I don't know about you, but I found myself severely depressed while reading today's Texas Watchdog story (by Mark Lisheron) outlining Round Rock's idea for building a gondola for public transportation. Given my image as being starkly anti-public transit you might think my sad feelings spring from what I view as a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars on yet another boondoggle of a transit plan. This couldn't be further from the truth. What actually depressed me was that Houston didn't think of this years ago, instead choosing to build 7 miles of toy train as it's terminally poor transit backbone.
We used to live in a city that imagined the Astrodome and made it so, that had a downtown Foley's with such a unique conveyor belt system that it was the wonder of the retailing world. Sadly, that Houston has been replaced by a Brown and White vision so milquetoast that it's one claim to fame is a doggy-poop park where a Sunday farmer's market and Thursday evening viewings of mediocre 80's films are the cultural high point. It didn't have to be this way, Houston could have been a transit innovator building something that would have been the envy of every city in the flat, snow-less, mountain-less South.
You may think I'm poking fun but I'm being not at all unserious here. While the MetroRail has been given the moniker of "DangerTrain" due to its annoying habit of running over automobiles and pedestrians, it would have been a feature (not a bug) of the gondola system to take cars off the road. Remember former Metro Police Chief (and current Interim Metro top-dog) Tom Lambert's much mocked SWAT team? Yes they are mostly relegated these days to conducting drills and providing cool back-drop for photo-ops but they could have been placed in prime-position on specially marked gondola cupolas where, with the aid of high-powered sniper rifles, they could take pot-shots at vehicles on Main Street with exhaust problems. This could have served an entertainment function as well. Make say, one out of every 20 rounds an incendiary round and all of the downtown worker bees could celebrate a carbecue. During the two-weeks or so that Houston's temperatures turn cold in the winter the homeless population would benefit as well.
Not too long ago ChronBlog was ecstatic that Houston got its own superhero. Sadly, living in Houston, this knock-off of Spiderman with insecurity issues so deep they could have struck oil (perfect for Houston when you think about it) faces a lifetime of hailing Yellow Cabs and navigating Metro's ridiculous bus route map in order to get to City Hall and thwart the diabolical plans of Bayou Man. With an elevated gondola system in place Mr. Spider could easily affix his web to the hair of a medical center N.P. while hustling over to the downtown transit center to take a bus to City Hall where he would arrive 30 minutes after the explosion instead of 1 hour using the current system.
Then there's the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo. Instead of piling onto the train and riding through pretty much nothing on the way to Reliant Center, weekend cowboys who drove downtown in their sparkling clean pick-up trucks with shiny chrome trailer hitches festooned with plastic bull testes could take tobacco juice pot-shots at the PeTA protesters who, having met up at Mongoose vs. Cobra, would be marching down Fannin toward Reliant Center before getting lost in a cannabis fog. I don't know about you, but the idea of a greenist hipster screaming after getting hit in the face by projectile spitting is way more entertaining than watching Billy-Bob Cowboy jump off his horse and wrestle a baby calf to the ground. As in bull riding, at least the hipster has a fighting chance.
In addition to all of that, the pedestrian mall on Main Street could have remained a street, improving mobility downtown and eliminating the need for the financial black hole that is Houston Pavilions. Of course, those who enjoy gourmet bowling would be chuffed about that, as would the tens of people who frequent Forever XXI. On the bright side, the House of Blues would be located somewhere accessible. This would also save the University of Houston-Downtown from the embarrassment of having to constantly accept almost-empty trains every 15 minutes.
Yup, Houston really missed the boat with this one, choosing to build a train that gets shut down by the debilitating force of a spring shower instead of something that would truly be innovative. This is what happens when you let the chronically dull take the lead in your transportation plans. I'm looking at you Crossley.