Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Commute costs, census, rankings, cool maps, and more

Some smaller items this week for your holiday reading (how many of you are really working at the office this week?), but first a paragraph on one of my pet peeves.

Another report came out recently claiming Texas has some of the worst and most expensive commutes in the nation (hat tip to Jimmy).  While we do have our share of delays and traffic problems, these reports all share a similar flaw (which I've blogged about here before): rather than standardizing a single type of car across all of the cities, they look at actual spending averages in the cities.  So if you live in cities with inexpensive housing - like in Texas - and then spend your savings on an expensive car, truck or SUV (inc. the extra gas for low mileage vehicles), to them it looks like an expensive commuting city - when, in fact, you could just have easily chosen an inexpensive, high-mileage car here as you can anywhere.  The fact that most people don't here is a discretionary choice, not a reflection of an expensive city to get around.  These studies all come from nonprofits with an agenda promoting smart growth or 'urban sustainability' - which has benefits but does tend to substantially raise housing costs - but they want to deflect that criticism by pointing to high transportation costs in more free market cities like Texas.  They also conveniently ignore the tax subsidies that go to transit, making cities like NYC and DC look much less expensive for commuting than they really are.  But that's not going to stop these reports from coming out every year and getting eagerly picked up by the media.

On to this week's items:
  • You've probably already heard about the newly released Census results and Texas' big gains (+4 seats in the House), but check out the interactive graphic at the bottom of this AP article.  Mouse over any state, statistic, or bar and see the data.  Pretty cool.  You can definitely see the heavy trends to the south and west, and especially to Texas.
  • Good news: Forbes ranked Houston the #2 best city for young adults.  The bad (? ;-) news: Austin was #1.  Still, we did beat Dallas, and it's all good news for Texas.
  • A recent NY Times profile of a Third Ward Houston house built by an architect to have great views of the downtown and TMC skylines as well as the 288 freeway.  Quite unusual, but very cool.  His views are definitely protected - as long as they don't double deck that freeway...  Toll Roads News also picked it up.  Hat tip to Peter.
  • Houston IAH Terminal E was ranked as one of the four most beautiful airport terminals in the U.S. by The Street.  It is very nice, although I think the "gold plating" oneupmanship competition at airports is getting a little out of control.  Due to the mandatory passenger fees and monopoly status, they have way too much money to play with.
Finally, some super-cool interactive census maps.  Zoom and explore on all sorts of stats - from a national map down to individual census tracts in Houston.  See home value and income changes, racial compositions, education levels, and more.  Really incredible.  Hat tip to John.

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At 10:21 PM, December 21, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

The exact same thing you say about high commute costs could be said about high housing costs: people in New York can choose to live in an area that looks like most of Houston and pay Houston rents, but many choose to live in walkable neighborhoods. It's not completely true, but it's false in exactly the same way excusing Houston's very high transportation costs as a personal choice is false.

At 10:46 PM, December 21, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

A Prius or Civic costs pretty much the same in any city, but a 2,000 sq.ft house (or apt) within commute range of major job concentrations has widely varying costs across cities.

Yes, to be fair, a standard housing and transportation setup must be created and then priced in each city, which is what ACCRA does, and it finds Houston the least expensive major metro in the country, on a total cost-of-living basis.

At 6:14 AM, December 22, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

The basic vehicle costs the same, sure, but the need for it varies. If the urban form lets you do your non-commute trips on foot, it should count as a cost reduction.

Housing is about more than just size, or else you wouldn't be able to buy houses for $1 in Detroit. Other factors, like crime and neighborhood walkability, don't favor Houston as much.

At 9:43 AM, December 22, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Agreed on the first point. The second point items should be part of the standardization across cities.

At 10:15 AM, December 22, 2010, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

"According to U.S. Census data, roughly 76% of U.S. workers drive to work alone. Twelve percent carpool, 4.7% use public transportation, 3.3% work from home, 2.9% walk to work and 1.2% used other means (including a motorcycle or bicycle)."

What about telecommuting? Any report which fails to factor in telecommuting is flawed. Because of the large number of corporate contractors and consultants in Houston, a significant portion of the working population does not drive to an office or factory on a regular basis.

At 10:39 AM, December 22, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think they include telecommuting in "work from home".

At 10:26 AM, December 28, 2010, Blogger andrea said...

I recently moved from outside of Boston to Houston and just found your blog. I lived in Worcester and commuted daily to Cambridge, so I was always interested in how people commuted. Thanks for the great posts.



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