Monday, November 30, 2015

Our not-that-bad traffic bottlenecks, Ashby parody, autonomous cars forecast, TX-HSR, affordability strategies, fixing LA

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  On to this week's items:
  • Kuff has a pretty good analysis of why it's fine that the Dallas-Houston high-speed rail will terminate at 290 and 610 instead of downtown, including the opportunity for redevelopment out there.  As far as a light rail line connecting it on to downtown, I'm very skeptical on the cost-benefit.  I'm open to data otherwise, but my guess would be that any given trainload would have less than a busload that wants to get downtown - why not just have an express bus meet the trains and shuttle them downtown?  Not only would it be faster than a net 17mph light rail, it can circulate downtown to get people closer to their actual destinations.  In fact, this could be a *great* use for some of those Park-and-Ride express buses that are idle most of the day.
  • This is a pretty interesting report on the nation's top bottlenecks with some deep analysis here.  It gave me some optimism: our three on the list are not ranked that high, and there is current construction (290) and plans (59) to fix two of them.  Now we just need to double-deck the West Loop! Page 48 of the document at the bottom has the success story of the Katy Freeway expansion.
  • How Soon Will We Get Self-Driving Cars?  Conclusion:
"Based on this, I find it completely reasonable to think that, by 2020, you’ll be able to buy a car that is completely self-driving on many roads and streets, but that may require you to take over on some little-used roads. Moreover, I think these cars will penetrate the market much faster than pessimists think, both because companies like Uber will make them available for-hire at rates of about 25 cents a mile, and because many cars built between now and 2020 will be easily upgradable to be self-driving cars. And, contrary to some expectations, such self-driving cars should almost completely replace transit (at least, outside of New York City) within a few years after they are introduced."
On a related note, I had my first ride in a self-driving Tesla last weekend - limited capability (requires active driver monitoring) but still impressive.  
Finally, a pretty amusing NIMBY parody video about the Ashby high rise.  Hat tip to George.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Houston still has the highest standard of living, how smart growth regs hurt the poor, rail fail, and more

This week's items:
"One thing building rail doesn’t do is get many people out of their cars. In 1980, before building any rail, Los Angeles transit carried 5.9 percent of commuters to work. Today, after building six light-rail, one heavy-rail, and seven commuter-rail lines, transit’s share of commuting is all the way up to 6.0 percent–and only 13.5 percent of those transit commuters take the train."
"All of these regulations, write the authors, have been found to increase prices by limiting housing supply. And that disproportionately hurts the poor.
"Most of these studies find that both traditional land use policies and newer policies, such as smart growth and inclusionary zoning, increase the cost of housing. And because housing takes up a larger share of the budgets of lower-income households relative to higher-income households, these policies are regressive."
But all these measures kowtow to a group–NIMBYs–who don’t really have a legitimate grievance anyway. Someone who buys a home and pays taxes in a city has a right to good public services. But they shouldn’t be able to micromanage surrounding property that isn’t theirs. The fact that this has become an entitlement shows the distorted nature of modern urban politics. Existing owners have become an interest group demanding undue protectionism, and officials, wishing to stay popular, satisfy them by crafting stronger regulations. Those who suffer are newcomers–especially poor ones–wishing to rent or own in America’s destination cities."
"The growth of Houston has far surpassed the perception about it from outsiders. Thanks to a warm climate, pro-business policies, and a lack of zoning, it is now America’s 4th-largest city, and is creeping up on perpetually-mismanaged Chicago. In the process, it has nurtured a host of amenities that signify its newly-global status, from the world’s largest medical center to one of America’s best restaurant scenes. Add to these several new parks, with more to come, that could tweak the city’s sprawling and auto-centric reputation.
"But the most remarkable thing about the park, in an age when government projects constantly exceed cost estimates and drag on for decades, is how much bang this public-private partnership got for its buck. For $58 million, Buffalo Bayou Park now has two new major visitor centers, several pedestrian bridges, added flood control, and acres of amenity-filled parkland. Anne Olson, president of the partnership, credited the project’s privately-funded model for the strong turnaround."
When it comes to the factors for attracting this talent, Houston’s parks likely will not surpass its strong business climate. But they should slowly make Houston’s image greener, and assuming everything is completed on time, will become a testament to the city’s pragmatic spirit. In 13 years, the city will have added numerous world class parks, at a cost likely far less than the economic benefits reaped. While other cities have become monuments to bureaucratic inertia, Houston will show what happens when a business-oriented city gets into the business of parks."
Scott is on a 28-month tour of living in 28 American cities leading towards a book on city revitalization, and we're his #2 stop after starting in Miami.  I've shown him around town a bit, and I think he's been impressed with what he's seen so far.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Houston vs. architects & Dallas traffic, DC loves our food, WSJ hates our pensions, and more

