?First of all, it didn?t take a genius to see Main Street would be a smashing success because of what it connects,? Wilson says.
?There is no other place that connects all that. And it wasn?t connected very well when you had to drive it all. Now people use this as a horizontal elevator. It?s like the cable car but flat ? on and off, on and off, on and off.?
Preventing Rail Accidents
Metro?s Main Street light rail line has had amazing results, going from startup to 45,000 daily riders within three years. But this success hasn?t come without growing pains. The most prevalent one has to be the number of accidents the rail line suffered during its initial few years in service.
?If you thought about it, [it?s] probably to be expected because you have something intruding in the urban environment that never existed before and people had to get used to it,? Wilson admits.
?What you have to understand is that a traffic light for a Houstonian is a suggestion, it?s not a law. Maybe you should stop, maybe you don?t have to stop, it?s up to you.
?There are ? you go to different places and there are different cultural biases. And one here is that this is my road and I?m on it and nothing should be in my way.?
Wilson says he?s thankful the architects installed external cameras on every rail vehicle the system has. This has dramatically changed the opinion of the police and local media when it comes to accidents involving Metro Rail vehicles.
?The media comes in and the first question is, ?Can I have the tape?? They want to see who caused it. And we say why bother? You know who caused it, ain?t us. So what, out of 180 accidents in five years, we?re responsible for two,? Wilson says.
Wilson says some of the accidents probably shouldn?t be classified as such. For example, when a person walked into the train. No, not the path of the train, the middle of the train as it went by.
?And I said why is that an accident? You know this guy?s got a death wish, he did this intentionally. How do you miss a 90,000-pound vehicle?? Wilson asks.
?But you get people doing that. You get people making left turns in front of the train, trying to beat it. It?s a sport you know, running the red lights.?
To reduce the accident rate, Wilson says the agency has instituted all red phases and advance green lights for the trains at intersections to prevent cars from trying to beat the train off the line and turn left in front of it.
One other thing Metro has done is install a ?visual barrier? at intersections. Wilson says, ?There?s a series of lights in the street. And even in the daytime you need sunglasses to see it because they light up red like you can?t believe. So you take the traffic signals and you outline the signal in red and you put a strip of red lights down [on the pavement across the intersection].
The visual barriers are made up of energy-efficient red LEDs that blink when the train is coming near the intersection and stay red when the train is in a station on either side of it.
?You?re trying to create a visual barrier that says something serious is going on here. You may not see the train, but you don?t want to go through here.
?And most people just won?t violate that. So through a lot of experimentation, a commitment to owning that railroad and making it safe, we dropped the accident rate down tremendously.?
Wilson arrived in Houston in 2004 to an agency that hadn?t purchased buses in a long time; a situation he describes as not good. Realizing the buses were the backbone of the system, Wilson discovered Houston Metro had no fleet management plan.
?Well, it doesn?t take a genius to take 1,200 and divide by 12 ? the average life of a bus ? and say Metro needs to have a hundred buses a year rolling in here, every single year, with no gaps and no nothing.
?Well I?ve been in this business a long enough time to realize and know, you don?t buy buses for a while and then you buy a thousand of them,? Wilson says.
?God forbid that bus has got a fatal flaw in it and you?ve got a thousand of them. You don?t have a hundred of them, which you can manage. You?ve got a thousand of them.?