Sunday, January 28, 2018

Houston 2045 transit vision lacks vision in addition to being outrageously unaffordable

HGAC's High Capacity Transit Task Force has put out a preliminary draft 2045 vision containing some pretty seriously concerning elements, including a stubborn adherence to obsolete and expensive transit approaches that have been proven to not work in dispersed cities like Houston (see DFW and LA - $9B of rail for a total ridership decline! - as just two examples).  I asked Oscar Slotboom to give me his thoughts, which he authorized me to share below:
  • Proposes to increase the mileage of fixed guideway transit from the current 27.6 miles to 383 miles (!!!), a net addition of 355 miles. Depending on the mix of technology (light rail, commuter rail or bus rapid transit), this will cost in the range of $16 to $36+ billion (Tory note: that's building two+ NRG Stadiums every year for 30 years!), with an annual operating cost around $500 million (!). Metro’s 2018 operating budget is $620 million. 
  • Makes the totally unrealistic claim of increasing worker public transit usage from the current 2.4% to 17.4% by 2045. Regions which have made huge investments in rail still have transit usage percentages far below 17%, for example: Atlanta 2.8%, Chicago 11.4%, Dallas-Fort Worth 1.4%, Denver 4.1%, Los Angeles 5.5%, Portland 5.3%, San Jose-San Francisco 10.4%, Seattle-Tacoma 8.3%, Washington-Baltimore-Arlington 11% (source) (Tory note: they are also all currently declining, not increasing!)
  • Most of the commuter lines would parallel nearby existing HOV lanes, and many “High Capacity All Day” routes (light rail or BRT) serve destinations with very low ridership, including the airports (DFW airport gets a pathetic average of 7 riders per train!). This massive investment would likely suffer from low ridership on most of the system, similar to the very low ridership of Metro's purple and green lines.
  • This plan, or a subset of the proposed routes, would almost surely require a large tax increase and end the General Mobility transfers, which could force local governments to increase taxes.
  • In consideration of likely disruption of transportation in upcoming decades due to ride services, electric cars, and vehicle automation, this massive expenditure will be hugely wasteful. A better solution is much-less-expensive MaX lanes, a system of managed lanes for buses, toll-paying vehicles and potentially automated vehicles.
Oscar's thoughts on the specific routes here - click on the map to see a larger more readable version:

Let's hope this preliminary draft gets scrapped and we see more innovative - and affordable - thinking in future drafts.

UPDATE 2/2/18: We've gotten word that high-capacity transit (HCT) can include MaX Lanes, which is great to hear, although with 27.6 miles listed for today's HCT Guideway number, that's only counting light rail, not HOV/HOT (a number they may want to fix?).  And realistically many, many miles of this map look like rail of one form or another, as Oscar points out:
"It seems like the US 90A, BNSF-Tomball, Pearland and UP-Galveston lines are envisioned as commuter rail, since those routes follow rail lanes, not freeway/tollway. The Northwest Freeway route appears to be on the Hempstead corridor, also probably commuter rail (or possibly on the tollway (if it is built) or maybe on the Texas Central track). 
Several of the HCT Peak routes are obviously light rail since they are continuations of existing routes, including the Bush and Hobby routes. 
The Gessner route could be LRT or BRT, not MaX. 
That leaves only the following candidates for MaX: Katy Freeway HCT All Day; Westpark HCT Peak; North Freeway HCT Peak."
UPDATE 2: This is very encouraging! Houston Chronicle: Houston population growth fueling expansion of commuter bus options

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At 4:49 PM, January 28, 2018, Blogger George Rogers said...

Just use MAX lanes on the given routes!

At 4:56 PM, January 28, 2018, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Well, I'm biased, but total agreement! ;-)

At 5:02 PM, January 28, 2018, Blogger George Rogers said...

They all are freeways or are relatively easy to upgrade to such—South Main, and Post Oak South)—So just build MAX lanes on these routes.

At 9:09 AM, February 02, 2018, Blogger George Rogers said...

Where are the transit shills.

At 7:16 PM, February 04, 2018, Blogger George Rogers said...

Gessner could include max lanes, Just move it a couple of blocks to Beltway 8.


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