Monthly Archives: February 2006

Austin urbanist group

After discussions with a few like-minded folks, I’ve created a group on yahoo called austin_urbanists. Some of the readers of this crackplog might be interested in joining.

The Drainage Emergency

Following up on yesterday’s excitement where I got involved in the McMansion debate on an austin neighborhood planning email list, pointing out that the rationale used to justify adding MORE rather than LESS regulation of what people do with their property is shoddy,
and in which I accidentally mailed something to the whole list which I meant to send offline to one person in particular, for which I then had to apologize, to which I then received a snarky, obnoxious, rejoinder that I might want to read the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan (which I printed out and have had on hand for 3 or 4 years now, as I’ve done with all center-city neighborhood plans, since, heck, I was a committee chair on one back in the day),
to which I then wrote this mean, mean, mean retort

Today, I call your attention to the Planning Commission recommendations for the issue. Note how few of the items listed have anything to do with drainage.
Here’s a radical idea: If the problem being addressed here really is “drainage”, i.e. storm sewers, and it MUST be, since the center-city neighborhood associations who pushed this through used the DRAINAGE EMERGENCY as the justification for their immediate moratorium, why not attack the actual problem? Here’s a simple idea. (Using single-family here; multi-family fees would require another formula).

  1. “Normal” drainage fee on monthly utility statement = X (today’s amount).
  2. Adjust for size of single-family lot. Larger lot = bigger fee.
  3. Adjust for amount of impervious cover, by percentage. More greenspace = smaller fee.
  4. Adjust for on-site detention such as rain barrels.

That’s all it would take. Anybody who wanted to live in a McMansion would be faced with a higher drainage bill. Anybody who lives in an existing house which has similarly large impervious cover ALSO pays. Make these multipliers high enough that they generate enough money for the necessary drainage facilities, and you then have a way to harness the power of development to solve the actual problem.
I wonder how interested in this actual solution to the DRAINAGE!!!!!! EMERGENCY!!!!!! the center-city neighborhood associations will be. Any guesses?
I should probably start adding this disclaimer: M1EK hates McMansions more than you do. M1EK just doesn’t like punishing property owners who don’t want to build a McMansion but might want to build a bigger house. M1EK is especially pissed off by people who use bogus excuses to hide what they really want, which is to keep ‘those people’ out of ‘their neighborhood’. M1EK is even more especially pissed off by neighborhood associations whose leaders bleat about keeping housing affordable, yet have resisted every multifamily development in and near their neighborhood for years..

Irresponsible Center-City Neighborhoods And Their Plans

Just posted to AustinNP, in response to a long-running thread originally about the McMansion ordinance.

Those neighborhood plans are very, very, very underwhelming. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan calls for barely more density than exists today, and the CANPAC ‘trades’ density which ALWAYS should have been allowed in West Campus for the right not to have any more multifamily or mixed-use development in most of the rest of the area.
When I chaired the transportation committee for the Old West Austin neighborhood plan, as long as we’re trading bona-fides, we operated under the understanding that our responsibility was to tell the city where and how our neighborhood and surrounding area could accomodate additional density, both multifamily and mixed-use commercial, since the will of the city (including these neighborhoods) was to redirect development inwards (slowing suburban sprawl). The goal was _NOT_ to push it purely onto the fringe of our neighborhood so that apartments would only go up on the loud, busy, streets; or that it would become another neighborhood’s problem. This is in direct contrast to the Hyde Park and especially CANPAC plans – where a responsible process would have resulted in much more density being called for on Guadalupe; somewhat more (as mixed-use or multifamily) on the interior streets of Speedway and Duval; loosening rather than tightening of secondary dwelling rules; etc.
So, if you ask me, do I respect the amount of time that you and the others spent making those neighborhood plans – yes, in a sense, I do, in the sense that I can respect how hard-working Karl Rove is, even though he works for my political enemies. You achieved your goals completely; but the outcome is not one I can respect.
- MD

SXSW torrent is up!

Batch one is up! Start your bittorrent now!

Shoal Creek Attractive Nuisance Boulevard

(just posted to the austin transportational cycling list)
As I’ve tried to point out before but obviously not succeeded, the danger for SCB is that it becomes an ‘attractive nuisance’ – i.e., if you stripe a ‘bike lane’ or a ‘shoulder’ or even a ‘shared use area’, you are making an implied recommendation that this is where cyclists should be riding. (Well-established in both legal and traffic engineering circles).
Thus, the facility to which you’re ‘attracting’ the cyclists to had better meet some basic, bare minimum, safety guidelines such as AASHTO. As many have pointed out, AASHTO standards for bike lanes next to parking are still not great – a good chunk of the bike lane would be in the door space, but the Gandy design would have had all of the bike lane within the door zone, and the ‘space’ shrinking to perhaps a foot when being passed by a motorist while you yourself were passing a parked truck – i.e., you would get brushed even if the parked vehicle never opened its door. The 10-foot shared space has this same exact problem; the absence of the stripe separating ‘bike lane’ from ‘parking lane’ makes no difference.

