Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Houston's two-pronged vehicle reduction plan

The problem now, as it's always been, is the personal vehicle. 

Too many of them cause congestion, congestion leads to long commute times and long commute times lead to low rankings on those "best cities" lists that Chambers of Commerce and Convention and Tourist Associations love to tout.  It's not surprising then to see what passes for transportation discussion in Houston media focusing on ways to greatly reduce the number of cars on Inner Loop roads.

The Apple Dumpling Gang is all-in for complete streets. For the Inner-Loop this would mean (ideally) reducing traffic lanes for automobiles and increasing space for pedestrian, bike and transit traffic.  In areas where there are right-of-way considerations It could be argued that this is a good idea.  If Metro would work with the City it'd be an even better idea.  While it's been part and parcel of this blog to rail against the plans of Houston's quasi-new urbanist groups to shoe-horn the regions 4 Million residents inside Loop 610 there is value in the complete streets concept for the area.  And as much fun as it is to mock Pedestrian Pete his idea that a citizen should be able to walk down a sidewalk sans having to divert into traffic to avoid a utility pole makes some sense.

In short, would Houston's quasi-new urbanist group really get on board with new-urbanism while figuring out smart ways to bring the majority of the populace who lives outside the loop within to work and play it'd all be a little bit more believable and appealing.  If, as Mayor Parker recently suggested, Houston is a crazy quilt of different neighborhoods with different characteristics and needs, then it makes sense to look at the development needs of each area independently.  Creating a series of walkable neighborhoods both where the cool urban people live and where the tragically unhip, mouth-breathing suburbanite chooses to reside is a worthwhile goal. 

In other words, if we're going to spend $446 Million on transit projects, lets make sure they work.

One thing that probably won't work, is the congestion charge trial-balloon currently being floated by Tory Gattis.  For one, it's going to be horribly regressive against the poor. In his article Gattis characterizes the fee as a 'nominal' one to two Euros.  Given exchange rates that could be anywhere from $1.50 - $3.00 per day, which would make every road inside the Loop a de-facto toll road.  Given that Texans have recently come out in polls against the increase use of toll roads it would seem that this is a non-starter.

If there's one thing that the Apple Dumpling Gang does well, it's stir up the silliness on the fringes with a half-thought out editorial.  Houston Tomorrow has already jumped in with a complete streets film festival of all things.  Next are sure to come rallies and the inevitable 3rd party friendly editorial from David Crossley on how bicyclists and pedestrians are the future of Houston transit.

They're not of course.  But that won't stop some from dreaming of a day when congestion fees and complete streets keep the cars of the poor out of the city center thus allowing the well-heeled and (mostly) Caucasian upper-middle class to quaff their artisan cocktails and locally sourced beer in peace.

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