Thursday, June 29, 2006

Transportation lessons from Houston, Part 2 of 2

Before getting to part 2, a short note on the Chronicle's article today about a Duke spinoff becoming Fortune 500 HQ #24 for Houston - the second most in the nation after NYC. Alas, it is not to be. Unfortunately, it will only replace Kinder Morgan Energy, which is going private. Fortune doesn't count private companies in the 500. We'll still have the economic benefits of them both being here, but the F500 headquarters count will remain unchanged. Now, if Exxon and Chevron would just move their headquarters here to join the bulk of their employees...

On to part 2, continuing from part 1.

Being smart with light rail

Houston has not completely avoided the light rail bandwagon. In 2004, it opened a $300-million 7.5-mile “Main St.” line that links downtown, Midtown, the Museum District, Hermann Park, Rice University, the Texas Medical Center, and the Reliant Park stadium and convention center complex.

Ridership has been high, although there is some dispute on how many of those are new transit riders. Many previously continuous bus routes now transfer riders to the rail and then require them to transfer again to a new bus. In fact, while rail ridership has been high, overall Metro transit ridership has dropped noticeably since the line opened and bus routes were changed to connect to it.

This has proven to be the biggest risk of building rail. Transit agencies, obsessed with proving that the large capital investment was worth it, try to push as many riders onto the train as possible by canceling competing bus service (even if it’s faster) and forcing transfers whenever possible. Overall trip times increase and transit ridership drops.

Where Houston has been smart with light rail is in keeping it focused on short-distance local trips and not trying to make it useful for long-distance commuter transit (where HOV express buses shine). For example, New York has subways for local transit, and heavy rail for commuters. Local transit just needs stops, while commuter transit usually needs large park-and-ride lots or garages. Most cities these days try to stretch one mode to perform both functions, and end up with a dysfunctional hybrid that doesn’t have enough stops to be useful for local trips, but has too many stops painfully slowing it down for commuter trips. Houston’s line has stops roughly every half-mile along its 7.5 mile length, making it great for local trips with short walks, but slowing it to 17 mph net speed.

This local focus makes Metro's new LRT/BRT network extremely complimentary to express bus and vanpool commuter transit by allowing people to get around the core easily during the day for meetings, errands, or lunches without their car, thus making the decision to ride commuter transit an easier one.

Metro has also made the smart decision to use more bus rapid transit (BRT) as it expands the core network from 7 to 30 miles over the next 7 years, cutting the cost per mile roughly in half and improving the chances of federal funding.

Summarizing Lessons Learned from Houston

  • Investing in freeways, tollways, and HOV does improve mobility. Yes, there is some “induced demand,” but congestion is reduced to fewer hours per day and more people get more access to affordable housing. Simply compare 6-lane I-5 in LA with 12-lane I-5 in Orange County to see the difference.
  • Improved mobility provides access to more affordable housing for middle class families.
  • Improved mobility also maximizes the potential customer base for entrepreneurial small businesses, increasing economic vibrancy.
  • Freeway frontage roads with convenient commercial businesses are a good idea. They are not always aesthetically attractive, but they do provide a noise and pollution buffer for residential areas and make it far more politically feasible to expand capacity in the future.
  • Stopping new highway construction does not stop sprawl. It simply shifts jobs from the core to the suburban periphery, leading to a deteriorating tax base in the older core city.
  • Remember that transit is not about fancy and expensive commuter trains - it's about cost-effectively getting people out of their cars by offering faster trips.
  • Evaluate transit agencies on boosting overall ridership and trip market share – not ridership on specific rail lines.
  • Aggressively develop a comprehensive network of congestion-priced toll lanes to support round-the-clock high-speed commuter service: buses, vans, carpools, and even single-occupant vehicles willing to pay.
  • Use the toll revenue to support construction of additional lane and transit capacity. Taxpayers will be more supportive if they think the revenues are supporting enhanced mobility rather than going into the general tax revenue fund.
  • Regional authorities (like counties) have a better “big picture” view to push needed mobility projects over the objections of NIMBY municipalities, and they need the power to do it. Houston has benefited from the regional view of dominant Harris County, which has the substantial majority of the population in the metro area.
  • Set up mechanisms and incentives for cooperation among major agencies.
That's it. Hope you enjoyed it. Comments welcome, but I may not be able to respond for a few days. I'm attending a wedding and vacationing in Denver with the wife and in-laws over the four-day Independence Day weekend, so the next post will be Wednesday July 5th. Have a great holiday weekend celebrating the 230th birthday of our nation.

(link to Followup post)

35 Comments:

At 7:36 PM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

This may be a tad off topic, but what's your perspective on light rail out to the airport(s)? It comes off as commuter rail, but some claim that it encourages business development by aiding travelers. On the other hand, with so many business centers in Houston, it's difficult to see how it would be successful.

 
At 9:03 PM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I'm not a fan at all of rail to the airports. Astronomically expensive for very low ridership. Express shuttles to the new intermodal center make much more sense.

It's not just the multiple job centers that are a problem. Here's why they don't get many riders: business travelers want convenience and don't care about the cost, so they either pay for parking (outbound) or use a taxi or rent car (inbound). Leisure travelers are usually couples or families, and they either load up the car with luggage and head out there (or get dropped off), or, inbound, they get picked up by friends or family locally. Who wants to manage a family with children and luggage on transit? When you get down to it, the only people who drag luggage on to transit for the long slog to or from the airport are young singles with little money for other options and no friends willing to give them a ride. It's a very, very tiny percentage of fliers.

 
At 9:16 PM, June 29, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Tory, I find your entries on the whole very thoughtful, but your last two come off a bit like cheerleading for Houston's roadbuilding interests. Is there anything about Houston's pave-everything mentality, which threatens to cover all of East Texas in low density sprawl within the next fifty years, that you don't like?

 
At 10:53 PM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Well, to start with, "pave East Texas" is quite an exaggeration. Check out this post for the details on how little sprawl will actually increase Houston's metro radius:

http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/
2005/03/sprawl-in-perspective.html

Trying to sum up my thoughts in a few words: we live in a free country, that's growing rapidly more affluent every year, and the vast majority of aspiring households want to own their own "castle" - and I can't find a compelling moral reason to stop them. Technology has always changed urban form, and the car is no exception. That said, we should try to offer good dense urban neighborhoods for people who want that lifestyle. But it must be a *choice*, not coercion. Remove the barriers to both, and let the market decide - supply will meet demand, whatever form that may take.

There seems to me to be a bit of hypocrisy in anti-sprawl feelings: either urbanists who want to force others to live like them, or suburbanists who've "got theirs" and want to keep everybody else from coming out to join them. What's happened to basic notions of liberty that are the foundation of this country?

As far as open space, if we the voters desire to preserve it, we need to pay for it straight up. Not through land use regulations that strip landowners of the value of their land. There is no free lunch. Everybody desires open space in the abstract, until they either have to pay for it or are told they can't do anything with the land they own.

Bottom line: I guess where others see sprawl, I see families achieving the American Dream. How can we be opposed to that?

 
At 11:30 PM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Ian Rees said...

Hopefully gas reaches $5 or $6 a gallon sooner, rather than later. Suburban life is strange and unnatural. I have a feeling the automobile based society of the past 50 years will be nothing more than a tragically failed experiment in the 5,000 year history of human settlements.

 
At 11:43 PM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Ian Rees said...

Sorry for my previous posts negativity. I'm just a bit perplexed by your acceptance of greenfield suburbs. It requires an ethic that places human interests and wants above all else. And of course, believing that the oil fields will never run dry.

 
At 7:46 AM, June 30, 2006, Anonymous Brian S. said...

I am in that small percentage of business travelers who take transit, but not necessarily from the airport. I hate going to cities without transit because if I want to leave the hotel complex in my free time I have to pony up for the cab. So I'm stuck eating at the hotel or at the Chili's across the street.

 
At 8:26 AM, June 30, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Tory,

My entry does not say "pave East Texas"; that may be an exaggeration, but it's not one that I made. I'm not opposed to the American Dream, or in favor of coercion. In fact, I'm not really what you'd call an anti-sprawl person. Like you, I like the suburban lifestyle, it's the one I grew up in (Klein HS grad), and I hope to raise a family in it. So I think you're dressing up my argument a bit to make it easier to reject.

