Monthly Archives: April 2004

Followup

Adam wrote a thoughtful comment to the previous entry which I started to respond to in comments and then realized it was going to be too long. So here it is:
Yeah, that’s pretty well hashed. In response though…
speeding is a tough one. It’s fairly well understood in the more informed engineering circles that many posted limits have nothing to do with safety, and in fact can actually reduce overall safety due to higher speed differential (between the few people who will obey an obviously underposted sign and the majority who will not). But it is the law. One could even make a parallel to some ridiculous 4-way-stops like the ones west of downtown – those are clearly not there for anybody’s safety.
But then again, the “all lawbreaking is equal” argument seems ridiculous to me on its very face. Murder != jaywalking. Running the middle of a red light cycle != going 68 on Mopac.
Finally, I’m looking at this from a more pragmatic perspective – as I said, 99% of people drive. If they think cyclists disobey the law en masse, it hurts us. A lot. If we think that motorists disobey the law en masse, it doesn’t hurt them. At all.
(There are two other ways to look at this pragmatically: the “would you want motorists to be able to treat stop signs and red lights the same way you do on your bike”, and the “do you want motorists to have even less respect for the law that requires them to treat you and your bicycle as a vehicle”, but those are tangential here).
At previous jobs (not yet at this one), invariably when somebody found out I commute to work by bike some of the time, I’d get a very negative reaction – the person would ask me if I was one of ‘those’ cyclists who ran red lights and stop signs. I work in the suburbs in high-tech, and this is more representative of Austin as a whole than the people on the other side of this issue who either don’t work at all or who work at UT, yet they hold fast to their position that motorists just hate cyclists simply for being cyclists at all. That hasn’t been my experience – when I explain that I obey the law as much or more than when I drive, the conversation usually turns to “what route do you take?”, “how long does it take you?”, “is it scary?”.
The people who insist on preserving the status quo never actually get to that positive conversation because they get hung up on the right to blow a stop sign. That’s pretty damn sad.

More fun with bad cyclists

The issue of stop signs and red lights came up again on the
austin-bikes email list.
Here’s a sampling of what others and I have written in the past few days:
entry number one:

In fact, my fantasy is that the next time CAMPO or the City Council wants to deny funding to cyclists because some cyclists run red lights, I want to be there to enthusiastically scream, “I couldn’t agree more!” And then show a homemade video of motorists running every single cycle of a red light at some prominent Austin intersection 20 times in a row, and then ask, “Since road users who run red lights don’t get funding, when can we expect funding to be cut for new highways?”

Of course the irony here is that it was CAMPO member Senator Barrientos who implied at a meeting that he wouldn’t support increased bike funding because cyclists run red lights, and then a while after that the good Senator was arrested for drunk driving.

my first response:

Otherwise known as Fallacious Bike Argument #46.

Motorists don’t run red lights the way cyclists do. Period. They “run the orange” pretty often. This is a very different violation in terms of the real, pragmatic, world we actually live in.

“running the orange” means that some impatient jerk decides to keep going even though the light just turned from yellow to red.

Compare and contrast to cyclists – in my estimation, close to 50% of the cyclists I see on the road do not stop at stop signs unless they see traffic; and do not stop for traffic lights or sometimes stop-and-go (AND DON’T TELL ME ABOUT THE ONES THAT DON’T TRIP; I’M TALKING ABOUT LIGHTS LIKE SPEEDWAY AT 38TH WHICH IS ON A PURE TIMER).

It’s not the same thing. Every time you equate what cyclists do to what motorists do, you make it that much harder on people like me who are trying to get real things accomplished. Our outgoing chairman of the UTC voted against bike facilities on at least one occasion because of the obnoxious lawbreaking attitude evinced by cyclists like that; so we even have this problem at the city level.

