Sunday, 22 June 2008

Houston: We Have a Solution

I spent a bit of time in Texas Earlier this year, (Austin, Corpus and San Antonio). From talking to people I got the sense that Houston was a city a lot of people there avoided. Big, sprawling, bad traffic and bad air. I have heard the phrase that "Houston is the worst planned city in America" though can't exactly find the origin of the moniker via Google but it gets used a fair bit.

The 4th largest city in the US has a big problem with traffic. Earlier this year Forbes rated it the 5th worst for traffic congestion in the US with commuters spending 56 hours a year stuck in traffic. In 2006 Houston ranked 12th among major US cities for public transit ridership - 4 places below Los Angeles.

Houston entered the LRT family in 2004 with the opening of a single line and proved the expression 'if you build it they will come'. The line now carries 45,000 riders per day - a level that was not expected to be seen for another couple of decades.

Based in part on the success of the first line the city went ahead with planning for more. It negotiated a $1.3 billion, five line, rail network that is cost shared 50/50 with the Feds.

Houston did go through the BRT v LRT debate. Initially bus lanes were the favoured choice but, in the end, settled on LRT claiming that the cost of building roadways and buying buses only to lay down track and buy rail cars a few years down the road (no pun intended) would add $600 million to the cost.

In a recent interview with NPR Mayor Bill White of Houston does not think this will be the end of the changes to Houston. He didn't mention concrete details but touched on planning and zoning changes as ways that residents will have to "reorder the way they live" and that in 20 years Houston will be "fundamentally different" than it is now.

Regardless of whatever other changes are in the cards for Houston, at least by 2012 there will be another 60,000 less people on the road for the daily commute.

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