Jump to content

Widening Highways Doesn’t Fix Traffic. So Why Do We Keep Doing It?


Recommended Posts

In a New York Times article this past Sunday, the Katy Freeway is one of three poster children for why you can't build your way out of traffic.

Quote

Immediately after Katy’s last expansion, in 2008, the project was hailed as a success. But within five years, peak hour travel times on the freeway were longer than before the expansion.

The other ones highlighted are the Long Beach Freeway in Los Angeles, and the Jersey Turnpike Extension.

  • Like 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The expanded Katy does carry more than twice the number of cars as before the project, and travel times are generally better than before, especially during off peak hours. I have no doubt that the growth in the greater Katy area would have occurred without the freeway expansion, but travel times would have been pretty horrific. I wasn't a huge fan of the expansion, but since my Mom lives in Katy, I have to use I-10, and it is definitely better than before. I don't think it's possible to expand further, but I'll probably be dead by the time that's an issue.

The worse traffic inside the Loop on I-10 is most likely due to the giant increase in capacity outside the Loop.

  • Like 6
  • Confused 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Ross said:

The worse traffic inside the Loop on I-10 is most likely due to the giant increase in capacity outside the Loop.

In other words, Inner Loopers are being accosted by suburban cars' traffic.
And pollution. And need to permanently kill off acres of land to provide 50 hours a week for parking.
The Katy Freeway expansion displaced a functioning railroad track which could have been converted to commuter rail.
But, this is Texas, and that's commie talk.

  • Like 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Widening highways doesn't eliminate traffic congestion, but it reduces it (often drastically), and also empowers improved mobility and economic growth.

In a growing area, you normally can't eliminate all traffic congestion in a corridor with heavy employment and economic activity. But you can drastically reduce it, and limit it to only the peak periods. The Katy Freeway accomplished that. Before the expansion it was congested throughout the day and on weekends. Now it is congested only at peak periods on weekdays, and less congested at peak periods than pre-expansion. Plus, everyone has the option of using the managed lanes.

It has empowered mobility for Houstonians that was previously not possible. The Katy Freeway at Gessner serves 349,000 trips per day, which is down from the pre-Covid high of 388,000. Trips served on the entire corridor is much greater.  For comparison, in September 2022 Metro served 208,000 weekday boardings on its ENTIRE system on all modes (bus, rail, park & ride).

The expansion has empowered economic growth, including Memorial, Town & Country and Katy and beyond.

There are many reasons freeways need to be expanded, including

1. Accommodating population growth
2. Accommodating and promoting economic growth
3. Improving access to new housing
4. Reducing the amount of congestion
5. Improving mobility for Houstonians
6. Providing managed lanes as an option, which is also used by public transit
7. Bringing outdated freeways up to modern standards

  • Like 2
  • Confused 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, dbigtex56 said:

In other words, Inner Loopers are being accosted by suburban cars' traffic.
And pollution. And need to permanently kill off acres of land to provide 50 hours a week for parking.
The Katy Freeway expansion displaced a functioning railroad track which could have been converted to commuter rail.
But, this is Texas, and that's commie talk.

Commuter rail on that right of way would have been tough, as it wasn't wide enough for two tracks. And, the rail caused a lot of issues for people trying to get to the other side of the freeway, especially at Gessner. I have friends who live off of Witte, the street East of Gessner, and there were times where the wait for rail to pass was 20 minutes or longer. Replacing the freight with commuter rail would have made it worse, and there's not enough room to put the streets over the rail, and buried underpasses seem to be avoided these days.

Commuter rail would solve some issues, but isn't the panacea many think it is. There are too many people commuting to jobs all along I-10, and not just in the Galleria area or Downtown, which means there have to be good ground connections to the job centers. Even with good connections, and parking for all of the stations along the route, public transport isn't going to be used as much as you might think, because it's slow. After TS Allison, my car needed repair, which took 6 weeks. I took the bus to work during that time. The bus stop was 6 blocks from my house, and dropped me off in front of my office off of the West Loop. So, convenience wasn't a factor. However, taking the bus turned a 10 or 15 minute drive into a 45 minute ride. As soon as my car was fixed, I went back to driving,.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

what a timely post!

Not Just Bikes released this video.

sure the channel is an advocate for other forms of travel than cars, but wow that video really just shows that the same exact arguments are being thrown out today.

I love driving, but I am very conscious that our reliance on cars is not by choice, it is by design from half a century of marketing products to the public, and lobbying our government.

Edited by samagon
  • Like 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Quote

Widening Highways Doesn’t Fix Traffic. So Why Do We Keep Doing It?

Because we voted for politicians who support/get paid to widen highways. The first step to fixing car dependence in Texas is to get people vote Republicans out of office, and we have not even gotten there yet.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, IWantTransit555 said:

Because we voted for politicians who support/get paid to widen highways. The first step to fixing car dependence in Texas is to get people vote Republicans out of office, and we have not even gotten there yet.

I haven't seen anything to demonstrate this is a party line driven issue.

do you have any meaningful data as a source for your claims?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a pretty silly (typical) NYT take...Does anyone remember how terrible 290 was before expansion? The NYT staff lives in a fantasy world where everywhere else is as dense as Manhattan and everything is free. The 'induced demand' argument is really not persuasive, but it's one we continue to hear from anti-development, anti-growth outlets like the NYT. 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

45 minutes ago, Heights88 said:

This is a pretty silly (typical) NYT take...Does anyone remember how terrible 290 was before expansion? The NYT staff lives in a fantasy world where everywhere else is as dense as Manhattan and everything is free. The 'induced demand' argument is really not persuasive, but it's one we continue to hear from anti-development, anti-growth outlets like the NYT. 

