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BY Michael Donnelly, John Hoppe, John H. Hall Jr., Frank Staats
by Michael Donnelly, John Hoppe, John H. Hall Jr., Frank Staats on 12/6/00.

Trolleys a first-order folly

The Metropolitan Transit Authority's plan of laying "streetcar tracks" down the middle of Main Street is a folly of the first order.

Tracks are very expensive and the work on them has to be "in place," which is a problem that is upsetting to all traffic downtown. A design requiring detours would not be in the interest of the designers, political or otherwise. Tracks can also be a driving hazard in rainy weather.

I agree that the improvements to Main Street are in order and that transportation to downtown will be in high demand. Buses certainly do pollute the air, so an electrically powered system, as light rail is supposed to be, is certainly a step in the right direction.

But how about a trackless trolley? It would not require loading zones in the middle of the street as it can move to the curb easily and at other times maintain its right of way near the center of the street.

In future years, the high-occupancy vehicle lanes now in use can be less expensively retrofitted for these trolleys as buses give out. And this won't limit Metro's ability to use these older buses to provide service until the buses are phased out, thus achieving even cleaner air.

Trackless trolleys could also be utilized for newer-style HOV lanes without the necessity for separate, isolated lanes and without their ugliness and impenetrability.

Michael Donnelly, Houston

No 'middle ground' with EPA

The Chronicle's Nov. 26 editorial "Flexibility needed to clean air, ensure growth, prosperity," was correct to say that local solutions are preferable to Washington's heavy-handedness. But, as we formulate our planning, we ought to bear in mind that the Houston air-quality issue has been blown out of proportion and that air quality continues to improve, even under current standards.

Because of the hype surrounding this issue, I'd bet that few Houstonians or Texans are even aware that Houston's air quality has actually improved over the last five years.

One group that has been helping to give visibility to that fact is Citizens
for a Sound Economy in its work to push sound science and promote common-sense solutions. CSE cites the Environmental Protection Agency's own figures in quantifying the air-quality improvements in Houston, as well as across the state.

It is refreshing to see the business community both acknowledge the importance of adequate air quality and work toward benefiting the city. However, I do not believe our community should be seeking a "middle ground" with the EPA
- at least not as that ground is now defined.

We should be seeking to quantify whatever standards are appropriate. If the standards turn out stringent, then, because our health and quality of life depend on them, so be it. If the standards turn out to be not so stringent, that, too, would be OK.

But the standards should be based on objective, scientific proof - not the politically and ideologically motivated dictates of the EPA.

The editorial mentioned that one alternative strategy would be to improve the accuracy of air quality models in order to get a better handle on the problem. Since Houston's air quality continues to improve, wouldn't it make more sense to understand the problem before imposing unstudied solutions? And particularly when those "solutions" could affect the economy, the quality of life or both?

I have absolutely no doubt that the Houston community, the one that rose to the occasion to build the Ship Channel when it was needed and thereby created one of the world's greatest ports, can also quantify our air quality and come up with solutions that will work for Texans.

I have no confidence whatsoever that a bureaucrat sitting at an EPA desk in Washington has either the incentive or the desire to look after our best interests.

John Hoppe, Sugar Land

Significant digits turning

This coming New Year's Eve will be the most significant in 1,000 years as it marks the end of the second and the beginning of the third millennium; the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century; the end of the current decade and the beginning of the next; and the end of the year 2000 and the beginning of 2001. Four significant marks of time on the same night.

It is unlikely that any of us now alive will be here for the fourth millennium and very few (if any) will still be around for the 22nd century, so everyone should celebrate the coming New Year.

John H. Hall Jr., Shenandoah

Not the same Goldberg

I was stunned by Julie Mason's Nov. 26 column, in which she criticized Houston City Councilmember Mark Goldberg for his lack of attentiveness to civic associations in his district ("Forget Florida, let's talk 2001 city elections").

As the past president of the Maplewood Civic Improvement Association, I can verify that Goldberg is a regular attendee at our general meetings, as well as monthly board meetings. More importantly, both he and his aide, Ramon Hernandez, have been available to discuss issues important to our neighborhood.

Frank Staats, Houston