Sunday, January 10, 2016

Replacing firefighters, Astrodome "ruin porn", Katy expansion vs. wasteful rail, and more

This week's items:
"Fire departments as people once knew them no longer exist. Most of a modern fire department's duties don't actually involve fighting fires. The number of fires across the nation was cut in half from 1980 to 2013, according to the National Fire Protection Association. New building codes, sprinkler systems, smoke detectors, flame-retardant materials and all sorts of laws and innovations have made our lives safer. Vehicle fires were cut by 64 percent and building fires declined 54 percent over that time. Yet while the number of fires have fallen, the number of people paid to fight them has grown by 50 percent
It isn't as if fire stations don't get calls anymore. In fact, the total number of calls tripled over that three-decade stretch. But people need help with problems that can't be solved by a ladder and hose. Medical emergency calls have quadrupled. About 85 percent of the Houston Fire Department's calls are for emergency medical services
Other cities have responded to these changing priorities by shifting resources where they're needed the most. Toronto has stopped sending firetrucks to medical emergencies and its budget writers have pushed for cutting fire stations while adding paramedics. That plan follows the advice of a 2013 study out of Portland State University's Center for Public Service, which identified replacing firetrucks with ambulances or other rapid response vehicles as a way to meet medical needs while cutting costs."
“This is the genius of this place. Houston will always be shambolic and stretched and not quite finished. We will never be the most beautiful city, or the most pedestrian-friendly city, or the most efficiently planned city: The heat and soul-sapping humidity, our adolescent fascination with cars and speed and shiny things, our perpetual craving for something new, all conspire against our best civic aspirations. Houston is a place to start over, and we do starting over better than any other city on the planet.”
"...there are serious equity issues with shifting resources from bus to rail – again, not because of anything inherent to those technologies, but simply because of who happens to use them in modern American cities. In most cases, shifting funding from bus to rail means shifting funding from services disproportionately used by lower-income people to ones with with a stronger middle- and upper-middle-class constituency. And while transit ought to be viewed as much more than just a service for the poor, we can’t ignore the equity impacts of transit policy. 
In light of all this, we have to stop talking about America’s bus woes as a ridership problem. All the evidence suggests that when service is strong, and buses are a reliable way to get to work, school, or the grocery store, people will take them. Instead, the problem is that fewer and fewer people have access to that kind of strong bus line. If we care about ridership, we need to restore and enhance the kind of transit services that people can rely on."
"No. 6 – Denver FasTracks, Denver, Colo.
How Much Has Been Spent: $5.5 billion
Why It's a Boondoggle: In 2004, voters approved the funding of 122 miles of commuter rail tracks and 57 new stations. It was supposed to be the largest rail expansion project in America, however enough funding to finish the project isn't available and might not be until 2040. Instead of asking for more money, the project was scaled back. 
No. 1 – California High-Speed Rail, Southern California
How Much Has Been Spent: $68 billion
Why It's a Boondoggle: A bullet train could greatly reduce Southern California's notoriously bad traffic. Construction on the first 29-mile segment began in early 2015, a full seven years after voters approved funding, but by then the projected $33 billion cost had more than doubled. Only a little more than a third of total funding has been accounted for and some opponents already are trying to get the project killed altogether."
Finally, I've gotta call BS on this assertion that the Katy freeway expansions was a mistake.  The project was finished in 2009, so the graph doesn't include pre-construction congestion.  And we just went through the biggest economic boom this city has ever seen - can you imagine what the traffic would look like *without* the widening?  It would be even more insane - like Austin on steroids.  On top of that, without that widening, I think many of the big oil and gas employers would have given up on the city and gone out to Sugar Land, Katy, and The Woodlands rather than the Energy Corridor, Uptown, or Downtown.  That freeway moves way, way more people than it did before as well as offering the congestion tolled lanes which didn't exist before.  Bottom line: the government invested in a piece of infrastructure that has proven extremely popular and highly utilized - isn't that what we want from government investments of tax dollars?  Let me ask you this: if we had a popular park, and expanded and upgraded it to make it even more popular, would we all complain that the expanded park "induced demand" and shouldn't have been expanded? Absolutely not - that would be absurd.  Transportation infrastructure is no different.

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At 12:12 AM, January 11, 2016, Blogger George Rogers said...

On the Astrodome see if you could sell it to Rice, UH, or TSU in exchange for repairs. Also the roof panel tech on TCF bank stadium would make a ton of sense for the dome.

At 6:42 AM, January 11, 2016, Blogger George Rogers said...

US Bank Stadium not TCF Bank Stadium.


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