Thursday, July 28, 2005

A hypothesis on the deeper psychology of rail

I've been doing a little speculative thinking on the deeper motivations behind rail. Why are so many people so passionate in their support of it in the face of so many economic arguments against it? The usual arguments have a lot of weaknesses: congestion relief (none), cost effectiveness (not), speed (slower vs. car or HOV bus), overall transit ridership (drops), pollution/energy benefits (debatable), development (mixed record). But there is clearly something qualitatively compelling about it, as evidenced by the recent uproar over the LRT to BRT changes in Metro's plan. I even find myself strangely attracted to it as my rational/left brain whispers "boondoggle".

My hypothesis? There is a deep human psychological need to be liked. Everybody likes to impress guests they have over to their home. The natural extension of that need beyond our house is our city. When out-of-town friends or family visit, we like to show them Houston's highlights, and we want them to be impressed. To impress out-of-towners, whether on business or vacation, you have to offer them something they don't have in their hometown. Many cities impress people with their natural beauty (Austin, Portland, San Francisco, Denver, etc.), especially waterfronts. But what if that's not really an option for your town, like Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix, or, of course, Houston?

The vast majority of people in this country live in the suburbs and drive to their suburban office building. That's not going to impress them. Low cost of living and home affordability is not going to impress them either, nor is an efficient, cost-effective bus network. New York, DC, Paris, and London impress them, both because of their scale but also the novelty of walking, taxis, and subways. A lot of people aren't necessarily interested in living that way full time, but it's fun for a short trip. Sure beats staying in a generic hotel in a generic suburban office park with a generic rent car. Much higher novelty factor. Even if all they saw was a small, interesting core that's unlike the vast expanse of the rest of the metro area, they go away impressed, and have formed a good image of that city in their head which they're going to tell their friends and colleagues about.

When business travelers visit Houston, they generally rent a car (or pay a fortune for a taxi), wrestle with maps, and fight traffic (they don't know which freeways to avoid when, like locals do). Not a way to leave a good impression. Now imagine a business traveler, esp. a conventioneer, stays at hotel near the rail, rides it to meetings, and even uses it to visit a few museums or restaurants and maybe do a little shopping. No rent car or navigation to worry about. No confusing bus routes or schedules. It makes for a nicer experience. My wife and I have visited dozens of cities, and we generally enjoy walkable with rail more than a rent car if we can get away with it (i.e. enough stuff we want to do is along the rail), and it's a whole lot cheaper to boot.

In my humble opinion, this is also where cities like Dallas and Atlanta missed out by focusing on relatively ineffective, low-ridership, infrequent-stop commuter rail rather than frequent-stop light-rail transit in the core like our Main St. line. Visitors don't use commuter rail, they just want to get around the main attractions and job centers in the core.

Should any of this really matter? I don't know - does it matter to you if guests don't say nice things about your house? If they just politely smile? I think some people would be just fine with that, and they're probably not big fans of rail, but others would be embarrassed, and they're probably rail supporters - because people generally feel the same way about their city that they feel about their home. How many potential companies or jobs didn't consider coming here or opening an office here because of a bad - or even just a ho-hum - impression of Houston from a previous visit? Reviews of Houston were pretty good after the Super Bowl. Would they have been without the light rail? Hard to say, but I doubt it.

I think people have a hard time really expressing this deep need. It usually gets bundled up in the "world class city" thing, but nobody seems to have the definitive checklist on that one. It really comes down to a simple litmus test: Are out-of-town visitors impressed? Do they leave with a good impression of my city?

Is it worth the billions? Again, I don't know - people spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on home interiors, exteriors, landscaping, and furnishings, essentially to impress other people. We as a city had to decide collectively how much it's worth to us to impress outsiders, and I guess a referendum was as good a way as any (although it was certainly muddled by all the other arguments). The feds undoubtedly make the decision a whole lot easier with massive matching funds.

Overall, I think Houston's doing all right. Our new transit plan is not outrageously expensive or overreaching like Denver or Seattle. For transit, it's relatively cost efficient and maximizes federal funds. It will probably actually move a fair number of people. It connects most of the core attractions and job centers of our city with only two crossing lines. It'll probably generate a fair amount of high-density new-urbanist development along the lines. With more bus-rail transfers/connections, it's probably going to actually make a lot of trips more inconvenient for a lot of the transit dependent and reduce overall ridership (as it has already), but the more transit-dependent parts of town voted the most overwhelmingly for the plan, so it must be a tradeoff they're willing to make. Sure, it's a little bit of a splurge for the city, but haven't you ever splurged on something nice for your house that wasn't pure economic rationality?

