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A quick thought for tonight’s exercise

to which I do not know how much energy I shall devote as it appears to be oriented towards an effort to get buy-in from the more general public who doesn’t even understand transit rather than correcting their horrible process so far. But consider this a cry for reinforcements, and an argument against civility at the expense of policy. I don’t know if I’ll even be involved this time.

Tonight SHOULD be about the citizens of Austin telling the planners that you see through this bullshit exercise in expensive obfuscation that the machinery of the city1 and Capital Metro2 have collectively foisted on you to try to make previous plans look less stupid. It SHOULD be impossible for the ringleaders to successfully pull off a propaganda coup. But are enough of you going to be willing to fight; to be uncivil?

Tin-Foil-Cat-Hat-1

Me, right now, I’m rapidly becoming disillusioned about the prospects of anything improving life in Austin as even most of the people on ‘my side’ of the rail debate in Austin continue to be more interested in staying friends with the gladhanding jackasses who got us to this point than doing the right thing3 . Yes, there are still far too many people who think JMVC is their buddy; who trust the lying smile from the guy paid to mislead you more than the asshole who tells the truth, because the paid misleader shakes your hand once a week and is at all the right meetings and all the right events, while the asshole is just an unpaid hobbyist you mostly hear from on the internet who can’t devote significant time to the meetingocracy as he continues to fail to find a job downtown4 and must, therefore, ‘participate’ almost exclusively electronically from his desk near godawful Westlake High.5 There are still far too many people who won’t go out on a limb in public beyond modestly suggesting ‘this is slightly less than optimal’ while thanking the people who produced the misleading propaganda for their hard work; and then attack the manners of those like me who keep wanting to point out the Emperor’s bare ass. And there are still far too many theoretically pro-transit people who will line up behind an unquestionably bad policy decision because they think it’s good politics.

thanks

Why thank Project Connect for all their hard work when it was done in the service of a transparently obviously rigged process designed to subvert good planning and the will of the people? If you’re a Democrat, do you go thank George Bush’s staff for working so hard to help him achieve his goals, when you disagree with both the goal and the method? I’m struggling to find better analogies but I find this incomprehensible – lots of people do hard work for bad actors; do they really deserve our THANKS in the process? When they KNOW they’re doing bad work and misleading people? (This is not an opinion, people; there’s no other rational explanation for some of PC’s whoppers. When the reaction of people who watch transit planning all over the country is “#WhatASham” or “I’m going to use this as an example of bad transit planning forever”, does anybody honestly expect thanks?)

That being said, it brings up an interesting parallel – there were many people in Congress who worked to pass Obamacare knowing it was the politically wrong thing to do but it was the right thing for the country. Many of these people were warned it might serve as the end of their political career. It certainly burned up all of Obama’s political capital.

As I recall, though, more than one was uncharacteristically honest about it – “if not for this, then why are we here?” at least one said. Why bother to accumulate the political power if it only leads to attempting to maintain or enhance said power, instead of doing the things that you were sent to do? Doesn’t mean you die on every hill; but if you’re not willing to die on ANY hill, why are you even there?

mr_smith_goes_to_washington_61073-1920x1200
“But what if people are embarassed? Never mind; I’d better just sit down and play along.”

The same is true here. What good is it to remain friends with the consultantocracy and the gladhanding jackasses if, at the end, the big payoff is a rail line to Highlandmueller with 8,000 boardings/day, and it’s 2040 before we can start to have another rail conversation?

Waiting for urban rail on the corridor that makes sense
Waiting for urban rail on the corridor that makes sense

If you’re falling in line because it’s good politics, in what world do you think we get to build a second urban rail line before those of us my age are dead, when the first line has 8,000 boardings a day? When we need somewhere in the low 20,000s to be considered a moderate success worth building off of?

