Move over Metro – Community Transportation is on its Way

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Cut down on traffic, reduce the number of cars on the road, save money on gas? There is an app for that.

Have to walk far to get to your bus stop where you then have to wait an additional 15-20 minutes for the bus to arrive? Do you have to drive 30-45 minutes to get to work and gas prices are killing you? Do you get jealous when you see other drivers going 65 mph on the HOV lane? Well An app called SideCar just launched and it connects you with other drivers in your community. All you have to do is enter your pick up and drop off location and then wait for the driver to pick you up. The best part – there is no charge! However, users are expected to leave a donation.

See a List of Shared Goods and Services Companies like SideCar

Okay, so you are uncomfortable riding with a stranger. To make you feel safer, the app’s website promises that “Every community driver is licensed, insured and background-checked” as well as interviewed over video chat. Furthermore, the users are allowed and encourage to leave ratings about each driver and there may be even GPS-tracking for each driver (per the SideCar website).

I think I might sign up as a driver. Who knows, if you commute near Midtown or Greenway Plaza, I could be your driver. Just don’t expect me to play Britney Spears or Justin Bieber for you.

“Right to Go Left” Streets in Houston could reduce Traffic

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Here’s a clever intersection design simulation for the intersection at Highway 6 and Westheimer. Such a design would save drivers 46.5 seconds and reduce car accidents.

Original story “Realistic Mobility Strategies” written by Tory Gattis in Houston Strategies.

Did you know that in San Diego, for example, an expanded bus and rail transit system is planned to receive more than half of the $48.4 billion in total highway and transit spending through 2050. Yet transit would increase its share of travel to a measly 4% from its current tiny 2%, according to data in the San Diego Association of Governments regional transportation plan. This slight increase in mass transit ridership would be swamped by higher traffic volumes.

Higher population densities in the future means greater traffic congestion, because additional households in the future will continue to use their cars for most trips. In the San Diego metropolitan area, where the average one-way work trip travel time is 28 minutes, only 14% of work and higher education locations could be reached within 30 minutes by transit in 2050. But 70% or more of such locations will continue to be accessible in 30 minutes by car.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any urban area that did most of it’s growth in the post-WW2 automotive era is simply not going to be transit friendly, and that cannot be substantially changed.  Yes, you can create a few New Urbanist neighborhoods around a light rail line, but they will always be trivial in the overall context of the metro area.

That said, there’s a lot that can be done to make simple bus transit much more attractive in these urban areas (and it’s already dramatically more affordable than rail), as this Salon article “It’s time to love the bus” describes:

But one thing is certain: When it comes to improving mass transit, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit on the humble city bus. The vital connective tissue of multi-modal transit systems, the bus could be an efficient — nay, elegant — solution to cities’ mobility woes if only we made it so. And yet we rarely do. Streetcars are replacing bus routes in cities across the country, and billions are thrown at light rail while the overlooked bus is left to scream “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” “If you decide that buses don’t merit investment, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to help people get where they’re going, and to expand their sense of freedom of movement, just because you don’t like the vehicle they’re riding,” says transit consultant Jarrett Walker.
The article goes on to list a litany of potential improvements, including better bus design, BRT, sidewalk bulbing, frequency, real-time information, mobile phone alerts, better maps, better bus stops, bike racks, wi-fi, electrical outlets, and more.  Unfortunately, most transit agencies are totally focused on overpriced rail projects and ignore easy, affordable improvements to the bus system.

Forget Expedia, had a wonderful experience using Airbnb

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It is not often I write about a service or a business, but I have not been this excited about a new brand/concept in a long time. A colleague of mine who is based in Toronto, but often travels to Houston, is no longer staying at hotels. When I went to pick him up to go out to dinner, he was staying at a very nice loft off of Post Oak near the Galleria. The next time he was in town, he was at a very cool apartment in Greenway Plaza. Both places costs less than $100 a night. The sites he uses – Airbnb.

Airbnb offers people the opportunity to list, discover, and book unique spaces around the world online or from an iPhone. Whether the available space is a castle for a night, a sailboat for a week, or an apartment for a month, Airbnb is the easiest way for people to showcase these distinctive spaces to an audience of millions. With 110,000 unique listings available in more than 13,000 cities and 181 countries, Airbnb offers the widest variety of unique spaces for everyone, at a reasonable price point around the globe.

See a list of Shared Goods and Services Companies Here

I first used Airbnb by booking a house for one night in Galveston Texas. The house was absolutely charming and our host was so kind and nice. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. My next booking will be for a weekend in Austin in a house that is near the center. Cost… less than $215 for the entire weekend! I think the only time I will be staying at hotels will be for company conventions.

Is Houston’s Metro train really paying off?

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I’ve always been a fan of Houston (and any other US city) installing metro trains for public transportation. Perhaps it is because I’ve lived in New York and Europe which is why I have this favorable opinion of mass public transportation. After all, there are so many benefits. It cuts down on gas emissions, it is good for the environment, it makes transportation easily accessible to all, and to be considered a major international city that attracts companies, tourists, and events like the Olympics, it is necessary.

Most recently however, I read an interesting post by my new friend Tory Gattis. (Tory spoke at TedX Houston and has also written about HtownBingo). Below is a quote take from Gattis on the subject of high cost rail transit:

“Much experience has shown that once a cycle of high cost rail transit is implemented, the agency becomes heavily burdened with debt for a very long time. It is highly probable that the very high debt service (principle and interest) will become a permanent and major part of the transit agency’s annual operating costs. When one issue of bonds is paid down, it becomes time for another round of debt to replace aging equipment. This, in turn results in very poor cost effectiveness and degradation of the overall transit system as it serves fewer riders at higher costs. This high debt can never be paid-off without major increases in local taxes. Transit agencies cannot responsibly project and achieve enough ridership to make rail transit cost-effective. This has even less credibility in light of the national declining trend in the use of transit and the fact that the use of transit in Texas’ major metro areas has a declining trend over the past dozen years. As Dallas and other major cities have experienced, this results in a spiraling decline in transit performance and effectiveness, degradation of mobility for low income citizens and, often, cutbacks in other higher priority city services. This results in reducing overall quality-of-life.”

I guess I have not paid much attention to the actual costs of train transit and ridership levels, but now I should. When you learn that Dallas-Ft. Worth Metro’s population is more than 3 times San Antonio’s and Dallas’ annual transit operating expense is 4.4 times San Antonio’s but Dallas has only 1.6 times the transit ridership of San Antonio, it makes you realize that Houston will likely be in the same boat for years to come if Houston decides to build more train lines.

How to deter criminal activity on the Houston Metro Rail

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Ever notice how petty criminals hang around bus stations and Metro rail stops? Well there may be a simple cost effective solution on how to prevent crime and keep thugs from just hanging around.

Classical music  may be the answer. Police in Portland say the sounds of Carmen and “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” have successfully dispersed crowds of unruly youths because such music is so uncool it makes them uncomfortable. Riders have noticed a major difference at stations and rail stops in Portland.

“Here’s the thing,” Portland police Lt. John Scruggs says, “It’s crime prevention through environmental design. If you put rose bushes in front of your bedroom window, the burglar is less likely to break in through that window because they don’t want to get cut up.”

Its a bit early to say if this endeavor actually stops loitering and deters crime, but it is definitely a creative approach and with community support, why not give it a try? Reach out to Houston Metro and let them know your thoughts. You can also email HPD and express your concerns.

What Houston street crossing signals are Missing

If you were blind, how would you know when it is safe to cross the street?

While visiting Madrid over the holidays, I noticed that while walking across the crosswalk there was a bird-like singing noise playing while the pedestrian light was green. As soon as the crosswalk signal turned green – indicating that it was now okay for people to walk across the intersection, the bird-like sound was very upbeat. Gradually as seconds wore down, the sounds tempo became slower and slower. It didn’t take long to figure out that the noise was actually meant to provide  assistance to the blind inviting them to cross the street at the appropriate time.

Although I could not find a video that showed this in Madrid, here is something similar in Japan:

This is a no-brainer and should be implemented in Houston Downtown along with other major pedestrian crosswalk areas like the Galleria.