Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Discouraging panhandling, airport wag brigade, 6-figure incomes, Grand Parkway size, TAMU TMC growth, and more

Big Idea of the Week before getting to our smaller items: I think the City needs to hang signs over major panhandler intersections saying:
"Please give to charity, not panhandling."
I think this could make a major positive improvement in the city over time, both at the intersections and among the panhandling population which would have to go to charities with real comprehensive services rather than just unsafely collecting dollars in the middle of busy roadways from intimidated motorists and doing who-knows-what with it.

One key: making sure to hang them high up near the traffic lights.  If they're down low, the panhandlers will either tear them down or deface them.

Moving on to this week's items:
Finally, can we *please* get a wag brigade at Houston airports?!  Get a small army of these cuties wandering the terminals and it will give Houston a PR buzz that money can't buy.  It would also encourage more people to connect on flights through Houston as well, which would stimulate United and Southwest to add more service.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Protecting residents from dangerous industrial businesses, reducing crime, street parking for mixed-use retail, and rethinking Vision Zero

This week we have a special edition of Houston Strategies focused on... specific strategies for Houston (;-). The specific topics are protecting residents from dangerous industrial businesses, reducing crime, street parking for mixed-use retail businesses, and rethinking Vision Zero plans.

First, Judah passed along this story on zoning (or lack of it) coming up again in Houston since the warehouse explosion on the westside.  My simple observation is that we don't need zoning to address this problem.  If we have laws about minimum distances between adult business or liquor stores and schools+churches, we could certainly do the same for certain kinds of hazardous industrial businesses without adding zoning. More on this at blogHouston.

As far as reducing crime, the Houston police need to be all over using NextDoor as an intel source for neighborhood crimes.  It could make a huge difference in reducing all sorts of minor (and not-so-minor) crimes in the neighborhoods.

Midtown recently lost a very popular long-time bakery at least in part due to a lack of convenient parking near her street retail store in a mixed-use space.  This one hits home since it's my neighborhood.   Here's the quote:
“I’m so sick of Midtown,” Masson says. “The biggest issue is parking. Even though there is a humongous parking garage behind the bakery, no one knows it’s there. No one takes the time to look for it. They drive by, they don’t see a parking spot, they don’t pull over.”
I posted this to the Market Urbanism Report Facebook group and it generated a huge debate in the comments. While mixed-use sit-down restaurants seem to do well (people are willing to hunt for parking if they're staying a couple of hours), I think part of the problem for a quick in-and-out business like hers (bakeries, laundries, convenience stores, etc.) is she needs a couple of dedicated parking spaces right in front limited to her customers.  But since it's City of Houston street parking, they can't do that, so those spaces are always full of longer-term parkers visiting the neighborhood. I've noticed most strip centers (hated by urbanists), will offer their tenants dedicated spaces right in front of their businesses (with signs limiting parking to customers). Maybe the City needs to offer that for street parking as well?  Maybe the businesses pay for it?  For those sorts of businesses, people are not willing to hunt for parking and they’re also not willing to go through the parking meter hassle (it takes several minutes to go through the process at a CoH meter).  Just let the business pay for dedicated spaces during business hours (or, alternately, spaces limited to a quarter or half-hour).

Finally, Vision Zero plans have been adopted by many cities - including Houston - to reduce traffic fatalities, but they aren't working. Excerpts from another piece are a cautionary warning to Houston's efforts:
"Yet Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, among others, saw sharp increases in pedestrian and/or bicycle fatalities after adopting Vision Zero policies. 
This won’t be a surprise to Antiplanner readers. As described in Policy Brief #25, Vision Zero is an overly simplistic strategy that fails to solve the real problems that are causing pedestrian fatalities to rise. 
Vision Zero is based on the observation that pedestrians hit by cars traveling at high speeds are more likely to die than if the cars are traveling at low speeds. So Vision Zero’s primary tactic is to reduce driving speeds. Vision Zero’s secondary goal is to reduce driving period by making auto travel slower and less desirable compared to the alternatives. Neither of these are working very well.
For decades, traffic engineers followed a tried-and-true formula for reducing auto fatalities: improve roadway designs in ways that reduce the number and impact of accidents. Vision Zero has diverted cities from that formula in an overt anti-auto strategy that sometimes actually makes streets more dangerous (such as when one-way streets are converted to two-way operation). So it is no surprise that Vision Zero isn’t working."
As I've said before, I support Vision Zero when the focus is on fixing problematic intersections and other pragmatic safety improvements. I don't support it when it's just a thinly veiled mask for anti-car urbanists (road diets, reduced speeds, one-way to two-way conversions, speed humps everywhere).

