Houston area transit preferences in 2012

The 2012 Houston Area Survey is in the can, and though the data has not been published to their website yet, there have been a few preview tidbits tossed out to whet everyone’s appetite. One of them has to do with attitudes about transit and neighborhoods.

But perhaps the most dramatic change, [Rice professor Stephen] Klineberg said, was the desire of Harris County residents for a less car-centered, more urban lifestyle.

Just more than half of people – 51 percent – said they would choose a smaller home within walking distance of workplaces and shops, rather than a single-family home with a big yard, which required driving almost everywhere they wanted to go.

That was up from 39 percent in 2010, the last time the question was asked.

Klineberg attributed the increase to exasperation with traffic, new and refurbished residential buildings downtown, in Midtown and east of downtown and the action in and around Discovery Green. But it also could reflect revamped suburban developments in Sugar Land, The Woodlands and elsewhere that combine homes, shops and entertainment, he said.

People in Harris County and in the surrounding counties offered support for mass transit, including a majority who said they would prefer the current diversion of transit taxes for street, drainage and landscaping projects be spent instead on transit.

“That is completely consistent with what we are seeing,” said Gilbert Garcia, chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority board. “Everyone wants more service. We know people want to see their tax dollars spent on mobility and transit.”

That would be a big deal, considering that Metro will almost certainly have a referendum on the ballot this year to continue the work from the 2003 referendum, and a question about the diversion of sales tax revenue to the cities in Metro’s service area for road work may well be part of it. There’s no guarantee that what was expressed in this survey will translate to victory at the ballot box, but I for one would rather start out ahead than start out behind.

You can see previous HAS questions and responses for city versus suburban living, traffic and congestion, and for planning and land use, which has the question about smaller homes nearer work versus larger homes. I’m either not seeing the question about diverting sales taxes to transit or they’re interpolating from a question with different wording. In any event, as I said the 2012 data is not up yet. Keep that in mind as you read one of the more amazing accomplishment in idiotic quotes I’ve seen in years:

Paul Bettencourt, former Harris County tax assessor-collector and a frequent critic of government spending, said he suspects the survey reflects support for solutions like natural-gas buses and even high-speed rail, rather than more light rail.

“I hear a lot of discussion about, ‘Hey, why don’t we use natural gas buses. Let them go everywhere, as opposed to just tracks on streets.’ ”

How stupid is this? Let me count the ways.

1. Bettencourt is neither an elected official nor an expert on transit. He’s Just Some Guy who happens to dislike Metro and is always willing to provide an “I’m agin’ it” quote whenever a Chron reporter needs one. I sometimes think he pre-emptively calls them himself to see if they’ve got something in the works that might need a few droppings of his wisdom.

2. Bettencourt hasn’t seen any of the survey data, but it doesn’t matter because he knows what the people really think, and what they really think is exactly what he thinks. I presume he also has the phone number for Tom Friedman’s mystical cab driver along with that of every Chron reporter in his contacts.

3. Not to get all technical or anything, but high speed rail has pretty much nothing to do with commuting, unless you’re one of those people who lives in one city and works in another. It certainly has nothing to do with getting around a city.

Other than that, what he had to say was insightful and added value to the story. I can hardly wait for his next quote opportunity.

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2 Responses to Houston area transit preferences in 2012

  1. Gary Bennett says:

    All my life I have heard that Texans won’t do this or that, will never give up their horses, I mean cars, will never support cultural institutions, will never regard cities the way that other people elsewhere in the nation and the world do. But of course all cities were originally peopled by rural folk who continued to think like rural people long after they moved into cities; but their children begin to think differently, and THEIR children are citified in their habits, wants and needs for services. Many of the peculiarities of Texas cities have simply because they are newer, and still filled with the generation that thinks like farmers. I have always predicted that in the long run the Texas cities would tend to become more like the older cities; and I think we are beginning to reach that point, especially with Houston and Dallas.

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