Thursday, March 06, 2008

Green space award, density vs. sprawl, good transit, Yao, stadium, flights, and an event

Clearing out the queue of smaller items again, which seems to grow faster and faster these days.
  • A good friend of mine, Dr. Chris Bronk at Rice in the Baker Institute for Public Policy, is putting on "The Conference on Convergence and Connectivity 2008: Broadband, Wireless and Mobile" where "Experts in academia, industry and government gather to discuss the impact of digital communications technology" (i.e. this is a policy conference, not a technical one). It is free and open to the public on Wed March 26th. Abstract, video brief, and RSVP here.
  • Marginal Revolution analyzes the economics and logic of the Rockets drafting Yao Ming, in spite of knowing he had a high likelihood of ongoing injuries.
  • A new study indicates that sprawl, not density, promotes social interaction, despite 'common wisdom' that it does the opposite. They give several theories, but seem to miss the most obvious one to me: the suburbs have a much higher proportion of family households, and families are drawn to socially interact much more, from schools to sports to church to after-school activities to kids' social circles. There's a reason they're called "soccer moms"...
  • In a route I would have never predicted, Finnair may connect Houston to India via Helsinki, which sounds kind of crazy until you pull a string on a globe and find that it is very close to the shortest "great circle" route between Houston and India.
"We will be looking to provide more services in the U.S. and are looking at destinations on the West Coast and cities like Houston and Dallas to which we can provide services in the future to cater to India-U.S. traffic."

The Chronicle covers other recent new international service here (Dubai, Doha, Moscow, Singapore).
  • A study finds increased density and street connectivity does not increase walking.
  • Tom rightfully skewers what's going on with both the Ashby tower controversy and land for the soccer stadium.
  • Speaking of the soccer stadium, Christof has a post on how badly the proposed stadium cuts off the east-west street grid in east downtown. Why can't they shift it north or south to match up with either the GRB or Minute Maid?
  • Neal has an interesting transit analysis titled "Of Harris County Metro Ridership statistics and private provision of public transportation." Here's the excerpt that most jumped out at me:
"Mills and Hamilton go on to state that people value wait times, transfer times, and access times at much higher rates than those of times actually spent in transit. In particular, they state that wait times for vehicles are absolute killers for patronage, being put at some 2-4 times greater than one's average wage. Clearly one way to increase transit patronage is to make sure wait times are cut down to a minimum. The other is to find ways to increase the travel speeds of the vehicle, perhaps through bus routes with fewer stops or through dedicated bus lanes. It also points to the idea that people are willing to pay some rather high fuel prices before giving up their vehicles."

This is why frequent, nonstop, high-speed express bus service is better commuter service than infrequent large trains that stop several times on their way in, as well as typically requiring a transfer for people to get to their final destination.
  • The Harris County Flood Control District won an award for green space preservation against 11 other large U.S. counties. Very cool. We seem to get knocked a lot on the parks and green space issue, but whenever people really look at what we have and what we're doing, we actually come out pretty well.
And one final pass along:
OpenID John Sterling said...


I wanted to engage in some minor threadjacking and share this link with other readers from Ft. Bend.

According to the press I saw "Sugar Land officials and Fort Bend County Public Transportation are working with the Texas Transportation Institute to determine the community's interest in transportation services for the city. The focus of the study is the area in a one mile radius from the US-59/Hwy. 6 intersection."

I imagine that the transportation savvy readers of "Houston Strategies" will have plenty of valuable input.

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At 2:54 PM, March 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I heard that the stadium can't shift to the north because Drayton Maclane owns those lots and wants them for parking for Minute Maid. I'm guessing that they don't want to move it south because the George R. Brown might block of views of the downtown skyline?

They could turn it so that it ran along Texas Ave. from Dowling to St. Emanuel, and then it would only cut off Capitol, but maybe they don't want to do that because of the view issue - you want your main stands to be facing downtown to the west, rather than looking at nothing to the north or south.

But here's the thing: a few blocks later, these streets get cut off anyway! People keep complaining about "major thoroughfares" getting cut off, but these are more like little side streets about to dead end. Seems like they really just don't want the city to build a soccer stadium.

At 10:15 AM, March 09, 2008, Blogger engineering said...

