Transportation Microeconomics Bites Me In The Butt

They’ve just started up an effort called Capital MetroBlog. Expect to see me there from time to time -we’ll see how transparent they intend to be if/when they start talking about commuter rail.

So you may have heard me talk about the new suburban office. For a while, online we were trying to keep making a go of it with just one car – my wife driving me in most days and picking me up sometimes; other times me taking that hour and 45 minute trip home with a long walk, men’s health 2 buses, opisthorchiasis and a transfer involved. I tried to work from home as much as possible – but the demands to be in the office were too great; and we couldn’t sustain the drop-offs and the long bus trips.
Well, we relented. Just in time; I got my wife to agree on a color and we now own a second Prius – this one obtained right as the waiting list shot up from zero to many months (ours was ordered; but there was no wait beyond that so it took about 2 weeks – arriving right as the house exploded so ironically I ended up working exlusively from home for a few weeks longer anyways). Do not argue with the M1EK on the futurism/economics predictions is the lesson you should be taking away from this.
So that’s the intro. Here’s the microeconomics lesson.
Assuming $4 gas, the trip to work in the car costs $1.56 according to my handy depreciation-free commute calculator. The morning drive takes 20 minutes. The afternoon drive more like 30.
The transit trip costs $1 (although soon to go up to at least $1.50). That means I save $0.56, at least before the fare increase, right? Not much, but every bit helps, right?
Well, the transit trip takes an hour and a half in the morning; an hour and 45 minutes in the afternoon; and I can’t afford that much extra time anyways, but even if I could, it would be placing an effective value of 23.1 cents per hour on my time, which seems a bit, uh, low.
So it’s gonna take a lot more than $4/gallon gas, sad to say. You might be seeing some marginal increases in ridership around here, but only in areas where transit service is very good and where people should have been considering taking the bus all along. And there’s no prospect for improvement – the reason bus service is so bad out here is because Rollingwood and Westlake don’t want to pay Capital Metro taxes, although they sure as heck enjoy taking my urban gas tax dollars to build them some nice roads to drive on. In the long-term Cap Metro plan, there may be a bus route on 360 which would at least lessen the 30 minute walk/wait involved, but that could be a decade or more – by then we’ll probably be getting chauffered through the blasted alkali flats in monkey-driven jet boats. Not gonna help me.
Also, those who think telecommuting and staggered work schedules are more important than pushing for higher-quality transit and urban density can bite it, hard. If even people in my business often get pressure to come into the physical office, there’s no way the typical workaday joe is going to be able to pull it off in large enough numbers to make any difference.

Laura Morrison’s McMansion

In the past, prostate noun you’ve seen me point out the hypocrisy of two or three folks heavily involved in the McMansion Task Force for living in homes which violated the expressed spirit, if not technically the letter, of the ordinance. The spirit being “out-of-scale houses (McGraw) and/or homes which ‘tower over the backyards of their neighbors’ (Maxwell)”.

Somehow, I missed this.

Laura Morrison chaired this task force – and lives in a home which, according to TravisCAD, is worth $1.4 million and has 8,537 square feet. Pretty big, but I had previously assumed it fit well within the 0.4 FAR required by McMansion. Yes, this is a big old historic house, but that’s not the metric of the ordinance (it doesn’t say “big houses are OK if they are stunners”, after all). Also pretty expensive for somebody whose negative campaign ads try to paint Galindo as the rich candidate.

A few days ago, though, I was alerted by a reader that Morrison’s lot is actually too small — but she’s not subject to the ordinance anyways, because according to said reader, her lot is zoned MF-4 (the McMansion ordinance only applies to single-family zoning). A little history here: the Old West Austin neighborhood plan (which I worked on in a transportation capacity) allowed landowners to choose to downzone their lots from multi-family (most of the area was zoned that way after WWII even though existing uses were houses) to single-family (SF-3) if the property was still being used that way. Apparently Morrison passed on this opportunity (many others took it up; I remember seeing dozens of zoning cases come up before City Council on the matter).

So let’s check it out. Unfortunately, TravisCAD doesn’t have the lot size, but Zillow does.
Home size: 8537 square feet
Lot size: 20,305 square feet
FAR (before loopholes): 0.42

Caveats: I do not know if Morrison is using the property in ways which would be comforming with SF-3, but I found it very interesting that her ads are attacking Galindo for building duplexes which actually comply with her ordinance yet the home she herself lives in would be non-compliant in a similar scenario, or require loopholes to comply. It’s often referred to as a “converted four-plex”, and the owners’ address is “Apt 9”, which may suggest continuing multi-family use, which would also be evidence of hypocrisy given her stand against any and all multi-family development in the area except for a few cases where that plan mentioned above quite effectively tied her hands. Either way, Morrison clearly broke the spirit of her own ordinance and her own activism against multi-family housing, and anyways when you write the ordinance, as she did, it’s really easy to make sure your own property is just barely compliant. You notice that you’re right over the edge; so you exempt attached carports, for instance, which, oops, you just happen to have!

Again, I can’t believe I missed her the first time around – her hypocrisy on this ordinance is more odious than that of McGraw and Maxwell combined. I apologize for my lack of diligence on this matter.

(Hey, BATPAC: yes, your latest cowardly anonymous attack on me did indeed motivate me to finally take the time to write this! Good show! And I feel very confident that my readers find your accusation that I “like Republicans” to be one of the funniest things they’ve read in quite some time!)

Why progressives, transit-supporters, environmentalists, and urbanites need to vote for Galindo

My neighborhood‘s latest newsletter contains some thrilling sour grapes about VMU:

In June 2007, more about abortion at the request of the City without any help the City staff, NUNA and the rest of the Neighborhood Planning area (CANPAC, the official planning team for the whole area) which includes Eastwoods, Hancock, Heritage, NUNA, Shoal Crest Caswell Heights, and UAP (University Area Partners) submitted the mandated application for VMU (Vertical Mixed Use). Vertical Mixed Use is applied to commercial zoning (CS) only; it must have a commercial and residential component on the ground floor and subsequent floors, respectively. Vertical MIxed Use does NOT affect height or height limits imposed on a neighborhood/area. VMU was based on the UNO overlay in the West Campus area, except it seems to be a watered down version of this overlay. In a sense, our planning area, CANPAC, was ahead of the “curve” here. VMU is something which not all areas of the City had, so this concept/zoning tool was intended to be applied widespread. The VMU ordinance was conceived by Council Member Brewster McCracken.

The determining factor for VMU was the location of properties primarily along major, transportation corridors. VMU is a fine concept which would help eliminate urban sprawl and make neighborhoods more “user friendly” with amenities such as restaurants and shops within walking distance of a neighborhood. VMU combines two uses on a property- retail or office usually on the ground floor and a residential component on the other floors. There are other benefits for VMU such as a percentage of affordable housing units, a reduction in parking requirements, setbacks, FAR and site area requirements. In NUNA, Guadalupe Street was the only major transportation corridor (determined by bus routes).

The NUNA Planning Team, which is separate from the officially recognized planning team for our area, CANPAC, carefully reviewed the maps and properties foisted on us by the City for VMU consideration. Then, the CANPAC Planning Team held many subcommittee meetings and submitted a completed application for the whole planning area to the City by the mandatory, designated deadline in June 2007.

Fortunately, NUNA has an NCCD (Neighborhood Conservation Combining District) which is a zoning ordinance that has more flexible tools for redevelopment and is more compatible to this older (unofficially historic) area of town. The other benefit of the NCCD, in the particular case concerning VMU, is that the zoning tools in an NCCD (which are more detailed than an regular neighborhood plan) trump any VMU. NUNA’s NCCD will protect the careful planning we did during the neighborhood planning process in 2004. Nonetheless, we were required by the City to submit a VMU application.

The question arose within our planning area (CANPAC) and also with Hyde Park, our adjoining neighbor, which also has an NCCD, how does one determine fairly what might constitute VMU? The NUNA Planning Team along with the Heritage Neighborhood, our neighbor across Guadalupe, figured out that no property which abuts a residential use (single family or multifamily) would be considered from VMU. Also, NUNA decided that none of the bonuses such as a reduction in parking requirements, etc. would be granted to any property which we would designate for VMU. We were also advised by ANC and the City that we must opt in some properties in our application, otherwise we would be punished and forced to have properties considered for VMU. With that kind of threat looming over our planning team’s shoulder, we very carefully included some properties for VMU status in our application.

NUNA already had on the ground ( already built) some VMU projects. For example, the “controversial” Villas of Guadalupe have a commercial component- Blockbuster Video on the ground floor, and then have a residential component on the other floors. The Venue at 2815 Guadalupe has a similar makeup with commercial uses on the bottom floor and residential suites/condos above. The best part about the Venue is the underground parking arrangement which includes a parking spot per bed- more parking than the City requirement!

NUNA was requested by the City to file an application to opt in or out properties primarily along Guadalupe Street for VMU status which could also grant additional dimensional standards, reduction in parking requirements, and additional ground floor uses in office districts. NUNA opted in properties from 27th to the north side of 30th Street along the east side of Guadalupe since these properties for the most part were built as “VMU” – a commercial use on the ground floor and a residential component on the upper floors, but we did not opt for the additional bonuses such as reduction in parking requirements, etc. for any properties. Our application will be considered in a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission February 12 along with the other neighborhoods in CANPAC (Eastwoods, Hancock, Heritage, NUNA, Shoal Crest, Caswell Heights, and UAP-University Area Partners). There will be no staff recommendation for this application.

In accordance with Hyde Park, another NCCD, we decided that we would prefer to consider individual, commercial project proposals on a case by case basis. In short, NUNA has given nothing away to the City in our application for VMU; we would like first to evaluate each project to see if it is compliant and compatible with our NCCD regulations.

Here’s the response I sent to the neighborhood list; which is currently stuck in moderation:

I see in the most recent newsletter a fair amount of sour grapes about VMU which may lead people to become misinformed. For instance:

“Also, NUNA decided that none of the bonuses such as a reduction in parking requirements, etc. would be granted to any property which we would designate for VMU.”

The entire point of VMU is to put density where the highest frequency transit service already exists, so that it might attract residents without cars; households with fewer cars than typical; shoppers who take the bus; etc.

“We were also advised by ANC and the City that we must opt in some properties in our application, otherwise we would be punished and forced to have properties considered for VMU. With that kind of threat looming over our planning team’s shoulder, we very carefully included some properties for VMU status in our application.”

The purpose of “opt-out” and “opt-in” is being misrepresented here as well. The operating assumption was that because you folks got McMansion, which will result in less density on the interior (fewer housing units, since it so severely penalizes duplexes and garage apartments), that you would support more density on the transit corridors. This wasn’t you being FORCED to accept this density – it was part of the bargain you accepted in return for lowering density on the interior, and now you (and Hyde Park) are trying to back out of your end of the deal.

There is no transit corridor in the city more heavily used than Guadalupe on the edge of our neighborhood. There is no place in the city better suited for VMU than this one. It’s irresponsible to continue to pretend that the city’s asking for something unreasonable here, since you got what you wanted on McMansion.

And, by the way, there was a guy here on this list telling you that the VMU application you were submitting was a big mistake quite some time ago. Ahem.

