47 Comment

  • I’m going with the polio vaccine, myself.

  • The single greatest invention of all time?

    I would put the automobile behind vaccinations, sterilization, refrigeration, the electric grid, plastics, integrated circuits, and probably the railroad (off the top of my head). While I do enjoy driving a car, I wouldn’t call it the greatest invention of all time. I’d applaud Houston a lot more for its prowess in refining chemicals than I would for its parking lots, although I guess this is all a matter of opinion.

  • Your comment is mere hyperbole.

  • Second sentence should more accurately be: “I’m happy to live in a city that attempted to be designed to accomodate them.”

  • Don’t you mean you’re happy to live in a city that destroyed much of its urban fabric and history in a half-assed attempt accommodate them?

  • I don’t see anything wrong with making a city car-friendly when most places are far enough apart that you need a car except in rare and specific circumstances. I agree with Bernard on that, and it’s something that Houston has done better than most large cities, probably because it didn’t grow really big until after the car was ubiquitous and because there was cheap land to expand. With regard to the loss of the urban fabric, my sense is that parking lots are simply the default cheap way to reduce taxes and get rid of maintenance on buildings the owner doesn’t want to bother with. Not because there’s that much demand for parking.

  • It’s called hyperbole, people. Look it up, expect for you Landed Gent.

    My points remains, however. Cars rule!!! And so does Houston. I’ve traveled the world and have friends and family in major metropolises from coast to coast. Those cities are nice to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Nearly every move outside your front door involves some sort of calculus including: time of day; parking availability; parking cost; potential grid lock; cab fare; cab availability; buses schedules; bus fare; bus routes; train routes, train schedules; train fare; the weather; public safety; shoe comfort vs shoe style; umbrellas; rain coats; etc.

    Call me crazy, but I place a high value on knowing that I can jump in my car 24/7 and drive wherever I want to go with full confidence that there will be ample and usually free parking in very close proximity to my destination. I Houston I go where I want, when I want. Usually with ease. It’s called freedom. Try it sometime. You might like it. :-)

  • This is exactly why the current parking ordinance doesn’t work. Houstonians are not willing to give up their cars, or even leave them at home.

  • It’s called freedom?

    Freedom means having choices.

    AAA says the average annual cost of driving in 2011 is $9,859.

    The US median income is somewhere between 30 and 40k, so for those of us who don’t want to spend 1/4 to 1/3 of our income on driving, what choices do you propose are available?

    If you are an adult in Houston and for whatever reason you do not have a car, you have no freedom, very limited opportunity, and little hope.

    You value being able to jump in your car 24/7 and find parking wherever you’re headed. I would value having viable alternatives when for any reason I can’t, shouldn’t, or just don’t want to drive. THAT would be freedom.

  • +1

    Bernard articulated a series of powerful points, IMO. I, myself, am about to move from a house within walking distance of work to a place about 15 minutes away. The decision to live where I am currently was predicated on walking, and I do enjoy a good walk. The problem is, I have to drive around town a lot to interact with clients and conduct business. I also have to be able to not smell horrible and to avoid getting rained on.

    Most days, I end up driving the 90 seconds to work, which has been frustrating since I paid a premium to be able to walk. Oh well, one of life’s lessons learned.

  • That freedom isn’t free. Some of the costs you’re rich enough to pay for (vehicle, gas), some are socialized (roads, drainage of pavement, minimum required parking spots for businesses), some you’re allowed to ignore (pollution, social and ecological costs of sprawl), and some you may not even think of as costs (long commutes, community effects, sedentariness, having to carry insurance, the destruction represented by what you’re insured against).

    Unlimited mobility with “free” parking 24 hours a day isn’t magic from Houston’s fairy godmother. It has prices, and those prices are an inseparable part of the issue.

  • Or to put it better: it’s unmetered, but it isn’t free.

  • If you ever had to work a low paying or temp job downtown…you would appreciate a safe 2 buck parking lot.

    I remember years ago parking in downtown Los Angeles on the far outskirts and as soon as the car would park the vultures would descend from under the bridges to pry open the doors and steal anything in your car. Then one overtime day parked on a Sunday downtown L.A. to find there was no longer a car at all.

    Yeah, Houston’s not beautiful…blah blah blah.

  • Bernard is right. This freedom is valuable. The car isn’t going away anytime soon. Besides, many people (including myself) cannot live within walking distance of their jobs even if they wanted to. In Houston, living in the dense, walkable neighborhoods seems only to appeal to a niche market.

  • I’ve always thought that the environmental basis for the anti-car movement was, if not a red herring, at least likely to be solved in the near-ish future. Modern automobiles don’t create much air pollution; the cars of twenty years in the future will probably create zero. We got where we are now with two generations or more of hard work; air pollution was unquestionably a serious issue a half century ago. As I frequently say, the carbon issue is much, much worse for aviation, construction, and commercial transportation. That said, I am always amazed how few people are willing to stand up and say that what the car represents in society – insulated, reasonably secure, somewhat affordable on-demand private mobility, is something worth preserving and planning around. The type of fuel is just a distraction. And I wonder if in car-negative cities the yearly cost of public transit and cabs is _significantly_ lower than the $9,800 car ownership figure posted. I’ll bet it’s not but I could be wrong.

  • Whenever I like a thing X, i’ve always had the habit of saying that “X is the third best thing ever invented.” Suckers who replied with “What are #1 and #2?” got my stock answer, which is “X is the 3rd best thing ever invented, behind only the automobile and the French Tickler.”

    In my mind, autos are clearly best for short trips, and airplanes best for longer ones.

    Nonetheless, I see no reason why I can’t think that autos are best, and at the same time hold that they are a great luxury, and luxuries should not be subsidized.

    Quite the opposite, their use should be taxed, and a lot more heavily than it is now, in order to offset their excessive social costs, especially their production of greenhouse gases and hideous parking lots.

  • re: Marner

    > I wonder if in car-negative cities the yearly cost of public transit and cabs is _significantly_ lower than the $9,800 car ownership figure posted

    In NYC, a monthly unlimited-ride Metrocard costs $104, x 12 = $1248. So that is substantially less than $9.8k.

    And modern cars certainly pollute less than those of 30 years ago, but there are also substantially more of them.

  • Patrick,

    I always say that mankind’s three greatest intellectual achievements are the works of Shakespeare, the works of Beethoven, and Microsoft Word 4.0. Yes, cars contribute to greenhouse gases and there are more of them than there used to be. On the other hand, if you look at photos of large urban areas, especially LA, from 1960, air pollution is significantly reduced. And cars will eventually have no significant exhaust emissions, probably within most of our lifetimes. And the Metrocard — what does that cover? Subway and bus? What about taxis and commuter rail? Admittedly, this is anecdotal, but the last time I was in Chicago I thought it would be fun to just park outside of town and spend the day riding the train, the El, etc. to do what I needed. I was truly astonished at how expensive that was and how much time it took (and how infrequent the runs were.) And I’m fairly certain that my cost per trip in the car is far, far less than the cost per trip in a taxi. I think Bernard hit it right on the nose: what Houston has over almost any other city, especially the old, pretty, historic ones, is ease of driving and parking.

  • @marmer: Sure, cars may one day all be electric or fuel cell and have no emissions. And, yes, catalytic converters and other technologies have reduced emissions significantly compared to 1960. But motor vehicle emissions are still today a very real environmental health issue. Houston still has a bad smog problem. Vehicle emissions are one of the main contributors. And then there is the fine particulates and toxic emissions that come out of tailpipes. Living within 1000 feet of a highway or heavily congested roadway has been linked to all kinds of health issues from respiratory issues in children to autism, cancer and even cardiovascular issues from the traffic noise.

    As for the rest of the arguments, sure, downtown is easier on drivers because it is basically a financial district whereas NY, Boston, Chicago have housing/shopping/tourism mixed in with office towers. But Houston consistently ranks as amongst the worst in the nation for commute times. I would much rather hop a train to work than make the commute in on I 45 in the morning.

  • I do acknowledge the expense and opportunity cost of providing infrastructure for cars. There is a subsidy being provided. But whereas new highways (in Texas) are paid for by gasoline taxes and/or toll revenue on a Pay-As-You-Go basis, the bulk of the subsidy is paid for by the recipient of the benefits, based on the amount of driving that they, themselves, engage in. That’s exactly how it should work.

    Transit, on the other hand, is subsidized primarily from sales taxes on everyone, even though only a fraction of the population will ever use it, and also from the general coffers of the Federal government. The funding mechanisms have no logic associated with them, really. That system is broken, and the private cost of using transit appears vastly lower than what its financial costs are; and after all, transit pollutes, uses energy, consumes real estate, and has social impacts, as well, even if they are different than that of the automobile. It is no panacea. And worst of all, it is S L O W. Slow! People’s time has an opportunity cost associated with it, and that should be counted, too, in apples-to-apples comparisons.

