Category Archives: PS: I am not a crackpot

Project Connect 2.0: Now More Than Ever

So I went to a Project Connect 2.0 presentation on Tuesday night, organized by Friends of Hyde Park. As is my wont, I also asked some pointed questions. You can get the original notes and detailed tweetstorm in yesterday’s post. Today’s is about the general things I noticed. “Javier” is Javier Arguello, “Jackie” is Jackie Nirenberg. So, here we go:

Their top ‘lesson learned’ from 2014 was: “we didn’t have long enough to convince people that the Highland/EastRiverside line was good”. 

Image by Marcus Denton
Image by Marcus Denton

(My paraphrase). I did pointedly and directly ask this question and was unsatisfied with the response. A member of the CAG has confirmed to me in private that they keep asking this question and keep getting this deeply unsatisfying response, so it is clear to me that Capital Metro will admit to no wrongdoing in Project Connect 1.0 despite the vast majority of transit activists eventually agreeing that their process was corrupt and, in the end, publicly opposing their proposal. (I interrupted at one point and reminded them how unprecedented that was – I’m not aware of any other case in the entire country where a major transit proposal was so publically opposed by such a large group of transit activists from that city).

They keep claiming nothing is decided, but it’s clearly decided in some ways.

The framework for discussion has been set in a way that heavily disfavors Guadalupe/Lamar rail. There are three ‘segments’ of travel they put up on the screen; as well as a slide which shows “previous HCT studies”. Guadalupe/Lamar is not in the top slide (most important service), nor is it listed in “previous HCT studies”. It is instead consigned to the second group, called “connector corridors”, implying that Capital Metro has already decided that it cannot be the spine of the transit network. The images they chose to prove that they are ‘mode-neutral’ are, in order, a bad modern streetcar stuck in traffic, a bad BRT system that has proved far less than advertised (Clevelend), and a bad freeway BRT system (Minneapolis). I directly asked Javier why they chose these images, and he claimed it was just random chance. Sure it was.

They keep claiming they’re not going to waste a ton of time on more planning, because “the plans are already on the shelves”

yet they are ignoring the 2000 light rail plan, as shown above. In fact, later in the night, Javier tried to claim we didn’t know what people would or wouldn’t support, so I asked him directly “what corridor got the most support in Project Connect 1.0”, and to his credit, he finally answered directly: “Guadalupe/Lamar”.

They really want to triple down on the Red Line.

Javier claimed at one point that reputable people believe they can get 32,000 boardings per day by making more investments in that corridor. Not actual extensions of the line, mind you. He claims that they believe they can get as many riders as a below-average light rail line by simply adding more double-tracked segments and buying more train cars. This is, of course, complete bullshit.

now-more-than-ever-posters

They really want to play up investment in freeway transit.

Bus stop on I-35. Not our I-35, Minneapolis'.
Bus stop on I-35. Not our I-35, Minneapolis’.

Javier talked up Mopac express lanes on numerous occasions, which are sort-of OK in my book (many riders of express buses actually pay taxes to Capital Metro, unlike the median Red Line rider). But they’re not actual transformative transit in the land use perspective, for sure. I-35 BRT is a different animal. They envision stations in the freeway corridor – and then, see the next point, they envision circulating passengers off that presumed spine with another bus trip, ignoring the fact that people with actual choices don’t typically take 2-bus rides to work every day.

They have learned that “last-mile problem” is a get out of jail free card for bad transit.

spinejellyfish

I blame every other transit advocate in Austin for continuing to enable this excuse. As I often say, if your transit provider spends a lot of time talking about their last mile problem, you have a bad transit system. No, not every location can be served without lots of transfers. But when the majority of your passengers on your theoretical ‘spine’ have to transfer, YOU HAVE A BAD SPINE, DAWG. Spines need to go down the middle and get to the good stuff. And especially on the ‘work end’ of the trip (not the ‘home end’): if a large percentage of your riders have to transfer off the spine, you’ve chosen poorly.

As Christof Spieler put it a while back:

For Houston, the strategy meant building a light rail through the city’s primary urban corridor, where lots of people already live and work.

Cities often shy away from that approach because it’s more expensive and disruptive to lay tracks in such populated locations. But the factors that make it difficult to build light rail there were exactly the things that made it the right place to have light rail.

“Often, light rail is driven by people saying, ‘we need light rail somewhere,’ and the political process will tend to put it where it doesn’t upset anyone, where it isn’t in the way of anything,” said Spieler, who is also the head of planning for Houston-based architecture firm Morris. “That is generally not a high ridership corridor. The congested places are the places people are trying to go.”

And since transit riders are almost always pedestrians on each end of their trip, you can only expect riders to walk to destinations within a quarter mile of a station. That makes it especially important to have stations right in the center of the action, not just near it.

“If you propose transit and no one is against it, it’s a bad project,” Spieler said. “Do you build it where it’s needed, or where it’s easy? That’s the central tension in U.S. cities, and too often they make decisions based on what’s easy.”

They have also learned that “we have to fix land use” is another get out of jail free card for bad transit.

The #1, after headways were cut to 30 minutes on the best land use corridor in the city
The #1, after headways were cut to 30 minutes on the best land use corridor in the city

Unfortunately, by the point they deployed this chestnut, a lot of people had already left, and I had monopolized too much of the Q&A period. I did get in a “hey, you guys remember what happened to the bus service at that VMU on North Loop and Lamar”, but it was too late to force a response. Suffice to say, this gets filed under “THANKS, JULIO!”

 

They are still treating public input as a charade.

Both Javier and Jackie asked me to keep participating and keep giving input, and Javier expressed frustration at how many times he has heard versions of “you guys lied during Project Connect 1.0, why should we trust you now”. There was also one unsubtle dig during the Q&A period. The most fun part of the night for me was when Javier tried to turn around my “so what did you learn from the 2014 election loss” question at me and asked me why the 2000 rail plan lost. I think people around me saw my eyes turn to saucers and drool start to drip from my mouth at that spicy meatball, which I of course answered with a 60-second version of this old post1.

Oh, and also: I didn’t have the presence of mind to remind them of a pretty important part of the public involvement process that one of their predecessors accomplished…

blockedbycm

See also:

  1. and special thanks to Roger Cauvin who chimed in with a “and by the way it passed in the city limits” exclamation point which I forgot to say []

First look at Project Connect 2.0

Thanks to the Friends of Hyde Park, I got presented at last night by Project Connect (2.0, now more than ever, etc etc). Here are my notes from the event, followed by a storify of the livetweets. Next post will be a next-day summary.


Soft launch

Trying to downplay urban rail component and talk up regional plan

New "focus area" 183 mopac BW

CBD defined 15 BS/R Lamar 35

3 examples of HCT are KC streetcar, Cleve BRT, shitty Minn 35 BRT

"Tired of planning", want our input from the beginning

Phased approach:

1.big ideas bold starts - Tier 1 feasibility analysis 6-9m

2.real solutions for real problems - tier 2 tech eval 14-18m

3. Path to implementation - Lpa selection 4-6m

Bragging about talking to COA, TXDOT, CTRMA

MENTIONING GL but hedging with references to city having to give ROW and "people still want to drive" clearly shaping expectations away from there already.

Phase 1 notes mention "not doing corridor planning", taking things done in the past. One input shown as "recommendations from previous plans".

Output is draft list of projects and transit corridors

Vetted with public and stakeholders

Draft tier 1 screening criteria (also claim vetted with public and stakehold)

CMTA Financial Capability Analysis

Looking over next 25 years at just cap metro financial capacity but assume some help on top

Mentions park and rides are a bad investment

Takes a long convoluted way to explain "need to move more people in less space"

Claims Red Line isn't finished. Only 4 cars, corridor can support 14!

Claims Red Line would have 32000 trips per day if they got enough infrastructure. And op subsidy would go down from $22 to 7.

Their map of corridors studied for hCT in the past does not include GL. GL at same level as RR now in 2nd class map of "connector corridors"...

Also mentions obliquely Elgin Line (other rail lines they own).

Last mile connections. Drink!

New slide draft enhancement projects - where they talk up MR and RL.

Downtown entryways talks up priority treatments at i35 and river crossings and then C2025

Bunch of bullshit about mobility hubs

Map asking for priority lanes on SL, SC. North of river focus on a new RL station, and some useless MR crap.

Public involvement process schedule shows they're already 3/4 done with "listen and inform" phase but "haven't done anything" meaning no decisions. Major event on Feb 4. Public launch Jan to feb through mar 2017.

Now Annick jumps in to talk strategic mobility plan on whiteboard

Compact and connected. Drink!

Response to my comment asking specifically for 2014 failure was that they didn't have enough time to 'compare' to Guadalupe and Lamar. Then some bullshit about lack of regional.

And the storify of the tweets:

Short, cheaply done, endorsement against Prop 1

All prop 1’s suck, at least lately.

Two facebook comments I have assembled into what will hopefully give you the general gist of my position:

Austin has a nearly perfect record of projects being sold as “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” when they are actually making things worse, and this bond is no exception. The amount of money dedicated to speeding suburban commutes for the mayor’s donor class (as well as “getting buses out of your way”) vastly dwarfs what little good will result from the crumbs thrown to bike and pedestrian projects. It makes things worse for transit by promoting bus pull-outs (which even when paired with queue jump signals can only make things worse for transit, not better). And it quite likely prevents rail transit from ever being built on our best transit corridor.

I recommend people vote no.

(and then, in response to a “so what would YOU do, M1EK” reply):

1. No suburban spending at all (no 360, no North Lamar, no 969). Spending general funds on state highways makes the gas tax subsidy to the suburbs even worse.

2. No beautification spending at all. While I like medians more than chicken lanes, the COC should pay for it.

3. No reserved transit lanes on the route the voters just rejected.

4. No transit-and-turn lanes on Guadalupe, which will preclude rail and not do much good for buses.

5. At the end of this, float a $200M bond for bike/ped projects only. That saves enough bond capacity for rail later.

De-endorsement of AURA

This has to be quick because I’m very busy today.

I had high hopes for the AURA organization as an honest, ethical, freedom-oriented counterbalance to the ANC that could act as a “force-multiplier”, in which I could asynchronously and remotely debate policy and grow the group’s numbers so we could decide what to do together and then take turns showing up in person to do it. The idea was that unlike the ANC, most urbanists have jobs (and some even have families), so we shouldn’t strive to each attend meetings individually over and over again to hope to effect change; we should instead focus on our strengths – honest debate, open transparent communication, and then, as I said, take turns showing up and expressing the will of the group. Didn’t turn out that way, obviously. As my few remaining readers may know, I left the AURA organization quite some time ago due to disagreements about process (namely: they turned into the meetingocracy I had hoped they would be an antidote for1 ).

Ever since then, we have existed in a state of mostly alliance. Mostly. I assisted on several efforts after I was no longer an official member of the group. Some day I’ll tell you about them. But several recent shifts and failures to act by the group are incompatible with my firmly held beliefs about urbanism and ethics and freedom – things like abandoning the lower income riders of Capital Metro’s old local bus routes; or attaching burdensome regulations on landlords that will inevitably inhibit housing supply. Many of these decisions were clearly made to attempt to curry favor with the establishment politicians and hangers-on here in Austin.

As, unfortunately, was a change to the #atxurbanists facebook group, which is currently the only feasible place to talk about urbanism in Austin. At the request of the people who brought you the Project Connect 2014 Lie Festival, the board members of AURA who also serve as moderators of that group instituted a new set of rules which seemed explicitly designed to prevent those establishment folks from being held accountable for their words and their actions.

At the time those rules were changed, I directly warned the moderators what I would do if the rules did what I was fairly certain they were designed to do2.

That day has come. Yesterday, three board members of AURA exercised those powers in a capricious, malicious, and damaging fashion, against yours truly, in a way that was a direct assault on my credibility and integrity; and I thus have no reasonable choice but to follow through with my promises. I did, as I often do, allow them time to reconsider their actions3. They have chosen not to.

But as is often the case with me, I probably should have done this a while ago. The recent entanglements with CNU (a hopelessly corrupt local organization) and failure to even slightly hold Capital Metro accountable (as well as failing to assist in efforts to do rail instead of a highway bond for 2016) should have been the things that made me write this post. However, it usually takes getting angry to motivate me to prioritize what often seems like a pointless exercise. Well, now I’m angry, and I’m doing it.

If you believe as I do – that behavior matters, but also, that policy matters; that freedom matters; that giving people more freedom in cities leads to better outcomes, rather than getting entangled with identity politics and SJW nonsense, then I urge you to reconsider your own membership and/or support of this group. Because they haven’t been the AURA I hoped they would be for a long time now.

Your pal,
M1EK

  1. this is due to a combination of factors: because they started relying more on in-person meetings, with the backup being synchronous (live) online meetings, and because they decided open and robust debate on their e-mail list was no longer welcome. My only realistic ways of participating, in other words, were marginalized over time. []
  2. eliminate any semblance of tough but honest ideological attacks against Austin’s political establishment through pretense of maintaining ‘civility’ []
  3. as I first did to the person who eventually prompted my retaliatory, but completely proportional, comment in reponse to a personal attack []

A letter I just sent to City Council

Mayor and council members: I want to call your attention to the Planning Commission meeting this week – specifically the treatment given by some of the commissioners to Tyler Markham, a UT student and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. If you watch the video record of the meeting, I believe you will see a young man who is highly professional trying to make a decent, objective, case for something he believes in. For his trouble, he’s treated aggressively and unprofessionally by several members of the Planning Commission. I myself served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000-2005, and would never have dreamed of treating a speaker in the way these commissioners have treated Mr. Markham. I urge you to reprimand your appointees and make it clear to them that their behavior was unacceptable.

Austin’s land use ISN’T the problem behind Capital Metro’s poor ridership

I just sent the slideshare version (contains more slides) to all city council members. I’ve exported some to images for this blog post; but the slideshare may be a better viewing experience if your platform permits it.


Continue reading Austin’s land use ISN’T the problem behind Capital Metro’s poor ridership

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.

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.