Monday, June 30, 2014

Big news, critiquing Dallas, Houston's transportation history, and more

First, some big news I want to share with all of you: the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism is pulling together a book on the future of cities and their suburbs, and they've asked me to contribute a paper!  Very exciting yet humbling.  Publication is estimated for the spring of 2016, so fortunately I have a bit of time to pull it together...

On to this week's smaller misc items:
  • Thanks to Bill King for the shout out. Total agreement supporting METRO as it revamps the bus system and backs off from the costly obsession with rail.
  • The Urbanophile does Dallas (doesn't quite roll off the tongue in the same way, does it? ;-) followed by a mixed review of Downtown Dallas specifically.  Reading the critique, I think he'd give our downtown a better review, although still mixed.  I think he has some good thoughts on potential solutions that Houston should be considering, especially #1 on creating an authentic street experience appropriate to Texas. It also includes a great excerpt on the walkability challenge that I have also stressed for Houston:
"For one thing, Dallas temperatures are very high. It was in the 90s and blazing sun every day I was there. This renders the city functionally unwalkable. I wanted to do a lot more exploring but just couldn't because if I spent more than about 10-15 minutes outside I needed to take a shower. 
When I tweeted this people kept talking about other places in the world with high temperatures. It may be that some places are acculturated to this, or too poor to afford air conditioning. But I actually didn't even get a good counterexample once you factor in humidity. Some folks mentioned Seville, Spain, but the July dew point in Seville ranges from 51-66 while in Dallas it’s 64-72. That’s a big difference. 
So walkability and urbanity is going to mean something different in a hot, Southern climate vs. northern cities. Think of that as challenge #1."
"Great and small enterprises often have two births: first in purity, then in maturity. The idealism of the Declaration of Independence gave way to the cold-eyed balances of the Constitution. Love starts in passion and ends in car pools. 
The beauty of the first birth comes from the lofty hopes, but the beauty of the second birth comes when people begin to love frailty. (Have you noticed that people from ugly places love their cities more tenaciously than people from beautiful cities?)"
Yes, yes we do.
Finally, H-GAC recently released a new Mobility Now special edition video on "The Art of Transportation" celebrating 40 years of transportation planning in the region, including an extended conversation with County Judge Emmett.  A lot of interesting history in here, including (surprise!) yours truly at the 4:32 mark.

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At 10:04 PM, June 30, 2014, Anonymous Gary Bennett said...

So walkability is judged only by the hottest months of the year? In my decades of living in Philadelphia (and a few even colder climates), I found that the city was pretty much unwalkable through much of the four month winter (people bundled up to the gills, hurrying from cars to buildings). Does this mean we should declare Philly, New York, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh & Minneapolis(!) unwalkable cities as well? Frankly that would reduce us to a few West Coast cities (except perhaps in rainy season).

At 11:17 PM, June 30, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Big, big difference: you can bundle up quite easily to walk in the cold, but there are no portable air conditioners we can wear to walk in the heat.

At 1:29 AM, July 01, 2014, Anonymous Rich Robins said...

At least in the heat, one can wear short pants and short-sleeved shirts. Houston's heat's quite manageable that way. Google's dress code is that "you must come to work dressed." Maybe more businesses in Houston will be like that someday.

At 8:56 AM, July 01, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

In business attire, you will sweat mightily within 5-10 mins. In shorts casual attire, you might get 15 mins. All for Houston adopting the Hawaiian business dress code though!

At 1:50 PM, July 01, 2014, Anonymous Gary Bennett said...

My 36 years of living in Philly and Upstate New York (and 27 years of living in Texas) give me a slightly different perspective. Yes, you can always bundle up. But I once had a month long outdoor job in January, where the morning lows every day ranged from 15 to 20 below zero to afternoon highs of 10 to 15 above. Even the most extreme bundling cannot eliminate the pain (and extreme danger of frostbite). But I go instead with established data: outdoor jobs like road construction and maintenance are year-round in Texas, but restricted to 3-4 months each year in the Northeast. That is NOT a walking culture. In Austin I see people out on the streets most days of the year; in Philly, not so much. The real difference in places like Dallas and Houston is the car culture, and correspondingly poor planning of walkable environments.

At 12:49 AM, July 02, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rail is expensive because we so focused heavily on automotive transportation that we are playing catch up. Where would we be if we had the foresight to keep our original streetcars operational and expanding from there? We have so many roads we can't even maintain them.

At 7:33 AM, July 02, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Street cars are very low capacity and cost a fortune to maintain vs. buses.

