Category Archives: Austin

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I almost made this response on the twitter but thought it should be more permanent.

Trying to figure out where to put a rail line in a city where you have lots of unmet transit demand and an inadequate funding stream to do everything you want to do? IE, you live in the real world?

PUT YOUR RAIL LINE WHERE IT REQUIRES THE LEAST POSSIBLE OPERATING SUBSIDY.

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It’s just that simple.

Don’t talk about disrupting traffic. Don’t talk about TOD. Don’t talk about bridges or tunnels.

If you put your rail line where it requires a very large operating subsidy, you end up having to cut bus service to make up the budgetary impact. This is what Capital Metro had to do during the early days of the Red Line. Both the best 98x buses and the 9 bus were cancelled to make up for operating subsidy overruns from the Red Line. Only today is the operating subsidy anywhere close to the original budget (and it’s still monstrously high – something like $20/ride). We’d have more buses running more routes today if the Red Line had never been built, in other words. The presence of the Red Line means fewer people have less transit today than they otherwise would have. This is how you can tell it was a BAD RAIL LINE.

If you put your rail line where it requires a very small operating subsidy (ideally less than existing bus service1, you end up having MORE money to spend on more buses elsewhere, or on the next rail line. The best way to find that corridor is to find a corridor where a ton of people ride the bus, and where research indicates even more people would ride the train (because it’s more comfortable and reliable than the bus is today).

Anybody who wants to make it more complicated than that is trying to confuse you and get you to support a rail line that you should not support.

Hey, you ask. What about my second rail line?

Go back to the beginning of this post and repeat. The same, simple, formula works for every single rail line your city will ever build. Pick the corridor where the rail line will have the lowest possible operating subsidy. Rinse. Repeat.

Third rail line? Is it more complicated yet? NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THIS POST AGAIN.

Fourth? Fifth?

NO. NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING. This simple process works for every rail line – it tells you which one you should do next.

This is how you build an actual network instead of a struggling disaster like we have in Austin. Again, anybody who tells you it’s not this simple is trying to fool you into supporting something that’s not in your best interest. They have ulterior motives, like, for instance, being on the board of a community college which took over a decaying mall2. Or wanting to make a medical school look shinier.

By the way, if you follow this process, you don’t need to lie about your conversations with the Federal Transit Administration either. Hint.

Now I’m off to Germany. Where they actually use logic like the above. Which is why their rail networks actually, you know, work.

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  1. One way you can tell whether your city is ready for rail at all is whether you can find a corridor where rail would lower the operating subsidy compared to existing bus service. If you have no such corridor, you might not be a good candidate for rail, yet! []
  2. Hello Highland Mall!). Or, for instance, not wanting to be politically embarassed about previous bad decisions ((The real reason for no G/L is this embarassment. Future blog post will show comments about the Federal Transit Administration are misleading at best; lies at worst []

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

Why Not Highland, in comment form from OurRail

Reposting this for the treasurer of OurRail, since it wouldn’t attach correctly to the ABJ article and is, in my opinion, one of the best single pieces describing Why Not Highland that I’ve seen so far.

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It has become commonplace in the planning profession to equate congestion with affluence. Recently, that argument has been tailored for policymakers to imply causation. Project Connect has taken the “Think beyond congestion.” mantra to new depths with their Highland Mall rail proposal. We’re not buying it and neither should your readers.

If built, Highland will be a symbolic rail alignment. From Hancock Shopping Center inbound, it is an identical twin to the earlier Mueller rail proposal. The Highland-Mueller alignment will send near-empty trains running up and down Red River Street. Both serve the stadium that holds 7 games a year, the medical school with a projected enrollment of 175, an aspirational “innovation district” in a Capitol Complex that a new state law put off limits, past blocks of parking garages to the convention center where the plans turn one of downtown’s few parks, the historic Brush Square, into a transit station.

Empty trains will be visible to the thousands of drivers in stalled traffic on the IH-35 upper deck. This high-subsidy line will be a daily reminder to the region of Project Connect’s wasted opportunity, and a lasting legacy of today’s leadership. Instead of a successful, expandable high-ridership line that connects people where they live to where they work, it may be the first and last light rail alignment built in of our lifetimes.

