Light rail raises safety concerns, provides opportunities for students
Houston is sometimes known as the city where the cement never settles. Additions are constantly being made to its skyline, and UH is certainly no exception.
The continuous construction on campus makes it challenging to simply drive around the area.
And with the latest road block on campus: the development of the new light rail, students wonder how this addition will affect University life.
According to a press release from UH in 2012, construction of the light rail began in summer 2011 and is planned for completion in mid-2014. Houston already has a 7.5-mile light rail that runs from Reliant Center to UH-Downtown, but although Houston is no stranger to the light rail—light rails have been here since early 2004—some students might still find it a foreign concept.
The intention behind the MetroRail’s addition was one of convenience.
“(The MetroRail) is intended to provide service to the universities (UH and Texas Southern University) and connect them to the rest of Metro’s service area,” said Larry Badon, the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s manager of long-range system planning.
Light rails are supposed to reduce pollution, help with traffic congestion and save money on gas. While the economic aspect of it is a big selling point, light rails are built using millions of tax dollars.
Light rails might have uses in certain Houston areas but its presence on-campus will only hinder transportation around the University. Metro insists otherwise.
“Metro preformed extensive traffic analysis as the project advanced in design,” Badon said. “Overall, the vehicular traffic flow through the University should not be negatively affected as the light rail only travels along the perimeter of the campus.”
Metro could certainly have conducted extensive research, but the placement of this rail segment still limits accessibility to the buildings that line Wheeler Street.
Safety is also an issue. Metro reminds citizens to always listen for train horns, whistles and signal bells and to remember the rail is quieter than most vehicles.
While the hush seems like a great selling point to some, it also seems like a way for someone to get hurt if they are not constantly vigilant. Bicyclists, jaywalkers and reckless drivers already make it hard enough to cross the street; adding a light rail might add to the possibility of accidents.
Still, Metro is taking proactive steps to assure these rail-related accidents do not happen. Jerome Gray, Metro vice president and senior press officer, reiterated that people should remain aware of their surroundings.
“Safety is a priority for us. That’s why we have safety awareness campaigns as well as signage at our rail platforms advising patrons to stop, look and listen when crossing the street”, Gray said.
Unfortunately, none of these precautions changed the outcome of 20-year-old Rice student Vivian Ziwei Guan, who KHOU said stepped off the light rail in downtown July 22 with her bike in tow. Onlookers said she then rode her bicycle in front of oncoming light rail — she was pronounced dead on the scene. Other light rail riders said that though they attempted to get her attention, she didn’t seem to hear them. This is not the first incident with light rails, causing people to wonder if more improvement could be made in regards to the safety of the light rails.
“The accident involving Vivian Guan is tragic, and we await the outcome of the investigation into the accident,” Gray said.
One of the biggest concerns is the possibility of an inebriated individual crossing paths with the light rail. With the light rail situated between the on-campus bar and the economy parking near Bayou Oaks, the unfortunate scenario of someone getting hurt is not too hard to imagine. In addition, students attending on-campus parties are often seen crossing that same area.
As for the economic concern, there has been no mention of students having to pay any additional fees for the light rail other than an optional Metro card.
It seems as if the safest way to operate around the rail is to be cautious. Only time will tell whether this light rail will be a good use of taxpayers’ money and if it will be as helpful to the University as Metro hopes.
Opinion columnist Kelly Schafler is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]