SUMMARY: CYCLISTS RUN RED LIGHTS AND STOP SIGNS IN A WAY THAT MOTORISTS DO NOT. MOST MOTORISTS, IF THEY EVER DO THIS, “RUN THE ORANGE” OR DON’T COME TO A FULL ROCK-BACK AT A STOP SIGN. TRYING TO EQUATE THIS WITH THE WILD-WEST ATTITUDE OF MANY CYCLISTS IS MAKING YOU LOOK STUPID AND MAKING MY JOB HARDER.

The most reasonable retort:

It seems to me that hurling 4000lbs of glass, steel and rubber thru an
intersection at a high speed on a light that just turned red is a bigger
hazard to society than me pedaling thru it after quadruple checking that
the coast is clear. Granted both may be bad but why would you consider
my offence more grievous?

Me again:

“Running the orange” is a matter of education trumping impatience. We’ll get there sooner or later.

“Running the red” is a matter of your own convenience trumping _everything_ – it shows a complete lack of respect for the law that requires motorists to treat you as a vehicle.

Ask yourself which is worse from a purely motorist perspective: continuing to turn left at an intersection even though the light just turned red, or running the intersection halfway through the other peoples’ green cycle.

You run enough red lights and stop signs, and drivers will, no matter what the law says, treat you as a menace.

I’ve nearly wrecked my car at an intersection near UT because some bozo on a bike ran the stop sign. If I were older (worse reflexes), I would have. So there you go.

But getting back to the point – 99% of the people in this town drive. Pissing off 99% of the population in order to make some point about danger is really really really stupid from a pragmatic political perspective. Sooner or later, it comes back to bite you in the ass, as it did when our UTC chairman voted against bike facilities, using lack of respect for the law as his stated reason for doing so.

Then, they get angry:

I think Dahmus was suggesting that when motorists run red lights, it’s typically because they’re trying to beat a yellow light, while bicyclists will run a red light smack in the middle of the red light.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always true. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a car blast through an intersection right in the middle of the red part of the cycle (whether intentional or not — does it really matter?) then I wouldn’t be wasting my time on this forum, I’d be too busy enjoying my new private tropical island.

This discussion seems to come up over and over on this list. I personally don’t see anything wrong with going through a red light when there are no cars in the opposing lanes to be inconvenienced, others beg to differ. I don’t think anyone’s mind is going to be changed by blabbing about it on an email list, so why even bother bringing it up (Mike)?

#2:

First of all, as for motorists running lights, it’s not a case of “if they ever do this”. I can go to most busy intersections in Austin and see motorists running red lights on every single cycle, period.

As for motorists not running red lights in the same way that cyclists do, that’s really funny. I thought the argument was that cyclists were bad because they were breaking the law? Oh no, my mistake, it’s not that they’re breaking the law, it’s that they’re breaking the law in a less socially acceptable way. It’s perfectly acceptable to break the law if you do it the proper way. Motorists break the law in a good way, cyclists break the law in a bad way.

So it sounds like Dahmus’ real problem is with cyclists who do things that are unsafe. If that’s the case, then why SAY that their problem is with cyclists breaking the law? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t harp on cyclists for breaking the law and then excuse motorists for breaking the law. The argument that they break the law “in a different way” is weak, weak, weak.

Motorists break the law in Austin every day in ways that are truly dangerous. People get hurt and killed as a result. But when was the last time anyone suggested that we cut roadway funding as a result? Let’s face it: people only care about cyclists breaking the law. They don’t extend that same outrage to their fellow motorists, period.

Yes, Dahmus repeats this a lot, and I’ve addressed it a lot. The fact is that I’m not going to accept responsibility for somebody else’s faulty logic. Someone could tell me that he’s going to kill a baby kitten for every week I remain a vegetarian. Well, I wish he wouldn’t be that cruel, or unfair, but ultimately, is it his fault or mine?

