Monday, May 14, 2018

The genius of Houston deed restrictions, micro-transit solution to rail fail, tech to end traffic, top rankings and more

My featured item this week is another in Nolan Gray's excellent series at Market Urbanism on Houston's unique and free market land-use regulationThe Case for Subsidizing Deed Restrictions, which Houston does with a City legal department enforcing them.  Highly recommend reading the whole thing, but he ends with this great conclusion:
"This is the genius of Houston’s unique system: Let those with strong preferences for tight restrictions have them and the city as a whole can go on operating under a largely liberal land-use regime. There is a valuable lesson here for other cities: when attempting to liberalize land-use regulations, consider strengthening the private (subdivision deed restrictions) and public (stricter local rules subject to local consensus) mechanisms whereby the most powerful opponents of liberalization can simply opt out. Houston figured this out in 1965 and again deployed this strategy to great effect in the 1998 subdivision regulation overhaul. In relationships as in city planning, sometimes you have to give a little to get a little."
Hear hear! Moving on to this week's items:
"In the meantime think about this.  What could we have done instead with the $2.2 billion that was spent on light rail?  The answer is lots.  Like solving most of our flooding problem or resurfacing virtually every street in the street in the City or repairing our dilapidated wastewater system or putting more police officers on the streets or demolishing some of the thousands of dangerous buildings in the City or any one of dozens of other critical priorities facing the City. 
The question is not whether light rail is a good thing or not.  The question is whether it was the best use of $2.2 billion of taxpayer money.  The answer to that question is pretty clearly, “No.”
"According to the American Public Transportation Association, the average speed of rapid rail (a.k.a. heavy rail) is just 20 mph, while the average speed of rapid bus is less than 11 mph. 
According to the 2016 National Transit Database, the nation’s fastest heavy-rail line is BART, which averages 35 mph. Atlanta’s is 31 and Washington’s is 27, while New York City subways average just 18 mph. Considering that most transit riders also have to take time getting to and from transit stations, none of these can compete effectively with door-to-door driving, which in San Antonio averages 33 mph."
"For decades, cities have overseen transit monopolies that use heavy infrastructure, fixed routes and set schedules, under the premise that these will spur surrounding growth. And in many cities, they have. But thanks to the rise of the gig economy, workers often find themselves making multiple trips in a given day, and public transit has proven inflexible — unable to get them from point A to point B in a timely manner, or at all. As a result, even densifying cities have seen declining ridership. 
Contrast that with private transit, which has grown in success by pursuing “microtransit.” This model stresses malleable routes, on-demand service, smaller vehicles and minimal brick-and-mortar infrastructure. Companies include the bus services Via and Chariot; the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft; and the bike-share services Zagster and LimeBike. Their flexibility lets them locate where demand exists, rather than counting on populations to come to them.
...
Indeed, these new microtransit companies could increase the flexibility of  transit, creating systems that are complicated yet smart, not orderly but dumb."
Finally, building on last week's post, it turns out that not only does Houston employ more people inside its city limits than larger city Chicago, it even employs more than much larger Los Angeles!  Reasons: I'd guess good annexation and multiple major job centers. Again hat tip and graphics credit to George.  Click to enlarge.



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3 Comments:

At 1:53 AM, May 15, 2018, Blogger James said...

Some good microtransit reading:
http://humantransit.org/2018/02/is-microtransit-a-sensible-transit-investment.html

 
At 3:00 AM, May 15, 2018, Anonymous Rich Robins said...

Perhaps most significantly, the presence of the light rail system helps with air pollution. Rail usage doesn't pollute our air like driving does. Houston is not the USA's most polluted city. Would that be the case without light rail, in the wake of so much population growth and vibrant refinery and shipyard activity? It's debatable. Pollution has all sorts of adverse impacts on our lungs, brains, and hearts (etc.). It even leads to birth defects. Who needs 'em?

Nevertheless, why has Metro ridership (supposedly) declined since 2001? Here's a theory: Perhaps Metro has reduced traffic congestion enough to enable more folks to move out to the suburbs while still working in Houston or at least Harris County. Since Houston Metro does not yet connect with such locales (including, for example, anywhere near the Berry Center in Cypress), such folks have had to continue driving to work each day. However, previously it wasn't feasible to do so, due to traffic. As a result, fewer folks lived in the suburbs around Houston and more lived in the inner core. The more recent dispersing of people across a larger geographic area nowadays (arguably made possible by Metro) has seemingly resulted in less of a strain on water, sewer and drainage systems throughout the region. Admittedly increased use of pavement purportedly impacted Harvey flooding though. Nevertheless, enabling more folks to spread out as they have done seemingly decreasingly taxes our resources.

Having said that, how 'bout some Metro voucher-financed, app-enabled, route-adapting electric taxi buses like what Via and Chariot make possible? Metro gets around 90% of its service paid for by taxpayers (not riders). Wouldn't the abovementioned scenario be a more beneficial way to spend all those tax dollars?

 
At 7:29 AM, May 15, 2018, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Agreed!

 

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