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Could Houston get Google? converting the 59 Spur to a linear park, housing crisis drives socialism, millennials are driving, Houston is the future, and more

Apologies for the delay between posts - I've had some busy travel recently. Before getting to this week's items, a couple thoughts on the City's consideration of turning the Bagby and Brazos portions of Spur 527 off 59 into a park.  I live in Midtown, so this affects me directly. I've managed to adapt ok to losing the Brazos exit since the bridge closed for repairs - Louisiana is inconvenient but works - but losing Bagby's southbound entrance is a bigger deal.  I've thought quite a bit about this.  At first I was totally opposed, then I figured I could live with it via Smith and Louisiana but still moderately opposed (even with the benefits of Bagby traffic reduction).  I do think it will substantially negatively affect some of the businesses along Bagby and Brazos that rely on drive-by traffic like Spec's, CVS, and especially the new Midtown Whole Foods (which is already struggling in what was previously a food desert), as well as thousands of commuters that connect between 59 and 45 (which, in turn, will make the already-messy 59-45-288 interchange even worse).  In fact, I'd argue the optics look pretty bad: sacrifice the commutes of a lot of working-class folks on the north and east sides commuting to jobs in the southwest so a few wealthy white people in gated Courtlandt Place can have a pocket park. Not a good look. And I think it is very likely that a City-maintained linear pocket park will turn into a homeless camp (sad, but that's the reality these days) - something I hope the neighbors have considered in their support.  They may come to really regret it...

Updated story.

On to this week's items:

“If we keep forcing them to pay for housing and parks, they will go to Houston or Austin.”
I think the advantages for a Google office here would be pretty strong. Tons of oil-and-gas tech/IT talent that’s easy to poach, a city willing to do anything to land them, plus deep expat communities from nations all over the world that could handle some global functions (esp. Latin America).  It would also work well if Google is considering any health care plays, with the world's largest med center right down the way in the innovation corridor.
 Another thought is, what if you wanted to have a US office where you could bring H1B visa talent from all over the world, and they would be able to afford to live there as well as find a comfortable expat community from their nation? Houston would be a great location for that: huge Asian, Latin American, African, Middle Eastern, and even European communities - many from the long history of the global oil industry here.
Boomer Socialism Led to Bernie Sanders 
Government policies limit millennials’ prosperity, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser argues. Will they realize more of the same isn’t the answer?
“The right answer for this is not universal basic income.  The right answer is freedom. Allow people to use their property the way they want to use it.”
"New supply is one reason the median home price in Texas is currently $207,301, while in California, it’s nearly triple that, $605,280. California’s drought in new home production has been caused in part by land-use regulations and the state’s myriad environmental laws.
 A Zillow-backed survey of economists and housing analysts predicted that in 2020, Texas’s relatively affordable big cities (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and especially Austin) will outperform the market average in home value growth, while overpriced California metros like San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles will fare poorly.
The California housing situation, on the other hand, is a multifaceted mess. Prices have skyrocketed. A new apartment in San Francisco costs an average of $700,000 to build—including materials, labor, and land—triple the cost of a decade ago. The average value of a home in Los Angeles County is $635,000—almost double the median price in Austin and nearly triple the median price in Dallas—and many neighborhoods have seen average prices more than double in the last decade. According to the United Way, one in three Californians, or 3.3 million families, don’t have incomes to meet their basic cost of living, and most struggle with high housing costs. The state’s 150,000 homeless residents represent a quarter of the nation’s homeless population. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates it would cost “in excess of $250 billion” to provide affordable housing for all of the state’s 1.7 million rent-burdened households."
Finally, watch this if you can"No Passport Required" on PBS did an episode on West African food and culture in Houston, and it is absolutely fascinating. Will make you proud of our city. Links to Houstonia and Houston Eater stories
"When I came to Houston I did not know what to think. Leaving, I see the future." - Marcus Samuelsson, PBS "No Passport Required"

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