Vote for mobility solns, defending the Katy expansion, H-GAC cool tools, and moreA few quick small items this week followed by my response on debate about the Katy Freeway expansion:
- The Mobility Houston traffic solution forum was launched this month (background here) to crowdsource solutions to Houston's mobility problems, and I'd like to request up-votes for my proposal on MaX Lanes as well as this proposal for intersection improvements. I know it's a slight hassle to register to up-vote, but there's not that many votes on the site, so yours can really make a difference and help good ideas get in front of public officials. Thanks in advance for your support.
- Today I attended an impressive H-GAC presentation by Jeff Taebel on new mapping tools for figuring out which parts of the city are the best for investing to create dense mixed-use neighborhoods. One tool makes it easy to identify neighborhoods that have the right density and street connectivity, and the other has impressive data on commuting patterns. They are extremely slick tools, and wide open to the public, so try them out - I'm pretty sure you'll be impressed. I really like and support their approach, which acknowledges the car-centric spread-out nature of our region, but rather than trying a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all, top-down approach to planning, they figure out targeted neighborhoods to prioritize investments (like bike and pedestrian amenities) where they'll have the most impact and do the most good. An interesting data tidbit that came out of the presentation: average commute times have actually dropped in Houston since 2000, and at ~28 mins are only the 11th-worst in the country - not bad for the 5th largest metro area. I'm guessing you're incredulous at that stat, but there's a good reason: as we added more than a million jobs, all of those newcomers tried to pick housing near their new jobs (including all of those recent college grads inside the Loop), thus lowering the overall average commute times for the region.
- How much salary do you need to live comfortably in Houston? Not much is the short answer: around $50k, vs. well into six figures for cities like SF, San Jose, NYC, LA, San Diego, and Seattle.
- Joel Kotkin in Forbes on America's Next Boomtowns. Houston is #6, although that's dependent on oil coming back to a more reasonable price. Really nice picture of the Chevron buildings and circular skywalk downtown.
Restricting freeways has three obvious consequences: 1) housing gets much more expensive, since there's less of it within commuting range of employers, 2) employers give up on the city and move to the suburbs with better value houses, neighborhoods, and schools for their employees (reducing the tax base), and 3) a city/metro becomes less of a unified economy and more of a series of fragmented, disconnected islands where people have limited employment options without moving. I have no problem with dense or transit-oriented neighborhoods (see H-GAC bullet point above), and we have those options that people are welcome to choose. But the fact that we build freeways and they fill up mean that the majority of people are making different choices based on weighing up their own values. Since we live in a democracy, it seems reasonable for our elected representatives and their transportation planners to respond to those market choices rather than trying to force some socially-engineered alternative. I stand by my original point: the government invested in a piece of infrastructure that has proven extremely popular and highly utilized - isn't that what we want from government investments of tax dollars?