Thursday, April 12, 2007

Speaker event, bullet trains, Chicago rail troubles, Toronto wants HouRail, Mercer QoL, Houston vs. Austin in software, zoning vs. kids, blogging stds

An announcement before clearing out the smaller, miscellaneous items: Randal O' Toole, economist and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is visiting Houston from Portland and will be speaking at the Houston Property Rights Association luncheon next Friday the 20th on the topic "How a General Plan Would Harm Houston." I don't always agree with Randal, but he makes some strong, fact-based arguments on transit and planning that ruffle a lot of feathers, and it should be a very interesting presentation. For more details and to RSVP, email Barry Klein.

Speaking of Portland, it's one of our misc items tonight:
FHWA Blasts Portland's Idological Transport Planning
For years what has passed as transportation planning in the Portland, Oregon area has been based on little more than ideology and virtually no reality. Portland has engaged in building light rail lines with the intent of attracting people out of cars, but its highway market share remains unchanged. Portland planners naively thought that people would rush to switch to better transit, not realizing that few are prepared to spend longer traveling or to use transit to go places that it does not go. Portland's reward has been development of the worst traffic congestion of any primary urban area its size. Last year a report prepared for the planning agency indicated that firms were leaving and avoiding the Portland area due to its traffic congestion. Now, the Federal Highway Administration has leveled strong criticism at Portland's regional transportation plan (see: FHWA criticizes Portland planning ). The agency commented: "It is difficult to find the transportation focus in this opening chapter of (the) Regional Transportation Plan." Instead, the plan focuses on bike trails, light rail, and expensive skyline transport. FHWA further noted: "The plan should acknowledge that automobiles are the preferred mode of transport by the citizens of Portland. . . . They vote with their cars every day." This is a particularly unusual development, since government agencies are reluctant to criticize one another. This shows how desperate the situation has become.
On to the rest of our list. It should provide you with plenty of interesting reading material for the weekend.
  • In my recent post on the difficulties facing inter-city rail in Texas, one of my arguments was "let's see if California can pull it off first" - they have more people, more density, more congested airports and roads, and a nice linear urban zone from Sacramento to San Diego. Well, this op-ed came out in LA Times recently arguing that bullet trains won't work there either. It sparked this debate on Planetizen.
  • A NY Times article on the crumbling Chicago Elevated ("the El"), the staggering costs of repair and maintenance, and how the service is rapidly deteriorating to the breaking point.
  • Christof on why Toronto wants their rail transit to be like Houston's
  • Mercer recently release their global city rankings for quality of life, and Houston didn't do well, although they don't release enough details of their methodology for us to really understand why. The main problem, IMHO, is they look at statistical averages for everything, so their ideal city is an small, upper-class (mostly anglo) one with no industrial or construction jobs (limited or no growth). As soon as you add poorer or immigrant populations, or blue collar jobs, your QoL indicator averages will fall - even if there are plenty of parts of the city that have all the same characterstics of that ideal city I described before (good schools and "quality of life"). And, to top it off, of course, they're ignoring costs. The real proof of "quality of life" is people who vote with their feet, and Houston is one of the largest migrant-magnets in the country (I think I've seen a half-dozen Ohio license plates this week alone). We must be doing something right.

    I have to say, based on this, some very, very lucky expats will get a big $ boost because they're taking a position in "low scoring" Houston, and they will live like kings when they actually get here.
In any case, you can read more about the survey here, including an excellent defense of Houston in the comments by John Whiteside (and Richard Florida's confession that he likes Houston too).
  • A surprising ranking showing Houston has more software companies than Austin, although DFW is the king-of-the-hill in Texas.
  • Brian sent me this frightening story of cities using exclusionary zoning to keep "expensive" kids away from their school districts. An excerpt:
"The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled last month that towns could condemn land for open space under eminent domain laws to stop development that might result in "overcrowded schools.'' That put schoolchildren on a par with pollution and traffic congestion as valid reasons for seizing property." (zing!)
  • Finally, there's been some buzz lately in the blogging community about standards of conduct since one popular blogger started getting death threats in her comments. I'm lucky enough that the vast majority of my commentors are very reasonable - the flaming is usually kept down to mild sniping. Very rarely I have to delete a comment, most of the time because it's spam, but very, very occasionally because it's pure vitriol that adds no value to the debate. I would like to emphasize that I do not delete comments simply because they disagree with me - but I reserve the right to delete those that do not maintain a basic level of civility.
Have a great weekend. Hope to see you at the urban corridors meeting Saturday.


At 2:40 AM, April 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dallas / Ft. Worth, 516
Houston, 360
Austin, 225

Arent we like five times the size of Austin. So no I am not surprised that we have more software companies than Austin. If we are exactly five times the size of Austin this guy's count puts their per capita number of companies around 3 times Houston and around two times dallas' per cap.

this would all be dependent of course on wether this guy was talking about MSAs or cities, and how close I am to the size difference.

At 6:55 AM, April 13, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Our MSA is about 3.5 times the size of Austin, but, yes, proportionally they have more. But if you're a programmer trying to build a career, which city gives you more career opportunity? This is the problem of percentages vs. absolute numbers: on a percentage basis, Austin looks better in software and college grads, but on an absolute basis, Houston beats them handily - and as a person choosing a place to live, what you should really care about is the total number of options available to you, not their percentage of the population (although Austin is certainly a good choice if you really want to live in a smaller city and still have good career choices).

At 1:44 PM, April 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so 3.5 times larger, I am still not suprised that we have more software companies.

I disagree with you that our having more software companies is the only basis of choosing to come to Houston over Austin, even if the person was just thinking about his/her prof. career.

other factors include
total number of jobs (size of companies)
total number of competitors for the jobs
types of companies/jobs

So while I am glad to hear that Houston seems to have a decent sized software industry. Based on the data provided I dont think it gives any room to crow about Houston in comparison to Austin.

At 2:47 PM, April 13, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Agreed - there are other factors. But it's still a suprising stat to the average person, who I'm sure would pick "Austin" if asked which city had more software companies.

At 12:39 AM, April 14, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

All of which goes to show what a truly poor image Houston has to cope with as compared to the reality on the ground, whereas (as an Austin resident), I'd say the quality of life in Austin is not nearly as incredible as the hype makes it out to be. Yet people continue to move here in droves because of those positive perceptions about Austin, and while Houston is growing too, some (many?) people refuse to live there because of the negative perceptions about the city. And now, off to the American Planning Conference in Philadelphia! And I have/get to fly through IAH because it's hard to fly direct from the ole AUS.

At 12:10 PM, April 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone actually look at the document posted as "FHWA blasting Portland?" While some of the points seem reasonable, if this is really the work of FHWA, this is a shameful document to be coming from a public agency, and a clear sign that the FHWA is improperly ideologically driven. It also contains at least one grammatical error and no attribution or logo, which is weird for such a document. Where did this document come from? Is it real?

The following statement comes straight from Reason-type talking points and has no place in an official critique of a Regional Transportation Plan from a federal agency:

"The plan should acknowledge that automobiles are the preferred mode of transport by the citizens of Portland...they vote with their cars everyday."

That "vote" is highly subsidized and should not be construed as some sort of efficient choice being made by individuals every day.


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