This week's items:
"Ranking first in every category, Houston is hands-down the best metro area for registered nurses. At 14.6 percent, the Houston metro made up the largest share of nursing jobs among the top ten. Combined with the highest average salary and the most affordable housing options, RNs can enjoy a high standard of living in Bayou City."
  • The Washington Post is reviewing the top ten food cities in America, with this month's focus on Houston - and they were very impressed!  Love these quotes!
“Everything you know about Texas is wrong”
"Houston, you have a problem. Your food scene deserves more love."
Finally, earlier this month I presented at the American Dream conference in Austin.  You can skim the presentations here and, if you're interested, my own Opportunity Urbanism slides are here.

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Monday, November 09, 2015

Stop 59S changes that favor commuters over inner loopers, how land regs hurt the poor, TX education better than you think, and more

Before getting to this week's items, I want to announce that I will be in the interview hot-seat at Startup Grind this Wednesday evening discussing education innovation.  You can get tickets here -hope to see some of you there!
"The differences in the systems are stark. DART’s rail system spans 90 miles, with 62 stations in 13 cities. METRO’s light rail is just 23 miles long with 44 stations, all of which are located in central Houston. 
But their ridership numbers are similar. DART Rail moves an average of 96,000 people on weekdays and 57,000 on Saturday. METRO light rail, meanwhile, gets 63,000 riders around town on weekdays, and 31,000 on Saturdays. 
That makes for a more efficient system in Houston, with 2,700 passengers per mile on weekdays, compared to around 1,000 in Dallas."
Finally, HGAC has a public meeting this week to present the recommendations of the Southwest Freeway Congestion Mitigation Study.

The objective of the study is to identify relatively low-cost measures to reduce congestion. Oscar Slotboom of has analyzed the recommendations in detail and found them pretty severely problematic.

Oscar has concerns about many of the recommendations, including negative impacts, high costs and reduced freeway access to local inner-loop traffic. He's hoping HGAC and TxDOT will take a closer look at the proposal, possibly scrapping several features and further refining other items to reduce negative impacts.  A sample of some of the issues:
  • Removal of the San Jacinto entrance ramp will eliminate freeway access for a large area, including Midtown, the Museum District, the Richmond corridor and traffic coming from the Medical Center on San Jacinto.
  • Proposed changes in the outbound direction from Kirby to Weslayan have the potential to cause huge congestion problems on the frontage road between Buffalo Speedway and Weslayan
  • Proposed changes in the inbound direction will add congestion at the Buffalo Speedway intersection.
  • The plan proposes conversion to a two-way HOV costing $240 million, but there is no need for a two-way HOV outside the loop. At Loop 610 and inbound toward Edloe, a two-way HOV will be complex and expensive, so any two-way HOV should be limited to the section between Buffalo Speedway and approximately Mandell.
  • In general, changes inside the loop increase congestion on the frontage roads to achieve improvement on the main lanes.
  • Changes to entrance and exit ramps are intended to aid rush-hour traffic, but the inconvenience imposed on local traffic occurs at all times - non-peak periods, weekends and nights.
  • The active traffic management will add a very large number of signs along the corridor and cost $72 million. The benefit/cost ratio of 7.6 seems overly optimistic.
  • If relocation of the HOV to the Metro right-of-way along Westpark has not been considered, this should be looked at since it would offer many benefits and potentially cost less than the $240 million price tag for the HOV changes in the proposal.
If you agree this sounds bad, attend the Thursday meeting or send them comments and make sure your voice is heard!

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