All posts by m1ek

How pro-Proposition-1 establishment figures try to get away with it

Dave Sullivan, for months, on the CCAG, at meetings like this one:

“Nobody will show me the data! Show me the data!”

AURA, yesterday, released the latest paper, with data on why Highland/ERC will cripple our transit system and prevent any future rail lines from being built.

20141020auracover

This is the same argument, with data, presented over the last few months by Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano. Dave Sullivan has been pointed to him on multiple occasions, by many people, including yours truly; with no response. Example:

20131204mikelettertodavesullivan

A contemperaneous post by Julio that I was hoping Dave would read: “Highland Score”, November 2013.

Did he ever stop saying “show me the data! Why won’t anybody show me the data?”?

No, he didn’t. Now we move forward to last week.

Dave Sullivan, 10/13/2014:

20141013sullivancomment

Any questions?

Being too nice is how the liars will win.

Lots of people on ‘my side’ of the Prop1 debate believe you can’t call lies lies and can’t call liars liars.

Folks, that’s how they win. Have you never observed politics before? To the uninformed voter, they just see both sides arguing and will go with the one with the loudest megaphone or tallest podium (most credibility, even if completely unearned).

One recent example here. I have highlighted the parts that demonstrate a willingness to lie:

cecilcomments

The person who made this comment knows that those of us on the other side from him firmly believe that Highland saps all possible finances for any extensions anywhere. Yet he still makes this argument as if we are only upset because Guadalamar (or other route) isn’t going first.

This is a lie, people.

What more is it gonna take? Do you want to be nice, and lose, again, as in 2004? (Yes, I was nicer than this in 2004, but others were far nicer still; making lots of reasoned counterarguments, and what they got in return for their forebearance from being mean and calling people liars was the Red Line, bus cuts, and 10 years without any rail planning of note).

If you’re not willing to identify lies as lies, and you continue to treat liars as if they are arguing in good faith, you will lose. There is no way around this – I’ve been around long enough to know better. This does not mean that every argument on the pro Prop1 side is a lie, although a lot of them are; it means you should identify those that are lies and those that are not, and identify those who are willing to lie and those who do not; and treat them differently. You don’t engage in good faith with somebody who isn’t doing so in good faith themselves.

A very accurate summary of where we are

I don’t claim to know Leffingwell’s motivation, but everything else in this short post from Dave Dobbs via twitlonger is accurate:

“Austin’s Proposition One is a poison pill for democracy and the new 10-1 council.

My view is that when Mayor Leffingwell found himself on the losing end of the 10-1 vote, he decided to make his prediction that such a council so constituted couldn’t function by saddling that future council with enormous debt and a totally non sequitur urban rail plan that doesn’t go where most people go, doesn’t address congestion, has far too few riders for far too much cost, will see too little fare box return and that will negatively impact bus service. Additionally, the convoluted rail ballot language politically encumbers the new council with certificates of obligation (CO) for $400 million in roads that will do nothing for Austinites, while at the same time authorizing bonds for a rail proposal that the FTA is not likely to put high on the list. And because Austin changed the original destination from Mueller to Highland ACC, another three years of federal planning (and more money) will be necessary to even get on the list for federal funding.

The bottom line here is that if Austin’s Proposition 1 passes, a new council, awash with voter mandated debt, will have it’s hands tied; subject to the charge that it’s not carrying out the voter’s wishes if it doesn’t spend the money. In short, passage of the rail bonds and the problematic road CO’s associated with those bonds is going to create endless static in council chambers for years. How can anything productive come out of that?”

Dave Dobbs,
Texas Association for Public Transportation

Where did the Highland alignment come from?

A short interlude from the “urbanists, seriously, the rail election is important” thread:

As somebody who was involved in the Project Connect Phase 1 process, I can tell you that the inclusion of Highland as a high-scoring choice for the final projects to move forward into Phase 1 was a complete surprise to all of us. Highland is an awful segment of the route. It only works if you ignore every bit of good advice about how to build urban rail – it assumes park-and-rides on the highway for suburbanites are how we fill trains for an urban service. Nobody who was involved in Project Connect Phase 1 liked Highland.

