houston's Greenlink Downtown Circulator, Midtown must feel that the time is right to introduce a similar service in their district. The discussion of a circulator bus system at this point in time is interesting, given the transit changes in transportation options as a result of Metro's New Bus Network. I'd image the discussion about a circulator in Midtown is nothing new, and is likely not driven by changes in Midtown's bus service.

Greenlink is made available by a partnership between Houston's Downtown District, BG Group and Houston First Corporation, and is available during the work week from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM, with buses arriving every 7 to 10 minutes. In Downtown Houston there is enough of a daytime population and density of attractions to demand a circulator service.

I question whether this type demand and operating schedule could be the same for Midtown, at least at this point in time. Midtown has seen a great increase in multifamily development, especially along the district's north and west boundaries, and along the Metro Red Line light rail corridor, and features a high density of townhouse development along its southern and eastern boundary.

Midtown Houston's transit lines
This service seems like it would be much more attractive to residents of Midtown, as opposed to the daytime users of Downtown Houston's Greenlink. Midtown is one district in Houston where not owning a car is probably most feasible, given the proximity to Downtown Houston, Montrose and the Museum District, and the accessibility to frequent bus routes (one of which is located along Westheimer, serving the Montrose and Uptown districts). It will be interesting to see if there are any destinations that patrons would use the circulator service to get to that are not already served by transit. I would imagine though, that this service would be most useful outside the hours of the normal work day. 

If a circulator did operate in Midtown, I suspect it would operate differently than Greenlink or other proposed circulators around town. Midtown is known as an art, culinary and leisure destination, not a concentration of employment, which is what seems to be warranting the other circulator routes discussed in Houston. The most useful time for a circulator in Midtown might be at night while patrons to local bars and restaurants may desire to park once, then use the service to get from place to place, or to a particular parking lot, especially on busy weekend nights. This idea would be akin to existing jitney services.

If you're a business owner in Midtown, your thoughts are needed. Would you benefit from a circulator service? If you use transit to get to and from Midtown, your thoughts are needed. And, if you did want to use this form of transit, where would you want it to serve, and how much would you be willing to pay to use it?

It's not a question of whether the circulator would help achieve better access and promotion of local businesses, but whether the demand and population density currently exists to warrant a circulator.