Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Benefits of Congestion Relief

The Antiplanner has an excellent post that deserves its own dedicated post over here because it gets at what's wrong with one of the most pernicious fallacies regarding highway congestion relief. Key excerpts (bold highlights mine):

"Data published by the University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory a few months ago reveals some of the benefits of congestion relief that resulted from the COVID pandemic. I’ve used 2019 data in the past to show that residents of U.S. urban areas can reach far more jobs in a 20-minute auto drive than a 60-minute transit trip. The latest data for 2021 reveal that the number of jobs reachable by transit or bicycle was about 9 percent greater in 2021 than 2019, but the number reachable by a 20-minute auto drive was 66 percent greater.

On average, over 50 urban areas and for trips of 10 to 60 minutes, auto users were able to reach 48 percent more jobs in 2021 than in 2019. Solid lines show 2021 and dotted lines show 2019.

The Texas Transportation Institute documents that congestion in U.S. urban areas dramatically rose between 1982 and 2019. The average number of hours of delay imposed on individual commuters grew by nine times. This growth was because many cities had made a deliberate decision not to try to relieve congestion under the argument that increased capacity simply leads to more driving.

The response to this should have been: So what? Very little driving is frivolous. Instead, most of it is people trying to get to work, school, shopping, health care, friends and relatives, or recreation activities. Then there are trucks moving freight, bringing construction materials and services to work sites, and so forth. Anything that results in more such travel is a good thing because it means more economic activity, more income for people, and more access to better housing, lower-cost consumer goods, and other benefits. The sign of failure is if the new road capacity isn’t used, not if it is.


Since 1992, the earliest year data are available, U.S. transportation agencies spent more than $320 billion ($420 billion in today’s dollars) constructing and reconstructing rail transit

On the other hand, if cities had spent even a quarter of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on rail transit projects since 1992 on highway improvements instead, the congestion relief those improvements would have provided would have allowed far more economic activity, giving low-income people access to better jobs and everyone access to more affordable housing and other benefits. Like most wars, the war on the automobile has done far more economic harm than the negligible benefits it provided."

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Houston as an affordability model for other cities

Affordable housing has become a hot topic in Houston, so this might be a good time to share this excellent piece in Market Urbanism: Houston as an affordability model (Planetizen coverage). It does a great job framing Houston vs. other major metros. Key excerpts with my highlights:

"When market-oriented housing researchers point to Houston’s relatively light-touch land use regulations as a model for other U.S. localities to learn from, its declining affordability may cause skepticism. Houston, however, has fared better than many other cities in housing affordability for both renters and homebuyers.

While Houston is the only major U.S. city without use zoning, it does have land use regulations that appear in zoning ordinances elsewhere, including minimum lot size, setback, and parking requirements. These rules drive up the minimum cost of building housing in Houston. However, Houston has been a nationwide leader in reforming these exclusionary rules over the past 25 years. Houston policymakers have enacted rule changes to enable small-lot development and, in parts of the city, they have eliminated parking requirements. In part as a result, Houston’s affordability is impressive compared to peer regions....

At the least-well-off end of the income spectrum, Houston has the lowest rate of homelessness among major U.S. cities, due in part to its relative abundance of housing and in part to well-administered public and nonprofit services for formerly homeless residents.

"Houston has the lowest share of cost-burdened renter households among comparable Sun Belt markets for households earning 81% to 100% of the area median income."

"Houston's homeownership is also more attainable to residents earning the region's median income compared to the same group of Sun Belt metros shown in the chart."

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Monday, February 12, 2024

John Arnold on Houston, real impact of lowering min lot sizes, HTX attracting tech, TX #1 attracting businesses

 A few smaller items this week:

"More than 25,000 establishments relocated to Texas from 2010 to 2019, bringing more than 281,000 jobs with them and resulting in a gain of nearly 103,000 jobs for the state, data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank shows.

The report said Texas appeals to relocating businesses for a variety of reasons, including its central location in the continental U.S., access to multiple large cities and business-friendly environment...

However, research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that attractive economic fundamentals — like low taxes, low regulations, a growing population, a relatively lower cost of living and less union activity — are far more important than incentive packages when businesses make location and expansion decisions."

  • Salim Furth at Mercatus: "How much are #Houston's different lot sizes in different eras showing up in real houses for real people? Here are single family houses built in the 22 years before reform, and the 22 years after - same scale." When minimum lot sizes shrank, a whole lot more small-lot houses got built because that's what the market wanted.

"Founded in Houston, Cart moved its headquarters to Austin in 2021, only to return to Houston in November.  

The company moved to Austin to hire software developers, says co-founder Remington Tonar. But Cart is a logistics company as well as an e-commerce services provider, and its leaders found the company’s rapid growth required a bigger city with a larger and more diverse talent pool, including skills that go beyond just software development.  

“If I’m looking for front-end software devs who can build beautiful tools to perform one task, a place like San Fran or Austin may be better,” says Tonar. “But if I need people who can integrate digital and physical systems, Houston is a lot more attractive, because people are coming out of logistics and energy.”  

"Most stories about reducing homelessness mention Houston.

Most stories about housing affordability mention Houston.

Most stories about new housing models mention Houston.

Most stories about zoning mention Houston.

All these issues are related."

(mic drop ;-) 

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