Saturday, June 23, 2018

Why LA tourism is exploding and might help Houston too, flood overregulation, Houston and transit, and more

Some good items this week:
"Houston is one of the few regions where transit ridership is still growing. From 2012 to 2017, when San Antonio ridership declined by 23 percent, Houston ridership grew by 7 percent. In the first four months of 2018, when San Antonio ridership fell another 3.2 percent, it grew by 3.5 percent in Houston. (Houston’s market share still declined despite ridership growth because ridership didn’t grow as fast as driving.) 
Houston’s success appears to be due to a major reorganization of bus routes. Instead of operating buses on a hub-and-spoke system focused on downtown, Houston rerouted them into a grid system. Since most jobs are no longer located downtown, a grid bus network allows more people to get to work with fewer transfers and out-of-the-way trips. 
Houston’s success is not a complete victory. Houston-area transit ridership was much higher before the 2008 recession than it is today. Ridership peaked in 2007 at more than 102 million trips per year; in 2017, it was just 89 million trips per year."
"It ain’t the heat here, Bourdain realized, it’s the humanity."
Finally this week, an older item I'm finally getting around to from the LA Times: Los Angeles, Houston and the appeal of the hard-to-read city:
"Houston is casually written off even more often than Los Angeles, which is saying something. Now the fourth largest city in the country in population — and gaining on third-place Chicago — it's an unruly place in terms of its urbanism, a place that (as Los Angeles once did) has room, or makes room, for a wide spectrum of architectural production, from the innovative to the ugly.
Roughly one in four residents of Houston's Harris County is foreign-born, a rate nearly as high as those in New York and Los Angeles. Houston's relationship with Dallas, the third biggest city in Texas, is something like L.A.'s with San Francisco; the southern city in each pair is less decorous, less fixed in its civic identity and (at the moment, at least) entirely more vital."
Speaking of LA, an observation that came out of my recent vacation there.  It relates to this Cranky Flier post showing the dramatic increase in LAX traffic from 2009 to 2017, growing by more than 50% (!) in those 8 years. Why? My hypothesis: before the smartphone (circa 2007), vacationing in a city like LA was pretty nontrivial, involving a rent car in a large unfamiliar city and a lot of paper maps and planning - unlike New York, DC, San Francisco, London, Paris, Rome, and other older, more concentrated tourist cities with subway transit where you can just show up and figure it out without too much trouble.  But now with a smartphone, LA is a whole lot easier to "wing it" on vacation: driving and exploring, finding good restaurants on Yelp or tourist attractions in TripAdvisor and navigating there easily (avoiding traffic!) with Google Maps or Waze.  I think people have discovered this and LA has become a significantly more popular tourist destination.  Maybe Houston will do the same on a smaller scale??

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Sunday, June 03, 2018

The real reasons Amazon didn't shortlist Houston for HQ2, urbanism doesn't reduce transportation costs, your TX right to AirBnB, and more

I'd like to open my post this week on Houston's hand-wringing over not being shortlisted for the Amazon HQ2. Now while I'm all for improving the city, and am excited about the new developments in the "innovation corridor" that might have been at least partially sparked by the rejection, we need to get some clarity on the real reasons Amazon didn't shortlist us (IMHO), and it's not because we're not good enough:
  1. They don't want to compete with the energy industry for talent, especially when oil might spike to unknown highs at any time.  At the end of the day, Amazon runs a pretty thin-margin business built on tech talent, and if the energy companies poach their talent whenever they're swiming in cash from high oil prices - or make them pay that talent more to keep them - it will destroy those margins. Not an option.
  2. They didn't want to be seen as squeezing Houston for incentives while it's recovering from Harvey. That would definitely look very, very bad from a PR perspective.
As I've mentioned before, I ultimately think they're angling to end up in the DC area, mainly because there is a plentiful supply of underpaid and demotivated government tech talent there they can easily poach.

Moving on to this week's items:
"Perhaps the paper’s significance was best summed up by Smart’s mother, who was apparently unfazed by its somewhat surprising conclusion. “She was like, ‘Of course,’” Smart recalled. “’Everyone loves cars. It doesn’t matter where you live.’”
"The reason is simple — cars are vastly superior to alternatives for the vast majority of individuals and circumstances.  Automobiles have far greater and more flexible passenger- and cargo-carrying capacities than transit. They allow direct, point-to-point service, unlike transit. They allow self-scheduling rather than requiring advance planning. They save time, especially time spent waiting, which surveys find transit riders find far more onerous. They have far better multi-stop trip capability. They offer a safer, more comfortable, more controllable environment, from the seats to the temperature to the music to the company.
The superiority of automobiles doesn’t stop at the obvious, either. They expand workers’ access to jobs and educational opportunities, increase productivity and incomes, improve purchasing choices, lower consumer prices and widen social options. Trying to inconvenience people out of their cars also undermines those major benefits.

Cars’ allow decreased commuting times if not hamstrung, providing workers access to far more potential jobs and training possibilities. That improves worker-employer matches, with expanded productivity raising workers’ incomes as well as benefiting employers. One study found that 10 percent faster travel raised worker productivity by 3 percent, and increasing from 3 mph walking speed to 30 mph driving is a 900 percent increase. In a similar vein, a Harvard analysis found that for those lacking high-school diplomas, owning a car increased monthly earnings by $1,100.
As Randal O’Toole noted: “Anyone who prefers not to drive can find neighborhoods … where they can walk to stores that offer a limited selection of high-priced goods, enjoy limited recreation and social opportunities, and take slow public transit vehicles to some but not all regional employment centers, the same as many Americans did in 1920. But the automobile provides people with far more benefits and opportunities than they could ever have without it.”

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