That’s why we established Our Rail, a political action committee promoting a fair and effective first light rail investment. We SUPPORT a ballot measure that designates the Guadalupe-North Lamar as a top priority for building the city’s first LIGHT RAIL alignment. We will OPPOSE any ballot measure that contains light rail service to the speculative and duplicative Highland sub-corridor. We SUPPORT concurrent construction of any extension such as EAST RIVERSIDE which connects to Guadalupe-North Lamar alignment via A BRIDGE. We will OPPOSE a Project Connect ballot measure containing any investment such as the proposed $500 million MetroRapid busway that threatens the development of light rail on Guadalupe-North Lamar.

We can put tracks within a ten minute walk of a third of all the jobs in this city, or we can choose to be symbolic. Many have already made that choice. UT Student Government, environmental groups, non-profits, planning bodies, and neighborhood organizations serving nearly 100,000 Austinites have formally endorsed a light rail alignment in the Guadalupe-North Lamar corridor.

Policymakers refused to listen, and the people have taken this back.

Scott Morris, treasurer OurRail.org

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

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).

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.

Audience participation time

Go here: http://aura-atx.org/keepitreal.html

Do what it says.

If you want rail to succeed in Austin.

This exercise is not optional.

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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.

Summary of yesterday

Update: The video’s already up; you can see my speech here (click on Citizens Communications to jump to me).

I spoke in citizens’ communication yesterday to the CCAG. Gave up a half day to do so (had to be there to sign up at 1:15; limited slots; ended up getting there shortly after noon to make sure I got my spot). Found out as the meeting started that citizen communication is the LAST thing. Uh-oh.

My original speech was going to be about why Rapid Bus should not preclude rail in the Lamar ‘subcorridor’. Since I ended up giving my speech AFTER the ridiculous announcement that it’s going to be Highland ‘and ERC’; I ended up rewriting my speech into an indictment of the process, which has been gradually revealed to have been designed to generate the predestined conclusion that Mueller (i.e. Not Lamar) should be the initial route. (Note that Highland is, as I’m calling it, “Mueller in drag”; Kyle Keahy made sure to mention many times that it takes you right to the edge of Mueller).

Amazingly, Scott Gross had the gall to put up a slide showing an overwhelming citizen preference for Lamar over the next closest two alternatives; and then proceeded to argue it meant nothing; that their made-up or mangled data which led to misleading conclusions was somehow more valid than the opinion of the transiterati in this town. Well, he just implied that; they never went back and mentioned the overwhelming vote for Lamar again.

My thoughts on the reason for this choice largely mirror Chris Bradford, aka the Austin Contrarian, who made this excellent comment in response to Julio’s blog post:

I don’t agree with B-.

We all agree that ERC should be part of a fully built-out urban rail system. It is highly unlikely that it will be built first, though. The obstacles are just too high. Building another bridge over LBL is very tricky, and very expensive. Then they will have to lay a mile of track and get across I-35 just get to East Riverside’s western edge. Given that any initial starter line will (and should) connect downtown and UT, the next logical phase is to keep heading north. Heading across the lake and then down East Riverside for the first phase will require a really high initial bond amount, giving voters sticker shock.

If ERC isn’t a genuine first-phase option, then why was it named? I believe it is being dangled out there to prevent the Highland opponents from mobilizing for a fight. It will be pulled back as a true first-phase option at the last possible moment.

And we shouldn’t lose sight of this: Highland will be first. Going up to Highland Mall through UT’s eastern edge and Red River (or some route even further east) is a bad route. It’s a waste of money. And, yes, it will foreclose rail on Guadalupe/Lamar indefinitely. It will do so for a couple of reasons: (1) it will have relatively low ridership, which will dampen public support for further investments; and (2) although it is too far from Guad/Lamar to serve the dense neighborhoods on that route, it is too close to justify another investment on Guad/Lamar until other parts of town have been served.

I see their announcement of Highland/ERC as a cynical political strategy to dampen opposition until it’s too late. That deserves an “F,” not a B-.

If they put forward a plan to build ERC first, I’ll switch to B. But I don’t think that will happen.

WTB a new Cap Metro.

ERC is not going to be built in the first phase; this is the city staff being aware enough to group it with Highland so people will say “well, at least they hit SOME density (in ERC)”. It’s going to be Highland, which takes you right to the edge of Mueller, and then, oops, we’re right back to that predetermined conclusion that we should do exactly what the plan was in 2010.

