Mini Report: The Costs of Distracted Driving in Texas

This summer, the Texas legislature conducted a rapid fire special session. With twenty topics on the call, only about half ended up making it to Governor Abbott’s desk and many were left lingering in committee.Farm&City stood with police departments, family members of victims of traffic violence, and  other safety and health advocates to oppose an attempt to go backwards on Texas distracted driving laws, HB 171.

And we won. The bill was left pending in the House Transportation Committee because it did not have enough votes to pass out of committee, following a passionate hearing (video).

We prepared a mini report for the hearing to make sure that lawmakers understood the extent of the problem of distracted driving in Texas and the costs to Texas families. The estimated impact of distracted driving in Texas is between 2 and 3 billion dollars a year, with at least 455 deaths across the state attributable to distracted driving. As explained in the report, we believe the actual number of deaths caused by distracted driving in Texas is much higher.

The Costs of Distracted Driving in Texas – House Version (pdf)

In 2019, the Texas legislature needs to take up smart, comprehensive statewide reform to end the scourge of distracted driving deaths in Texas. We look forward to assisting in finding the optimal way to do it.

[Crash image credit: Ruin Rader, Creative Commons License, via Flickr]

All the Hot Takes on Hurricane Harvey

Eleven days ago the eye of Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Rockport Texas, and just a week ago, the rains stopped in the Houston region, while the then Tropical Storm Harvey kept going, devastating Beaumont and East Texas while heading into Louisiana.

A flotilla of fire ants could survive for weeks on the buoyancy of Hot Takes on Hurricane Harvey that we’ve already seen. In the interest of providing a meta analysis of the Hot Takes, we thought we should compile this central list. Please feel free to add more in the comments and we will update as we go.

[This post was updated on September 10 to add all the new hot takes we could find, but first, please read and watch these love letters from the great City of New Orleans and the good people at Day for Night]

Pro-Zoning or Anti-Sprawl or Pro-Planning or Anti-Paving Over Wetlands

New York Times
How Houston’s Growth Created the Perfect Flood Conditions

Houston’s Urban Sprawl Meant Harvey Was A Disaster Waiting To Happen

Paul Krugman in Houston Chronicle
Bad policy fueled the catastrophe of Harvey

Eric Berger in Houston Chronicle
Five days of hellish rainfall must be a wake-up call to stop business as usual

The Atlantic
To Soften a Hurricane’s Blow, Don’t Drain the Swamp

Henry Grabar in Slate
Houston Wasn’t Built for a Storm Like This

Steve Russell in Newsweek
Houston is drowning – in its freedom from regulations

Anti-Zoning or Pro-Libertarian or Pro-Business

Leo Linbeck III in the Houston Chronicle
Hurricane Harvey was not a catastrophe

Houston Isn’t Flooded Because of its Land Use Planning

Charles Marohn in National Review
Piling on Houston: Land Use Policies Not to Blame for Flooding

The Federalist
Stop Blaming Houston’s Libertarian Zoning For Hurricane Harvey’s Destruction

Center for Opportunity Urbanism
Texas Thou Hast Sinned

Phillip W. Magness in Houston Chronicle
Don’t blame sprawl for Houston’s floods

Emily Badger in New York Times
Is Houston Still a Model City? Its Supporters Aren’t Backing Down

Scott Bayer in Forbes
Did Houston flood because of a lack of zoning?

Pro-Building Codes

Danny Samuels in OffCite
Harvey Musings: “Zoning made no difference. But stricter building codes did.”

Mistakes Were Made Stories

Dallas Morning News
As Houston grew, officials ignored ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to spare thousands from flooding

CBC News
Houston was warned it was a ‘sitting duck’ for major flood

Dr. Robert Bullard on Democracy Now
Houston’s “Unrestrained Capitalism” Made Harvey “Catastrophe Waiting to Happen”

Texas Tribune
A year before Harvey, Houston-area flood control chief saw no “looming issues”

George Monbiot in the Guardian
Why are the crucial questions about Hurricane Harvey not being asked?

Awesome Stories About People Helping People and Dark Stories

ABC News
Fleet of monster trucks conducts rescues in flood-ravaged Texas

Dear Houston – A Los Angeles reporter forever changed by your strength

‘We don’t have anything’: landlords demand rent on flooded Houston homes

USA Today
In small town, Harvey ‘just a catastrophic citywide event’

Houston Chronicle
Harvey deaths held down by heeded warnings, rescues, luck

What next

Governor Greg Abbott in Houston Chronicle
Rebuild coastal areas to abate flood danger

How Transit Can Speed Houston’s Recovery

An Optimistic Response to Harvey

Eric Berger in arsTECHNICA
This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same

Jim Schutze in Dallas Observer
Nation Should Invest in Houston — But Not the Way Texas Will Want to Do It

Nolan Gray in CITYLAB
Houston’s Zoning Wasn’t the Problem

Billy Fleming in the Guardian
The real villains in Harvey flood: urban sprawl and the politicians who allowed it

Richard Parker in Politico
How Harvey Will Change Texas

A Texas Solution to Texas’ Climate Change Problem

State Representative Gene Wu in Texas Tribune
Texas needs to tap Rainy Day Fund for Hurricane Harvey relief

Washington Post
‘If they deport all of us, who will rebuild?’ Undocumented workers could be key to Texas recovery.