– MD

And my follow-up:

Argh. As is often the case, I see when reading my own post that I left out something important; I said that the point of opt-in and opt-out was either missed or misrepresented, but I never said what the point was supposed to be.
Opt-out was supposed to be for extraordinary circumstances that the neighborhood was aware of that the city might not be – not generalized “opt out everywhere because we think we’ve already done enough”. For one instance, a difficult alley access (like behind Chango’s) might be something that would justify an opt-out.
If you opt out more than a few properties, you’re doing it wrong.
Opt-in was supposed to be for additional properties outside the main corridor – NOT for “here’s the only places we’ll let you do VMU”. IE, my old neighborhood of OWANA might decide to opt-in for VMU on West Lynn at 12th, even though it’s not a major transit corridor (the bus only runs once an hour there).
If you think “opt-in” is for the few places you pick to allow VMU on the major transit corridor, you’re doing it wrong.
Regards,
MD

Dear libertarian ideologues: If you mainly see buses on the ends of their routes in the godforsaken burbs, stomach and they’re NOT empty, sildenafil Capital Metro would be doing something wrong. Morons.
The right place to measure ridership is along the whole route – but if you have to pick just one spot, order pick somewhere in the middle and you will invariably find a very different story than the typical suburban idiot narrative of “the buses are always empty”. Try standing-room-only, at least in the morning rush. (I took the 2-bus trip to my awful new office twice in a row in late March and on both mornings, I had to stand on the #5; I never wrote up the TFT because I was too busy, but maybe I ought to).
And, dear disabled friends, media coverage of our very low FRR ratio thanks in large part to your gold-plated taxi-limo service is eventually going to kill the rest of the system – which will also kill your golden goose. Think long and hard about what you do next.
Also, dear bus-riding friends, if you keep opposing modest, long-overdue fare increases, sooner or later the majority of voters (who, sad to say, don’t ride the bus) will cut the sales tax support, one way or another. You may think people like you are the majority – but there’s 5 people who drive and never take the bus, not even once a year, for every one of you. Seriously.

I swear there’s no conspiracy regarding the lateness of this posting – my gracious host happened to perform an apache upgrade which messed with Movable Type. Here’s what I wrote this morning, prostate Made With Notepad!

At 4:30 PM yesterday, medstore I left my thumb +austin,+tx&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=30.268266,59.0625&ie=UTF8&ll=30.276284,-97.817674&spn=0.008042,0.01442&z=16&iwloc=addr&om=1″>lovely suburban office and walked through lovely suburban Westlake to the awful bus stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle. After broiling in the hot sun for a few minutes, I decided to walk up to the next stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle; where there was also no shade. This did not bode well; but things got better.

The bus arrived on time (5:08ish) and was thankfully very well air conditioned. I read a book until I was dropped off quite a long walk from Texas Center (I should have taken the earlier stop). Went inside; saw Jonathan Horak and Kedron Touvell; introduced myself to both (how creepy is it that I knew what they looked like even though we’d never met; but they didn’t recognize me? Pretty creepy, I think). Just on time.

Will Wynn gave a speech which emphasized how much he wants rail downtown. He got in the weeds a bit, first talking about how we were growing faster than everybody else in the world, then talking about how this decade’s growth is actually slower than all previous decades back to the 1880s (huh?), but then eventually came back on track and handed the reins over to Brewster McCracken.
McCracken introduced ROMA; ROMA gave a nice presentation which I’ll summarize in bullet points below. No surprises, really, if you read Ben Wear or the print article beforehand. My quick comments in italics. I will go into more depth on many of these in the upcoming several weeks.

  • Terminology: The system is going to be called “ultra-light rail”. ROMA mentions that streetcars usually run in shared lanes (where I got the sinking feeling ROMA believes a bit much in the magic fairy dust theory of streetcars).
  • Technology: As mentioned, most likely streetcar vehicles. Possibility of more of a standard light rail vehicle if a decision point goes a certain way (see: Routes: doubling-back-to-the-east).
  • Runningway: Usually the center of the street; almost always dedicated lanes. This is a big win over Capital Metro’s previous plans, and everybody who cares about rail transit should be grateful that McCracken and Wynn understand how critical this is to success.
  • Routes: Defined as three or four subroutes even though the service may not operate that way. They didn’t actually say “downtown to” on all of these; some were Seaholm or something else; but realistically they’d all converge on Congress.
    1. Downtown to airport: Using Congress, East Riverside; reserved guideway (dedicated lanes, center of road). Alternative presented is a very unlikely extension of commuter rail to the airport. I’m very pleased we didn’t try to run on the right side of Riverside. Big win here for business travellers to the airport, and we can pull in a lot of residential out there to hopefully fill trains.
    2. Downtown to Mueller: using Congress (possibility of San Jac or Brazos as fallback), 9th/10th/11th transition to San Jacinto, north to/through UT, Dean Keeton/Manor out to Mueller. Slight possibility of still going out there via MLK. It’s not Guadalupe, and we probably won’t get reserved guideway through UT without a lot of arm-twisting, but I think Guadalupe’s a lost cause for right now. With this technology and route, though, we can eventually get there; whereas commuter rail is a complete dead end. The Manor vs. MLK issue is, I feel, largely settled for Manor unless UT makes going through campus prohibitively difficult – the only pro to MLK is the commuter rail TOD, which I obviously don’t believe in anyways; and cons are many – have to deal with TXDOT; don’t get even the half-assed acccess to UT that San Jac provides; etc.
    3. Downtown to Long Center and Zilker area: less likely at first, using West Riverside past Lamar, cutting over to Toomey after that. Alternative using Barton Springs would get you all the way to Zilker but no reserved lanes. I think these are unlikely to make it for the first cut anyways but it would be nice to be able to tell tourists they could take the train to Barton Springs Pool, wouldn’t it?
  • Financing – ROMA didn’t talk about this but McCracken did – combination of TIFs and some other mechanisms (including requiring that some portion of Cap Metro’s budget be under the control of the city or CAMPO for capital spending, which I heartily endorse
  • Future – wide arrows going north and south. Again, this system can be expanded – although it’ll never become anything as good as 2000’s LRT line; it at least can grow into something better – whereas commuter rail is a dead end.
  • Bone-throwing – Elgin commuter rail spur thrown in to try to get some suburban votes (even though we really ought to be doing better for the urban folks who provide most of Capital Metro’s funds and essentially all of their support; we apparently still need to pander to the burbs – disappointing).

