Monthly Archives: January 2006

“Build it and they’ll come” is no way to run a city

So the end-result of the Parlor problem appears to be that the neighborhood isn’t going to budge on the parking variance, which means that another local business is in danger of going under unless the notoriously neighborhood-friendly Board of Adjustment suddenly becomes more responsible.
The end of the thread on the hydeparkaustin mailing list occurred when a member of the “Circle C in downtown Austin” party commented that a plan (in the works now for a long time and seemingly not close to fruition) to arrange for parking at the State Hospital (across Guadalupe) to be used for employees of businesses on Guadalupe would be the only way out of this mess.
I replied that it was unlikely that any customer or employee of those businesses would find it attractive to park at the state hospital, walk out to Guadalupe, wait a long time for the light at 41st and Guadalupe to change, walk very quickly across the street, and then and only then arrive at their destination (as compared to parking on a side street or Avenue A).
The person replied (and was supported by the moderator, who then ended the discussion with the attached unpublished rebuttal in hand) that “the boss can make the employee park whereever they say”. This may be true in an abstract sense, I replied, but it’s unlikely that any such boss would want to spend the energy enforcing a rule which prevented employees from parking in PUBLIC spaces such as on Avenue A, even if they did want to keep employees out of their own private lot.
This goes back to thinking of a type which is unfortunately prevalent here in Austin and among many other progressive cities – that being that people will do things that are good, as long as we provide opportunities to do them. IE, build it and they will come. What you build, given this thinking, doesn’t have to be attractive compared to the pre-existing or forthcoming alternatives; its mere existence will suffice.
For instance, in this circumstance, they think that simply providing available parking in an inconvenient and unpleasant location will get people to park there who would otherwise park on neighborhood streets. Likewise, Capital Metro thinks simply providing any rail will get people to use it, even if the individual incentives are pretty awful, given the shuttle bus transfers.
I have a whole blog category analyzing ‘use cases’ which I think is a far more useful way to look at the problem. In this case, for instance, put yourself in the shoes of that potential parking consumer a few paragraphs back and remember that your boss probably (a) isn’t going to be able to stop you from parking on Avenue A, and (b) probably couldn’t catch you even if he tried.
But like with the naive pro-transit suckers that bought the MikeKrusee ScrewAustin Express, it’s unlikely that it’s possible to get through to these people. And so, the consequence is that another local business which probably would have improved Guadalupe as a place we actually want to be is thwarted. Good work, geniuses.
This is not to say that we should never build transit or highways. What it does mean is that somebody ought to spend at least a few minutes figuring out whether the thing you’re going to expect people to use is actually attractive enough for them to choose to use it. By that metric, light rail in 2000 was a slam dunk, despite the lies spread by Skaggs and Daugherty. But in this parking case and with this commuter rail line, nobody seems to have bothered to put themselves in the shoes of the prospective user.
my sadly now never-to-be-published response (remember, this is to somebody who said “But the Heart Hospital doesn’t let their employees park in their lot!” follows.

Those cases have some clear and obvious differences to the one
we’re talking about here — one being that the employees are being prohibited from parking in a private lot (which is still difficult to enforce, but at least defensible). You’re asking that these business’ employees not only refrain from parking in the business’ lot (private) but ALSO from the public spaces on Guadalupe and the street space on Avenue A. And nobody’s ‘requiring’ those state employees to park in Siberia – if they could find an open metered space somewhere else, for instance, they’re free to take it. Likewise, the Heart Hospital can’t force its employees to mark at the MHMR pool.
So it’s easy to prohibit people from parking in a given private lot. Unless you’re going to turn Avenue A into RPPP as part of this, though, they’d still park there instead of across Guadalupe. And any boss who tried to force them otherwise would probably be experiencing the fun world of employee turnover.

Now that I can’t bike (or walk)…



my career as an itinerant musician playing for children can begin. (picture is from La Tazza Fresca a week ago Saturday playing for the benefit of a pack of intermittently interested 2-year-olds and their hopefully-much-more-entertained parents). Ethan is wearing white; Jeanne is off to the left trying to get him to clap; and I’m second from left with trumpet (played a bit but mostly did horse noises and sung along with my much more able compatriots). Thanks to Mary Somers for the picture. Click for another shot with DANCERS!

Are American Cars Really All That Bad?

The site responsible for a great deal of the anti-hybrid FUD that I respond to has a long and fairly deep comment thread about the recent JD Power results. Like most of my peers, I don’t own an American car and haven’t in quite some time (I did buy a Saturn SL2 in 1991 and the car treated me well).
To me, though, it’s damn simple. All of us who travel on business know that you get to try out American cars every time you go to the car rental place. (Well, I got to rent a Hyundai Sonata last time I was in Virginia on business, but that was the first time I ever got a non-American-brand car for rent). The key here is that many of those who aren’t considering purchasing them know what they’re like. Fix the cars you dump on the rental agencies and you might have a prayer.
For instance, during our 2002 trip to Hawaii, I rented two cars – a Dodge Neon on Oahu, and a Ford Focus on Maui. The first just suuuuucked – despite being a tiny, tiny, tiny car, I couldn’t get it to turn tightly enough to fit in half of the spaces at our timeshare. The Focus, on the other hand, was a pretty good car. When it came time to consider buying our next car, the Focus was at least rattling around in my head (maybe if Ford had made a hybrid version, we would have given it more serious thought; but had we had to back up to a normal gas engine car, it would have certainly been in the running) while the Neon, I’d have a hard time justifying buying for $5000 new.
Likewise, the following cars which I drove or rode in the last couple of years on rental also suuuuucked: Chevrolet Cobalt, Buick Rendezvous (I got ‘upgraded’ to an SUV since they didn’t have our midsize car), Chevrolet Malibu Maxx (2 times!). And our family got to drive a Chevy Tahoe for a day as a loaner car when ours was in for service. It was a piece of junk too.
That Hyundai Sonata? Like a traditional Buick, in all the good ways. That’s bad news for the ‘real’ Buick too.
So, no, getting ‘close’ is not good enough to win back customers. Hell, any business weasel ought to be able to tell you that. You either get BETTER, or you do what Hyundai did, and get ‘as good’ and then offer a warranty that shows you’re sure of it.
Don’t try to mislead me with non-representative bullcrap about how your cars get 30 mpg on the highway when I’m driving one that gets 50 overall. Don’t try to tell me how great your trucks are when gas is 3 bucks a gallon. If you ever want to get a guy like me back in your showrooms, you need to make better cars and mean it. Because I’ll be driving your cars every so often whether I want to or not; so it won’t be possible to fool me with salesman crap.

This ought to be on the front page of every newspaper in the damn country

URL change

My charitable host has moved this site to a different domain within his web empire. Please use the following URL in the future:
http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/

Clearly I Am A Shrinking Violet

Both Austinist and Metroblogging Austin wrote articles about Cap Metro which talked about commuter rail and didn’t link here to any one of the hundred or so articles in my vast Cap Metro commuter rail category archive. My feelings are hurt. More importantly: Baby Jebus is crying.
Update: Both have now added links to the category archive here, so that hopefully new readers can get a lot of backstory. Thanks, both of you.
A summary:

  • Capital Metro did not seek Federal money because they knew they’d not get much. The FTA was unlikely to rate this commuter rail plan very highly – even Cap Metro’s own figures show a very small number of people riding, because this piece-of-crap Krusee debacle doesn’t actually go anywhere people want to go, like UT, the Capitol, or Congress Avenue, and their bogus stuck-in-traffic ‘circulator’ is only going to circulate bums and other carless transit-dependent folks because of the extra time and discomfort involved in a three-seat ride. Oh, and it also doesn’t go near any of the center-city neighborhoods that actually like to use transit.
  • The 2000 light rail plan, on the other hand, was rated pretty highly by the FTA and would have clearly obtained a good chunk of federal funding, as would a scaled-back version of same, due to much higher projected ridership (compared to the Krusee craptrain above).
  • The union, whether you like them or not, would be committing suicide if they consented to a two-tier wage structure. Any position by Cap Metro which includes that change is, therefore, evidence that they don’t want to negotiate, but rather, that their desire is to kill the union.

Our lunch, and parking

I’m still not over the current flare-up of my stupid arthritis (now six months and counting since I was able to do, essentially, anything) so even though Julio’s is within a good walk, we drove to lunch. My wife wanted to pick up some vegetables at Fresh Plus too. Here’s what we had to do:

  1. Drive by Julio’s. All spaces taken. Oops.
  2. Drive by the lot at Fresh Plus. Note that it’s 2/3 empty, unlike the other big lot in the area. Sign says you will be towed if you leave the premises. Oops.
  3. Drive by the other big lot. Full. (Not really allowed for Julio’s either; probably towable).
  4. Park on street amidst many people doing the same.
  5. Walk past Fresh Plus and that other lot over to Julio’s.
  6. Eat lunch
  7. Walk back to Fresh Plus and buy vegetables
  8. Walk past 2/3 empty lot back to car

The even-more-suburban version of this would have entailed us parking at a lot for Julio’s, then having to move the car to the Fresh Plus lot, then driving home. Some folks would prefer that business customers don’t park on the street even in Hyde Park so that’s not that far off. In fact, a local small business opening was/is being held up over such concerns. (if you can’t read the hyde park group and you’re really interested in the details, email me).

This shopping center was used before by Karen McGraw as an example of a good solution to the parking-versus-neighborhood-streets ‘problem’ when another business on Guadalupe was trying to get a variance to open with far less than suburban-norm parking. Didn’t seem that good to me – pretty damn inefficient to have 2/3 of Fresh Plus’ lot sitting there empty (and the big lot shared by Hyde Park Bar & Grill and other businesses is often underutilized as well, although not today).

We’re not that unusual – when people do drive to this commercial node (many walk or bike), it’s quite often to hit several places at once. Most either do what we do and park on the street (thus pissing off the neighbors) or risk getting towed because they ‘left the premises’.

Does this strike anybody else as good? What the hell’s wrong with just abolishing these stupid parking requirements anyways – businesses that absolutely can’t live without dedicated off-street parking would continue to build it; but we wouldn’t be left with these wide expanses of mandated, but empty, parking. And if there was a huge demand for off-street parking, somebody could build (shudder) a pay lot instead of forcing businesses to subsidize drivers at the expense of cyclists and pedestrians.

Folks, if you want to live in a real city, you have to get to that place where you realize that forcing every business to have its own parking lot is just stupid, stupid, stupid. You end up with blight (like on Guadalupe) because you just can’t pound that square suburban peg into the circular urban hole.

New links

Chris Mooney has moved here (a much more palatable host) and I’ve added Tim Lambert.
Both often cover the distortion of science perpetrated by the current sorry crop of right-wingers. And don’t fall for bogus claims of balance by shysters trying to convince you both sides are equally bad. They’re just not. This is almost entirely a Republican problem, and it’s not going anywhere. The mostly non-religious but very-rabid right-wingers at my last job were, despite being a highly educated and self-described moderate bunch, falling for most of the denial science pushed for profit by the GOP’s pseudoscience shills. If those people are unwilling to use their critical thinking skills when their political party tells them not to, I fear for our future. I ain’t kidding.
For instance: There isn’t really any lack of consensus on global warming, people. The scientists who study climate are overwhelmingly speaking in one voice. The few skeptics who remain are largely shills funded by the oil companies. Yes, for real.
I note in passing that my buddies at Hit and Run are still curiously silent on the global warming news of the day.

Big surprise

These guys have nothing to say about this. Pushing claims of false controversy is obviously the game being played by the current crop of right-wingers (ticking off even moderate Republicans like the ones who used to run the show), but it’s been very disappointing to me how much of that has rubbed off on the supposedly non-partisan libertarians.
Hint: Science doesn’t care if you don’t like the news – and it definitely doesn’t care if you don’t want to admit climate change is anthropogenic and dangerous just because the only effective solutions require some involvement from the evil State.

More on hybrids beating diesel

This guy on livejournal posted the results of a real-world test in Canada involving some cars we’re all familiar with. As with CR’s results, in a real-world test, the small diesel car didn’t even come close to the mileage of the bigger (midsize) Prius.