Monday, October 18, 2021

Clean energy entrepreneurship in Houston, densification, welcoming refugees, Dallas TOD failure, ADUs, population gains, rankings, and more

Continuing to clear out some backlogged smaller items. A lot of these I tweeted while I was out of town for much of the summer, but just now getting a chance to bring them to the blog:

"If folks looking in still don't see Houston and Texas as the next technology mecca, they soon will."

“Every day I meet another oil and gas guy who is now a climate entrepreneur. I think there is going to be an explosion of clean energy activity out of the O&G sector, and we’ll be stunned in the next 5-7 years by how many of these problems they handle.”

"The disruptive innovation investor said individuals and companies flocking to more affordable areas of the country should keep inflation at bay."

"Austin isn’t the densest metropolitan area in Texas. That honor belongs to the nine-county Houston region, which increased from 1,560 residents per square mile in 2010 to 1,858 in 2020, an increase of about 19%."

"H-Town exudes Southern hospitality: The pace of life is more relaxed than many major cities, and they're welcoming, polite, and eager to share the delights of their city with visitors...make Houstonians less cliquey and more hospitable towards newcomers."

"In short, TOD is simply a scam. Like Portland’s light-rail mafia, which guided subsidies to favored developers who would build TODs, Dallas light rail and TODs are merely a way of transferring money from taxpayers to developers."

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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Glaeser touts Houston, HTX vs. Austin compared, Houston art kudos, new best cities rankings

 Continuing to clear out the backlog this week...

"Seven decades later, I'm amazed to hear that some still think of Houston as part of "flyover country" when it has become one of the world's great art cities. What would it take to wake people up to all that diverse, sophisticated Houston has to offer?"

“Messrs. Glaeser and Cutler see nothing less than “the rapid-fire deurbanization of our world.” 
“Uncontrolled pandemic,” the authors write, poses “an existential threat” to the urban world. Nor is the coronavirus the only problem that cities face. “A Pandora’s Box of urban woes has emerged,” they continue, “including overly expensive housing, violent conflict over gentrification, persistently low levels of upward mobility, and outrage over brutal and racially targeted policing and long prison sentences for minor drug crimes.” These are not disparate problems. Rather, they “all stem from a common root: our cities protect insiders and leave outsiders to suffer.” 
In Messrs. Glaeser and Cutler’s view, something has gone deeply wrong with how policy is set in many American cities. Insiders have captured control of how cities operate—and used that control to enrich themselves while providing limited opportunities for newer, younger residents."
I think Houston is better than most cities on these problems, but I'd be curious to hear what you think in the comments...

"Silicon Valley is a perfect example of the long-term problem. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, four counties in northern California—Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara—have per capita incomes over $100,000. Given that extraordinary prosperity, you might think that people would be flooding into the region, as they did after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. Yet they are not. Taken together, those counties’ population grew by only 6.5% between 2010 and 2020, below the average growth rate for large counties. For comparison, Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located, has 35% less land than the four California counties, but in the 2010s its population grew 175% faster.

The reason for this is not hard to find. House prices in Silicon Valley make living there prohibitive for all but the very wealthy. Data from the National Association of Realtors show that in the second quarter of 2021, the median sales price for a new home was $1.7 million in San Jose and $1.4 million in San Francisco. In Houston, the median sales price was $307,000. Given the ease of building in greater Houston, house prices there may actually decline once we get through the pandemic. There is little chance that prices will fall in Silicon Valley.

Harris County is growing so rapidly because it is a place where housing and entrepreneurship are still largely unfettered. In contrast, coastal California is the capital of insider privilege. In 1982, the economist Mancur Olson published “The Rise and Decline of Nations,” in which he argued that in every society, cliques and special interest groups pass laws that limit competition and prevent change."
Hear hear!!

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Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Political guide for moving to Texas (America's Future), Houston no-zoning video, TX HSR re-route? population growth and building permits, airport wins

 Continuing from last week on catch-up items...