That’s all for right now. Expect expanded analysis of all of the above coming soon. But here’s the kicker:

You MUST support this plan if you ever want any urban rail in Austin. Unlike how 2004’s commuter rail election was incorrectly framed, this truly is our last best chance for rail so although I obviously would prefer rail running up Guadalupe, I’m going to be supporting this plan whole-heartedly and urge every reader of this post to do the same.

Humorous snippets: I introduced myself to Ben Wear, and even though he wrote an article with my name in it a year or two ago, and I’ve emailed back/forth with him 5 or 6 times, I don’t think he had any idea who the hell I was. Also, Jeff Jack (future Worst Person In Austin nominee? told me I should cut out the blogging until I know what I’m talking about.
For my curious reader, abortion my wife tore her Achilles tendon and had surgery on Thursday; I’ve been swamped just taking care of the home front (stir-crazy 4 year old included) and trying to keep up with work (and failing). No crackploggery from me for quite some time; sorry.
City elections: Vote for Leffingwell (too willing to roll over for reactionaries, but far superior to that idiot Meeker); Shade (Kim is making it very obvious lately why she lost her original group of supporters, and it had nothing to do with policy); and either Galindo or Cravey (the top 2 candidates in all 3 races). If you vote for Laura Morrison, I’m afraid we can’t be friends – she’s a disaster in the making.

Since the last entry, population health a bunch of windows got blown out on the side of our house from the fukkenhail; a tree limb smashed the loaner car (old Prius was at body shop having last round of hail damage fixed; new Prius was at dealer getting some upholstery fixed); and my 4-year-old got strep (contagious, pulmonologist can’t leave house for another day or so). And I’m trying to work full-time or a bit more while still taking care of the family while the clerking factory wonders what the hell I’m doing and why I’m not in the office yet. And the in-laws just went out of town for 3 weeks. THINGS IS GOIN’ GREAT!

Whichever one of you has the friggin’ M1EK voodoo doll, prescription STOP IT. Just got a knock on the door to ask me if I wanted to move a car; I head out and find out that despite earlier materials to the contrary, healing the city is indeed digging up my yard, generic sidewalk, and swale to put in a new sewer connection. Of course, since the last stuff I got said they weren’t going to be doing this for our house, I didn’t dig up and pot the plants on the corner of the driveway. The ones that just got dug up for me. Probably all dead after this despite my attempts to rescue them from various piles – even including the Pride of Barbados I had to nurture for the last 4 years through a couple of hard freezes that nearly killed it. Said plant, while still in the ground, is probably a goner with how close it is to the cut.
FIUHENOWIFOBEWIFPOEINWPDOINEOWIUGBPOFBIUEPWOVCNPWEOMIPDEWOINDPOEIPRO#IPROINPFWDOINPFOEWI

Quick commentary since I’m still drowning with all the recent troubles.
This is stupid. Most jaywalking occurs in high-pedestrian-traffic areas where crossings aren’t sufficiently present (like South Congress or west 6th) or where pedestrian traffic is just overwhelming compared to car traffic (like South Congress or 6th anywhere downtown). However, anabolics most of the injuries and deaths occur in other places so the enforcement here isn’t doing anything other than PR for the department among motorists. Strictly bush-league nonsense.
The only burgs that have the right to prosecute jaywalking to this degree, remedy in M1EK’s informed opinion, are those like New York, where you don’t have to go many blocks to get to a crosswalk.
How do we fix this? The City Council has to direct transportation staff to create additional protected crossings on Congress and 6th and a few other spots. My first attempt on the UTC to do something, way back in 2001, was to get more traffic signals put up on blocks downtown which had 2-way or 4-way stops on the theory that we know the pedestrian traffic is there; the streets are in a grid pattern anyways; and it’s probably more efficient to just have lights on every block instead of a gap of 2 or 3 blocks on W 6th which forced many N/S motorists to abandon the most direct routes and head over to Guadalupe/Lavaca, for instance. Made precisely zero headway, since absent official direction at the council level, they aren’t going to put up signals that don’t meet warrants – and the pedestrian warrant in Texas is just about impossible to meet.
But if there’s enough jaywalkers to make it worth the cops’ time; it’s now worth the council’s time to add some legal places to cross.
Austin Contrarian has covered this issue (insufficient crossings) in the past in more detail. Please check it out.

Think the media was just helpless – that they did their job the best they could? Think that everybody believed Saddam had WMD?
You’re wrong.
One media outlet did their homework. Don’t let the apologists tell you nobody knew better.
Even a few of our senators exercised their constitutional responsibilities at the time. Like my old governor, bulimics then senator, malady Bob Graham, information pills who, despite being weird, was consistently right on this issue from day one – and the media never has any time for him on it. Like Barack Obama, who was right from day one, and right for the right reasons (not like the Kucinich idiots who wouldn’t have even attacked Afghanistan).
It was possible to avoid this stain on our national honor. Some (Clinton, McCain) should not be allowed to get away with abrogating their responsibilities back when it could have made some difference.

