Thoughts on Bill King's traffic solutionsOver the last couple of weeks Bill King has published an excellent trilogy of Chronicle op-eds on traffic congestion and rail in Houston, and given that that is a very common topic here I felt I should chime in with my own reactions and thoughts to the series as well as key points I'd like to highlight.
The series started with his high-impact/low-cost first suggestion on reducing traffic congestion - and so obvious I can't believe the county hasn't already done it:
"...expand Houston's Safe Clear program to the entire region. As part of Safe Clear, a program started by Bill White in 2005 while he was mayor, wreckers are pre-positioned along the freeway corridors so they can rapidly respond to disabled vehicles. This allows the resulting traffic snarls to be cleared as soon as possible. The Harris County Toll Road Authority system has a similar program for its roads that is in some ways even a more robust incident-management system.
Most traffic engineers estimate that up to half the congestion in a typical urban system is caused by impediments to the system's design capacity. The typical impediments are collisions, disabled vehicles and lane closures resulting from construction or repair projects. Collisions are particularly problematic and have dramatically increased in the past two years (smart phones, anyone?), according the Houston-Galveston Area Council transportation guru, Alan Clark. If we could figure out ways to more efficiently handle such incidents, those solutions could be some low-hanging fruit in trying to reduce congestion."In his next piece, he laid out three solutions for easing traffic congestion, including:
- Adjusting tolls upward at peak times to reduce demand and push people to take their trips at alternate hours.
- Getting major employers to stagger work hours so employees come and go at different times.
- Improving connectivity and management of the HOV lanes.
Finally, he ended with a great op-ed on why rail doesn't make sense for Houston and wouldn't reduce traffic congestion, echoing many of the arguments I've been making here for a long time. Not only do cities with rail have worse congestion than us and it costs an absolute taxpayer fortune (see below), there are a couple of other core problems with commuter rail in Houston:
"How do you design a rail system that goes from hundreds of different neighborhoods spread out over a couple of thousand square miles to a dozen or more employment centers?
Then there is the climate. For commuters to be willing to use transit, researchers generally agree that there must be a stop within about half a mile. Now walking half a mile for most people should not be a problem - at least, not if you live in a temperate climate. But we do not. You try walking half a mile here in August. You are either going to end up with a heat stroke or, at a minimum, perspiration-soaked clothes."The answer for decentralized city with multiple employment centers and a tropical climate is simple: a comprehensive network of managed lanes offering nonstop express bus service from every neighborhood to every major job center, with bus circulation at job centers to avoid long walks in the heat. We've already got the beginnings of it with the downtown-centric HOV network - we just need to expand and connect it to serve every job center (that means lanes on Beltway 8 and 610). Not super-cheap, but certainly an order of magnitude cheaper than a rail network while providing much faster 65mph nonstop service.
I'll end with some (not-so) fun rail facts from Channel 13 that should turn your stomach (hat tip to Jay):
"Houston transit agency METRO has spent $587 million in taxpayer cash for 3.3 miles of track on the city's East End, and the route is not even complete. The money spent so far on this single section of rail line comes to $3,000 per inch, records show. That's enough to hire 10 limousines to drive the route every day, 24 hours a day for the next 89 years."