Thursday, November 08, 2007

IAH, deconstructing rail, planning probs, Kotkin, NYC car boom

The second half of this week's list of smaller miscellaneous items:
  • Joel Kotkin in, of all places, Details magazine, "Is it time to move to the suburbs?" - "Homogeneous cities are making the cul de sac the new downtown. PLUS: Our guide to the hippest ’burbs to live in."
  • An article on the car boom in NYC, despite having the most extensive transit network in the country (thanks to an anon commenter for the heads up)
  • As much as my heart wants to support Metro's planned LRT system, my head was reminded yet again of the dubiousness by this post which systematically deconstructs the arguments for rail, concluding:
"So rail transit does not get people out of their automobiles or cost-effectively reduce congestion, it harms transit-dependent people, it does not reduce pollution and at least some forms are more dangerous than autos. So where are the benefits of rail transit? And why do planners do so much to promote it?"

Go to the post to read the short arguments behind each of those conclusions.
  • Randal O' Toole has a couple of new items of interest out via Cato, and these are his announcements:
  1. "I am pleased to announce my new book, "The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future." The book urges Congress and the states to repeal planning laws that make housing more expensive, roads more congested, and take property rights from the people who are supposed to benefit from the plans.

    Published by the Cato Institute, this hardbound book sells for $22.95 ($15.61 at Amazon). But American Dream Coalition members can buy copies for just $15, including shipping. You can order the book (and join or renew your ADC membership) here."
  2. "Thanks to urban planners, California has the least-affordable housing and worst traffic congestion in the nation. Yet planners throughout the country are headed in the same direction.

    To help people understand just where they are going, I've written a paper on California land-use and transportation planning that the Cato Institute will release tomorrow. "Do You Know the Way to L.A.? - San Jose Shows How to Turn an Urban Area into Los Angeles in Three Stressful Decades" shows how planners used innocuous-seeming laws to cram 95 percent of California residents in just 5 percent of the state's land area, and to divert billions of dollars intended for highway improvements to wasteful rail transit projects."

    You can download a preview of this report from
  • A series of short videos on the effects of urban planning and densification in Australia, and the resulting debate on Planetizen (thanks to Hugh for the link). The Aussies are a bit stiff, but make some good points. Houston is on a chart 1:41 mins in on video 2, showing higher densities lead to higher commute travel times, regardless of the transit network.

"Within this 5 part (5 minutes each) You Tube Video Presentation by Wilchiland Communications, Australia "The End of Affordability" – Dr Tony Recsei, an environmental scientist and President of the community group Save Our Suburbs (SOS) Sydney explains in very clear terms - the failures of forced urban consolidation.

Dr Recsei dismantles the “5 Great Myths” of Smart Growth / forced urban densification and provides some of the examples of reputable international research to support his position.

The reality is that forced urban consolidation is a failure – in environmental, social and economic terms."
The key word there is "forced" - it's just fine as a voluntary choice, which is becoming a more and more popular one in Houston.

Finally, one last item from the Wall Street Journal giving a nice plug to IAH, which has the 4th best on-time arrival rate in the country so far this year:

Houston's Bush Intercontinental has also relied on a mix of expansion and new technology to keep its on-time arrival rate above 78% and even to improve it slightly from last year.

Unlike airports in crowded urban areas, such as New York's John F. Kennedy International and La Guardia airports, Bush Intercontinental has ample space to grow. In recent years, it has built a new runway and converted another from general aviation to commercial use. A new terminal brought 23 new gates, upping its overall gate capacity today to 151 from 128 in 2002.

Bush is also harnessing technology to better utilize existing space. Rick Vacar, aviation director for the Houston Airport System, said that with the number of passengers at Bush expected to soar by 10 million to 55 million in 2015, the airport could carve out a new runway between two existing ones -- an option now possible because of new technology that allows for more precise flight paths.

The airport is also starting to acquire land in the hopes of adding another runway five to 10 years from now.

Lisa Hurst, director of travel for San Diego-based Petco Animal Supplies Inc., said her employees have had more problems connecting through Dallas, Denver and Chicago. "I try to route people through Houston if possible."

Our airports and their major airlines (Continental-IAH and Southwest-Hobby) are huge underrated assets to Houston.

Whew. That's it. I'll definitely have to clear out that list more often. Have a great weekend.

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At 6:56 AM, November 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently visited family in San Jose for a weekend. The weather was nice, the sky was blue. I remember stopping to get a coffee at a McDonald's near the airport. While walking through the parking lot back to my relatives car I saw an ugly looking light rail train line pass by. It was moving very slowly and was empty. I thought it was absurd. Why would someone ride around on that thing if they could zoom around in a comfortable car?