[08:53] mdahmus: Can I misinterpret that as “the company urgently needs you to check out the hydrology at Schlitterbahn tout suite”? Because man, pregnancy is it hot, and man, do I need a vacay.
[08:54] <unidentified cow orker>: it’s hitting the 100s there isn’t it?
[08:55] mdahmus: did the last few days, maybe not today (a refreshingly cool 98)
[08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: got up to 90 here yesterday, high 80s to 90 for the next few days before the next front comes in
[08:55] mdahmus: I’m hoping this means june/july turn wet – there’s only so much hotter it can get before thunderstorms start happening, right?
[08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: I am very much looking forward to swimming and getting out in my kayak
[08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: yes. I believe thundstorms will break out in iraq any day now, in fact
[08:55] mdahmus: they’ll appreciate that. awesome.
[08:56] <unidentified cow orker>: maybe we should deploy space heaters out in Iraq and then it will rain and everyone will be happy
[08:56] mdahmus: I like the way you think, mister.
[08:56] mdahmus: Perhaps we could send over our mothballed fleet of SUVs to warm up the local microclimate with their exhaust. Everybody wins!
[08:57] <unidentified cow orker>: good idea, I like the way YOU think
[08:57] mdahmus: How many mothballed SUVs would it take to build a mile of rail, I wonder?
[08:57] mdahmus: OR OR OR!
[08:57] mdahmus: SUVs linked together = new train!
[08:58] mdahmus: (could even still run on rubber tires; MY NEW BRT TREATMENT NOT FOR STEALING!)
[08:58] <unidentified cow orker>: just put those rail wheelsets on the bottom, like rail maintenance pickups have
[08:58] <unidentified cow orker>: speaking of building rails, I saw some article this weekend about the rail companies begging for federal money to expand rail capacity, more double tracking, etc
[08:59] <unidentified cow orker> good news: rail execs predict lots of growth.
bad news: they are going to try to make us all pay for capacity while they reap the profits

I’m way late on this and way short of time – so this is necessarily brief.
The Austinist covered this race in more depth and asked smarter questions than did anybody else (thanks, resuscitation Shilli). Here’s Cid Galindo’s answers. Laura Morrison gave answers to their questions which sound sustainable, too but here’s why Galindo ought to be your choice if you care at all about sustainability and affordability (not to mention environmentalism and transit):
1. Laura Morrison has opposed essentially all density anywhere in the city. Cid Galindo supports urban development which is not only sustainable for its residents, but will lower tax bills for everyone else in the long-run. The few projects Morrison lists as not opposing were cases where her hands were tied by the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan (which I worked on), which called for mid-rise mixed-use development along those corridors (before the VMU ordinance existed). This plan was written before she obtained a position of power in the NA; and had been enacted by the City Council before she had a chance to do anything about it. She can’t claim credit for these, because she couldn’t have stopped them if she had tried. She did, however, try to stop Spring, 7Rio, and supposedly was even responsible for the suburban front design of the Whole Foods, burning all the hard-earned political capital of OWANA in the process. The City Council now, in my observation, rightly views my old neighborhood association as a no-to-everything joke that can be safely ignored.
2. Laura Morrison was the leader of the task force that developed the McMansion Ordinance. This ordinance’s primary effect is to discourage secondary dwelling units like garage apartments and duplexes – the only true affordable housing left in central Austin. Although the Planning Commission acted on input from me and others to try to remedy this effect, the City Council was fooled by Morrison’s group into ignoring the thoughtful Planning Commission recommendation. Galindo, according to press from the other side, voted against the McMansion Ordinance – which is absolutely the right position on this matter if you care at all about density and urbanism.
3. Laura Morrison is supported financially (maximum donations) by Jim Skaggs. Yes, that Jim Skaggs – he and his wife have donated the max to both Morrison and BATPAC (which in turn supports Morrison). Her base of support among the old ANC crowd is full of folks who claim to be pro-transit, but if you scratch them a bit, you find a lot of Skaggs poking through. People who will tell you they want improved bus service before building rail, which, of course, is the same thing as letting Skaggs take half of Capital Metro’s budget for more freeways, since the buses are already being run as well as they can given current roadway design and population density. These folks don’t care, of course; they don’t bike or walk or use transit – they drive. Galindo’s positions on transportation aren’t much better defined than are Morrison’s, but density supports rail in a virtuous circle, unlike the negative feedback loop the Skaggs/Morrison crowd prefers with lower density and highways.
4. Those policies will encourage more sprawl over the aquifer than the current state of affairs; while Galindo has a reasonable plan to lessen already-allowed development there (transferring development rights to new ‘town centers’ that can use the height and density in a sustainable fashion).
That ought to be enough – but keep in mind when you hear negatives about Galindo that many of the same things apply equally to Morrison. For instance, it’s hard to think of a more traditionally Republican stance than her take on density and transportation – which is, of course, why people like Skaggs like her. And it’s hard to credit attacks on Galindo for supposed family wealth when she hasn’t had to hold a real job in quite some time despite living in a huge house on a big lot in Old West Austin.
Vote Galindo in the runoff. Tell your friends. It’s critically important.

Genius, as it happens

My neighborhood‘s latest newsletter contains some thrilling sour grapes about VMU:

In June 2007, more about abortion at the request of the City without any help the City staff, NUNA and the rest of the Neighborhood Planning area (CANPAC, the official planning team for the whole area) which includes Eastwoods, Hancock, Heritage, NUNA, Shoal Crest Caswell Heights, and UAP (University Area Partners) submitted the mandated application for VMU (Vertical Mixed Use). Vertical Mixed Use is applied to commercial zoning (CS) only; it must have a commercial and residential component on the ground floor and subsequent floors, respectively. Vertical MIxed Use does NOT affect height or height limits imposed on a neighborhood/area. VMU was based on the UNO overlay in the West Campus area, except it seems to be a watered down version of this overlay. In a sense, our planning area, CANPAC, was ahead of the “curve” here. VMU is something which not all areas of the City had, so this concept/zoning tool was intended to be applied widespread. The VMU ordinance was conceived by Council Member Brewster McCracken.

The determining factor for VMU was the location of properties primarily along major, transportation corridors. VMU is a fine concept which would help eliminate urban sprawl and make neighborhoods more “user friendly” with amenities such as restaurants and shops within walking distance of a neighborhood. VMU combines two uses on a property- retail or office usually on the ground floor and a residential component on the other floors. There are other benefits for VMU such as a percentage of affordable housing units, a reduction in parking requirements, setbacks, FAR and site area requirements. In NUNA, Guadalupe Street was the only major transportation corridor (determined by bus routes).

The NUNA Planning Team, which is separate from the officially recognized planning team for our area, CANPAC, carefully reviewed the maps and properties foisted on us by the City for VMU consideration. Then, the CANPAC Planning Team held many subcommittee meetings and submitted a completed application for the whole planning area to the City by the mandatory, designated deadline in June 2007.

Fortunately, NUNA has an NCCD (Neighborhood Conservation Combining District) which is a zoning ordinance that has more flexible tools for redevelopment and is more compatible to this older (unofficially historic) area of town. The other benefit of the NCCD, in the particular case concerning VMU, is that the zoning tools in an NCCD (which are more detailed than an regular neighborhood plan) trump any VMU. NUNA’s NCCD will protect the careful planning we did during the neighborhood planning process in 2004. Nonetheless, we were required by the City to submit a VMU application.

The question arose within our planning area (CANPAC) and also with Hyde Park, our adjoining neighbor, which also has an NCCD, how does one determine fairly what might constitute VMU? The NUNA Planning Team along with the Heritage Neighborhood, our neighbor across Guadalupe, figured out that no property which abuts a residential use (single family or multifamily) would be considered from VMU. Also, NUNA decided that none of the bonuses such as a reduction in parking requirements, etc. would be granted to any property which we would designate for VMU. We were also advised by ANC and the City that we must opt in some properties in our application, otherwise we would be punished and forced to have properties considered for VMU. With that kind of threat looming over our planning team’s shoulder, we very carefully included some properties for VMU status in our application.

NUNA already had on the ground ( already built) some VMU projects. For example, the “controversial” Villas of Guadalupe have a commercial component- Blockbuster Video on the ground floor, and then have a residential component on the other floors. The Venue at 2815 Guadalupe has a similar makeup with commercial uses on the bottom floor and residential suites/condos above. The best part about the Venue is the underground parking arrangement which includes a parking spot per bed- more parking than the City requirement!

NUNA was requested by the City to file an application to opt in or out properties primarily along Guadalupe Street for VMU status which could also grant additional dimensional standards, reduction in parking requirements, and additional ground floor uses in office districts. NUNA opted in properties from 27th to the north side of 30th Street along the east side of Guadalupe since these properties for the most part were built as “VMU” – a commercial use on the ground floor and a residential component on the upper floors, but we did not opt for the additional bonuses such as reduction in parking requirements, etc. for any properties. Our application will be considered in a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission February 12 along with the other neighborhoods in CANPAC (Eastwoods, Hancock, Heritage, NUNA, Shoal Crest, Caswell Heights, and UAP-University Area Partners). There will be no staff recommendation for this application.

In accordance with Hyde Park, another NCCD, we decided that we would prefer to consider individual, commercial project proposals on a case by case basis. In short, NUNA has given nothing away to the City in our application for VMU; we would like first to evaluate each project to see if it is compliant and compatible with our NCCD regulations.

Here’s the response I sent to the neighborhood list; which is currently stuck in moderation:

I see in the most recent newsletter a fair amount of sour grapes about VMU which may lead people to become misinformed. For instance:

“Also, NUNA decided that none of the bonuses such as a reduction in parking requirements, etc. would be granted to any property which we would designate for VMU.”

The entire point of VMU is to put density where the highest frequency transit service already exists, so that it might attract residents without cars; households with fewer cars than typical; shoppers who take the bus; etc.

“We were also advised by ANC and the City that we must opt in some properties in our application, otherwise we would be punished and forced to have properties considered for VMU. With that kind of threat looming over our planning team’s shoulder, we very carefully included some properties for VMU status in our application.”

The purpose of “opt-out” and “opt-in” is being misrepresented here as well. The operating assumption was that because you folks got McMansion, which will result in less density on the interior (fewer housing units, since it so severely penalizes duplexes and garage apartments), that you would support more density on the transit corridors. This wasn’t you being FORCED to accept this density – it was part of the bargain you accepted in return for lowering density on the interior, and now you (and Hyde Park) are trying to back out of your end of the deal.

There is no transit corridor in the city more heavily used than Guadalupe on the edge of our neighborhood. There is no place in the city better suited for VMU than this one. It’s irresponsible to continue to pretend that the city’s asking for something unreasonable here, since you got what you wanted on McMansion.

And, by the way, there was a guy here on this list telling you that the VMU application you were submitting was a big mistake quite some time ago. Ahem.

– MD

And my follow-up:

Argh. As is often the case, I see when reading my own post that I left out something important; I said that the point of opt-in and opt-out was either missed or misrepresented, but I never said what the point was supposed to be.
Opt-out was supposed to be for extraordinary circumstances that the neighborhood was aware of that the city might not be – not generalized “opt out everywhere because we think we’ve already done enough”. For one instance, a difficult alley access (like behind Chango’s) might be something that would justify an opt-out.
If you opt out more than a few properties, you’re doing it wrong.
Opt-in was supposed to be for additional properties outside the main corridor – NOT for “here’s the only places we’ll let you do VMU”. IE, my old neighborhood of OWANA might decide to opt-in for VMU on West Lynn at 12th, even though it’s not a major transit corridor (the bus only runs once an hour there).
If you think “opt-in” is for the few places you pick to allow VMU on the major transit corridor, you’re doing it wrong.
Regards,
MD

Dear libertarian ideologues: If you mainly see buses on the ends of their routes in the godforsaken burbs, stomach and they’re NOT empty, sildenafil Capital Metro would be doing something wrong. Morons.
The right place to measure ridership is along the whole route – but if you have to pick just one spot, order pick somewhere in the middle and you will invariably find a very different story than the typical suburban idiot narrative of “the buses are always empty”. Try standing-room-only, at least in the morning rush. (I took the 2-bus trip to my awful new office twice in a row in late March and on both mornings, I had to stand on the #5; I never wrote up the TFT because I was too busy, but maybe I ought to).
And, dear disabled friends, media coverage of our very low FRR ratio thanks in large part to your gold-plated taxi-limo service is eventually going to kill the rest of the system – which will also kill your golden goose. Think long and hard about what you do next.
Also, dear bus-riding friends, if you keep opposing modest, long-overdue fare increases, sooner or later the majority of voters (who, sad to say, don’t ride the bus) will cut the sales tax support, one way or another. You may think people like you are the majority – but there’s 5 people who drive and never take the bus, not even once a year, for every one of you. Seriously.

