Sunday, January 11, 2015

Our #1 rankings, Houston getting travel plaudits, accessing edge city jobs, and more

Big backlog of small items to clear out...
"In fact, while much is made of rail bias, 45-foot commuter motorcoaches which directly link low-income suburbs with suburban employment may be perceived as higher-status than a rail-station “shuttle bus,” which is almost invariably the sort of cutaway-chassis affair that is usually associated with paratransit. If it’s good enough for Google, it oughtta be good enough for you."
"While fashioning a modern “adventure park” in an old facility presents technical challenges, it’s not unprecedented. In Detroit, the Globe Building, built in 1892 as a riverfront manufacturing hub, re-opened as the Outdoor Adventure Center, operated by the state’s Department of National Resources. In Pittsburgh, an 80,000-square-foot building that once housed a metal fabrication company, was transformed into The Wheel Mill, an indoor bike park."
"Yep, these days the Bayou City is cropping up more and more on travelers’ “let’s check it out” list. In 2014, for the first time ever, Houston ranked among the top five places in the United States on Travel + Leisure magazine’s list of America’s Favorite Cities. The city also grabbed the number 12 spot in TripAdvisor’s Top Travelers’ Choice Awards in 2014, jumping 13 places in one year. 
What’s the draw? Shopping, arts, entertainment, and food. The fourth-largest city in the nation is the South’s most stylish destination, with glitzy mega malls, premium outlet centers, and hundreds of up-to-the-moment fashion boutiques. The Downtown Theater District spans some 17 blocks, and the city boasts resident companies in ballet, opera, symphony and theater. The Museum District has 19 institutions within a 1.5-mile radius, including the renowned Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (with a proposed new wing in the works), the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Houston Zoo, which will open the $29 million Gorillas of the African Forest exhibit in spring 2015. The $1.5 billion downtown redevelopment, in anticipation of hosting Super Bowl 2017, has already brought in a slew of new restaurants and bars. The influx adds to an already dynamic, nationally recognized culinary scene showcasing the city’s rich, cultural diversity. And, the ongoing renovation and extension of rail lines is making it a lot easier to get around the fast-growing, sprawling metropolis. Then, there are the festivals, rodeos, and BBQ cook-offs. This energetic, cash-infused city knows how to spend money and throw a party."
"Don't get us wrong: Traveler enjoys a long weekend in Austin as much as the next guy. But if Austin is the hipster-cool college party of Texas, Houston is the adult dinner party where we prefer to be wined and dined. Is Houston the new "it" city?, we asked in September—it seems that way, with plenty of hip places to eat, stay, and play in the bustling Texas city."

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Life is better in red states, plus smart greenways, stupid rail, rising suburbia, reducing crime, and more

Happy new year everyone.  Unfortunately I'm going to have to open up the new year on a negative note with a take-down of a pretty absurd op-ed in the Chronicle today essentially calling for a multi-billion dollar commuter rail and monorail plan as well as aggressive land use regulation to go with it. In a world where the consensus is that the 2020s will have self-driving cars and incredibly affordable autonomous taxis that all together improve road capacity as much as 4x, why would any city in its right mind invest billions of dollars over decades to install old rail technology?  Especially a city with jobs spread over multiple decentralized job centers instead of concentrated in a single downtown?  In the meantime, he never explains what's wrong with our vast and cost-effective HOV lane network and express park-and-ride buses, or why we should just chuck that system for far more expensive and less flexible rail.  An express bus can get in the express lanes and go to any job center, as well as circulate there to get people to their buildings and keep them out of the weather - rail can only go to one destination, and it can't circulate when it gets there.  And when it comes to the land-use regulation to force dense development near transit stops: the LA Times looked at the data and found people in transit-oriented developments don't really shift their trips from cars to transit all that much.

And one more thing: I'm going to have to quibble with his estimate that we'll add 3.5 million people over the next 15 years to our existing 6.6m.  Sorry, we're growing fast, but not nearly that fast.  The GHP estimates our growth at between 1.5m and 2.7m over that time.  It will be all Metro's budget can do to just buy enough express buses to keep up with that growth, much less scrap the whole system and go to a multi-billion dollar commuter rail system of any kind.

Moving on to some smaller miscellaneous items this week:
Finally, I really like Jay Crossley's Neighborhood Greenways concept with the caveat that it focus on a grid of low volume residential streets - not our already strained arterials.  I think it's been a mistake in the past when we've lost critical arterial lanes to bike lanes nobody wants to use because they've got too much fast traffic all around them.  Be sure to check out the cool pics, graphics and maps.

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