Wednesday, July 26, 2017

COU Houston video, market urbanism, Super Bowl impact on HTX, open transportation markets in TX, and more

Before getting to this week's items, I want to put in a plug for Scott Beyer's new Market Urbanism Report website (introductory video here). Definitely worth checking out and subscribing if you're a fan of the type of stuff I discuss on this blog. His intro:
"For about a decade, there’s been a growing bipartisan consensus that America’s cities need liberalization. This consensus formed because of the problems our cities now face thanks to government control. Urban housing supply has been artificially limited by regulations, causing price inflation; publicly-run transportation systems create gridlock and delay; and other services are riddled with patronage."
Definitely check it out. And here's a good introduction to market urbanism to go with it, with three key arguments:
  1. Housing is expensive, in part, because of bad regulations.
  2. Don’t underrate the importance of bottom-up solutions to urban problems.
  3. More money isn’t the solution to America’s urban transit woes.
Moving on to this week's items:
"No city in America runs on anything resembling a free-market model. But Texas' major cities are probably the closest thing, with vast improvements to their economies and living standards to show for it. Their looser land-use laws mean that housing supply grows quickly, stabilizing prices. Their lighter tax and regulatory structure helps businesses locate there and grow. And—shenanigans from the governor's office notwithstanding—their openness to immigrants means they have cheap and robust labor forces.
...
Another thing Texas' toll roads have accomplished is greater mobility. The Dallas and Houston metros, in particular, have been the nation’s two fastest-growing metros by net population since 2010. But their congestion levels are not as bad as similar-size metros, according to traffic studies by Inrix and TomTom. This is because they've expanded highway capacity to accommodate population growth, acknowledging that the laws of supply and demand apply to roads like with anything else. Perhaps more crucially, though, they’ve priced the use of these roads, to avoid a tragedy of the commons. And it has worked at creating many excellent, self-funded roads: as I can attest from having lived last summer in Houston, Dallas and Austin, toll roads proliferate throughout each metro, are free-flowing, and charge users electronically, so that they're not having to stop and pay at booths."
"In many ways, Houston’s Super Bowl was a tremendous success. On the field, it was perhaps the most exciting game in the 51-year history of the event. The weather was perfect, the mild Texas winter providing a comfortable respite for visiting fans and media. For locals and visitors alike, the events at Discovery Green and throughout the Super Bowl Live experience offered engagement with the event regardless of whether they could afford a (minimum) four-figure ticket to the game itself. Taylor Swift had a good time! So did Sting, The Goo Goo Dolls, Travi$ $cott, and the other entertainers who visited and performed for the crowds.
...
Still, even with the fuzzy math of an economic impact report, the Houston Super Bowl was a success.
...
The impact of Super Bowl 51 on Houston also highlights the significance of events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, or SXSW and the Austin City Limits Festival in Austin... Cities around the country compete, year after year, with aggressive bids for the chance to host Super Bowls. The Rodeo happens every year and brings in more money, while SXSW annually serves as a recurring pitch to the 85,000 or so people who come to town that Austin is a cool place to live, work, run a business, and spend money. No matter the exact numbers, the Super Bowl seems to have worked out for Houston—but the most impactful events seem to be the ones that are annually in our backyard."
Finally, our COU video on Houston has just been released! I'm really proud of it - it came out great. Definitely check it out - it'll make you proud to be a Houstonian.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Localism, piling on DART, Honolulu rail disaster, simple fix for housing, big ice, and more

Apologies again for the posting delay. I recently returned from a great AEI-COU event in DC, including a fantastic speech by Senator Mike Lee on the importance of localism (vs. federal control of everything).  More local control seems like a bipartisan issue both parties could get behind. You may find some of their follow-up links of interest:
"Thank you for your interest and participation in AEI's recent event "Localism and social capital: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) on why federalism is key to restoring civic connectedness and faith in the American government." We wanted to share the event summary and video with you; please feel free to share these with friends or colleagues. For more information on this topic, check out Arthur C. Brooks' publication "It’s better when all politics is local," Andy Smarick's publication "The infinite information problem and state centralization," and Peter J. Wallison's publication "Decentralization, deference, and the administrative state." 
Moving on to this week's items:
"Notwithstanding the massive investment in rail over the last two decades made throughout the country, only about 4% of the total daily trips made by Americans are on any form of transit, and less than 2% on rail. Bus ridership has been unchanged for the last two decades. It would be interesting, but ultimately impossible to know how bus ridership might have improved if even a fraction of the billions spent on rail had instead been invested in improving the bus service. 
With the advent of disruptive transportation technologies like ride sharing, self-driving cars and the electrification of transportation power systems, any further investment in this highly inflexible technology would be folly. We need to be building a transportation system for the next century, not the last one. 
But there is something akin to a religious belief in rail that I have never been able to understand. The late, great Bob Lanier best summarized it: 
"First, rail's supporters say 'It's cheaper.' When you show it costs more, they say, 'It's faster.' When you show it's slower, they say, 'It serves more riders.' When you show there are fewer riders, they say, 'It brings economic development. When you show no economic development, they say, 'It helps the image.' When you say you don't want to spend that much money on image, they say, 'It will solve the pollution problem. When you show it won't help pollution, they say, finally, 'It will take time. You'll see.'" 
Dallas' multi-billion dollar experiment with rail has proved Mayor Bob right. Sorry to all my friends that continue to believe rail is the solution to our mobility problems, but time is up."
"It’s really not that complicated. Seattle has a housing shortage. Every occupied new unit of higher cost housing translates to one less higher income household competing for a limited amount of existing housing. And whenever there are more people who want housing than there are housing units, it will be the poorest who lose."
Finally, our Center for Opportunity Urbanism has been creating a series of videos for Texas cities. Houston's isn't ready yet, so this week we'll start with Austin's:



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Monday, July 03, 2017

DART eviscerated, tolls vs sprawl, transit apocalypse, build the Ike Dike, top rankings, and more

After my last post which included problems with DART, a reader sent me this Dallas Observer story that's even more damning of the utter failure of DARTs commuter light rail strategy while subtly endorsing Houston METRO's approach:
"Since the founding of DART in 1983, the city has been shackled to the suburbs in the creation of what has become the nation’s dumbest mass-transit system
Instead of investing money where it could actually make a difference — in the dense, urban core where people might be talked out of their cars — DART has spent billions of tax dollars building a kind of amusement park ride. DART has squandered our resources and our time building a slow-poke, light rail, surface-running system that screws up traffic, takes forever, attracts miserably few riders and, as a result, operates at an ungodly subsidy. Its real purpose has been to serve as an amenity and sales-pitch bauble for suburban apartment developers. ... 
DART, as presently constituted and designed, is a massive failure that sucks up scarce resources we need to spend on smarter things. If DART were a horse, we'd shoot it."
Wow. Doesn't hold back and tells it like it is! It's not all good news for METRO though - scroll down to some of the graph stats that are not so great.

In other news, I find it amusing that anti-toll forces have joined with anti-sprawl forces to oppose new suburban toll roads, like the extension of 249 past Tomball.  In theory, anti-sprawl forces should vigorously support toll roads because they better price somebody's decision to live far out and commute in.  The problem with the anti-sprawlers is that they realize even fully priced with toll roads, people prefer affordable suburban living and will still live out there, so they prefer to kill the roads by any means necessary, even if that means aligning with the anti-toll people, who want the road, they just want it to be free (the opposite of what the anti-sprawlers want!).  The unfortunate bottom line is that the anti-toll crowd has gotten politically powerful enough the politicians have to go with it, but TXDoT and rational officials realize it's not toll vs. no-toll, it's toll vs. no-road, so they're going to keep building them because they keep filling up with demand as fast as they're built!

After yet another story arguing transportation costs should be included in defining affordable housing based on the flawed stat of income percentage spent (i.e. pro-density+transit, anti-suburbs+cars; also here), I posted a comment that got enough up-votes to be the top response:
"Isn't the more likely explanation that people who spend a lot on housing don't have much money leftover for transportation? And those who do have affordable suburban houses have plenty to spend on high-end vehicles? Is it really fair to say a suburban house has a "high cost of transportation" because people are buying high-end trucks, SUVs, mini-vans, and luxury cars, when they just as easily could buy a cheap used Honda Civic or Toyota Prius if they were really concerned with keeping their transportation costs low?"
Moving on to make a dent in the huge backlog of smaller items to share...
"Boasting affordable living costs and a large number of incubators, Houston takes the title as the number one best city for minority entrepreneurs. The city has one of the most diverse populations and its bustling startup scene is full of minority-owned business ventures. It also comes in fourth place for the most economic opportunities for minorities."
Finally, from the Thrillist list of Totally Underappreciated Cities You Should Move To:
Houston, Texas
Texas' most underrated big city does almost everything right.
City population: 2,167,988
Cost of living index: 90 (10% lower than US average)
If you lament your city's poor planning, crumbling infrastructure, and careless corporate community, look to America's fourth-largest city for examples of how all that should be done. Not gonna lie: The traffic can be a drag, and the swampy summers are a slog. But overall Houston has its shit together better than any city its size.
 
Even though the oil industry isn't the king it once was, health care, construction, education, and tourism are bringing people to Houston by the tens of thousands. With them have come new sports stadiums, new neighborhoods like the artsy EaDo or the hipster-historic Montrose, and a worldly food scene that extends waaaay beyond the usual barbecue and Tex-Mex (though, obviously, both of those are great too). Through public-private partnerships, Houston has developed America's premier museum district, plus stunning urban green spaces like the 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park, and it's only adding each year. In terms of perceived "coolness," H-Town is still in Austin's overinflated shadow, but in a state this hot, the shade is a pretty good place to be. Improving quality of life while still rapidly growing? Take notes, Austin. -- M.M.

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