Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Big news, METRO's future, our traffic and gentrification is better than you think, cars safer than rail, and more

Apologies for the delay since my last blog post. A lot has backlogged so this may be a long one...

First, the big news: I got mentioned in David Brooks’ New York Times column last week ("Where America Is Working", Chronicle reprint here) which I believe is the most read column in America (the column is consistently in the top ten most popular NYT articles which is unique among NYT’s regular columnists).  He’s also my favorite writer of all time, so it’s kinda made my day/week/month… :-)  The key excerpt:
"There are two kinds of places that are getting it right... The second kind of cities we might call Joel Kotkin cities, after the writer who champions them. These are opportunity cities like Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City. These places are less regulated, so it's easier to start a business. They are sprawling with easy, hodgepodge housing construction, so the cost of living is low. Immigrants flock to them. 
As Kotkin and Tory Gattis pointed out in an essay in The City Journal, Houston has been a boomtown for the past two decades. It's America's fourth-largest city, with 35 percent metro area population growth between 2000 and 2013. It's the most ethnically diverse city in America and has had a surge in mid-skill jobs. Houston's diversified its economy, so even the energy recession has not derailed its progress."
Moving on to the other items this week:
  • I was able to attend a METRO blogger luncheon last week with the new chairwoman, Carrin Patman.  It was clear she had done her homework reading up on us and that resulted in a productive exchange of ideas.  They've begun work on a new regional transit plan, and I'm cautiously optimistic it will go in a more realistic, cost-effective, future-oriented (i.e. autonomous vehicles), and less rail-centric direction than what I saw last month.  If we're really lucky they'll get innovative with the coming new technologies, but that's pretty rare for government agencies that are usually more comfortable being a follower than a leader - with the refreshing recent exception of the bus network re-imagining (maybe the first of a forward thinking trend?!).  You can read more about it here.
  • Speaking of transit innovation that might combat declining ridership:
"And then there's this from Tesla CEO Elon Musk. At a transportation conference in Norway last month, Musk mentioned that his engineers are working on a self-driving bus-like vehicle that would help address urban congestion. He added that it could offer better service than transit buses because it would take people all the way to their actual destinations. No further details have been disclosed."
"The article says that cities shouldn’t hesitate to build light rail just because self-driving cars are about to make transit completely obsolete. In fact, light rail is the accident waiting to happen. In 2012, light-rail trains killed 40 people in the process of carrying less than 2.5 billion passenger miles; that’s more than 16 fatalities per billion passenger miles
In the same year, vehicles on urban roads and streets killed 7.7 people per billion vehicle miles, which at 1.67 persons per vehicle (see table 16) is less than five per billion passenger miles. The goal of Volvo and other self-driving car companies is to reduce that by 90 percent or more."
Finally, a pretty cool graph I came across on Twitter showing change in home values vs. expansion of developed residential area.  Houston is at the bottom with the most stable home prices among all metros, even while doubling our metro population with less sprawl than many comparably growing metros. The power of no zoning and the free market! (click the graph to see a larger version)

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At 2:06 PM, July 17, 2016, Blogger George McKee said...

I'm not surprised by the accident data for light rail. An at-grade railcar is even harder to stop in an emergency than a bus in a dedicated lane. But I bet the statistics are quite different when the railway or busway are grade separated. Houston's pedestrian tunnels prove that our flooding rains are not a realistic obstacle to rail or bus subways. The subways simply need to have flood doors designed in. The London Undergound seems to work fine, despite the Thames flooding even more than Houston bayous.


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