Sunday, June 07, 2015

Why expand freeways when they just refill? plus local think tanks, we're #1 in N.America trade, and more

Before getting into this week's smaller items, I have to call BS on this disparaging of the Katy freeway expansion because congestion and trip times are back up.  It completely ignores both the fact that the new I10 has the two-way HOT lanes option for all drivers and transit riders, as well as the fact the new 23-lane freeway is moving far, far more people than the old 7 lane freeway - and isn't that what transportation infrastructure investments are supposed to do?  How is "we shouldn't build this - too many people will use it" a legitimate argument?  It's absurd on the face of it.  Have you ever heard someone say "We really shouldn't build or expand that airport - too many people will want to fly"? Sure, economic growth causes freeways to grow congested over time (as can trains, btw - see Tokyo and NYC), but using that as an argument against expansions is a slippery slope that if you ran it backwards through history would lead to Houston having few or no freeways - and how many people think we'd be the economic powerhouse we are today without our robust, multi-lane/multi-loop freeway network we've expanded over the decades?

Moving on to the smaller items this week:
Finally, last week I mentioned this great fact sheet infographic on Houston from Patrick over at the GHP, but I forgot to mention that my favorites are the fact that we're up to 190 nonstop destinations from our airports (seriously impressive - the airports have been on a tear lately adding new service) and that we have more jobs in the metro area than 36 states!

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At 8:54 AM, June 08, 2015, Anonymous Jay Blazek Crossley said...

You actually get right at the point of the article. The expansion of the Katy Freeway caused many more Houstonians to be driving in the mess that is the Katy Freeway through the market principles of induced demand and the free rider effect. Had we not expanded that freeway and not subsidized sprawl with the Grand Porkway, less people would have chosen to live in inefficient sub-urban housing locations that require excessive driving. If we had instead chosen to invest similar efforts in building back the urban grid in that corridor, in transit, in Complete Streets, and encouraged walkable urbanism in pockets all along the neighborhoods in that corridor, you might have actually reduced congestion while improving people's lives.

In general, there are many studies that show that adding sprawl loop roads and subsidizing the poor choice of excessive car travel with things like the Katy Freeway is detrimental to property values (thus tax base) and retail sales in a metro region. I am not aware of any studies that indicate that excessive freeway building is helpful to our economy to any more extent that any massive government spending program boosts an economy. Correlation is not causation. We simply are wasting our abundance on concrete that causes us to drive more than we need to be driving. We do in fact know from the stimulus that investing such funds in transit and repairing existing streets results in about twice as many jobs than investing in new roads.

The Managed Lanes don't do anything about congestion for that corridor, they simply offer the choice of avoiding congestion for a small group of people. While we are at it, the mismanagement of the managed lanes (not charging full market prices) has meant a degradation of the HOV and bus transit system in that corridor.

I am strongly in favor of congestion pricing, especially along the lines of the TTI Credit Based Congestion Pricing Concept that works similar to, but better than London. We should hope for a free market approach to transportation in Texas where users incorporate costs into every decision, instead of the current form of destructive top down socialism enforcing the option of car and living in a fantasy world where we pretend there are not massive costs.

At 9:17 AM, June 08, 2015, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Agree on full market pricing for HOT lanes and congestion pricing. While I support efforts to make neighborhoods more walkable and enable density (encouraged by Uptown and Energy Corridor plans, but won't ever happen in those elite westside villages though), I think what really would have happened if we hadn't expanded the Katy was that employers would have abandoned the Energy Corridor and even Uptown and Downtown for Sugar Land, Katy, or The Woodlands. They would move where their employees can access large, new, affordable homes in good school districts. What you describe as "detrimental to property values" I would characterize as "keeping homes affordable by enabling a robust supply and easy access to that supply". People are perfectly capable of living next to where they work if they want to make that choice (we have all forms of housing next to all of the job centers), but they're finding they like the value equation farther out, even with the cost of congestion or HOT tolls.

At 11:58 AM, June 08, 2015, Blogger YourHouse said...

No matter how much you pay in congestion or toll bills, there is still a detrimental effect of all this driving on quality of life. I went near insane driving on the Katy everyday in rush hour, and I know there are thousands of others who experience the same thing. Once METRO gets their new expansion plan in effect, I hope there is a LARGE public push for using "alternative" (I hate to use that word.) modes of transportation. When I started riding the bus everyday, I noticed a significant change in my happiness and my views of commuting. It was experiencing life with others that made me realize I live in a city with millions of other people... in a car, you just don't have that same experience.

Also, I have a feeling that the congestion of our roads is a major player in what will soon be record "extreme heat" day in Houston:

I just can't get on-board with expanding or building more roads. Something needs to be done for public transport/walkability/bikability in Houston. The sooner, the better!

At 7:45 PM, June 09, 2015, Anonymous Rich said...

Now that Metrorail's size has approximately doubled here in Houston, ridership will conceivably not be as dense. Hopefully Houston Metro's cost-per-rider won't consequently approach DART's:

Doesn't ridership on highways yield some sort of a net loss, too? Unfortunately there's a net gain in air pollution with roadway traffic. And that adversely affects our brains & lungs:

At any rate, mass transit has much to offer, don't you agree? :-) Mass transit use = freedom from parking tickets & towing woes. Freedom from traffic tickets & traffic jams. Freedom from costly trips to mechanics' shops & gas stations. Freedom from driving among folks who drive and text, or worse. Freedom from Geico's tedious auto insurance commercials. (Well, maybe not entirely but…) collectively speaking, mass transit also represents freedom from smog which prematurely ages the brain and causes birth defects. Some mayoral candidates are taking more of an interest than others. To see who & how:


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