Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reason on Why Mobility Matters to Personal Life (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing from Tuesday's part 1.

Moving on, the report punctures the "live close to work" myth.
Why don’t more gridlock-weary commuters simply move closer to work? The approach certainly works for some people, but it’s often more feasible in theory than in practice. It would be much easier for most of us to live closer to work if jobs and people were interchangeable. However, different jobs require different skill sets and skill levels. Different people have different talents and aspirations. If all jobs and people were identical, then more people would probably take jobs closer to home. But people don’t want just any job. They want the one that offers the best combination of pay, benefits, and hours. Jobseekers consider the workplace environment, chances for advancement, and highly personal factors like how fulfilling the job is. When it comes to proximity, finding the right job is somewhat like finding the right romantic partner: chances are neither one is right around the corner.
...
Dual-income families (a category that represents 70 percent of workers) have even more juggling to do. Chances are both jobs won’t be near each other. Moving closer to your job could mean moving farther away from your spouse’s job. And if the geographic puzzle could be solved, families would still have to contend with frequent moves. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that, on average, young baby boomers held nearly 11 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 40. Of
course, if both spouses work, the goal of living near work grows even more unrealistic. Families would scarcely have time to unpack before heading off to another new home.
Mobility and Fun.
Those who live in city centers in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere often enjoy having a cozy restaurant a few doors down. It can be very convenient and relaxing to leave the car in the garage and take a quick stroll to dinner. The same can be said for other entertainment destinations, like parks or theaters. But whether they want to be entertained or just unwind, people don’t just care about proximity. Variety matters too.

When we head out the door, much of the fun is seeing, tasting, and experiencing something new. We seek a change in scenery. We enjoy poking around some unexplored corner of our city. Funseekers in the liveliest neighborhoods may be a short walk from a half-dozen quality restaurants, but after they’ve experienced each of them a few times chances are they’ll want to add new options to the mix. Efficient public transport can expand our opportunity circles somewhat, but our entertainment options explode exponentially if we enjoy speedy auto travel.

When mobility improves, we enjoy more choices, not just in restaurants, but in all aspects of the culture boom.
Finally, the conclusion is so well written, I'm just going to excerpt it in its entirety.
We all endure congestion and we recognize how it pesters us on our way to and from work, so we may think we know it quite well. Few people like congestion, but few recognize the full extent of the problem. Recall Elizabeth Reed, the woman who would not travel more than five miles for a date. Although she was keenly aware of congestion’s impact on her dating options, she was slow to recognize how it restrained other aspects of her life. She had “gotten so used to not doing things.” Countless others of us have also gotten used to not doing things.

If we’re stuck in some particularly frustrating traffic jam, we might we erupt in anger. But most of the time we just surrender a little bit more because we assume that degraded mobility is the natural result of an increase in population and driving. Rarely do public officials seek to undo such feelings of surrender. Most planning agencies have decided they will not even attempt to reduce congestion—they aim only to reduce its growth. Yet if such a plan were applied to a different policy area, Americans would not stand for it. Imagine if our leaders told us that, in the future, our education system would get worse, that there’s nothing we can do about it, and that all they hope to do is make test scores fall more slowly.

The gradual deterioration of mobility has also lulled us into making subconscious accommodations to congestion. We slowly shrink our opportunity circles. We pare back the list of things we might do if it were easier to get around. More of us mentally cross out more of our potential lives. The widespread surrender dulls individual lives, and it also dulls entire cities. As opportunity circles shrink, dynamism filters out of the city. If it were infused with the energy and talent of all its denizens, a city could grow into a grand metropolis. Sadly, urban life isn’t as vibrant as it could be because too many neighborhoods function as their own little hamlets, increasingly isolated from other parts of the city.

But instead of allowing isolation and dullness to gain ground, what if we were to really ponder what we could do if our travels were speedy and predictable?

We could get to and from work, run our errands, and have more time to spend with our loved ones. We could stay home and relax or we could do just about anything—explore a new neighborhood, drop in on a friend, take in a concert, go to a new restaurant, the zoo, the park, the beach, the gym, and know that our journey would be swift.

Our culture booms with opportunity and choice, and sorting it all out is central to making the most of it. If we enjoy a high level of mobility, we can sort through many jobs and find just the right one. Likewise, mobility makes it easier to find just the right date, just the right restaurant, just the right anything. Ours is indeed a land of opportunity, but only if we can get to it.
Hope you enjoyed the series of excerpts. Overall, a really fantastic case for making substantial investments in congestion reduction and capacity increases.

