Monday, March 27, 2017

Bike plan prudence, how spontaneous order keeps Houston affordable, suburbs winning, high cost of zoning, and more

Before getting to this week's items, a short comment on the city's new bike plan: while I’m all for making biking better/easier/more popular (especially along bayous and power-line rights-of-way), I’m a bit worried that some activists are using it as a smokescreen to attack cars (reduce speeds, take away lanes for bike lanes, etc.), which of course carry magnitudes more people than bikes do, especially in Houston. It would be the equivalent of disrupting/slowing big jets at IAH so little single-engine prop planes have an easier time, and how much sense would that make?

I feel the same way about initiatives to reduce traffic deaths: noble intention, and we should certainly work on it, but within the realm of prudence. For example, radical reductions in speed limits would certainly reduce traffic deaths, but it would also slowly suffocate cities from a lack of mobility. Thank goodness autonomous technologies are coming to save us from our own bad driving...

There are a heck of a lot of new items this week, so here we go:
"Increased frequencies did far more to increase ridership than fare reductions, the paper found. So-called “choice” riders are most likely to value their time more than money (at least, within the range of transit fares), so this makes particular sense in areas where most people already have cars. 
The Antiplanner remains convinced that transit will soon be rendered obsolete by shared, self-driving cars. But until that happens, there seems to be little reason in most cases for cities to build new rail lines, as innovative bus services should be able to attract riders at a far lower cost."
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, many US cities have a lot to learn from Houston. With tight development restrictions, out-of-date urban planning regimes, and burdensome regulations forcing middle- and lower-class Americans out of West Cost and Northeastern cities, Houston’s mix of affordable housing and economic opportunity is more valuable than ever. As other cities have attempted to maintain tight, centralized control on urban and economic development—exemplified by a recent push by Dallas to shutter local businesses in order to attract chains—Houston has opted to take a back seat to residents, entrepreneurs, and civil society groups in cultivating economic development and crafting urban communities. 
Some continue to blame Houston’s unique approach for everything from flood damage—as if imposing side setbacks and keeping delis out of neighborhoods would avoid statewide flooding—to remaining pockets of poverty within the city. Certainly some form of citywide coordination on data collection and service allocation in pursuit of efficiency and equity makes sense. Yet past attempts to impose greater centralized urban planning on Houston have been defeated by overwhelming working-class opposition every time. Those residents know something many in the urban planning world don’t. It is well past time that we start taking Houston’s success seriously."
"According to a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh, from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and Enrico Moretti, from the University of California, Berkeley, local land-use regulations reduce the United States’ economic output by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, or about 10 percent lower than it could be."

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At 9:30 PM, March 27, 2017, Anonymous Rich said...

How would the emergence of autonomously driven vehicles really make that much of a dent in traffic? Yes, they could drive more closely to one another and (theoretically) otherwise engage in less space-consuming activity... but do jumping beans take up less space than regular beans similarly crammed into a little plastic box? The jumping beans are more autonomous but...

Anyhow doesn't this comparative photo say quite a bit about the traffic advantages of using rail cars or buses to transport people, instead of cars?

Autonomously driven buses could be better still, admittedly... Perhaps that's what you're primarily referring to when suggesting that traffic can improve substantially with such technology's implementation?

At 9:40 PM, March 27, 2017, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

My autonomous comment was about safety, not congestion, although I do think they might help with that (they can move faster with tighter spacing, moving more people).

At 11:01 AM, March 28, 2017, Blogger Unknown said...

Ten people die every day in Texas because of our current choices in our transportation system. Every two days, three families across the Houston lose a loved one forever. Five times that many suffer incapacitating injuries.

While I think your traffic engineering theories are wrong. Your morals on this issue are quire further off than your mistaken belief that high speed of car travel equals access.

At 11:08 AM, March 28, 2017, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Sure, let's set the statewide speed limit at 20mph. Well, that might still occasionally hurt a pedestrian or bike rider, so better make it 10mph. And while we're at it, let's go ahead and ban showers and bathtubs because so many people slip and fall - everybody can just take nice safe sponge baths.

At 11:15 AM, March 31, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, every single mobility choice we make has mobility-safety trade-offs. On one hypothetical extreme, we could remove every single road and intersection and make quite a bit of a dent in traffic fatalities. We would also completely destroy the economy and society as a whole -- so, it's probably worth introducing a bit of a risk.

However, we also need to be honest about the trade-offs. This blog post seems to equate a lower vehicle speed with a similar degradation of mobility and, in turn, the economy. But is that really fair? When you're driving, especially in an urban condition, do you feel like most of your delay comes from the speed you're driving? Or more from traffic congestion and delays at busy intersections?

Driving 5 miles at 30mph with no other delays or stops will take 10 minutes. 25mph will take 12 minutes...20 mph will take 15 minutes. We're talking 2-5 extra minutes. Put that in perspective. Getting through a single, busy intersection can easily take 2-5 minutes -- and most people are traveling through more than one intersection!

Meanwhile, the likelihood of a pedestrian (maybe a child walking to school?) getting killed if struck by a car drops from over 40% at 30mph to less than 10% at 20mph. And the chance that a driver will be able to see, react to, and avoid the child in the first place simultaneously increases.

If that kind of trade-off makes me a smoke-screening activist, then. . .well, I think you need to redefine "smoke-screening activist," because that trade-off seems downright reasonable to me.

At 2:20 PM, March 31, 2017, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Certainly don't disagree about lower speed limits in school zones during opening and closing hours.


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