Monday, October 23, 2017

Why congestion after freeway expansion is a good thing, entrepreneurship hotspot, people want space, market urbanism, those savages in HTX, and more

Before getting to this week's items, a commentary on this silly article in the Chronicle, "Adding lanes doesn't reduce congestion. So what is TxDOT doing?"  What always gets lost in these kinds of stories about congestion growing back to previous levels after a freeway expansion is the additional number of people being moved every day, even if they're at the same speeds as before.  More cars and people are being moved, and that's a good investment. Do people honestly believe Houston would have been better off if we had frozen our freeway network 20 or 40 years ago?  Think of it this way: we want government to invest in infrastructure that gets a high utilization (as opposed to roads to nowhere). If they built a new airport runway and it filled up with flights, people would sing the praises of such a great investment, yet if we invest in additional freeway capacity and it fills up, it was wasted money? How does that make sense? It means the government built mobility infrastructure exactly where people needed it - where there was unmet demand - and isn't that exactly what we want them to do as taxpayers? (I made a similar comment on this story criticizing the widening of I10)

The more I think about it, the more the airport analogy really exposes the absurdity of the "induced demand" anti-freeway expansion argument.  Applying the same argument to airports would say every city only needs a single runway, because new runways just enable more flights and "induces demand" for more flying! So absurd!

Moving on to this week's items:
"Cities will sprawl—it’s pointless to try to stop the phenomenon. To the dismay of many environmentalists and urbanists, most people dislike tight quarters. They use rising incomes to buy themselves more space."
Some great stuff recently from The Market Urbanism Report:
"Note: I don’t mean to pick on Houston. In fact, I really like Houston, which is why I talk about it. Plus, they have great urbanists there who are working hard on these issues and might actually ease up on citywide parking requirements!"
"He begins with the obvious case study of Houston. While not completely unregulated, Houston has lighter regulations than other major U.S. metros, and builds much more housing than any of them. Although Houston receives many of the stereotypical scapegoats thought to increase housing prices ― millionaires, immigrants, corporate relocations, and luxury condos ― median home prices in Harris County remain $141,000."
  • Does adding expensive housing help the little guy? According to our analysis, it helps not only the little guy but every other income group.
  • Texas toll roads: a big step towards open markets for transportation
  • Housing and transportation costs have become a growing American burden. Clearly shows the rise of the car (and the plane) in the 20th century. And I think the author is downplaying the huge benefits of all that freedom of mobility. But what I don't think it shows is how much the car has become a luxury status symbol. I'm stunned how many high-end models there are now, and it's a bit of a misnomer to call that a "cost of transportation" when a used Honda Civic or Toyota Prius would get you the same places for a whole lot less money per mile (especially depreciation). To call all these luxury SUVs, trucks, sports cars, and sedans a "cost of transportation" is like calling a Brooks Brothers suit or Chanel dress a "cost of clothing".
Finally, leaving you with a bit of humor from Reason ;-D

Houston's Anarchic Zoning Laws are an Affront to Sim City

They just build whatever they want, wherever they want, like a bunch of savages.

That's us - savages! ;-D

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At 10:24 PM, October 23, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for rebutting the idiotic claim that expanding highways is bad because the expanded highways get additional traffic. As you point out, additional usage of infrastructure means economic growth and people going to jobs, which is what we want.

The Katy freeway traffic count (average daily traffic) just inside BW8 was 387,000 in 2016, compared to 223,000 adt in 2004 before the expansion work started. That's a lot of people going places, doing things.

At 8:42 AM, October 24, 2017, Blogger James said...

Tory, we’ve discussed this before. If the goal is to move more cars slower than ever then they need to say that to elected officials and the public and let us decide if that’s how we want to spend general taxes. Instead they sell the projects as congestion reduction which is disingenuous.

At 9:02 AM, October 24, 2017, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I'm not sure it is. The congestion is reduced for a number of years, and even now I10 is much better outside of the rush hours than it was before the expansion.

At 12:58 PM, November 02, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So congestion is reduced for "a number of years" until it gets worse than it was before, at which point we expand the freeways further until eventually Houston is just one giant freeway. I agree with your supply-and-demand mentality and the notion that congestion is indicative of a strong economy, but I think the underlying point of the anti-freeway argument is that you can only add so many lanes to freeways. If we want government to invest in infrastructure that gets a high utilization, why not focus more on public transportation that has the potential both for higher utilization and higher efficiency over the long term, instead of making room for more 5+ seat vehicles which will each carry one person. I don't question the wisdom of previous freeway expansion projects, but I do question whether it's a sustainable strategy for the decades to come, when our population is expected to continue growing at a high rate.

At 3:34 PM, November 02, 2017, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree there are ultimately limits on freeways, and I10W is a pretty good example of that limit. Going forward, I think it's about MaX Lanes and autonomous vehicles, especially with multiple passengers.

At 2:58 PM, November 03, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read your Chronicle article on MaX Lanes. You make an interesting point about how rail hasn't been a home run in other Sun Belt cities, and perhaps Houston is better off leap-frogging it entirely and embracing autonomous vehicles in a big way.

At 5:55 PM, November 03, 2017, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks! I'm convinced that's the future Houston needs to embrace.

At 11:34 AM, November 20, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What your argument doesn’t take into account, Tory, is that transportation facilities drive development in significant part. The reason I10 is congested again is that expansion facilitated more growth in the far west area. Where to invest in transportation needs to be based on where development should be encouraged (note: encouraged not mandated).

At 9:14 AM, November 21, 2017, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Exactly, the I10 expansion enabled fantastic growth and redevelopment in Memorial City, City Centre, the Energy Corridor, Katy, and elsewhere. Probably one of the most productive government investments of all time. Compare that to the rather anemic development next to the rail lines...


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