Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021 Highlights

Hope everyone is enjoying the abnormally warm holidays.  Time for our annual round-up of the best posts of 2021, with this year featuring as many great posts from Oscar as from me. If you missed them earlier this year - or just didn't have time to read them then - hopefully the holidays are a more leisurely time for perusal. 

I'd also like to thank MyBestPlan for their ongoing generous support. They always have the best and cheapest electricity plan for your Texas home. They have saved me a ton of money on electricity, and I suggest you contact them for a free, no-obligation savings estimate. Mention “HS” so they know you’re with us.

These posts have been chosen with a particular focus on significant ideas I'd like to see kept alive for discussion and action, and they're mainly targeted at new readers who want to get caught up with a quick overview of the Houston Strategies landscape. I also like to track what I think of as "reference posts" that sum up a particular topic or argument; and, last but not least, they've also been invaluable for me to track down some of my best thinking for meetings or when requested by others (as is the ever-helpful Google search).

Don't forget we offer an email option for the roughly once/week posts - see the Google Groups subscription signup box at the bottom of the right sidebar. An RSS feed link for newsfeed readers is also available in the right sidebar (I'm a fan of Feedly).

As always, thanks for your readership.
And don't forget the highlights from the first few years. For what it's worth, I think the best ideas are found there, often in the first year (I had a lot "stored up" before I started blogging) and most definitely in the best posts from the first 15 years and 1.5 million pageviews.


Thursday, December 16, 2021

Road subsidies, challenging parking minimums, unsocial sidewalks, strong wage growth, Neal Stephenson's Termination Shock

A few smaller items to close out this week before some holiday travel. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you!

“All Texans should be able to start their own business without jumping through hoops that serve no purpose. This minimum parking ordinance isn’t just harmful to small business owners; it also violates the Texas Constitution.”

"There may be a few cases where sidewalks can increase the level with which one engages with local communal amenities. But at large, sidewalks hardly impact community connectedness, a drastic departure from common thinking, which has long seen sidewalks as critical public infrastructure connecting the private world directly with the public. These data are particularly noteworthy for they were collected during the COVID-19 pandemic when outdoor life has dramatically increased. Even though the pandemic has driven social life for many from dining, to strolling and making outdoor displays, and increased opportunities for chance encounters, the presence of sidewalks is not changing perceptions about community social capital whatsoever.

While no one is suggesting sidewalks be eliminated, urban theorists, scholars, and planners must acknowledge that sidewalk life may not be as powerful and vibrant as the various ethnographic stories make them out to be. There may be other factors --- like homeownership, tenure of residents, or the presence of families --- that may also play a role." 

  • Road subsidies: "According to the 2015 report, the average U.S. household spends around $1,100 a year to “subsidize” drivers’ road use — that’s on top of what individuals already pay in gas taxes and tolls." False. It's not a subsidy. Your property is plugged into a road network that gets you and your stuff (and emergency services) to and from your property whether or not you own a car, so it's perfectly reasonable for property taxes to pay for access to that network. It's not optional. 
  • Continuing on transportation subsidies, here are some interesting stats from the Reason Surface Transportation newsletter:
"In fact, a recent update of a U.S. DOT study estimating the actual federal subsidy by mode (federal spending minus the mode’s user taxes) found the following:
  Amtrak $204/passenger-mile
  Transit $142/passenger-mile
  Air travel $3.62/passenger-mile
  Highways -$0.79/passenger-mile"
Finally, an amusing quote from Neal Stephenson's newest techno-thriller on geoengineering vs climate change, Termination Shock.  About half the book takes place in Texas - very highly recommended.
"Her internal GPS, calibrated for the Low Countries, told her that they were driving from Amsterdam to Antwerp or Rotterdam, but of course nothing of the sort was happening - they were just moving around between different parts of Houston, a metro the size of Belgium." 


Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Preventing big infrastructure failures, mass migration to Texas, the Ion, costs spiral with Austin growth, and more

Lots of backlogged smaller items to clear out this week, especially from my Twitter feed (which you may want to follow if you're a Twitter user).

  • NYT: Years of Delays, Billions in Overruns: The Dismal History of Big Infrastructure - The nation’s most ambitious engineering projects are mired in postponements and skyrocketing costs. Delivering $1.2 trillion in new infrastructure will be tough.  America can't do big infrastructure. Cost estimates are “systematically and significantly deceptive.” The solution is to require private insurance to sign off on budgets and cover cost+schedule overruns. When private contractors and insurance take the risk, these things will get done right, or - more likely - not done at all when they don't make sense!  Alternatively, maybe we need a neutral agency similar to the Congressional budget office that would score projects and compare them to the actuals on other similar projects and then come back with a real estimate of cost and time BEFORE it goes through the approval process. Data points and excerpts:

    1. Honolulu light rail from $4B to $11.4B
    2. CA HSR from $33B to $100B
    3. NYC East Side Access extension for LIRR from $2.2B to $11.1B
    4. Washington State nuke plant from $4B to $17B
    5. And our own local example: Harris County to spend nearly $300M more to fix Ship Channel Bridge project, starting with demo of work already completed

"Honolulu’s tribulations are far from a lone cautionary tale. To the contrary, they signal the kind of cost overruns, engineering challenges and political obstacles that have made it all but impossible to complete a major, multibillion-dollar infrastructure project in the United States on budget and on schedule over the past decade. ...

Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at the University of Oxford who has studied scores of projects around the world, found that 92 percent of them overran their original cost and schedule estimates, often by large margins — in part, he said, because cost estimates are “systematically and significantly deceptive.” ...

In a candid admission of how the political world operates, Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, once dismissed cost overruns on a transportation hub intended for the bullet train.

“In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment,” he wrote in a guest newspaper column in 2013. “If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”"

“People say over and over again, ‘Oh, the millennials are going to stay in the cities.’ They are not,” said Doug Shepherd, a real-estate broker based in the city of Riverside. …

“California is changing because of a desire of many millions of people to have something that looks like the conventional, traditional California Dream: a house on a lot in a neighborhood of similar houses on lots,” Mr. Waldie said. …

Last year, a half-dozen families left Eastvale for Montgomery County, Texas, a suburb of Houston near lakes and resorts.

Michele Nissen, a former city manager of Eastvale, was among them. She sold her house in June for $910,000, 3½ times what she paid for it in 2001.

Now, she and her husband own a 3,500-square-foot, four-bedroom home surrounded by dozens of trees and down the street from Lake Conroe. They paid $532,500."

"Texas, now, feels a bit like California did when I first moved here in the late 1980s — a thriving, dynamic place where it doesn’t take a lot to establish a good life. For many people, that’s more than enough."

"The Austin metropolitan area is on track to become by year’s end the least affordable major metro region for homebuyers outside of California. It has already surpassed hot markets in Boston, Miami and New York City." 

"In 1999, Houston enacted new land-use regs that set in motion two decades of the city’s expansion. Developers prioritized multifamily townhouses and encouraged migration from other states and countries. These changes led to a 21% increase in developed land."

Finally, closing with a bit of meme humor... ;-D

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,