It's a trope that's centuries old: Blame the messenger. When you can't refute an argument, argue something else. 

The article very clearly cites dozens of sources and interviews with experts to back up the writing.  Since you have a contrary view, we'd all benefit from seeing your sources and studies  

It's also laughable to call the New York Times anti-development, and suggests a knee-jerk reaction, rather than any knowledge of the Times, or it's history. 

  • Like 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, TacoDog said:

Widening Highways Doesn’t Fix Traffic. So Why Do We Keep Doing It?

Maybe the point isn't to fix traffic? 

 

But that's how TxDOT and the politicians keep selling these expansions. That makes it a fair benchmark, especially if it fails to do what was promised after spending billions of our tax dollars. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The underlying dynamic is that the extra lanes fill up with cars because the additional capacity makes land on the periphery within commuting distance  for workers heading into the core and  for those in the core who are employed  in warehouses and manufacturing operations that need large facilities on cheap land  built on the edge off the sprawl. . The road system is the necessary framework that supports our particular type of urban development : suburban sprawl , so that Houston now covers 650 plus square miles of relatively low density development.  As the prairies, swamps, farmland and forests get paved over they lose their capacity to retain and detain storm water. The costs of flooding are shifted to areas down gradient. .  Finally, it commits us to a built environment  in which individuals are  dependent for almost every task : work, school, shopping , entertainment , on auto transport, which for the next decade at least is powered by gasoline,. and makes mass transit and densification in the future not feasible. 

If commuting patterns have really been changed by work-at home options, and 25% of our office space remains vacant  in perpetuity, projects like the I 45 expansion may be overkill, as the workers it intends to serve during rush hour may not be driving to downtown offices as anticipated before we got comfortable with Zoom meetings and working remotely. 

 

Edited by Skyboxdweller
  • Like 3
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is incorrect to characterize the NYT and NYers in general as anti-development.  Real estate interests are perhaps the most powerful political players in NY State and the City, they build on a scale that dwarfs our  projects. Compare Hudson Yards to one of our town centers in physical size,  the amount of capital committed and the engineering challenges overcome . But it's a different type of development than our format of commerce on the feeder road, two thousand houses on curving streets with retention ponds on a thousand acres, a scaled down outpost of our hospital system every 15 miles.  Houston is fortunate in that it has no natural barriers to development , except south of Galveston.  For better or worse , our model can metastasize all the way to Dallas going north and to San Antonio and Austin on the west and to the Louisiana border on the east.  We truly could be what we have been described as, the "blob that ate East Texas". 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, Ross said:

I would be happy to read the NYT article, but I'm not going to risk the wrath of the wife unit on another news subscription. Is there an alternate source?

You're in luck!

As a New York Times subscriber, I am able to "gift" articles to other people to read.  I just sent you this article in a PM.

Subscribers can also add (I think up to four or five) friends to their accounts. So if you have five friends, you can always split the cost of the $17 subscription to $2.83 each per month.  That's less than ad-free HAIF!

(Been reading the Times dead tree edition almost daily since 1982.  Been a dead tree subscriber for coming up on 25 years. The Texas edition is printed in Houston.)

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

For those who consider the notion that adding more lanes doesn't improve traffic, it's not some crazy eco-socialist-transit-rainbow-unicorn cabal putting out that notion.  It's called Braess' Paradox, discovered by a German mathematician.

Quote

"For each point of a road network, let there be given the number of cars starting from it and the destination of the cars. Under these conditions, one wishes to estimate the distribution of traffic flow. Whether one street is preferable to another depends not only on the quality of the road, but also on the density of the flow. If every driver takes the path that looks most favourable to them, the resultant running times need not be minimal. Furthermore, it is indicated by an example that an extension of the road network may cause a redistribution of the traffic that results in longer individual running times."

Wikipedia explains it a little more plainly:

Quote

Adding extra capacity to a network when the moving entities selfishly choose their route can in some cases reduce overall performance. That is because the Nash equilibrium of such a system is not necessarily optimal. The network change induces a new game structure which leads to a (multiplayer) prisoner's dilemma. In a Nash equilibrium, drivers have no incentive to change their routes. While the system is not in a Nash equilibrium, individual drivers are able to improve their respective travel times by changing the routes they take. In the case of Braess's paradox, drivers will continue to switch until they reach Nash equilibrium despite the reduction in overall performance.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

12 hours ago, editor said:

It's a trope that's centuries old: Blame the messenger. When you can't refute an argument, argue something else. 

The article very clearly cites dozens of sources and interviews with experts to back up the writing.  Since you have a contrary view, we'd all benefit from seeing your sources and studies  

It's also laughable to call the New York Times anti-development, and suggests a knee-jerk reaction, rather than any knowledge of the Times, or it's history. 

I am simply acknowledging the messenger and their bias. The NYT has a very strong bias against anything that isn't abiding by the 'smart growth' theory of urban design. NYT has a point of view...nothing wrong with that, but their arguments are not persuasive in my view. The induced demand theory underlying this piece is what I really am attacking. The theory basically posits that building new roads is useless because they will just fill up and the problem won't get better. It's a false argument that is waged inconsistently...do we not build new rail or bike lanes or hospitals because they would just 'fill up'? Well executed Highway / roadway expansions relieve congestion while expanding citizen's access to employment opportunities, commercial ventures, and lower cost housing. I think we could do a better pricing the usage of road use, but overall roads are not the problem. Perhaps the NYT should spend a bit more time looking into the utter catastrophe facing the MTA rather than attacking the Katy freeway. 

  • Haha 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

20 minutes ago, Heights88 said:

I am simply acknowledging the messenger and their bias. The NYT has a very strong bias against anything that isn't abiding by the 'smart growth' theory of urban design. NYT has a point of view...nothing wrong with that, but their arguments are not persuasive in my view. The induced demand theory underlying this piece is what I really am attacking. The theory basically posits that building new roads is useless because they will just fill up and the problem won't get better. It's a false argument that is waged inconsistently...do we not build new rail or bike lanes or hospitals because they would just 'fill up'? Well executed Highway / roadway expansions relieve congestion while expanding citizen's access to employment opportunities, commercial ventures, and lower cost housing. I think we could do a better pricing the usage of road use, but overall roads are not the problem. Perhaps the NYT should spend a bit more time looking into the utter catastrophe facing the MTA rather than attacking the Katy freeway. 

I don't believe the NYT is particularly "biased" except in the sense that they generally adopt the academic consensus view, and this is the academic consensus view.

However, it is simplistic in the sense that it does not consider the alternative.

The truth of the matter is, traffic or not, most Americans (especially those who vote) prefer to live on large lots in economically segregated communities with good schools.  Moreover, living in a city is prohibitively expensive for many that wish to do so (why not consider the affordable housing problem in the same article?).  This idea that you can force density in a city without a historical rapid transit network by just making it more difficult for people to drive seems to make logical sense in everyone's head ("Ah, if it took two hours to get from The Woodlands to downtown, then they'd have to take the train!"), but it is 100% unproven--and I'd say it makes no sense on its face.  I'd say it's equally logically sensical in a city like Houston that the central core of the city would de-densify with businesses moving out of the core and into the plentiful and cheap land on what used to be called "edge cities," only that these new edge cities won't be on 610 or even Beltway 8--they'll be on the Grand Parkway.  So how does that solve the (apparently) stated problem?  

Invest in transit, you say.  Well, the way it stands in this state, at least, Houston would be pretty much on its own with meaningful assistance from the federal government (and this pie is very limited).  A meaningful system (commuter rail joined to a transit system with comprehensive coverage and attractive headways) under this scenario is nowhere near financially feasible, and that assumes the voters would actually approve it to begin with.  (And, I hate to bring this up as I know all of the Stop IH-45 people's #1 concern was keeping low income neighbohoods intact, but try to build a truly useful system without displacing a lot of people.  I know, I know, in this case you will find some way to say "it's A-OK because it's for the greater good" (which really means, "It's A-OK for what I think is the greater good."--need I remind you you are in the minority.)  

The level of thought that people give to such complex issues is absolutely laughable.  There is this sense that one can have one's cake and eat it too with no acknowledgment that once the system changes, you can't keep what you assume you could control under control.

@editor says "Blame the messenger" with all the cited facts, etc., etc.  I'm not disputing the facts as presented, but what's their prescription to really change how American cities develop?  I think if you spend much time musing on it, you'll realize it's all but impossible.  As long as there is land to sale on the periphery, it will be purchased and with the expectation that it will be developed in due course.  There is no mechanism for development cordons in the State of Texas, and even if there miraculously were, I doubt they would hold up in this Supreme Court.  The long and the short of it is that people are going to continue to vote with their feet and pocketbooks until the system changes.  To me, this article doesn't say anything about the real problems, it just summarizes symptoms, and, as such, the academic consensus keeps on tilting at windmills.  BLAME THE MESSENGER, I guess.

6 hours ago, Skyboxdweller said:

The underlying dynamic is that the extra lanes fill up with cars because the additional capacity makes land on the periphery within commuting distance  for workers heading into the core and  for those in the core who are employed  in warehouses and manufacturing operations that need large facilities on cheap land  built on the edge off the sprawl. . The road system is the necessary framework that supports our particular type of urban development : suburban sprawl , so that Houston now covers 650 plus square miles of relatively low density development.  As the prairies, swamps, farmland and forests get paved over they lose their capacity to retain and detain storm water. The costs of flooding are shifted to areas down gradient. .  Finally, it commits us to a built environment  in which individuals are  dependent for almost every task : work, school, shopping , entertainment , on auto transport, which for the next decade at least is powered by gasoline,. and makes mass transit and densification in the future not feasible. 

This is 100% accurate.

17 hours ago, samagon said:

I haven't seen anything to demonstrate this is a party line driven issue.

do you have any meaningful data as a source for your claims?

🤣 This would be laughable pretty much anywhere, but given Houston's history with transit and Congressmen putting riders into federal bills specifically to prevent transit in a single county, it is especially laughable.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The problem with adding freeway lanes as a way to reduce traffic is that there is no perfect way to do it.  You cannot take a highway and split the earth open to uniformly add lanes on new land that appears out of nowhere and then have every exit automatically increase capacity all along the way.  You will always have bottlenecks that cause congestion despite the increased carrying capacity.  That is what happened on the Katy freeway.  EB at 610 is always a mess because the 610 exit was not expanded enough to be able to handle the increased load from the Katy Freeway.  Then, there are numerous instances where exits and merges create bottlenecks.  Washington Ave and I-10 EB is also a mess because 610 NB traffic is merging while at the same time there are exit only lanes for Washington Ave.  Merging and exiting traffic around Dairy Ashford and I-10 EB always makes a bottleneck even off of rush hour because there isn't enough room to get traffic to merge onto the highway before people trying to exit get in the way.  And the merge WB before the grand parkway when the tollway lane drops out is also a bottleneck (EB I-10 merge with grand parkway NB traffic is also a mess because the merge is too close to exiting traffic).  Finally, the number of lanes doesn't matter when there is a wreck.  Urban highways are just too complicated of a system to be able to add lanes without having any blowback due to design flaws.

Highway widening is the go to traffic congestion remedy because the real estate developer, construction and engineering lobbyists know how to do their jobs and there really is no opposing force that can go toe to toe with them on behalf of public transportation.  It just took one house rep (Culberson) to kill off any chance at federally funded commuter rail from the west part of Houston.  

To its credit, the Houston area has been making adaptations by moving employment centers out into the suburbs.  I used to work with a guy who would commute in from the Woodlands every day to downtown.  It would take him a solid hour unless he left for work before 7 am.  He got a job in the Woodlands and cut his commute time down to 15 minutes.  But that was 20 years ago.  Now, it can take him twice as long due to all the traffic in the Woodlands during rush hour.  My boss lives in Kingwood at the far end of Kingwood Dr.  It takes him longer to get to 59 than it does to go from 59 to downtown.  

So, we are basically screwed in Houston.  We have reached capacity on most of the major arteries and even people who do the right thing and live close to work have to fight through traffic.  We will not see any meaningful alternatives for public transportation in our lifetimes in Houston.  Traffic will just get worse and worse and worse.

 

  • Sad 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of my issues with adding more lanes is future liabilities.  EV ownership and gas mileage increases present funding challenges for continued maintenance if funding is tied to gas tax .  Increased weight will also wear down roads faster.  

At some point there should be a limit to how many lanes you cram down your core city.  

We should get rid of the zoning through parking minimums inside the loop to allow denser housing to be built.  Maybe with some affordability component that would allow more people to live closer in and we wouldn't need to keep increasing lanes.

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm all for highway improvements. Bury them below grade, improve the connections, reduce unnecessary mergers, and promote driver's education. Also, add 10 foot walls to the center.

However, I'm also for mass transit. The best way to reduce congestion on the highway is to give a percentage of drivers a better option. More mass transit = less drivers on the road. Anyone who drives (and would continue to, despite a commuter rail option), would certainly agree to funding it to get more vehicles off the road? That' what I've never understood about the nay-sayers. "I'd never use it". Then don't? Wouldn't your driving experience be more enjoyable with x-amount less vehicles around you?

45 needs improvement. It's a sh** design.

 

 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Montrose1100 said:

The best way to reduce congestion on the highway is to give a percentage of drivers a better option. More mass transit = less drivers on the road. Anyone who drives (and would continue to, despite a commuter rail option), would certainly agree to funding it to get more vehicles off the road? That' what I've never understood about the nay-sayers. "I'd never use it". Then don't? Wouldn't your driving experience be more enjoyable with x-amount less vehicles around you?

One needn't even look at other cities to see this in action. 

The parts of this city most totally given over to car-dominance - Greenway and west, are unsurprisingly awful places to navigate on foot, bike, or bus (and of course, there are no trams or passenger rail systems out there). As a carless resident of Midtown who works on Westpark at Dunvale, I can assure you of this, and of the fact that it gets even worse the further out you go.

But I also used to drive, and while my afternoon commute was generally eastbound, I did occasionally go west for students' games, performances, etc., so I think my sense of the city's traffic patterns is pretty broad. And this is the part: the worst places for walking, biking, and transit are also the worst places for driving.

Transit helps everyone. Bikability helps everyone. Walkability helps everyone. 

But also, and for very similar reasons, the abundance of housing options on the west side of the city also helps everyone. (Arguably hurts everyone too, since geographic dispersion of a limited supply of funding leads to lesser public provision), but personally, there's certainly no way that I could afford to live where I do if it the yuppy competition weren't so heavily reduced by the regional glut of housing options.

Edited by 004n063
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, BeerNut said:

One of my issues with adding more lanes is future liabilities.  EV ownership and gas mileage increases present funding challenges for continued maintenance if funding is tied to gas tax .  Increased weight will also wear down roads faster.  

At some point there should be a limit to how many lanes you cram down your core city.  

We should get rid of the zoning through parking minimums inside the loop to allow denser housing to be built.  Maybe with some affordability component that would allow more people to live closer in and we wouldn't need to keep increasing lanes.

The areas without deed restrictions inside the loop have not had any issues with getting denser housing. The NW quadrant West of Shepherd and excluding Timbergrove/Lazybrook is far denser than it was in the past. Nextdoor discussions on the 11th Street road diet and the construction on Shepherd and Durham that includes lane reductions are replete with complaints about all of the new apartment complexes generating thousands of cars per day(which isn't really true).

That's also happening along Hardy Street in the 5th Ward, where townhomes are popping up, although not in the huge quantities we see in the NW.

We could increase density by eliminating deed restrictions and getting rid of the Heights Historic Districts that serve in place of deed restrictions. The Heights was well on its way to densification before the historic district event occurred and stopped townhome development there. My snarky side says, though, that while the residents of the Heights, Norhill, Woodland Heights, etc preach densification and better mass transit, they will not give up their largish single family homes on good sized lots to participate in that process.

I think it's pretty safe to say that Houston is not going to give up the current land use control schemes that are in place and allow formal zoning. That's just not how we roll here. In the unincorporated areas outside Houston, the city's control of sales tax revenue through special purpose annexation and a distrust of cities means that there will never be any further incorporated cities outside the Houston City limits. That means that the large 1500 acre MPCs will continue to sprout, creating further demand for roads and freeways. The good news is that I don't think we will see any attempts to build new freeways to get suburban residents into Downtown more quickly, like was proposed in the past.

As for the MPCs in the unincorporated areas, the people that buy there love where they live, and couldn't imagine living in the City, even with the commutes. They are also not fans of rail, with many of them thinking rail is a commie plot to extract money from them to serve the great unwashed poor population. In their minds rail is expensive, and freeways are free, hence the name "freeway", built with magic money from the money well.