  • I think probably the biggest factor in Houston’s car-centric culture is not how easy it is to park where you work, shop, eat, or drink, but rather how easy it is to park where you _live._

  • I work in the Galleria. When I leave work, all of the main roads near my office and pretty much gridlocked. The first leg of my journey home (from the office to passing under the West Loop is 2 miles, and can take me as much as 30 minutes. (The rest of the trip, once I’m past 610, is a lot better.)

    That’s 4 mph, or the speed of a brisk walk.

    I’d get home faster walking. But I have no other choices. The bus sits in the same traffic and then would involve transfers and take about 2x as long as driving.

    That’s a normal day. Bad weather? Worse. And what happens as Houston grows and more and more people are using those roads? Where do you build more street capacity in the Galleria? We have a non-scalable system in a growing city, and our needs have already surprassed our transportation model in places. It’s only going to get worse.

    And what if you don’t have money? What if you have a disability that keeps you from driving – so much for being productive, you can’t get to work. What about when you get old and can’t drive? Sorry, go sit and rot.

    That’s freedom?

  • John, if it takes you 30 minutes to go 2 miles under normal driving conditions (no accidents, no flooding, no construction detours), then YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Granted, that tiny slice of Houston probably has the worst at-grade traffic there is in this town, but it is a very small pocket of the city. You’re just extraordinarily unlucky to have to have to work there.

    As for your concern for poor people, it is warranted. Poor people without the freedom of movement allowed by private automobiles are at a distinct disadvantage at finding well-paying employment. Academic studies have confirmed it. The best solution I can think of is to eliminate mass transit altogether and directly subsidize cars for poor people. And while I’m on the subject of policy change, eliminate the EPA non-attainment rules for federal transportation funding so that we can afford to scale up our infrastructure. You say, “no we can’t,” but I say, “YES WE CAN!” Sound familiar?

  • It’s a very small pocket of the city that’s also one of the largest centers of employment in the city, so “Oh, it’s just the Galleria” doesn’t really cut it. If you’d like to offer me alternative routes (I’ve tried them all) please feel free.

    And I am not saying “no we can’t.” I’m saying, “We have chosen not to.” That’s very different.

    Houston is never going to be some kind of NY/Chicago like pedestrian city. There is no reason, however, that it can’t have decent mass transit that eases the burdens on the roads. Except for a lack of public will.

    I bitch about it because I think it’s going to become a crippling infrastructure issue as some point that will damage quality of life and the city’s prosperity.

  • The Galleria area is a victim of its own success. I am one of many that avoid the mall- maybe been there twice in last 5 years, and also avoid the businesses– don’t use any of the many title companies in there for instance. This is not some crazed religious jihad I have on–It is just a hassle that can be avoided, other alternatives out there, so why sit on Post Oak for 4 light changes?

  • @Niche – He works in the galleria. He’s not “doing it wrong” – it actually takes that long! Have you ever seen the line just to get out of the garage? JUST the parking garage? Nobody wants to let you in because they’ve been sitting there for 30 minutes!

  • A lot of poor people are also elderly people who SHOULD NOT be driving. Not that everyone over a certain age drives badly by any means, but the ones with compromised senses and reaction times – bless their hearts, but they need an alternative to drive. Communities sometimes depend on public transport:


  • If I had to guess, you sir have friends and family everywhere, but you’ve never stopped to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing these other cities are. These traits you mention are a byproduct of deregulation that has caused investment worthy and residential property values to remain stable but boring and a city that first class retailers will forever look over for cities such as Austin or Dallas. Where’s our W Hotel, this city is HUGE? Where are our tourists? It’s easy to see why no one enjoys visiting Houston, heat aside.

    I’ve never taken 5pm traffic into consideration. I refuse to drive then, it takes and hour to get anywhere.

  • They should do what they did for highways — subsidize the living heck out of a starter set and then after 75 years of doing that nonstop, additional lines/routes that are added will only be added at a rate of, let’s say, half federal subsidy, half user generated fee.

    But for a wide variety of reasons having absolutely nothing to do with the concerns or needs of the average working citizen, this will never happen.

  • RB83, why do you care whether Houston has tourists? I can think of a lot of better economic development and quality of life programs that can be embarked upon for the sake of our own citizenry. I’d rather subsidize flea markets than subsidize a W Hotel.

  • I for one wish that Houston had the ability to attract tourists. First, it would bring in additional tax revenue. Second, it would mean that my family and I could enjoy whatever desirable elements of the city that were attracting said tourists. And third, it apparently would bother theNiche.

  • There’s nothing wrong with wishing for tourists; wishing costs nothing. Its just that whole “build it and they will come” mentality, which entails an expenditure of scant (or borrowed) resources on causes that are not maximally beneficial to the taxpayer. That’s the crux of my objection.

    Seriously Mel, how is your family going to make use of a subsidized W Hotel?

  • Maybe the hotel wouldn’t be for the whole family (nudge, nudge!)- a glamorous in-town getaway has its merits!

  • Sorry, Hellsing, but I’m not into threesomes with suburban MILFs and their husbands. What else can you offer this Houstonian taxpayer that would compensate for a hotel subsidy and the accompanying tourist riff-raff?

  • Houston will never be a tourist city. Houston as a tourist city is like Gertrude Stein’s misquote about her hometown of Oakland, CA: “There is no there there.”
    But, Houston can actually be an excellent place to host major events and reap in the piles of money people bring to town. Just this past weekend, Houston hosted the Olympic Marathon Trials. Houston was the first city ever to host both the men and women, beating out NY and Boston for the chance. Reviews from participants and spectators for Houston have been glowing. Only complaints: not enough downtown hotel space (sold out weeks in advance) and it was too hard to visit without renting a car. Otherwise, people thought downtown was really nice and enjoyed all of the good food around town. Houston has a big advantage for these kinds of events and big conventions. Our weather is generally great from October through April. Our lack of tourism means that hotel rates are very affordable compared to places like Boston, San Fan, Chicago and NY. And Houston has more fun food (Mexican/BBQ) per square foot than any other city. So, investment in better public transit could have big dividends beyond solving traffic issues.

  • Niche, Your reference to a “MILF” implies otherwise.

  • Old School: Quantify and capitalize the dividends relative to the costs proposed, and I’ll take your comment seriously enough to reply with original content.

    Mel: Touche.

  • I will provide the analysis when the City of Houston does the same for the Walmart 380 agreement.

  • That’s a red herring, if I ever heard one.

  • Not everything that happens in the COH is connected to or even relevant to the “Heights Walmart”.

    Apples, oranges.

  • Actually, it is not a red herring at all. The benefits of public transportation can never be quantified in a razor sharp cost/benefit analysis because it is impossible to know with any quantifiable certainty what benefits flow directly from the public transit improvements. Thus, opponents of public transit improvements sound like they are making a great point when challenging the expenditure against claimed benefits (more major events for the city, easing traffic congestion, affordable transit options). But the same critics look the other way when the City drops millions of dollars into the hands of private developers. Those expenditures are just good because they favor people you like (developers), not because you can provide the same cost/benefit justification that you expect proponents of public transit to provide. Thus, the double standard exposes the fallacy of the argument that public transit improvements are not worth it because they cannot be justified in a cost/benefit analysis.

  • The Walmart 380 is the Kevin Bacon of the Parker Administration. I can relate anything to it.

  • Hey, don’t lump me in as the guy that likes all of these 380 Agreements! Some of them are just ridiculous, and make the Wal-Mart agreement seem professionally competent in comparison.

    The 380 Agreements that have been executed thus far, on the whole, validate my belief that the power of any public entities to enter into open-ended cooperative agreements with private parties should be severely curtailed, and that in general, the powers of government (to do things such as subsidizing renovated airport terminals, bigger convention centers, new hotels, etc.) should be minimal, simple, and streamlined.

    I think that your rebuttal supports my point more effectively than it supports yours.

  • Niche – The Walmart 380 “professionally competent”? Not by a long shot.

    Have you read it?

    Explain the interest rate scheme.

  • @Nitche: Not my implication in the least. Infidelity = nauseating. Some people do read postings while at lunch – be considerate.

  • @niche
    In no way do I propose a subsidation of a W Hotel. I simply meant to show that Houston will always be looked over by top name retailers, hoteliers, developers, entertainers and culture due to a lack of zoned supply and demand. I, for one, can’t stand the Galleria, and while you probablly think The Rodeo is the gosh darned best entertainment on earth, it’s far from it. I’m sure people love the fact that there’s a Chili’s on every other drivable corner, with a parking lot 4x the size of the actual building. Thumbs up,you are assured a parking spot 5 steps away from the door, you now have to exert that much less energy to eat. Freedom.