Can The Woodlands be world-class without light rail?

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Remember how The Woodlands began a trolley service around its downtown area? Well, officials are pretty excited about it (via the Chron):

The new, free transportation system for The Woodlands Town Center officially was dedicated Tuesday in a ceremony attended by 75 community leaders.

The new trolley system, which serves The Woodlands Waterway, Lake Robbins Drive and The Woodlands Mall, is averaging about 800 to 1,000 riders a week, a number that is expected to double within the next month as more people discover its use as a lunchtime shuttle and for other activities, said Lyle Nelson, assistant general manager of The District, the public transportation agency which is operating the trolley system through a contract with TCID.

The service started July 4.

“This is a momentous occasion for The Woodlands Town Center,” said Nelda Luce Blair, chairwoman of The Town Center Improvement District. “It is more than just a fun ride. It is important because it is great for downtown.”

The trolley is expected to remain free for passengers for the first three years, and TCID is studying whether to extend the line to other areas, particularly within the downtown area, said Frank Robinson, president of TCID. Robinson said there have already been requests by residents to extend the trolley services to the village centers around The Woodlands.

“Since we announced the trolley, the interest has been peaking,” Robinson said. “We are seeing if it can’t be duplicated within the residential areas to bring people into downtown.”

Of course, as Metro officials would tell these people, The Woodlands isn’t thinking big enough. What’s needed is light rail, especially considering the continuing growth all around the Town Center area (also via the Chron):

The Woodlands Development Co. held a topping out ceremony for its newest offering in the downtown district Thursday, a 13-story building that will feature office space, retail stores and restaurants.

Three more buildings also are on the drawing boards for Town Center, ranging in size from six to nine stories. The Woodlands Development Co. plans to build two more office buildings near Woodloch Forest and Lake Robbins Drive, and U.S. Oncology announced plans for an eight-story corporate headquarters on Woodlands Parkway at Woodloch Forest Drive.

“It’s downtown,” said Alex Sutton, co-president of The Woodlands Development Co. “You associate high-rise buildings with downtown.”

The new building in Town Center is 24 Waterway Avenue, which marks the first step for the prestigious Waterway Square area, an urban park that will feature a fountain and a pavilion.

“It offers a prestigious address and a wonderful environment,” Sutton said. “People can look right down on Waterway Square.”


This is the largest building constructed by The Woodlands Development Co. on speculation without predetermined tenants, and most of the space has been committed or leased, Sutton said.

“Leasing is very strong,” Sutton said.

With office vacancy in Town Center approaching zero, The Woodlands Development Co. is planning to build more — and larger buildings — in the downtown area.

“We are doing really, really well,” said Dan Leverett, vice president of commercial for The Woodlands Development Co. “We still are having about 100 percent occupancy.”

Remember when state Sen. John Whitmire complained that The Woodlands wasn’t giving enough to Houston in return for a no-annexation promise?

“The Woodlands would be nothing but a deer lease if it weren’t for the city of Houston,” he said. “Residents of The Woodlands enjoy the golden goose of Houston. They get the benefits of working here during the day and then going back to their comfortable, homogenous, bedroom communities at night.”

We can put that nonsense to rest, since the “golden goose” benefits clearly go both ways now. Long gone are the days when most Woodlands residents had to drive to downtown Houston for work. These days, how many Houstonians are commuting to the Woodlands? Northbound I-45 isn’t empty in the mornings, you know!

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.