Friday, August 15, 2008

Rankings, urban corridors, managed lanes, and more

I'm in western NY state on vacation. Saw the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls and the depressing "red brick ruins" (old abandoned industrial sites) and housing of Buffalo. Now in Corning, NY to go to their famous glass museum, while staying at this amazing bed and breakfast. But get this: the B&B is not allowed to have any kind of sign, because of regulations in their residential area. This creates two problems: tourists wandering around trying to find the place based only on an address - and putting them in a bad mood to start their tourist experience of Corning - and locals who don't even know there's a place in their neighborhood they can put up friends and relatives. Government protection at its finest. Of course, everybody knows once you have a sign letting people know there's an upscale Frommer's 3-star B&B mansion filled with beautiful antiques and glass in your neighborhood, it's a clear sign of decline - soon to be followed by falling property values... sheesh.

Moving on to a few small misc items:
"For many on the left, there is an easy equation to promote energy independence and protect the environment: Less driving, more density, and more rail transit. Even noted economists like Greg Mankiw have supported a Pigovian gas tax to encourage precisely these three behaviors. The question not asked is whether these idealistic behaviors can even be achieved."

He thinks not.
  • Forbes just ranked Houston the top city for buying a home in the country (article). Texas Triangle cities were 4 of the top 6. Hat tip.

Houston, we don't have a housing problem.

The city's $152,500 median home sale price is up 6.6% from 2005. It boasts a low vacancy rate and an oil-rich economy. Throw in a bubbling entrepreneurial tech scene, and you've got four factors that put Houston on the top of our list of best places to buy a home.

1. Houston, Texas

Houston, we don't have a problem. Well known as an energy industry hub, this growing metro area recently made's Top 10 Up-And-Coming Tech Cities thanks to the Houston Technology Center and bubbling entrepreneurial tech scene. With home prices on the rise by 6.6% and vacant homes disappearing by 11.3% in the last two years, this is one area where buyers can feel safe jumping in.

  • In case you missed Shannon Buggs' column in the Chronicle, Houston was recently ranked the third-most charitable city in the country out of the top 30, behind Miami and San Diego. Some of the criteria:
  1. High percentage of budget spent on programs and services.
  2. Low percentage of budget spent on administrative fees.
  3. Low amount spent to raise a dollar in contributions.
Joel Kotkin and I heard similar things about Houston's charitable nature and strong nonprofit scene in an interview with the head of the local Red Cross a couple years ago.
  • And another Chronicle article in case you missed it on the urban corridors initiative to make the areas around light rail stops more pedestrian friendly.
Finally, the plan announced for the new Katy freeway managed lanes seems like recipe for chaos to me. Registered EZ-tags for carpools go free. What if your other rider doesn't make it that day, and you want to pay to use the lanes? In essence, if you sign up your EZ-tag as a carpool car, you can *never* use the lanes alone without breaking the law and getting a ticket. Better would be to charge all cars, and then refund it when somebody visually confirms you have 2 or 3 people in the vehicle. The verification booths are there - all they would have to do is press a button when they see enough people in the car, and the reader would not charge that car (or reverse the charges if they were charged at an earlier station).

Would love to hear your thoughts on the plan in the comments.

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At 8:58 AM, August 15, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That scale model of Shanghai isn't hyper planning at all.

About 90% - 95% of the model is already reality. Only the buildings that have their shells painted represent new or under construction buildings.

Shanghai and Beijing are quickly becoming the modern version of Sao Paulo Brazil. The are becoming an endless see of skyscrapers.

At 9:28 AM, August 15, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having to register your car as either a carpool or single occupancy car is ridiculous.

I see these tickets getting thrown out in court very easily.

At 4:22 PM, August 15, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think the scale model is for planning, to see how any new building would fit in the city.

At 12:00 PM, August 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Enforcement of congestion tolling schemes is always going to be a problem. Our employment of HOV's lanes has been an ongoing experiment, and will continue to be so.

At a fundamental level, I do support direct charging of the use of roads, on the principle that the user pays directly to use a particular road. The reason why every city in the world has traffic congestion is because most roads around the world are rivalrous public goods. Charging a price helps to get rid of the rivalry, by forcing a decision at the margin to be made by the user as to how important it is for you to use those lanes. Britain's rise as a commercial power in the 18th century was undergirded by the extensive use of toll roads and allowed Britain to become the first country in the world to enjoy a modern road network.