I don’t deny that the outgoing UTC chairman may have voted against bike facilities because he saw cyclists breaking the law. I simply can’t help it if that guy had a double standard. We certainly never saw him trying to cut facilities for cars because motorists break the law, did we? I won’t pander to that double standard, it’s unfair, and it’s ridiculous.

This is probably the biggest straw man argument I’ve ever seen in my life. Who exactly is it who’s advocating that cyclists run stop signs when it’s not safe to do so?

Anyway, let me return to the newsletter article that so raised Dahmus’ ire. In that article I pointed out that Senator Barrientos hinted about not funding bike facilities because cyclists break the law. And a while after that the good Senator was arrested for driving drunk. Is THAT how motorists break the law in a different way than cyclists that is so much safer? Does this person have any business chastising cyclists for breaking the law, much less denying them funding? Probably close to 100% of motorists who drive in an unsafe manner think it’s worse when cyclists do so. The question is, do we pander to that delusion or do we call them on it? Dahums evidently chose the former. I choose the latter.

Shoal Creek Debacle, Part XXXVII

Well, I rode down Shoal Creek yesterday (I’ve taken to alternating between two routes home – one east on Morrow to Woodrow and then south to North Loop; the other south on Shoal Creek and east on Hancock, then down Burnet and Medical Parkway). This one trip brought up several recent and not-so-recent points:

  1. Debris – Shoal Creek is now effectively a wide curb lane facility from Foster (just south of Anderson) to 45th. The debris is horrible – worse than I remember it. To be fair, the bike lane stretch between Steck and Anderson has one large gravel patch in it as well. This reinforces my thinking that the absence of the stripe does not in fact encourage cars to act as street-sweepers, or at least, that they don’t do a very good job of it.
  2. Parking – at the time we went over the Shoal Creek debacle, some claimed that the criminally negligent design sponsored by the neighborhood would not be a problem since it would rarely happen that you would be passing a parked car at the same time a car was driving past you. This happened six times during my short trip on Shoal Creek yesterday.
  3. Neighbors – during one of those six times, I took the lane as I always do, and a car turned left onto Shoal Creek behind me, and proceeded to lay on the horn. I told her via a charming pantomime that she was number 1 in my book. So it goes; even when you ride legally, sometimes some motorists don’t get it. (This is a bone thrown to my colleagues who disobey every traffic law they find inconvenient on the theory that all motorists hate them anyways).

Years later, Shoal Creek has no stripes and no calming. Read up on this page for more background on why the neighbors won, and why we never should have negotiated away the flow of traffic on a top-5 bicycle route in the city (and in my opinion, why we never should have supported their downgrade of this road from arterial to collector in the CAMPO plan).

Proof of Yesterday’s Entry

Yesterday, I gave a hypothetical example which showed why suburbanites might only see empty buses, and incorrectly assume that all buses are always empty.
It took exactly one day to prove the hypothetical.
This morning, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway intending to take the express bus into work as usual. However, I got there a bit early due to green lights, and the #3 bus showed up right as I pulled in. I thought I’d give it a whirl, since it ends up arriving up here at about the same time as the express bus, and has the added advantage of dropping off at Braker rather than Balcones Woods, which allowed me to more easily deposit some rent checks at the ATM.
There were 24 people on the bus, including me, when we pulled away from the bus stop. Note that this stop is about a quarter of the northbound length away from downtown, i.e., if you rode from the central point of the route to its far northern end, this stop is about 1/4 of the way up.
We puttered up Medical Parkway and Burnet, stopping at about 60% of the stops, usually to let people off; occasionally to pick people up. By the time we got to US 183 and Burnet, there were about 10 people still on the bus.
At Braker and Mopac, there were 4 people left, includng me.
At my stop on Braker between 183 and Jollyville, one other guy left the bus with me. That left 2 people to go to the end of the northbound route at the Arboretum (actually a loop end-point; it’s technically south of where I got off, but still before the layover point).
So if you had seen the bus between downtown and Burnet at 183, you would have thought: “that’s a pretty full bus” (nearly every seat was taken). If you had seen the bus at the Randall’s on Braker, on the other hand, you would have said “that bus is empty”.
And if you were as stupid as most suburbanites, that would be ammunition for you to run around and claim that Capital Metro wastes your money because all they do is run empty buses.
PS: The ride stunk. Bumpy and jerky. Hard to read. Not worth the 50 cent savings. I’ll wait for the express bus next time.