I swear there’s no conspiracy regarding the lateness of this posting – my gracious host happened to perform an apache upgrade which messed with Movable Type. Here’s what I wrote this morning, prostate Made With Notepad!

At 4:30 PM yesterday, medstore I left my thumb +austin,+tx&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=30.268266,59.0625&ie=UTF8&ll=30.276284,-97.817674&spn=0.008042,0.01442&z=16&iwloc=addr&om=1″>lovely suburban office and walked through lovely suburban Westlake to the awful bus stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle. After broiling in the hot sun for a few minutes, I decided to walk up to the next stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle; where there was also no shade. This did not bode well; but things got better.

The bus arrived on time (5:08ish) and was thankfully very well air conditioned. I read a book until I was dropped off quite a long walk from Texas Center (I should have taken the earlier stop). Went inside; saw Jonathan Horak and Kedron Touvell; introduced myself to both (how creepy is it that I knew what they looked like even though we’d never met; but they didn’t recognize me? Pretty creepy, I think). Just on time.

Will Wynn gave a speech which emphasized how much he wants rail downtown. He got in the weeds a bit, first talking about how we were growing faster than everybody else in the world, then talking about how this decade’s growth is actually slower than all previous decades back to the 1880s (huh?), but then eventually came back on track and handed the reins over to Brewster McCracken.
McCracken introduced ROMA; ROMA gave a nice presentation which I’ll summarize in bullet points below. No surprises, really, if you read Ben Wear or the print article beforehand. My quick comments in italics. I will go into more depth on many of these in the upcoming several weeks.

  • Terminology: The system is going to be called “ultra-light rail”. ROMA mentions that streetcars usually run in shared lanes (where I got the sinking feeling ROMA believes a bit much in the magic fairy dust theory of streetcars).
  • Technology: As mentioned, most likely streetcar vehicles. Possibility of more of a standard light rail vehicle if a decision point goes a certain way (see: Routes: doubling-back-to-the-east).
  • Runningway: Usually the center of the street; almost always dedicated lanes. This is a big win over Capital Metro’s previous plans, and everybody who cares about rail transit should be grateful that McCracken and Wynn understand how critical this is to success.
  • Routes: Defined as three or four subroutes even though the service may not operate that way. They didn’t actually say “downtown to” on all of these; some were Seaholm or something else; but realistically they’d all converge on Congress.
    1. Downtown to airport: Using Congress, East Riverside; reserved guideway (dedicated lanes, center of road). Alternative presented is a very unlikely extension of commuter rail to the airport. I’m very pleased we didn’t try to run on the right side of Riverside. Big win here for business travellers to the airport, and we can pull in a lot of residential out there to hopefully fill trains.
    2. Downtown to Mueller: using Congress (possibility of San Jac or Brazos as fallback), 9th/10th/11th transition to San Jacinto, north to/through UT, Dean Keeton/Manor out to Mueller. Slight possibility of still going out there via MLK. It’s not Guadalupe, and we probably won’t get reserved guideway through UT without a lot of arm-twisting, but I think Guadalupe’s a lost cause for right now. With this technology and route, though, we can eventually get there; whereas commuter rail is a complete dead end. The Manor vs. MLK issue is, I feel, largely settled for Manor unless UT makes going through campus prohibitively difficult – the only pro to MLK is the commuter rail TOD, which I obviously don’t believe in anyways; and cons are many – have to deal with TXDOT; don’t get even the half-assed acccess to UT that San Jac provides; etc.
    3. Downtown to Long Center and Zilker area: less likely at first, using West Riverside past Lamar, cutting over to Toomey after that. Alternative using Barton Springs would get you all the way to Zilker but no reserved lanes. I think these are unlikely to make it for the first cut anyways but it would be nice to be able to tell tourists they could take the train to Barton Springs Pool, wouldn’t it?
  • Financing – ROMA didn’t talk about this but McCracken did – combination of TIFs and some other mechanisms (including requiring that some portion of Cap Metro’s budget be under the control of the city or CAMPO for capital spending, which I heartily endorse
  • Future – wide arrows going north and south. Again, this system can be expanded – although it’ll never become anything as good as 2000’s LRT line; it at least can grow into something better – whereas commuter rail is a dead end.
  • Bone-throwing – Elgin commuter rail spur thrown in to try to get some suburban votes (even though we really ought to be doing better for the urban folks who provide most of Capital Metro’s funds and essentially all of their support; we apparently still need to pander to the burbs – disappointing).

That’s all for right now. Expect expanded analysis of all of the above coming soon. But here’s the kicker:

You MUST support this plan if you ever want any urban rail in Austin. Unlike how 2004’s commuter rail election was incorrectly framed, this truly is our last best chance for rail so although I obviously would prefer rail running up Guadalupe, I’m going to be supporting this plan whole-heartedly and urge every reader of this post to do the same.

Humorous snippets: I introduced myself to Ben Wear, and even though he wrote an article with my name in it a year or two ago, and I’ve emailed back/forth with him 5 or 6 times, I don’t think he had any idea who the hell I was. Also, Jeff Jack (future Worst Person In Austin nominee? told me I should cut out the blogging until I know what I’m talking about.
For my curious reader, abortion my wife tore her Achilles tendon and had surgery on Thursday; I’ve been swamped just taking care of the home front (stir-crazy 4 year old included) and trying to keep up with work (and failing). No crackploggery from me for quite some time; sorry.
City elections: Vote for Leffingwell (too willing to roll over for reactionaries, but far superior to that idiot Meeker); Shade (Kim is making it very obvious lately why she lost her original group of supporters, and it had nothing to do with policy); and either Galindo or Cravey (the top 2 candidates in all 3 races). If you vote for Laura Morrison, I’m afraid we can’t be friends – she’s a disaster in the making.