At 1:48 PM, July 02, 2014, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

Walking is over rated. The reason we have a car culture, sprawl and suburbia is because that is the revealed preference of the majority of the population. Revealed preferences are the things we actually do or voluntarily pay money to do. This is different from stated preferences, which are just that, things we say are our preference but we don't put action or money where our mouth is. When people say they want walkability that means nothing. When people pay money to live in what walkable neighborhoods there are and furthermore, actually walk, then that means something.

At 2:38 PM, July 02, 2014, Anonymous Mike said...

New Orleans?

At 6:39 PM, July 02, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You completely missed my point. We essentially killed mass transit in the mid 20th century to focus on an auto centric mode. We are playing catch up in mass transit which makes it a bit more expensive had we incrementally upgraded and expanded our system over half a century. Instead we became auto centric and now have a road system we can't afford to maintain and expand.

At 6:45 PM, July 02, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...


We have a car culture because it was legislated at every level of govt from the early mid 20th century. Walking is overrated by itself but when you add mass transit it complimentary.

I'm in favor of a better balance between the automobile and mass transit. If I seem to overwhelmingly to favor mass transit it is because of the amount of catch up needed.

At 10:32 PM, July 02, 2014, Anonymous Mike said...

It's not such a big difference between the cold northern cities and here. They might bundle up to walk in the cold, but walking in 20 degree weather is an unpleasant activity to most people no matter how much they are wearing. No one wishes to run errands on foot when it's below freezing.

I still don't know why nobody notices New Orleans as a fine example of a walkable city in a climate more humid than Houston. People outside everywhere.

At 10:53 PM, July 02, 2014, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

Mike, "People outside everywhere" in New Orleans, yes and they are all drunk.


Streetcar ridership began a steep decline immediately after WWI as increasing wealth led more Americans to buy autos and abandon streetcars. All street car companies and transit agencies were privately held after WWI until the end of the 1960's. These private companies began substituting buses for streetcars and adding buses instead of streetcars on new routes from 1920 to 1970, as buses were found to be more flexible and cost effective. Legislation did not kill street cars or mass transit in the first seventy years of the twentieth century, consumer choice did. Mass transit, since the 1970's, as we know it today, is not the result of consumer choice, it is the result of legislative action and taxation of those who choose not to use mass transit.

At 10:35 AM, July 03, 2014, Anonymous awp said...


Price controls and other regulations by local municipalities played a large part in killing the Street Cars and Private Transit.

Other ways the large amount of driving is not a completely "revealed" choice.

Subsidies to the Federal and State Highway systems, from gas taxes paid while driving on local roads, and more recently straight up transfers from the general funds.
Negative externalities (pollution, congestion) to driving that are not fully captured in gas or other auto taxes.
Parking Minimums.
Euclidean Zoning.
Excessive Setback requirements.
Transportation Planning that emphasized Auto-throughput to the detriment of any other use.

That's just off the top of my head.

If we changed some of the above the auto and dispersed suburbs would still be dominant revealed choice, but not so much.

At 11:17 AM, July 03, 2014, Blogger Jardinero1 said...


Parking Minimums.
Euclidean Zoning.
Excessive Setback requirements.
Transportation Planning that emphasized Auto-throughput to the detriment of any other use.

These were a response to and occurred after Autos had become the dominant mode of travel.

Subsidies to the Federal and State Highway systems have little to do with the death of private transit systems. I do agree with you about price controls and regulations.

At 12:49 PM, July 03, 2014, Anonymous awp said...


Parking Minimums.
Euclidean Zoning.
Excessive Setback requirements.
Transportation Planning that emphasized Auto-throughput to the detriment of any other use.

These might have been a response to the more regular use of Autos, but helped it become excessively dominant.

Most of those examples started before/while there was an average of one car per family.

At 1:39 PM, July 03, 2014, Anonymous Mike said...

Other things killed by consumer choice during the 20th century that are now making a comeback:

whole grain bread
beer with flavor
anything handmade
live drama
fresh produce
gun ownership
hardwood floors
hobbies other than television
cooking from scratch
biblical Christianity
community associations
facial hair
acoustic musical instruments

At 6:01 PM, July 03, 2014, Anonymous Rich Robins said...

Rail's expensive to deploy but if we could share somehow with existing railroads, there might be some potential there. FYI:

To potentially win over Congressman Culberson, we need to address how it presently costs over a hundred million bucks per mile of expanded rail. Money doesn't grow on trees, as one can confirm at .

At 1:25 PM, July 14, 2014, Blogger Notsuoh Photography said...

The bumps are balanced by good ridership even in the city's hotter months, if June is any indication. As the weather warmed, the system still averaged more than 220 checkouts a day.


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