Thursday, November 15, 2007

The problem with transit polling

A new, expanded version of the 2007 Houston Area Survey came out today, and the Chronicle story notes the high support for transit as a "solution to traffic congestion." If "solution" means "alternative" - then maybe - but if means "alleviate" - then even David Crossley will admit it does no such thing.

People often think one of two things when you ask if they support transit. One is, "yeah, so everybody else will take it and leave the roads clear for me" - which, of course, is not the case in any major transit-based city anywhere in the world (they're all gridlocked). This Onion article really sums up this sentiment the best... ;-)

The other is, in their imagination, they think "yeah, I'd love to have express transit a few blocks from my house (but not closer!), that bypasses all the traffic at high-speed and goes straight to where I work."

Of course, in reality, transit is rarely close to where you live, has quite a slow net speed with all the stops, usually requires a time-killing transfer or two to get where you're going, and still stops quite a walking distance from your final destination, where you're exposed to heat, cold, and/or rain. Then you're at work without a car, so you can't easily get out to lunch, meetings, or errands. Once people experience the "reality" of transit, they often switch back to their cars. Unfortunate, but true. We live in a society where convenience is king.

Then there's the financial reality that at least 75+% of the cost of transit is subsidized by the government, so there's the natural incentive to want that instead of paying the full cost of owning, insuring, and fueling a car yourself. People love it when somebody else buys them something they would normally have to pay for.

The real polling question should be "Should government spend tax dollars on transportation solutions that move the most people for the least cost?" - which I'm sure would enjoy overwhelming support, and, of course, would point directly at road capacity in most cases (although, admittedly, not all - the Main St. LRT is quite popular and successful, and the Galveston commuter rail plan looks not bad if these numbers hold).

The problem is the average citizen doesn't have the cost-benefit expertise to allocate transportation dollars. It's analogous to a poll asking the American public, "Given modern threats to national security, should we spend more defense money on the Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force?" Polls aren't the right way to answer those sorts of questions - we delegate to experts with a deep understanding of the cost-benefit tradeoffs.

Hopefully I'll have time to go through the survey in more depth soon, and do a follow-up post.

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18 Comments:

At 10:31 PM, November 15, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

[T]he Main St. LRT is quite popular and successful.

Dollar for dollar, I'd argue it hasn't been successful. It would be nice to have a study done, but it's well known that Metro inflated ridership by funneling riders into the line. Meanwhile, they began neglecting surrounding bus service and instituting service adjustments, which usually means cutting lines.

It's easy to make something appear like a success when you force it at the expense of the overall system. I just wouldn't consider it a success in a broader sense.

 
At 10:38 PM, November 15, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

One more thing -- I definitely agree that polls are a bad way to manage something like urban mobility.

First, there's a halo effect that favors transit (i.e. 'I can't say I favor freeways; that would make me a philistine!).

Secondly, there's the fantasy you mention (i.e. 'I'll be able to use transit to get everywhere quickly and conveniently -- no more traffic jams!).

Third, there's the novelty aspect (i.e. 'I won't ride the trains myself, but they look so cool; it's like spending tax dollars on public art or something').

Fourth, there's the planning-for-the-future-way-too-early mentality (i.e. 'Someday every city will be like downtown New York in terms of density and layout -- we'd better start slapping down rails now so we're ready').

What do these all have in common? A great deal of self-delusion.

 
At 10:43 PM, November 15, 2007, Anonymous RedScare said...

I'm not surprised that you found a problem with that poll, since it did not overwhelmingly demand more and bigger highways. Another reason for the high poll number, other than phrasing the question wrong, might be that people are starting to find that they are not the cureall that you find them to be. They are big, ugly, environmentally unfriendly, and...as the Katy is showing...not as cheap as you claim.

As gasoline prices continue to rise, and securing the oil supply is costing more and more in tax dollars and troops, it should surprise no one that poll numbers would shift in favor of mass transit options, as compared to what those polls might have shown in 2000 or earlier.

Rather than blame the pollsters for numbers you disagree with, perhaps you might consider that the solutions you espouse are contributing to these problems.

As a side note, I sold my lots in Galveston 3 years ago, precisely because there was no transit from the island to downtown Houston, where I office. There was no way that I would drive in to town from that distance. Now that the possibility exists, I may revisit the possibility of commuting from the island.

Owen,

every other organization would be praised for maximizing the use of its new technology by funneling to it. Only METRO is denigrated for taking 600 traffic clogging busses off of Main Street by funneling onto the LRT. That was pretty much the point of the line. And, that's how FTA figures funding, so it was doubly smart.

 
At 12:43 AM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Redscare,

Well said.

Owen and Tory,

I see two important values from polls such as this:

1) You can look at the trends over time and see support for mass-transit building. As Redscare mentions, there are reasons that support grows or wanes over time - and these reasons are often important.
2) Because of the level of support, it is definitely a sign to our politicians and transit experts to look very carefully at all options on the table - as you suggest.

I think there are a few major differences between us.

1) Main street line as the "exception" to the rule. While Tory may believe that the Main street LRT and the Galveston commuter rail are "exceptions to the rule" in terms of cost-effectiveness and overall utility to the community, I believe that there are a host of other routes that may also make sense and deserve further analysis. After all, the Med Center to downtown is a great route, but so might be Uptown to downtown, Sugar Land to downtown (commuter), along with other rail options like high-speed trains serving the Texas Triangle.

2) Changing dynamics and a more educated public - as Redscare mentions - environmental, safety, and cost of oil issues are all HUGE these days - how can you not see that? People are going to be skeptical if you just say "well, let's widen Highway 59 to 40 lanes and that will solve all of our problems". That may have worked in the 70's and 80's, but people are more aware of the tradeoffs and frustrations of auto transit these days. Also, just read today that the cost of highway construction has gone up 43% since 2004 because of the rising cost of raw materials - that is HUGE!! I imagine the labor costs are increasing as well - at any rate I imagine it takes a lot less raw material to build a rail line than a 30 lane highway.

3) Cost-benefit is going to depend on exactly what transit route you are talking about. There are many areas in Houston where road construction would not be the obvious choice. What are you going to do on 610 West Loop in the event that demand outweighs supply? Build a double-decker highway? That sounds pretty expensive. Or you could knock down all of the hotels / businesses on both sides of the freeway - also does not seem like a good option. Or you could institute congestion pricing - also to me not a great option and not a popular option with the public.

Certainly, no one is arguing that the Grand Parkway should be a light-rail line. But the fact is - when it comes to urban Houston - and urban areas in general - the times, they are a changin', as Klineberg's studies show (heck even the people in the boonies want more public transit!!).

-Mike

 
At 7:35 AM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

redscare,

Rather than blame the pollsters for numbers you disagree with, perhaps you might consider that the solutions you espouse are contributing to these problems.

This is where we fundamentally disagree. I don't see polling as representing the true views of the public. Their true views are represented by the choices they actually make in their daily lives, and the fact is that they rarely choose transit.

Polling is tricky like that. In truth, people have a marked affinity transit only in theory, because their preference is based upon unrealistic expectations. Sure, if transit could be at least as convenient as driving in every respect there would be good reason to choose over driving -- but we know that's not going to happen. The grass isn't always greener on the other side, but people tend to hope against hope that it is.

[E]very other organization would be praised for maximizing the use of its new technology by funneling to it. Only METRO is denigrated for taking 600 traffic clogging busses off of Main Street by funneling onto the LRT.

#1 - LRT isn't new technology. It's basically the same technology as used in late 19th century streetcars.

#2 - Getting rid of buses along the same line is one thing, but my understanding is that Metro also canceled parallel service (I could be wrong on that). In any case requiring MORE transfers reduces the efficacy of transit.

Having to unboard, wait, and then reboard, is a considerable inconvenience. It should be avoided at all costs. Instead, Metro tolerates far more mandatory transfers than were necessary just so it could boost ridership figures. I, for one, consider the resulting numbers artificial, and I'd prefer to know exactly how Metro's narrow focus on rail has affected ridership numbers in its entire service area.

 
At 7:51 AM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

michael,

After all, the Med Center to downtown is a great route, but so might be Uptown to downtown, Sugar Land to downtown (commuter), along with other rail options like high-speed trains serving the Texas Triangle.

Why aren't express buses via park and rides satisfactory? They're substantially cheaper and just as fast.

Remember -- cost effectiveness means you have to consider the alternatives. Here, there's no way commuter rail would pass a cost-benefit analysis with the alternative of express buses.

As for the "high speed trains" serving the Texas triangle, I don't see how those would be cost-effective. If they were, wouldn't private interests be chomping at the bit to build them? Instead, the only way such a thing will happen is if the government does it itself with billions in tax dollars.

Also, just read today that the cost of highway construction has gone up 43% since 2004 because of the rising cost of raw materials - that is HUGE!! I imagine the labor costs are increasing as well - at any rate I imagine it takes a lot less raw material to build a rail line than a 30 lane highway.

Costs of materials rise and fall. We shouldn't be deciding which type of infrastructure to build based on those types of concerns. Moreover, rail has never proven a viable replacement for freeway commuting, even in those communities that have invested in it heavily.

Finally, I think you underestimate the amount of materials that go into building an urban rail system, as well as their relative cost.

Cost-benefit is going to depend on exactly what transit route you are talking about. There are many areas in Houston where road construction would not be the obvious choice. What are you going to do on 610 West Loop in the event that demand outweighs supply? Build a double-decker highway? That sounds pretty expensive. Or you could knock down all of the hotels / businesses on both sides of the freeway - also does not seem like a good option. Or you could institute congestion pricing - also to me not a great option and not a popular option with the public.

Well, L.A.'s experience gives us some insight. The city and region have invested heavily in both commuter rail, LRT, and even a subway line, but the rate at which people use transit is still fairly low (6.2%) even though congestion in Los Angeles is substantially worse than in Houston.

It is true that congestion pricing isn't popular with the public, but things such as HOT lanes -- basically a toll road within a freeway -- have proven popular. They allow you to speed ahead, for a price, if you're in a hurry or otherwise want to avoid the traffic (I'm sure you've heard Tory talk about them, and they're planned for the Katy Freeway last I heard). And if congestion gets bad enough, widening or double-deckering begins to sound attractive, even with its downsides.

However, nothing I see indicates that transit can be a major solution. If transit is to be a a part of the solution, you need as many transit lines as possible to make transit convenient for the greatest number of users. What you don't need is the consolidation of transit lines that Metro is pushing.

 
At 8:32 AM, November 16, 2007, Anonymous kjb434 said...

LRT raw materials cost myth:

Any LRT line built in this city will completely rebuild the street it is own. Richmond will be a completely new road on the stretch the line runs down the middle. Along with this will be replacement and repairing of many stretches of storm sewers.

LRT costs are much more than just laying some tracts. The exact same materials needed for the any freeway construction will be substantially used. Also, labor for many parts of the LRT line will cost more than freeway labor because specially trained workers are needed to install the LRT system.

I'm not completely against mass transit, but I am again an agency that does whatever it can to mislead the public on what it is doing. Just try to make a information request for data from METRO. It's next to impossible.

 
At 8:47 AM, November 16, 2007, Anonymous RedScare said...

Owen,

A quick lock at the system map for METRO will show you that, while some bus lines terminate downtown, necessitating a rail transfer, many more traverse Fannin and San Jacinto through downtown. In other words, where it makes sense to transfer to rail, METRO did so. Where it makes sense to continue through downtown, METRO did that. There are far fewer terminations than anti-railers claim.

I am glad you bring up congestion pricing, as it fits in nicely with the mass transit argument. You correctly point out that if the commuter is in a big enough hurry and willing to pay the toll, he may use a HOT lane. If economics dictate waiting in traffic, he is free to do so. Well, the same rationale applies to mass transit. If the price of gas, maintanance and parking exceed what the commuter is willing to pay, he may choose to use "inconvenient" mass transit. The closer the commuter lives to transit lines, the more convenient the transit appears.

These are not YES/NO calculations. The same decision making process applies to all commuting options...freeways, HOT lanes and commuter rail/park&ride/LRT. It makes no sense to apply the price/time/convenience argument to HOT lanes, then ignore it for mass transit. It is also disingenuous to think that the decision to use mass transit is based strictly on convenience and nothing else. I myself sometimes use the bus to get downtown from the Heights, though I could afford the parking. However, admittedly, I have never used it when it is raining. On those days, I'll blow the $6 bucks to park.

Finally, though it should be obvious, somehow it must be repeated. Mass transit in any form is NOT THE solution. It is PART of a comprehensive solution, just as HOT lanes and freeway themselves are. This poll merely shows that the public is recognizing that fact. Nowhere in the poll does the public pretend or indicate what kind of transit or where it should go, merely that it is a necessary piece to the puzzle.

 
At 10:13 AM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

redscare,

A quick lock at the system map for METRO will show you that, while some bus lines terminate downtown, necessitating a rail transfer, many more traverse Fannin and San Jacinto through downtown.

True, but Metro canceled, for example, the free north/south trolley service through downtown, which was the most obvious competitor. I'd have to compare before-and-after system maps, together with bus schedules, to reach a final conclusion. What I've always heard is that Metro did cut parallel bus lines, and shifted a great deal of service to terminate at either end of the Main Street line.

I am glad you bring up congestion pricing, as it fits in nicely with the mass transit argument. You correctly point out that if the commuter is in a big enough hurry and willing to pay the toll, he may use a HOT lane. If economics dictate waiting in traffic, he is free to do so. Well, the same rationale applies to mass transit. If the price of gas, maintanance and parking exceed what the commuter is willing to pay, he may choose to use "inconvenient" mass transit. The closer the commuter lives to transit lines, the more convenient the transit appears.

I don't dispute any of this, and that's why I do support transit -- I just want to maximize the number of transit lines and transit vehicles accross the entire system to ensure that the greatest number of people and locations are served. You can't do that with light rail. Light rail costs far, far more than setting up a bus line, including one with a bus/HOV lane or a fixed guideway (i.e. BRT). So why don't we just focus on buses?

Again, I totally agree that transit is a part of the solution. It's important for the poor especially, and also important for those who dislike driving to a sufficient degree to where they are willing to start using transit. However, LRT is not cost-effective, and tends to consolidate rather than spread out transit service. That's why we shouldn't be building it.

 
At 11:00 AM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Owen,

I'm confused - you say the costs of materials rise and fall, and therefore we shouldn't be using that in our cost-effectiveness calculations. I must say, considering the current cost of raw materials seems like a must, not an optional item in the budget.

My point is that while highways may have been cheaper to build in the past, the economics are constantly changing. To use our ideas of what costs may have been in the past is misleading. There are tons of articles around now talking about how we can not afford to pay for maintenance of our aging highway infrastructure, bridges, etc. Guess if you don't pay for it, it's not a cost. And none of the legislators want to raise the gas tax, instead they want to look to toll roads - beware the public backlash! Highways in an already-developed urban core are going to be much, much more expensive to build / maintain / expand than out in the prairie.

Also, on BRT versus LRT, you have tried to make that point in the past, that buses are somehow better or cheaper. Yet when I challenged you, you offered little support for that claim. In fact, by all counts, despite higher initial capital cost, light rail seems to be cheaper *IF* you are building a system to last for over 10 years. It is like buying a front-load energy saving washer versus a traditional washer - you use it enough and you will see the savings. Sure - if you are only going to use it for the next year, you should go with the traditional washer - NOBODY disputes this. Fortunately Metro is not planning a transit system for the next 5 years, but the next 50.

Nobody disagrees that transit is just going to be a part of the solution, and likely a small part, for a long time. Cars / buses etc. are not going away.

-Mike

 
At 1:07 PM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

michael,

Highways in an already-developed urban core are going to be much, much more expensive to build / maintain / expand than out in the prairie.

True, but they still integrate their costs better than LRT, and LRT is affected by increasing costs as well. Finally, highways still transport far, far more people than LRT or transit is even capable of. These investments may be expensive, but they're also necessary.

Also, on BRT versus LRT, you have tried to make that point in the past, that buses are somehow better or cheaper. Yet when I challenged you, you offered little support for that claim.

Now you're being dishonest. I cited a great deal of evidence showing that buses can offer similar service and are less expensive. I cited the GAO study showing that operating costs are roughly equivalent between BRT and LRT and that capital costs are much higher for LRT. Did you just ignore or forget that study?

I also debated the merits of LRT vs. BRT. On the capacity issue, I noted that it isn't that significant, and in any case, it can be eliminated by simply having more lines, which makes the system more convenient to use overall. As far as the ease of the ride goes, I noted that better-paved streets can offer a fairly smooth ride, although rail will generally be smoother. However, LRT is less flexible (if ridership drops on one line, you can't cancel the line and move it to another street without tearing up tracks) and less safe (much poorer stopping distances mean that wrecks with cars and pedestrians are more frequent).

My biggest quibble was the issue of cost-effectiveness, and hands down BRT wins that battle with LRT. LRT costs about as much to operate and far more to build. Again, see the GAO study. It was you who produced little to no evidence to refute this argument.

I'm sorry, mike, but I don't appreciate it when people rewrite history and tell me that I don't provide evidence. I provided solid evidence -- you just refused to be convinced because of your personal biases.

In fact, by all counts, despite higher initial capital cost, light rail seems to be cheaper *IF* you are building a system to last for over 10 years.

