Houston Strategies: Congestion pricing on Westpark/Market Based Urban Planning

Houston Strategies: Getting congestion pricing right on Westpark and elsewhere

Over the last week, Houston saw a proposal by the Harris County Commissioners Court to double the tolls on the Westpark Tollway (along with a $0.25 increase on the other toll roads). The change wasn’t received well and eventually was rescinded. I understand that it did represent a big increase, especially if you’re talking about someone who commutes along the tollway every day and the commissioners were tone-deaf in the way they announced it (Radack said something like “Let them take Westpark.”) The local media piled on, with the Chronicle trying to work the phrase “Lexus lanes” into every article they wrote on the subject. Despite all this, I think congestion pricing and other innovative ways to pay for more roads are an important part of Houston’s sustained growth. Tory Gattis on his Houston Strategies blog has some good suggestions on how such an increase could be proposed in a way that would make it more palatable.

Gattis has another post about an editorial from urban planner Joel Kotkin, who recently completed with Gattis a study of Houston’s plan for growth. Kotkin’s editorial makes the point that Houston’s lax land use regulations may end up being more effective in leading to dense central city growth than the heavily-regulated land use provisions that are growing in popularity in so many other places (see Austin).

21ST-CENTURY CITY
Trust market to shape the new Houston
Planners’ nightmare is a dream come true in creating an exuberant, workable hodgepodge

When speaking on urban issues, one reliable way to draw derisive comments is to mention Houston. Perhaps no major city in America has a worse reputation among planners, urban aesthetes and smart growth advocates.

Yet, to a remarkable extent, Houston may well defy its critics — not only by continuing to expand, but by constructing a new and dynamic model of American urbanism that transcends all the worn cliches about ”sprawl” and the burgeoning city’s inability to attract educated workers.

. . .

The evidence shows that Houston’s more pragmatic approach — essentially allowing development to follow market demand — has worked better to drive inner ring development than the models beloved by many planners. Since 2000, only 2.5 percent of all population growth in greater Portland, Ore., occurred in the city; in Houston, the city accounted for more than 10 percent. Other cities often praised by ”smart growth advocates,” — cities such as Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis — all lost population.

. . .

But this evolution can only take place if Houstonians resist the temptation, in some vain attempt at refashioning Houston into ”Boston on the Bayou,” to tamp down on the city’s innovative development culture. The relative freedom given to future developers — whether in the inner city or the outer ring — should not be regarded as inimical to creating a successful 21st century urbanism, but as its essential haidmaiden.

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