  • From Twitter: My oversimplified political guide for moving to Texas: progressives to Austin, conservatives to DFW, and pragmatic centrists and independents to Houston.
  • NYT: The Future of America is Texas 

"But if you’re really looking for a bellwether state that offers a glimpse into the country’s economic future and engines of growth as well as its political fault lines in the long run, it’s not California. It’s Texas." 

"For every new white resident that Texas welcomed over the past decade, there have been three Black residents, three Asians, three people with multiracial backgrounds and 11 Hispanics. Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and Houston also have large L.G.B.T.Q. populations."

"Data from the 2020 Census released August 12 shows Houston at No. 5 (20.3 percent) among the country's 50 largest metro areas in the biggest jump in population from 2010 to 2020.

Houston maintains its position at No. 5 (7,122,240 residents), the Census data notes. For some perspective, Houston was No. 8 (4,944,332) in the 2010 Census.

The Bayou City is also one of the three U.S. metro areas to gain at least 1.2 million residents over the decade. (Dallas-Fort Worth and New York are the others.)"

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Infrastructure bill problems, Dallas TOD failure, CA vs TX, why transit has trouble competing, and more

I apologize for the sporadic posts over the summer while I was out-of-town with family, but I'm back and looking forward to catching up on a big backlog of smaller items that will probably take several weekly posts to get through.

"In short, TOD is simply a scam. Like Portland’s light-rail mafia, which guided subsidies to favored developers who would build TODs, Dallas light rail and TODs are merely a way of transferring money from taxpayers to developers."

"This page is not calling for abandonment of transit or extolling the virtues of the automobile. It is an attempt to lay out what transit is up against if it is to succeed. Pretending that the economic issues I describe can be made to go away is a guaranteed recipe for failure."
“Right now market forces are telling California, ‘Get your s-- together,’ ” said report co-author Mark Duggan, director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. “This exodus thing — I think it’s a risk.” 
"the number of companies relocating their HQs out of CA is running at twice the rate of recent years and is showing no signs of slowing...The winning state is Texas, which for many years has been the most popular destination for CA company relocations" 
"Like many other tech executives, I think Texas is positioned to outpace California due to its proximity to the world's top companies in energy, healthcare, and aerospace, to name a few, and its willingness to innovate with technology in those industries."
  • Painted Into a Corner - It could be time to reconsider land-use laws that contribute to runaway housing costs. Hat tip to George. Really glad to see Houston avoid a lot of these issues. Conclusion:
"The role of cities in the 21st century has not yet been determined. Cities with outdated housing policies may no longer be aspirational. The future of successful cities must begin with enabling a broad set of people to live there, which necessitates affordable housing. Making housing affordable to a large set of people with a range of incomes has its advantages. 

This allows people who have lower-paying, service-industry jobs to live near where they work. It promotes a broader set of cultures within a city. Multiculturalism should be one of the values of large cities. When a city is large enough, it can support such things as museums, art galleries, performing arts and professional sports franchises. The greatest thing that a city can provide is social mobility."
  • WSJ: Mass Spending for Mass Transit - Democrats want the GOP to rescue big-city rail and public unions. This is why I have mixed feelings about the $1T infrastructure bill - a whole heap of the money will be going into a black hole, especially Amtrak.

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

HCTRA Annual Report Shows Impact of Covid and Toll Diversions

This week we have a guest post from Houston Freeways author Oscar Slotboom (highlights mine).
The Harris County Toll Road Authority fiscal year 2021 annual financial report recently became available on the HCTRA web site. HCTRA's FY 2021, from 1-March-2020 to 28-Feb-21, coincided with the period of worst impact of Covid 19 and also included the February 2021 freeze, which closed most or all toll roads for several days. HCTRA waived tolls from March 24 to April 29, 2020, further depressing revenue. Since 10 months of HCTRA fiscal year are in the previous calendar year, I will report FY 2021 data as being for 2020 (and similarly for all other years).

