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Houstonians Rank Traffic As Top Problem But Researcher Cites Education

Stephen Klineberg answers his own question in the annual Houston Area Survey


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Half a dozen people are lining up for the bus in downtown Houston. They’re ready to commute back home at the end of the work day.

Twyla Alanis works as an accountant here. She’s 24 years old and takes the commuter bus because traffic is so bad.

“It’s just a really bad problem. When there are events in town, or everyday back and forth to work, it’s an issue. Just working downtown makes it, like, impossible.”

Other people across the city agree.

Traffic now ranks as the No.1 problem in Houston.

That’s according to the latest Houston Area Survey from Stephen Klineberg at Rice University.

“Traffic has now become the big concern today. Increasingly, now that’s going to be one of the great challenges, as I say, when we add another one million people here if we insist that every single one has to drive everywhere, there’s no way we can build enough roads.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker agrees that just building roads won’t ease traffic problems.

“We need more mass transit both buses and light rail. We need commuter rail for the region. We are working to expand our bicycle options. You cannot build your way out of traffic problems. You have to think your way out of traffic problems.”

But people in Houston are divided over what’s the best way to fix traffic.

About half want better public transit like light rail and buses.

Nearly the other half wants to spend more money on expanding highways.

Klineberg says that division is just one example of how Houston today is at a crossroads for its future.

“So I have two visions for Houston. One is a positive one and one is a really powerfully negative one. And it all has to do with whether and how we’re going to respond to these new realities.”

Klineberg says one new reality that isn’t going to change is Houston’s diversity. More than half of all residents under the age of 20 are Latino and another fifth are black.

I asked Klineberg about what he thinks about Houston’s future.

“Say one of your surveyors came up and asked you, ‘What’s the biggest problem?’ What would you say?”

“I would say education. I mean we are doing beautifully on quality of life issues now increasingly. We are doing beautifully in the economy. But the real challenge, the real question for the future of Houston is, ‘Are we making the investments to prepare the young people of Houston for success?’”

Klineberg says that success means thriving in the new global economy that values knowledge and skills.

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