Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rankings, stats, better transit, and Atlanta vs. Houston

The small items have been coming in thick and fast (really more medium-size in this case), compelling me to do another misc post more frequently than I'd like (ideally) before I get too many for one post:
  • Brookings has released a new report on "The State of Metropolitan America", including some pretty impressive interactive maps with tons of statistics.  If you dig into the full report (pdf), there are a lot of Houston tidbits.  A graph on p.45 shows a huge spike in domestic migration to Houston starting in 2005 with Katrina and high oil prices, and it has pretty much outpaced international migration the last half of the decade (ending the decade with roughly balanced growth between the two).  We're also high on wage inequality, which sounds bad, but actually reflects the substantial number of high-paying jobs here vs. the more flat, modest incomes found in most of the rest of the country.  Our peer group on income inequality includes NYC, LA, SF/SV, Dallas, and DC.  Not bad company as far as world cities.  Download the pdf and search on "Houston" for more.  Hat tip Houston Tomorrow.
  • An essay over at New Geography asks "Is it game over for Atlanta?"  Houston and Dallas are held up in a more favorable light vs. Atlanta several times, including on in-migration rates, job growth, freeway network, public transit investments, urban infill, and cultural development.  In my mind, Atlanta with its horrendous traffic congestion is a particularly scary example of what happens with freeway network under-investment over a number of years - and one Houston should learn from.  Hat tip to HAIF
  • The Infrastructurist blog sums up some of the transit issues in Houston, although I don't think locals will read anything they don't already know.  Her conclusion is right that Houston's growth demands better transit, it's just that the answer is not rail, but a more comprehensive express bus system to serve our dispersed job centers.  The comments are more interesting, where good points are made on why rail is inappropriate for Houston.  Hat tip to Nicholas.
  • An update on Metro's HOV-to-HOT lane conversion from Reason:
"In Houston, the local transit agency (Houston Metro), which developed its reversible HOV lanes originally as exclusive busways, has undertaken a project to convert all five of them to HOT lanes. As reported on Tollroadsnews.com, Metro has awarded $81 million worth of contracts, the largest of which is for installation of electronic tolling equipment at 52 tolling points and 47 access/egress points on five radial freeways: I-45 North, US 59 North, I-45 South, US 59 South, and US 290. The lanes are to be in operation by 2011. Besides these five HOT lanes, Houston also has new HOT lanes (two per direction) on the I-10 (Katy) freeway plus three toll roads: the Hardy, Sam Houston, and Westpark. Altogether, they will constitute something of a HOT Network (though not a seamless one)."
IMHO, 'seamless' should be the next goal, including much-needed HOT lanes on the 610 loop (and even BW8).
"If New Yorkers have learned one thing from the depredations of urban renewal, it is to distrust anyone proposing a "comprehensive vision" for our future. We know where benevolent intervention has gotten us."
Taxation and regulation: A-
Workforce quality: B+
Living environment: B+
    I was particularly heartened by those last two grades in areas where Texas is often knocked. While we have a long way to go on education, we have made strides - and our relatively strong work ethic shouldn't be undervalued. We also show that a free market approach to land-use and substantial freeway transportation investments can overcome a harsh climate and generally unremarkable terrain to yield a pretty good living environment, with large, new, affordable housing and plenty of discretionary income left over for amenities like restaurants and entertainment - critical elements often overlooked when assessing quality of life.
    Some excerpts:
    For example, Texas fares competitively with Nevada and Delaware in terms of taxation and regulatory environment, but scored best overall, in no small measure because of the perception that its government’s attitude to business is ideal. Runner-up North Carolina edged Texas slightly in its living environment, but scored somewhat below the Lone Star state in terms of government attitude to business and work ethic, which is a sine qua non for the business leaders. After employee work ethic, CEOs most highly prize lower tax rates and perceived attitudes toward business, followed by living environment considerations, such as real estate costs and education.
    “Texas is pro-business with reasonable regulations,” one CEO respondent remarked, “while California is anti-business with anti-business regulations.” Another commented, “California is terrible. Even when we’ve paid their high taxes in full, they still treat every conversation as adversarial. It’s the most difficult state in the nation. We have actually walked away from business rather than deal with the government in Sacramento.”
    By contrast, Texas, the second-most populous state and the world’s 12th largest economy, is where 70 percent of all new U.S. jobs have been created since 2008. Unsurprisingly, it scores high in all the areas CEOs value most. “You feel like state government understands the value of business and industry to create jobs and growth,” observed one CEO. Its tax credits and incentives to business choosing to locate or expand are among the most aggressive. The Texas Enterprise Fund is by far the largest deal-closing fund of any state, with grants totaling $377 million disbursed in 2008.
    Little wonder then that while Texas gained over 848,000 net new residents in the last 10 years, according to the Census Bureau, California lost 1.5 million. New York State’s net loss exceeded 1.6 million - the highest of any state. High-tax, big-government New Jersey ranked fourth, with a net loss of almost 460,000, enough to drop it from 10th to 11th place in population.
    Hat tip to Makoto and Tom.

