Monday, January 30, 2017

Super Bowl! more MaX lanes, paying for infrastructure, affordability ranking, pension fix, autonomous vehicles vs. rail, Texas Urbanism, and more

Lots of items for Super Bowl week in Houston!
And some non-Super Bowl items:
“To improve transit in the region, auditors called for increasing the number of HOV lanes in the Houston area.”
"If President Trump wants to seriously improve American infrastructure spending, he should champion a new federalism for transportation, in which infrastructure is funded by states, localities and especially the users themselves. Too often, public debates devolve into a simplistic argument of "more" infrastructure versus "less." In many ways, America's infrastructure is woefully deficient, but we have also wasted billions on bridges to nowhere and highways in the middle of nowhere. The right question is how to get better infrastructure.The best decisions are made when decision-makers bear the costs and reap the benefits."
Hear, hear! 
"Houston owes its police, fire, and city workers about $7.8 billion, and it doesn’t exactly have the cash on hand. Their hard-fought solution could serve as a model for the rest of Texas, and the nation."
Finally, "Self-driving cars could spell revolution for Houston--or not" (hat tip to Julia).  I do think they help make the argument that Houston could get rid of parking minimums (like Buffalo recently did) and let the market naturally reduce parking over time as autonomous vehicles ramp up.

In addition, the City's Public Works department may not have too much to consider, but METRO certainly does with their new long-range plan.  If we’re about to make point-to-point vehicle transportation far cheaper, safer, and more convenient, then what’s the impact on transit? I for one would argue that further rail investments will get nowhere near the ridership they expect and are likely to be horrible investments. This month's Surface Transportation Innovations newsletter from Reason concurs:
How Will Autonomous Vehicles Affect Public Transportation?

"A final point for transportation planners and transit managers to consider is the impact of these technologies on long-range planning for infrastructure. Here is the most relevant paragraph: 
"Numerous communities across the country are planning for or evaluating major capital fixed-guideway public transit investments whose success may be impacted by the presence of alternative mobility options. The criticality of reflecting on these issues relates to both the magnitude of the cost of these commitments and the fact that these assets are very long-lived. These fixed-guideway commitments may well have extensive economic life remaining at points in time when new travel options compete with them, potentially cannibalizing their markets and rendering the investments less productive than envisioned in the planning stages."

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Another outsider loves Houston, top rankings, Super Bowl mobility, reducing rents with supply, insane rail costs, and more

Apologies for the posting delays - quite the backlog of items to get through:
"Another list recently heralded Houston as one of the best places in the U.S. to start a business — the Bayou City ranked No. 6 around the country. Houston ranked as fourth-best city in the U.S. for young entrepreneurs, and Texas was rated No. 2 on CNBC's "Top States for Businesses" list."
  • This article does a great job explaining the absolutely *insane* infrastructure costs in NYC for new subway lines, stations, and a bus terminal.  $2 billion per mile for new subway?! $4 billion for one new downtown station?! $10 *billion* for a new bus terminal?!  The equivalent of *thirty* NRG stadiums! Are you kidding me?!  Just pull out these numbers next time anyone complains about TXDoT spending a couple of billion completely rebuilding a spoke freeway in Houston... it's a relative bargain!
  • Speaking of insane rail costs, just in from the LA Times: California's bullet train is hurtling toward a multibillion-dollar overrun, a confidential federal report warns
"California’s bullet train could cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated — as much as $3.6 billion more. And that’s just for the first 118 miles through the Central Valley, which was supposed to be the easiest part of the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco. 
A confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis, obtained by The Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion. 
The federal document outlines far-reaching management problems: significant delays in environmental planning, lags in processing invoices for federal grants and continuing failures to acquire needed property.  
The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally anticipated completing the Central Valley track by this year, but the federal risk analysis estimates that that won’t happen until 2024, placing the project seven years behind schedule."
"Denver is spending billions of dollars building more than 100 miles of rail lines. When all the lines are done, promoters project they will reach just 26 percent of the region’s jobs. Since most people won’t live near a rail line, only about 2 or 3 percent of commuters are likely to use it
Even most of the people who live near it won’t ride light rail because it is so slow. According to the American Public Transportation Association’s Transit Fact Book, the average speed of light rail is 15.6 mph while streetcars average just 7.3 mph. Not much accessibility benefit there."
"Houston, perhaps America’s least-regulated metro housing market, is the simulacrum of this 21st-century urbanism in all its messy brilliance. The fast-densifying greater downtown area has good Walk Scores and could legitimately be called "urban"; a half-dozen similar job centers--from random edge cities to tasteful towncenters--dot the metro; makeshift settlement communities pop up to house incoming immigrants; and, of course, haphazard single-family and multi-family housing sprawls in every direction. This willingness to build is why Houston can accommodate large population influxes, remain cheap...and perform so well economically."
I've got more, but that's more than enough for this week's post.  See ya next week.

P.S. Memo to the Texans: get Romo. Whatever the cost (although he should be willing to take a pay cut to get on a team with a real shot at the Super Bowl). With him and a healthy JJ Watt, next year's Super Bowl is very, very possible...

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