Well, that turned out to be a rambling mess, didn't it.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 minutes ago, Ross said:

As for the MPCs in the unincorporated areas, the people that buy there love where they live, and couldn't imagine living in the City, even with the commutes. They are also not fans of rail, with many of them thinking rail is a commie plot to extract money from them to serve the great unwashed poor population. In their minds rail is expensive, and freeways are free, hence the name "freeway", built with magic money from the money well.

Well, in fairness, a couple of things:

(1) Under the current system, freeways are largely "self-funding" through the gas tax.  Transit and commuter rail are not anywhere near directly so, at least not in a way that is easily digestible for voters to understand.  Ergo it's not a real leap or illogical to consider it expensive for what it is.

(2) There are cities like LA and Dallas that have built commuter rail systems (and I think these serve as the best example of what would happen if Houston built similar--note LA and Dallas are as known for traffic as we are), and they aren't exactly the most useful.  With few exceptions, Metra in Chicago isn't even all that great.

(3) METRO rail isn't exactly the greatest advertisement against the "great unwashed poor population" bias.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

38 minutes ago, mattyt36 said:

With few exceptions, Metra in Chicago isn't even all that great.

As someone who used Metra regularly for ten years, I can say that Metra actually is pretty great. 

38 minutes ago, mattyt36 said:

(3) METRO rail isn't exactly the greatest advertisement against the "great unwashed poor population" bias.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here.  Are you pointing out that all classes of people use Metro?  So, no different than the highways or sidewalks or any other public transportation amenity.  If you're trying to say that there are a lot of undesirable people on Metro, then you have to do to things: Define the sort of person you think should be disallowed from using Metro and why, even though they are Houston citizens with the same rights and voting power as you; and ride the Metro red line during rush hours when it's packed with Medical Center workers. 

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

41 minutes ago, mattyt36 said:

Under the current system, freeways are largely "self-funding" through the gas tax.

I think this requires a citation, as all of the urban planners I've spoken with have said the opposite.  A quick Google came up with this document, which supports that.

As for transit systems paying for themselves, you are correct — very few do.  But that's not the purpose of a mass transit system.  I once asked an Orca driver why he let someone on for free while I had to pay $2.25 to ride.  He explained that the purpose of a transportation agency is to move people around, not to make a profit. 

Parks aren't self-funding.  Street sweepers aren't self-funding.  Homeless shelters aren't self-funding.  Lots of government services are not self-funding.  Why do we expect that transit should?

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, BeerNut said:

We should get rid of the zoning through parking minimums inside the loop to allow denser housing to be built.

I'm not clear what you are trying to say here.  Are you suggesting that developers should be required to have more parking in order to bring more people into dense areas, or just the opposite?

Every developer I've worked with tries to minimize parking in their buildings because it's basically non-revenue space.  In Chicago, developers flock to areas near train stations because they are allowed to have less parking, which means more revenue-generating office and residential space.  It's even codified in city ordinance as "Transit-oriented development."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Highway construction, at this point, is just a jobs program for the massive construction industry. Local firms and contractors don't have the expertise to build transit, so they will always push for highway construction, lest Texas dollars leave the state. Auto dealers back them up, because their bottom line depends on car dependency.

Developers don't care (they'll build whatever's profitable for the form factor around them), insurers would likely prefer fewer cars on the roads, and energy companies would love to have amenities like fix mass transit to attract high-end talent. It doesn't matter, though, because the local guys who actually have to build the infrastructure don't know how to do high-quality transit, and don't want to spend the time and money to figure out how to do high-quality transit.

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

23 minutes ago, editor said:

I'm not clear what you are trying to say here.  Are you suggesting that developers should be required to have more parking in order to bring more people into dense areas, or just the opposite?

Every developer I've worked with tries to minimize parking in their buildings because it's basically non-revenue space.  In Chicago, developers flock to areas near train stations because they are allowed to have less parking, which means more revenue-generating office and residential space.  It's even codified in city ordinance as "Transit-oriented development."

Get rid of parking minimums.  Was trying to make a snarky comment referencing how everyone talks about Houston lack of zoning but we still have parking minimums. 

Edited by BeerNut
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, mattyt36 said:

Well, in fairness, a couple of things:

(1) Under the current system, freeways are largely "self-funding" through the gas tax.  Transit and commuter rail are not anywhere near directly so, at least not in a way that is easily digestible for voters to understand.  Ergo it's not a real leap or illogical to consider it expensive for what it is.

(2) There are cities like LA and Dallas that have built commuter rail systems (and I think these serve as the best example of what would happen if Houston built similar--note LA and Dallas are as known for traffic as we are), and they aren't exactly the most useful.  With few exceptions, Metra in Chicago isn't even all that great.

(3) METRO rail isn't exactly the greatest advertisement against the "great unwashed poor population" bias.

 

The gas tax, especially in Texas, barely covers maintenance of existing roads, so new roads have to be funded by other means. At the Federal level, I would bet the same thing occurs.

Much of the Dallas rail system doesn't go anywhere useful because it was built on existing rail lines. Houston's light rail is far better, even though total mileage is less. for 2021, Dallas light rail, all 93 miles of it, had 15.5 million riders. Houston Metro light rail, with 23 miles of track, had almost 9 million riders.

Not sure what you mean by great unwashed on the rail.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, editor said:

As someone who used Metra regularly for ten years, I can say that Metra actually is pretty great. 

Depends on the line.  If you consider hourly headways outside of rush hour as "pretty great," well, then, I guess good for you?  Now go sell that in the suburbs for what it'll cost.

