Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Why Houston is the best city in Texas and #1 attracting young adults, HTX vs. NYC opportunity zones, and more

Lots of good items this week:
"However, what I propose is that the high cost of airport connectors is not because the elite spends money on itself. Rather, it’s because many ordinary middle-class people fly a few times a year and wish for better airport transit, without thinking very hard about the costs and benefits. An airport connector appeals to a very wide section of the population, and may be very cheap if we divide the cost not by the number of daily users but by the number of unique annual users. Hence, it’s easier for politicians to support it, in a way they wouldn’t support an excessively costly subway line connecting a few residential neighborhoods to the city."
Finally I wanted to end with this great excerpt from Scott at the Market Urbanism Report on why Houston is the best city in Texas. I'm even quoted in this one!  Here's the summary quote I tweeted:
"Houston is easily my favorite Texas city, because it combines the best aspects of the other three... I prefer density over sprawl, big over small, new over old, and diversity over monoculture." 
And here's the more extensive excerpt:

Houston

Houston is easily my favorite Texas city, because it combines the best aspects of the other three. The metro area is similar in size to Dallas, and has the same rapid growth, ethnic diversity, and global feel. In fact, Dallas and Houston sit alone together as America’s foremost boomtowns, each growing by more than 144,000 last year throughout the metro area (the third place MSA, Atlanta, grew by a mere 95,000). But, like San Antonio and Austin, Houston has remained more tasteful than Dallas, with numerous interior neighborhoods that are urban, walkable, and separated from the innards of the city.

Not only is Houston Texas’ best city; it is among a handful of emerging ones in the U.S.—including Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, Denver, Atlanta and Seattle—that will become the dense infill cities of tomorrow, joining the coastal legacy cities. The thing that differentiates Houston from the others, though, is that it doesn’t have the regulatory hurdles to stop this fundamentally market-oriented process. The city has no zoning code, which means a range of densities, uses and architectural styles can go anywhere in the city.

The folk wisdom is that this turned Houston into a sprawling mess like Dallas. But densification is already happening in Clutch City. This year it will lead the nation in multi-family housing construction, with 25,935 units entering the market (Dallas is #2 at 23,159). Much of this is going up rapidly via mid-rises in interior neighborhoods like Midtown, Montrose and Rice Military. Houston has the highest Walk Score of Texas’ big cities. Dallas, meanwhile, may feel more fragmented because of the low-density zoning in its central areas.

Of course, my choice, like anyone’s, is clouded by bias; I prefer density over sprawl, big over small, new over old, and diversity over monoculture.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

2018 Highlights

I recently realized I forgot to wrap up 2018 with a highlights post! Well, better late than never, and as a bonus I can even sneak in a couple of key posts from the beginning of 2019 ;-)

These posts have been chosen with a particular focus on significant ideas I'd like to see kept alive for discussion and action, and they're mainly targeted at new readers who want to get caught up with a quick overview of the Houston Strategies landscape. I also like to track what I think of as "reference posts" that sum up a particular topic or argument; and, last but not least, they've also been invaluable for me to track down some of my best thinking for meetings or when requested by others (as is the ever-helpful Google search).


Don't forget we offer an email option for the roughly once/week posts - see the Google Groups subscription signup box at the bottom of the right sidebar. An RSS feed link for newsfeed readers is also available in the right sidebar (I'm a fan of Feedly).


As always, thanks for your readership.

And don't forget the highlights from the first few years. For what it's worth, I think the best ideas are found there, often in the first year (I had a lot "stored up" before I started blogging) and most definitely in the best posts from the first dozen years and million pageviews.

Labels:

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Dallas Light Rail Ridership - A Cautionary Tale for Houston and MetroNext

This week's excellent guest post is from Oscar Slotboom:

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) 93-mile light rail system has the most track length of any light rail system in the United States, although several cities have more rail track length when heavy rail is included. 

But despite its broad reach, DART light rail suffers from low ridership. Let’s take a closer look at DART, and see how the same pattern of DART's low ridership is occurring in Houston with recent and proposed additions to Metro’s light rail. 

Data is from Metro's ridership page and MetroNext plan summary, and DART's annual reference books (2018, 2017, 2016). As a reminder, ridership is so-called unlinked trips, so ridership of 1000 roughly represents 500 people making a round-trip.