37 Comments:

At 9:08 PM, July 28, 2005, Blogger Kevin said...

With more bus-rail transfers/connections, it's probably going to actually make a lot of trips more inconvenient for a lot of the transit dependent and reduce overall ridership (as it has already), but the more transit-dependent parts of town voted the most overwhelmingly for the plan, so it must be a tradeoff they're willing to make.

Many of these folks aren't very sophisticated politically, or in their news consumption.

Do you think they really understood what they were getting?

Or that they would not REALLY be getting the 50% increase in bus service that was part of the plan?

Or that the rail lines wouldn't REALLY be put where the ballot language said they would be put?

Goodness knows, I believe in the rule of people instead of the rule of technocrats who pretend to know better than the people, but I'm not sure either side (pro rail or anti rail) really got through to the poorest, public transit-dependent communities last time. That's too bad, because as you say, they're the ones paying for it now.

 
At 7:33 AM, July 29, 2005, Blogger David said...

Just a quick comment about the last comment, and then later a longer one about Tory's excellent rumination about transit and cities.

Kevin asked whether the non-sophisticates (which I suspect he and I would define polar oppositely) understood "that the rail lines wouldn't REALLY be put where the ballot language said they would be put."

The rail lines will, in fact, be put in exactly the corridors the ballot language described with the exception of adding a few miles east of Main and cutting off a few blocks at the west end of the westside line. Further, the plan now brings the Uptown line into the 2012 timeframe rather than the 2025 timeframe.

Hard to imagine how you see getting more than was voted for as some kind of loss.

 
At 8:08 AM, July 29, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

Tory,

I could be mistaken, but it's my my understanding that Dallas and Atlanta *DO* have frequent stop rail transit in their respective city cores. The only difference is that there enough time has passed for the lines to be expanded outwards as commuter lines, which is currently Metro's stated intention.

Having an inner-city rail line isn't really something new or interesting, and the more rail that is built, the less novelty it has for visitors. Recall that rail was seen as old-fashioned when it was replaced by buses. The novelty isn't something I'd be depending on for years and years down the road, especially given the fact that, barring some major change, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Metro will start building more lines with the intention of building a commuter rail system, like LA's or Portland's. At the heart of this has to be effective transit, or none of it is worth supporting.

 
At 8:24 AM, July 29, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

Great blog Tory on this subject. I always support rail for two reasons. One, it's just plain cool and it puts Houston on par with other cities. Two, i think it will have some impact creating more urban developments.

It WILL have little impact on traffic and environment. Those arguments are just used to help drum up some support.

 
At 8:35 AM, July 29, 2005, Blogger Kevin said...

David: You're spinning and you're splitting hairs -- which PERFECTLY supports my point that the people METRO relied on to win this referendum were fooled, especially on Westpark.

Here's the ballot language.

1. NORTH HARDY

**A. UH-Downtown to Northline Mall

B. Northline Mall to Greenspoint

C. Greenspoint to Bush IAH Airport

2. SOUTHEAST

**A. Downtown/Bagby to Dowling

**B. Dowling to Griggs/610

C. Griggs/610 to Park & Ride in the vicinity of Hobby Airport

D. Sunnyside: Southeast Transit Center to Bellfort

E. Sunnyside: Bellfort to Airport Blvd.

3. HARRISBURG

**A. Dowling to Magnolia Transit Center

B. Magnolia Transit Center to Gulfgate Center

C. Gulfgate Center to Telephone Road

4. WESTPARK

**Wheeler Station to Hillcroft Transit Center

5. UPTOWN/WEST LOOP

Westpark to the Northwest Transit Center

6. INNER KATY

Downtown/Bagby to Northwest Transit Center

7. SOUTHWEST COMMUTER LINE

Fannin South Park & Ride to Harris County line


They're also not getting the 50% boost in bus service they were promised in METRO solutions.

So, spin some more and make my case further for me.

Those who take certain communities for granted in voting may find that they ARE sophisticated enough to understand they were promised something and aren't getting it, even when really clever people persist in trying to explain otherwise to them.