No surprise, traffic and revenue were way down.
values in millions 2019
(FY 2020)
(FY 2021)
Traffic Transactions 577 461 -20.1%
Toll Revenue $855 $551 -35.5%
Total Revenue $901 $563 -37.4%
Income Before Transfers $463 $157 -66%
Transfers Out $137 $545 +298%
Change in Position $326 -$388
Outstanding Bonds $2247 $2618 +16.5%
Liability, principal + interest $3162 $3667 +16%
Since HCTRA had a very strong financial position prior to Covid, it easily handled the financial setback. In fact, even with the reduced revenue, Harris County Commissioners Court proceeded with the huge $545 million diversion of funds out of HCTRA, shown above as the "Transfers Out" (more on that below).
We can expect a very strong rebound in traffic and revenue for 2021, probably getting within 5 or 10% of 2019. While no recent or monthly data is available for HCTRA, I'm a regular user of the Sam Houston Tollway and traffic is close to pre-pandemic levels.
Here is a plot of HCTRA's toll revenue for the last 15 years.
Here is a plot of monthly data from the North Texas Turnpike Authority, showing the sharp drop in April and May 2020, and then a strong recovery. (HCTRA was certainly similar.) The recovery of toll traffic in North Texas has been slower than overall traffic. (This plot also shows SH 360 since NCTCOG had a financial interest in the tollway.)
The plot below shows the effect on separately-reported toll road sections. No surprise, the biggest losers were facilities with nearby freeway alternatives: the Katy Managed lanes and the Hardy Toll road. The Tomball tollway was the best performer, sustaining only a 1% traffic loss due to the opening of the new section of tollway north of Tomball around April 2020 which brought in new customers. Revenue loss is larger than the traffic loss for all facilities due to the non-collection of tolls in March and April 2020. Note that the -28.3% revenue loss differs from the value in the table above because this value is facility revenue only and excludes a $33 million charge for the Covid Emergency declaration and also excludes revenue transfers between toll road agencies.
Transfers Out
Other than the drop in revenue due to Covid, the big news in this year's financial report is the massive increase in "transfers out". For a long time, HCTRA has shifted some toll revenue out of HCTRA. This is reported in the financial statement as "transfers out". This money has always been used for road and bridge improvements, originally to improve access to the toll roads but I don't know if that's still the case. The table below shows the transfers out in recent years.
The massive increase in the transfers out was due to the action of Harris County Commissioners Court (3 in favor, 2 against) to harvest money from HCTRA to use on other government functions, with initial withdrawals being used to supplement flood control funds. The Houston Chronicle reported on this in September 2020, with Harris County establishing a special corporation that immediately transferred $300 million and is slated to transfer $90 million annually in future years. The amounts of $300 million plus $90 million plus the traditional transfer are in the ballpark of the $545.1 million revenue diversion.
Page 7 of the annual report states the following:
Unrestricted net position of $477,101,449 represents the portion available to meet ongoing obligations of the Authority. Unrestricted net position decreased $487,721,988 from the previous year. This decrease was mainly due to the increase in transfers out to Harris County.
The financial report has very little information about the use of the funds being transferred out, with a vague explanation on page 12 and a note about the creation of the Harris County Flood Resilience Trust on page 50.
Tory has previously sounded an alarm about this practice. Toll diversion has been a longstanding practice in New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. What do residents of those regions get? Perpetual tolls, including sky-high tolls on the NYC bridges, for basic maintenance on 60- to 100-year-old facilities which are generally still in their original (often inadequate) configuration.
While some folks may be okay with using toll money for flood control, there was nothing to prevent ongoing and increasing diversions for other government activities. State-level leaders were concerned about this diversion, prompting the legislature to pass SB 1727, which was signed by Governor Abbott on June 7. SB 1727 appears to prohibit the diversion of toll revenue for non-road use. We'll need to see how the law affects toll revenue diversion in future years.
Long-Term Bond Obligation
The data below summarizes information presented on pages 31 and 32