Except, apparently, the Chamber of Commerce.

I’ve made the case lately that the Highland alignment was flat-out chosen for us BY the Chamber of Commerce, based on circumstantial evidence (what other reason could there be?) – and please don’t quote me Project Connect statistics; that entire process was a complete joke. It’s certainly not a good choice on transit grounds (see “urban rail should be urban” series underway at another great blog – CarFree Austin). But when I’ve suggested that the Chamber picked this line, I’ve been attacked by people at the Chamber and told it’s nonsense.

Huh.

Then I got an anonymous tip.

I wonder if you guys would like to see a video.

This is an excerpt from Citizens Communications from 6/13/2014 at the CCAG meeting. The speaker is Beth Ann Ray from the Chamber of Commerce. The full video of the meeting is here at the City, I suggest you click on “Item 5″ on the right and then advance to about 15:30.

Transcript of this section, by me:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Let’s look at that transcript again, with some added emphasis:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Hmmm. I suppose it’s just a coincidence that nobody except the Chamber liked Highland, and Highland ended up being picked, right?

What now for VMU?

In yesterday’s post, I showed that transit service along our best VMU corridor (Lamar/Guadalupe) has been significantly degraded by the introduction of Rapid Bus. Along this corridor, you used to be able to count on “show up and go” local service, but now you absolutely cannot.

The vast majority of tracts directly abutting the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor are eligible for VMU development like the one I used as an example in yesterdays post, based on an ordinance passed back in 2008.1 The arguments in favor of VMU on core transit corridors, made by people including yours truly, rested on the premise that because there was frequent, useful, transit there, we should allow denser development and reduce parking requirements for that development. Since we could assume that a larger percentage of tenants of those buildings would be willing to use transit than for the city as a norm, in other words, we would not listen to the complaints of the nearby neighborhoods that they’d all be driving on Lamar and Guadalupe every day making their lives more miserable.

Now it’s 2014, and this statement:

On this VMU corridor, transit is frequent and useful

is NO LONGER TRUE.

If we were debating the set of attempts by neighborhoods along Guadalupe and Lamar to opt-out of the VMU ordinance today, in other words, it would not be honest to make the statement above.

So what, you say? Well, remember, the VMU ordinance and the approval/rejection of the opt-in and opt-outs were not unanimously done by committed urbanists. The council at the time had one committed urbanist, one urbanist with some checkered history, one anti-urbanist, and four moderates.

Four. Moderates.

Do you know what sold those four on VMU? Over the objections of neighborhood associations that tried to opt out of almost everything? After all, Hyde Park’s neighborhood association attempted to opt out of essentially all of Guadalupe!

So what worked with those four moderates? It was this:

On this VMU corridor, transit is frequent and useful

Note that we do not need to count how many people in apartments on Lamar/Guadalupe use transit to understand this point. Politically speaking, the presence of useful frequent transit allowed those moderates to make what we urbanists consider the “right decision” and not only pass this ordinance but expend political capital to reject attempts by Hyde Park and other neighborhood associations to wiggle out of it.

So now that the useful, frequent, service is gone, what happens? Most VMU projects along Lamar/Guadalupe are still very attractvie, of course; developers will pretty much build to the maximum entitlements on these corridors today given the vast demand for rental housing. But when neighborhoods find pretextual objections (and they will; nothing is ever cut and dry), future councils will be more likely to side with the neighborhoods than the urbanists, because, once again, transit service on Lamar and Guadalupe is no longer ‘frequent and useful’.

What are we likely to see instead, assuming the neighbors win more of those battles, and since we’ve decided to destroy local bus service on Lamar/Guadalupe in favor of more expensive but less useful express service? Hello, Steven Zettner’s vision of density ONLY near the major intersections (where the rapid bus stops happen to be located). No longer will we see 4 or 5 story VMU buildings along the entire corridor; instead, we’ll see 4 or 5 story buildings near the Rapid stops, and decaying single-story strip malls in the rest.2 The ‘moderates’ in the future city council will vote the neighborhood association’s way when in doubt, because, again, useful and frequent transit is no longer part of the equation.