Was the Red Line worth this very same compromise, which so many took in 2004 and urged me to take? I’d argue you’d be an idiot to think so today, but in fact, many still think so, despite the fact that it’s reached its ceiling at a whopping 2000 boardings/day; despite the fact that its monstrously high operating subsidies to mostly non-Austinites from mostly non-taxpaying cities have led to cuts in bus service for the people who pay >90% of Capital Metro’s bills. How was that a good policy decision, if it didn’t lead to another serious rail conversation until 2014; and if even then, we can’t have an honest POLICY decision about the next rail line – we still have to play idiot politics so certain people don’t look stupid about overselling the reality of Rapid Bus or Mueller? And how can those people think they made the right decision back in 2004? Hell if I know; I’m just a guy who can spend an hour every other week on this, but it sure seems obvious to me. Why is this so goddamn hard?

After I gave my short speech at the CCAG, I was actually lectured by a well-connected insider / former neighbor; and then later by a UT VP; that the fault for any lack of rail on Guadalupe/Lamar is mine, presumably for daring to continue to have contrary opinions on this and voicing them publically, which is Bad Form, instead of swallowing my objections and joining the meetingocracy.6 That it’s my fault that they have not been convinced – or in another sense, that the job in Westlake; raising three kids; trying to keep a company afloat and a couple of teams from being laid off; that these are all not valuable things to these people; and thus their inability to be convinced of what every transit professional from around the country finds inherently obvious is my fault because I haven’t quit those other responsibilities and spent months producing essentially the same research other allies already have only to have it ignored in favor of the continuous examples of ‘mistakes’, other faulty data and the rigged analysis produced by full-time people being paid to mislead the public.

Pictured: Project Connect
Pictured: Project Connect

I don’t have much more energy for this; and I’m not optimistic. At the end of this, I expect most of my putative allies on the G/L side to say “well, we tried” and go back to the consultantocracy, welcomed with open arms because they didn’t fight too hard.

Fuck that. Either fight hard or sell out; but don’t tell me you’re doing the first when you’re really doing the second. And you can’t fight at this point by staying friends with Project Connect; they are now the enemy. The place we have to win now is the City Council, because the CCAG has already made up their minds, and if we don’t get the City Council to FORCE them to change, it’s a done deal for Highlandmueller. This is going to require fighting to various degrees – Project Connect is a lost cause. If you could convince me of a rational path which includes “continuing to treat Project Connect like rational actors who are doing a good job and not trying to mislead people” and ends with victory, you’d have done so by now.

Your pal,
M1EK

  1. curiously, not city council itself, which has been to this point almost completely uninvolved in this process beyond the Mayor; see the end of the post for more []
  2. somewhat likewise as with the city, although their leadership is a little more bought-in to this than the city’s is []
  3. some will chide me that I give people like this guy way too much importance; that they aren’t decision-makers. True in a sense; but they are constantly in the ears of the decision-makers, and constantly in the ears of the media (except for one or two notable exceptions, and in one case, he’s actually convinced everybody on the pro-transit side that the media member was the problem to the point where I’m pretty sure I’m the only rail advocate who will even talk to the guy). Or they may say that nothing is served by fighting guys like that, but I firmly disagree; because NOT fighting guys like that gives him his power, which he then uses to co-opt you into providing legitimacy for this illegitimate process that will produce the predestined result. I say wait until this gladhanding jackass in question has convinced some members of the media and some council staff that you’re a troll before you judge me for caring about this too much. []
  4. note: it would have been a lot easier to do this if we had GOOD rail heading downtown and it wasn’t so ridiculous for non-single-website heavier-duty software companies to locate there []
  5. yes, this is part of the reason for the bile. God, I hate Westlake so much. []
  6. these are people who actually believe, or profess to believe, that you get rail on Guadalupe right after you build a massive failure to Highlandmueller; and thus if you push too hard now you’ll not get rail on Guadalupe, which is ridiculous as rail on Highlandmueller, guaranteed failure that it is, assures we won’t see rail on Guadalupe/Lamar until I’m long dead []

Teaser

Later this week, stay tuned for a new formula which takes into account service quality (measured by miles per hour), frequency, and, and this is the new part, end-user payment (fare).

Hint: MetroRapid’s going to cost $1.75 each way. Today’s #1 service costs $1 and today’s #101 service costs $1.50. Next year, the #1 will be cut in half and go up to $1.25; while MetroRapid will replace the #101, add frequency to the few stops it serves, and cost $1.75.