Texas Tribune
Texas officials see long road from Harvey for state transportation network

Jim Blackburn of Rice Baker Institute
Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey: Policy Perspectives (pdf)

David Crossley in the Houston Tomorrow Newsletter
Harvey, a new standard for chaos

Lacy Johnson in the New York Times
It’s the DACA Decision, Not Hurricane Harvey, That May Tear Houston Apart

Richard Florida and Jonathan Rose in CityLab
Houston’s Big Opportunity for Better Urban Development

Why Texas May Not Be Equipped for the Recovery From Harvey

Dr. John Jacob in Watershed Texas by the Texas Coastal Watershed Program of Texas A&M
Above all, elevate!

Houston Matters on Houston Public Media
How And Where Will Greater Houston Rebuild, Post-Harvey?

Houston Chronicle
Government faces suit over Addicks and Barker dam releases

Rivard Report
San Antonio Leaders Mull Strategies to Avoid Flood Disaster

Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
Why Dallas must use Hurricane Harvey as a catalyst for responsible growth

Pre-Harvey Takes Making the Rounds

ProPublica / Texas Tribune
Boomtown, Flood Town

Michael F. Bloom P.E.
A Response to “Boomtown, Flood Town”

Jay Blazek Crossley in Houston Chronicle’s Gray Matters
Stop Building Neighborhoods That Make Other Neighborhoods Flood

The Inverse Condemnation Thing

Raizner Slania LLP
Inverse Condemnation Rights: Important Information for Homeowners Flooded after the Houston Addicks and Barker Dam Releases

Texas Condemnation
Flooded by the Government: Does Intentional Flooding Amount to a Compensable Taking?

How much do traffic crashes cost the people of Texas? (A: $162 Billion)

Traffic congestion costs the people of Texas over $14 billion a year in terms of lost time on the freeways, according to our tabulation of the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard. Most Texas elected officials have supported dramatic moves to fund road projects attempting to address this issue. The people of Texas voted to constitutionally require road spending in 2015, and the Texas officials have focused on the “Texas Clear Lanes” project to try to reduce the costs of congestion.

But speeding up traffic is not the only overarching strategy concern that Texas could be focusing this level of attention on, and it is possible that a larger cost is imposed on the people of Texas every year that has nothing close to the level of attention.

Every day, ten people die on the roads of Texas, fifty people suffer incapacitating injuries – loss of limb, brain damage, or other life-changing trauma, and 4,000 other people are involved in traffic crashes not resulting in a death or serious injury.

What are the costs of all these traffic crashes?

In 2016, 3,773 people died in the Texas transportation system, 17,582 suffered incapacitating injuries, 81,704 suffered non-incapacitating injuries, 165,790 people were listed in crash reports as “possible injuries,” and 1,212,833 were involved in crashes without observed injuries, according to TXDOT statistics.

The National Safety Council provides guidance on estimating the economic and comprehensive costs of traffic crashes. TXDOT uses this method to publish its own estimate of the annual economic costs of crashes, concluding that the people of Texas incurred a cost of $38.6 Billion in actual 2016 costs from traffic crashes. So we tabulated the total economic and comprehensive costs of Texas traffic crashes in 2016 using the several methods explained in the NSC memo.

Yet to compare to the TTI estimates of congestion costs, we should use the NCS comprehensive costs methodology, which includes lost quality of life, both for people with shortened lives as well as those living with injuries. Using this estimate, the people of Texas suffered an estimated comprehensive cost of traffic crashes of $162 billion from the crashes that occurred in 2016.

[Featured image credit: Ruin Rader, Creative Commons License, via Flickr]

Project Connect: Why Oltorf and Pleasant Valley should jump into Phase II

Austin’s transit agency, Capital Metro, is engaging in a long term transit planning process that could lead to future light rail lines, bus rapid transit, and enhancements to existing high capacity transit. Project Connect 2.0 follows on the failure of the 2014 bond referendum that could have built Austin’s first light rail line. Many felt that the effort last time suffered from too narrow a focus that some perceived as favoring a preconceived outcome.

This time, the agency is trying to take a comprehensive look across the region to conceive of an ideal regional transit network and prioritize how to get there most efficiently. Phase I of this process considered all existing plans for high capacity transit in the region and used a set of quantitative and qualitative metrics to narrow down the field to a reasonable set of corridors for more intensive study in Phase II.

