Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rail Anti-Christ, HOV->HOT, rankings, HSR, popular cities, and more

After the PBS town hall a couple weeks ago, first one and then another person commented or emailed me referring to the "Rail Anti-Christ". I didn't understand what they were referring to, but figured it couldn't be a coincidence. After inquiring, they explained it to me. The videos of the town hall are online here. If you go to the 16:52 point in the first video, you can see my comments on the difficulties of rail in Houston. I will admit I made a mistake not differentiating commuter rail from our current inner city rail plan (although they both have their own issues). Then, if you go to the 15:25 point in the second video, you'll see Frank Wilson, CEO of Metro, refer to me as the "Rail Anti-Christ". It completely went by me while I was there. It seems a little harsh given the mildness of my original rail comment, which I only made because the facilitator asked for a negative view on rail, nobody else jumped in, and I felt the devil's advocate (;-) point-of-view needed to be put on the table. On the one hand it stings a little, but on the other it means I must be having an impact on the debate. People tend to ignore non-threats but lash out at perceived real threats.

Moving on to the rapidly growing list of smaller misc items:

In its brochure Metro said it could use $70 million to convert 83 miles of under-used HOV lanes on the Northwest, North, Southwest, Eastex and Gulf freeways to toll lanes.

Carpoolers would still get to ride for free while single drivers could pay to use the lanes. The toll fees would be used for patrols, maintenance and repairs.

Why not just eliminate the HOV lanes altogether? Wouldn’t an extra, unrestricted lane help with congestion? And couldn’t the money then be put somewhere else?

Tory Gattis, Houston Strategies blogger, considers the HOV-lane conversion a long overdue idea. He’s also a proponent of fares that can be adjusted “on the fly” during traffic surges.

Fixed-price lanes, he said, can get clogged when weather is bad or after accidents.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority would be the best fit to manage those lanes, given that they already have the technology in place, Gattis said.

“There’s no reason to duplicate all the infrastructure HCTRA has at Metro,” he said.

The managed or HOV toll lanes also are a good idea in Gattis’ book because “HOV lanes often find themselves stuck between the two-person and three-person rule.”

The two-person rule for HOV lanes creates too much demand on the system, while three drops demand off too much because it eliminates couples from sharing rides, he added.

"Tolling Infrastructure Anti-Christ", anyone? ;-)

Hope you enjoy your Friday-the-13th+Valentines+Presidents Day weekend. (how's that for a strange combination?)

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At 7:28 PM, February 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rich Morin, the senior editor of the Pew study, said, “A lot of us aren’t living in our ideal place, yet we rate the places we do live in highly.” He said he was happily ensconced in suburban Washington, but “ideally I’d be living by a babbling brook in rural Colorado.”

American's are so discontent. Even if they moved to their ideal place, they'd find something wrong with it and complain.

I love Houston!

At 8:06 PM, February 12, 2009, Blogger Chris Bradford said...

Congrats on the moniker!

At 9:03 PM, February 12, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks, although your acronym is a good match too... ;-)

At 9:46 PM, February 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, What do you think about Cristof's comments right after your comments in the first video? I'm speaking of the comment where he says in some places in Houston, walkability is in it's genes b/c they had street cars etc.

To a certain extent, it seems to be true. After all, most of Houston was single-family housing, right? At least that's what I see in most of the pictures.

At 10:14 PM, February 12, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, Houston had a streetcar history when distances were short, and before cars were affordable and people got addicted to the miracle of air conditioning. A streetcar was the pinnacle of modern transportation back then for the average citizen, but we've moved on.

Are parts of Houston walkable? Yes. Might that list grow with the light rail? Hopefully. Will walking ever be a substantial part of how a major portion of Houstonians get around, with our climate? I very seriously doubt it.

Does that answer your question? If not, please be more specific and I will try and address it.

At 10:22 AM, February 13, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess that means they think that rail is Christ - the Truth, the Way, and the Life; the answer to all things; the Savior of the World.

At 2:49 PM, February 13, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, what I would envision for a streetcar, once it got to downtown, would be to simply share the current bus-only lane on those streets. That's basically how it works in Portland.

There's plenty of capacity in the existing configuration on the n-s downtown streets, and the signal timing should remain as is to keep things flowing as smooth as possible.

The extra capacity / timing improvements are needed in the west gray corridor, however, especially as that area continues to grow denser.

At 4:24 PM, February 13, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew, I think the West Gray/Peden one way pair is a splendid idea and actually stands on its own, streetcar or no streetcar.

That corridor is one of the most congested in the entire Montrose/River Oaks area. Having a couplet with two lanes each way + turns + 24-hour parallel parking would allow the area to densify even further.

I don't think the current density justifies the investment in streetcar, but I'd be highly supportive of a "streetcar ready" cross-section, i.e., do the utility relo at the time of road reconstruction so adding streetcar later is a simple matter of dropping the slab in.

At 1:57 PM, February 16, 2009, Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, that was really inappropriate of him. But, as you implied, I think you should adopt it with pride.

At 6:59 AM, February 17, 2009, Blogger Peter Wang said...

Longtime 290 HOV user here... carpool, vanpool, and METRO.

Opening up HOV lanes to regular traffic would be a disaster. The service would become so degraded for us carpoolers, vanpoolers, and METRO users that we would no longer put up with the time penalty overhead that inevitably comes with shared forms of transport. We would have much less incentive to carpool, vanpool or use METRO. We'd go back to cars, and the freeways would become more congested.

A METRO police officer once told me, and I believe him, that the HOV lanes carry 3x the souls as the regular traffic lanes during the peak periods.

If we lose the dense nature of those lanes... heaven help ANY commuters on the freeways.

We HOV users, because we are willing to put up with the extra trouble of shared transport, are making it BETTER for non-HOV users. They (we) are not "taking" from non-HOV users.

We are contributing to the capacity and throughput of the entire system!

At 7:01 AM, February 17, 2009, Blogger Peter Wang said...

But HOT lanes, selling extra capacity to single passenger cars, I guess is OK, as long as it's truly extra capacity, and the speed of the HOT lanes are not degraded. If a whole bunch of people are allowed to pile on the HOT, and it ends up going as slowly as or barely faster than non-HOT lanes, then HCTRA is ripping off the people who paid to get on it, and the shared transport riders are being harmed per my previous comment.

At 7:51 AM, February 17, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, it is as your second comment: prices will be set high enough to keep speeds high.

At 7:14 PM, February 18, 2009, Blogger I. J. Kennedy said...

I liked Tory's housing/immigrant plan when I read it back when, but now that Thomas Friedman is on board it might warrant further scrutiny; Mr. Friedman seems to be wrong most of the time.


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