3 hours ago, editor said:

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here.  Are you pointing out that all classes of people use Metro?  So, no different than the highways or sidewalks or any other public transportation amenity.  If you're trying to say that there are a lot of undesirable people on Metro, then you have to do to things: Define the sort of person you think should be disallowed from using Metro and why, even though they are Houston citizens with the same rights and voting power as you; and ride the Metro red line during rush hours when it's packed with Medical Center workers. 

I'm not begrudging anyone from riding anything--it's a choice.  I ride it frequently enough.  If you want to keep your head in the sand and think that it's OK to expect people to choose the light rail (and transit, by extension) when it's not an infrequent occurrence to come across someone who is high, soaked in urine, otherwise smelling not so clean, or verbally threatening, well then, again, good for you.  It's generally not how you attract people to change behavior.  

The light rail goes plenty of places that are not the Medical Center, and, if your prescription is for me just to ride it around there during rush hour so I see middle class people, well, I don't know what to say.  Absolutely bizarre logic.

3 hours ago, editor said:

I think this requires a citation, as all of the urban planners I've spoken with have said the opposite.  A quick Google came up with this document, which supports that.

 "All of the urban planners."  Well, quelle surprise.  It's like asking economists from the University of Chicago in 1940 what they think of the New Deal.  Urban planners are who got us into this mess to begin with.

Your link is to a publication by an advocacy group.  It refers to costs not directly borne by users (i.e., externalities).  Let me put it this way: Joe Q Public says every time I put gas in my car, the State of Texas gets $0.20.  The more I drive, the more they get--there is some connection between my use and what I pay, and I have complete freedom in going anywhere I want to.  The few times I ride METRO (if any, let's be honest), I have to pay a fare on top of the property taxes I have been paying for something I rarely use because it doesn't go everywhere I want to.  If transit is expanded, I'm still likely not to use it and I'll have to pay even more in property taxes.  If you don't see the clear distinction between the two, well, then . . . I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

3 hours ago, editor said:

Parks aren't self-funding.  Street sweepers aren't self-funding.  Homeless shelters aren't self-funding.  Lots of government services are not self-funding.  Why do we expect that transit should?

I don't know, why don't you go do a nice poll and ask Houstonians if they'd be OK with, say, a $10 billion investment in a commuter rail transit network.  Tell them the associated service levels, the fares, the time it will take them to get from their house to their work, how much they'll have to pay for the privilege, and ask them "Yay or nay"?  (After all, they're the ones who are going to pay for it, and you did say earlier you were concerned about the voters.)  Now ask them to pay $200 million for bayou parks.  I have an idea as to how this will work out.  You act like people universally want transit.  Some do, but most are happy suffering in their personal vehicles.  I don't know why this is so difficult for people to grasp.

(Regardless, comparing the level of investment in transit with investment in parks (BTW I suggest you check out the City's park budget so you can see how much money we're really talking about here), street sweepers, and homeless shelters is absolutely ludicrous.  Your sense of perspective and relevance is nonexistent.)

  • Confused 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Ross said:

The gas tax, especially in Texas, barely covers maintenance of existing roads, so new roads have to be funded by other means. At the Federal level, I would bet the same thing occurs.

Well, if you're concerned about transportation modes barely being able to pay for operations and maintenance, I'm not sure why you would look at rosy eyes with transit.  Are Texans' property taxes, gas taxes, or sales taxes set to increase if NHHIP proceeds?  Nope.  And that's all that matters in the minds of voters.

1 hour ago, Ross said:

Much of the Dallas rail system doesn't go anywhere useful because it was built on existing rail lines. Houston's light rail is far better, even though total mileage is less. for 2021, Dallas light rail, all 93 miles of it, had 15.5 million riders. Houston Metro light rail, with 23 miles of track, had almost 9 million riders.

The majority of the mileage literally parallels the Central Expressway and the Stemmons Freeway, which must go "somewhere useful," considering the volume.  If you want to commute via rail, you literally have the "option" to do so . . . I thought that was what this was all about?

1 hour ago, Ross said:

Not sure what you mean by great unwashed on the rail.

Well from a literal sense I mean the riders soaked in their own urine sitting (well, let's be honest) lying on communal seats.  

But it doesn't matter what I think--I have come to expect it--it matters what all the people you are trying to get out of their cars think. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, mattyt36 said:

I mean the riders soaked in their own urine sitting (well, let's be honest) lying on communal seats.

I'll take a sleeping vagrant over a hopped-up road rage freeway shooter any day. 

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 hours ago, BeerNut said:
8 hours ago, mattyt36 said:

Well, on this subject, all that matters is what the general population prefers. 

 

Well, since the red line has been among the country's most popular LRT lines since its inception, I'd say that the evidence of a market for solid-good transit lines is there.

Also, given the usage of the 25 and especially the 82, I'd say that even the demand for bad-okay transit is there.

And anecdotally, I've ridden the 25 bus, the red line, and the green line thousands of times. In that time, I can recall a few tweakers and two individuals who partially met your description (never the lying down, though - they get yelled at real quick when they do that), but by and large it's just regular people going to and from work.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, 004n063 said:

Well, since the red line has been among the country's most popular LRT lines since its inception, I'd say that the evidence of a market for solid-good transit lines is there.

Also, given the usage of the 25 and especially the 82, I'd say that even the demand for bad-okay transit is there.

And anecdotally, I've ridden the 25 bus, the red line, and the green line thousands of times. In that time, I can recall a few tweakers and two individuals who partially met your description (never the lying down, though - they get yelled at real quick when they do that), but by and large it's just regular people going to and from work.

