A Pragmatic Approach to Houston’s Future (part 2 of 2)Continuing from part 1 earlier this week (both parts also posted here, along with other essays). Don't forget to watch Houston Have Your Say on the Future of Houston on PBS Channel 8 tonight at 7pm.
So, given that set of realities, what’s the right answer for accommodating Houston’s growth?
- MaX Lanes: A comprehensive network of high-speed managed freeway lanes similar to the new lanes on the Katy Freeway. They should include converted HOV lanes and congestion pricing. They could be called Managed eXpress Lanes – or MaX Lanes – that move the maximum number of people and vehicles at maximum speed.
- Park-and-ride commuter options from every neighborhood to every job center using those lanes. This includes buses and vanpools, both public and private with a flat Metro subsidy per passenger mile. Private operators would compete on schedule, routes, service, timeliness, and amenities like wireless Internet. They whisk commuters nonstop at 65mph directly to their job center and then circulate to get them right to their building. No transfers, no waits, and no walking in our unpredictable weather. Parking lots that are underutilized M-F during business hours – like malls and churches - could become park-and-ride lots.
- Cash-out parking. To further incentivize transit ridership and reduce cars on the freeways, employers should be required to offer cash-out parking: if an employee is not using a parking space, they should receive the cash value of the spot the employer does not have to provide for them.
- We do need a small, core light rail network to allow these transit commuters to get around during the day for meetings, errands, and lunch – although certainly many of the planned lines could be delayed in order to pay for expanded commuter transit options now, which would have a far better cost-benefit ratio in the short-term.
- Density near rail stops. Where we do build light rail, we should encourage density near the stops to minimize car trips on our congested street grid. This should be accomplished not through heavy-handed regulation – which is more likely to create dead zones than the desired development - but by offering TIRZ incentives to associations of land owners that voluntarily agree to dense design and build standards in their deed restrictions.
- Free-market land use. Houston should embrace, extend, and improve our free market approach to land regulation based on voluntary deed restrictions instead of heavy-handed – and often corrupt – zoning. This approach allows supply to match demand and keeps housing affordable for all.
Update: Here's the liveblog of the event.
Update 2: Here's the video.