Systemic inequity hinders the effectiveness of CAMPO’s best plans

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization has prepared a draft Regional Active Transportation Plan for the first time and the Transportation Policy Board is expected to vote on passage of the plan at its meeting tonight.

Some very excellent consultants worked on the project led by very capable staff. Together they have produced a document with important data, analysis, recommendations to improve active transportation options and systems across the region.

However, the structural geographic inequity at CAMPO seems to have hindered the effectiveness and benefit of this otherwise positive step forward. As shown in the charts above, every single metric I was able to look at from the report showed an underrepresentation of the residents of Travis County in this process and the resulting recommendations. The data is here.

300,000 more people live in Travis County than all other counties of the 6 county CAMPO region. Yet, more government staff were able to attend meetings on this plan in Williamson County alone than in Travis County.

While Travis County is shown with the most total number of miles of active transportation planned and proposed for any one county, more total miles were proposed outside the county than inside, for the area with 300,000 less people. While there are 11 projects proposed per 100,000 residents of Travis and Williamson County each, there are 19 per 100,000 residents in Hays and 35 per 100,000 residents of Burnet.

This brings potential serious concerns as CAMPO moves to add this plan into its performance measures and metrics for allocating regional transit funding, as explained in our letter sent in during the brief public comment period. We also explored the serious inequity issues at CAMPO year ago in our Special Report on Representation at CAMPO as well as in our broader Texas Transportation Equity Assessment.

While this Active Transportation Plan is a step forward and likely improves the overall picture at CAMPO, much work remains to be done for CAMPO to be able to produce an efficient, equitable, prosperous 2045 Regional Transportation Plan. To remedy similar inequity and inefficiency issues, the State of California recently restructured the voting system of SANDAG, CAMPO’s equivalent for the San Diego region. Perhaps similar broad measures are needed here.

City of Austin housing has not “kept pace” with population growth

The City of Austin grew from 678,457 to 931,840 people in just ten years between 2005 and 2015, adding 253,383 new residents. While not as much growth as the City of Houston – which added 357,198 in the same period – this growth is harder on Austin with its segregationist zoning code and its extraordinarily high rate of sprawl.

Displacement, traffic, and other issues of growth are real, meaningful problems for the young metropolitan region and the city – and particularly tough for some residents of the region. How we respond with public and private decisions will determine the carbon footprint of the region, the ability of people to afford to live here, the quality of millions of people’s lives, and the long term sustainability of the metropolis.

A recent report from the Urban Institute claims that the City of Austin’s housing stock “kept pace” with its own population growth because the addition of housing units was at a similar rate to the addition of population in the city. KUT’s coverage focused on this concept of comparing population growth in the city to growth of housing units in the city.

The underlying premise of comparing just the city’s population growth to housing unit growth is suspect. So I dug up my own data from the US Census Bureau’s Fact Finder and ran my own numbers to allow a different interpretation of the same data they were trying to explain.

Here goes:

How City of Austin failed to keep pace with population growth

The Austin region grew by 740,830 people between 2000 and 2015 or a growth rate of 59%, with 465,552 of that growth happening across the region outside of the City of Austin – what you normally call sprawl.

Yet during this period, the City of Austin limited growth of housing through its segregationist zoning code, meaning that only 120,795 housing units were added in the city, at a growth rate of 44%.

This seems to have limited population growth inside the city to a rate of 42%, a significantly slower rate than the region as a whole. Yet people still want to live inside the city where they have much greater access to jobs, retail, people, schools, and affordable transportation costs. Since the city’s segregation policies can’t actually dictate who rents or buys each unit, lower income people were likely forced out as units within the city went to the highest bidders. This is the core story of displacement.

Were the City of Austin to have “kept pace” with regional growth – simply matching regional growth rate – it should have added an additional 43,310 housing units between 2000 and 2015. Doing this would have meant radically cutting displacement and the costs of sprawl. An additional 113,916 people should have been allowed to live in the City of Austin than were allowed simply to match regional growth rate. This would have meant a more sustainable tax base for the city, a more feasible future for AISD, and a variety of other benefits both for current residents and local governments.

If Austin were to have adopted smart growth policies – which it most certainly has not done – it would have tried to grow at a faster rate than the region. This would have allowed more people access to live in walkable urban places connected by high quality transit with low carbon lifestyles. This also would have cut down on the vast amounts of the Hill Country continuing to be destroyed through the interaction of the city’s segregationist zoning and CAMPO’s sprawltastic Regional Transportation Plan.

The traffic consequences of limiting access to the City of Austin

Using the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index – one of the most important tools on the entire interwebs IMHO – I found that residents of the City of Austin on average drive a vehicle 7,894 miles every year, while residents of the rest of the CAMPO region drive 10,221 miles every year on average.

This vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita is perhaps one of the most important environmental variables facing our metropolis, our nation, and our world. This determines not only your consumption of gasoline and emissions while driving, but also need for the car itself. The embodied carbon of a new car is about equal to the carbon emitted from the tailpipe over the lifetime of the car – a carbon footprint that also holds true for an electric vehicle.

