Commuting concerns rise after Houston Mayor John Whitmire nominates 4 new METRO board members

Rosie Nguyen Image
Tuesday, April 9, 2024
Houston City Council to vote on mayor's new appointees to METRO board
As Houston City Council members consider Mayor John Whitmire's four new METRO board member nominations later this week, some worry about the direction of the public transportation agency.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Nominations for four new METRO board members will head to Houston City Council for approval on Wednesday. However, advocates fighting for better commuting options for bicyclists, pedestrians, and people with disabilities worry about the potential direction of the new public transportation agency.

"Houston has prioritized moving vehicular traffic for decades. Streets have gotten wider, speeds have gotten faster, and highways have gotten bigger. That still hasn't solved our traffic problem. What we need to focus on is moving people rather than vehicles," Gabe Cazares, LINK Houston executive director, said.

In his new role, Mayor John Whitmire gets to appoint five of METRO's nine boards and replace them at any time. However, some people feel his actions during his first four months in office have not been very promising for those wanting better conditions for commuters who don't drive.

"I am concerned with the way that Houston Avenue was approached, the safety improvements that were made to decrease speeds and make the experience more safe for pedestrians and cyclists. I'm also concerned with a conversation that's happening around 11th Street and the way the street was redesigned to prioritize pedestrian safety and not vehicle throughput," Cazares said. "There are a significant number of projects that the city has received funding for that are all on pause for review, such as the Montrose project and Bissonnet project."

READ MORE: Conroe City Council approves another year of METRO commuter bus service to various stops in downtown Houston

Houston Mayor John Whitmire nominated four new METRO board members, prompting questions on the future of commuters who don't drive.

Elizabeth Gonzalez Brock was the first person appointed by Whitmire as METRO's new board chair in February. When asked about the direction of the incoming board, she said they will focus on customers' needs first and find ways to improve equity for underserved communities, such as installing sidewalks and bus shelters.

"The communities that I have met with, I think, are excited about the direction that we're going in and making sure that we are meeting the community where they are, providing exciting programs that will help them get to where they need to go, and get there on time whether they have a car or not," Gonzalez Brock said. "We want people to ride METRO whether or not they are dependent on a car. We don't want people to use METRO just because they have to."

READ MORE: More than half of METRO bus stations in Houston area are without shelter, protection from hot temperatures

Whitmire's office said METRO's board members typically represent different segments of our communities. The four new nominees include:

  • Christopher C. "Chad" McMillan, advocate for people living with disabilities
  • Kathy K. Han, municipal court judge for the City of Houston
  • Terry Leon Preston, senior pastor of Yale Street Baptist Church
  • Terry Morales, senior vice president of Amegy Bank

"As a person with a disability who relies on public transportation as my primary means to move around the city, I am very excited to see that the administration chose to continue providing the disability perspective on the METRO board," Cazares said. "I hope that (other) board members are regular users of the transit system. It's hard to oversee a program or services that you don't regularly use."

In a statement, a spokesperson wrote in part, "A review of mobility projects constructed in the last administration revealed newly constructed bike lanes removed residential and business street parking, failed to accommodate residential solid waste trash cans, negatively impacted emergency responders, and impacted our general mobility with reduced lanes. We need to carefully balance our current and future mobility needs for all Houstonians by providing a range of mobility options without affecting our existing mobility options. Projects are being reviewed not to repeat the past actions."

RELATED: Houston METRO pays $150K to remove unsafe bus stops initially created to protect bike lanes and aid passengers in Heights area

On Sunday, ABC13 asked the mayor during the Tour de Houston ride where he stands with improving mobility for commuters who don't use cars.

"We're growing at a rapid rate. Our general mobility is very important. We've done great things along Allen Parkway. We need to make sure that there's a safe passage in Memorial Park. So there's a lot of things we still have to do," Whitmire said.

Requests for comment from Han, Preston, and Morales were not returned.

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