Category Archives: I Told You So

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?

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.

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.

Project Connect Phase 1 Document Revealed!

I discovered this today, and it clearly shows Project Connect did, in fact, rate the top four options against each other (and some others we hadn’t heard of) in a tournament, of sorts, to get to where we are now. It’s a shame it took this long for this proof to be revealed; I regret all my complaints up to this point. Click on the image for the full-size version.

20140320ProjectConnectBracket

Project Connect Phase 1 Lie Number 1

Lie #1 during Phase 1 of Project Connect was the justification of the collapsing of the West Campus and UT “subcorridors” (zones) into the Core subcorridor/zone “so we could ensure they would both be served by any initial alignment”.

At the time, on November 1st, I made this post, which asserted that there was no way this decision was being made to ‘serve’ West Campus; that, in fact, it was being made to avoid having to serve West Campus (which would obviously imply a route on Guadalupe).

Now, the final alignment through campus has been decided. Let’s see what we got. Click on most of these to make them bigger.

From Project Connect’s presentation to the CCAG on Friday February 21st:

20140221_PC_Campus_Area

Huh. Look at that. Not only do we not even see West Campus, but we can’t even see the western half OF campus. What a shock!

But it’s probably just a misleading image, right? There’s no way Project Connect would have told everybody they were going to serve West Campus and then not do so – West Campus must be just right underneath the words on the left, right?

Let’s see how far away a couple points on San Jacinto are from a location two blocks west of Guadalupe, using Google Earth. (The center of density in West Campus is not on Guadalupe – the best height entitlements are actually several blocks to the west. A ‘population center’ of West Campus in a few years will likely be 3 or 4 blocks west of Guadalupe; so me using 2 blocks is being generous to Project Connect).

Remember that the rule of thumb in transit planning for years has been that most people will not regularly walk more than a quarter of a mile from their home to their transit stop (or from their transit stop to their office). A few will do more, but the quarter-mile rule ensures you will get most of your possible transit market. Some people lately have tried to assert that good rail transit can do the same thing with a half-mile walking radius; in my opinion, this works in some cities where parking is quite difficult, but primarily on the home end of the trip, not the office end.

First, from 21st and San Jacinto to two blocks west of Guadalupe on 21st:

20140221_21SJ_TO_WC

 

0.6 miles. The main density of West Campus is definitely not served by San Jacinto even by the most generous standard. Guadalupe itself is 0.48 miles away; served only barely by the most generous standard. In other words, the side of campus with the most activity is well outside the commonly accepted walking radius and just barely inside the most generous one.

Now let’s try 24th.

20140221_24SJ_TO_WC

 

0.58 miles to where West Campus’ density starts. West Campus is not served at all by a stop here, either.

Finally, Dean Keeton and San Jacinto:

20140221_DKSJ_TO_WC

 

 

 

Nope. 0.54 miles to the start of West Campus’ density. To the start. Still outside even the most generous reading of “served”.

Project Connect, the claim of yours made back in November is still a lie.

Lie-stamp

What bad guys can accomplish

Over the last few years, I’ve written many times on this blog that Capital Metro was eliminating half of the local service on the route 1 corridor when the route 801 (MetroRapid, or so-called “Rapid Bus”) started service. Many, many times. Here’s one example from last June. Here’s another from October, 2011.

Recently, hundreds of people have expressed surprise and dismay when the events I’ve been telling you about for years actually came to pass. Richard Whitaker came out of the woodwork and talked to me while I was practically dying of the flu on a business trip in Atlanta, shocked that the locals were being eliminated. Nobody on reddit saw it coming. Nobody in the local TV media saw it coming.

Now it’s here, and again, everybody is surprised and dismayed.

The dismay is obvious. But why the surprise?

Honestly? It’s due, in major part, to the fact that one particular employee of Capital Metro has spent years convincing decision-makers and media-members that the author of this blog is a troll who has no idea what he’s talking about. Yes, I know this for a fact.

The last major exchange that Capital Metro employee and I had is still burned into my mind. It was on the same topic as the blog link featured further down this page, but I have yet to be able to get a twitter search tool to bring up the thread. Basically, I spent a couple of hours while on a layover in the DFW airport a couple of years ago making the fact-based case in that blog post below (about the #9 being cancelled without its planned replacement) in tweet form, calmly and rationally, only to be repeatedly told by that Capital Metro employee that I was wrong; and at the end, to be cut off again and labelled a troll. After that, I lost a considerable amount of access I previously had to some members of the media, city council and staff, and other decision-makers and thought leaders. I observed some activity myself where said Capital Metro employee was undermining yours truly with media members, and heard much more from others.

Today, that same Capital Metro employee was given an attaboy by somebody who I respect for supposedly dealing with constructive criticism well. This doesn’t make me feel happy about that person I respect, and it doesn’t make me happy about trusting the organization he leads. I hope this is just a momentary mistake.

Here’s the post which begins by showing how the Capital Metro employee in question really deals with constructive criticism, and my fact-based rebuttal to his dismissive aside to a third-party. Click the big words right after this.

Whole Shakers Of Salt, from 2010

I’ve been told by the leaders of the organization I mentioned above that I’m wrong for attacking said Capital Metro employee, even after that employee lied repeatedly during the Project Connect process. I’ve let leaders of the organization I mentioned above know that the Capital Metro employee in question made some clumsy threats against another supporter of said organization which were not consistent with the image of that Capital Metro employee that they continue to firmly grasp to. After all this, I find myself wondering what it takes to make those people angry. I know I’ve done so, by taking issue with their strategy and tactics both privately and publically, but apparently actually lying in order to steal political capital to support a hare-brained, mendacious, underhanded political process is just A-OK, as long as they see you a lot and you smile and shake their hand while stabbing them in the back. You’ll still be their chum, and still get lionized for your ability to handle constructive criticism.

Again, I hope I’m wrong. But like them, I’m reading some tea leaves.

MetroRapid: What you REALLY need to know

A comment I posted to this PR fluff piece by Movability:

What you need to know is that this REDUCES frequency for current 1/101 riders north of the river, because the 1L is being eliminated along with the 101. If you’re boarding at a stop served by both the 1 and 101 today, the same total number of 1 and 801 buses will stop there in the future; the mix will just change to fewer 1s. If you’re boarding at a stop served only by the 1L/1M today, you’re going to lose half your buses.

What you need to know is that this was projected to be no faster than the 101 in early plans, and now data sent to google maps actually shows it being slower than the 101 (not sure if this is legitimate or a hiccup, but it’s not a good sign).

And finally, what you need to know is that this will cost riders a lot more to ride. Despite the fact that the 1 route was quite likely the least subsidized bus route in the city before this change, fares are going up due to this change (the 801 will cost quite a bit more than the 1 did).

The FTA and last night

if you parse Langmore’s comments it makes me think he was asking them about cancelling the project now (rather than moving the middle third in 8 years); and Project Connect staff were vocal and public at the beginning of the process that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and that we should not act as if rapid bus precluded urban rail there.

They either lied then or they’re lying now. Personally, I believe they lied then in order to try to get more buy-in for this process (I myself believed Rapid Bus effectively precluded urban rail and was convinced to believe it might not by those staff members); but it could be now, too; the mixed messages last night about the FTA maybe considering Rapid Bus ‘permanent’ versus what the City Council eventually threw in as a fig leaf is just one obvious indicator.

The fact that the guy who ran the Rapid Bus project at Capital Metro came up and spoke in favor of Lamar and said he doesn’t buy the FTA argument should tell you something.

No sir, I don’t buy it.

No, the Riley fig leaf last night changes nothing – it does not commit to a fair evaluation of the Lamar/Guadalupe ROUTE against whatever is shat out for Highlandmall or Highlandmueller; and it does not force a real answer about the FTA’s opinion about moving Rapid Bus in 2020 or 2022 or whenever (instead of John Langmore’s claims that made it pretty clear he implied to them he wanted an opinion on cancelling it today, in 2013). Its only tangible effect would be an attempt to delay opposition until it’s too late.

I’m continuing to urge all transit advocates to vote AGAINST the bond referendum in 2014.

Reaction from around the dial

Going backwards; reaction from around the country to the Project Connect rec and the Mayor’s endorsement of the process and the result:

Stephen Smith at Next City has just published Transit Advocates None Too Pleased About Austin’s Light Rail Corridor Selection in which I am quoted as well as several friends-of-the-crackplog.

Pretty much every urbanist/transitophile in Austin came out of the woodwork last night and contested JMVC’s spin on Project Connect, for which I am eternally grateful as I was tied up learning how to be a BB-gun rangemaster and then trying to sleep off this cold before the campout this weekend.

In Fact Daily (subscription) published a story yesterday in which I square off against the mayor quote for quote.

Friend-of-the-crackplog from LA “Let’s Go LA retweeted me: “.@JimmyFlannigan If the first line isn’t a slam dunk, overflowing with people, we never get to build line 2. Rigged process = dumb decision.”

Several folks from twitter who work in transit around the country that I mentioned during my speech on Friday included Jeff Wood from Reconnecting America (“I’m going to use this as an example of bad transit planning forever”) and Patrick McDonough from RTP (“Be on lookout for “design alternatives” under study in EIS to see if original Mueller alignment has “lower impacts.” #WhatASham”)

So far, not one single person outside of Austin with any history on transit has said they agree with this recommendation.