Great postings Tory. A couple comments.
I have done many traffic impact analysis (TIAs) for developments in the Houston suburbs. TIAs are great tools to identify impacts of developments. Regretfully the city of Houston is using TIA as a zoning tool. Wrong use of a TIA.
Will need to read more on the sprawl promotes social interaction. Might depend on the point of view. Consider amount of time people have to spend in vehicles this might reduce their socializing time. But people like to live among their own kind thus sprawl is more forgiving than density.
The Built Environment and Walking is superb. Makes lots of sense. Have worked with many communities in Texas and agree with this point of view. Urban planning tends to forget human factors. :)
Soccer stadium is a disgrace. So there is a desire to become one with downtown. Christof puts a picture with what is wrong with the city. The city does not pay attention to its roadway network. The final outcome is that the city will depend HEAVILY on TxDOT's highways to get around which in turn will create a greater demand for highway lanes. Next time we talk about highway expansion in the city lets look at the city's roadway network and quality of streets. It is a shame the shape of our local streets.
Oh, talking about soccer stadiums. I say take the roof of the Astrodome out and turn it into a soccer stadiu. If the Dynamo folks don't like it let them move to the burbs. Lets see... Houston Dynamo vs. The Woodlands Dynamo? Which one do you think will bring more revenue to Dynamo? :)

At 8:13 AM, March 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real disgrace concerning this soccer stadium is that it is even being considered to be built. It's just as bad of an investment as the other three stadiums built.

Tax payer money should not be spend for private boondoggles.

I wonder why no one is discussing the hypocrisy of Mayor white taking $15-20 million dollars our of the sanitary and storm sewer improvements budget to buy this land for the stadium. I'm residents who routines experience street flooding would love to hear that Mayor White is going back on his promise to help reduce localized street flooding.

At 2:45 PM, March 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to have heard you guys if you had been around when the Astrodome was proposed.

"What! They want to use public money to build a stadium? When it could be going to sewers?! What a boondoggle!"

"And did you hear that this stadium is supposed to have a roof on it?!"

"A roof on a stadium?! Who ever heard of such a thing! That's even more of a boondoggle! What will they think of next to spend our taxes on?"

"It's this whole desire to be world class. Why can't they just build a normal stadium like everybody else? It reminds me of when they spent our money on Hermann Park... remember that boondoggle?"

"Just another in a long history of boondoggles, all the way back to Allen's Landing..."

At 5:15 PM, March 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just because it was done before doesn't make it right now. The astrodome should have not been built with taxpayer money either to support private organizations such as sports teams.

Yes, the sports teams technically lease the facility, but the money is never fully recouped.

I come from Louisiana where we took the roof on stadium concept much further than the astrodome. Even with a cool factor of building a facility like a dome and any stadium for the matter, public money shouldn't be wasted on a project that couldn't financially support itself.

If the full cost of the stadium could be recouped and the maintenance be handle with ticket sales and leasing the facility, then go ahead and build it. The fact of the matter it isn't.

Something being cool is not justified to waste taxpayer money on it.

At 5:15 PM, March 10, 2008, Blogger corey said...

Is it actually true that there are more children living in suburbs than in cities? I'd love to see statistics on that. I wonder if this is a proven fact or an assumption based on middle-class norms/anecdotes. There sure are a lot of kids living in huge cities all around the world (including Houston), and children are a large chunk of the total world population - 50% of which now lives in cities.

At 8:39 PM, March 10, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Be careful. When stats like "50% of children/people are living in cities" are thrown around, they're including the metro suburbs in those cities. This study was differentiating typical suburban density areas from higher density ones (townhomes, walk-ups, or towers). The vast majority of HISD would be considered "suburban" under this definition.

At 7:45 AM, March 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The stadium belongs to the entity that built it, kjb, and is used for more than just whatever sport it was primarily intended for. The Astrodome was Houston's/Harris County's stadium, not the Astros' or Oilers' stadium. I went there for many events that were not baseball or football related.

Cities have been building stadiums ever since Rome built the Colosseum. They are civic monuments, and they build a sense of connection and pride.

The Astrodome did a lot for this city that cannot be quantified by what it did for the Astros or Oilers franchises. It gave us an international spotlight that we didn't have before. It was well worth the investment, and so will be other stadiums.


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