And we’re not done there. Excessive driving – and especially neighborhoods and vast areas designed for car dependent lifestyle require significantly more surface of the earth to be paved for roads, parking, and all the space needs of a system designed for using a 3,000 pound vehicle to go to the store to get a gallon of milk. Every time you drive, you’re consuming a little share of the tailpipe emissions of the construction vehicles that mined those aggregates and paved that road.

The choice of the Austin City Council to continue segregationist zoning to limit access to living in the City of Austin has meant – on average – about 2,327 additional vehicle miles traveled per person not allowed to live in the city.

If instead, the city had “kept pace” with the regional growth rate and allowed 113,916 more people to live inside the city of Austin, the CAMPO region would theoretically today be dealing with 265,046,611 less VMT per year or 726,155 miles worth of cars driving on our roads every day.  This represents 1.69% of the region’s current total VMT, meaning that on average, every traffic jam would have about 2% less cars in it.

The region could be using a little over 11 million less gallons of gasoline each year if we had ended segregation in 2000. This increased VMT caused by segregationist zoning also on average means four additional traffic fatalities and 40 more devastating incapacitating injuries every year than we would see if Austin had allowed these people to live inside the city.

However, these are conservative under-estimates, because greater density within the City of Austin would allow for better transit access for all – not just new residents – shifting wasted transportation funds from inefficient, low-use suburban roads to high-use multimodal streets, and allowing shorter trips for all. VMT per capita in the city will continue to go down as we add more people, even as we each gain greater access to more things.

Let’s not delay anymore – end segregation in Austin in April 2018

Much hullabaloo has been made this week about the costs of the CodeNEXT process, with a lot of people apparently having become experts on the costs to completely rewrite the land development code for a major US city. Luckily, city council chose this morning to continue the project and to try to stay on target to complete it in April next year.

As of now, the largest US city to switch from segregationist zoning to form-based code remains Miami, Florida, home to 453,579 people, less than half the size of the City of Austin.

This is a necessarily complex project. Various concerns and a vast diversity of neighborhood, community, and business interests deserve the deep, meaningful debate that we have had for the last four years. CodeNEXT can be completed in a way that keeps Austin weird, which means allowing people to live here, allowing many more of us to have the option of low-carbon lifestyles, and completing every neighborhood with more friends, more nice walks, more coffee shops, more schools, more access to the quality of life that comes when you live in a growing metropolis.

Beware the murky stats passing by in the flood waters

In the flood of hot takes following Hurricane Harvey, much discussion has emerged around impervious surface – land that cannot absorb water and instead passes it off down the stream. Many of our libertarian friends have been espousing a set of “stats” about Houston’s impervious surface, linking back and forth to each other’s articles as proof of an apparently well known truth.

The Center for Opportunity Urbanism published a report by our well respected local adversary Tory Gattis and one of the nation’s leading purveyors of poorly done math and statistics, Wendell Cox. Like others, they cited an argument that they believe that Houston doesn’t have much impervious surface.

All of this seems to stem from a Cato Institute blog post by Vanessa Brown Calder and this “analysis” she calculated from USDA Forest Service data:

Seems pretty telling – if you are bad at math.

So we looked further into it, knowing that one of the unique characteristics of the City of Houston is its abnormally large land area, rendering comparisons of percent impervious surface most likely a dubious pursuit.

If you instead look at impervious surface per person – the amount of concrete sealing the ground shut on behalf of each one of us – a quite different interpretation emerges. We looked at the same USDA Forest Service report that it seems Cato did, but included all 20 cities in that report, not just the five that Cato deemed “similarily populated American cities” to Houston (a truly odd statement considering they chose to include a city with four times as many people and another with one sixth as many people as Houston).

The two US cities that suffered the two most costly natural disasters this nation has ever seen are also the two coastal cities with the highest rates of impervious surface per person.

Using this same data, we created the chart below which simply shows the total amount of impervious surface in each city. The people of the City of Houston have paved over more earth than any other US city studied in this report, except for the city of Los Angeles, which has us beat by 3 extra square miles, but is home to 1.7 million more people.

If Houston had instead developed at the density of New York City, it would have required only 50 square miles of impervious surface, leaving an additional 201 square miles of prairie, wetlands, and forests to soak up a little of that rain water.

This of course doesn’t mean in this unlikely alternative scenario that flood waters would stop flowing through our bayous or streets – which isn’t actually what anyone wants. It does mean that we would have had substantially less people’s homes spread across the Houston region in harms way on a substantially smaller footprint in need of protection and flood infrastructure than we did have.

The people of Houston region have extremely important discussions to have right now. We need comprehensive systems of engagement, collaboration, and planning for rebuilding the Houston region with resiliency, equity, and prosperity for all. We need free market solutions such as eliminating parking requirements – something local environmentalists have been calling for for many years. We need comprehensive, equitable regional planning and regional approaches that stop the ongoing waste of public funds and squandering of our abundance that the crony capitalism of our past has given us.

One thing we really do not need is bad math and disingenuous statistics.

[Harvey flooding image credit: Jill Carlson, Some Rights Reserved]

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

BuzzFeed
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

StrongTowns
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

ABC13
Dear Houston – A Los Angeles reporter forever changed by your strength

Guardian
‘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

CITYLAB
How Transit Can Speed Houston’s Recovery

OffCite
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

Quartz
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

Slate
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.