Bayou Express The solution to Houston’s traffic problem is so simple,and it’s right under our noses – float the bayous

March 1, 2005 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

They have no red lights, no gridlock, not even any tow trucks. They have been with us all along; indeed, they were one of the reasons Houston was founded here rather than, say, in Iowa. They are the answer to one of our major problems, and it is odd that no one has thought of this plan before: We use our bayous for transit. Why not?

If you look at any map of Houston, you will see that our bayous are all over town. White Oak Bayou runs sort of north-south; Buffalo Bayou is west-east from Memorial through Tanglewood, River Oaks and downtown. Brays Bayou skirts the Texas Medical Center. There are Greens Bayou, Sims Bayou and on and on. I count 10 different bayous in Harris County. Each one eventually finds Galveston Bay, and getting there takes them through much of the county. Our bayou system is already in place. All we need to do is put it to work. The MTA simply buys a fleet of flat-bottomed, air-conditioned boats, or maybe the Marines would sell us some landing crafts, and we run a waterbus system.

We build little docks every few blocks with parking places nearby – the flood control district already owns most of the land on both sides of the bayou, so there would be little, if any, plots to grab. Maintenance of the waterways would be easy, with no potholes to fill, no white stripes to paint and re-paint, no crash barrels or overturned 18-wheelers, no need to spread sand before a freeze and no danger of a waterborne wrecker racing to tow your boat to a muddy bank. Finally, in the plus column, our bayous are relatively level except when Allison comes to visit. This new, cheap and safe transit system would sport crafts named the HN (Houston Navy) Bayou Queen and Buffalo Gal. Or we could sell off the naming rights as we did with our sports facilities.

“Here comes the Chevron/Texaco.”

“Get your briefcase. The HN Waste Management is leaving.”

There has long been talk of changing our bayous into a San Antonio-like river walk. It’s a good idea. San Antonio turned what was once an ugly stream running behind downtown stores into a tourist Mecca that generates tens of millions of dollars for the Alamo City every year. And that eyesore is now some of the most expensive real estate in Texas.

However, such a Pygmalion makeover can’t be done here. The San Antonio River is held to a constant level, but a good rain turns our bayous into wide, fast-running rivers. Those bank-side boutiques and cafes would be flooded out about every two years. Also, even on the hottest days, the Riverwalk remains relatively cool. Here, from May till September our bayou banks are a sauna.

But all is not lost. Under our Bayou Express System, at every dock little kiosks would spring up selling newspapers, coffee and, of course, Off! Or, again to turn a buck, we could sell monopoly rights to Starbucks. Incidentally, land value along the bayous would sharply increase, just like it did in San Antonio.

There is a bayou right at the end of my block. I am looking forward to the mornings when I can cross my neighbor’s side yard, gradually wearing a path in his grass, and walk to the bayou to purchase my cup of coffee and newspaper and float to work. In the afternoon, I would buy my vodka martini and Taxidermists Monthly and then enjoy a leisurely trip back home. Yes, I would have my vodka. There would be a bar on each waterbus right next to the smoking section. Think marketing.

There are those who would oppose this form of mass transit, just as they have opposed all other Houston transportation plans, including light rail, heavy rail and most forms of camel caravans. But Congressmen John Culberson and Tom DeLay would love the Bayou Express System because some of these routes are already paved, and those two reps do love concrete. One objection to my proposal would be time. Wouldn’t a waterbus be slow? Since we are not talking cigarette boats here, yes, speed or lack thereof would be a factor. Yet, have you tried to drive on the West Loop or Katy Freeway during rush hour (6 a.m.-8 p.m.)? How many hours have you wasted sitting still on the Pierce Elevated?

Sometimes, the seemingly quickest way is not. For example, considering all the time spent driving to the airport, finding a parking place, security checks, weather delays and the occasional hijacking, I now find it takes less time to drive to Austin than to fly, going from my house to, say, UT or the capitol. And it is almost quicker driving from Houston to San Antonio or Dallas than flying. So let’s christen the HN Home of the Brays and commute in ease and splendor – warm in the winter, cool in the summer. And on those golden days in spring and fall, the big plastic bubble comes off, and we chug beneath the towering oaks and Spanish moss with maybe a little soft music in the background as we sip our martinis. We are up the creek with a paddle. Venice, anyone? H

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