Sunday, November 11, 2012

U-line bus, Houston advantages, survey on our future, #1 for parks, TX vs. CA humor, and more

After the Metro referendum last week tabled any more light rail in the near-term, we're stuck with my prediction-come-true: we (more than) used up our resources on the less valuable lines and left the most important one, Universities, unbuilt.  Sigh.  What Metro now needs to seriously consider is matching Uptown and implementing the Universities line in the near term as some sort of signature bus or BRT: special buses, same stops as the U-line was planned to have.  Let the ridership build, and if it ever gets saturated, then we'll know it's time to consider an LRT upgrade (I'm skeptical, but it's possible). Update: front page Chronicle story on Metro's new emphasis on improving bus service.

Moving on to the big backlog of smaller items...
  • Lesson from Hurricane Sandy: underground power lines/infrastructure is not a panacea when flooding is a risk.  It was a big topic around here after Ike until the incredible costs were considered.  Now we know they're not only costly, the benefits are dubious.
  • If you're interested in the future of the Astrodome, join/like the Astrodome Tomorrow Facebook Group.
  • Interesting Freakonomics story sent to me by Chris on mass transit and the environment (i.e. energy use and CO2 generation).  Bottom line: transit doesn't help if it has low ridership (and can actually be worse than cars), so we're better off encouraging ridership of existing transit and carpools than creating new transit (which is likely to be even less efficient with lower ridership).
  • Great article on planning for a future with driverless cars (page 9 of the pdf).  Hat tip to Mihir.
  • An announcement: "We like to shout about it and other cities around the nation are starting to take notice: Houston is a playground for the talented and Culture Pilot is sponsoring a month-long celebration highlighting our innovative city. The month-long celebration, entitled COHouston, focuses on a different theme each week including: maker/craft, film and multimedia, design and innovation, food and well-being, and, last but not least, arts and music.  Intellectual wonderment and creativity are encouraged through various events held in tandem throughout the city. This month’s focus isn't just about celebration but it also aims to raise questions about local and regional challenges and foster sustainable relationships within the community." More here.
  • Check out this "Keep Houston Houston" blog post on Houston's density, annexation, anti-NIMBY, and regional advantage vs. stagnant cities like Philly.  I wanted to do excerpts, but the whole thing is great, including the comments.  Read it.  Really gets at some of our key strengths.
  • Love this front page Chronicle story about how best-selling author Justin Cronin had his perspective inspired by moving from the northeast to Houston and eventually getting his "Houston goggles".
  • The NYT on the pros and cons of Denver's downtown pedestrian mall, which seems to have declined over time.  Take heed, downtown Houston folks...
  • NYT op-ed asking what's going to happen to Austin's "weird" brand in the wake of Lance Armstrong's fall and the ongoing gentrification/"Dallasification" trend.
  • H-GAC is conducting an online survey of preferences for the future of our region in 2040.  I highly recommend readers of this blog take the survey, since you might have a better grasp of the complexities and tradeoffs behind these scenarios than the average citizen.  Hurry, the survey ends November 16th.
  • Houston makes #5 on this list of America's most competitive metros, adding more jobs since 2010 than any of the others.
A few DA pass-alongs:
Finally, I wanted to end on this story about Houston being #1 for manufacturing jobs growth, which links to a Forbes story with this awesome make-you-proud-of-Texas excerpt:
To illustrate the real differences between Texas and other states, Fisher finished his talk with a story. (Having gone to school at U.C. Berkeley, worked in New York City and lived the last 8 years in Texas, this story really registers for me.) 
“The governor of California is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and attacks the governor’s dog, then bites the governor. The governor starts to intervene, but reflects upon the movie Bambi and then realizes he should stop because the coyote is only doing what is natural. 
“He calls animal control. Animal control captures the coyote and bills the state $200 for testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it. He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the state $200 for testing it for diseases. The governor goes to the hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for diseases from the coyote and getting his bite wound bandaged. 
“The running trail gets shut down for six months while the California Fish and Game Department conducts a $100,000 survey to make sure the area is now free of dangerous animals. The governor spends $50,000 in state funds implementing a ‘coyote awareness program’ for residents of the area. The Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease throughout the world. 
“The governor’s security agent is fired for not stopping the attack. The state spends $150,000 to hire and train a new agent with additional special training, re: the nature of coyotes. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protests the coyote’s relocation and files a $5 million suit against the state. 
“The governor of Texas is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and tries to attack him and his dog. The governor shoots the coyote with his state-issued pistol and keeps jogging. 
“The governor spent 50 cents on a .380-caliber, hollow-point cartridge. Buzzards ate the dead coyote. 
“And that, my friends, is why California is broke and Texas is not.”

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At 11:42 AM, November 15, 2012, Anonymous Mike said...

Do you really believe that Rick Perry and his dog were attacked by the coyote? And that he carries a gun to protect himself from snakes - in February?

The kind of wildlife that a jogger in Austin could come across shouldn't pose any threat to personal safety. Carrying a gun to go jogging is a sign of a 14-year-old mentality.

Bears show up in California parklands all the time. The officials there know how to handle them. I'm sure they can handle coyotes cheaply and efficiently.

At 2:49 PM, November 19, 2012, Anonymous Bobby Hadley said...

"Lesson from Hurricane Sandy: underground power lines/infrastructure is not a panacea when flooding is a risk. It was a big topic around here after Ike until the incredible costs were considered. Now we know they're not only costly, the benefits are dubious."

You're flat out wrong, Tory. As someone who lives in New York, I can tell you that underground power lines in New York are singularly responsible for why the majority of NYC residents did NOT lose power during or after the storm. In fact, the only reason why *any* folks in the city lost power below 14th St (as famously pohotgraphed) is because flying debris is believed to have damaged the substation responsible for powering much of lower Manhattan and caused an explosion, taking out the lights.


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