A message I just posted to the Hyde Park NA list

In response to this site and calls to support it. Some links added as I find them. The post to which I replied, paraphrased, is something like “We believe in urban density but not these boarding houses / dorm duplexes”. Don’t want to quote without permission, but that was the gist.

My response was:

So I too believe in urban density, and these buildings stink. I’m eager to meet new converts to the cause! Having lived for years on E 35th next to a big duplex and across an alley from a small apartment complex, I can tell you that even with a wonderful, responsive, landlord; the apartments beat the duplex hands-down for being good neighbors.

In the past, both Hyde Park NA and NUNA fought VMU on Guadalupe and then retreated to a position of demanding no parking reductions when the first battle was ‘lost’ (which effectively prevents all but the most high-dollar developments from materializing). The neighborhood plans call for minimal increases in density (in NUNA, it would be impossible to even rebuild some of the older apartment complexes on Speedway, for instance). NUNA fought the Villas on Guadalupe. Apartments and renters are demonized on this list. On and on and on.

So, I’m assuming those against these ‘dorm-style duplexes’, which are catering to an unmet-for-decades demand for student housing close enough to ride bikes to UT are going to be in favor of increased MF development not only on the edges of our neighborhood but on good transit corridors such as Speedway and Duval, right? New morning and all?

A long overdue attempt at clarifying some things

This still apparently gets some people the wrong way. Please read it all the way through. Vomited out quickly because I really don’t have time to blog, but I have even less time to say this 140 characters at a time.

Despite appearances from this blog, in real life I’m an introvert – fairly shy. Especially don’t like being in situations where I have to talk a lot to people I don’t know.

In 2000, I got on the Urban Transportation Commission and enjoyed the collegial relationship with a bunch of people who were like-minded to varying degrees, access to interesting subjects and speakers, the whole shebang. Still look back with fondness. In 2004, I became the public face of the “pro-rail but anti-Red-Line” campaign because nobody else would. This was a huge stretch for me – I’m not a politician; I don’t like to gladhand; and I’m petrified about giving speeches (not as much now, but definitely then).

It was just that important, though; nobody else would do it, so I had to. I gave speeches next to that asshat Jim Skaggs and said “if we build the Red Line, we can’t have good light rail”. I opposed the Red Line so vociferously and publically that, as expected, I got the boot from the UTC shortly after the election, and many people I used to talk to wouldn’t talk to me any more after that.

Of course, every prediction I made during that campaign turned out to be true – ridership was underwhelming; operating subsidies continue to be unmanageably huge.

Ever since then, I’ve struggled with people who don’t get why this was important. Why not just start with the Red Line and go from there, they say. Why not just expand the Red Line into something that works better?

This is insulting, people. Let me explain why.

1. I’m a smart guy.
2. I know transit really well.
3. I did something very uncomfortable for me for a long time and burned down a lot of stuff I liked to do because nobody else would say anything.

Do you folks honestly think I would have done that if I thought there was even a 1% chance we could get from “The Red Line exists” to “40,000 happy rail passengers a day at a sustainable operating subsidy of, say, 5 dollars per ride”? This was not and is not a simple difference of opinion. This was not me being a pessimist. I have lots of differences of opinion. I’m pessimistic and optimistic about lots of things. I wouldn’t go to all that trouble and burn down something I liked if I was only 99% sure the Red Line was going to be a disaster. Or 99.9%.

What most of the remaining optimists don’t understand is that there is quite literally NO way out of this mess that doesn’t require tearing up the Red Line unless you don’t care at all about how much money we spend on capital, operations, or both. Even the long-range plan the city and Cap Metro recently shat out admits this – getting up to something like 25,000 rail passengers in the year 2045 by, finally, ripping up part of the Red Line and replacing it with urban rail (of course, if we wait until 2045 to do this, it’ll be long too late for our city’s health, but still).