"Anecdotally"

90 to 130 major incidents a month

Houston METRO launches special homeless team to tackle potential issues along routes amid rise in public transportation crime - ABC13 Houston

Houston METRORail violence: Police chiefs vow more officers on patrol after 6th violent incident on or near transit in 2 months - ABC13 Houston

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The security at stops - especially bus stops - definitely needs improvement. That is also true of every city that has both crime and transit. The vehicles themselves are comparatively safe.

Of course, all of the dangers related to public transit pale in comparison to the dangers of cars, but...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 1/9/2023 at 6:59 PM, editor said:

In a New York Times article this past Sunday, the Katy Freeway is one of three poster children for why you can't build your way out of traffic.

The other ones highlighted are the Long Beach Freeway in Los Angeles, and the Jersey Turnpike Extension.

OMG.  This whole thread is based on a lie.  Did anyone read the article? Did anyone look at the source of their claim that "within five years, peak hour travel times on the freeway were longer than before the expansion."  That (yes, the very premise of their anti-freeway-widening article) is a lie.  

One wonders if the NYT author even read his/her own source material; if so did he/she not understand it?  Either way... the both the City Observatory article and the NYT article are deeply dishonest.

The linked "study" is one I believe we have discussed here before and it compares peak travel times on Katy Freeway for the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.  In a city adding 100,000 - 150,000 people every year, it should come as no surprise that traffic is increasing. The expansion of the Katy Freeway made it possible to handle that additional traffic. But the noteworthy part is the earliest year they compared is 2011, three years after the completion of the Katy Freeway widening.  No comparison whatsoever to the freeway's performance before the widening project commenced.  

For everyone's convenience, here is a link to the NYT's source  https://cityobservatory.org/reducing-congestion-katy-didnt/

Edited by Houston19514
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, 004n063 said:

The security at stops - especially bus stops - definitely needs improvement. That is also true of every city that has both crime and transit. The vehicles themselves are comparatively safe.

Of course, all of the dangers related to public transit pale in comparison to the dangers of cars, but...

All of that may be true, but what matters is perception.  That is, assuming you want to get more people to ride transit.  Maybe you don't.  Maybe you're in the camp, "They shouldn't have decided to live 30 miles out of the city" so it's either "who cares what they think," "tough flurf," or "let's punish them by not expanding their freeways.

Knocking on people's doors and pointing out transit versus car safety statistics and expecting people to go, "Oh, I see it now, gonna take the bus from now on" is just ridiculous.  Similarly, having politicians tell voters that they just don't know what's good for them doesn't have a great track record, either.

Seriously, there is so much back-and-forth on this forum about transit and highways, I have yet to see anyone propose anything comprehensive as to change the situation, other than "just build it," or "make them suffer."  I'm not surprised, as the problem itself is intractable and multidimensionally so.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

14 minutes ago, Houston19514 said:

OMG.  Did anyone read the article? Did anyone look at the source of their claim that "within five years, peak hour travel times on the freeway were longer than before the expansion."  That, yes the very premise of their anti-freeway-widening article, is a lie.  The linked "study" is one I believe we have discussed here before and it compares peak travel times on Katy Freeway for the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.  In a city adding 100,000 - 150,000 people every year, it should come as no surprise that traffic is increasing. The expansion of the Katy Freeway made it possible to handle that additional traffic. But the noteworthy part is the earliest year they compared is 2011, three years after the completion of the Katy Freeway widening.  No comparison whatsoever to the freeway's performance before the widening project commenced.  Deeply dishonest.  For everyone's convenience, here is a link to the NYT's source  https://cityobservatory.org/reducing-congestion-katy-didnt/

Disingenuousness aside, there is no "control" group, there never is and never will be.  We'll never know what would've happened if I-10 weren't expanded or weren't expanded as much.  I submit that it's just as likely that not expanding it would lead to even more sprawl over the long run.  (Would it have led to sprawl if it weren't built in the first place?  Of course not.  But that's not where we are.)

The heart of a big city depends on transportation to survive.  In Houston and most American cities, the mode of choice is personal automobile, and the city and surrounding area have developed as such.  You ignore this for ideological reasons, well, you inevitably do not get the outcome that you're hoping for.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah it is hard to shake the perception that “public transit = unsafe”, no matter how much you point to the stats, etc. you are just not gonna be able to convince some people. Like it or not, perception is extremely important. I think people feel safer in personal vehicles because you can control several variables that you can’t on, say, a bus or train. Statistically, you’re more likely to die in a personal vehicle (often times because of a mistake you made), but people are willing to roll those dice because they would rather be in control of their own situation than put it in the hands of someone else. I’m admittedly like that with stuff like Uber- I flat-out will not take an Uber or Lyft by myself- maybe it’s irrational, but I will drive or take a bus before you could get me alone in one.

I think it’s also why a lot of people are afraid of flying, even though flying is super safe. Maybe it’s a strong cultural thing here where we have a very “fend for yourself because nobody else will” mentality? 

Non-transit example… I’ve always been fine with Downtown and recognize that it’s incredibly safe and an incident isn’t likely. (It’s safer IIRC than almost any part of inner loop Houston) But still, South Downtown at night still gives me the creeps, even though I rationally understand that it’s not likely to be an issue. It’s dark and poorly trafficked, so even though the reality is that it’s fine, your brain might be sending you warning signals that it wouldn’t in those more well-lit and traveled areas, so I end up taking more precautions. 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have a friend whose company relocated right before COVID from The Woodlands to downtown, and he said when the announcement the atmosphere was like being at a wake.  Sure, commute times were going to significantly going to increase for the vast majority of people, which is certainly reason to cry enough, but he said he couldn't believe the number of people who brought up how scared they were from a public safety perspective (lots of talk of muggings and homeless).  Many of these people are recent transplants as the company consolidated offices here and essentially don't leave The Woodlands.  You turn on the news at night and it's all focused on crime, you have the candidate of one of the major political parties for the county executive essentially airing ads telling people how unsafe it is in the city (basically if you go to an Astros game or take a walk on the Bayou, you're putting your life at risk), it's totally understandable, whether it is true or not.

My cousin came and visited for some soccer tourney for her kid in 2021 . . . she lives in North Richland Hills.  She literally asked me if my house was burned or sustained major damage in 2020 during "all the riots" (the riots referring to the George Floyd protests).  I'm not sure she believed me when I said that I didn't have any damage (or come close to having any damage) and there weren't any buildings that were burned.  Several instances of broken glass, sure, not denying there wasn't property damage, but this perception is what you're up against.  Give them an opportunity or any excuse to stay in the suburbs because their commute now takes 75 minutes instead of 45, trust me, they will.  And downtown, as has been the case my entire life, seems at times to be barely hanging on as it is.  Certainly way better than it was before, but it's still nowhere near where many of us want it to be.

So as much as you have anecdotes about spic and span rides on METRO, and how dangerous it is to drive in a car, I'd say these perceptions are way more powerful.  They won't have personal anecdotes, perhaps, but they'll be happy to tell you how many home invasions they saw on Eyewitness News last week and how it "could've easily been them." 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Houston19514 said:

OMG.  This whole thread is based on a lie.  Did anyone read the article? Did anyone look at the source of their claim that "within five years, peak hour travel times on the freeway were longer than before the expansion."  That (yes, the very premise of their anti-freeway-widening article) is a lie.  

One wonders if the NYT author even read his/her own source material; if so did he/she not understand it?  Either way... the both the City Observatory article and the NYT article are deeply dishonest.

The linked "study" is one I believe we have discussed here before and it compares peak travel times on Katy Freeway for the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.  In a city adding 100,000 - 150,000 people every year, it should come as no surprise that traffic is increasing. The expansion of the Katy Freeway made it possible to handle that additional traffic. But the noteworthy part is the earliest year they compared is 2011, three years after the completion of the Katy Freeway widening.  No comparison whatsoever to the freeway's performance before the widening project commenced.  

For everyone's convenience, here is a link to the NYT's source  https://cityobservatory.org/reducing-congestion-katy-didnt/

The linked piece also ignored how many more cars were carried by the Katy expansion, which has to be a large part of any discussion. I also question the facile conclusion that the expansion induced demand. Does the author think that all of the new homes out past Highway 6 would not have been built if there was no expansion? That's a stretch. And, if no expansion had occurred, and the far West MPCs weren't built, where does the author think all of those people would have lived? It's not like you can easily add 10,000 single family homes inside the Loop or inside Beltway 8. The people who buy in greater Katy will not live in HISD or similar school districts, nor will they live in what they consider cramped midrise buildings cheek to jowl with neighbors they don't want to see or talk to or hear through the walls.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 1/11/2023 at 10:15 AM, BeerNut said:

We should get rid of the zoning through parking minimums inside the loop to allow denser housing to be built.  Maybe with some affordability component that would allow more people to live closer in and we wouldn't need to keep increasing lanes.

but this is happening!

not to long ago Houston passed some reduced parking requirements within specific distances of mass transit.

https://www.houstontx.gov/planning/docs_pdfs/User's Guide for WP and TOD report_2020-10-01.pdf

even before that happened, the amount of density created around the red line is inspiring. the other lines are getting similar treatment. there's density creeping into the east end along the green line. right now it really extends out to Scott street. it's no coincidence that this is right on a rail stop.

now that these restrictions have been lifted, we're going to see more and faster.

Edited by samagon
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 minutes ago, samagon said:

but this is happening!

not to long ago Houston passed some reduced parking requirements within specific distances of mass transit.

https://www.houstontx.gov/planning/docs_pdfs/User's Guide for WP and TOD report_2020-10-01.pdf

even before that happened, the amount of density created around the red line is inspiring. the other lines are getting similar treatment. there's density creeping into the east end along the green line. right now it really extends out to Scott street. it's no coincidence that this is right on a rail stop.

now that these restrictions have been lifted, we're going to see more and faster.

Not to drag this too off-topic, but do the TOD ordinances apply to our BRT lines as well? Could people along the current silver line be exempt from minimums because of it? 

I’m also curious to know if these will apply to BOOST routes. 
(I figure this is addressed in the PDF, but my internet is being a butt right now and struggling to load. )

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 hours ago, BEES?! said:

Not to drag this too off-topic, but do the TOD ordinances apply to our BRT lines as well? Could people along the current silver line be exempt from minimums because of it? 

I’m also curious to know if these will apply to BOOST routes. 
(I figure this is addressed in the PDF, but my internet is being a butt right now and struggling to load. )

I believe the BRT is included, but I don't think the BOOST is. so yeah, get ready for more density in the Galleria area, and also once the University BRT is built, that will spur density too.

and sure it's not the specific topic of highways don't fix traffic, but the only way to continue to grow population in a region is to increase ways for increased population to move around, so if you aren't creating more roads for more pollution, you need to create alternatives, and then change the rules near those alternatives.

Edited by samagon
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, BEES?! said:

Not to drag this too off-topic, but do the TOD ordinances apply to our BRT lines as well? Could people along the current silver line be exempt from minimums because of it? 

I’m also curious to know if these will apply to BOOST routes. 
(I figure this is addressed in the PDF, but my internet is being a butt right now and struggling to load. ) 

Yes it does the BRT lines in the galleria area are included you have to go to the walkable places page on the city of Houston's website and they'll have a map there I'll see if I can find a link.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...