The only superiority you're citing here is higher capacity. As I noted, you can deal with capacity issues by maxing out BRT and having more service along parallel lines. Unless you're predicting major, sustained increases in population density in the exact places you're constructing LRT, you won't get the benefit of that extra capacity. And as I noted, you're just speculating on that issue.

Moreover, even if you did have those increases, LRT still wouldn't be 'cheaper' because you could have made less expensive service improvements elsewhere that would have improved mobility and transit ridership more than an LRT line. It's not just about the upsides or downsides of LRT in terms of service quality -- it's about what you can do *instead* of building light rail. You could provide more bus lines and a wider web of service to reach more people, rather than trying to consolodiate transit into a few high-capacity lines. Houston is a very spread out city, and we get the most benefit by spreading out our transit resources accordingly.

Fortunately Metro is not planning a transit system for the next 5 years, but the next 50.

Again, anybody who thinks they know what development and population density patterns will be fifty years from now is lying. The best they can make is an educated guess, but the margin for error is huge.

Even then, the fact remains that Houston is still growing outward more than it's growning within. Accordingly, even if you want to predict future demand based on current development patterns, you'd be planning for a more spread out transit network, not one laid out around a few major cooridors. Thus, even on that point, your argument doesn't wash.

 
At 1:24 PM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Owen,

Whoa! Did you just forget our last conversation on this subject completely?

I provided an article which cited various evidence, government reports, case studies, etc. - showing that your numbers / biases are pretty much hogwash and not accepted in the transportation / planning community. This was a pretty neutral and well-researched article - and even found some cases where BRT is the right answer, or has been successful. But by no means did it come to the sort of conclusions that you have reached.

I also asked you to provide one piece of logical evidence for why you thought BRT would be cheaper, when in fact LRT is cheaper in terms of operating costs (and often comparable in terms of capital costs), and I forget your exact answer, but it was pretty lame. Sort of like Tory's response about "more people get hit on the end of LRT stops" thereby making transit more dangerous than cars.

If you want me to go dig up that thread again, I can, but sheesh! What is this, Hannity, or Rush - where you keep repeating the same thing over and over again and completely ignore my points? This was like 2 weeks ago.

Anyway, I feel it is pretty worthless debating against you, because you are a "road warrior", as we call them. I may be slightly biased towards rail, but nowhere near the bias you and Tory show for roads. Don't expect me to respond to any more of your posts - I have nothing to prove to you. You are a brick wall.

-Mike

 
At 2:08 PM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

michael,

I provided an article which cited various evidence, government reports, case studies, etc. - showing that your numbers / biases are pretty much hogwash and not accepted in the transportation / planning community. This was a pretty neutral and well-researched article - and even found some cases where BRT is the right answer, or has been successful. But by no means did it come to the sort of conclusions that you have reached.

...and I explained why 1) I didn't find the article to be particularly well-researched (it cited its own studies selectively and made assertions without attribution), and 2) I didn't find the article to be unbiased. It wasn't overboard in favor of rail, but it was pro-rail -- and nothing in it refuted the GAO study.

Oh, and here's another study -- from Jonathan Richmond of the joint Harvard/MIT mobility project. He reaches the same conclusions as the GAO study:

http://the-tech.mit.edu/~richmond/professional/wholesys.pdf

Just sayin'.

I also asked you to provide one piece of logical evidence for why you thought BRT would be cheaper . . .

Yes, and I responded that I didn't need to provide a reason because the statitics spoke for themselves. I said that I could think of several reasons why BRT would be cheaper and listed a number of them. However, I concluded that the truth was I didn't know all the variables; what I knew were the facts. They haven't changed.

[I]n fact LRT is cheaper in terms of operating costs (and often comparable in terms of capital costs)

Again, you're a broken record. You refuse to accept the fact that rail is *not* superior in terms of operating costs.

The GAO did the definitive research on this issue. They concluded that the research was inconclusive as to whether LRT was less expensive in terms of operating costs. However, if you actually looked at their raw data, you found that in most cities and by most measures, BRT was cheaper to operate than LRT. Dr. Richmond reached the same conclusion.

The article you offered did not cite any credible authority to refute this finding. In fact, while they cited the GAO study, they OMITTED the GAO's finding regarding operating costs. That sounds biased to me.

I may be slightly biased towards rail, but nowhere near the bias you and Tory show for roads. Don't expect me to respond to any more of your posts - I have nothing to prove to you. You are a brick wall.

You have no response to Richmond or the GAO study except some dubious thing you found on the internet, and I'M the one who is supposed to be a brick wall? What hubris.

You have serious biases in favor of rail, and you've let it cloud your judgment. You refuse to see contrary evidence, or even offer a credible response to it.

 
At 2:37 PM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Owen,

Keywords "most cities" / "most measures". By those same measures, I'm pretty sure, Main Street LRT would be a smashing success and lower cost than operating 600 buses.

No one is arguing that in general, roads are cheaper than mass transit, and in general, buses are cheaper than trains. But we are beyond talking generalities.

We are talking about specific routes in a specific urban area. In such cases - it is time to drill-down into specifics - how does this "inconclusive" measurment from GAO apply to Houston? The article I provided dealt with specific cases like this and found that in many areas, your claims simply are not true, or significant savings can be expected from operating LRT.

Obviously, if our transit authorities said "well, BRT is hands down the winner in this specific case", I don't believe that they would be building LRT. They are building BRT in other areas like some routes in LA where this was found to be the case.

But in fact, specific analysis shows our LRT / commuter rail options DO make fiscal sense. Which is why we are building it.

Game. Set. Match. It's not hubris if you are right, BTW.

-Mike

 
At 4:49 PM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

michael,

By those same measures, I'm pretty sure, Main Street LRT would be a smashing success and lower cost than operating 600 buses.

Well, I'm not sure that you'd need that many buses, and I certainly dispute that it would be at a lower cost. You also don't take into account the cost of funneling riders into the Main Street LRT, requiring more transfers.

We are talking about specific routes in a specific urban area.

There's your problem. Read Richmond's study -- it's a WHOLE SYSTEMS ANALYSIS. Our goal is NOT to get a few lines working well while overall mobility suffers. Our goal is to have effective mobility city-wide. By trying to consolidate transit to a few corridors, the overall system suffers. The reality is that you can accomplish more by thinking comprehensively, and not in terms of individual transit lines.

 
At 4:50 PM, November 16, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

Game. Set. Match. It's not hubris if you are right, BTW.

Well, our thinking is wrong-headed, irrespective of your own self-delusion.

 
At 10:46 AM, November 21, 2007, Blogger David said...

Sorry to come in so late to this classic argument. Just want to comment on a couple of Tory's statements.

I don't just "admit" that transit doesn't "solve" congestion, I insist on that. It's absurd to demand that transit have something to do with reducing congestion,which is caused primarily by elected officials. Using public funds to produce roadways that are free to the public guarantees such roadways will be filled (this is a market principle - free is used until it's gone, or in this case, full). Transit can mitigate or even relieve congestion by providing a choice to a person that allows him or her to opt out of traffic congestion.

By the way, Dr. Klineberg doesn't use the term "traffic congestion" in his question, but rather "traffic problems." But I don't think that makes a useful distinction. To ask what is the solution to "mobility problems" might be more accurate. Still, people would read it the same way, and I think the answers would be no different. Is you asked what is the best solution to access to jobs, homes, schools, etc, then you might begin to get different numbers. Even so, it's an expert distinction little understood.

Tory says the proper question would be "Should government spend tax dollars on transportation solutions that move the most people for the least cost?" If we're going for such loaded questions, why not "Should government spend tax dollars on transportation projects that are intended to spur development in undeveloped areas even if that will increase traffic congestion?"

But the part of the question that is overlooked in this discussion is the option to develop “communities where people can live closer to where they work and shop.” The wisdom of the public can be seen in their answer to this. That's particularly true if we acknowledge that around 80 percent of all metropolitan travel is not about commuting, and that some focus on the 80 percent might yield interesting results even for rush hour commuting congestion. That's the low-hanging fruit, and a combination of transit strategies and development strategies can achieve that.

In any event, people have clearly lost faith in the ability of elected officials to deliver on the election promise reduce congestion by building more roads.

 
At 1:22 PM, November 21, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Unfortunately, the "communities where people can live closer to where they work and shop" option is another red herring. People have that choice today - there are plenty of residential options very close to the major job centers in Houston - apt and single family - but people don't *choose* them because they can get a better value farther away - whether that's more/newer home for the money or better schools. With relatively few land-use controls, if the demand were truly there for more residential next to jobs, then you can bet developers would be building it (and, to some extent, they are, for the niche that wants it).

It, of course, also has the same problem as transit: "Would I like others to live close to work so there would be fewer people competing with me on the freeway. Absolutely!"

 

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