 
At 9:11 AM, July 29, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

kjb434,

I always support rail for two reasons. One, it's just plain cool and it puts Houston on par with other cities. Two, i think it will have some impact creating more urban developments.

As Tory noted, the developmental "benefits" of rail are questionable. You would have better and more obvious effect by using rail funds for tax abatements or subsidies for high-density development in certain areas. So your second reason isn't compelling.

As for your first reason, I think that's a better explanation of why people support rail. They see it as "cool." I'd just remind you that fifty years ago people saw buses as being "cooler" than rail. The novelty effect is a poor justification for transit.

 
At 10:24 AM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Owen -

You would have better and more obvious effect by using rail funds for tax abatements or subsidies for high-density development in certain areas.

These are for the most part different pots of money, generated from different sources. You don't just shift one to the other.

Ideally, I think you do both - you combine your rail investments by surrounding certain stations with a TIRZ and a Management District, and that's exactly what was done downtown (the zone and district pre-date the rail).

 
At 10:27 AM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Light rail is good for Houston because of the denser development it will encourage. It will be a shining example of Houston's no-zoning policy in action, as the absence of regulation will help Houston relatively quickly create a walkable urban environment the likes of which Portland, Seattle, etc. cannot compare.

 
At 10:38 AM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin -

As I read it, you just confirmed David's point, not your own.

 
At 11:08 AM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous Adam said...

A few things:
1. Let's not speculate about other people's motives for doing things or the efficacy of their actions. Its easy for that to become patronizing or worse.
2. If I recall correctly, the economic 'boondoggle' of the main street line cost $400 million. I'll be generous and say that it threw in an extra $400 million in indirect costs. That's only 200 dollars per person in the Metro service area, and we'll have the rail line for 50 years. I know its a lot of money, but that's really not the economic catastrophe that some people make it out to be.
3. I like rail, and I think some other people do too, because it represents a really substantial commitment to supporting the life style I favor and the direction for the city that I like. I realize that more than 3 out of four Houstonians may never ride it, but what else could we have done that would have supported building more places to live in town instead of more streets and more parking? What else could have connected the Museum district to Downtown? And moved more people in and out of the Medical Center?
To me, rail represents the kind of investment of money and energy in central Houston that will help keep it vital instead of the investments that keep people moving out to the suburbs.

 
At 12:20 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely. We pay for things we don't use all the time. Freeways, stadia, incentives for corporations whose buildings I will never enter, and so on. The only difference is we actually voted on this one instead of having it shoved down our throats.

 
At 1:21 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous Anne said...

Metro's mission is to provide "mobility solutions," and an "efficient transportation system." Metro's mission is not to make Houston look like Portland, or to redevelop downtown, or to make Houston look cool, or to encourage denser development.

Metro is supposed to provide a large portion of Harris County with transportation. What Metro has done is spend $400 million on 7.5 miles of downtown light rail, cut bus services county-wide by 11%, increase operating costs 36% and decrease fare revenue recovery by 29%.

With Metro's changing focus from bus services to rail building, Metro has lost site of what its mission is -- to provide transportation services to the Greater Houston-area, especially for the poor and the elderly who greatly rely on Metro's bus services.

 
At 2:10 PM, July 29, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

It could be argued that the voters altered Metro's mission with the referendum. It is their 1 cent sales tax (not to mention federal income taxes).

 
At 2:28 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Anne,

Mission Smission, METRO is addicted to the euphoria of squandering lots of taxpayer cash on a tram with an expensive fiberglass facade. They have been selling Houstonians sizzle, but there is no beef.

Tory,

Light Rail is akin to having a huge formal dining room that is expensive to outfit and maintain, yet is always underutilized.

rj,

TIRZ's and management districts are just boutique taxing bureaucracies which do not create new development. It is my belief that they merely induce a developer to locate a project in a spot that that would be deemed not feasible by the typical "market driven" demand criteria.

The developer is allowed taxpayer subsidized crdits, grants, abatements and access to capital via revenue bonds. They get to pocket thier profit and incentives up front and off the top.

A week or so ago, I looked at the assessed values of nearly all parcels fronting Main Street in the CBD. Typically these assesed values were from $40 to $80 per square foot, and were not increased from the 2004 assessed value, yet nearlyh all the commercial property owners were protesting the assessed values.

Taxpayers have paid for several whole blocks in the CBD for plutocracy favored projects in the past five years at prices in excess of $150.00. I have yet to be able to get a confirmation on the METRO purchase of the site at 1900 Main, the Lee. P. Brown Admin Bldg., but I am sure it was for more than say $40-$80 per square foot.