    One final item: please sign the online petition and spread the word to help Houston get the World Cup in 2018 or 2022.

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    At 6:27 PM, May 25, 2010, Blogger John said...

    Reasonable regulations like, hey, you can poison the air and not be held responsible! I guess reason is in the eye of the beholder.

    I work in an industry (tech) where calling Massachusetts one of the "worst" climates is a joke; most people in IT would kill to have what Massachusetts has.

    The moral of the story is that people handing grades out to states don't really offer much that's useful.

    At 1:07 AM, May 26, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Do you mean that you want HOT on BW8, or that you think BW8 should be more rationally priced?

    At 7:57 AM, May 26, 2010, Anonymous kjb434 said...


    What regulation says we can "poison the air and not be held responsible"?

    We fall under the same EPA rules as the rest of the country.

    At 8:34 AM, May 26, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

    Ideally, BW8 would all be congestion priced. But if that's politically unrealistic (and I think it might be, at least in the short-term), at least make the left lane congestion priced. It should be all automated EZ-Tag, which means no discount for carpools (since that requires human verification). Vanpools and buses could get special free pass tags (or not).

    At 2:21 PM, May 26, 2010, Anonymous Martin said...


    You are right. The same EPA rules apply across the nation. Unfortunately they haven't always been applied as required here in this state. But thankfully, that is changing.


    A step in the right direction to improve the quality of life here in this state.

    At 6:08 PM, May 26, 2010, Blogger Rail Claimore said...

    Atlanta may very well be starting a relative decline, if not absolute. This certainly isn't good:


    Wage growth has been negative this decade, and Atlanta lost high-paying jobs while gaining low-paying ones. There's an interesting quadrant-graph that shows Atlanta as one of only two of the top 30 metro areas with a reduction in per-capita income and a level that's below the US average. Detroit is the other.

    Dallas looks to be following Atlanta's path, but hasn't fallen below the US average yet.

    Houston is performing remarkably well, with job levels in all wage categories surging ahead.

    At 11:04 PM, May 26, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

    Rail Claimore: what do you mean, starting? Its metro per capita income went from 109% the national average in 2000 to 94% today.

    And Tory: those classifications don't mean much, obviously - look at the per capita income growth in NC versus NY and MA. Rankings always tell you more about the person doing the ranking than about the objects being ranked.

    At 12:07 AM, May 27, 2010, Blogger Rail Claimore said...

    Alon: I mean a long-term decline or stagnation. A decade-long span of lackluster economic performance would indicate the start of a long-term trend moreso than 2 or 3 years of hiccups. And much of that decline happened in the past 3 years with the recession, although the signs were there throughout the 2000's.

    At 8:44 PM, May 27, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

    Ah. Well, in that case, there's always the question of what will happen in the future. But Atlanta's per capita income as a percentage of the US average peaked in the 1990s, and started declining quickly in the early 2000s. Its job growth this past decade was slow.

    And this doesn't account for inflation. In the last decade, housing prices went up and then down, food prices went up and stayed up, and gas prices went off the charts. In the car-oriented Sunbelt, it means that any cost of living index from before 2007 will be an underestimate. That Texas and Oklahoma constitute the only Sunbelt region that got ahead last decade isn't a coincidence; they're hedged against oil shocks in a way that Georgia isn't.

    At 11:18 AM, June 01, 2010, Anonymous David said...

    @Alon Levy,

    Sunbelt cost of living indices might be rising, but at least citizens are incurring those costs individually, and are not pushing their cities and states towards bankrputcy, as is the case with pension-heavy transit systems.

    New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania are hardly "getting ahead".

    At 12:54 AM, June 02, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

    First, Illinois hasn't gotten ahead at all. Pennsylvania barely has. New York has, and no, it's not headed toward bankruptcy. It's headed toward budget cuts, which will still leave it providing many more services than Texas. And second, most Sunbelt states have had the same budget problems as New York and Illinois. On every recession metric - unemployment, growth in unemployment, growth in welfare claims, foreclosure - the bigger-government states have done better than the smaller-government states. Picking the Sunbelt's best-performing state and pretending everyone else who follows similar policy has succeeded is just plain wrong.


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