At 10:01 AM, November 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting topics all around.

I figure the planning and transit topics will get beaten to death by the regulars on here.

I like to focus on IAH and Hobby.

About two years ago at and ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) meeting here in Houston, the head of the Houston Airport system gave a talk. It was very impressive. He went over a lot of the masterplan and how the airports will be transformed in the interim.

I was very impressed with his presentation overall. Talking to him before an after I got a good feeling too. I think he's an asset in directing the airport to bigger and better things.

At 2:54 PM, November 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


One thing that could throw a serious wrench into future IAH passenger projections is whether Continental gets bought out or not. Experience has shown that when one of the major airlines shuts down operations or abandons a hub, then traffic through the airport in question really takes a dive. When TWA went under in 2001 (see the Wikipedia entry for TWA), the St. Louis airport and the old JFK terminal that TWA used to use turned into empty civic monuments. Let us hope the same fate does not happen to Continental.


At 3:06 PM, November 09, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

OK - on the light rail article - let's look at just one claim that is the most absurd you could probably make:

"But light rail and commuter rail both kill more people, per passenger mile carried, than automobiles on urban streets and highways. "

How could this possibly be correct? Other statistics I have seen are that light-rail and commuter rail are in the neighborhood of 10x safer per passenger mile.

Just think about it - how ON EARTH could light rail be more dangerous than driving? Or is this a case of them parsing the words - like "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" (?).

Their data is from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics/National Transportation Statistics. Where is the "antiplanner" data from?

This is actually arguably one of the greatest reasons for building public transportation, along with environmental issues, cost of transportation, reliance on oil, access for the young and old, etc.

And beyond the statistics, I want you to give me one reason why you think light rail is more dangerous than driving. This is quite simply a ludicrous claim. And if you believe it, I've got a bridge to sell you...

I don't plan on beating on this issue too much - it's all been said before. But this was the first time I had heard that our autos were safer than public transport, and found it quite amusing!!

At 3:11 PM, November 09, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree that it is a risk, Neal, but a very small one. Houston is a top 10 metro and growing quickly. Lots of O&D and high-$ biz traffic. There is pretty much always guaranteed to be hub here from one airline or another. The hubs that are at risk are the smaller cities and on the east and west coasts (where the lack of significant thru-traffic makes them very vulnerable to LCCs). St. Louis and Pittsburgh are already essentially gone. Other at-risk hubs are Memphis (NWA), Cincinnati (Delta), Cleveland (CAL), and maybe Charlotte (USAir) - as well as some of the others that have heavy SWA competition and limited high-dollar business travel, like SLC (Delta), Denver (UA) and Phoenix (USAir). The strongest hubs in the nation that are pretty much guaranteed to stay standing are Chicago, Atlanta, DFW, and IAH.

Note that with TWA, St. Louis went away and didn't come back (small metro), but JFK quickly filled in with Delta and JetBlue. If the core market is there, airlines will fill it in, and Houston is too strong a market and too well-positioned to not be a hub.

At 4:54 PM, November 09, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Michael: I don't know the details, but maybe it's including the walking risk at each end of the rail ride, and being a pedestrian can be quite dangerous. It's probably also including the cars hit by those trains, which do kill numerous people. Still, I understand your point that being an actual rider on a train seems pretty safe.

At 5:11 PM, November 09, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Being a pedestrian at the end of a rail ride? Being a pedestrian in the Galleria area is dangerous, sans light rail. I fail to see how that would skew the numbers in favor of automobiles per passenger mile. While, say "drunk driving" would be a clear case, which needs no explanation, where driving would be more dangerous than rail for passengers and pedestrians alike.

I appreciate the attempt to offer the statistics some credence, but really, looking at that stat, and some of the other questions on the board as to the statistics these guys are using (along with the claims - like "less energy used", "less pollution" etc) lead me to have little faith in the entire report.

So, you have 40,000 deaths plus something like 200,000 injured per year as a result of traffic incidents, in the US alone (where driving is relatively safer than in some of the developing countries like India and China). If anything I think this is one of the areas where the "slam dunk" is for the transport side, not the auto side.

OK - promise this is my last post on this topic ;). (even if Owen starts up a conversation!!)

At 7:07 PM, November 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it is Randal O'Toole. I appreciate his perspective, but I have learned to take everything he says with a grain of salt.

At 1:04 PM, November 10, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are roughly 600 traffic fatalities per year in Houston. Since 2004, that would total approximately 2,400.

There have been a total of ONE fatality related to Houston's light rail in that same time period. That fatality was actually a Houston motorist who ran a red light.

There have been ) fatalities amongst the 40 million light rail passengers.