The point is that METRORail is an overpriced, unsafe, unreliable "alligator" that merely devoures precious taxpayer resources which could be better spent improvimg existing service to the poor, minorities, elderly and handicapped bus transit dependent riders throughout the service area.

 
At 2:33 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Anne -

Actually, when Metro was first established, it was granted with what some describe as some of the strongest land use controls in the US. They have condemnation power over land within 1,500 feet of transit stops. However, to my knowledge they've not exercised this power. So your point about Metro's mission being solely about mobility and efficient transportation systems is incorrect. Their original mandate was much broader than that, and I think it's a shame that they've not yet lived up to it.

 
At 2:40 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tom -

RE: TIRZ's and management districts are just boutique taxing bureaucracies which do not create new development...

C'mon... go look at the successes of the Downtown Management District, the Gulfgate TIRZ, the Market Square TIRZ... these are shining examples of innovative tools for planning in the Houston area.

 
At 3:36 PM, July 29, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

RJ,

Actually, when Metro was first established, it was granted with what some describe as some of the strongest land use controls in the US. They have condemnation power over land within 1,500 feet of transit stops.

I'm aware of this. I'm also aware of the fact that Metro would be stormed by an angry mob of Houstonians if they actually started using this policy frequently. Suffice to say that eminent domain is not the most popular way to alter development. Although Metro has this little-known power, I promise you that it is not something the people of Houston recognized in 1978.

 
At 3:39 PM, July 29, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

RJ,

Ideally, I think you do both - you combine your rail investments by surrounding certain stations with a TIRZ and a Management District, and that's exactly what was done downtown (the zone and district pre-date the rail).

This plan seems to be designed to waste as much money as humanly possible. Cost-ineffective transit on one hand, and subsidies that distory the real estate market on the other. I'm sorry -- none of this is appealing to me.

 
At 4:24 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Owen -

Much of the growth in the Houston area going back for many years is due to some sort of special district. For residential development, it's usually a Municipal Utility District, although some places such as Shadow Creek Ranch use a TIRZ (which some would argue is better intended for commercial development) and others use a Public Improvement District (which is best suited for residential). Regardless of the type of vehicle selected, the fact of the matter is that one of the ways that we keep home costs low and spur commercial development is through these special districts. We have hundreds of them in the Houston area. Over 500 I think. You may dislike them, but that's the way we do business round these parts.

Have we destroyed the real estate market as a result? I would argue that the MUDs have contributed to an outward acceleration of growth and put single family home development within the City of Houston at a comparative disadvantage, but that's a thread for another day. I'm guessing that upon reflection you would not characterize our special district driven real estate market as destroyed. I might not like the results it produces, but one thing that's for sure is that it does produce.

If you accept then that special districts are a reasonable means to spur development, then a TIRZ containing a transit stop is potentially a great idea, especially if you have a single developer controlling most of the land. If I had to look into my crystal ball, I would predict that this is how Northline Mall and the surrounding properties will ultimately be redeveloped.

 
At 5:11 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Owen -

RE: Although Metro has this little-known power, I promise you that it is not something the people of Houston recognized in 1978.

While I can't characterize exactly what the people of Houston knew or didn't know at the time, I can say that the power to seize vacant land, homes and businesses through payment of fair market value was given to Metro by the Texas State Legislature, so our "electeds" and by extension observers of the electeds knew about it. And then the voters of Houston voted for it in 1978 as part of Metro's creation, and if recent Metro-related ballot items are any indication, I'm sure there were plenty of people back then who combed through the authorizing language and told others what they found.

 
At 5:27 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

rj,

Just what are your measures of success that you apply in concluding that the TIRZ and Downtown management district have accomplished anything except spending a lot of taxpayer money, which has been passed through to building owners and tenants?

The office vacancy rate was over 20%, up from 12% before METRO shortchanged Houstonians with the tram.

 
At 9:35 PM, July 29, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tom -

RE: Just what are your measures of success that you apply in concluding that the TIRZ and Downtown management district have accomplished anything except spending a lot of taxpayer money

The TIRZ and MD were established in 1995. Completed downtown development and redevelopment activity between 1995 and the summer of 2004 totaled $3.5 billion, with almost $600 million under construction at that time and another $250 million in the planning stages. For the ten years before those districts, those totals hover near zero. The TIRZ and MD played a central role in turning around downtown and making it a desirable location for new investment.