I get the sense that many people still haven’t looked at these pictures, which tell the story far better than my words possibly could.
Take a look. That’s not “normal bike lane bad” where the door would extend part of the way into the bike lane when it’s open. That’s “guaranteed collision bad” where the cyclist fundamentally doesn’t have enough space to travel even when the truck’s door is closed.
Some people (who must not have looked at that picture) drastically underestimate how bad a facility this is – thinking that they (good rider) would just get into the travel lane to pass the parked car. This forgets that:
1. Most inexperienced riders don’t know to do this, and will thus ‘swerve’ at the last moment, or maybe not even go out into the lane at all, and
2. Experienced riders will take the lane well in advance of the parked car, and will (in my, and Lane’s experience at least) get honked at, or possibly someday worse.
A facility which encourages inexperienced cyclists to perform unsafe manuevers and which causes conflict with other road users when experienced cyclists do what they’re supposed to do has no place on our roadways. It doesn’t matter how the other roads in the city are designed – if this one fails some basic minimum safety standards, it’s a horrible, horrible design and needs to be rethought. If this means removing SCB from the city’s bicycle route system, so be it.
That’s the bottom line here – the city is basically signing up for a huge potential liability lawsuit, and if it ever happens, I’ll be glad to testify that they were warned early and often.

Fungible doesn’t mean you’re off the hook

The economists who are gleeful over the Dilbert cartoon on Sunday are missing a very, very, very important point.
War trumps economics, and economics can prevent war. Sometimes that’s a good thing (economics preventing war); sometimes not.
In this case, We’re (in the US) supposedly prevented from dealing forcefully with the country which paid most of the money and sent most of the people on the planes which killed 3,000 of our own people on our own soil. Why? That country is essentially the only one today which could practically increase or decrease its oil production, and we, unlike the rest of the industrialized world, are critically dependent on not just oil, but CHEAP oil.
In other words, the French and Germans care less about the Saudi royal family being overthrown because they don’t need cheap oil as badly as we do. They use oil, sure, but they’ve taxed it heavily (as a rational response to the costs of delivering it, the associated infrastructure such as roads, and negative externalities such as pollution). We, on the other hand, actually keep gasoline CHEAPER than it would be if we just required drivers to pay for all of the roads and such they use, without even accounting for pollution and other less easily quantifiable externalities.
As a result, we still haven’t really struck back at the people who so badly need striking back upon because the ruling party is so critically dependent on the votes of people who ‘need’ to drive a truck 15,000 miles a year at 12 miles per gallon and were livid at $3/gallon gas, much less the $6 or $7 the Europeans pay.
FDR and Truman would have had the heads of anybody who suggested that we couldn’t ‘afford’ to fight the Germans or Japanese. But, today, that’s exactly what people say about the Saudis. We can’t ‘afford’ to even SPEAK toughly with them, because, hey, the oil!
In WWII, we put up posters reminding people that they were sacrificing cheap oil for a bigger cause. War, in other words, trumped economics, as it should have. Now, of course, we can’t, because even the Democrats are in the thrall of suburban sprawl, and the Republicans are much worse. Even when 3,000 of our own civilians died on our own soil. It’ll be hard to change this even when cheap oil is no longer possible, but Scott Adams is making it even harder by making those who care about the issue seem like fools.
It makes me sick that we still haven’t done squat to the Saudis after all this time, but it makes me even sicker that Scott Adams has fallen in with such loathsome, cowardly people. Shameful, Scott. Shameful.

Fifty-Fifty Journalistic Balance Sucks

Whether it’s in science (usually global warming or evolution) or local politics, journalists addicted to “he-said she-said” should turn in their press pass. If that’s all we needed, simple links to a couple of ideological websites would suffice.
With global warming, you effectively have an overwhelming scientific consensus and a couple of skeptics – bought and paid for by oil companies (and, of course, a college dropout Bush appointee trying to censor one of this country’s most experienced climatologists). The media usually covers this as “he-said, she-said”, which is OK when there truly IS no consensus, but we passed that point ten years ago.
In the Shoal Creek debacle instance, the Chronicle didn’t bother to tell you that the TTI, hired by the City Council in an obvious attempt to provide at least some political cover for choosing “Option 3″, reported back to them that the peer cities fairly unanimously recommended “Option 2″, and that all of them recommended very strongly against “Option 3″. Paraphrased, the response was, essentially, “why don’t you idiots just restrict parking on one side of the street?”.
Did the Chronicle mention this, either at the time or now that the council subcommittee ignored everybody who knows diddly-squat about traffic safety and ordered Option 3? Of course not. It’s “car-free bike lane guys say X. On the other hand, neighborhood people say Y”. No mention of which position might be more credible. No mention of the fact that the experts the city hired to consult were firmly on one of the two sides.
Fifty-fifty balance sucks. A chimp could collate two press releases together and turn them into an article. Chronicle, have another banana.