At the Capital Metro June Board Meeting, the Board of Directors will choose which corridors move forward into Phase II.  I have been involved heavily in this process as a member of the Multimodal Community Advisory Committee (MCAC)  representing Vision Zero ATX. I am confident that the overall set of corridors moving into Phase II is a good set to allow a meaningful regional transit plan to emerge from this process – except for two corridors currently on the chopping block – Oltorf and Pleasant Valley – that I believe deserve to make it into Phase II regardless of the final scoring they received in Phase I.

These two lines score very well on the quantitative analysis conducted in Phase I as explained below, but scored poorly on the qualitative analysis. The qualitative analysis measured political and community support, ease of deploying projects, and a new concept called “regional connectivity.” I am not advocating actually changing the metrics or the Phase I report in any way. However, I believe the equity concerns – along with the ridership potential for Oltorf and Pleasant Valley – make a strong case to allow these two corridors to jump into Phase II for further consideration.

The ridership and equity metrics for Oltorf and Pleasant Valley show that these areas deserve consideration for high capacity transit

To follow along on this section, you can either click the underlined link in the next sentence to see the entire document or look at the images above for the specific pages. The quantitative analysis contains several key findings for both of these corridors, which indicate a strong case for studying them in Phase II. On page 35 of the Quantitative Evaluation Memorandum, you will see a chart of equity measures.

Oltorf and Pleasant Valley are the highest scoring corridors being considered in this process, meaning that they have the greatest potential for providing high capacity transit options to people of color, car-free households, and low-income people.

On the next page you will see that Oltorf and Pleasant Valley score the very highest on the existing population metric, meaning the most people would live within walking distance of stops, thoretically, on these lines compared to all others, including more people than the highest scoring overall proposed corridor: Guadalamar. However, on the employment metric, you’ll see that Oltorf and Pleasant Valley are relatively low, which is probably one of the biggest problems with considering a truly great transit investment here.

The metric “impact on existing riders” is probably the most important for pro-transit activists, fiscally conservative types, or environmentalists. Capital Metro was actually calling this “potential ridership” in previous versions of the report and decided to change it, but this is the best indicator of how well utilized transit investments will be between the different corridors under consideration. If you look on page 33, you will see that Oltorf and Pleasant Valley are the 3rd and 4th highest scoring lines after only Guadalamar and Highland, on this crucial metric.

Phase II will allow us to optimize these proposals – or not build them

Finally, a key is that Capital Metro decided at the beginning to only look at existing plans for corridors and to use existing end points of plans for the Phase I metrics. I think this was a good choice to have some reasonable cut off for this decision and to avoid perceptions of cheating. However, in Phase 2, we are not restricted by these old plans and visions. We will be looking at every single corridor that makes it into Phase 2 and trying to figure out what the optimal transit treatment for that corridor is.  Then we can judge the best plans for each corridor against each other to come up with a way to prioritize a regional transit system..

So the point is that both Oltorf and Pleasant Valley – as drawn on the map in Phase I – have illogical end points, with each line basically ending at each other, even though both have large populations and regional centers nearby beyond that point. If they move forward into Phase II, we should consider at an Oltorf line that runs further east and a Pleasant Valley line that runs further south – and we should expect for them to basically show much higher ridership when the more logical end points are used.

Most importantly, Phase II is supposed to be a data driven planning process that will give us the ideal mix of investments to provide optimal transit on all of these corridors and to prioritize these investments based upon serving the most people, jobs, and students. Choosing to include Oltorf and Pleasant Valley in Phase II does not obligate anyone to any particular investments or any particular outcome. It just gives us a shot at a better understanding of how high capacity transit could prove to be dramatically beneficial for these neighborhoods and the region.

What about East 12th?

It is an important side note to the main point of this post that East 12th scores really high on the people of color equity metric, while not as high on the other equity metrics. Its overall equity score is lower than Oltorf and Pleasant Valley and its projected ridership is nowhere near as good. Another important consideration is that Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd is expected to make it into Phase II, so potential for investing in high capacity transit nearby – six blocks away – will be part of Phase II.

Perhaps reassurance by staff that a look at optimizing local bus on this corridor will occur in the Connections 2025 process could be sufficient to allay this concern, as the low ridership potential means we are very unlikely to conclude in Phase II that a high capacity investment makes sense on East 12th.

Decide Texas takes Seattle

I’ll be doing a very short presentation at the Congress for the New Urbanism conference in Seattle this week, giving a three minute version of the Decide Texas project and the Texas Transportation Equity Assessment.

But I’ll be unveiling something new here – encouraging folks to help us build an Nationwide Equity Assessment of American MPOs, through a Rapid Equity Assessment setup that I created.

Metropolitan Planning Organizations are really really important and most activists and many elected and public servants don’t understand how or why, even many who are working to provide better transit, safe streets, and walkable urbanism to meet the massive pent up demand for such things in America. We want to change that.

Lots of MPOs are wildly inequitable in the structures that dictates who gets the seats on the policy council making important decisions and in the racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic representation on those councils.

You can start a Rapid Equity Assessment for your MPO here.