And, quite frankly, just walk around. Many of the improvements that you see are a result of the MD, or the TIRZ, or either of those entities partnering with others (e.g. the Cotswold Project on the north end, with all the fountains, street trees, new sidewalks, etc.).

 
At 6:50 AM, July 30, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

rj,

your reply is proving my point.

Other than the Calpine building, what was the other significant PRIVATE investment within several blocks (1500 foot radius of each tram platform) of the Main Street tram in the CBD?

The Cotswold 2000 project; I double dare anyone to survey surviving business owners who were directly impacted as to what it did to increase customer foot traffic or increase their bottom lines.

Just how many big spenders were walking around the CBD on any given day in June and July? I have visited the doomed pedestrian mall a number of times this summer so as to take photographic exhibits of the desolate Main Street Square on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

I even went down threr after noon on the 4th of July, when there was the event at Tinsley park and the Astro's game, and there were a few panhandlers passing through along with an "ambassador" who was supposed to be picking up the trash who was instead seemed to be hitting on some woman who likely was asking "Is this it?"

Ask Tory to forward some of these photos that I thoughtfully sent him.

It did not surprise me to here a news account of the last METRORail accident, where the female pedestrian was struck by the tram during the evening "rush hour," that there was not a single revenue passenger on the tram.

 
At 8:47 AM, July 30, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tom -

Other than the Calpine building, what was the other significant PRIVATE investment within several blocks (1500 foot radius of each tram platform) of the Main Street tram in the CBD?

Um, this is getting nutty. Just within the last 2-3 years, current (as of last year) or planned projects include the renovation of the old Kirby office building, the old Texas State Hotel renovation, the old Texaco building renovation, the Stowers building renovation, and the planned Shamrock tower (if it happens). And that's just scratching the surface. There's all sorts of new bars, restaurants, a CVS, etc. That's all private sector stuff. There's plenty more public sector investment, which doesn't seem to mean anything to you.

The project that got things going along that corridor was the Rice Lofts, which was a TIRZ supported project. Big success. And there have been plenty more private sector projects between when the Rice lofts opened and that recent list that I just gave you.

Thanks for the softball question.

 
At 10:10 AM, July 30, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

RJ,

Mayor Lanier looted $4+ million of HUD money which was earmarked for the 4th Ward redevelopment of Allen Parkway Village. How many low-income tenants did you count at the Rice Lofts?

Bars come and go, mostly dying on the vine along Main Street lately.

As far as the several boutique hotel conversions, seemingly all with HUD funds and loan gaurantees of which none have been repaid to date. Making my point as to developers taking the taxpayer subsidies as profit, up fron and off the top regardless of the rational business feasibility of the venture.

There was another $100K of taxpayer money diverted to the old Sakawitz parking garage for finishout as an inducement for a clothing store, the only tenant to commit sofar.

How much more taxpayer cash will it take to induce all this redevlopment you mention?

It is shameful fpr one to strikeout at softball.

 
At 3:52 PM, July 30, 2005, Blogger David said...

First, it's critical to get past the "vast majority" part of this thinking. If, in fact, it's true that "The vast majority of people in this country live in the suburbs and drive to their suburban office building," the number of people who live in cities or want to live in cities is also very substantial.

People who do live in suburbs should be the primary cheerleaders for urban living and urban transit, because every person riding on that transit is not driving on the freeways and streets - is out of the way.

The reason to encourage urban living is because it is compact and efficient and has the least possible impact on natural areas. People who live in cities are far more conservative about resources than people who live in suburbs. So suburban people should encourage, not discourage, others to live like that, so they don't have to.

But urban living at large scale is impossible unless the primary modes of mobility are walking and riding transit. The spectacular non-productivity of land use in the Galleria area is entirely because the area does not have pedestrian and transit capacity as the primary modes.

For a person who doesn't use transit and isn't interested in using transit or in living in busy urban places it may be entirely mysterious why others would want to do that. But that doesn't mean "What I don't do or want is pointless and should be resisted."

It's difficult to imagine a more complete "boondoggle" than the freeway system, which was, after all, supposed to aid national security and has had the effect of making people dependent for escape on a system that can't support broad escape. Just go out the Katy about 4 on a nice Friday afternoon. And the amount of billions that have been and are being invested in it are probably impossible to determine by now. With the Katy Freeway expansion costing $117 million per mile, we in a realm of spending that is just like transit spending, only without the efficiency and light impact on the land and surrounding communities.