Core Transit Corridors map from 2007 Austin Chronicle
Core Transit Corridors map from 2007 Austin Chronicle

To the right is the “Core Transit Corridors” map used to kick off VMU planning back in 2007. Note the complete absence of Highland, by the way. Honestly, only the two Rapid Bus corridors have seen any significant VMU development (East Riverside is starting to show some signs, with major flaws).

Thus, this affects not only Lamar/Guadalupe, but also South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar (which were the other corridors that got nearly completely zoned VMU mostly over neighbors’ objections).

Does that sound important to you yet? Well, we’re getting there. Next up: Urban rail.

  1. I was hoping to have found a map of properties along this corridor eligible for VMU, but they may have aged off, and I’m not particular good with the city’s GIS. If somebody feels like doing some work, let me know. []
  2. Don’t be foolish enough to think we can upzone near the rapid stops to make up for the decline of the whole corridor, in other words; we’re not going to get 20 story buildings around the stops there to make up for 1 story elsewhere; we’ll be lucky if we can get 4 or 5 []

Rapid Bus has degraded bus service overall

camden-lamar-heights

This VMU on Lamar at North Loop (google maps link; as of 9/5/2014 the streetview picture is from construction) is open now. I like it. It has a bus stop right in front of it! Streetscape is good. There’s actually a new Taco Cabana across North Loop from it, unfortunately with a drive-thru, where the pretty image to the right has a grassy field1. The property to the south of the Taco Cabana appears ripe for redevelopment soon as another VMU; I’d be surprised not to see it go that way within a couple of years.

052512_wheatsville_1479950a

Let’s imagine the resident of one of these new apartments wants to take the bus to Wheatsville Co-Op, an urban grocer located at about 31st and Guadalupe. Lots of people used to ride the bus to Wheatsville last I checked.

For background, the VMU ordinance was enacted as a quid-pro-quo for the McMansion ordinance – the logic was that we would build tall apartments (for Austin, anyways) over walkable retail on corridors where transit frequencies and usefulness was high. Lamar/Guadalupe definitely fit that bill, at least originally.

Before the implementation of “Rapid Bus”, the #1 ran about every 13 minutes during peak periods on this route. Google maps says that the bus portion of this trip takes 8 minutes on the #1. Note that Google doesn’t even consider the 801 a viable option for this trip, unlike Capital Metro themselves. We’ll get to that in a minute.

We can use the same “show up and go” calculations from this post to come up with this graph. Short summary: If transit service is to be truly useful as a replacement for the car, it needs to be frequent enough that you don’t bother to check a schedule; you just show up at the stop and a bus comes pretty soon (and by the way this was one of the big marketing points for the #801; so this isn’t just a condition I’m placing on them to be mean). Note that the walking time on either end for the #1 trip is essentially zero – there are bus stops for the #1 (but not the #801) directly in front of the VMU building and the grocer.

Originally, when frequency was every 13 minutes, a trip to the grocery store would involve a 0 minute walk, an average 6.5 minute wait (half of frequency), and a 8 minute trip on the bus, for an expected trip time of 14.5 minutes. Not bad.

However, in the world we live in now, Capital Metro has cut half of the #1s and imposed instead the #801 in place of the #101, stealing the local frequency for the express. How does that service work for our apartment resident?

Same calculations as above – we end up with an expected wait of 13 minutes (it runs every 26 minutes during peak)2. Total trip time is now 21 minutes, if you can get a seat on this bus, which has been a problem ever since the 801 change happened.

But surely the 801 made up for this drop in service, right?

Again, Google won’t even give this as a trip; but Capital Metro’s trip planner does.

20140905capmetrotripplanner1

Huh. Cap Metro expects the user of this ‘service’ to walk about a half mile north to the “Brentwood Station”, wait (12 minute frequencies during peak), ride the bus to the “Hyde Park Station” (7 minutes), then walk about a half mile south to Wheatsville. Hey Google, how long will those walks take? Google says 8 minutes each, roughly.

So let’s graph those new trips, shall we?

20140905stackchart

The results show that, and all of this is compared to the conditions before the #801 started (“old #1″ in the graph), a resident of this apartment building can now either pay the same amount of money for a much less frequent service (#1) that will now take about 50% longer to get where they want to go, or they can pay double the price for a reasonably frequent service (#801) that will take more than twice as long to go where they want to go. People boarding a bus at this stop and travelling to Wheatsville have seen a significant degradation in quality of bus service.

What’s the conclusion? Well, even if you are foolish enough to think a 26 minute frequency local service still qualifies as “show up and go”, the residents of this VMU and many others in the area are unquestionably much worse off after the implementation of MetroRapid. And what’s worse – the developments resulting from the VMU ordinance were sold to surrounding neighborhoods as less of an impact on their daily lives because we all assumed many of its residents would ride the bus.

Still true? Doubt it.

More to come.

  1. Chris Bradford bait []
  2. most people would not consider this “frequent” and thus probably wouldn’t even consider the ‘show up and go’ approach, but let’s keep going []

Update on FTA and Lamar

A comment by Roger Cauvin, originally on facebook and then made to this post about Lamar/Guadalupe and the FTA which deserves promotion, immediately following:

In the debate around the proposed urban #rail plan in #Austin, one of many areas where I see unfortunate speculation pertains to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding. Some advocates of the current plan contend that the already-approved FTA funding of #MetroRapid on the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor precludes such funding for #rail on the same corridor.

A Capital Metro memo (see attached image of memo obtained through an open records request by the Central Austin Community Development Corporation) attempts to summarize its correspondence with the FTA on the issue. Unfortunately, people have different interpretations of the memo and perhaps no knowledge of the actual contents of the correspondence.

Yet this memo was used as a sort of “trump card” to put to rest further consideration of the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor for the initial rail investment.

Fast forward to August 25, when I attended a press conference covering the #MetroRapid 803 launch. Bob Patrick, the regional administrator for our region, as well as Gail Lyssy, the deputy regional administrator, attended the event.

It occurred to me that, if so much speculation is swirling around the issue of FTA funding, why not just ask these FTA administrators directly, and in person? So I did. Would existing MetroRapid funding by the FTA preclude funding Austin’s first light #rail investment on the same corridor?

Bob’s response (paraphrasing): “As far as I know, one wouldn’t preclude the other, but I’d need to check with Washington.” But he then referred me to Gail Lyssy as someone who could give me a more definitive answer.

Gail’s verbatim reply, after I asked her the same question: “Absolutely not. We’d work it out.”

Now, I don’t think these informal exchanges, by themselves, put to rest speculation about FTA funding. But they do suggest the issue merits further exploration through direct contact with the FTA instead of continued speculation.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good” is the enemy of discourse.

I’ve just seen a leader of the getalong gang use that phrase twice in short succession. Cut that shit out.

1. Highland rail is NOT GOOD. It will, we believe, spend all remaining available local capital funds on a service which will increase rather than decrease operating costs. It’s the equivalent of using your last savings to buy into a new business which costs you money instead of making you money.

2. Guadalupe rail is NOT PERFECT. The perfect rail system is like these dumb subway maps floating around, or Patrick Goetz’ ideal of elevated rail through the whole city. Most cities build a Guadalamar surface line precisely because it’s good, not perfect; but good is affordable.

But primarily, can we all agree now that almost everybody who uses the phrase “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” is trying to snooker you into thinking that something bad is actually good? “We have to start somewhere” is meaningless if the thing you start on turns out to end everything because you ran out of money on a low ridership speculative development line.

That’s your quickie for today.

Bill Spelman was a bully.

