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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At 10:43 PM, January 04, 2015, Blogger Max Concrete said...

Good response to an absurd editorial which is totally out of touch with reality, especially the cost of rail (which he seems to be unaware of), low ridership (like in Dallas) and success of our existing HOV system.

I've come to expect this kind of nonsense from academic architect types. They take their anti-car, anti-highway talking points and apply them to every city, regardless of the land-use, density and travel patterns of the city.

At 4:11 PM, January 05, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the bike lanes along Heights Blvd? They have been a success. One reason they have been a success is because they are wider than the lanes along streets like Waugh. Next time, could you please do a little more research before you post a link. It is very dishonest how sometimes you leave certain things out. Thank you. Anyway, the plan for more trails is wonderful idea, and step in the right direction. I use the existing trails. My favorites are the Heights Hike and Bike Trails and Bayou trails. And both are very popular. I have been biking and riding the bus for 20+ years now. I know. You have a lot to learn about these modes of transport.

Link to article:

At 2:01 PM, January 07, 2015, Anonymous awp said...

RE: Heights bike lane
Find all the other major non-through streets in primarily mid density residential areas that have another major street one-block away and see if that develops a very good network for bicycles.

At 11:08 AM, January 08, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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."

I'd be interested in one example where we "lost a critical arterial lane" for a bike lane in Houston. I can think of maybe one road where we reduced lane count to add bike lanes and it would be a pretty big stretch to call that lane critical.

At 1:56 PM, January 08, 2015, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Westpark went from 4 lanes to 3 (including a middle turn lane), which is a huge loss because only half as many cars can get through a green light cycle. I seem to remember West Alabama losing a lane too, but it got it back when the 59 trench rebuild construction started to create a traffic reliever.

At 6:59 PM, January 13, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think having three lanes on Westpark from Edloe to Wake Forest is a loss of critical roadways capacity when the corridor carries 8-11k cars per day then you really are pro-car at the expense of all other modes of transport.

I think lots of people would use those lanes if they connected to a network of other corridors that actually got you to where you wanted to go. Sometime that will require trade offs and allowing some space for sidewalks and bike lanes that may mean people will have to sit through a slightly longer signal from time to time.

At 7:09 PM, January 13, 2015, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Losing lanes on Westpark makes absolutely no sense to me because there is a giant, open, power line right of way *right next to it* that would be *perfect* for bike lanes, and they would be a hell of a lot safer too!

At 10:18 AM, January 14, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is an entirely different point than the alarmist "we are losing critical vehicle lanes" argument. I agree there are many places in Houston where separated trails are preferable and I think a separated trail on Westpark utility easement could be beneficial if designed well. The challenge on Westpark is that
1) you still need to get people across the intersections of major N-S roadways. That is safest and most efficient at either the intersections with appropriate treatments (requiring roadway space) or through very expensive grade separations meaning you are on street regardless at those points unless you want to force a huge cost on trail system that is not really needed.
2) Off road facilities are significantly more expensive than reallocating available and underutilized road space through restriping. 8-11k daily vehicles is entirely appropriate volume for two lane road with turn lanes.
2) To provide bicycle options for people other than the hard core rider we need to connect parallel trails to the many destinations people want to go to in both directions. This means the "bikes should be on separate facilities" thinking is flawed if we want people to actually consider bikes as a transport mode. Maybe you don't want that to happen but there are a lot of people I know who ride for some share of their trips or would like to but just want better facilities.

At 10:09 PM, January 14, 2015, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I'd love for that to happen. I think we should be improving our bike infrastructure. But we should be doing it in ways that don't make our already congested roads worse. RoW is limited, and we need to move the most possible people with what we've got - losing a 100+ cars an hour in a lane to 2-3 bike riders is not the answer. I'm sure there are clever ways to use parallel roads, power line and bayou rights of way, medians, etc. And of course if a road is underutilized, then bike lines on it are fine. Or even narrowing lanes to preserve lanes and make space for a bike lane. But not on our most congested arterials - like Westheimer, Kirby, Shepherd, West Alabama, etc. - and I think Westpark was a mistake too.


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