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36 Comments:

At 8:50 PM, July 26, 2007, Blogger John said...

The stuff from Reason pays so little attention to supporting its claims that I'm surprised how eagerly you swallow it. It's kind of funny that after making the fairly obvious case that mobility is good (oh, and rainbows are pretty and puppies are cute), there's little analysis of the best way to achieve that. Any of us who have lived places where using a car limits your mobility (because of the vagaries of traffic and parking) read this stuff and think of the South Park Underpants Gnomes and their plans to achieve wealth by collecting underwear.

And never mind that the road capacity that Reason is sure will increase access and mobility (just like it has in so many places, right?) often require destruction of existing city infrastructure.

You like to take pot shots at "utopian" land use planning, but it seems to me that you're avoiding an unfortunate reality: unplanned development is going to leave different parts of an urban area disconnected from each other, whereas planning to use certain places as high density business centers, etc., makes it possible to offer multiple types of transportation links - including, of course, roads - that give people options.

 
At 10:21 PM, July 26, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

Tory, you do realize that the only people who are going to swallow these arguments are those who (like yourself) have never lived in an urban environment. Less choices? Come on. I've never had more choices in what to eat than when I lived in Chicago, with three dozen restaurants within a ten minute walk, and if I took the train downtown, a couple hundred more choices, and if I took the train to the north side, a few hundred more choices... THAT was exciting.

Exploring different parts of the city? Who explores the suburbs? Seriously... In cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Boston, Washington, exploring the city is a pastime, a leisure activity. You take a train somewhere, get out and explore the neighborhood, strolling its sidewalks. Who explores Houston or Dallas?

Dynamic? Auto-dependent cities are more dynamic? What's dynamic about sitting in the window of a restaurant and staring out at a parking lot? I'd much rather be watching a busy sidewalk full of people. What's dynamic about a place where every destination must be surrounded by three times its own area in concrete just to hold cars?

 
At 10:46 PM, July 26, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Mike,

There are plenty of places to explore in Houston. Montrose, Rice University area, Galleria area, Museum district, for starters. Now, you do have a good point that none of these areas is a suburb, and even these areas are not very walkable, but let's not dismiss the entire city. And there are plenty of cafe and streetside dining options as you talk about - I don't really mind if it faces a street if it's crowded and there's a nice garden or something.

I do think you hit on a good point, which is light-rail and subway, which the cities you mention have, encourage people to see what's at the different stops, stroll around. Also these areas tend to be pretty dense, so walking around them is interesting. In Houston we are starting to see more dense development around the light-rail line, though this will take years if not decades to come full circle.

I do agree with the main point of the article Tory cites, which is "transport is good". Or "getting places is good". And I agree with spending money on transportation. I just disagree with the article's or anyone else's assertion that autos are somehow better for achieving this aim then any other form of transportation.

-Mike

 
At 9:04 AM, July 27, 2007, Blogger Ian said...

I'm going to have to agree with the previous three posts; they all hit on points that I was considering in the gym this morning:

1.Opportunity zones fail to account for overall quality of the mode. You may be able to get across town quickly by car, but you've got to deal with the stresses of heavy traffic, rude drivers, poorly timed signals, traffic tickets, parking availability, etc. A pedestrian may have a MUCH smaller opportunity zone, but walking gets you outdoors, surrounds you with activity, and forces you to get much-needed exercise -- which will, in the long run, make you feel even better about walking. That might sound a little fruity, but as I was walking to my parents house last night (15 minute walk, 3 minute car ride), all I could think about was how nice I was to be outside walking, and how much happier I was in those 15 minutes than I would have been in the 3 minute car ride. Car wins in the "quantity" category; other modes win in "quality." Furthermore, you're much safer riding in a hulking bus or train than you are in a private automobile. For safety concerns, the automobile loses easily (at least compared to transit).

2.Opportunity zones for autos may be huge, but they tend to decrease in size per level of investment as more people crowd into the system. You have to keep pumping money into ever more and bigger roads just to maintain a constant level of service. Transit doesn't suffer from this flaw nearly as bad: when you fill up a bus, you add another bus -- which adds tremendous capacity without having much of an effect at all on travel time.