Lien Bonds and Tax Bonds $2,335
Unamortized Premiums 284
Total 2,619
Other obligations, mainly employee retirement 175
Total Liability $2,794
Interest Expense $1,332
Approximate total obligation through 2050 $4,126
The the plot below, using data presented on page 61, shows the payment schedule for the $2.355 billion in lien bonds and tax bonds, which comprise 90% of HCTRA's bond liability.
This plot shows that total liabilities will be around $175 million per year until around 2035, when obligations drop sharply to around $75 million per year through 2047, then tapering to the final payment in 2050. Since HCTRA's revenue should be back in the range of $800 million to $1 billion per year from this year forward (barring any new disruptions), we can see that HCTRA should retain its strong financial standing going forward, assuming SB 1727 does in fact prevent more diversions.
The current 3-2 majority on Harris County Commissioners Court seems to be intent on ending improvement and expansion of the toll road system after current obligations are completed. Judge Hidalgo is well-known to be anti-tollway and anti-freeway. The $962 million ship channel bridge is the most expensive project in progress. Remaining projects include $130 million for connection ramps at the Sam Houston Tollway and SH 225, $71 million for connections between the Hardy Toll Road and BW8, and the currently suspended Hardy downtown connector, which should cost around $250 million if it proceeds. With all these projects finishing by the mid-to-late 2020s and bond obligations a small fraction of expected revenue, this begs the question: should regional toll road users ever get relief from the high tolls? For example, a customer passing through one Sam Houston toll plaza each way on a daily commute will pay around $700 per year. For a person in a lower-paying job, this is a substantial financial burden.
If surplus toll funds are not going to be used to improve the toll road system or Harris County roads, my view is that tolls should be reduced or selectively removed so Houston-area residents can keep their money. Another way to say this is that Harris County should not price gouge the public with high tolls if the tolls are not going to be used for their original intent, which is to finance the toll road system. Sure, many of HCTRA's customers are from Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, and Harris County Commissions Court may be glad to continue to impose high tolls on those customers. I think suitable criteria for toll reduction or removal are
  1. Sections that have generated revenue far in excess of their cost
  2. Sections which predominantly or overwhelmingly serve Harris County residents
  3. Sections serving low-income areas, to provide these low-income communities relief from high tolls.
The original three sections of the Sam Houston Tollway between the Southwest Freeway and North Freeway meet criteria 1 and 2, and the south Hardy Toll Road meets criteria 2 and 3. Toll removal on these sections would save area residents $350 million per year, and this loss of revenue could easily be accommodated by the late 2020s if Commissioners Court does in fact terminate new investments in the toll road system, and diversions are limited by SB 1727.
Opportunities for Improvement
The HCTRA financial statement provides a large amount of data, but there is minimal or negligible reporting for certain uses of agency revenue, and I would like to see more explanation of the following
  • More details about the specific use of funds transferred out. This should include a listing of specific projects or activities which are financed with toll funds.
  • More detail and explanation of the expense category "services and fees". The expense was $143 million in 2020 and $157 million in 2019. This could include a listing of consultant contracts.
  • More detail about ongoing construction and improvement programs. For example, for each ongoing project (such as the Ship Channel bridge), there should be reporting of the amount spent and the source of the funding (toll revenue or bonds). This could also include upcoming initiatives, listed on page 4. For example, how much is the conversion to all-electronic tolling going to cost?
  • Reporting on the size of the HCTRA workforce. For example, what happened to all the toll collectors when all manned tolled plazas were closed? What were the expenses involved with this transition?
  • While a lot of information about bonds is included, it is difficult to analyze the specific use of the bonds. A summary that shows the following would be useful: total bonds sold during the year, bonds sold for construction projects, bonds sold for financing transfers out, and bonds sold for refinancing.

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Houston's blob is about to eat even more of East Texas... and we should embrace it

I recently submitted this op-ed to the Houston Chronicle:

The Chronicle’s recent article debating the sustainability of Houston’s traditional “build more” approach to growth (“Houston became 'the blob that ate East Texas' by building big. Is it time for that to change?” August 27) frames the debate as if Houston can dictate whether people drive cars in the suburbs or ride transit in the densifying core, when in reality people make their own choices which we can accommodate and thrive or ignore and decline. 

