Thursday, July 13, 2006

Houston movie, sweatiest city, Census ranking, airport rail failure, TTC speed limits, TSU rail

Two thumbs-up for "Hot Town, Cool City". A whole new perspective on our hometown that will make you proud. A completely full River Oaks theater broke out into spontaneous applause at multiple points throughout the movie. Keep an eye out for it on DVD, probably through the web site.

It's been a long day and week, so just a few miscellaneous pass-alongs tonight.
  • Houston is again saved this year from being named America's Sweatiest City, which seems to be a competition between Phoenix and Miami.
  • New Census release with metro population numbers. Houston has steadily moved from 10th largest metro in 1990 to #8 in 2000 (passing Detroit and Boston) and #7 in 2005 (passing DC). We had the 5th-most population numeric-addition from 2004 to 2005 at 103K. We have a good shot at #6 by 2010 (pass Miami) and top five by 2020 (pass Philly).
  • A USA Today blog post on how BART rail transit to the San Francisco airport has fallen far short of ridership expectations. Here's my thinking on airport rail from a comment on an earlier post:
I'm not a fan at all of rail to the airports. Astronomically expensive for very low ridership. Express shuttles to the new intermodal center make much more sense.

It's not just the multiple job centers that are a problem. Here's why they don't get many riders: business travelers want convenience and don't care about the cost, so they either pay for parking (outbound) or use a taxi or rent car (inbound). Leisure travelers are usually couples or families, and they either load up the car with luggage and head out there (or get dropped off), or, inbound, they get picked up by friends or family locally. Who wants to manage a family with children and luggage on transit? When you get down to it, the only people who drag luggage on to transit for the long slog to or from the airport are young singles with little money for other options and no friends willing to give them a ride. It's a very, very tiny percentage of fliers.
  • Kuff on the Trans-Texas Corridor speed limit debate. The private operator will pay the state more if it can get higher speed limits to better compete with I35. Erik doesn't think it will quite become the "Texas Autobahn," but it might get close.
  • Finally, don't miss Christof's excellent arguments for making sure the new Universities light rail line is well integrated with both the TSU and UH campuses. Part 1. Part2.
Have a pleasant weekend.


At 12:15 PM, July 14, 2006, Blogger John Whiteside said...

Have to disagree on the rail/airport comment. Coincidentally, I landed at Washington National mid-afternoon yesterday and of course hopped onto Metro into the city - though I certainly can afford a cab. While I was waiting for my bag, another passenger asked if I was from DC and could tell him the best way to get to Bethesday - Metro or cab?

Rail is idea for airports because it frees you from the vagaries of traffic - a major issue in DC, for example, where that ride to Bethesda is incredibly predictable by train but by car could be anywhere from 40 to 120 minutes at busy times of day.

Also boarding Metro at the airport were lots of people in suits and yes, one family.

It's just not true as a general rule that people with money and luggage won't ride rail to the airport, as anybody who's lived in DC, Boston, London, Paris, or many other cities can tell you. That doesn't mean it's always the right solution in every city, or that it doesn't depend on the rail solution being designed and priced properly, but "they won't ride it" has been disproven by the experience of cities that do have it.

At 1:51 PM, July 14, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

It works (somewhat) in DC because of an extensive local transit network and a tightly packed core. Same with London and Paris. It's only one data point, but I did it once in London and it was a disaster. The train from Gatwick to the core was fine, but dragging luggage up and down the Tube stairs and along London's sidewalks was no fun. I took a black cab on future trips.

SF Bay Area and Houston - doesn't work as well. Jobs and residents are much more spread out, and the local transit networks weaker. Express shuttles can be much more cost effective.

At 2:31 PM, July 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had positive experience in London and DC with the rail/airport connection. Also recommended for Chicago.

At 12:09 AM, July 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that arguments against rail that are based on our employment centers being spread out are somewhat misguided, as they fail to take into account the fact that part of the reason our employment centers are so spread out is that up until recently, we have not had a rail system!

Of course businesses are going to relocate to the suburbs when commuting to and parking in downtown are getting worse, and they don't employ the kind of workers who would take the bus. That is why our downtown has been so strangled for growth as other centers have sprung up. There is, on the other hand, a substantial segment of the population who would relish the idea of leaving their car and taking a train to work. Make this option available, and our downtown will grow.

At 11:29 AM, July 16, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Other cities have tried this, and the evidence is simply not there of employers shifting downtown once a commuter rail network is in place: LA, Atlanta, Dallas, etc. Despite BART, tech is in Silicon Valley, not SF. Most of Boston's and Philly's companies are along their outer belt freeways, despite rail to the core. NYC has made it work based on what I would argue is a unique historical anomaly, and DC makes it work because the federal government dictates where jobs will be (in the core), vs. private employers in other cities that weigh up the pros and cons of their options.