Even the city and Cap Metro get this. There’s no way to get “there” (40,000 happy rail passengers at a reasonable operating subsidy) from “here” (pretending the Red Line isn’t a huge disaster at operating subsidies of $25/ride for customers who mostly don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes). Again, the long-term plan of record right now is to build a bad urban rail line to Mueller, getting something shy of 10,000 riders/day; and then eventually building a second urban rail line that, once I’m retired or dead, will finally go up to about US 183 (pushing the DMU service out to the suburbs where it belonged all along). Again, this happens in 2045. At the end of all this, in 2045, we’ve spent five times as much money to get back to where we could be if we tore up the Red Line and built the 2000 route, and might get almost as many passengers, at a higher operating cost.

This isn’t a simple difference of opinion. For you to believe that there’s a way out of this mess now that doesn’t involve replacing the Red Line, you have to believe that I’m an idiot.

I’m not an idiot, people. We really are fucked.

Hope this helps.

Rapid [sic] Bus Fact Check: Will It Improve Frequency?

Please excuse the quick and multiple likely edits. Trying to squeeze this in just a few minutes.

The PR guys at Capital Metro have surfaced again – trying to convince us that MetroRapid is a real improvement for Central Austin (you know, where light rail should have gone). One of the claims gaining traction lately (in addition to the disproved claim that it will provide measurable speed and reliability benefits – please excuse link to old site but I have not yet imported the last 6 months of posts here) is that frequency in the core will improve dramatically.

Pure and simple: This is bullshit.

Current service on the #1 bus during the day is every 12 minutes (once you leave the core, very generously defined as the North Lamar Transit Center to the South Lamar Transit Center, it splits into 2 routes, each one of which runs every 24 minutes).

Full #1 schedule here: http://www.capmetro.org/riding/schedules.asp?f1=001

 

Here’s a snippet:

Note that the #1 runs every 12 minutes here. This continues all day until 2:45 PM, when it switches to every 13 minutes (due to worse traffic in the PM); only reducing frequency below that after 7:15 or so – gradually to 15 minutes and then 20 minutes.

Now what about the #101, you know, the bus route that the Rapid [sic] Bus is actually replacing?

Full schedule here: http://www.capmetro.org/riding/schedules.asp?f1=101

Here’s a snippet:

A little tricker since only some of the trips go all the way to the South Congress TC, but it does run at 15 minute frequency basically all day long.

What does this mean? It means that in an average hour, if you are on the #1 corridor anywhere in Central Austin, you will see 5 #1 buses and 4 #101 buses go by. For instance, this is what you would see southbound between 7:00 and 8:00 AM at The Triangle, where you can pick up either bus:

From Capital Metro’s interactive data:

101: 07:04am 07:24am 07:29am 07:44am

1L: 07:10am 07:34am 07:58am

1M: 07:22am 07:46am

Or, arranged in order:

 

Now here’s what frequency might look like with Rapid [sic] Bus if we run the 801 every 10 minutes and eliminate, let’s say, half of the #1 trips (Capital Metro is saying all #101 and some #1 trips will be eliminated):

 

Does anybody here think 8 is more than 9? Or, if you don’t like which 1L/1M trips I proposed for elimination, make your own choice – keep the first and third 1L and lose the second one; and keep the opposite 1Ms, and you still end up with 9. Oops.

Even if you kept all the #1 trips (i.e. did NOT take Capital Metro at their word that they plan on reducing #1 service), and you end up with 11 trips versus 9 – hardly a major improvement in frequency.

 

Now, will the service improve frequency for users of the #3? Yes, a little bit, but this is not the primary corridor being advertised – nor is it where most of the current travel demand exists.

So, on this fact check, Capital Metro fails. MetroRapid will NOT dramatically increase frequency in the urban core.

PS: This is the kind of analysis you should expect out of the Alliance for Public Transportation – who purports to be an independent voice for public transportation in our region but are really nothing but uncritical cheerleading lap-dogs for Capital Metro. I have the guts but not the time; they have the time but apparently not the guts. If you want more of this kind of stuff, ask THEM why they’re not doing their jobs, OK?

