Growth, mobility, and right of way

  • April 14, 2016

1891 drawing of Houston

We in the City of Houston are having a difficult time coalescing  around a general set of principles for the growth, development, and mobility of our community.

The greatest concern is always mobility (followed by poverty).

When more and more people live, work, and play in the same geographic area, the place becomes denser by definition.

A city the size and age of Houston has long-established public rights of way for travel from place to place.

Over time, these do not substantially change, because people have built thousands of living, working, playing facilities along those rights of way.

As more cars use those constrained rights of way, traffic obviously becomes more congested, and slows down.

There are always cries for expanding the rights of way in order to improve speed of car travel. But expanding a right of way almost always means either reducing the pedestrian, bicycle, and wheelchair space or acquiring land where businesses and homes are now, or both.

If expansion of a right of way results in reduced mobility and reduced economic activity, it’s difficult to see what the argument is for the expansion.

So cities, as they densify, invariably must find ways to increase mobility capacity without disturbing existing neighborhoods.

These ways include transit service, of course, but also include thinking about how to make neighborhoods more complete with amenities so it’s possible to walk or bike to many desirable destinations for goods or services or access to nature.

It is not possible to actually reduce congestion except through pricing for use or through population decrease.

The trick is to allow more people to use the facility, not more cars.

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