Texas DOT’s Own Numbers Cast Doubt on Its Story of Ever-Rising Traffic

On average, each person who lives in Texas’s three most populous counties drove fewer miles on Texas DOT roads in 2015 than in 2006, according to TXDOT’s DISCOS data.

Back in 2015, the people of Texas were asked by the legislature and Governor Greg Abbott to meet the challenge of the state’s projected traffic growth by enacting a constitutional amendment to require road spending for the next decade. The people agreed and voted to allocate about $38 billion in state taxes for the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) — guided by the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) — to build and maintain roads.

But what if the story about Texas growth that’s been drilled into the collective awareness by road builders is not quite accurate? What if there’s a major shift in urban areas toward driving a lot less?

The story that we’ve been told is that Texas is growing at a tremendous rate, with our urban and suburban counties essentially spiraling out of control with no end to traffic in sight. That’s the justification for throwing many billions of dollars at paving new roads. Looking at TXDOT’s District and County Statistics data (DISCOS), you can see the amazing amount of driving Texans do every day — county by county and metro area by metro area.

We drive a lot.

But the key question is not how much we drive — it’s whether the amount we drive is increasing. I was curious how driving levels have changed over time, so I asked TXDOT for historical DISCOS data, which aren’t readily available online. I was curious whether a look back at ten years of DISCOS data might change the story.

It turns out that TXDOT’s data show a reduction in traffic from 2006 to 2015 in Harris, Dallas, and Tarrant Counties — the three most populated counties in Texas. If this is an accurate characterization of travel patterns, the story that Texas tells itself about traffic needs to be revised.

While Harris County added about 682,228 people between 2006 and 2015, total traffic in 2015 was 2,991,492 fewer miles than in 2006, according to TXDOT data. Dallas County added 199,985 people, but saw 3,326,231 fewer daily traffic miles, and Tarrant County added 319,598 people and saw 667,317 fewer miles.

Adjusting for population, that means the average person in the three most populous counties in Texas — home to a full third of the state’s population of Texas — drives about three miles a day LESS than ten years ago. (The per capita decline in Harris, Dallas, and Tarrant counties was 2.93, 2.61, and 3.33 miles per day, according to TXDOT data.)

This is a very different story than the one told to the people of Texas when they were asked to require billions in annual road spending less than a year ago.

There are some key caveats to understand when looking at this data. The TXDOT DISCOS traffic data only includes estimates of the amount people are driving on TXDOT “on system” roads and highways. In general, we do not know from the TXDOT DISCOS data how much more or less Texans are driving on city and county roads, or on toll roads not under TXDOT’s control.

In fact, major players in Texas transportation policy don’t put much stock in the DISCOS data as a reflection of what’s happening in the region. They don’t seem to believe it is possible that travel behavior in the most populous counties in Texas may have changed after decades of adding more compact development.

We’ll look at why that might be, and what the implications are, in part two. Stay tuned.

This post is made possible by a grant from Sutliff & Stout, an accident and injury law firm in Houston Texas. The content is Streetsblog’s own, and Sutliff & Stout neither endorses nor exercises any editorial control.



Texas DOT Isn’t Learning From Its Horrific Road Fatalities Calendar

Graphic: Texas DOT This calendar is published by the Texas Department of Transportation as part of its traffic safety efforts. It shows how many fatal collisions and traffic deaths happened every day of the year. On average, someone is killed every two and a half hours on Texas streets, and someone is injured every two minutes, according to TxDOT [PDF]. Texas hasn’t had a [...]
via Not of it.