While the lion's share of demand is certainly for a car-based lifestyle, I think one has to be myopic to not see the force that roadbuilding interests exert on politicians, and the extent to which they bend the public will. We are building a Grand Parkway right now, mostly through undeveloped land, well away from where there is a need. Why? Because developers want it. It's one thing to satisfy a need for suburban living; it's another thing to encourage further- and further-flung developments at ever-lower density in order to satisfy the highway lobby.

There are other problems with what's being done here... for example, there's certainly a demand for an urban lifestyle in Houston, but as yet not one urban neighborhood has arisen. Why? The property rights proponents (read: developers) can't stand to allow the basic land use restrictions that would allow an urban community with mixed-use buildings to develop. There was an area plan ordinance in city council a couple of years ago that should have been a very acceptable compromise, but of course it was torpedoed.

Bottom line: I agree that people should get what they want, but there are still a lot of people in this city who are not getting what they want (and whom you may be overlooking because it's not what YOU want), and there are a lot of people who are getting what they want, but in a highly irresponsible and unsustainable fashion.

 
At 9:51 AM, June 30, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Ian: we will never retreat from the personal vehicle, whatever technology it may eventually run on. In previous centuries, the horse had tremendous value, because it was the best mobility technology available at the time. Wealth has always had personal transportation at their disposal, and the world is always getting wealthier per capita.

I wouldn't worry too much about suburbia. Even if everybody in America gets their own half-acre, we won't use more than roughly 10% of the available land (we use about 5% now).

 
At 9:52 AM, June 30, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Brian: agreed. Another benefit of the core light rail/BRT network.

 
At 10:09 AM, June 30, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Mike: Apologies. I didn't mean to imply you hold all those opinions. It just hit a hot button of mine, so I gave a broad-based response.

I think the Grand Parkway shapes the sprawl, but doesn't really affect it in total. See the middle of this post:
http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2005/
12/transit-safety-and-county-growth.html

I agree we're having trouble creating the urban districts. But there are a lot of people at the City and Metro working on it, at least near the LRT/BRT transit stops. They want to find the right balance between a vision of TOD urban villages and coercive zoning, and I think they're working it out. It will happen. We just don't want to lose the broad-based benefits of "no zoning" in the process.

People need to stop calling the suburbs "unsustainable". They're plenty sustainable. There's more than enough land, and if oil runs out (or gets restricted to address global warming), I can pretty much guarantee we'll find alternate energy sources to run our personal vehicles. Throw ever-improving telecommuting technologies into the mix, and we're looking at a substantial long-term population dispersion in America.

 
At 3:25 PM, June 30, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Here's one of my main problems with the way growth occurs in this city: A developer finds that he won't make enough money building on land near existing development since it's so expensive, so he goes way out, maybe ten miles beyond where any development currently exists, and buys a bunch of land from farmers who are willing to sell it dirt cheap. Then he builts his giant gated community. Problem is, for people to buy million dollar homes in his community, he has to ensure a way for them to have easy commutes to where they work. So he contributes money to politicians who will push a road-building agenda, and once those politicians are elected, he sits down with them and helps them design an expressway - built with public money - that will run conveniently by his gated community.

This exact thing happened with Sharpstown and 59, and is happening right now with the Fort Bend Parkway and the Grand Parkway.

So the developer builds his great community, pushes sprawl 5-10 miles further into the countryside than it needed to be (not that it's a major factor, but some of us Texans do still enjoy having a countryside), and then all the land that's inside the new expressway becomes blighted - it being a mark of prestige to live outside the furthest highway ring - and so the next generation of developments have to go even FURTHER out.

Meanwhile all the perfectly good land between there and the city is left to sit, sometimes for decades, while all the action happens further out. Drive along Veterans Memorial, Fairbanks-North Houston, or one of any several dozen roads inside Beltway 8, and you will see thousands of acres of perfectly good land sitting vacant. Why is it vacant? Because it's stigmatized - it's inside Beltway 8. A bunch of developers back in the 70's decided they wanted to go further out, to Cypress Creek and the Woodlands, and make the roads follow them. Houston is the only city I know of that has thousands of acres of perfectly good, unused land sitting well with in its metro area.

I'm not saying let people build how they want or where they want. I'm saying stop building public highways to serve developers.