3.Most damning, in my opinion, is that the opportunity zones, as defined, are really only "theoretical" opportunity zones. I think 1st Mike made this point very clearly, but I'd like to rephrase it a bit. You may be able to access all of Houston within 30 minutes by hopping into your car and then onto a freeway. . .but how much of Houston are you actually going to see? How many new, interesting restaurants and shops are you going to be exposed to and then be able to support? You're really only going to know about the things you see at the very tail ends of your trips. . .in other words, you're going to know the things you already know. If you're LUCKY, you may have some friends who pass on good tips every now and then, you may use Restaurant.com to find little holes in the wall -- but these are never going to be able to compete with Mike's strolls through busy Chicago and Boston. When you walk, ride bike, or take transit, you're forced to be right there in the thick of the action. Freeways are sterile and isolating; what can you see from them but office buildings, billboards, and sound walls? Furthermore, because you're not wielding a 2-ton weapon of deadly force when using alternate forms of transportation, you can afford to look around a little more and see what's going on. This is absolutely good for small businesses!

I think opportunity zones can be a good place to START comparing different modes, but you also have to look at the QUALITY of the opportunity zones. When you do that, the automobile starts to look a little less hot.

 
At 1:25 PM, July 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it says something about the demographic of Tory's readers that these discussions always end up revolving around restaurants and shops instead of yards and schools! The opportunity circle concept is strongest when it comes to big stuff like the intersection of places that are convenient to jobs you can get, places you'd like to live, and places you can afford to live. Houston does very well relative to other big American cities on that and similar counts, at least for the middle 80-90% of the income spectrum. We do pretty well with dining and neighborhood diversity, too, come to think about it. It would be odd if high levels of mobility weren't a big factor.

(BTW, I do plenty of food-and-car-based "exploring" around Houston. Recently my wife and I have been back on the quest for a Houstonian version of Dallas legend Hererra's. She says it used to be Leo's, but I never had the pleasure. The law of Houston/Dallas duality says that one must exist; it's just one of the 99.5% of places we haven't tried yet...next up, La Fiesta on the west side, and then Don Carlos in Harrisburg.)

jt

 
At 2:07 PM, July 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Montrose, Rice University area, Galleria area, Museum district, for starters. Now, you do have a good point that none of these areas is a suburb"

They were at one time. At least the Galleria was not very long ago.
Everything west of 610 was a cow field 40 years ago.

 
At 3:01 PM, July 27, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Wow. Quite the firestorm. Random points:

John:
1) Reason has lots of other reports on how. This one was trying to specifically clarify the personal costs of congestion.
2) all new infrastructure replaces and displaces some old, including transit. That's a cost-benefit tradeoff.
3) Houston is unplanned, yet still connected, and still has developed many high-density business centers - more than many similar sized planned cities.

Mike:
4) That conflicts with what I've heard from others in Chicago complaining about the walks, transit, weather, lack of parking, and crappy corner diners. I'm pretty sure any time-based opportunity zone you specify with transit/walking in Chicago, I can get to at least twice as many interesting restaurants in the same time in central Houston.
5) I've explored Houston with my wife and stepdaughters many times


Ian:
6) I have no problem with a nice walk. Do it in my Meyerland neighborhood often. But the concept of opportunity zones is about access and the benefits it affords.
7) I'm pretty sure if you took a poll and asked which felt safer to people, driving or riding transit, cars would win overwhelmingly. Crime on transit is quite common.
8) You can see plenty of interesting places driving the freeways and arterials of Houston. More than you would see in the equivalent mins of walking elsewhere.

 
At 6:01 PM, July 27, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

Tory,

I'm pretty sure that if I were to take you walking sometime in Chicago, you would eat your words as far as restaurant exploration. Shopping as well.

Another problem with the "opportunity mobility" concept, and I think this goes along with what Ian pointed out, is that while you might be able to get to a bunch of restaurants in thirty minutes, these restaurants are all scattered in separate shopping centers and parking lots. So you have to know exactly where you're going when you start out. Whereas in a walkable city, you might have twenty restaurants (literally) within a few blocks' walk of each other. So instead of saying "Let's go to Carabba's" and then driving, parking your car, eating, and then driving home, you can if you're in Boston say "Let's go to the North End," take the train there, have a good conversation while you're on it, and then when you get there have at least a dozen Italian restaurants within a few blocks' radius to decide on. Then after you eat you can walk along Hanover St., stop into one of those busy bakeries for some pastries, or maybe a gelateria, and then end up in a nice pub, all while enjoying a great neighborhood. Where in Houston can you find this quantity of options in such close proximity (never mind the quality difference)?

 
At 6:22 PM, July 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tory said,

"Moving on, the report punctures the "live close to work" myth."

