My Montrose: Richmond Rail’s Kay Warhol
The Montrose Management District works hard to be a resource on issues facing our community. Our goal is to present information to the district so that you can make informed decisions. In that spirit, we have sat down to chat with Kay Warhol of Richmond Rail to bring you some of the most important aspects of the proposed Richmond rail line. See what she has to say and then decide! We would love to hear your thoughts in our comment section.
The Montrose has a rich history of activism, how has the neighborhood inspired you to action? How did you become involved in supporting the rail project?
First, I’ve wanted to see more modern, convenient transit options in Houston — like those I’ve experienced when visiting other cities – for a long time. I had pretty much despaired of this ever happening when construction began on the Main Street line. Then I discovered these bright, passionate people in Montrose who wanted the same thing — I attended a workshop held by the folks who founded RichmondRail.org to educate neighbors about light rail expansion and what it could mean for the neighborhood. What they said made so much sense. At the end of the workshop they asked for volunteers and I raised my hand.
Who is really leading the conversation about the Richmond Rail project? What are their perspectives?
It really is members of the Montrose community (and Upper Kirby, too) – homeowners, commercial property owners, business owners. It’s people who love living here… working here… who know that change is both inevitable and needed if Montrose, and the city as a whole, is to continue to prosper. We want to influence that change so that Montrose keeps its unique character and gets even better, and continues to be the place we want to be. And we want the opportunity that the University Line brings for getting places without driving and parking –to Downtown, the Medical Center, the universities, the ball parks, Greenway, the Galleria… all those places connected by the light rail lines due to open in 2014, along with the University Line and the Uptown BRT. The University Line is the “missing link” in a system to connect all those activity centers and we’re anxious to see it completed.
Montrose has seen a huge turn towards making itself a user-friendly neighborhood. The Montrose Boulevard Conservancy has been a longtime advocate for a walkable Montrose.
Now, with the popularity of B-Cycle stations and the trend towards Complete Streets it seems the community is more open to rail. What are your thoughts about this transition and how can all of these different entities work together?
From its very beginnings, RichmondRail has advocated for neighborhood-friendly transit. Whether you’re talking about rail or other forms of public transit, one aspect of making it neighborhood-friendly is what the trip is like from your doorstep to the transit station and from the transit station to your destination. It’s not enough to build dedicated transitways and well-designed stations, you need to make sure that transit riders have safe, pleasant walking and biking routes to and from the stations. You especially want the transit street itself to be very walkable. So one thing we did was put together a resolution calling for a pedestrian streetscape on Richmond Avenue, which we’ve presented to METRO and City Public Works. What that means is dividing the limited right of way on the segment of Richmond that runs through Montrose in a way that provides adequate sidewalks as well as safe traffic lanes and transitways.
You asked about how the different community entities work together, this is a great example of how we commonly collaborate. The Neartown Association, individual civic associations along Richmond, the Montrose Boulevard Conservancy, the Museum District Business Alliance, the University of St. Thomas, Friends of Mandell Park, all endorsed the resolution. Similarly, RichmondRail is a member of the Houston Complete Streets Coalition and we frequently collaborate with other groups like Citizens’ Transportation Coalition and Houston Tomorrow on transit issues. I believe that the transition to things like Complete Streets is happening because all these groups, together and separately, are pushing for them.
MMD Business Ambassadors are visiting businesses along the Richmond corridor, encouraging them to take Congressman Culberson’s survey. A lot of people simply just don’t have enough information to make an informed choice. What do people need to know?
Yes, we’re really pleased that MMD reached out and encouraged businesses to respond. From our experience, the transit line has tremendous popular support. So we’d like as many as people as possible to express their thoughts to Congressman Culberson.
Last year Houston Tomorrow shared a report from New York City that pedestrian/bike/transit related investments are showing a clear economic benefit. Looking at sales figures reported by small businesses, those in the immediate vicinity where these investments were made have seen a significant boost in terms of increased retail sales and reduced commercial vacancies. Studies in other cities have documented benefits to residents within a half mile of transit stations in terms of lower costs to get around, increased home values, and better access to jobs, as well as benefits to the general economy in terms of an area’s share of income-producing property and investment in both rehab and new construction.
It’s important also to think about all those connections that the University Line will make easier. One long-time Richmond Avenue business owner told us that she has clients who come to her business from Downtown, the Medical Center, and the universities. Those future transit connections will make it possible for her clients to make the trip without dealing with traffic congestion and parking. Think of how that effect will be multiplied many times over.
What are the best forms of action for the community to take?
We’ve really got three major things to accomplish: First, getting the University Line built. The line is in the plan and METRO has the initial “blessing” of the federal government. But that isn’t enough. Money for projects like this is tight, but it’s amazing how money can be found when the will is there to make it happen. METRO, the Mayor, and all of our elected officials – our city, county, state, and federal representatives — need to know that the community wants the University Line and how important it is, not just to Montrose, but to the city at large. Second, when the line is built, we need to be sure both the City and METRO pay attention to the details and do it right – that means sidewalks, crosswalks, bike racks, lighting, trees… all the things that will make a huge difference in making it neighborhood friendly. Third, we need to do our part to minimize the negative effects of construction. That means keeping the pressure on METRO and the City, as well as going out of our way to help each other and to support small businesses.
So go to our website, get on our mailing list or find us on Facebook to find out about opportunities to make your support known, and use the info on our website to express your concerns to your elected representatives. And if you can spare a little extra time – raise your hand and volunteer!
What are some of the potential negatives of the rail line on Richmond?
The only real negative I see is the one that comes with any major infrastructure project of this kind: the disruption of construction. The construction period will be tough, no question. I think fear of this disruption is one of the biggest factors for business owners who have expressed opposition to the transit line. METRO has programs in place to help ease the pain – like a business assistance fund — and we need to keep the pressure on them to make sure they are using them to the fullest. And as I said, when construction begins, the community should be ready to put up with a little inconvenience to support local businesses.
One of the things that RichmondRail has done in the past is to organize what we call Tuesday Night Out. On Tuesday evenings we’d pick one of the restaurants along Richmond and put the word out to our supporters to gather there for dinner. In our early years we did this to help these businesses understand that their customers support the light rail line. We expect to start again when construction begins, to remind people to get out and patronize their neighborhood restaurants.
What is your Montrose? How will rail improve upon that vision?
For me, Montrose is the best place to live in Houston. Great people, an eclectic mix of styles and a little bit funky, terrific food, interesting places to shop, comfortable places to hang out, … a world class art collection and a dynamic university right in the middle of our neighborhood. Change is happening, and having more options to move around without a car, along with better walkability, I think is a very good change. And good transit can help Montrose cope with some of the more challenging changes and keep it the great place it is to live, work, and play.