Response to Peter Brown's op-edYou may have caught Councilmember Peter Brown's op-ed on transit and planning in the Sunday Chronicle. While I've (mostly) made my peace with Metro's core LRT plan and support efforts to encourage walkable density near the stops, he made several points I feel I need to address:
Our region's sprawling highway system has not reduced congestion. Worse still, it encouraged the flight of city jobs and residents to the suburbs, diminishing the city's economic life.Actually, it reduced congestion substantially after 1983, only rebounding to those levels in the last few years after we added more than 2 million more people. The added capacity has enabled millions of people to afford nice new homes in good school districts while still having a reasonable commute to jobs in the core. Employers demand that their employees have access to such amenities within a reasonable commute. If they don't, the employers will move to where they can. It is a fantasy to believe that limiting mobility will force people to move to the core. No - employers will move out to them. If the highway expansions had not been built, jobs would have fled to the suburbs (as they have in many other cities), leaving a hollowing-out core with a deteriorating tax base.
Major world cities are making huge "smart" investments in carefully planned, pro-growth rail systems. The transit menu includes conventional streetcars and subways, fast commuter lines, 180- mile-per-hour bullet trains and even higher speed mag-lev lines, such as the link between downtown Shanghai, China, and its airport. The European Union, with sleek, high-tech trains linking just about every major city, is a model for transportation efficiency, with one-half the per-capita energy consumption as the United States. This is a significant competitive advantage.Hundreds of billions of dollars. Far higher taxes, unaffordable homes, and consistently lower growth in Europe than the U.S. (and especially lower than Texas). And, as I've pointed out before, European cities were built long ago during the walking age with single, dense, monolithic job cores amenable to rail transit (and without space for cars) - not to mention a non-tropical, relatively pedestrian-friendly climate. Houston is the exact polar opposite of these things.
On a recent flight abroad, I listened to a talkative business executive, who explained to me, "Houston is a great city to do business, very friendly, but if you expect to compete worldwide, you better have a high-speed train from downtown to your airports, and soon! That's what every international businessman expects, like you enjoy in Atlanta, San Francisco or Paris."No city in America has anything resembling a "high-speed" train from their airport to downtown. Sluggish trains with stops and transfers - yes, in a few places - high-speed - no (and that goes for Metro's long-term plans too). Why build a multi-billion dollar train to connect a few business travelers to a less than 7% of our jobs downtown? Especially when most of these travelers are on expense accounts and will just grab a cab? Metro is planning frequent, high-quality, non-stop express bus service from IAH to downtown in the near future. More than adequate for our needs at a micro-fraction of the cost.
Significant increases in federal funding for rail transit are a reasonable assumption.Really? My understanding is that the FTA cost-benefit hurdles for rail projects are getting ever-higher.
High-speed rail: It is time to think ahead and get very serious about the "Texas T-Bone" — the Bullet Train — traveling at speeds of 180 mph, connecting Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin-San Antonio.Not just a 100+ billion tax dollars for a service that Southwest Airlines handles just fine right now, but there are plenty of other reasons this is problematic. Even California is balking, and they have far more density, population, local transit, and congestion of both highways and airports.
...the highest transportation costs in the nation (yes, that's right; it costs more to travel in Houston than in any other city).Debunked here. All this says is that if you have a city of high wages and low housing costs (these are good things, yes?), people will spend a lot of that extra income on fancy cars, trucks, and SUVs. Surprise, surprise. People like nice things. They could just as easily buy a Toyota Prius if they so choose and spend far less. Oh, and the stat is also warped because high taxes to subsidize transit in other cities are not considered "transportation costs" in their calculations.
Houston has a history of being pragmatic when it comes to transportation infrastructure. Let's keep it that way.
Update (updated for 1Q08): The official ACCRA cost of living transportation index from 1Q08, where the national average = 100:
- Houston 97.4
- Atlanta 103
- Portland 106
- Chicago 108
- DC 109
- Boston 109
- NYC 109
- SF 113