Light Rail System and Route Ridership
DART has 4.2 times the track of Metro, but its systemwide ridership is only 59% more than MetroRail.


However, Houston's good showing in this comparison is due to the high ridership on the original Red Line from UH-Downtown to Fannin South. Recent additions in 2013 and 2014 costing $2.13 billion have ridership comparable to DART.



DART published an extensive report on its ridership in January 2018. This view taken from the report shows that light rail ridership has been flat around 97,000 since 2013, in spite of strong economic and population growth in North Texas.


The report discusses many factors influencing transit ridership, without citing a leading factor or factors. But one interesting page in the report shows downtown Dallas employment down 9% since 2002. The 93-mile DART light rail system is fully focused on downtown, yet its presence was not enough to stem employment decline.



In my opinion, these are key reasons for DART's low ridership
  • It is almost entirely downtown-focused, and downtown Dallas has been in decline. Employment in North Texas is highly decentralized, and becoming more decentralized.
  • It attempts to cover long distances, but light rail is inherently slow, making trip times too long. (Houston-style express bus service is much faster.)
  • Many lines were built for political reasons. Tax-paying suburban communities feel entitled to get their train links, even if the links make no sense based on cost and ridership.
  • Some lines, especially the north Green Line and Blue Line to Rowlett, are far from activity centers 
Houston Light Rail Expansions: Ridership is Trending Toward Dallas Levels
Let's take a look at the riders per mile of track. The DART system average 1045 riders per mile of track. The most recent additions to MetroRail average only slightly better, 1226 riders per mile of track, even though the MetroRail expansion was in dense urban area (while much of DART track is in low density areas). The proposed MetroNext light rail expansion averages well below DART with 822 riders per mile of track, and the proposed Purple Line extension has a dismal 378 riders per mile of track.


Airport Connections
DART opened its Orange Line connection to DFW Airport in August 2014. DFW is the fourth busiest airport in the U.S. Hobby served 20% as many passengers as DFW in 2017.

Passengers% of DFW
DFW67,092,194
IAH-Bush40,696,18961%
HOU-Hobby12,909,07520%


Ridership has been flat in the range of 900-1000 per day since it opened. With the current schedule showing 72 train departures per day, this averages 14 riders per train. Obviously, bus service can easily handle that level of ridership, even accounting for peak periods (which should be minimal for airport service). If ridership on the proposed Hobby light rail is comparable to DFW and directly proportional to airport size, that translates to around 200 riders per day. But other factors (e.g. shorter trip time) would likely raise it above 200, but still be in a range well-suited for bus service.

Light rail airport connections are generally ridership losers, as Tory mentioned in his recent Houston Chronicle op-ed. After all, who wants to take luggage on public transit and travel at a speed of 13 mph when most people have much better options (i.e. family, friends, Uber/Lift, company expense account for taxi, company-paid rental car). Airport workers in low-paying jobs, mainly restaurants, are the best candidates for using airport transit, and would be just as well if not better served by bus or BRT service.

Keeping Perspective
Trips on a single point of major freeways easily exceeds the systemwide overall trips (bus and rail) of Metro and DART, and busy freeways dwarf light rail ridership.




Conclusions
  • The original Red Line is the only corridor in Houston which can justify light rail.
  • Metro's 2013-14 expansion brought small increments of ridership for the high $2.13 billion cost, with ridership levels very similar to the Dallas system.
  • The proposed $2.45 billion MetroNext light rail extensions have estimated average ridership worse than Dallas, with the Green and Purple line expansions to Hobby Airport particularly poor.
  • There is no way Metro can justify the inclusion of the $881 million Purple Line extension to Hobby airport, especially considering that it duplicates the already-weak Green Line extension to Hobby and has estimated ridership of only 378 riders per mile of track.
  • Transit investments should be right-sized for the service demand. This means that $150+ million/mile light rail should not be built when the demand is far lower than the capacity provided by light rail, and bus rapid transit around $50 million/mile is the correct solution. 
  • In MetroNext, light rail should be trimmed back so we don't follow too far in the footsteps of Dallas, with its large-mileage, low-ridership system.

Labels: , , ,