Critiquing Gene Locke's Transportation Plan (and HRG, NPR)Today I attended mayoral candidate Gene Locke's transportation briefing, during which he unveiled his transportation plan, which had the usual stuff (improve regional coordination, get more state and federal money, etc.) but also introduced a few novel items (including the cute C.H.O.I.C.E.S. acronym).
I also had the opportunity to attend the Quality of Life forum last evening, in which all the major mayoral candidates contributed their particular policy dish to a political buffet intended to appeal to the most democratic palette possible. Over the course of the evening, the mayoral candidates spoke about parks, trails, trees, water, visual blight, etc. So this one is easy to sum up: "We all support improving quality of life within tight city budget constraints." No news there.
Here are some of the Gene Locke plan points that jumped out at me, most of which I support:
- Creating a "City Department of Mobility" and a Director of Mobility. Long overdue.
- Syncing traffic lights across the city as well as regionally. Fantastic idea. Although, good luck with cities like Bellaire, West U., and the Villages, which seem to revel in making it as slow as possible to cross their cities. Of course, their motivation is understandable: they don't want the Houstonians' traffic. But then, we do control their water supply, so we might have some leverage there...
- Expanding HOV service, which would mean longer hours, more Park-and-Ride centers, and, most importantly, increased service to business centers outside of downtown like Uptown/Galleria, Greenway Plaza, the Medical Center, and the Energy Corridor (a tough one because of widely spaced destinations).
- Getting real-time bus status online. Locke mentioned an iPhone, but I think any plain cell phone should be able to text a stop number to Metro and instantly receive a text reply with the bus routes headed to that stop along with their estimated times of arrival.
- Bring back the downtown trolleys. (And maybe also in Uptown and the TMC-Rice Village area.)
- "Reducing bus fares to increase ridership." That one's a direct quote from the plan, which went on to say that the city would "also look at a pilot program to eliminate bus fares at certain times" (like rush hour). Similar to Bill King's op-ed, this concept could substantially increase ridership, reduce cars on the road, and speed trip times (no fumbling for money).
- Promoting transit-oriented development, or "TOD," which can help accommodate growth without adding much traffic. Significantly, Locke does not support government planning to dictate how or where to build. "Let the market figure it out." Huzzah!
- Accelerating commuter rail. My long-time readers know I have mixed opinions when it comes to commuter rail. Some lines may make sense in narrow circumstances, but economics tend to force the shutdown of any express buses that even remotely compete with the rail line, often leading to longer commutes for riders (more stops and transfers, slower net speeds, longer walks to their final destination).
Overall, a pretty good plan.
Speaking of mayoral candidates, Houstonians for Responsible Growth came out with their endorsement yesterday of both Annise Parker and Gene Locke, while, not surprisingly, taking some shots at Peter Brown. Chronicle coverage and Brown response here. Even though some people believe HRG = "evil developers against neighborhoods," they're really a broader collection of well-intentioned people that want to preserve the strengths -- including vibrancy, competition, and affordability -- of Houston's historical free-market approach to development. That includes reforming and strengthening deed restrictions to protect neighborhoods. And don't forget that developers transform underutilized land into better and higher uses by increasing property value, which adds to the city's tax base to support public safety, schools, libraries, parks, flood control, and infrastructure investment and renewal.
Finally, if you haven't heard already, NPR is doing a series of stories on Houston this week (hat tip to Mark). This is the lead story, which contains links to the others. Two stories so far will particularly appeal to readers of this blog: this one on our approach to growth (including great comments by Rice prof Stephen Klineberg and Harvard professor Edward Glaeser), and this interview with Mayor White, which include discussion of energy efficiency, Ashby, light rail, and TOD.