Why suburbanites think all buses are empty, Part One

I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway this morning to get on the 983 “express” bus to work. 6 people, includng me, got on at this stop. There were 4 or 5 people already on the bus.
Several people disembarked at the Arboretum, and one other person disembarked with me at Balcones Woods. By the time it got up to the suburban park-and-ride, it was surely emptier than when I got on.
Actually, this bus isn’t a great example, since it is ‘deadheading’ for the most part – the primary traffic on these routes is inbound in the morning; they actually run some of the buses back straight up 183 without stopping to get back up to the big park-n-rides quicker. But it reminded me to write this article anyways, so there you go.
A better example is the #3 bus (Burnet). It has at least 30-40 stops in between its northern terminus loop around the Arboretum and downown (and then continues on down to Manchaca with probably another 40 stops). It runs very frequently (every 20 minutes). Well, that’s frequent for this town anyways.
Imagine this experiment: At each stop, exactly one person gets on the bus. All of them are headed either downtown or to UT.
If you drive past the bus at the Arboretum (its northernmost stop), how many people will you see on the bus? Exactly 0, until that one guy gets on.
If you drive past the bus at UT, how many people will you see on the bus? 30 or 40.
In fact, many of Capital Metro’s routes operate this way; it’s how transit is supposed to work. Although the disembarking model is unrealistically simple; some people do get off in between, and many stops have no pickups while others pick 5 or 6 up like mine this morning.
But the real lesson here is that suburbanites are stupid. While reading the example above, I’m betting you were offended at my lack of respect for your intelligence, yet, in fact, most people here nod their heads when some knuckle-dragging Fred Flintstone type like Gerald Daugherty’s ROAD bumcaps rant about empty buses.
You want to see full buses? Go to the end of the route, Einstien!
Also, get your ass on Lamar or Burnet – don’t expect to see a ton of buses on Mopac or I-35; I’m fairly certain Capital Metro found it difficult to convince people to run across the on-ramps to get to the bus stops.
Same logic applies to bicyclists too, by the way. Local libertarialoon Jeff Ward rants that he sees no cyclists when he drives around town, and again, the suburban knuckle-draggers can’t wait to grunt their affirmation. Ask him where he drives, though; he’s almost certainly going from his far suburban home to the KLBJ studio at I-35 and US 183. Probably using freeways the whole way, too. If you want to see cyclists, drive down Shoal Creek or Speedway or Duval, you morons.

Bike Lanes: Threat or Menace?