 
At 3:29 PM, June 30, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

***That second to last sentence should read "don't let people build..."

 
At 8:50 PM, June 30, 2006, Blogger Ian Rees said...

The dependence on the automobile (powered by whatever fuel source you choose) is one of the main reasons I want to leave Houston. I just find the car to be an anti-human technology. People should be in the street, not in perfect isolation in our cars and suburban fortresses. Houston's urban landscape just does not mesh with my values, and it's unlikely it ever will.

 
At 9:24 PM, June 30, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

the passenger car exists even in the Socialists societies. The "sheeple" are forced on the rail, and the important folks drive where they wish, when they wish.

Americans likely will not abandon passenger cars for European Socialist Transit modes, unless forced out of our passenger cars by the Limousine Liberals who keep getting elected by ignorant voters who cast their vote as they are instructed.

 
At 2:56 PM, July 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bazab - last I checked, it was the limousine conservatives who have been running this country (into the ground) for the last few years.

 
At 12:45 AM, July 04, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

I can not think of a single conservative Mayor in any of the top 5 US cities, and maybe only a couple of (RINO) Republicans in the top 16:


Rank City State Population in 2003 Change since 2000
1 New York New York 8,085,742 77,464
2 Los Angeles California 3,819,951 125,131
3 Chicago Illinois 2,869,121 -26,895
4 Houston Texas 2,009,690 56,059
5 Philadelphia Pennsylvania 1,479,339 -38,211
6 Phoenix Arizona 1,388,416 67,371
7 San Diego California 1,266,753 43,353
8 San Antonio Texas 1,214,725 70,079
9 Dallas Texas 1,208,318 19,738
10 Detroit Michigan 911,402 -39,868
11 San Jose California 898,349 3,406
12 Indianapolis Indiana 783,438 1,568
13 Jacksonville Florida 773,781 38,164
14 San Francisco California 751,682 -25,051
15 Columbus Ohio 728,432 16,962
16 Austin Texas 672,011 15,449

 
At 2:00 AM, July 04, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

"Americans likely will not abandon passenger cars for European Socialist Transit modes..."

That's funny, Tom. You say that as if we might be offended by some of the best mass transit in the world....oh, wait! We're supposed to be offended by "socialist"! Oh, I get it, now. Patriotic Americans don't like socialism...or the French.

 
At 9:13 AM, July 04, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

How would you define "Best?"

I recall as recently as the Winter Olympics held in Torino, Italy, where there were comments as to the negative aspects of these Utopian transit modes:

*******
http://www.denverpost.com/travel/ci_3967985

+++++++++
Article Launched: 06/22/2006 10:39:28 AM MDT

Fast Train to Link Lyon and Turin
By COLLEEN BARRY Associated Press Writer



MILAN, Italy-
Italy's infrastructure minister pledged Wednesday to push ahead with work on a high-speed train link between Turin and Lyon, France, a critical segment in a planned trans-European corridor from Lisbon, Portugal to Kiev, Ukraine.

The project has been subject to long delays, raising concerns about its future and prompting contractors on Monday to remove construction vehicles. The site has been sealed since December after clashes between police and environmental protesters in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, held in Turin in February.

Infrastructure Minister Antonio Di Pietro assured former EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, now coordinator for the Lyon-Turin link, during a meeting in Rome that the high-speed train line will go ahead. But he suggested that such European commitments could scuttle a controversial plan to build a bridge from the Italian mainland to Sicily.

"We can't stop a project that is essential for the country, but at the same time we can't ignore the concerns of local populations," Di Pietro told a news conference. "We can discuss the route (of the train) but not the project itself."

Di Pietro added that the environmental impact of the project would be taken into account, and that talks with local residents will continue.
De Palacio said she was reassured that the change in government did not bring a change in strategy on the train line, and said modifications in the route were possible since the final plan had not yet been approved.

"Now there is no doubt of the desire to go ahead," she said.

Business leaders strongly back the high-speed line, intended to reduce road traffic and boost trade, but have been concerned that members of Premier Romano Prodi's coalition opposed to the project, such as the Green party and the Communist Refoundation, would hold sway.

The $5.52 billion Messina bridge project is part of a vast program launched by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi aimed at improving infrastructure, particularly in the underdeveloped south. The center-left has viewed the project as too expensive, and Prodi has said improving highways in the south should take priority over the bridge.

 
At 9:33 AM, July 04, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Again define "Best."

link today:
http://apnews.myway.com/article/20060704/D8IKS1OG0.html
+++++

At Least 41 Killed in Spain Train Accident


Email this Story

Jul 3, 9:13 PM (ET)

By CIARAN GILES

(AP) An injured young woman is carried away from the scene after a subway train derailed and overturned...
Full Image

VALENCIA, Spain (AP) -

----snip----
Rescue workers hustled bloodied, sooty survivors from the tunnel. Anguished relatives cried out in grief and drew each other close as they waited outside the local morgue. The accident brought back memories of the 2004 terrorist attack on Madrid commuter trains that killed 191 people.

 
At 9:39 AM, July 04, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

Yes, I see your point. Even though it was not specifically mentioned in the article, the environmental protesters and Greens clearly preferred a 6 lane highway between Turin and Lyon. I could also sense the disdain for the entire European transit system, from the statements made in that article.

Thanks for pointing that out, Tom.

 
At 6:23 AM, July 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bazan - so the voters are ignorant when they vote for non-conservative mayors, yet in your view they must also be enlightened when they vote for conservative congresspeople, governors, state reps, and presidents. interesting. I guess the conservative limousines are OK with you.

 
At 9:35 AM, July 05, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

I oppose wonton waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayers' resources.

I am an INDEPENDENT. I abhor the crooked politicians, from both parties! I filed a complaint several years back with TREC against Radack for taking the $900K from Sueba. TREC took no action against him.

 
At 1:06 PM, July 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bazan - Wow! If you don't mind sharing details, who/what is Sueba?

 
At 6:16 PM, July 05, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Mike: responding to your post on Fri: yes, that kind of development clearly happens - although it's not just cheap land that's the driver - it's good school districts. The good news is that the best way to insure infill long-term is to build those mega-freeways. Those freeways keep jobs in the core, which in-turn drives infill development. If we didn't build them, frustrated employers will move to the suburbs, and then there is absolutely no incentive for infill, a la Detroit. As long as employers stay in the core, there's a real limit to sprawl, because even at 60mph, you're limited to a 30 mile commute if you want to be under a half-hour each way (as most people do). If the jobs move to The Woodlands or Sugar Land, then people can move 20-30 miles even *further* out. That's true hypersprawl, as seen in DFW, Atlanta, DC, and elsewhere.

 
At 6:36 PM, July 05, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

"If the jobs move to The Woodlands or Sugar Land, then people can move 20-30 miles even *further* out. That's true hypersprawl, as seen in DFW, Atlanta, DC, and elsewhere."

Atlanta Metro has close to the same population as Houston Metro. The land area of each metro is nearly identical, at over 9,000 square miles. Please explain Atlanta's "true hypersprawl" versus Houston's "sprawl".

 
At 8:41 PM, July 05, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Metro area definitions aren't helpful, because they contain an arbitrary set of counties, even if some are 80% empty.

Here's one ranking that shows Boston (2,322/sq.m) and Atlanta (1,783/sq.m) as significantly less dense than Houston (2,951/sq.m).

http://www.demographia.com/db-ua2000pop.htm

DC looks better, which I attribute to the Federal govt forcing jobs into the core, but I read many stories of people living an hour+ outside of DC, which you don't read about in Houston. They also have leapfrog development, but it's driven more by govt-required open space preservation, I believe. Interesting question: do we want infill, or open space preservation?

DFW is a match, but it is clearly sprawling rapidly to the north and west (jobs and residents), and downtown Dallas is being left behind. Houston's growth is more balanced, not galloping in any one direction, although trending slightly westward overall.

 
At 11:39 PM, July 05, 2006, Blogger Ian Rees said...

Tom, then why don't you take issue with massive highway subsidies? You know, it's like a rail system where you have to purchase, maintain, and drive your own rail car.

 
At 11:39 PM, July 05, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

TO ANONYMOUS: I alerted Dave Wilson after I filed the complaint with TREC
++++++++
Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: WED 04/19/2000
Section: A
Page: 21 Metfront
Edition: 3 STAR

More heat for Radack on contract / Commissioners Court hears from 2 activists

By JOE STINEBAKER, DAN FELDSTEIN
Staff

Two community activists lashed out at Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack on Tuesday, accusing him of having lost his "moral compass" and calling on him to resign.

