Posts about Houston
The Overhead Wire illustrates the destruction that wanton parking lot construction wreaks upon downtowns.
Left is Houston "at one point." Photo from the book The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History via Transit Miami. Right is Rotterdam after bombing in World War II, via Wassenaar Expat.
The Overhead Wire writes,
Europe had war, yet we dismantled our cities in a similar way in the name of progress. So much parking though, what has that done to the city's value? What has it taken away in terms of tax revenue from land and greater employment agglomerations? A study by Anne Moudon and Dohn Wook Sohn showed that offices that were clustered had greater values than those that weren't in the Seattle region. In addition to the spending on highways that expanded our regions to their current far reaches, how much real estate value did we destoy?The post concludes with a look at Hartford, CT's downtown before and after Interstate 84 blasted through, from a presentation by Norman Garrick to the Congress for the New Urbanism:
Transit opponents like to claim that our gas taxes fully pay for roads, while transit requires ongoing subsidies. Therefore, free-market economics would conclude that we should only build roads.
There's just one problem: gas taxes don't pay for roads at all. Take the Texas DOT's word for it: "There is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less."
According to TxDOT, the proposed 15-mile SH-99 in Houston will recover only 16% of its costs in gas taxes.
Almost all US transit systems have a higher farebox recovery ratio; WMATA's is 61.6%, which means we are subsidizing every single road in Texas more than Washington's buses and trains (same for the NYC subway, the Bay Area's BART and Caltrain, Philadelphia's SEPTA and PATCO, and New Jersey Transit, the other systems that Wikipedia lists as having farebox recovery greater than 50%). Farebox recovery ratios don't account for capital costs, so it's not a fair comparison. Still, whether we build roads or rails, the public is subsidizing it. There's no transportation system that directly pays for itself. Our task as citizens is to decide which kind of transportation investments create the kind of development growth and economic activity we want.
Thanks to Jeff of Reconnecting America for the tip.
Only in Portland? Hundreds of people gathered to tear up an underutilized parking lot and replace it with a community garden. Streetfilms created a video of the festivities. My favorite part is the dancers on stilts wielding giant jackhammers.
Sunshine State Smarts: South Florida is about as mally and sprawly as it gets, but some of the waterfront cities are exprimenting with narrowing their downtown roads, reports the Sun-Sentinel. West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale both took away lanes a few years ago, and now the smaller cities want in on the action. Even some drivers like it. No word on whether they put in bike lanes on the narrowed roadways.
Arlingtonian exceptionalism: If only Oakland had pushed for BART under major corridors, like Arlington did, instead of along the freeway median, BART might have 110,000 more daily riders and Oakland might have gotten billions in new development, argues The Overhead Wire. Maybe it's not too late for the Rockville Pike corridor?
Transit a political winner in the Sun Belt: Georgia's governor has reversed his position and endorsed commuter rail in Atlanta. Houston's mayor, meanwhile, already owns a Prius, bikes to work, and supports mixed-use development and mass transit. Via Planetizen.
Houston is the poster child for bad urban planning - or should I say the complete lack of any planning. Developers build subdivisions across the Texas plains, and the government builds freeways to them, in an endless cycle of sprawl. This Houston Chronicle article talks about the many negative effects this is having on the region, from decaying inner-ring suburbs to environmental destruction.
This type of development is erroneously thought of as "free market." But it's far from free. Only because local and national governments continuously spend taxpayer dollars to build new freeways is this type of development possible. The article simultaneously refers to this as "Houston's free-market culture" while also acknowledging the government's role. A true libertarian would argue that the developers should pay for these roads themselves. If they had to do so, a lot more investment might go into improving the existing older suburbs and urban core (such as it is, which in Houston isn't much) rather than creating brand-new homes 50 miles outside the city.
Government-subsidized sprawl may not be "free market," but it is capitalist: powerful economic interests such as developers, the auto industry, construction, and others lobby and corrupt government. At the local level, it's by far the greatest corrupting influence, from Houston to Williamsburg/Greenpoint to Hoboken, where the developer-friendly and corrupt mayor was just reelected thanks to his $1 million of campaign contributions. Are we helplessly stuck with a system where elected officials use the power of government to enrich a small group of contributors rather than getting the most value for the public out of each plot of land?
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- PG planners propose bold new smart growth future
- Prince George's County struggles to get trails right
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger