FHWA Overstates Houston Driving by 50 Percent --- Again

New (2006) Federal Highway Administration data for urban area highway use has just been released. As usual, the Houston area is wrongly shown as having the highest daily vehicle miles traveled per person among the nation’s urbanized areas of more than 1,000,000.

The erroneous 36.0 miles per capita is the result of a reported urbanized area (urban footprint) population of 2.8 million and a daily travel figure of 101 million miles. This 2.8 million population is reported to live in 1,476 square miles.

In 2000, FHWA reported Houston’s urbanized area population to be 2.5 million in an area of 1,537 square miles. The same year, the US Bureau of the Census found the Houston urbanized area to cover 1,295 square miles and to have a population of 3.8 million --- a full 1.3 million above the FHWA number. It is, of course, impossible for the FHWA’s larger urbanized area to have 1.3 million fewer people than that of the census. The result was then, and is today, a huge over-estimation of the daily vehicle miles traveled per capita.

Some years ago I brought this issue to the attention of the United States Department of Transportation. A bureaucrat condescendingly wrote me that Census urbanized areas and FHWA urbanized areas were different things, not comprehending the irreconcilable and irrational differences I had pointed out. There used to be similar problems with the Atlanta data, but it has since been fixed. In 2003, FHWA reported Atlanta at 34 miles per capita daily and, now, having adjusted its population estimate to a more rational figure. Daily travel is now reported at 29 miles per capita.

While the Bureau of the Census does not update urbanized area populations and land areas between decennial censuses, Houston’s metropolitan population growth would indicate an increase to in the neighborhood of 4.4 million in 2006. On that assumption, Houston’s daily vehicle miles traveled per capita would be 22.7, 20 percent below San Antonio, 10 percent below Dallas-Fort Worth, lower than Los Angeles and only 10 percent higher than Portland.

Note: The American Community Survey of the United States Census Bureau publishes yearly estimates of the population within urbanized areas as delineated in the 2000 census, but does not update the land area or include population that is added to the urbanized area in land area not included in the 2000 land area definition.


Portland CBD Losing Employment Share

The latest information from the Portland (Oregon) Business Alliance shows that downtown Portland has lost approximately 5 percent of its employment share relative to the metropolitan area since 2001. This is exactly the opposite effect that would be claimed as a result of Portland's restrictive (smart growth) policies.



More than 90% of Metropolitan Growth in Suburbs

A Demographia analysis of city and suburban population trends shows that the move to the suburbs continues. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 90 percent of large metropolitan growth was in the suburbs. This continues a trend that has been underway for at least 50 years and is considerably at odds with wishful thinking often to be found in the establishment press, which all too often substitutes anecdote for analysis.


Note: This report defines a single historical core city for each metropolitan area (thus, Norfolk is used in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk metropolitan area).

Financial Times Misunderstands & Misleads on US Cities & Poverty

Letter to the Financial Times 2008.04.06

Re: As cities revive, America's poor are forced to the periphery (April 4)

It is hard to remember a more misleading statement than the “It used to be that poor people lived in cities and the rich lived in the suburbs. Now it's the reverse," by Carol Coletta of CEO’s for cities on poverty in American metropolitan areas. The article itself also does much to mislead. Indeed, the Barube Brookings Institution report notes that gross poverty numbers are now greater in the suburbs than in the core cities. Yet, the poverty rate in the suburbs is only one-half the core cities. Moreover, the suburbs have grown at nine times the rate of core cities since 2000 and now have 2.7 times as much population --- so that they have a larger number of people in poverty should not be surprising. As for the demographic reversal cited by Ms. Coletta, perhaps the wishful thinking of the urban elite is getting in the way of looking at the real data. You can do better than this.

Wendell Cox
Principal, Demographia, St. Louis
Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris