Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Texas, Next on the Teet

...or maybe not. Interesting article on Politico about Texas losing its influence:
And while The Hammer’s redistricting crusade in 2003 certainly helped Texas Republicans at the time, it has come back to haunt the state under Democratic rule. If not for DeLay’s machinations, three Texas Democrats would likely be sitting pretty these days as chairmen of powerful House committees: former Reps. Jim Turner (Homeland Security), Martin Frost (Rules) and Charlie Stenholm (Agriculture). Instead, they’re all now exes, living in Texas, having lost their elections in 2004. “I guess it’s unrealistic for any state to continue to enjoy national influence dating back to the ’20s and ’30s,” says Frost. “Texas has had this unbroken run. And sooner or later, it had to come to an end.”
Obviously, given the fondness for corruption by many of those elected officials, and their nature as corporatists, since I can't use Mussolini's definition without sounding shrill, this is probably a good thing for the nation. But, what about Texas?

Rahm Emanuel laid down the law at the Wall Street Journal's CEO council offering a sneak peak at what we can expect in or soon after January's inauguration day (and gawd, that day can't get here soon enough - or as Letterman says, "can't the new guy just start early?").

Mr. Emanuel promised that a major economic stimulus would be "the first order of business" for Mr. Obama when he takes office Jan. 20. The focus of spending will be on infrastructure, specifically "green infrastructure," which he said would include mass transit, upgraded electricity transmission lines, "smart" electrical meters that allow consumers to save money by using electricity at off-peak hours, and universal broadband Internet access, which he said would encourage telecommuting.

He stressed that the new administration would "throw long and deep," taking advantage of the economic crisis to push wholesale changes in health care, taxes, financial re-regulation and energy. "The American people in two successive elections have voted for change, and change cannot be allowed to die on the doorsteps of Washington," Mr. Emanuel said.

So, the administration, as we might expect, is planning a broad "green," market-based stimulus package, which is the right thing to do at this stage of the game, a New Green Deal. I would expect greener, more efficient infrastructure would be a part of that, most likely including rail.

So, without Texas officials in important chairmanships, how will Texan representatives position themselves to help their constituents? Arguably, this is the state MOST in need of an overhaul of its infrastructure and transportation, at least towards diverting all of the corrupt highway spending towards rail, especially considering the low rankings we achieved in Cities Prepared for a Post-Oil Future list.

I could certainly go for some of that good, old-fashioned 1880's rail corruption right about now couldn't you? At least, it would give us something useful in the 21st century.

The thing is about rail, is that it scales better and more appropriately than do highways to their context. A highway in Plano, is the same as Woodall Rogers, is the same as I-35 E and W. And, as we've learned, they're like farts in an elevator, they're loud, noisy, smelly, and in some cases, they kill. We went crazy building these things within the city and outside, without knowing the consequences.

Surely, roads, could scale better than they do now, i.e. highways connect cities to outer loops, then boulevards connect the main population centers within cities and a grid is overlapped for local movement. But, we screwed that up and went all highway crazy, because it meant spending, and jobs, and progress (link to 1939 GM (go figure) exhibit at the NY World's Fair)!

[That's a lot of cars to sell]

Or, so we thought.

All of those are gone now, and we're left with only the Boa Constrictor around our nexts, tightening, slowly killing before devouring and digesting into a pit of paving, pollution, and pei-weis. Rail, on the other hand, DOES scale appropriately to the distance of travel and scale of development around the station areas, as I have mentioned before.

High-speed heavy rail links the major cities of a region, at least in the initial phases, with one station per metroplex:

I'm guessing given its location and existing rail network (even if the tracks must be overhauled the rights-of-way are there) that Dallas will have to be a hub for an interstate system. If an initial high-speed rail network in Texas is ONLY in Texas, without cooperation from adjoining states, that would really position Austin to evolve into the capital of Texas in more ways that merely the state capital .

The next level of scale would be the heavy-rail commuter lines linking smaller cities within a region, say North Texas. These would have stations approximately every 3-5 miles, preferrably located near major thoroughfares to allow convenient access for the private automobile and feeder bus systems from harder to reach towns and neighborhoods.

Shown is the TRE and DART trains downtown.

This could also include Amtrak, and from what I understand there is already some push for the cities of Northeast Texas to link to Dallas and Fort Worth via TRE and/or Amtrak.

Next would be light rail, linking centers within a metropolis. These would be the most common of the transit stations with approximately 1-mile service areas for drive-up, bike-up, and walk-up access.

Shown: Mockingbird Station. RTKL project.

Rough approximation of both current lines and those under-construction or planned.

And lastly, the streetcar or modern streetcar as shown. These can have frequent stops, run on the street, often but not always in shared traffic lanes. They support the adjacent neighborhoods and often serve walk-up populations within a 1/4 to 1/2 mile of stops.

Shown: modern streetcar

These, with their frequent stops, join neighborhood centers together. I've often said that Dallas feels like a collection of small towns. There are several dying to be linked by modern streetcar (or expansion of the existing M-line historic streetcar) such as Lakewood, Lower Greenville, and Bishop Arts in particular with downtown and the rest of uptown.

Not coincidentally, these were originally built as streetcar suburbs in the early 20th century and as luck would have it, remnants still exist.