Reason on congestion, amenities, transit, and HoustonThere have been a lot of interesting items out of the Reason Foundation and their Out of Control blog lately, which has a major initiative going on urban mobility. I thought I'd roll highlights from several items into a single post today.
- A point I've made for a while is that mobility directly affects a city's ability to support diverse amenities (like theaters and exotic restaurants) and charities. When people have a hard time getting around, they stop supporting these entities, and the city is a poorer place for it. Los Angeles now seems to be facing these exact consequences of nation-leading congestion.
- The latest stats from the feds on highways and transit, and Reason's conclusion:
"Bottom line: In spite of decades of spending far more on transit per user than on roads, transit carries less of the traveling public every year. New York is the only urban area where transit carries enough people to make it a really significant part of the system. The painful thing is, this is caused by bad transit policy. We spend absurd proportions of our transportation dollars on transit systems designed not to served transit users, but to try to get people out of their cars--especially light rail projects. By every meaningful empirical measure, this has not worked. Transit's niche in urban travel and transit riders would be far better served by high quality bus transit services that include bus lanes that keep express busses out of traffic. To whit, virtual exclusive busways using a HOT lanes network, integrated with quality network buses services. The billions spent on light rail projects could deliver very nice, attractive, efficient, high quality bus transit and make everyone better off."
(I personally still support most of Metro's core L/B/GRT network for a whole host of reasons that have been discussed here before, but believe Reason is dead-on when it comes to express buses and HOT lanes instead of commuter rail for the modern, decentralized city)
- They've recently released a book titled "The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think And What We Can Do About It" By Ted Balaker and Sam Staley, with an overview and list of 10 steps to congestion relief posted here. I'm happy to say Texas and Houston are pursuing most of the measures listed, although I would like to see us try more creative construction (like tunnels), more cash-out parking, more telecommuting, and more one-way streets in Uptown like downtown.
- Finally, Sam Staley, one of the co-authors of that book, said some nice things about Houston in a recent interview on "Decongesting America" for the Pittsburgh newspaper:
Nice to see that somebody is finally recognizing our efforts.
Q: Where are the success stories in other cities or other countries that have cut traffic congestion in smart, efficient ways?
A: The most effective and the most important example in the United States is Houston, Texas. Houston has had rapidly increasing congestion as a large result of its rising population growth. It has added new capacity (by widening freeways), but more importantly it has added new capacity by converting high-occupancy-vehicle lanes to tolled lanes that also allow single-occupant vehicles. So what they are able to do is begin to guarantee free flow on certain lanes and they can do that through the toll.
Houston is also an important example because in adding capacity and actually reducing congestion, they have also created a more competitive and viable environment for mass transit. It's one of the few metropolitan areas where we have seen highway capacity has improved, congestion has declined but transit opportunities have increased as well. So the idea that road building has to be done at the expense of transit is not true and we see the proof of that in Houston.