The debate completely misses the reality of our post-pandemic world. Remote work is now a permanent part of our economy, and it is creating a tidal wave of suburban and exurban growth as people realize they’ll no longer need to commute into the city on a daily basis. Houston can’t stop it, even if it wanted to. All we can do is try to accommodate it while keeping the core healthy and accessible to attract their dollars for discretionary shopping, restaurants, entertainment, events, health care, philanthropy, office visits, and more. And if we don’t maintain that accessibility - including prudent transportation investments - not only are they unlikely to visit, their employers are likely to leave as well along with their much-needed local property and sales tax contributions.

Houston’s great strength has always been embracing growth - suburban, urban, and the freeways to connect it all together. That formula has kept us the most affordable major metro in the country and always near the top in growth rankings.  In other words, we’ve made ourselves extremely attractive to newcomers, especially diverse people of color and immigrants looking for affordable opportunity. We’ve got a product people want. Why would we want to radically change that? Especially to models like California with urban growth boundaries, constrained development, astronomical housing costs, traffic gridlock, and wasteful transit spending (LA has spent upwards of $20 billion only to lose 21% of its ridership pre-pandemic) resulting in a mass exodus of both people and businesses.

What Houston’s formula needs is tweaking, not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. For example, with growing concerns about flooding, the answer is not banning new development, but tightening runoff regulations on new suburban developments so they don’t flood us downstream. Every new development should have enough detention that the land releases even less water during a hard rain than it did undeveloped - then every new development would actually reduce flooding!

And when it comes to transportation investments, yes, many freeways are reaching realistic width limits, but that doesn’t mean we should give up growth for perpetual congestion or old, slow transit. We’ve proposed - and TXDoT is planning - an innovative next-generation mobility strategy: a network of MaX Lanes (Managed eXpress Lanes) 'moving the maximum number of people at maximum speed' by allowing direct point-to-point single-seat high-speed trips by transit buses and other shared-ride vehicles today, and even higher-speed zero-emission autonomous vehicles in the future.  The network would enable Houston’s seven core job centers to scale from 626,000 jobs today to over one million jobs in the future while drawing employees from all across our ever-expanding region with a reasonable commute (even if they’re doing that commute less often in a remote work world).  This is the type of climate-friendly innovative mobility solution that could attract substantial federal funding while also embracing suburban and exurban trends rather than hopelessly fighting them. 

Finally, Houston’s unzoned urban core can continue to naturally densify as it has been doing successfully for at least two decades now - not because we’re trying to force it to, but because people - especially diverse young people - choose it. They choose it because we allow the free market to build and cater to that demand, including townhomes, apartments, residential towers, and walkable mixed-use complexes.

Which brings us full circle to Houston’s secret sauce: building what people want rather than what academic urban planners deem the ‘right’ way to live and get around. That strategy will always be a winner.

Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Urban Reform Institute - A Center for Opportunity Urbanism, and the Editor of the Houston Strategies blog.

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Sunday, August 22, 2021

METRO Update, Inner Katy BRT, and Epic Failure of Transit-Oriented Development Ridership in Dallas

This week is an excellent analytical guest post from Oscar Slotboom.

The Latest Metro Ridership

Metro ridership has been stuck around 55% down for the last year, and was down 54% with 138,975 weekday boardings in the most recent data. Nationally, transit patronage has come up from its 2020 low point, reaching 50% of pre-covid patronage in June.

For perspective, average daily highway traffic on the Katy Freeway near Gessner dropped 18% from 387,769 in 2019 to 317,629 in 2020. Traffic counts are reported with a single annual value, and highway traffic in 2021 has returned to near pre-Covid levels in most places.

The Inner Katy BRT
Metro held a virtual meeting on August 16 for the Inner Katy bus rapid transit (BRT), part of the MetroRapid feature of MetroNext, which will provide a fast connection to downtown for commuter bus services on the Katy and Northwest freeways, and also provide service to the new Uptown BRT. A nice feature of the Metro's depictions is that the stations will have bypass lanes for express buses, so they won't be slowed by local service.