Previewing the "Texas Big Six: Make No Small Plans" Event #TXB6

The American Planning Association’s Texas Chapter will host “The Texas Big Six: Make No Small Plans” workshop on Friday, March 4th at the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin, Texas. Texas is channeling its inner Daniel Burnham. The Chicago architect responsible for 1909's The Plan of Chicago never uttered the exact words that are the theme of the 2016 Texas Big Six workshop, but the idea sets a guide for the future of the six largest cities in Texas.In 2014 the American Planning Association's Houston Section hosted "The Texas Big Six 2040 - Conversations about Our Future", where the planning directors from Texas' six largest cities (Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio) addressed the major plans, policies, and projects that will shape the livability, resiliency, and competitiveness of these cities and each region's future.The biennial event is back for 2016, with each planning director discussing the “game changers” in their cities and regions that will improve or enhance the transportation, housing, economic development, environment, public health, and culture of their respective cities.  The event is a unique time for planners, engineers, designers, architects and students to openly discuss the major issues of their cities. The conversation that takes place, and the understanding of how other cities in a region or state respond to challenges, is tremendously valuable.A Thursday, March 3, 2016 evening happy hour with workshop attendees will be hosted at III Forks Steakhouse in Austin. Friday, March 4, 2016 will feature the all-day event from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM.The event's keynote speaker is Steve Cover, who serves as the Director of the Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development in Arlington County, Virginia. Mr. Cover previously served as the Director of Planning and Community and Economic Development for the city of Madison, Wisconsin.As we look forward to the event, it's interesting to know what might be some of the major topics discussed by each planning director, or topics that may be brought up by planners or others at the event. Here's a look at some possible topics: (Graphics are from the event's program.)A few weeks ago Alana Semuels published an article at The Atlantic titled "El Paso's Uphill Battle Against Sprawl". Like other sunbelt cities, El Paso grapples with its sprawl.El Paso is now served by bus rapid transit. We may get an update as to how the region and city are reacting to the BRIO service.When Fort Worth turned down the possibility of a streetcar, the bus service that has followed may not be where residents need it to be.In 2015 Fort Worth signed on to be a part of the Blue Zones Project, aimed to promote healthier lifestyles and increase health of residents. Fort Worth is the largest city to sign on to this initiative.Fort Worth's Mayor, Betsy Price, was featured on Fox Business, highlighting her "rolling town hall meetings", where Price encourages "city residents to participate in their local government while getting active."Austin recently approved changes to the city's accessory dwelling units, opening the possibility to more housing.Austin's rapid growth comes with traffic. And more roads. But is more pavement the answer? Some suggest that there's no place to go but up. Austin's growth and resolve to be one of the most efficient cities in terms of emissions and waste poses a great challenge in the future.Parking minimums in Austin are posing challenges to providing affordable housing, especially for student housing near the University of Texas. Will parking minimums in increasingly urban areas be reassessed?As Austin changes, some are embracing that change, and others oppose it. The YIMBY crowd is growing in Austin.As some in Dallas have fought highway expansion, other parts are preparing for it.While Houston has been celebrated for METRO's New Bus System, others around the country are taking notice, including Dallas.I'm sure parking minimums will be brought up. Dallas and Houston are likely the leading candidates for that topic of discussion.Dallas has boasted an increase in downtown apartment construction, even claiming to out-pace apartment construction in Downtown Houston.San Antonio continues to add residents to its urban core, including affordable, workforce housing. Major developments, like the Pearl Brewery, are boosting tourism.With all this growth, dog parks are inevitable. Residents are crowdfunding to build one in San Antonio's Maverick Park.Will the city's continued annexation policies be something it can afford? The city's police union says the department and the city are not equipped to provide service to an increasingly growing area.As the urban core of San Antonio grows, the city's transit agency, VIA, is looking to change several of its routes, better connecting major destinations.The Great American Cooking Story "explores urban change through the lens of restaurant owners in the heart of neighborhoods that are in varying degrees of revitalization." San Antonio is featured.Plan Houston was recently approved and adopted by Houston City Council. This is the city's first general plan.Houston's METRO agency adopted a new bus network in 2015.  The result was more frequent routes covering a larger portion of the city. The changes have boosted ridership. Nearly 5,000 housing units have been, or are being constructed, in Downtown Houston, largely due to the Downtown Living Initiative. Some challenge that this was an opportunity to add workforce housing in the city.The City of Houston is in the process of finalizing the Houston Bike Plan. A draft plan has been released and is currently seeking public input. It's the city's first bicycle planning activity since 1993. The goal is that “By 2026, the City of Houston will be a Safer, More Accessible, Gold Level Bike-Friendly City”.Texas cities continue to grow, and there's no sign that this growth is going to slow down any time soon. Planners must continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding of cities, and how they might be able to share information that serves other cities. All of our cities have big plans, but sharing our challenges and experiences might be the biggest magic to stir us toward greater city building.Tickets will be available at the event on Friday, March 4th, but attendees may not be guaranteed lunch due to advance catering arrangements. For more information please visit the event's Eventbrite page. The event’s program and agenda can be viewed here.

Highway Boondoggles: Texas State Highway 249 Extension

In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group profile the most wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building. Today we highlight the proposed 30-mile extension of State Highway 249 in Texas, which the state DOT wants to gouge through communities that already suffer from too much air pollution.  Citing outdated traffic projections, [...]
via Houston Tomorrow

No More Road Only Bonds

Another road building bond failed to meet the expectations of the voters of Montgomery County and the only thing so far to emerge from the elected officials is to try again in November with another road subsidy bond but without the extension of the Woodland Parkway, according to the Houston…

Another Tall Tale About Congestion From the Texas Transportation Institute

Photo: Texas Transportation Institute Crossposted from City Observatory. Everything is bigger in Texas — which must be why, for the past 30 years, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) has basically cornered the market for telling whoppers about the supposed toll that traffic congestion takes on the nation’s economy. Today, they’re back with a new report, “The Urban Mobility Scorecard,” which [...]