Metro has put forward a broad plan that reaches pretty far around the urbanized parts of the region. TxDOT has no idea what their system will look like in 25 years. There is no master plan for even the freeway system, let alone the arterial system. I have asked TxDOT officials when we will see the regional master plan that tells us when the freeways will be finished, and the look is blank and uncomprehending.

And yes, we all travel and realize how nice it is when there is great transit in our destination. So we want visitors to come here and be able to have that experience. I continually harp on this urban transit backbone that would directly connect at least our six major activity centers, with no stops except in the centers. And I see that as a "ride" in Disney terms, on a kind of 245-mile per hour rocket with lots of glass so I can zoom over the city and see what's to be seen while I'm making a really fast connection. I have actually been thinking about this so long I've begun to call it "The 'Bone," and imagine it as VERY impressive to visitors.

So impressing visitors is also a reason.

And of course there's the issue of people who need transit. If we want them to be productive, we want them to be able to get around without spending hours doing it. These are our young people, our old people, our disable people, and our poor people. And we don't want them driving the worst possible cars around the roadway system.

So as The Onion reported a couple of years ago we have to remember that "96 percent of Americans support transit for other people."

 
At 3:54 PM, July 30, 2005, Blogger David said...

Responding to Kevin's comment that I'm splitting hairs and his listing of the 2003 ballot language: everything in that language is still in the plan, with rail to be laid in all those corridors. I'm sorry, I don't understand what you are trying to say.

 
At 10:37 AM, July 31, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tom -

Without continuing to get into the gory details and bumping-up against larger debates about the role of government, I think the story of downtown Houston over the last 10 years is that of a remarkable rebirth. When I moved away from Houston in 1992, downtown was basically all skyline and no substance. Dead, dead, dead. For the next 8 years I visited Houston typically twice each year, and was delighted to see it begin to spring to life. Bayou Place and the Rice Lofts led the way. By the time I moved back to Houston in 2000, it seemed that peoples' attitudes about downtown Houston had completely changed. It was a growing source of civic pride.

Tapping into the gist of Tory's thoughtful post, I now love to show-off downtown to visitors. It's a part of the city in which I take pride, and enjoy sharing it with everyone I can (or even just being there on my own). You may personally dislike downtown, and that's fine. Hey - I hate Uptown. Some places just don't resonate with people in the same way. But as I look at the longer trajectory of downtown, I am thrilled that it keeps getting better and better. My feeling is that as downtown improves, the overall impression of Houston by both residents and visitors improves along with it.

 
At 11:40 AM, July 31, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

On David's backbone:

I don't see us getting ultra-high-speed rail like Shanghai. Way too expensive, and we'll never have the population density of Asian cities to support it (not to mention top-down dictatorial control over planning).

I think Houston's best bet for a backbone would be some version of the Aerobus (www.aerobus.com), which also happens to feature prominently in the movie "The Island" in the Los Angeles of 2019. It gets over all the ground clutter without the heavy visual blight of something like elevated rail (since it's really just cable across distantly spaced pylons). And it would definitely impress visitors with the view.

 
At 1:40 PM, July 31, 2005, Anonymous Anne said...

http://blog.kir.com/archives/002237.asp

"the true economic benefit of light rail is highly concentrated in only a few interest groups -- political representatives of minority communities who tout the political accomplishment of shiny toy rail lines while ignoring their constituents need for more effective mass transit, environmental groups that are striving for political influence, construction-related firms that feed at the trough of light rail projects, and private real estate developers who enrich themselves through the increase in their property values along the rail line. Inasmuch as none of these reasons for mass transit appeal to the part of the electorate who actually need mass transit, this amalgamation of interest groups continues to disguise their true interests behind amorphus claims that the uneconomic rail lines reduce traffic congestion (they do not), curb air pollution (they do not), or improve the quality of life (at least debatable). The literature on all this is public and volumnious..."

Tom Kirkendall also points out that if it's truly about mass transit, it would be cheaper to buy every person who needs to use mass transit a Toyota Prius, with the money we spend on light rail.

But that's IF it's really about transit. It sounds like many light rail cheerleaders are more interested in pretty downtowns, than in effective transit options for the people who really need them.