Radack has been the target of angry telephone calls and letters since it was revealed last month that he had been receiving $10,000 a month from a local real estate company since January 1993 - for a total of nearly $900,000. Radack said the money is in exchange for his services as a marketing consultant, but he had never publicly disclosed his relationship with the company, Sueba USA, before last month.

Some members of the public, including Radack's constituents, have called on him to cancel the contract, saying that his loyalties are divided because the Sueba contract pays him more than his $119,475 annual county salary.

Some of the public discontent spilled over Tuesday into Commissioners Court. Dave Wilson, a former mayoral candidate who has filed ethics complaints against several local politicians in recent years, and Donna Freeman - a part-time nurse - blasted Radack regarding the Sueba contract.

"When you're taking private funds, money blurs the issue of what is best for the public," Wilson told Radack as Commissioners Court looked on. "You have put your personal interest above the public interest, which you were elected to represent. Mr. Radack, somewhere between your ambition and your ideals, you've lost your ethical compass. You're on a road that I do not believe was intended for you by your parents or your principles, or your own ethical instincts. You have made decisions that have taken you down the wrong road.

"Because of that, with all due respect Commissioner Radack, I must ask for your immediate resignation," Wilson said. "You, Mr. Radack, have violated the public trust and must resign."

Freeman, who has worked to oppose a controversial tax increment reinvestment zone - or TIRZ - in the Memorial City area, said she believed that Radack and his friends had tried to sway her from appearing before Commissioners Court. She said that Sueba executive John Chiang was among those pushing for the Memorial City TIRZ and that Chiang held more sway with Radack than did his constituents.

A TIRZ is a tax tool used by the city of Houston that allows a particular area - usually blighted - to freeze its property tax revenues at a certain level. Any tax revenues above the frozen level are earmarked for infrastructure improvements within that TIRZ area. The TIRZ method essentially allows the city to get projects paid for with revenues that normally would go to the county or school districts.

A TIRZ usually has to be approved by Commissioners Court following approval by City Council. Freeman said Radack had actively lobbied City Council to push the Memorial City TIRZ and intended to push Commissioners Court as a favor to Chiang and other TIRZ supporters.

"That's who he works for," Freeman said of Radack's employment by Chiang and Sueba. "I don't think he works for the county."

Neither Radack nor any other member responded publicly to Wilson or Freeman. But Radack dismissed Wilson's and Freeman's complaints after the meeting, repeating his earlier claims that his arrangement with Sueba was cleared years ago by the County Attorney's Office, that he had done nothing illegal or unethical, and that he would not give up the Sueba contract.

Radack said he has never lobbied for or against the Memorial TIRZ.

Radack also is facing questions on a statewide front. The Texas Real Estate Commission confirmed that it has received a formal complaint against Radack for possible violation of the state's real estate license act. The complainant is unknown, because the commission does not identify complainants until its investigations are complete.

The real estate act requires, with certain exceptions, that only persons with real estate licenses may "aid, attempt or offer to aid in locating or obtaining for purchase, rent or lease any real estate." The act also states that only licensed agents may "procure or assist in the procuring of prospects for the purpose of effecting the sale, exchange, lease or rental of real estate."

Radack does not have a real estate license. Chiang has said in sworn depositions that Radack saved Sueba millions of dollars in real estate commissions by hooking the firm up with buyers and sellers of land and potential business partners.

However, Chiang described Radack's role mostly as making introductions. Wayne Thorburn, administrator of the real estate commission, said a person's role generally has to be stronger - such as actually negotiating deals - for the commission to pursue him for violating the act.

Furthermore, the commission is only authorized to penalize licensed real estate agents and brokers who have violated state rules. In cases in which people are investigated for allegedly practicing without a license, any evidence would be forwarded to the district attorney's office for consideration. Practicing without a license is a misdemeanor, but those found guilty can be forced to forfeit up to three times what they earned in the illegal activity.

 
At 6:19 AM, July 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bazan - A tip of the hat... That's an outrageous display of corruption on the Commissioners Court.