The week before last, when I ripped one on the radio, I took hours off from work and family to go downtown to give a speech before the City Council in what was supposed to finally be the one and only chance to give meaningful public input on the Project Connect plan.

I had this outline ready to speak to – planned at a minimum of 3-6 minutes but expandable to the full 15 minutes that I apparently had to use thanks to others’ donations.

As you probably know, at the last second, council voted 5-2 (at Mayor Leffingwell and Mike Martinez’ seeming direction, with Councilmember Bill Spelman’s vote in favor) to limit testimony. Roughly 2 hours of anti-plan testimony had been signed up by then and roughly 30 minutes of pro-plan testimony. Each side was given 30 minutes; and the anti-plan side ended up with more like 20 due to interference by Leffingwell.

As I was walking back from the podium after my abbreviated speech, Spelman called out from the dais something like “I don’t remember seeing Mr. Dahmus or Mr. Morris at any CCAG meetings”.

This was bullying, people. We already have a significant and obvious (and appropriate) power imbalance. But to make it worse by trying to color perception of my short speech by calling my credibility into question was beyond the pale.

As a matter of fact, I gave a speech at the November CCAG (again having to take hours off of work and family obligations) – and Spelman didn’t hear that speech because he arrived late. And I know Scott Morris did so on at least one occasion as well. But this is also not the only time we’ve talked on this. His kid and my kid were in the same chess tournament last fall – and both Mr. Morris and myself talked with him at length on that occasion about our concerns.

After Spelman made that comment, I attempted to answer from the back of the room “I spoke in November” but was cut off by the mayor with “No speaking from the gallery”. Mr. Spelman did not ask me a question; he just let the perception stand that I had shown up at the last second and had no idea what I was talking about when I said there were no true opportunities to shape the plan.

I gave Mr. Spelman more than a week to communicate with me (I emailed him, attached below). He has not done so. The only conclusion I can come to now is that despite his public image as the affable wonk, Bill Spelman is every bit the bully as the mayor has already proven himself to be.

Sent on June 27th, to no response:

This message is from Mike Dahmus. [ mike@dahmus.org ]
Mr. Spelman, Regarding last night’s council meeting, I’m not sure you heard my response as the mayor immediately cut me off. I didn’t find your comment appropriate but am not sure you even heard the answer either. In fact, I gave a speech at the November CCAG (to which you arrived late). Like most of the people in the true grassroots, I have to take time off from work to speak to you in virtually any venue. Despite this, I also participated 4 or 5 times in Project Connect events. Kyle Keahy and Scott Gross have spent enough time talking to me that they know me well by now. My comments about public involvement are from experience. I’d like to give you a short window to respond and correct this misunderstanding before I open up. I’m quite angry still about last night, and I want to make sure you’re not included if you don’t deserve to be. Please let me know soon. Thanks, Mike Dahmus mike@dahmus.org

It’s July 9th. Nothing came back. I’ve waited long enough for an apology. Bill, you used to be one of my most admired Austin politicians, but at the end you were a bully. Austin deserved better than this.

spelman

My speech from last night

I ripped up one of the copies I had and gave a short excoriation of the lack of meaningful public input, as this KUT story indicates. Here’s the outline of the speech I was going to give (4 people had donated me time; I’m not sure I could have fleshed this out to 15 minutes if I tried).

Unlike some people who spoke with most or all of their time, I thought it more important to indicate that we didn’t agree with the decision to limit testimony (at the only real public hearing this thing was ever going to get).

1. Background
a. Member of AURA (founding member of the new version; supporter of the old)
b. UTC 2000-2005
i. Mention PG, modern UTC opposition in JD, MDG
c. Writing on transportation since 2003
d. On corner in 2000 supporting LRT with Eric Anderson (LAB)
e. Opposed Red Line in 2004 due to high operating subsidy and low benefit to Austinites
i. (mention this has borne out – operating subsidy ‘down’ from 35 to 18 after cancelling buses; census from rider at Lakeline showing 80% Cedar Park)
2. PC Process
a. In it since beginning.
b. Assured LG on table. No obstacles. (Also assured of this years ago when Rapid Bus was pushed).
c. Process clearly designed with thumb on scales
i. Subcorridors instead of routes
ii. West Campus into Core
iii. I35 ridership into Highland but neither I35 nor 183 ridership into Lamar
iv. Various ‘errors’ all of which hurt GL
v. Bad flier – canvassed at my house with flier designed to fool old people into dropping opposition to plan. No real plans for rail on Guadalupe!
d. At end, people still didn’t know what was best for them!
i. Repeated, strong, unbending preference for Lamar ‘subcorridor’
e. So we brought up the FTA out of the blue
i. Disputed by the guy in charge of Rapid Bus!
ii. Either lying now or lying at beginning.
iii. Getting mixed messages – we’ll do LG right after election but LG can’t ever be done because of traffic but we’ll do it next anyways.
f. Nobody in Austin should trust the output of a process this corrupt. You’re being fed a line about transparency that doesn’t hold up. None of our local transit activists who aren’t connected to the machine believe this.
i. National commentators:
1. Christof Spieler: "It's amazing: Austin, the self-proclaimed progressive city, could have had the best rail system in Texas but has the dumbest."
2. Steven Smith: "Austin light rail is becoming more of a joke by the minute. Textbook example of politics getting in the way of good transit planning."
3. Jeff Wood, Reconnecting America: "I'm going to use this as a bad transit planning example forever"
4. Others at the time ranging from “What A Sham” to “What A Shame”.
5. Honestly have not seen a single national transit person approve this plan.
3. The output
a. High operating subsidies even WITH assumed out of reality growth at Highland Mall
b. No way to tell whether new residents around Highland will work along rail line
i. Mention Mueller – people work all over the city
ii. Birds in hand on a good bus line are worth more than ten birds in bush (working all over city)
c. Theory pushed by Chamber of Commerce that people will hop off I-35, go to park and ride, look for space, walk to station platform, wait for train, ride slow meandering train downtown instead of riding
i. Park and rides DO work but only at far end of quicker, straighter, lines.
ii. Or like in Houston where parking is very very expensive.
d. Urban rail should be urban.
i. Walk to stations from dense residential areas, not apartments in a sea of parking
ii. Entire Airport Blvd segment a waste – only one side can ever be developed; no good crossings to other side and low-density over there
iii. Hancock area – residential only, not as walkable as we need; no opportunity for redevelopment more urban.
e. Respond to density instead of create it
i. Christof Spieler – density wants to be near other density (fill in gaps rather than greenfield)
ii. Most of our supposed TODs underperform compared to background conditions
iii. Remember the TOD up in Leander that was going to help the Red Line?
iv. Crestview Station <<< The Triangle
v. Not going to get high quality development in the planning straitjacket around Highland Mall (also remember birds in hand argument)
f. Even with their bogus assumptions
i. 18,000 boardings/day would be a bad light rail line. BAD.
ii. Houston around 35,000/day. Phoenix above 40,000.
g. Precludes expansions ANYWHERE else if line isn’t packed
i. Operating subsidy argument
ii. Horrible spine – slow, windy makes bad backbone.
h. Precludes expansions on GL forever even if line is good
i. We don’t trust you now after Project Connect Phase 1
ii. FTA reluctant to fund two early lines in ‘same’ area
iii. Local politics makes funding 3rd line apparently in NCentralAustin a nonstarter
iv. Are they promising Guadalupe or “Lamar subcorridor”?
1. Ridiculous longrange map proposes Guadalupe served after MLK but we suspect grade too high on MLK; doesn’t go south into core of downtown. Why not just stay on Guadalupe/Lavaca?
2. We don’t believe you anyways.
4. Conclusion
a. Bad rail line can end system rather than start it
b. Don’t mischaracterize our arguments. Highland is not just not our favorite line; it is a BAD line. Never get a chance to build system if you use up all your capital on a second high-operating-subsidy line.