These look so very very different.

These look so very very different. (Image courtesy @jacedeloney)

The meeting will go up soon on the city channel 6 site. I’m told I was viewed as “intense”.

Tried to make my 3 minutes at 3:00 count, but there was no reaction from the CCAG; except that afterwards I was cornered by a UT VP and lectured for not having provided them much data. Sorry, ma’am, I got a job and a family; it ought to be the job of the people you PAY TO DO THIS to provide honest data. Oh, and Dave Sullivan got mad because I didn’t mention the GPS stuff in Rapid Bus as an improvement. Dave, it was in the earlier draft. Trust me.

The Rapid Bus post will have to wait. The time I was going to spend at this chess tournament writing it up turned out to be burned up by running around after my 4 year old, although I did get to talk to Councilmember Spelman for ten minutes before Sophie insisted that enough was enough.

How do I feel? Despite popular conception, I’m apparently not completely cynical as I was surprised at how embarassingly shameless this con-job ended up being. Thrown for enough of a loop that I ended up throwing bile all over twitter last night of a caliber that the world hasn’t seen in many years. Worrying-the-coworkers level, here.

I’m most upset, though, I think, at the fact that the AURA people were conned by people like friend-of-the-blog JMVC into thinking that Rapid Bus did not, in fact, preclude urban rail. Those folks then proceeded to invest a huge amount of their time in this process, when the fix had been in since the very beginning; and they ended up giving Project Connect relevance and respect it didn’t deserve in the process. Had people been honest from the beginning, we might have been able to have an adult conversation about “why aren’t we doing more for Guadalupe than this shitty bus service that makes things worse for most people north of the river anyways?”. Now we never will. I wasted a couple of days of vacation time. The AURA executive committee spent ten times as much, each.

As for where we go from here? I will see what the AURA guys end up doing. If they continue to be suckered into believing, or even just acting like JMVC and his pals driving Project Connect are their friends rather than the obstacles they really are, then we’ll be parting ways. I said at the beginning of this process that if a non-Guadalupe route was recommended through an honest process using legitimate data and reasonable assumptions that I’d support it. THAT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO WHAT WE GOT.

And I don’t agree with Julio that we’ve made incredible progress. ‘We’ forced Project Connect to come up with bad data, bad analysis, and bad conclusions to justify their predetermined route, sure; but the route is still bad – it’s the same goddamn route as before – with the same 0% chance of being full-enough-of-riders to lead to a full system of urban rail instead of another RedLine-esque generation-losing one-and-done.

I definitely won’t be voting for a Highland/”ERC but really no just Mueller” alignment the way things stand now, nor should you.

West Campus, UT, and “The Core”

So I spent about three hours around lunch yesterday for a 1.75 hour meeting moderated by AURA where we could ask questions of Project Connect staff. One of my questions was following up Lyndon Henry by complaining that the size of the subcorridors (or in Lyndon’s better term, “sectors”) was ludicrous and pushing us away from a more sensible decision-making process.

At one point later on, a very good pal of mine who is working on the program answered John Lawler (UT student government)’s question about why that decision was made to suddenly include UT and West Campus with the Core with a blistering diatribe about how inappropriate and offensive it was to be so cynical about the motives behind said change, while occasionally looking right at yours truly. Message received, loud and clear. (Not just by me; others asked me if I thought you were speaking to John or to me when you went there).

Before I link to my brand new slide deck you just motivated me to write this morning, know this: Before this meeting, I only mentioned this change in an aside in a couple of places. I never talked to the University Area Partners or Mr. Lawler; they didn’t get their complaints from me. If anything, I may actually have heard about it from them, indirectly. I was like the tenth person in the scene to even notice the change.

But by incorrectly assuming that just because it was a complaint, it must have been only from me, or by trying to score points by making an attack about it by tying it to me, whom you presumed was held in low regard by the room, you just brought me into it. Congratulations, now I’m all-in.

If your (paid to do this) feelings were hurt by the implication that the motivation for the change might have been less than aboveboard, consider the converse: I took vacation time to spend my lunch hour only to get attacked by you (who, again, unlike me, is getting paid to do this).

Click the little expanders in the lower right to embiggen.

 

 

The last gif is animated in my version but not on slideshare. Imagine Colbert sarcastically clapping, or don’t.