Well, the anti-bike-lane meme continues to spread. I came across a fairly good depiction of why you must push hard for street-sweeping of bike lanes from Cary, NC (where I have a few friends), which learned the lesson that bike lanes are bad because they attract debris.
Of course, personal experience on Shoal Creek says otherwise (just as much debris with no bike lanes) as does experience on Bull Creek (just as much debris on the wide-outside-lane stretch north of 45th as on the bike-lane stretch south of 45th).
And I’ve previously made the point that bike lanes DO, in fact, provide more space in passing, although not on average, but rather, at the minimum, which is much more important.
But the thing that most people forget to ever think about is this: the transportation department in your city does not exist purely for the benefit of cyclists. Yes, radical, I know. On high-speed roadways, there is a public safety AND a public service benefit to separating slower-speed traffic, and it’s not just for bikes. Spicewood Springs Road west of US 183 has an additional right lane on an uphill stretch for trucks. And other truck lanes exist on rural roads throughout our area. Those car drivers have a right to good traffic flow too, after all.
In fact, the transportation department in your city views it as their mission to provide for good flow of traffic, even when the traffic is cars. This means that once in a while, you might have to keep right, since you’re slower traffic, and it may, in fact, inconvenience you. Just as it may, in fact, mean that you occasionally inconvenience motorists. Likewise, while it may have been more convenient for me to drive the old convertible loaded with junk on Mopac on one of our moving trips, the fact that I couldn’t go faster than 30 mph without stuff flying out meant that I drove, instead, on Lamar Blvd, and what’s more, I drove in the right lane until shortly before I planned on turning left.
These wide outside lane (or shared lane) zealots logic questions why we bother with lane stripes at all. The law says slower traffic should keep right (whether it be my wife’s pokey old Civic or my bike), and by their reasoning, in both cases other cars think that when I use the right lane, I’ve segregated myself and allowed others to think I have no right to the other lanes on the road. Certainly one could see that having lane stripes at all is kind of a waste, given their experience that cars always provide enough passing distance when sharing a lane. Why don’t we just turn Mopac into a two-lane highway? If it’s good enough for passing bikes, why isn’t it good enough for passing cars?
Part of the reason why this bugs me so much is that I have been occasionally commuting by bike from the center city to the far suburbs at various jobs over the last few years (my fans will please note that the slideshow linked there is from my previous residence to my third of four offices two companies ago). In contrast, on previous occasions when I’ve gotten into it with these anti-bike-lane yahoos, it becomes clear that they’re primarily members of the following groups:

  • European cyclists – live in areas where suburbanization and the requisite high-speed arterials, useless collectors which don’t go anywhere other than the arterial, and cul-de-sacs simply don’t exist
  • Urban cyclists – those who rarely venture on roadways with design speeds or typical speeds more then 35 or 40 mph

Why do these people consider themselves qualified to judge whether Jollyville Road in northwest Austin (45 mph speed limit, 55-ish design speed) should have bike lanes? I don’t think downtown is the right place for bike lanes either; but a one-size-fits-all solution is just stupid.

The Gas Tax Ain’t Regressive

Dave Fried talks about the supposedly regressive nature of gas taxes in response to Andrew Sullivan, and uses my blog to make a point about public transportation, but he’s barking up the wrong tree.
The supposed regressive nature of the gas tax is a fallacy – in fact, poor people spend far less proportionally on gasoline than do the upper-middle-class.
The gas tax isn’t purely progressive; though; the very rich actually spend less proportionally than do the upper-middle-class, due to their tendency to be either in the few healthy downtowns, or less need to drive overall.
Poor people as a rule simply DON’T drive as much as you middle-class people think. The people you think are poor who you see driving everywhere are actually the lower rungs of the middle-class; and they’re doing it in much more fuel-efficient vehicles than their upper-middle-class SUV-drivin’ non-neighbors. Even the poor people who own cars (and most do, around here) often leave them parked during the day. Drive around East Austin at 10:00 on a weekday and you see a lot of driveways with older Japanese cars parked in them (with a few 80s-vintage American cars which still get much better mileage than do SUVs). Now drive around Great Hills and see how many cars you see parked which aren’t for stay-at-home moms.
Poor people, in every metropolitan area with which I have a passing familiarity, are also concentrated in urban areas or the oldest (inner-ring) suburbs. (Don’t bother me with anectdotes about the rural poor; we’re talking macro scale here). Guess what that does to the number of miles they must drive?
Ride the bus sometime if you want to see real poor people. Trust me on this one.
The other problem with this analysis is that it ignores other sources of roadway funding, such as property and sales taxes, which in this state are a huge portion of revenues for roads (even state highways). Due to the fact that poor people here live in areas which still proportionately get taxed at a higher rate than due the exurbs, they’re ALREADY being taxed regressively. The gas tax evens it out a bit, in fact.
Some supporting articles: