Monday, May 26, 2008

Dome studio, gas and transit, updated Metro plan, ants and more

As usual, I've let the pile of smaller misc items get too large again before bundling them into a post, so I'll have to break them up into a couple of separate posts:
  • A pass-along from an email I received on an idea I am wholeheartedly rooting for (vs. the crazy hotel idea):
    This Wednesdays Houston Chronicle featured an article by Maggie Galehouse about a project we've partnered on to convert the Astrodome into a major production studio. A feasibility study regarding the building's potential as such is already underway. Also underway, is an engineering feasibility study regarding the Dome's structural state. If the results of both of these studies are positive, we will proceed full speed ahead. Some impressive folks want to help us make this happen.

    Meanwhile, if you are willing, please go to the above article on-line and post comments in support of this concept. Wouldn't it be wonderful to work full time in our industry in your hometown? Wouldn't it be wonderful to get Houston back into the feature film business? Also, there is an on-line petition to sign that supports the concept of converting the Dome into a production studio, go to
    www.houstonaep.org.

  • The NYT picks up the story of crazy ants taking over Houston. The good news is that they might actually wipe out fire ants in the process.
  • Houston ranked as the 10th best place for young adults. List with scores. Hat tip to HAIF.
  • NYT on high gas prices driving up transit ridership, even in Houston. The most important thing for Metro is to make sure we have adequate capacity to meet demand. Buses or P&R lots turning away people are unacceptable. I hope they make sure they are adequately funded, even if the rail construction schedules have to slip to do it. Excerpt:

Other factors may be driving people to mass transit, too. Wireless computers turn travel time into productive work time, and more companies are offering workers subsidies to take buses or trains. Traffic congestion is getting worse in many cities, and parking more expensive.

Michael Brewer, an accountant who had always driven the 36-mile trip to downtown Houston from the suburb of West Belford (Belfort?), said he had been thinking about switching to the bus for the last two years. The final straw came when he put $100 of gas into his Pontiac over four days a couple of weeks ago.

“Finally I was ready to trade my independence for the savings,” he said while waiting for a bus.

  • Interesting stat I caught on the Reason blog:
    Critics of LRT point out that it is not theoretical capacity that is crucial, but actual ridership and the cost incurred to garner this ridership. National figures indicate that on average, LRT carries about 5,000 people per track-mile per day, while urban freeways carry over 20,000 per lane-mile per day. So, in actual numbers of people served, freeways seem to handle over four times as much traffic as LRT does.

For vacationers, however, there is no one to pick up the extra tab. Stephanie Barga recently paid $350 for a round-trip ticket back home to Houston, about $100 more than she paid in 2007.

Said Ms. Barga, a speech pathologist from Toledo, Ohio: “Thank goodness I’ll be moving to Houston soon.”

Ah yes, returning to the promised land... ;-)

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9 Comments:

At 8:29 PM, May 26, 2008, Anonymous common_sense said...

Looking at the best places numbers, one thing that really concerns me is the percentage of college educated people in Houston. It is lower than Phoenix which has got to be one of the most anti-intellectual places in the country.

Compare Houston's numbers to DC. If Houston wants to continue to attract young professionals and the highly skilled jobs required to sustain such a population, it must do better. Just keeping things "cheap" isn't enough.

 
At 9:14 PM, May 26, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Just finished a little debate on this in the comments here:
http://www.startuphouston.com/2008/05/12/houston-lacking-in-sufficient-brainpower-study-claims/#comment-18191

The problem is that Houston is a "land of opportunity" for the less educated, and their migration dilutes our educated numbers. The real metric should not be percentages, but how many educateds are being added every year, in sheer numbers, separate from how well or poorly a city is doing in the less educated side of its economy. An ideal city is would be doing well in both, as I believe Houston is.

 
At 11:16 AM, May 27, 2008, Blogger ian said...

"LRT carries about 5,000 people per track-mile per day, while urban freeways carry over 20,000 per lane-mile per day."

I think that when comparing these two modes, absolute numbers are very important to keep in mind. The overwhelmingly superior number of lane-miles to track-miles ensures that far more people can reach far more destinations in their car than they can by transit. That says absolutely nothing about anything inherent to either mode but tons about the political decisions that have been made to fund a fantastic network of roads and highways. If the same money had been poured into rail over the years, I'm sure the table would be turned on these users-per-mile ratios.

 
At 12:53 PM, May 27, 2008, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...

NYT on high gas prices driving up transit ridership, even in Houston. The most important thing for Metro is to make sure we have adequate capacity to meet demand. Buses or P&R lots turning away people are unacceptable. I hope they make sure they are adequately funded, even if the rail construction schedules have to slip to do it.

Sorry Tory, what planet are you living on? Agendas are agendas, end of story. Frank Wilson may wonder what the hell to do with the fuel bill going up $30 million per year, but spare no expense for $4 billion for 30 miles of rail lines that will eat up an additional $75 - $100 million per year in annual taxpayer subsidies to operate because of borrowing costs and inability to recover O and M costs at the farebox.

And don't you know that the Metro board has publicly stated that there is no demand for an increase in bus service?

The plan is for the bus service to go to pot. Now get with the program!

Neal

 
At 1:11 PM, May 27, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

ian: There's another way to look at it too. If there were fewer freeway miles, they would actually carry *more* people per day, as more demand is channeled into a smaller network. Networks are built from the highest value route miles first, and each additional one is less valuable, diluting the overall average.

Applying that same concept to LRT, the first routes connect the highest demand locations (like the Main St. line here), getting the highest ridership. Future lines will go to progressively less valuable places, actually reducing the people moved per mile.

Yes, network effects make the network more valuable the more it covers, and that does increase total passengers, but passengers *per mile* of the network will inevitably drop as each new mile of the network connects progressively less valuable places (i.e. those with less demand).

 
At 2:01 PM, May 27, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>Yes, network effects make the network more valuable the more it covers, and that does increase total passengers, but passengers *per mile* of the network will inevitably drop as each new mile of the network connects progressively less valuable places (i.e. those with less demand).

I think Ian's point is that measuring this now, when several cities like Houston only have 1-2 starter lines, and still have several of their *most valuable* places to add to the network, you cannot make a comparison based on current railway ridership. Light rail in these places has not achieved maximum network effect. In contrast, our highway and roadway network has already achieved maximum network effect - except perhaps in some places in the West and Mountain West where there are fewer interstates. You are comparing two modes of transit that are simply at different points right now on the bell curve of number of routes vs. passenger mile efficiency.

Adding the Uptown and University lines will in my opinion add total passengers as well as increase the passengers per track mile of our system. I think many cities are in the same boat - Phoenix, Detroit, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, St. Louis, Los Angeles to name a few...

 
At 2:27 PM, May 27, 2008, Blogger ian said...

It seems to me that a fair comparison of the two modes would also include all the local roads that feed into the freeway system. After all, a freeway isn't too useful if its exit ramps are dead-ends :) Local roads are the lifeblood of the roadway network, yet their vehicles per lane mile are much lower than that of freeways. Wouldn't those be the highway network's "less valuable" equivalents?

 
At 2:50 PM, May 27, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

We shall see. I am confident overall ridership will rise with the new lines, but not enough to overcome the rapidly rising miles of track in the denominator.

As far as the road network, well, the same thing could be said about including the feeder bus network in rail. Heck, maybe even the "feeder" sidewalk network for pedestrians?

And then there's the added complication that the road network is not optional in any way - every property in any city must be connected to a road network, if only for freight deliveries, construction vehicles, garbage trucks, police, and ambulance service. That's why it's perfectly justifiable to fund them from property taxes instead of gas taxes: even if you never drive, your property receives value from the basic city street network.

Both freeways and LRT are optional, and I think it's justifiable to look at their cost per passenger-mile to see which delivers better cost-benefit. It's not the end of the discussion, but certainly should be a major factor.

 
At 5:36 PM, May 27, 2008, Anonymous RedScare said...

Using stats such as these is far too simplistic. The fact is, different factors go into the decision to use a highway or a mass transit system, one being convenience (highways nearly always win), and another being cost (mass transit always wins). When gasoline was $1.00, only the poor and those who did not find mass transit too inconvenient would ride. As gasoline approaches $4.00, the numbers change dramatically.

To use a meaningless statistic such as passengers per lane mile does nothing to convince a commuter in Cypress that driving into downtown every day is better than commuting. And in the end, government's responsibility is to give the citizens it serves what they want, even if it costs more. We didn't "need" a new football stadium. We were convinced that we wanted it, even though it cost tens of millions of dollars more than rehabilitating the stadium next door. In the same way, we may not "need" commuter rail, but I sense a growing tide of commuters saying that they want it.

I suspect that eventually the citizens will get what they want, in spite of the concrete, tire and gas lobby's insitence that we do not need it.

 

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