 
At 9:27 AM, July 06, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

"Here's one ranking that shows Boston (2,322/sq.m) and Atlanta (1,783/sq.m) as significantly less dense than Houston (2,951/sq.m)."

Nice try, Tory, but no cigar. That chart listed "urbanized area", not populated or sprawled area. A quick glance at Houston's "urbanized area" shows it to be less thann 1,300 square miles, or only 2/3 of Harris County. Virtually anyone's definition of sprawl includes the development in the contiguous counties. Even you talked of TheWoodlands and Sugar Land, located in outlying counties.

Demographia's chart listed "non-sprawl" areas of the major cities. Anything outside of the land area in that chart would be sprawl. Hypersprawl, as you call it, would seem to be included in the definition of a MSA, which includes in a metro area any county that has a significant portion of its population travelling to and from the core city.

 
At 4:37 PM, July 06, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

That's the exact problem with MSAs. Even if only one corner of the county feeds the metro, like Montgomery, Brazoria, or Ft.Bend in Houston's case, they count *all* the land when computing the density. That's simply meaningless, because it will make metros with smaller, filled counties look better (more dense) than those - like Texas - with bigger, mostly empty counties.

Urbanized area is the best we've got. Smaller than Harris County is ok, because large chunks of Harris County are not urbanized or really developed at all - and I'm sure it extends to include places like The Woodlands and Sugar Land.

 
At 11:04 AM, July 12, 2006, Anonymous kelly said...

Tory,

Your transportation lessons ignore one big issue, in particular, that is a reality for lower to middle income Houstonians - the lack of affordable housing INSIDE the city. As living in previously ignored communities inside the loop (Heights, 4th Ward, Midtown, etc.) has become increasingly fashionable to affluent "young professional" types, the cost of owning a home exceeds what many are able to afford.

"Investing in freeways, tollways, and HOV does improve mobility. Yes, there is some “induced demand,” but congestion is reduced to fewer hours per day and more people get more access to affordable housing."

Are you assuming here that "affordable housing" only exists in the suburbs? If so, why aren't you addressing the fact that middle class Houstonians have to move OUTSIDE of the city to own a home? If you wanted a stronger, more vibrant city, wouldn't you want to combat the kind of socio-economic polarization that is occurring inside Houston?

"Improved mobility provides access to more affordable housing for middle class families."

Again, why are we encouraging middle class families to move AWAY from the city? Some people will always gravitate to suburban areas, as a preference, but what about those who would LIKE to live in the urban neighborhoods, but can't afford to? I don't have a problem with surburbia, but I also don't like being financially forced to move there.

This last statement also ignores the fact that many lower income families do not own cars, which often precludes them from taking advantage of all that "affordable housing" located far outside the city. Many of these Houstonians rely on public transportation to get to work, the grocery store, etc., but a lot of these suburban areas don't have easy access to bus routes. The plight of Houston's urban working poor & impoverished - substandard housing, dangerous abandoned buildings, neglected roads & sidewalks, flood prone drainage ditches, and (in some areas) unpaved roads - will continue to be ignored... that is, until their neighborhood becomes attractive to developers as a new "hot spot" for affluent, "hip" folk...

 
At 2:35 PM, July 13, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Many people move to the suburbs for a larger, newer, cheaper home in a better school district. They will do this no matter what; the question is whether employers stay in the core or move to the suburbs. If the freeways are inadequate, they will move to the suburbs, and the core will decline a la Detroit.

Yes, much of central Houston is gentrifying, the sign of a vibrant city people want to live in. Even these areas are incredibly affordable compared to cities on either coast. And there are still *vast* areas of the city (inside the city limits) that are extremely affordable *and* on the Metro bus grid: 5th Ward, and pretty much everything between the 610 Loop and BW8 on the north, northwest, southwest, south, and southeast sides. These non-gentrifying areas are at least 10 times larger than the gentrifying ones.

 
At 9:31 AM, August 27, 2006, Anonymous lee said...

Kelly I will have to agree with Tory on your comment regarding availablity of lower cost homes within the loop. There are many affordable homes within the loop. Now while they may not be the sought after areas YOU wish to move to, there are MANY homes available for under 100,000 that are very close, i.e. 15 mins or less by car.

 

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