Separately, TxDOT is studying the addition of managed lanes on this segment, and one of TxDOT's options is covered by Metro Option 3 (Tell Metro you support Option 3 here!). The managed lanes are the most critical link in the MaX lanes network which Tory and I have promoted, and would also be part the REAL Network being planned by TxDOT. Unfortunately, H-GAC recently denied TxDOT's request to include the managed lanes in the regional plan. The project will be reconsidered for inclusion in May 2023.

Regular readers will know that Tory and I are big advocates of BRT as a much better alternative to light rail, so we are glad to see this BRT project moving forward. To summarize the advantages of BRT:

  • Light rail is obscenely expensive, with the most recent Metro expansions which opened in 2013 and 2015 costing around $152 million per mile, and the current national average just over $200 million per mile. BRT is far less expensive. Although cost reduction will vary, a good estimate is that BRT costs one-third as much as light rail.
  • Light rail is painfully slow, with MetroRail averaging 14 miles per hour, slightly slower than than the national light rail average of 15.8 mph (page 5). Street-level BRT will be about the same, but grade-separated BRT such as the Inner Katy BRT should be at least twice as fast.
  • Light rail is totally inflexible and unadaptable, usable only by trains. With BRT, buses can serve any route and then enter the BRT facilty. A BRT guideway could potentially be used by technologies of the future, such as automated transit vehicles.
  • Metro's light rail expansions opened in 2013 and 2015 have low ridership. Pre-covid (Jan 2019 through March 2020), the Red Line north extension ridership on a per-mile basis was only 24% of the original Red Line, and the Green/Purple Lines combined were only 21% of the original red line.
  • Street-level light rail is subject to conflicts with cars and pedestrians, while grade-separated BRT as planned for the Inner Katy project eliminates this hazard.

Metro's project site does not provide a cost estimate for the overall 7.6-mile project, and the final cost may vary substantially depending on the option selected and the number of stations. The current H-GAC TIP (page 4-55) lists construction cost at $190 million and total cost at $228 million, which seems low. All Metro's options include an elevated guideway section along the Katy Freeway about 4 miles long. 

Difficult-to-reach Stations

Metro's depictions show very inconvenient access to the BRT stations. Starting at ground level, patrons will need to go up an access tower to reach a skybridge which is 35 to 40 feet above the ground, cross the skybridge to the station and then go down to reach the platform. Mobility-impaired patrons will need to take two elevators to travel from ground level to the platform. It will take at least 30 seconds to reach the platform from ground level, making security more difficult.

My immediate reaction was that Metro should consider shifting the stations to be just south of the freeway so there is only a single, shorter ascent/descent for the boarding platform. At most proposed locations, this would require only minor additional right-of-way, such as the Circle K at Shepherd or the warehouse at Studemont.

Number of Stations: Less is More

Metro originally planned two stations at Shepherd/Durham and Studemont, but due to community input they are now looking at 4 additional stations, at Houston Avenue, Yale/Heights, TC Jester and Memorial Park.

Every station imposes a cost. There is the initial construction cost, and then the ongoing cost of operation, maintenance, and security. But the most significant impact is on the service speed: every station causes a slowdown in the average speed of service, and slower service makes transit less attractive to potential users. So it's a bad policy to add stations just to placate a few people who want a stop.

None of the 6 potential station locations have the characteristics for high ridership, because none are near an employment center, transit-dependent populations or high-density housing (but more on that subject later).

The Houston Avenue station can't be justified. It's already served by Metro Route 44, and it's so close to downtown that time savings for local residents using the BRT would be minimal. The number of residents near this station going in the reverse direction to Uptown is surely negligible. In addition, the area to the north has no opportunities for new development.

Five stations on this 3.4 mile section can't be justified, so Metro will need to carefully consider the locations and hopefully stick with two.

Can a Memorial Park Station be Justified?

The Memorial Park station ranks highest in community feedback, with around 46% of respondents rating it as extremely important. But is the public being realistic about actually using public transit to go to a park? I think this situation is very similar to public transit service to the airports. People view it as highly desirable, but for many reasons very few people actually use it.