Chicago's downtown is undergoing a renaissance (as is downtown Houston), but it's not adding much if anything in the way of employment (despite high profile but very low employment Boeing and United stories). Chicago (rail) and Houston (freeways/HOV) are interesting comparative case studies. Very similar numbers of Fortune 500 HQs overall in the metro, but Houston has kept all but one (Anadarko/Woodlands) in the city limits, while the substantial majority of Chicago's are in the suburban towns, despite a hundred years of great commuter rail to the core. We actually do quite a bit better than Chicago with jobs in the core: see

Commuter rail is a technology from a different era. The future is polycentric employment centers and residential villages (& mixed use) connected by a high-speed, congestion-priced, managed-lane network offering frequent nonstop "flights" between them (buses, shuttles, vanpools). Very similar parallels to the old hub-and-spoke airline models vs. Southwest/JetBlue point-to-point.

At 4:06 PM, July 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but Houston has kept all but one (Anadarko/Woodlands) in the city limits"

Is this even comparable? Isnt the City of Houston alot bigger land wise than Chicago due to differences in the developement patterns and the ease of annexation in Texas.

At 4:14 PM, July 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We actually do quite a bit better than Chicago with jobs in the core:

I really think that this is primarily caused by a geographical fluke of nature. Houston is a 360 degree city. Back before all the growth out west a company couldnt move out of downtown without pissing off a lot of its emplyees.

Chicago is half a city. The companies could move west without pissing anyone off.

Does someone know how chicago is developed? If all the major commercial zones are west of the downtown I will hold to my point. If a lot of them are to the south or north does that disprove my point?

With all the growth in the west of Houston(Katy, Fort Bend, etc.) and the lack of growth to the East, we end up with westchase.

At 7:43 PM, July 16, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The City of Houston has 3 times the land area, but Chicago has 40% more population. Chicago tried to force everything downtown with the rail network, and lost most major employers to the suburban towns. Houston went multinodal, and has been able to keep a substantial majority of them.

Most of Chicago's job growth went west and northwest around O'Hare, but I believe there's also quite a bit to the north along the lakefront.

Houston's center of gravity does seem to be shifting slowly westward, but not nearly as bad as shifts NW in DFW and N in Atlanta. I think The Woodlands, Kingwood, some new major communities in NE BW8, plus the Clear Lake/Friendswood area help keep us from shifting too far west. We are more balanced than any other major metro I can think of.

The thing is, polycentric job centers with distributed transit is better for the citizens too. It lets them switch employers without necessarily moving. When employers decide for the suburbs over downtown (as most do), they expect their employees to live near that suburb. A downtown-focused commuter rail city can't effectively get people from other parts of town to those suburban employers, but express bus/van transit can. Citizens get more employment options - which is good - and can stay rooted in their neighborhoods/communities - which is also good.

At 8:36 PM, July 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have put two things together that are unrelated - "despite BART, tech is Silicon Valley, not SF." Tech is in Silicon Valley because Stanford made it so, and that predates BART.

At 10:36 AM, July 17, 2006, Blogger John Whiteside said...

I was thinking of the fast Paddington to Heathrow London airport connection, which is quite nice.

As I said, I'm not endorsing rail all the time, but "people won't ride it" is just not a valid criticism. It absolutely has to connect with other kinds of transit and important destinations (as DC's system does).

Full disclosure: I skipped Metro this morning in favor of a ride with a friend - because it's HOT here today and I didn't want to schlep six blocks through the mugginess!

At 2:10 PM, July 17, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

To clarify, it's not that people won't ride it, it's that not enough people will ride it to justify the capital expense over some sort of express bus system (in most cases). SF/BART could have saved their $1.3+ *billion* and moved a few thousand riders a day with a shuttle bus to the nearest existing BART station for far, far, *far* less.

Christof and I both endorse a "Metro Flyer" express bus service that would connect IAH and Hobby with a couple key stops near downtown (inc. the intermodal center and maybe the convention center) to connect to the LRT/BRT network. I think there are enough riders to justify that sort of service. Even if a lot of them use a taxi from the downtown stop, a $5 bus ride + $10 taxi ride beats a $40+ taxi ride. That's also what a lot of people do from Heathrow and Gatwick: they don't transfer to the tube, they just get a much cheaper taxi ride to their final destination.

At 11:05 AM, March 19, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had a ver gud experience in London with the rail/airport connection.

At 1:43 PM, March 19, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, and London has a very comprehensive inner-city tube system to get you to/from your final destination,something lacking in most American cities. It also has tremendous congestion and parking problems, making car transport far less attractive. Even with that, I made the mistake once of trying to use the tube with luggage, and it was painful (lots of stairs). I should have just used a cab from the central station after taking rail into town from the airport.


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