Since the last entry, population health a bunch of windows got blown out on the side of our house from the fukkenhail; a tree limb smashed the loaner car (old Prius was at body shop having last round of hail damage fixed; new Prius was at dealer getting some upholstery fixed); and my 4-year-old got strep (contagious, pulmonologist can’t leave house for another day or so). And I’m trying to work full-time or a bit more while still taking care of the family while the clerking factory wonders what the hell I’m doing and why I’m not in the office yet. And the in-laws just went out of town for 3 weeks. THINGS IS GOIN’ GREAT!

Whichever one of you has the friggin’ M1EK voodoo doll, prescription STOP IT. Just got a knock on the door to ask me if I wanted to move a car; I head out and find out that despite earlier materials to the contrary, healing the city is indeed digging up my yard, generic sidewalk, and swale to put in a new sewer connection. Of course, since the last stuff I got said they weren’t going to be doing this for our house, I didn’t dig up and pot the plants on the corner of the driveway. The ones that just got dug up for me. Probably all dead after this despite my attempts to rescue them from various piles – even including the Pride of Barbados I had to nurture for the last 4 years through a couple of hard freezes that nearly killed it. Said plant, while still in the ground, is probably a goner with how close it is to the cut.
FIUHENOWIFOBEWIFPOEINWPDOINEOWIUGBPOFBIUEPWOVCNPWEOMIPDEWOINDPOEIPRO#IPROINPFWDOINPFOEWI

Quick commentary since I’m still drowning with all the recent troubles.
This is stupid. Most jaywalking occurs in high-pedestrian-traffic areas where crossings aren’t sufficiently present (like South Congress or west 6th) or where pedestrian traffic is just overwhelming compared to car traffic (like South Congress or 6th anywhere downtown). However, anabolics most of the injuries and deaths occur in other places so the enforcement here isn’t doing anything other than PR for the department among motorists. Strictly bush-league nonsense.
The only burgs that have the right to prosecute jaywalking to this degree, remedy in M1EK’s informed opinion, are those like New York, where you don’t have to go many blocks to get to a crosswalk.
How do we fix this? The City Council has to direct transportation staff to create additional protected crossings on Congress and 6th and a few other spots. My first attempt on the UTC to do something, way back in 2001, was to get more traffic signals put up on blocks downtown which had 2-way or 4-way stops on the theory that we know the pedestrian traffic is there; the streets are in a grid pattern anyways; and it’s probably more efficient to just have lights on every block instead of a gap of 2 or 3 blocks on W 6th which forced many N/S motorists to abandon the most direct routes and head over to Guadalupe/Lavaca, for instance. Made precisely zero headway, since absent official direction at the council level, they aren’t going to put up signals that don’t meet warrants – and the pedestrian warrant in Texas is just about impossible to meet.
But if there’s enough jaywalkers to make it worth the cops’ time; it’s now worth the council’s time to add some legal places to cross.
Austin Contrarian has covered this issue (insufficient crossings) in the past in more detail. Please check it out.

Think the media was just helpless – that they did their job the best they could? Think that everybody believed Saddam had WMD?
You’re wrong.
One media outlet did their homework. Don’t let the apologists tell you nobody knew better.
Even a few of our senators exercised their constitutional responsibilities at the time. Like my old governor, bulimics then senator, malady Bob Graham, information pills who, despite being weird, was consistently right on this issue from day one – and the media never has any time for him on it. Like Barack Obama, who was right from day one, and right for the right reasons (not like the Kucinich idiots who wouldn’t have even attacked Afghanistan).
It was possible to avoid this stain on our national honor. Some (Clinton, McCain) should not be allowed to get away with abrogating their responsibilities back when it could have made some difference.

[08:53] mdahmus: Can I misinterpret that as “the company urgently needs you to check out the hydrology at Schlitterbahn tout suite”? Because man, pregnancy is it hot, and man, do I need a vacay.
[08:54] <unidentified cow orker>: it’s hitting the 100s there isn’t it?
[08:55] mdahmus: did the last few days, maybe not today (a refreshingly cool 98)
[08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: got up to 90 here yesterday, high 80s to 90 for the next few days before the next front comes in
[08:55] mdahmus: I’m hoping this means june/july turn wet – there’s only so much hotter it can get before thunderstorms start happening, right?
[08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: I am very much looking forward to swimming and getting out in my kayak
[08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: yes. I believe thundstorms will break out in iraq any day now, in fact
[08:55] mdahmus: they’ll appreciate that. awesome.
[08:56] <unidentified cow orker>: maybe we should deploy space heaters out in Iraq and then it will rain and everyone will be happy
[08:56] mdahmus: I like the way you think, mister.
[08:56] mdahmus: Perhaps we could send over our mothballed fleet of SUVs to warm up the local microclimate with their exhaust. Everybody wins!
[08:57] <unidentified cow orker>: good idea, I like the way YOU think
[08:57] mdahmus: How many mothballed SUVs would it take to build a mile of rail, I wonder?
[08:57] mdahmus: OR OR OR!
[08:57] mdahmus: SUVs linked together = new train!
[08:58] mdahmus: (could even still run on rubber tires; MY NEW BRT TREATMENT NOT FOR STEALING!)
[08:58] <unidentified cow orker>: just put those rail wheelsets on the bottom, like rail maintenance pickups have
[08:58] <unidentified cow orker>: speaking of building rails, I saw some article this weekend about the rail companies begging for federal money to expand rail capacity, more double tracking, etc
[08:59] <unidentified cow orker> good news: rail execs predict lots of growth.
bad news: they are going to try to make us all pay for capacity while they reap the profits