  1. There is ample parking available at Memorial Park, free outside the main activity area, which eliminates a major reason to use public transit.
  2. Many park users bring equipment and drinks. This especially includes golfers but also softball players, tennis players, and people with children in strollers. Driving is much more convenient when you have equipment.
  3. After completion of park activities, most people will want go home quickly. If you're tired and/or sweaty, do you want to walk the distance to the BRT station and wait for the next bus?
  4. Most park visitors go to the park outside of peak traffic periods, so traffic is light for most visitors, eliminating another reason to use public transit.
  5. Since park patrons outside the loop and in Uptown are most likely to drive, patrons using BRT would be coming from inner loop stations and downtown. There is generally a low number of residences within 1/4 mile of the proposed stations.
  6. In Dallas, White Rock Lake Park is their approximate equivalent to Memorial Park. The DART Blue Line light rail has its White Rock station on the north edge of the park near a major street (Loop 12). Granted, this is not a perfect analogy since White Rock Lake park is so large. The White Rock station served 406 weekday boardings in the most recent data, which is the second lowest ridership for a station on the north Blue Line and ranks #50 among the 64 DART light rail stations.

Realistically, the main ridership of a Memorial Park station would be people living in the Rice Military area who will use it to go to work downtown or Uptown. Metro will need to carefully consider if that is enough to justify a station.

Epic Failure of Transit-Oriented Development LRT Ridership at Irving's Las Colinas

Transit-oriented development seeks to build high-density housing near transit stations to encourage use of public transit. There's limited or minimal opportunity for TOD near the proposed BRT stations, but even if there was good opportunity, we can't assume TOD would increase ridership.

In Irving (just northwest of Dallas), DART's Las Colinas Urban Center seems to be a perfect implementation of TOD: there are thousands of apartments within easy walking distance of the station, and numerous large office buildings about 1/4 mile away. The DART Orange Line provides direct service to major employment centers at DFW Airport, the Dallas medical district, Uptown/Victory and downtown Dallas. A university and community college also have stations on the line. So this should be one of the best performing stations in the DART system, right?

No, just the opposite. The Las Colinas Urban Center station has the second-lowest ridership in the DART system (see above chart, data source). It served a dismal 170 boardings (roughly 85 people on a round-trip) per weekday in DART FY 2020, which was partially affected by Covid, and had low ridership before Covid. The adjacent Irving convention Center station has the fourth lowest ridership in the system, and the other adjacent station at the University of Dallas has the lowest ridership in the system.

It's poignant to realize that the Orange Line was routed through the middle of Las Colinas to make it convenient to potential users, but the street-level alignment forces it to go slowly through the area, reducing service speed and possibly lowering ridership on the overall Orange Line.

Sure, someone may be able to point to a TOD somewhere which can claim improved transit patronage. But TOD is a total bust for public transit patronage in Las Colinas. So be skeptical when officials promote transit-oriented development.

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

MaX lanes network moves forward, 45N turmoil, Houston Story movie, immigrant magnet, downtown woes, zoning tax, and more

Apologies for the long delay between posts while on extended travels with the family. The featured item this week is TXDoT's new video promoting a managed lane network for Houston similar to what Oscar and I proposed in 2017. Can't say I'm a fan of the Regional Express Access Lanes (REAL) branding vs. Managed Express (MaX) Lanes Network, but great to see TXDoT pushing the concept forward! It would enable a high-speed nonstop ride from every part of the region to every major job center and be a major asset for the city.

Speaking of TXDoT, if you'd like to support the I45N rebuild project and prevent it from losing funding, fill out the survey here and sign the petition here.

Moving on to several items to catch up on:
"California may be a great state in many ways, but it also is clearly breaking bad. Since 2000, 2.6 million net domestic migrants, a population larger than the cities of San Francisco, San Diego, and Anaheim combined, have moved from California to other parts of the United States."
Finally, ending on a little humor, hat tip to Barry for finding this little gem: The Houston Story movie from the 1950s. How have I never heard of it before?!  Trailer, background, and even the full movie if you're so inclined. Wow.

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