Sunday, November 12, 2006

NATIONAL CHAMPS, and What do economists think of rail?

Houston Dynamo - MLS Cup National Champs!

Just caught the end of the Dynamo MLS Cup Championship Game vs. New England. Talk about drama. 90 mins, no score. 23 mins into a 30 min overtime, New England scores. Looks very, very bad. One minute and 7 seconds later, Houston gets the ball back and Ching heads it into the goal. Tied! Goes to penalty kicks at the end of overtime, and Houston blocks the last penalty kick to win 4-3! It's Clutch City all over again. The Houston Dynamo get the MLS Cup National Championship their first year in Houston! Very cool. Heck of a way to quickly build a local fan base...

Moving on, this is going to be "Rail Week" at Houston Strategies, as there are three recent research items that have come out, including one from a Brookings Scholar and another from Harvard. As most of my readers know, I mostly support Metro's LRT/BRT plan for the core, but I am opposed to commuter rail, which is slower, less direct, and less frequent than HOV/HOT express buses, especially when it comes to serving multiple job centers. That said, I think it's always important for Houston to be keeping up with the latest research and what's happening in other cities, so we can learn from their mistakes and build the highest-benefits/lowest-cost transit system we can.

The first report we'll cover comes via Reason's Out of Control blog, which points to a paper surveying what economists have said about rail projects, trying to distill a consensus opinion. Here is the abstract:
In the United States, the public debate over urban rail projects is complicated by the lack of agreement on goals. Supporters offer a wide variety of justifications to build and expand rail transit. If one focuses on the judgments of economists, the list of justifications shrinks considerably, but we are still left with a bundle of goals. Compared to other justifications, economists appear to be somewhat optimistic about rail transit’s impact on local economic development, but less optimistic about rail’s ability to achieve environmental improvement and serve the transit-dependent poor. Economists seem quite pessimistic about rail’s ability to achieve key transportation goals like reducing congestion. Economists often attribute rail’s political success to rent-seeking and romantic political factors. Of those economists who offer a big-picture view, there appears to be wide, though not unanimous, agreement that rail’s costs exceed its benefits. And it seems that almost all economists who write about rail agree that various demographic features, such as suburbanization, the declining influence of central business districts, and increasing wealth will make it increasingly difficult to design successful rail systems.
I definitely agree with that last point. I'm curious if that "costs exceeds benefits" point holds from a local perspective if federal money is treated as "free" - which, as far as the locality is concerned, it is (that money is going to get spent in some city, it might as well be theirs).

I came across another stats table here which demonstrates that, despite their higher capacity, rail lines typically carry far fewer people than a single freeway lane - at much higher cost. Houston looks pretty bad in that table, but that is 2004 data, the first year of the Main St. line, which now carries far more passengers, becoming, I believe, one of the highest density lines in the country in terms of passengers per mile of track (recent Christof analysis).

We'll cover the other two rail reports later this week.


At 12:01 PM, November 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love to know how many people in Houston are aware that their city won the national championship in soccer. One in five, tops.

At 12:12 PM, November 13, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Oh, probably a few more than that. Big cover on the Chronicle today. And every local news station covered it.

At 10:53 PM, November 13, 2006, Blogger Adam said...

waas it available on broadcast TV?

At 7:27 AM, November 14, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes. ABC, I think using ESPN people (they're both owned by Disney).

At 5:20 PM, November 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can you give us an update as to what is going on with the Metro light rail on Richmond / Westpark? Last I heard, Metro was going back to the drawing board to investigate some sort of cantilevered system along 59.

Does anyone know when they will move on, choose a route, and start building this thing? Or can we expect years and years of obstructionist tactics from Culberson? I still don't understand why he is such a foe of projects that bring federal transportation money to his district.


At 9:52 PM, November 14, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I'm not up on the latest, but last I heard, Metro is an extended study phase where they are evaluating at all the newly proposed alternatives. I've been told not to expect anything new until the new year.


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