One transportation expert I've been in correspondence with wrote me recently that camera technology is probably good enough now to employ them at toll booths as a reliable enforcement mechanism for determining how many occupants are in a vehicle. Hence, one idea that could come forth in the near future is that a car pooled registered E-Z tag could be simply charged were it to be determined that a single occupant was in the vehicle at the point of HOT lane access.

At 8:10 PM, August 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that you acknowledge the value of congestion pricing to limit the number of vehicles on a particular road (HOT lanes), while complimenting Bryan on his ignorance of these same principles when it is applied to gasoline. The fact is that the last 9 months have shown that as the price of gasoline rises, behaviors change, just as behaviors change when the toll rises. In both scenarios, fewer vehicles enter the roadway. The fact that the form of the increase in cost differs in the two examples matters only to "many on the right" apparently, as the average driver makes the decision not to drive based on the cost of driving, whether that cost take the form of $4.00 gasoline, the low mpg of his vehicle or the $3.00 toll to get on the road.

The total cost to arrive at the destination is weighed against many factors, with different drivers giving different weights to those factors. Some may choose a different, but more time-consuming route. Some may choose an alternate form of transportation, including carpools, mass transit, bicycling or walking. Some may eliminate the trip altogether, as evidenced by the 53.2 billion mile decrease in US vehicle miles travelled since November 2007.

Frankly, Bryan's claim that "many on the left" have a simple solution to energy independence is dead wrong. Nost lefties I know propose a complex combination of fuel efficient and electric vehicles, improved mass transit, improved infrastructure that makes cycling and walking easier, elimination of building requirements that encourage sprawl versus those that encourage pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, increased investment and research into alternative energy sources, including solar, wind and nuclear power, and tax incentives and disincentives to encourage fuel efficiencies.

By way of contrast, "many on the right" seem only to exclaim, "drill, drill, drill".

Which sounds simplisitic to you?

The difference between the "left" and "right" approaches to gasoline are interesting. The "left" approach of raising the gas tax discourages driving inefficiently while raising revenue for infrastructure improvements...similar to a toll, except on ALL driving. The "right" approach is to ignore the economic laws of supply and demand as an excuse to deplete precious US controlled oil reserves even quicker, assuming that US and world oil consumption can be magically decoupled.

So, I suppose I must agree that Bryan's essay IS a good one, a good example of how "many on the right" rely upon...then ignore...the laws of supply and demand in explaining their solutions to the energy problem. A BETTER essay might be, 'Why do they do so?'

At 4:49 AM, August 18, 2008, Blogger engineering said...

thanks for the posting tory. good reading.

At 2:39 PM, August 18, 2008, Blogger Brian Shelley said...


Sorry for any confusion, but I do think that raising the price of gasoline will reduce driving, but the effect is small. The driving that is most likely to be curtailed is elective excursions. Say, choosing to eat near your house instead of trying that new place 10 miles away. Or choosing to drive to SeaWorld instead of
Yellowstone (From Houston).

Commuting is the least likely to experience change because small additions to commute times multiplied by the 200 times a year is a lot of lost time. Most mass transit is narrowly focused on commuting, and is butting it's head against an inelastic behavior.

I definitely support congestion pricing because it should spread out demand over a wider time frame each day, reducing the overall need for freeway capacity.

At 7:02 PM, August 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am unaware of a single commuter who multiplies his 15 minute increase in commute time by 260 work days, and exclaims, "OMG, that will take away 65 hours from my year!". Commuters, like everyone else, do not pay attention to the small increases in commute time when the goal is to decrease the cost of commuting. Like everything else, they will weigh the time, convenience and cost factors when making the decision. The fact that the Park&Ride busses are running at capacity bears out the fact that tens of thousands of commuters disagree with your assertion.

As for small changes, you may consider a 4.7% decrease in vehicle miles driven small. However, that 4.7% decrease in gasoline usage works out to almost half a million barrels of oil per day. Considering that the worldwide production capacity is only 2 million barrels of oil more than consumption, that equates to a 25% increase in spare production. Check the NYMEX to gauge its effect of crude prices.

There is no one-stop shop to the gasoline problem. It is a series of "small effects". This is another example of the "simple solution" crowd not being members of the left at all, but rather a different demographic.


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