 
At 3:43 PM, July 31, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

rj,

I love Houston.

It seems like we typically are expected to take the good along with the bad.

We all have a civic duty to try and make Houston better.

The Brown administration and cronies turned Houston into "Port-au-Plunder."

I am compelled to place the blame on the bureaucrats for what they have done to advance the very antitheses of MOBILITY when they derailed one of the finest bus transit agencies in the nation to divert resources to an unsafe, unreliable, and underutilized tram.

It's the wasteful spending by "smart growth" N.U.T.S. (New Urban Transit Supporters) and the central planning bureaucrats of our precious taxpayer funded resources that drives me into a rage.

I resent METRO for bringing in carpetbagger Yankees who seem adicted to the euphoria of squandering vast sums of taxpayer money on ill-devised European Socialist-style transit modes which undermines the transit safety net for the poor, minorityes, elderly and handicapped bus transit dependent riders throughout the service area.

I graduated from the UH-D and have either appraised and/or performed various environmental assessments on a number of properties in and around the CBD.

The vast majority of the CBD was built with private investment and risk. Most of the recent development has been by wasteful government spending, and taxpayer secured bonds, which must be retired by future generations. Indenturing our grandchildren with today's wastful schemes is wrong.

Change starts only when people refuse to go along just to get along.

I see the dangerous bear in the woods, others do not.

 
At 8:42 PM, July 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I resent METRO for bringing in carpetbagger Yankees who seem adicted to the euphoria of squandering vast sums of taxpayer money on ill-devised European Socialist-style transit modes which undermines the transit safety net for the poor, minorityes, elderly and handicapped bus transit dependent riders throughout the service area."

No, if you had your way we wouldn't have buses at all. Your anti-rail stance is just a stepping stone towards ultimately eliminating everything except your precious highways which strangely seem to fly under your boondoggle radar. The people of Houston are not as stupid as you seem to think they are.

 
At 9:15 PM, July 31, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tom -

RE: I resent METRO for bringing in carpetbagger Yankees

Hey, the Civil War ended 140 years ago. Your comments are no more appropriate than that clown who was calling Owen a carpetbagger on a different thread (note to self: I just defended Owen, wow!).

RE: I... have either appraised and/or performed various environmental assessments on a number of properties in and around the CBD.

Well, good for you. And I have related professional experience in and around the CBD that is germane to this discussion too, and this is just one of this instances where two people draw different conclusions.

RE: I see the dangerous bear in the woods, others do not

Or it could just be that there is no bear, and you need some help getting out of the woods. ;-)

 
At 9:14 PM, August 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"European Socialist-style transit modes"

What an empty remark. Eisenhower drew his inspiration for highways from Hitler's autobahns. But it would be just as ridiculous if I called freeways "European Nazi-style transportation modes".

 
At 9:01 PM, August 02, 2005, Anonymous ttyler5 said...

Tory, that's a fair speculation and I do not doubt it describes the source of the intellectual handicap affecting many supporters of light rail in Houston.

And of course, there are many people who just want to catch a ride to work, and don't care how much it will cost everybody else!

But there is another great motivator besides keeping up with the Jones's, and it is greed.

For the metro execs and politicians, servicing the multi-billion dollar public transporation and light rail industry is of course a lucrative business opportunity.

Tom Bazan just for example ran into Delibrio, and she still lives in Houston and prefers to fly to all of her high-paid "consulting" jobs in other parts of the country.

And how much have rail-related interests contributed to area political campaigns over the last ten years?

But how does "greed" in this case motivate Joe Blow on the freeway?

Years ago, Lynn Ashby admitted in his old Houston Post column that while he may not ride the Metro bus ( we were publicly engaged in the debate, at the time, as to whether we ought to create a Metro at all) he hoped everybody else would, thus leaving him with a larger share of the freeway.

For almost 30 years now, this has been a tremendous motivator for many of the people supporting Metro and its programs.

 
At 9:16 PM, August 02, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

ttyler5,

what does this mean:

Tom Bazan just for example ran into Delibrio, and she still lives in Houston and prefers to fly to all of her high-paid "consulting" jobs in other parts of the country.

Um, is she not allowed to work? Or use an airplane to get to where she needs to go? What's your point?

 
At 11:39 AM, August 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

apparently not!

and tyler, if you think that rail interests have contributed anything close to what highway/concrete interests have contributed, then you need to have your head checked.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home