According to a report from the TexPIRG Education fund, people in Texas (and, yes, this does include Houston) are ditching the glut of freeway traffic in favor of public transit and biking in greater numbers, a trend that follows other cities and states across the country. The biggest change, not surprisingly, is in Austin where, according to the report, more than 4 percent of commuters over the last decade have stopped driving a private car to work. Houston has seen a more modest decline in driving by commuters of about a half a percent in the same time period.
This would seem to be in line with numerous reports and studies that have emerged over the last few years supporting the need for more transportation options in big cities. Of course, that is a complicated process in a city the physical size of Houston. We're never going to be a city that has even a substantial percentage of residents commuting via public transportation or, God help them, bike to work because of how spread out the entire region is.
Still, we are working on it.
Mayor Annise Parker hopes to increase the use of public transportation and alternative forms of transportation for Houston. "Through the work of the New METRO, Houston is taking an aggressive approach to providing alternatives to driving. We are building three new light-rail lines that will triple the size of our current 7.5 mile line. We are also refocusing on how best to maximize use of our bus system through a route re-imagining project. User-friendly amenities such as bike racks on buses and a trip app with real-time bus information and interactive system maps are also helping to get more people out of their cars and onto public transit."
The trend also supports a move by younger people, who favor transportation alternatives to the private vehicle. The report states that Americans between the ages of 16 and 34 reduced the number of driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.
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In the case of a place like Houston, that no doubt means many of them are moving closer in to the city and, by default, closer to work. But, it is encouraging that a city the size and complexity of Houston is at least attempting to embrace some of these principals, not that it will get us out of our cars anytime soon.