I give this article all of the credence it deserves....NONE.

At 1:49 PM, November 10, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, San Jose and New York:

New York is not a transit paradise. The rail transit system hasn't been meaningfully expanded in 50 years. The local bus service keeps getting slower and less reliable since there are virtually no dedicated bus lanes. And from WWII until Mayor Bloomberg the city's transportation department was focused on making the city as car-friendly as possible by narrowing sidewalks to add traffic lanes, turning boulevards into speedways, and heavily enforcing laws on pedestrians and bikes. Meanwhile the subways keep getting more crowded and the bus service can't handle the demands. Had New York actually invested in public transportation over the last half-century, people wouldn't be turning to cars.

San Jose has a stupid rail transit system. And, unlike Houston, it has almost no dense employment sreas. But San Jose has consistently build and widened freeways, and that hasn't done any good either.

And here's the problem with drawings conclusions from the anti-planner post: it's full on nonsensical comparisons and fake "facts". For example:

--BART didn't take funding away from bus transit in the San Francisco area; the bus agencies have their own funding streams. Bus ridership went down because local buses are slow and inconvenient. BART is neither, and without it traffic in the Bay Area would grind to even more of a halt.

--His freeway lane vs. light rail comparison underestimates rail ridership, overestimates freeway lane capacity, and counts capacity over a 24-hour day when traffic is actually concentrated at rush hour. And his freeway construction cost numbers seem to correspond to a suburban freeway in flat country, not a freeway in dense, hilly seattle.

--The idea that poor people don't benefit from rail transit is nonsense. Obviously, a transit line benefits the areas it serves and not those it doesn't, so if a political decision is made to serve affluent areas instead of poor ones, the poor won;t benefit. But if the service reaches them, poor people benefit as much from fast, more frequent, and more reliable service as much as affluent ones do.

--We know for a fact that rail transit gets people out of their cars. We have ridership surveys to prove it in city after city.

The world is not as simple as "planing is bad" or "planning is good" or "rail transit doesn't do anything" or "rail transit is the solution."

At 12:16 PM, November 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The rail system in NY is heavily subsidized. The system is lavished with money, but that money goes to subsidize fares, not expand the system. There has thus been a huge sustained investment in the transit system, it's just not one that improves the system, or, in my view makes much sense. Why wealthy people are taxed in order for the MTA to offer a subsidized fare for those same wealthy people to get from 86/Lex to Wall Street on the 4 Train never made any sense to me. We'd be better off if the government subsidized riders who need the help, not rides without regard to need.

To say that NY has not expanded transit in the City in 50 years tells half the story. NY hasn't added capacity to its road network since the Verrazano Bridge was finished in the early 1970s, and in fact NYC tore down the west side highway to replace it with West Street (boulevardizing, they call it). Getting around NY is a mess, to be sure, but that's because the City has failed to make capacity additions transit of all kinds. Calling NYC car-friendly really strains credulity. If you want to travel from Newark to Queens, you'll travel across the 80 year old Pulaski Skyway (circa 1932, trucks banned due to unsafe conditions, two narrow lanes in each direction, center merges, no shoulders), following Route 1/9 through Jersey City (two lanes, no shoulders), across approx. six traffic signals to the two-lane Holland Tunnel (finished in 1927 -- toll is $6, but get it while you can because the PA proposes an increase to $8). Then you'll wind through the rotary across Canal Street, through another half-dozen or so traffic lights, make a left up to Centre Street, then a few blocks later through another few traffic signals, you'll get to Delancey Street, hang a right, through about 10 traffic lights and wind your way to the Williamsburg Bridge (built in 1903, no shoulders, narrow lanes). At that point you can get onto the BQE (circa 1953), three lanes in each direction, no shoulders. After you get over the Kosciuszko Bridge (circa 1939, no shoulders, steep grade), you're in Long Island City, Queens. I hope you had a book on tape with you for the couple hours you just spent traveling about 11 miles. There are other ways to handle the auto route between the two areas, but that's the "easy" and inexpensive one.

At 1:34 PM, November 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It makes you really wonder what we have to complain about here in Houston regarding traffic.

At 2:09 PM, November 12, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, and so will spending a couple hours bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go at less than 5mph on an LA freeway...

At 2:23 PM, November 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That actually sounds kind of exciting, anonymous! All those old-fashioned highways and bridges... Was the Pulaski Skyway the road in The Godfather where they did that sudden 180 to elude followers on the way to the Italian restaurant?

At 8:56 PM, November 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It'll be (IAH)55MM passengers before 2015, my bet is by 2009-10.

Especially when the foriegn flags see the huge passenger gains realized by KLM, Air France, BA and Lufthansa, viz, Emirates.



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