Tuesday, June 18, 2019

MetroNext kudos and tensions, HTX traffic is better than you'd expect, road diets kill businesses, the aging affordable housing pipeline, and more

Before getting to this week's items, some thoughts on last week's MetroNext board workshop I attended (presentation slides here).  First off, kudos to Metro (and Chair Carrin Patman) for sticking to its guns on the value of BRT over LRT.  They can build three miles of BRT for the cost of one mile of LRT, getting more service to more areas more quickly and cost-effectively.  People keep asking for fantasyland LRT service everywhere without understanding the economic tradeoffs, and it's good to see Metro have the backbone to say no.

As Dug's Chronicle story mentioned, there was tension on the Hobby line routing between the board and Houston City Councilmember Gallegos.  He doesn't want it to come down 75th Street even though that's the most efficient routing with the best service, including bringing people to a renovated Mason Park (he's worried about right-of-way loss, which Metro thinks would be absolutely minimal if any).  He's insisting on a longer routing that hits the new botanic gardens but misses shopping and restaurants of Gulfgate, which I guarantee generates 100x the trips the botanic garden does. How often do you eat or shop vs. go to tourist attractions? (probably in about the same proportion as you go to work vs. go to the airport!)  Metro's plan includes an autonomous shuttle that would run from a stop near Reveille and Telephone along Sims Bayou to offer connectivity to the botanic gardens at Glenbrook Park, which I think could be an attraction in itself.  It makes total sense.

Moving on to this week's items:
"There’s room for a new politics that recognizes that the path to actual social justice lies primarily in expanding opportunities for a broad range of jobs and housing options. But this can only be done by confronting the current approach to social justice that results in conditions demonstrably unjust."
"The new TomTom Traffic Index puts Houston at No. 204 globally and No. 18 nationally for traffic congestion, as well as No. 2 in Texas.  
In Houston, drivers spent an average of 23 percent extra travel time stuck in traffic last year, according to TomTom. The worst day in 2018 for traffic congestion in Houston: October 31 (44 percent). The best: Christmas Day (1 percent)."

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Houston Carbon Council, free transit reduces congestion, HTX #2 for STEM jobs, and more

Last week I attended the fantastic Houston Low-Carbon Energy Summit put on by the Center for Houston's Future and KPMG (story).  Speaker after speaker said Houston has the assets and skills to really make difference in reducing carbon, from carbon capture and sequestration to methane reduction to biofuels to hydrogen manufacturing (a key one for anything requiring high energy densities like aviation). That extends to the energy trading world too, where carbon offsets are a natural market for us.  There is a lot of pragmatic room in the middle between "nothing to worry about here" and "pure green renewables are the only answer" (lots of obstacles there that will take decades).  My proposal: we need to form a Houston Carbon Council (maybe through the GHP?) to set pragmatic economic and technical goals and coordinate efforts, while also publicizing carbon-reduction efforts and improving Houston's brand as a can-do city doing its best to mitigate climate change as we transition towards a long-term low-carbon future.  It could provide more realistic alternatives to the fantasyland green new deals of the world, including cost-effective solutions governments could really implement.

UPDATE: Chris Tomlinson column in the Chronicle on the summit.

Moving on to this week's smaller items:
"The Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metros respectively garnered the #1 and #2 overall rankings for best STEM metros. This was due to each scoring in the top 10 on all three metrics – total STEM employment, total employment growth and relative affordability for first time buyers (FTBs). ...
#2: Houston earned the number 2 spot among the 30 largest STEM employment centers by also having top ten ranking on all three metrics: 
- STEM employment of 207,000 earned a 10th place ranking, just below Seattle. 
- Overall employment growth of 70% since 1990 earned a 6th place ranking, more than double the national average of 33%. 
- A FTB median home price to median income affordability ratio of 2.7 landed a 6th place finish. 
A vibrant new home construction sector helps Houston maintain both a high rate of employment growth and FTB affordability. New construction sales accounted for 25.5% of all home sales in the 4th quarter of 2018, well above the national rate of 11.2%. For the entry-level home segment, the new construction share was 16.1%, also well above the 6.2% rate for the national entry-level home segment. In the move-up home segment, Houston’s share was 42.3%, again well above the 19.6% rate for the national move-up home segment."

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