Category Archives: I Get Hate Mail

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.

Great responses to John Langmore

On days like this where I have no time it’s so nice that others have picked up the slack. I’m just going to republish their comments to Langmore’s disingenuous and mendacious letter to the Chronicle. It is just horrible that a guy like Langmore, a rail consultant responsible for many horrible projects that have set back transit for years due to low ridership and huge operating subsidies, has this kind of soapbox and power.

First, from Chris Lazaro:

One of my biggest problems with Mr. Langmore’s letter is not that he misinterpreted our call to consider Lamar/Guadalupe as a call to pull the plug on MetroRapid (which is not true, by the way). Rather, my biggest issue here is this data that he and others are so quick to trust, despite warnings from trustworthy professionals in the transportation field that the data is both flawed and incomplete.

I can tell you that, as a transportation planner myself, garbage in absolutely equals garbage out–and that is precisely what is happening here. Frankly, some of the metrics used by the Project Connect team to evaluate the transit sub-corridors is laughable and, at the least, should not have been given nearly as much weight as they were. The team can pretend that they altered weights and still identified Highland as the #2 route, but when some of the appropriate datasets are ignored altogether, how can we trust that we have been given the complete picture?

And, beside all of that, Langmore and other Council members have spent all this time defending the Highland sub-corridor that East Riverside (a corridor that we all agree makes sense) is quickly falling by the wayside. It is becoming evident that the Mayor wanted Highland to move into the Phase 2 study, regardless of what else was going on.

At the very least, Langmore, Leffingwell, and the rest of City Council needs to come clean about their intentions for Austin’s next transit investment. If it is to serve the interests of ACC and the Seton Medical Center, then they need to admit that. Hiding behind threats of lost funding and lost support from the FTA will not suffice.

Last, but not least, cities across this country sell Bus Rapid Transit to its residents as an interim solution until rail is affordable along a particular corridor. In other words, cities invest in BRT because they believe it is viable for fixed rail (streetcar, light rail, etc.) and that the system can later be upgraded. If Austin instead wants to argue that its pseudo-BRT system actually precludes future rail investment, then we MUST stop using this upgradability as a selling feature. Period.

It’s time that Langmore, the Mayor, the rest of Council and the Project Connect team be honest about what is happening.

Second, from Cory Brown:

t’s not the least bit unreasonable to question the institutional support of organizations that brought us MetroRail, and its expensive rider subsidies.

It’s also not unreasonable to question the claims of Mr. Langmore, who has chosen to publicly ignore the truth. The next person Mr. Langmore can name as suggesting we “pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens” will be the first.

If Mr. Langmore & CapMetro can’t be truthful regarding advocates who merely disagree with one facet of their proposal, how can we trust them when it comes to operational costs & ridership estimates?

Third, from Niran Babaloa:

John Langmore’s willingness to misrepresent the arguments of the folks he disagrees with is insulting. Who said we should “pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens”? The message he has heard from the citizens who disagree with him is clear: do not build a rail line to Highland before putting rail on Lamar. Either start with a line on Lamar and move MetroRapid when the rail line opens a decade from now, or start with East Riverside so Lamar can come second.

As an exercise for the reader, how often do you find yourself needing to head to places on Guadalupe and Lamar? How often for Red River? If you’re like most of the Austinites that are forced to waste their time stuck in traffic on the Drag each day, it’s clear that there are tons of people who want to go places along the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor. We should put rail there.

The question before us is timing. Ideally, we’d start with Lamar, which has the jobs and housing that make it the highest transit ridership already. A good plan B would be starting with East Riverside, where ridership is high, and the zoning allows for enough density for the ridership to be even higher. Highland, however, doesn’t have the density of people or jobs to make for a blockbuster first line, which endangers our chances of building a second and a third.

The biggest issue with Highland is that there is no way voters will approve rail down Lamar once there’s a line to Highland. A second line through Hyde Park before the rest of the city has seen any rail won’t seem fair to most people, and I don’t blame them. Rail to Highland means rail on our best transit corridor won’t happen until the middle of the century. If the places that people want to go can only be reached by buses stuck in traffic, people will stay in their cars, traffic will stay terrible, and we won’t become a city where it’s normal to take transit for decades.

This is the future that the citizens who have been paying attention are trying to avoid. We’re not trying to “pull the plug” on MetroRapid. We’re trying to avoid making the mistake of allowing the backbone of our transit system to remain slow for decades. Join us, and tell city council that if they put a rail line to Highland on the ballot, you’ll vote against it.

Finally, Mark Cathcart expresses his concerns in a separate post

Oh, and I’m giving John a rare Worst Person In Austin award. Well done.

Laura Morrison’s innocent act

Laura Morrison’s innocence defense regarding Shady Grove is all over the news – her staffer even tried damage control in a definitely unfriendly forum over the weekend as well.
It kind of falls apart when you find, as I did today, these two sources:
Citizine Mag “Keep Austin Quiet”

Gary Etie says that “Neighborhood Groups, Council Member Morrison, certain City of Austin attorneys, et al, brought over an existing 70 dB limit that was found in the Zoning section of the Code, Chapter 25-2, and brought that language over to the Outdoor Music Venue Permit Amendment that was passed just prior to SXSW, while everybody was too busy to do anything to stop them. An Outdoor Music Venue Permit is a separate ‘Noise and Sound’ permit, issued under the Noise and Sound Ordinance, and must be obtained in addition to the Building Permit that establishes Use as a Restaurant or Cocktail Lounge.”

and AustinCityPermits.com blog: (and updated per Gary Etie’s update):

In this video, City Council member Laura Morrison, who was instrumental in passing the Amendment that was specifically used against Shady Grove, points out that the problem was that “Shady Grove’s Permit had expired”. What Ms Morrison fails to point out is that the
March 23rd expiration date was part of (see correction and update in latest post) problems that are now coming around are related to the specific details contained in Amendments that
she ramrodded through on March 12th 2009, on the consent agenda (!), as an Emergency item (!), right before SxSW, when anyone involved in the music business was going to be too busy to rally opposition. I don’t think the problem is going to go away, until Ms. Morrison either gets it, and stops carrying the ball for the voter block she wants to retain, or is removed from the process, through recall.. I think Ms. Morrison is that good, at manipulation of the planning process, and it’s that serious, in determining the future of music, in Austin.

Apparently Jeff Jack is pulling the same “who, me?” act on ANCTALK. Others will have to fight that battle, as I left there a very long time ago.
Back to work…

Rapid Bus update

So the latest map made me and some other folks I know have greater doubts that the service would operate on Guadalupe in front of UT (made it actually appear as if it was running on Lamar to MLK, and then coming up the hill to Guadalupe/Lavaca after that). Turns out I should have saved the image and then loaded up offline; as you’ll see if you click on it below.
Capital Metro has finally confirmed that it’s still Guadalupe, although they insist their map wasn’t confusing. At all. Here it is; you be the judge – in retrospect you can sort of see the Lamar wiggle on the left; but on the other hand, why is the UT logo so far away from the supposed Guadalupe line; and what’s the grey line in between? Why have a large jog at what’s clearly MLK when really only the northbound traffic jogs at all there, and only one short block?
Here’s what you get at first: (squishing particularly annoying; and, yeah, I’m using firefox):

The image below is in the size you would normally get if you “expand” at Capital Metro’s site. Click through to the image you get if you save; at which point the squiggles become a bit more obvious. (Yes, Lamar on the west; probably Speedway on the right, although why have a grey line curving towards 38th at the end there?)

After Erica McEwen confirmed the routing, Ed Easton defended their map and insisted that anybody and everybody should have shown up to their ‘workshops’. I replied as follows:

Ed, the tone of your comment is a bit off-putting. I have no interest in attending sessions which purport to be seeking public input but are really marketing efforts to put the stamp of public participation on top of an already-decided plan.
I got the Rapid Bus pitch in 2004 in private with three other UTC members before this plan was ever unveiled to the public, by the way, in case you folks forgot.
While I and others had already been operating under the continued assumption that the route would be on Guadalupe in front of UT, there were no materials from Capital Metro available on your website that directly answered that question; and the maps became actually less clear as they evolved, making us have some doubts. It’s not that hard to publish the route in detail – and it’s not that hard to directly answer very simple questions.

Even Jeff Wood, who is clearly a lot more loved over there than I am these days, doesn’t buy the public participation myth – his comment from an earlier posting:

M1ek is right. It wasn’t a citizens process. It was more like “we’re going to do this and you’re going to like it”. I remember we had to pull teeth to even get a streetcar studied. This decision to do faux BRT makes me sad. As a former #1 rider I really really wanted to see real quality transit on Guadalupe in my lifetime. Looks like the best corridor for that will now be taken for bus repackaged transit.

Part of me kind of wishes they had changed to Lamar – it would prevent the destruction of possible rail transit on this corridor that McCracken and Leffingwell (I misattributed to Walker at the time, I think) argued against last time around and it would actually ‘work’ better on Lamar due to the longer distance between traffic lights, but on the other hand, a stop at MLK/Guadalupe wouldn’t serve UT well at all. All moot now, I suppose.

Tri-Rail is dying; corpse still admired by idiots

Two posts I made today to the “busridersAustin” yahoo list in response to continuing misinformation from our old friend Lyndon Henry that I wanted to save for posterity. Reproduced as-is except that I’ve made the links live.

— In BusRidersAustin@yahoogroups.com, Nawdry wrote:

> Well, I see Mike has basically morphed into the rant-recycling stage

Well, I see Lyndon has basically morphed back into his lying-sack-of-crap stage.
Just ONE among many of your lies:
Tri-Rail serves mostly Broward and Palm Beach Counties – extending a bit into
Dade County, but that’s not the focus of the service. MetroRail is a Dade County
phenomenon (more specifically Miami) – most Tri-Rail ridership never goes that
far south. MetroRail (Dade County / Miami) is largely an artifact of the 1970s.
The area that saw transit stall out for 20 years was Broward and Palm Beach
Counties (Ft. Lauderdale is still trying to establish some momentum for a
streetcar/light-rail system against the headwinds of 20 years of Tri-Rail
failure).
Tri-Rail was planned and built during the mid-to-late 1980s; AFTER MetroRail.
The fact is that after Tri-Rail turned out to be such a disaster, nobody could
get any traction on any additional rail in the region for a couple of decades.
And now, the local governments are so enamored by Tri-Rail’s ‘success’ that
they’re writing ‘doomsday budgets’:
Recent Miami Herald article
Recent Palm Beach Post article
Tri-Rail ridership has, in fact, declined since the 2008 fuel spike has eased,
despite what these articles imply (note that they do not state what current
ridership actually is; if anybody cares to doubt THAT, I’ll spend some time
finding the media that I read a few months back on the subject).
One can certainly conclude, with accuracy missing from anything Lyndon Henry has
ever written here, that the public in South Florida has not supported Tri-Rail
like they have, let’s say, DART in Dallas or Houston’s Metro system (both of
which passed expansion referendi with overwhelming support).
Some other (older) links, with links back to media (some of which has expired)
and with excerpts:
Old crackplog post
“Take the Delray Beach Tri-Rail station, for instance. It’s located way west of
downtown, languishing between Linton Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue. Now, where
can one walk from that location? The whole point of public transit is to create
an alternative to driving. Yet, the thriving popular downtown area of Delray
Beach is far removed from the poorly planned station location. Thus, you still
have a downtown clogged with cars, because the Tri-Rail station is beyond
walking distance. ”
[...]
“I have ridden on Metrorail, on the other hand, and it is a joy compared to the
mess that Tri-Rail is. Metrorail actually goes places, near neighborhoods, and
other places people actually go, and it doesn’t share its tracks with 8,000
mile-long freight trains. That’s why it works.”
and:
Old crackplog post
“The greatest hindrance to Mica’s rail, however, could come from the failure of
a predecessor, South Florida’s Tri-Rail, which runs from Palm Beach County south
to Miami. Tri-Rail has proven costly; it has drained $433 million so far, and
reports say it needs another $327 million to stay alive. Despite the investment,
Tri-Rail averages only 60 percent of its projected ridership, and governments
subsidize more than 70 percent of the operating costs.
The problem? Essentially, Tri-Rail doesn’t go anywhere. For most of its 11-year
life, Tri-Rail delved only into northern Dade County. “That’s like taking a
train from Volusia and dropping people off at the Seminole County line,” Mica
says. Connections to major workplaces and airports rely on unreliable bus
systems. Moreover, Tri-Rail only runs once an hour, and is frequently late at
that.”
and:
Old crackplog post
“Luksha is among the many South Floridians who derisively note that not a single
Tri-Rail train goes through a single �downtown�, and only indirect services
via, bus, taxi or Metrorail will get you to the region�s airports after
getting off Tri-Rail. ”
As should be obvious by the lead to this post, I will not stand by and let you
drag me down without responding in kind.
- MD

and

— In BusRidersAustin@yahoogroups.com, Nawdry wrote:

> At 2009/05/25 15:41, Mike Dahmus wrote:

> >Just ONE among many of your lies:
> >
> >Tri-Rail serves mostly Broward and Palm Beach Counties – extending a
> >bit into Dade County, but that’s not the focus of the service.
> >MetroRail is a Dade County phenomenon (more specifically Miami) -
> >most Tri-Rail ridership never goes that far south.

>
> Mike is just disseminating rubbish. By far the heaviest Tri-Rail
> ridership occurs at the 5 Miami-area stations, particularly the
> MetroRail Transfer station, where interface with the MetroRail rapid
> transit occurs. Tri-Rail also serves the Miami Airport.
>
> When I stayed in Deerfield Park

Heh.
Credibility, huh?
It’s “Deerfield Beach”, you ignoramus.
And, yes, Tri-Rail ENTERS Dade County. Of its 70 mile length, by far, the overwhelming majority of the line is in Palm Beach and Broward Counties. The fact that those stations see a bit more than typical traffic shows how stupid the plan was to rely on shuttlebuses for passenger distribution everywhere else; the only marginally successful stops are the ones that feed into the existing urban rail network in Dade County at the extreme end of a 70 mile system.
Urban rail systems never took off in Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach or Boca Raton or any of the other large towns and cities along the line. Commuter rail spurred precisely nothing; no public support for more rail that might actually work – were it not for the existing MetroRail system that actually goes where people want to go, and, this is important, the 1200 magnet students riding every day, the system would have collapsed 15 years ago.
I lived there for most of my life, genius. I was around when Tri-Rail was getting started. I worked at IBM three summers and then three full years within a short shuttle ride of both the Delray Beach and Boca Raton Tri-Rail stops.
I had many coworkers that gave it a try (I lived too close for it to be of any use to me). None stuck. The shuttlebuses were the problem for every single one of them.
I’ve seen more than a dozen proposals for TOD come and go along the line. None stuck. The lack of choice commuters was the problem for every single one of _them_.
I was around when the original discussions about CSX vs. FEC were taking place. You’re right in one small respect – the FEC wasn’t available right at that instant; but there were people EVEN BACK THEN who said we’d be better served by waiting a couple of years and trying to negotiate with FEC instead of CSX. (Parallel to Austin here: Some people said, me among them, that rather than barreling ahead with a stupid dead-end Red Line commuter “ender” line, we’d be better served by waiting a few years to develop momentum for a re-run at the 2000 LRT line).
This was 20 years ago, mind you. Tri-Rail still, now, 20 years after the fact, has not approached initial ridership projections, unlike light rail starter lines all over the country which have mostly knocked them out of the park. After 20 years of disastrous failure on Tri-Rail, the number of people willing to say we should have waited for FEC has grown dramatically – including most of the political leadership in the counties paying the bills.
Those counties, by the way, are the ones that are cutting their subsidy to Tri-Rail because it was such a ‘success’ that they’ve gotten tired of the bleeding for so little benefit (again, compare and contrast to what happened in Houston and Dallas after GOOD LIGHT RAIL STARTER LINES showed people what could happen – 2/3 of the electorate voted in favor of huge expansions in both cases).
It’s you whose credibility ought to be completely lacking here. You visited South Florida once and rode Tri-Rail a couple of times.
Big whoop.
I lived there for 20 years.
You’re absolutely wrong, as usual.

Circle C in Hyde Park

So after reading a long set of complaints on the hydeparkaustin yahoo group(*) about the city not adequately enforcing code regarding to unrelated occupants in ‘McMansions’ in Hyde Park, I posted the following to their group, which was bland enough to make it through the moderator gauntlet:

I would suggest that if you want to be taken more seriously on this issue that you show the city where you WILL accept more housing units – such as the attempt by some on city council to make a ‘deal’ for VMU in place of McMansion development.
If, as has happened with Hyde Park and CANPAC, your VMU application was nothing but “no thanks” and, after the first shot was rejected, some desultory last-minute additions with plenty of conditions, don’t expect to be taken seriously.

And I got the following, in my email, this morning:

Mike, no one takes you seriously. You don’t speak for anyone but yourself and your constant criticisms of everyone who doesn’t buy into your fake “new urbanism” has alienated all but a few weak minded individuals like yourself.
Frankly, nobody wants you on the Hyde Park listserve.
Get a life loser!

In case anybody was wondering how Hyde Park stands. I hope you guys don’t blame me for your weak-mindedness!
(* – not technically my neighborhood but I’m one block away).
Update: Weak-minded commenter DSK unintentionally performs a great service. Sure, he gave away the method…

BUT BUT BUT! Now I know that there is a site called walterkoenig.com thanks to a surprisingly difficult effort to locate a picture of the method in question. I think we’re all richer for the experience.