One gas solution, rail to the airport, graphs, recycling, and moreAs we enjoy the much-needed rain from a fortunately weak Edouard, I thought I'd pass along some of the smaller items that have built up:
- An interesting graph from this story shows that Houston Harris County has had the least increase in Democratic voting over the last 30 years vs. every other major urban core county in the country. Relative to other core cities/counties, I think we've stayed more balanced and compromising between the two political parties (healthy, IMHO), in part because of non-partisan city elections. I suspect when a city/county tips to Democratic domination, the policies they enact (taxes? strong pubic unions? regulations?) drive Republicans out to adjacent cities/counties - something we still have happening to some extent with Montgomery and Ft. Bend Counties - and make the Democratic trend actually accelerate in the core. I'm curious to hear other theories in the comments.
- More interesting graphs of population density vs. land area. Surprising fact: half the U.S. population lives on less than 1% of our total available land - about the size of Indiana.
- An interesting story on Californians who got lured into Austin real estate investing only to get burned by a state that allows supply to meet demand and relies on property taxes instead of income taxes. Hat tip to Hugh.
- The NY Times reviews Houston's inadequate recycling efforts (plus local coverage). We rank last among 30 major cities with a 2.6% rate. Mayor White has a yard waste recycling plan that should get us to 20+% by 2010, but that's still not too high. My wife and I fill 3 recycling bins full every 2 weeks (mostly Chron and WSJ newspapers), and our Meyerland neighborhood won an award for high participation - but unfortunately we're the exception to the rule. I'm personally OK with higher garbage fees for more or larger trash bins to encourage recycling, but I am concerned it would lead to more illegal trash dumping in the lower-income parts of town (it's already pretty bad in some of the eastside industrial areas). Although I liked the reference to Houston as the "libertarian heartland," we can, and should, do better. Don't miss the associated 4-minute video. Well done.
- From the debate in Kansas City, good reasons why light rail to the airport - despite constant calls for it - doesn't really make sense (which is why Metro is wisely going with express buses instead).
And the final item is my own suggestion to address the gas crisis: require all new cars to offer instantaneous, trip (car on to off), and average gas mileage displays. I really think a lot of people don't connect their driving behavior with their gas mileage (F350 cruising at 85mph, anyone?). People with Priuses often obsess over maximizing their mileage as displayed by the computer. What if people were doing that across our entire vehicle fleet? Smoother acceleration, less unnecessary braking, more reasonable cruising speeds. The fuel savings could be substantial, no matter what kind of vehicle people are driving. Almost trivially cheap for carmakers to add, and it's a lot less ham-fisted than higher CAFE standards or lower national speed limits.
"On that note, the Star writes over the weekend: "Sure, it sounds convenient, maybe even fast. It would even save you the cost of gas and parking. But would you be willing to drive a couple of miles to a rail station, then haul your bags onto a train that makes multiple stops and wouldn't travel any faster than your car? The odds say you wouldn't," the paper writes, citing data from U.S. airports where rail service is available. For example, the Star cites a survey data in writing that "only 15% of passengers at Washington's Reagan National Airport said they got there by rail," making it one of the top airports for rail usage. The flipside, however, is that figure means passengers arriving by personal car (34%) outweighed rail users by only about a 2-to-1 margin.
"The concept of tying rail into the airport is a very emotional one. People see it as a sign of a major league city," Mark Huffer, general manager of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, tells the Star. For Kansas City, Huffer is skeptical that a rail option would be used by anyone other than light-packing travelers who live very close to rail stations. The Star suggests that with the low-density nature and minimal traffic problems of the Kansas City area, rail may not be the best option. "Most of the people flying are coming from home," Kansas City Aviation Director Mark VanLoh tells the Star. "They're not coming from their offices in the city. It’s scattered."
Plus, Kansas City's horseshoe-shaped, three-terminal layout is not conducive to rail transit, the Star says. And without express service from downtown, rail service may not be faster than driving, once suburban stops are factored in. Even the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association doesn't appear eager to help push for an airport rail connection. "We have other issues that are far more compelling," association president Rick Hughes tells the Star. Even Kansas City's mayor favors express buses for the airport, saying that a rail option would be too expensive given the small number of users he expects would use it, according to the Star."