Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It just doesn't add up.

I realize that, in Houston, my belief that a strong public transit system is one that adds capacity instead of decreasing it is a little bit out there but this is getting ridiculous....

(We already own the right of way that connects our homes and jobs, David Crossley, City Dims, ChronBlog)
TxDOT and other public agencies already own all the right of way we use every day to get to our homes and jobs today. This right of way is in streets and highways. In fact, that infrastructure was specifically created, often by TxDOT, to enable the creation of places that we can get to. Why not use it to provide transit service so that huge numbers of us that want to can get around without using cars, thus relieving pressure on the car and truck lanes?

Why isn't it obvious that there would probably be a lot more future in working out ways to use that 20th-century right of way for public transportation than there would be in working out ways to use 19th-century infrastructure that had nothing to do with the most direct routes we'll use to get everywhere in the 21st century?
If you're thinking: "Am I understanding him correctly?" then you probably are. Mr. Crossley's grand plan for future mobility is the increased reduction of capacity to cater to a relatively small portion of society.

Even the most optimistic projections for public transportation in Houston cap participation rates at less than 10%, even defenders can't get past that number instead deciding to beg the question and ignore quantitative analysis.

Given that fact, let's assume that a 'new' light rail system built on existing rights of way would take up one lane for each track going each way. Let's also (again, for simplicity's sake) limit construction to 8-lane highways. What this means is that you're taking up 25% of travel capacity (2 lanes out of 8, or one lane out of 4 each direction) to accommodate 3-5% of users. The remaining 97-95% have to get by on 25% less available space. That's not a recipe for transit Nirvana, that's a primer for transit hell.

The counter-argument to this is two-fold. The first argument is that not all trips are commuter trips, some are freight proponents for the Crossley plan always love to point this out. The problem is these freight trips are not going to go away, neither are 85-90% of all car traffic. You still run into the problem of having more cars on less available space. The second argument requires a suspension from reality, that people need to uproot and move into apartments and townhouses in the inner-city instead of in the suburbs for these plans to work. To be accurate: None of these fancy new-urbanist plans are designed with the suburbs in mind. I've said it before, it's the Paris model with a Houston twist.

It's also a plan that's doomed to fail. I agree with new-urbanists when they suggest that in-fill development is the way to go, but I disagree that the second plank in their platform that those who choose to stay outside the City have a difficult time getting in.

The trick is to accomplish both, thus raising the standard of living for everyone. Our new urbanists frequently seem to forget that in their quest to homogenize America.


  1. When I read the post on CB, figured you would have something to say on the matter.

    What I really thought was funny was that Mr. Crossley used a photo of the Hardy Tollway where there were three lanes. However, there are sections of Hardy (also of other tollways) that are only two lanes each way, which means that they would be creating about the last thing we need: MOAR BOTTLENEXX!


  2. I'm just amazed thinking adults in Houston believe it's a good thing to make transit plans with the stated purpose of reducing overall capacity.

    I'm even more amazed that they're not laughed out of the city, instead being given a platform in America's worst big city daily. (well, ok, that last bit doesn't surprise me)

  3. "I'm just amazed thinking adults in Houston believe it's a good thing to make transit plans with the stated purpose of reducing overall capacity."

    But Cory, you aren't look at it the "right" way - it isn't about capacity, it is about re-making society to fit some pre-conceived notions about what a modern (neo-retro-modern?) urban environment ought to look like. And, more importantly, who will control how people are able to get from Point A to Point Q.

    OTOH, I think you understand this perfectly, which is why this subject is a continual source of material for your amusing skewers.


  4. Hey look! A Houston Dim^H^H^H^Bright who thinks rail ain't the cat's meow (unless the meow is the sound of a city's financial implosion!)




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