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Posts from the "San Antonio" Category

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Are There Any Affordable Cities Left in America?

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column are especially expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

Are Washington, San Francisco, and New York the most affordable American cities? A new report from the New York-based Citizen’s Budget Commission [PDF], which made the rounds at the Washington Post and CityLab, argues that if you consider the combined costs of housing and transportation, the answer is yes.

But a closer look at the data casts some doubt on that conclusion. Between the high cost of transportation in sprawling regions and the high demand for housing in compact cities with good transit, very few places in America are looking genuinely affordable these days.

The CBC report uses a better measure of affordability than housing costs alone. Transportation is the second biggest household expense for the average American family, and looking at what people spend on housing plus transportation (H+T) can upend common assumptions about which places are affordable and which are not. Regions with cheap housing but few alternatives to car commuting don’t end up scoring so well.

There are some problems with the CBC’s methodology, however. While abundant transit is absolutely essential to keeping household transportation costs down, and it provides a lifeline to low-income residents of major coastal cities, the report still tends to exaggerate overall affordability in these areas.

According to the report, for example, New York City ranks third in affordability among 22 large cities. A “typical household” in New York City, the CBC finds, spends 32 percent of its income on housing and transportation combined. Part of the reason New York comes out looking good, though, is that CBC used a regional measure of income but looked at typical rents only in the city itself. Because the region’s median income is higher than the median income in the city ($62,063 vs. $51,865, respectively, according to 2008-2012 Census data), NYC appears more affordable than it really is.

Another issue, flagged by Michael Lewyn at his CNU blog, is that by looking at average rents, which in some cities include many rent-stabilized units, the calculation doesn’t necessarily capture what someone searching for shelter is likely to pay. If you’re trying to find an apartment in New York now, getting a place for the average rent would probably be extremely difficult.

What really stands out in the CBC report isn’t that New York, San Francisco, and DC are affordable — it’s that car-dependent areas that may have cheap housing turn out to be so expensive once you factor in transportation.

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San Antonio Abandons Streetcar Plans. What’s Next?

While Tucson’s new downtown streetcar system enjoyed a successful debut weekend with an estimated 60,000 trips, San Antonio was busy scuttling its streetcar plans.

Click to enlarge. Image: VIA Metro Transit

These streetcar routes won’t be built. Click to enlarge. Map: VIA Metro Transit

Proponents viewed the 5.9-mile, $280 million streetcar project as an economic development tool, with a projected $1.8 billion impact on downtown. The Texas Department of Transportation and San Antonio transit agency VIA had each contributed $92 million. The city was planning to add another $32 million.

But yesterday Mayor Ivy Taylor announced that the city will “pause” the project, effectively killing plans to break ground next fall. The San Antonio Express-News reports:

“The time is right to fold VIA’s plan into the city’s transportation plan and move forward with a transportation initiative that works for the entire community,” Taylor said. “The city of San Antonio is asking VIA to pause the current streetcar plan and work with the city, the county and the entire community to develop a new comprehensive multimodal transportation plan.”

It’s not clear what the “multimodal transportation plan” will include, or even whether the streetcar funds will still go toward transit.

Streetcar opponents had been organizing to force the issue to a vote, gathering more than the 20,000 signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot. The decision to halt the streetcar seems to have emboldened a local group that wants to repurpose the streetcar money to instead expand a local highway without instituting tolls.

Former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro was one of the streetcar’s biggest supporters. He was recently appointed by President Obama to head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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San Antonio to Tear Out the “Best Thing” City Has Done for Cycling

Score one for the NIMBY crowd in San Antonio.

The blog Bike San Antonio called the South Flores Street bike lane the best thing the city had ever done for cyclists. Photo: Bike San Antonio

Bike San Antonio called the South Flores Street bike lane the best thing the city had ever done for cyclists. Photo: Bike San Antonio

City Council representatives have voted 10-1 to remove 2.3 miles of bike lanes on South Flores Street, which the local blog Bike San Antonio says is one of the few cases where the city put a bike lane “where one needs to be.” Council members apparently caved to nearby residents who claimed the bike lane caused traffic delays and complained about receiving insufficient notice of the changes.

The restriping of the two-way road, done during a resurfacing project, changed the configuration from four general traffic lanes to two, plus a center turn lane and bike lanes. City traffic studies found that that the bike lanes caused no impediment to motor vehicle traffic, while crashes declined somewhat. But that apparently wasn’t good enough for the majority of council, including Rebecca Viagran, who represents most of the area with the bike lanes.

The San Antonio Express-News editorial board said the decision was shortsighted and disappointing:

What we’re looking at is a failure of leadership from council, particularly from Viagran.

Not only is it a monumental waste of money to appease a small group of overreactive residents, but it also flies in the face of stated city goals to improve bike infrastructure, the urban core and promote better health.

A group of about 50 people on bikes took to the street last week in protest, the Express News reports. BikeTexas circulated a petition urging the City Council to keep the lanes, but the group noted, ”It appears that the City is simply listening to whoever shouts loudest.”

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