 

 

Red Line Debacle Pushes Urban Rail Further Into Hazy Future

2012 now. At the earliest. And don’t be fooled; this is a direct result of the abyssmal ridership on the Red Line, demonstrated in April as it fell off a cliff even while the bloom was supposed to still be on the rose.
I was actually not going to bother with a blog post on this since this is so demoralizing and I’m pretty damn busy with my real life and (NON-POLITICAL) real job, but two of my facebook ‘friends’ insist that it’s unbecoming to demand that those who have attacked and belittled for all these years sack up and admit they were wrong. I don’t take direction well.
From this post in 2004:

The danger here is that a starter line that is bad ENOUGH will completely destroy the momentum among the public (that actually WANTS rail right now by at least a slim margin, in Austin itself). This is what happened in South Florida with a system which is identical in every way that matters to the one proposed by Capital Metro.

From another 2004 post:

The second message, and the one I’ll talk about today, is the idea that we can get light rail in the urban core “later” if we approve this plan now. The genius of this message is that it does a fairly good job of lumping opponents like me in with kooky pie-in-the-sky non-pragmatists who are unwilling to get something running on the ground because of the pursuit of the perfect solution.
The problem is that this message is misleading at best, and a lie at worst. The reason to oppose this plan is because it’s deadly to future transit operations in this city. IE, not just because it doesn’t do enough right away, but because it will actively prevent more effective solutions from ever happening.

Hey, decision-makers? How about we stop listening to the guys who were wrong, and start talking again to the guy who was right? You have my email address; some of you even wrote back once or twice.

Cleaning up yesterday’s entry

Let’s start fresh with an updated conclusion:
It is very unlikely that any Crestview Station residents who work at UT can get any utility out of the Red Line. Residents of the complex itself form the best case scenario for people getting on at this stop, since everybody else would be transferring by bus (nearby residential density is fairly low and paths to the site are unpleasant; and there is no parking lot at this station). Following from that, we can conclude that the Crestview stop isn’t going to help anybody living in Austin who works at UT. (I had intended to pick some heavily publicized sources and destinations and use those as examples, but in the future I’ll try to mention both major destinations in future posts so that the immediate counter-argument doesn’t break out like it did yesterday. Bear in mind that the Capitol Complex is basically the same as UT as far as the endpoint is concerned – the shuttle rides are similar length).
Although I meant to only cover UT with that post, my conclusion was overly broad (mentioning zero benefit without specifying destination). “The Error Term” and I then hashed out that if you live at Crestview and work precisely at the Frost Bank Tower (the only downtown office building within the typically acceptable 1/4-mile walk from the Red Line terminus), you may see up to a 3-minute improvement on your commute over the express bus. You may also be a bit slower than the express bus option, depending on how fast you walk. (Google says 6 minutes, by the way; I am remembering 10 minutes from personal experience – I would have made 5 before the arthritis but I don’t know that your average middle-aged person in nice clothes is going to want to walk that fast).
This morning, while returning from the car dealer (maintenance), and avoiding a much-worse-than-usual parking lot on I-35, I went through East Austin and drove most of the shuttle route which applied yesterday. At 8:38, I turned from Airport on to MLK and immediately noticed that the entrance/exit to the Red Line station has nothing but a flashing light. How long is that ‘quick’ shuttle going to have to wait to pull out and turn left on to MLK?. I then ended up passing JMVC, I think, waiting for the #18; proceeded to hit almost every green light (including straight across I-35 without waiting); and got to the Trinity/MLK intersection at 8:44.
Conclusion: Best-case scenaro (late arrival, no major bus wait to leave the complex) hits just under 10 minutes (a minute or less to get on to MLK; 2-3 more minutes to get to the circle at 23rd – 4-way stops, other traffic in the way there). Unfortunately, I don’t know I’ll have the chance to try an earlier crossing of the interstate with more traffic, maybe hitting the 8:00 arrivals; and I know from painful experience that the outbound traffic in the evening is much worse.
I intend to hit many other prospective use cases (as I did before, when schedules were much less firm). Suggestions for ones I should do first are welcome.