Shoal Creek letter to council

This Shoal Creek decision is a shameful abrogation of the responsiblity to ensure safe and reliable travel for all road users. When the TTI reported to the subcommitte that other cities unanimously recommended against variants of “Option III”, that should have relegated it to the scrap heap, even if the neighborhood were unanimously in favor of it.
As it stood, all the Council had to do was stand with a large minority of neighborhood residents and do the right thing.
I have never been more ashamed of our city than I am today. I hope you can live with yourselves when a kid riding his bike to Northwest Park gets run over when he “swerves into traffic” to get around a parked car.
Disgustedly yours,
Michael E. Dahmus
mdahmus@io.com

Houston outlaws density better than Austin does

A pseudonymous trogolyde in this well-commented thread on Metroblogging Austin has just invoked the second component the “Austin no-growther duo”, the first being “It’s all the Californian’s fault”.

M1EK if you are so in love with density. And the idea of quaint neighborhoods with small houses is too much to take move the fuck out of Austin. Move to fucking Houston. Developers have less restrictions. You can tear down houses and build condos and no bats an eye.

The charm, it just oozes off the screen.
It’s probably a good time to repoint readers to this article on Houston in which the author alleges a similar, perhaps even greater, interference by the government there in the processes which would otherwise create density, despite the oft-celebrated lack of zoning. One example, in case you don’t want to wade through the PDF,

Until 1998, [FN37] Houston’s city code provided that the minimum lot size for detached [FN38]
single-family dwellings was 5000 square feet. [FN39] And until 1998, [FN40] Houston’s
government made it virtually impossible for developers to build large numbers of non-detached
single-family homes such as townhouses, [FN41] by requiring townhouses to sit on at least 2250
square feet of land. [FN42] As Siegan admits, this law “tend(ed) to preclude the erection of
lower cost townhouses” [FN43] and thus effectively meant that townhouses “cannot be built for
the lower and lower middle income groups.” [FN44] Houston’s townhouse regulations, unlike its
regulations governing detached houses, [FN45] were significantly more restrictive than those of
other North American cities. For example, town houses may be as small as 647 square feet of
land in Dallas, [FN46] 560 square feet in Phoenix, [FN47] and 390 square feet in Toronto,
Canada. [FN48]
Houston’s anti-townhouse policy, combined with its minimum lot size requirement for detached
houses, effectively meant that almost all single-family development in Houston had to be on a lot
of at least 5000 square feet [FN49] (which means that single-family areas in Houston could have
no more than 8.7 houses per acre).

There’s a lot more. Again, I highly recommend you read this if you’ve ever heard that “Houston has no zoning”.

The thing people aren’t getting about the library

With the call to build it somewhere pretty or where they can build it bigger is:
The people who most need and use the library currently are quite likely to get there on the bus. Yes, the bus you think nobody uses; although if you stand outside the current library and look at those buses go by, you’ll quickly be disabused of that particular brand of suburban idiocy.
The current library works well because it’s on one of the two most heavily bus-travelled corridors downtown (Guadalupe). A location on Cesar Chavez too far from Congress, on the other hand, won’t be an easy trip for many of the current patrons.
Look at the map (zoom in on the lower-right inset). Notice how many buses go right next to the thing. Most of the rest of the buses are three blocks away on Congress. So, a huge chunk of routes don’t require any walk at all, and most of the rest require a 3-block walk at most.
Now, consider the proposed new site at what’s now the water treatment plant. Going by current routes, two come fairly close, but the big conglomeration coming down Guadalupe/Lavaca will be about two blocks away; and the Congress routes about five blocks away.
This doesn’t sound like much to walk, and it wouldn’t be for most of us. However, as somebody who hasn’t been able to walk well for quite a while now and used to serve on a commission where we were often taking up issues important to those who are mobility-impaired, I have more appreciation than most for what a pain in the ass this is going to be. Oh, and don’t forget, unlike most of the people involved with this decision, I’ve been to this library many times – and I can tell you that at any given time, a huge number, possibly even the majority of the patrons arrived on the bus, and a large fraction of those are either elderly or in wheelchairs or both. For THOSE people, two more blocks is a lot to ask.
Don’t move somewhere which makes the library less accessible to those who need it most just for the sake of being pretty. Please say no to moving the central library off the main bus lines.
Update: Several commenters have commented along these lines (paraphrased, with my response):
“Isn’t commuter rail going to a transit hub at Seaholm anyways?” – please do yourself a favor and read this category archive and start with this post, OK? Short summary: It ain’t going to Seaholm for decades, if then. And Seaholm is still a couple-blocks’-walk from this site.
The buses will just be moved to go by the library – this isn’t going to happen either, folks. Long-haul bus routes don’t make two-block jogs just for the hell of it (people already complain about how supposedly indirect these things are). Each one of those bus routes might deliver a dozen passengers a day to the existing library – enough to make it a valuable part of the demand for the current route, but not enough to justify hauling a long, heavy, bus around a bunch of tight corners.