I personally just bought my house so that I will always live close to work, No matter where I work. I am within 20 (35 rush hour) minutes of Downtown, The Galleria, Westchase, and UH (where I work now).

 
At 6:37 PM, July 27, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Mike: the specific experience you describe is a nice one, and one that's growing in Houston with the town centers starting to spring up (park once, visit many places). For me, deciding where I'm going to eat before I leave is not a big deal. Typically I have a restaurant in mind, or I discovered it on Citysearch, in the Chronicle, or elsewhere. And driving there knowing I won't have trouble parking is nice. Zagat says Houstonians eat out more often than any other major city in the country, so maybe that speaks to the size of our restaurant opportunity zones vs. other cities? People weigh up the hassle of going out vs. staying in, and the hassle factor seems higher in other cities.

I'm not claiming that opportunity zones are the end-all-be-all of the urban experience - but Reason and I think they deserve more consideration than they have been getting in cities already well versed in anti-car, new urbanist perspectives.

 
At 9:46 AM, July 28, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Speaking of transit safety, this story just popped up on Drudge:

60% of riders say sexually harassed on NY City subways...
http://www.newsday.com/news/local/newyork/am-harr0726,0,5618839.story?coll=ny-nynews-print

 
At 3:40 AM, July 29, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

I'll agree that the "opportunity mobility" concept is deserving of consideration, and that it works very well for a certain demographic, namely those who know exactly what they want, and want to get there and back with as little hassle or adventure as possible. What irritates me somewhat, and the reason for my more barbed tone of late, is the message I'm getting that an auto-based environment is flat out better than a walkable one, that Houston is more "advanced" than cities less reliant on cars, that people who like to be able to walk instead of drive are at odds with reason (lower case r as well as capital R).

Your arguments for the advantages of the automobile might win approval among fellow suburbanites, but they will not impress most people who are not looking to start a family or make Houston a permanent home. What represents freedom to one person represents an annoying hindrance to someone else. I remember at the University of Chicago having conversations about internships, and when Houston was brought up the immediate comment, "but if you get one there, you'll have to have a car." The same is true for attracting students to our grad schools, med schools, etc.

Any international city has its population of non-resident knowledge workers; such workers typically want easy, convenient transit. They DO NOT want to have to get around by car or bus. Nor are they bothered by these warnings of crime on subways, like a naive Texas suburbanite might be. It's time to stop writing off the urbanist movement as a leftist thing, or an eco-freak thing, or an alternative-lifestyle thing. Urbanism and rail transit are here to stay, and any city that doesn't offer them is fighting the global competition with one hand tied behind its back.

 
At 8:27 AM, July 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> What irritates me somewhat, and the reason for my more barbed tone of late, is the message I'm getting that an auto-based environment is flat out better than a walkable one,

No - that's a subjective judgment, but all indications are that the majority of people, when given the choice, pick auto-convenience over walking-convenience, although walking is making an obvious comeback in design and popularity.

> that people who like to be able to walk instead of drive are at odds with reason (lower case r as well as capital R).

Not at all. I think just about everybody would like to be able to walk a block or two for many trips they now take by car. But the majority, when making their purchasing decision with its value tradeoffs, seem to trade that off for a private single family house in a residential-only neighborhood, vs. something smaller in a more urbanist neighborhood.

As far as transit preference: I'm sure a lot of people would much prefer the government subsidize 80+% of their transportation costs instead of near-zero percent with a car. And that gets to the nut of the problem. Good, comprehensive transit - as you describe - is astronomically expensive, yet there is nowhere near enough demand for it to charge full-cost fares and break even. That leaves us with very limited, heavily subsidized transit, aimed at the poor who have no other options.

Finally, as an indication of preferences: pretty much every transit-focused city in this country is losing population, while the fastest growing cities are all car-based. Most people do consider it to offer more freedom.

At the end of the day, the transit+urbanism lifestyle is a substantial niche - mainly of young non-family households - but still a niche. I have no argument Houston should offer it as the market demands, mainly around the core LRT/BRT network. But if there is that much demand, shouldn't have downtown and Midtown near the rail exploded with dense urban development by now? All indications are to me are that many people *do* want to live the city with all of its novelties, but they also want to have the convenience of a car to where they want, when they want. Even stories out of New York, San Francisco, and London these days are about the cities being overwhelmed with cars - even with all the hassles and costs - that's why the Mayors are pushing for congestion pricing in the core. The vast majority of people, as soon as they can afford it, drop transit for a car. It's one of those global aspirations. And the people who don't: there's absolutely nothing wrong with them, but no matter how you count them, they are a small minority.

 
At 10:58 AM, July 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what are the chances on easing up on all the Reason pass-throughs for a while?

 
At 11:02 AM, July 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Sorry. Came across them all at once. I'll try to diversify a bit.

 
At 12:19 PM, July 29, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

Your point that cities that have invested in transit are losing population is not accurate. Also, it is not relevant.

I don't exactly know what qualifies a city as "transit based" vs "car based". I would argue there are really only a handful of cities that might even be considered "transit-based" - DC, NYC, Chicago, and Boston.

Of these, I know that DC and Chicago are growing if not as fast as Houston in percentage terms, still growing quite quickly. They might be growing primarily in the suburbs, but like Houston that is because most people cannot afford to pay $1 mil for a home in River Oaks, not because they prefer to live in Milwaukee and commute to Chicago. Certainly not because they don't like the metro system!

Of the "car-based" cities, Atlanta and Dallas have thus far positioned themselves better than Houston for the person looking to have a choice between cars or rail. They are both growing quite rapidly as well.

It seems like your argument is that Houston should not try to offer the same type of service as Atlanta and Dallas, which are ahead of us. Your argument seems to be that it costs too much. I say that if Cleveland, St. Louis, Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, etc. etc. can invest in rail, why does it not make sense for us? I find it hard to believe that all of these cities (and others around the world) are just throwing money down the toilet. If anything, we are throwing far more money away in other endeavors than in investing in public infrastructure - even libertarians believe that the government should build infrastructure. And infrastructure is not just roads - it is airports, seaports, railways, sewers, etc. etc.

As the Chron pointed out today, Houston's line already has ridership levels that weren't predicted until 2020 at 50,000 riders per day. And Houston has already voted for a vastly enhanced rail network to be built in the coming years. Will this lead to population decreases or slower population growth? Sounds like a non sequitur to me.

-Mike

 
At 12:25 PM, July 29, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Also, I'm sure you saw the article about $225,000 for a parking spot in Manhattan. So, you might be right that if people can afford to, they would drop transit for cars. But these people would also spend $10 / gallon for gas, drive H2s or Bentleys around town, and have their own private jets. This does not make their transportation habits the model for the rest of the population. Nor does it make a sustainable model.

Congestion pricing is also probably not encouraging people to use cars in places like London. It is encouraging them to use the public transit that has been wisely built over time.

 
At 2:32 PM, July 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> DC, NYC, Chicago, and Boston.

Those cities are losing population inside their city limits, where the transit/urbanism is as you described earlier. The suburbs may be flat or even slightly growing, but the vast majority of those people use cars to go to work in those same suburbs around the outer loop freeways.

Atlanta's rail system is largely a failure. Dallas' is not doing much better. They carry a trivial number of riders/trips relative to both the cities and their metros. Houston's is very successful, because it was built in the right corridor to specifically serve local trips, rather than commuters.

All those cities are going for rail because the Fed offers free money, and if they don't take it, other cities will. So they all clamor for it. If that free money weren't there, I really wonder how many of these systems would be built.

Yes, govt should invest in infrastructure. But it's all about cost-benefit, and I think rail generally fails, most especially commuter rail in car-based sunbelt cities.

I am not arguing that NYC or London or old cities like that should switch from transit to cars. Their infrastructure was built at a specific point in history where transit was affordable (i.e. labor for tunnels), and cars were not. But building out rail in new, modern, multi-polar, car-based cities makes about as much sense as building canals because they made sense in medieval Amsterdam and Venice. The world has changed.

 
At 3:12 PM, July 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the pending diversification (I didn't mean that as an insult, I just prefer not to be hammered with one source)

 
At 5:53 PM, July 29, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

"I'm sure a lot of people would much prefer the government subsidize 80+% of their transportation costs instead of near-zero percent with a car."

Either you're not reading your readers' comments very well, or you're not reading articles from anything except anti-transit sources, or both, because the point has been made at least a hundred times on here that the government most definitely does subsidize driving. Ever hear of roads?

"> DC, NYC, Chicago, and Boston.

Those cities are losing population inside their city limits..."

There are a lot of reasons for this, only one of which is the fact that, because these cities were built at maximum density, you really can't expect them to grow any more within their limits! Of course the suburbs with all their empty space are going to grow more. It's like saying, "River Oaks hasn't gained much population in recent years, that means people must not like the lifestyle of River Oaks." Um, no, it just means that River Oaks is full!

"But building out rail in new, modern, multi-polar, car-based cities makes about as much sense as building canals because they made sense in medieval Amsterdam and Venice. The world has changed."

Very untrue, and very parochial statement. As I tried to describe in my last post, there is a very large population for whom automobiles are tedious and impractical. If you are a global entrepreneur who works in many different cities, you are likely a part of this population. The world has not changed, it has only diversified.

 
At 5:57 PM, July 29, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

"But if there is that much demand, shouldn't have downtown and Midtown near the rail exploded with dense urban development by now?"

Lots of other reasons for this, just one of which is the fact that dense urban development is currently prohibited by the city's development code.

 
At 6:44 PM, July 29, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

I agree - the world has changed. Houston is not building a subway system - they are building light-rail. Same in Dallas, Atlanta, etc. I would personally prefer a subway or elevated rail system, but if I have to choose light-rail or nothing, I choose light-rail. The site www.lightrailnow.org seems to have pretty good info on some the projects ongoing, and it seems like saying "the times have changed, where we are going we all use roads", is like going Back to the Future!

From an article on that site talking about 2006 ridership levels across the nation:"the growth rate of urban public transportation outpaced that of both the nation's population and the total of vehicle miles traveled on America’s highways"

I guess the good news is, you can continue driving your car, and more and more people can start taking transit as it gets built. If transit turns out to have been a bad idea, I will buy you a beer in the year 2050.

-Mike

 
At 6:49 PM, July 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

We're clearly on different sides of this, so I'm hoping we can wrap it up. A few more comments.

First, on roads, as I've said many times before, the core network is not optional (everything must be connected by road), so that's legitimately paid for by property taxes (just like the sewer and water networks). The highway network is covered by gas taxes or tolls - essentially user fees - and not really subsidized.

Full cities: they can always build higher and increase density.

> "a very large population for whom automobiles are tedious and impractical"

And, as I've been saying, Houston and other, newer cities represent large populations where *commuter rail* is tedious and impractical. I'm not saying it doesn't make sense for plenty of cities, esp. outside the US, but not so much in wealthy, car-centric, fast-growing areas of America.

> dense urban development is currently prohibited by the city's development code.

A modest problem being addressed, but it is well known they're more than willing to grant variances for people who want to build density near the LRT, esp. in Midtown. But it still isn't really happening.

 
At 10:46 PM, July 29, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

"Full cities: they can always build higher and increase density."

They can, but it costs a heck of a lot more than building on empty land.

"Houston and other, newer cities represent large populations where *commuter rail* is tedious and impractical."

Maybe for settled suburbanites. I'm hoping we can be less one-dimensional. You don't seem to think it's important to attract and serve a non-resident population.

"But it still isn't really happening."

It's kind of hard to suddenly introduce a new development paradigm to a city that hasn't had it. Many residents are eager for it, but the development community is slow and hesitant. Certain developers have said they are afraid to build something of quality when there is no telling what could be built across the street (look what happened with Post apartments and CVS in Midtown).

At the end of the day, I'm with you on not forcing people to live in a way they don't want, but I think we disagree on the value of transit and walkability in a globalizing city.

 
At 8:47 AM, July 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> From an article on that site talking about 2006 ridership levels across the nation:"the growth rate of urban public transportation outpaced that of both the nation's population and the total of vehicle miles traveled on America’s highways"

Take a look at the trend data and I think you will see a different long-term story, vs. a 1-year blip:
http://www.publicpurpose.com/ut-usptshare45.htm

> At the end of the day, I'm with you on not forcing people to live in a way they don't want, but I think we disagree on the value of transit and walkability in a globalizing city.

I'll point out again I strongly support this around the core BRT/LRT network (inc. the urban corridors initiative), I just think it will remain a niche in an auto-centric city that needs to continue adding capacity and addressing congestion, rather than giving up and hoping transit will be the answer.

> If transit turns out to have been a bad idea, I will buy you a beer in the year 2050.

I'll be so old, it'll probably have to be through a tube... ;)

 
At 12:20 PM, July 30, 2007, Blogger Ian said...

"I have no problem with a nice walk. Do it in my Meyerland neighborhood often. But the concept of opportunity zones is about access and the benefits it affords."

That's nice -- I'm glad you enjoy walking. It's good for you. Maybe you'll be able to enjoy beer the way it was meant to be enjoyed a little longer -- NOT by a tube :) But that's not really my point. Walking (and biking) offer so many benefits to health and the environment that it's a shame we don't exploit them as modes of transportation more. And opportunity zones completely ignore all these benefits -- which you simply cannot afford to do when America is growing fat and unhealthy, and when our air quality doesn't even meet EPA standards, which are NEVER as stringent as they should be.

"I'm pretty sure if you took a poll and asked which felt safer to people, driving or riding transit, cars would win overwhelmingly. Crime on transit is quite common."

Given how frequently I see general opinion lambasted on this blog as an unrealistic representation of fact, I'm surprised to see you use it as evidence of relative mode safety. And I find your further "evidence" a few posts down about the cases of sexual harassment on transit making it more dangerous than driving laughable at best -- and very insulting to the tens of thousands of Americans who die in gruesome automobile accidents every year.

"You can see plenty of interesting places driving the freeways and arterials of Houston. More than you would see in the equivalent mins of walking elsewhere."

Not if you're driving safely, with your eyes on the road.

 
At 2:30 PM, July 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Sorry, don't believe in the nanny state making me walk. My health is my problem.

I don't know the safety stats per vehicle mile on transit vs. cars, but I know the strong perception is that transit is much less safe when crime is factored in. I'm including crime at transit stops here, especially more vulnerable populations like women.

And I'm pretty sure most people, including myself, can browse the side of the road quite safely while driving.

 
At 4:04 PM, July 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory,

I too have no stats at hand, but I'll bet lunch that taking transit is safer than commuting by car in the same city. I'd also bet that the crime rate on rail transit specifically is "low", only I wouldn't know what to compare it to - parking lots?

There are plenty of reasons to oppose an expanded rail transit system in Houston, but I wouldn't include crime among them.

jt

 
At 4:24 PM, July 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think you're probably right on the transit itself. But I think if you factor in the crime and accidents that happen walking to and from the transit stops, as well as waiting at the transit stops, it might not be. Also the crime that happens at park and ride lots.

I'll have a little more on this in an upcoming post.

 
At 8:38 PM, July 30, 2007, Blogger John said...

I think your lack of experience with dense, transit oriented cities is really showing here. Respectfully, I think you look at them and try to apply a Houston style of living to them, and of course that doesn't work.

Statements about driving not being subsidized, on the other hand, are just really silly.

The idea that Houston offers the typical resident similar options in a 15-minute car trip to what a New Yorker or Washingtonian has within a 15-minute walk/transit trip, honestly, just silly to those of us who've lived in places like that.

Never mind London or Paris, where what you find in 5 minutes is orders of magnitude more appealing that what's within 15 here.

And then there's the "car tax." To experience what Houston offers, you really have to drive. And that means that if you can't afford a car, or you're blind, or you get old and can't drive, you're screwed.

 
At 8:00 AM, July 31, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

No matter how you slice it, the relative subsidies to transit are far, far higher than for cars and roads (per trip, per mile - however you want to look at it).

While I have not lived in London, Paris, DC, or NYC, I have worked extensively in all of them, and spent quite a bit of time exploring the cities from my hotel (walking+transit). I will absolutely agree there is a lot of variety, but in terms of quality accessible variety - what you can get to within a 15-20 min trip - I don't think they compare to the core of Houston (not talking about the outer suburbs here). It's the difference between accessing a handful of sq.miles vs. hundreds. And even with their higher density, they just can't compete with what we have in that size area. And the Zagat survey seems to bear that out, since we dine out more frequently than people in NYC and DC (and every other city, for that matter).

 
At 10:33 AM, July 31, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in the New York area. There has been no road capacity additions here of any consequence in 40 years and nothing is planned. Any propsal to increase capacity is shouted down as if it were a plot to store plutonium in childrens lunchboxes. Any plan that manages to accrue public support is litigated to death, which seems a rigged game of self-described environmental zealots engaging in a pre-determined conversation with their friends in the judiciary. The result is not a transit paradise -- the fact is that a transit ride to work in NYC is an exercise in living like a canned sardine for the duration of one's commute. Rather, we are enduring a little bit (or a lot) of misery every time we try to get somewhere. The NYC area is, beyond Manhatan, as dispersed as any in America. I have relatives in various suburbs of New York, and it is an exercise in frustration and wasted travel time to visit them. What public policy interest is served by keeping family members living apart separated by traffic is beyond my understanding. The leadership in this area has been conditioned into thinking car = bad, and the author of this blog is dead-on that this sentiment, drilled into our heads by the media and academic elites, is 180 degrees false.

The first thing a person does upon entering the middle class is acquire a car. It's true in China, in Europe and in Queens. The way in which a person wants to live his life requires a car whether transit is an alternative for some trips or not. I cannot take my three kids grocery shopping, then take the groceries with my kids while I drop off one child at a friend's house, and then unload my groceries, hit an ATM machine, pick up my dry-cleaning, head over to a friend's house, then pick up the child I dropped off earlier to take the four of us to a movie, all using transit. This is called "task bunching", and a car renders this possible. Trying to do 25% of what you can do with a car using a bus system and fixed rail -- no matter how comprehensive -- is simply impossible. Transit devotees should take a trip to Queens or Brooklyn and count how many people on a train or bus are actually (1) carrying something or (2) travelling with their children. Answer: not many (and their fellow passengers are grateful). The fact is that people in Queens and Brooklyn do grocery shop and travel with kids, and they generally do so by car. To give you guys in Houston an idea of what running errands on mass transit is like: it requires all the planning and patience currently required to travel by commercial aircraft, all to take your three kids to get lunch. It's about that much fun.

What we are devolving to in NYC is a situation where mobility is being reserved for the wealthy and connected, and mobility degrades over time for the rest of us. Transit has a definite place on a very high-density corridor, but it simply cannot serve as an all-purpose mobility solution. We need constant substantial road investment.

 
At 11:05 AM, July 31, 2007, Blogger Ian said...

Anon -- you're absolutely right. You can't do everything on transit. I'd hate to transport a huge, new television by bus. But a lot of people don't have to chain so many trips together EVERY day. For a family with a lot of kids, sure, every day may be hectic. But what about the people who don't currently have kids to worry about? I'd be willing to bet that the majority of days their trips to and from work are straight shots with no chaining. Why not let those types use much more efficient mass transit? And for the days they DO have lots of errands, sure, they can have a car too. Or they can rent a Zipcar.

In short, you're right -- cars aren't going away. And they shouldn't go away. For some trips, other modes make no sense. And for those times, we sure will need roads, so let's invest in them. But don't forget about all the OTHER trips for which the automobile is an unnecessary extravagance. That's where transit comes in!

 
At 12:28 PM, July 31, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Transit makes sense for trips along a dense corridor terminating at a dense end point. It makes perfect sense that one would prefer transit, for example, from commuting at peak hours into midtown Manhattan from a spot along the mainline rail corridor in NJ. In fact, the density of Manhattan could not exist without fixed rail transit. That same system is virtually useless, however, for every other activity, apart from commuting, undertaken by the people who use it for commuting. The typical suburban rider uses the LIRR or NJ Transit exactly 10 times per week, to get to an from work, and then not at all. Note that these suburban commuters consist of a minority of those in their communities who commute to the dense end point, and not to dispersed suburban jobs, which is where the job growth has been in the NYC area since the 1950s. NYC historically had twice as many jobs as the entire state of NJ. Today that ratio is exactly reversed. I count myself a proponent of transit, but as a piece with vastly improved overall mobility, anchored by improved automobile capacity. It is extremely frustrated to watch road projects scuttled in suburban CT and NJ with the elitist trope: "transit is the future". Beyond a very narrow corridor for a very narrow range of trips, that is simply not the case. Transit has severe limitations that make it a tool for very limited circumstances, as important as those limited circumstances may be.

 
At 4:17 PM, August 01, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

"And the Zagat survey seems to bear that out, since we dine out more frequently than people in NYC and DC (and every other city, for that matter)."

You're really in love with that statistic. Don't you think that other factors besides mobility could be involved? Cultural differences? Maybe the reason New Yorkers eat at home more often is that it's so easy just to walk to the corner grocery.

 
At 5:23 PM, August 01, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think it's a great indicator. And I've seen the "easy to walk to corner groceries" in NYC, and we have gas station convenience stores in Houston with more inventory. If anything should encourage eating at home, it's the ability in Houston to choose from several nearby mega-stores and load up your car with tons of cheap, high-quality selections - not to mention giant kitchens, pantries, and multiple fridges/freezers in the typical suburban Houston home for easy storage and preparation.

My stepdaughter is staying in a relatively hip part of western Brooklyn this summer, and she says it's a 15 min hike minimum to get to a semi-real grocery store with more than one option/selection per category. That's a long walk back with an two armfuls of groceries...

 

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