Monthly Archives: March 2006

Real source of smug found

Contrary to this week’s South Park episode, I believe I’ve found the real source of “smug”: bicycle helmets.
I happened to be browsing the archives of the Austin Cycling Association list (looking for comments about Shoal Creek) and came upon a thread about (mostly) bicycle facilities versus Foresterism. Good stuff; I usually like reading those. Then I came across a contribution which included the following:

Unhelmeted cyclists involved in falls, even at moderate speeds have
sustained irreversible head injuries and death and even helmeted
cyclists have sustained things like broken necks in non-collision
falls. An example of the latter happened in Austin not too long ago
when a doctor commuting home down Guadalupe hit one of those steel
plates covering street excavations. He fell and he died. He was a
regular bike commuter and wore a helmet, but it did not save him. On
the other hand, past mayor Bruce Todd apparently took a fall with no
indication that a collision with another vehicle was involved. He
wore a helmet and in the opinion of doctors and others, it saved his
life by mitigating injury to his head. While not statistically
significant in and of themselves, these incidents are not that
uncommon overall.

Does anybody else see the problem here? Two examples used of “why you have to wear a helmet or you’re stupid”, and in one of them, the guy died anyway; while in the other one, the guy got so badly hurt he nearly died and is still suffering brain damage even today.
And yet, people follow up with the likes of this:

“I’ve seen no motor vehicle/bicycle accidents, but I’ve seen a lot of
cyclists without helmets and quite a few at night without lights.”
As have I–always want to stop them and give them a gentle
lecture–what I call my “as a mom” speech.

Equating riding at night without lights (which has been clearly shown to be dangerous, in the real world data) to riding without helmets (which hasn’t). Argh.
Folks, these things don’t work. Whatever they’re doing for your minor scrapes and scratches, there’s just no evidence in the real world that they’re doing jack squat for major injuries or deaths.

Capital Metro Broken Promises Part 2

Well, I was planning on writing Part Two about finances – specifically, the debt issue. But, I just got the following across the wire on the austin-bikes email list (originally written by somebody else on the ACA list). Remember that one of the many levers used to try to pry the center-city away from my position of “rail which doesn’t run anywhere near central Austin isn’t worth voting for” was the promise of “rails with trails”, pushed most heartily by folks like Jeb Boyt, David Foster, and Dave Dobbs. I never fell for it, of course; it was obvious that double-tracking needed to happen in enough spots to make trails of any serious length impractical bordering on impossible, and the political (performance-oriented) hurdles seemed insurmountable. I said so, frequently (see bottom; unfortunately, I didn’t write any blog posts about this angle; I know, what are the odds).
But, as usual, I was alone.
Now, indications are that Capital Metro is wiggling out of yet another commitment made to central Austin in order to get the thing passed (see Part One and followup). Responses on the ACA list basically hem and haw about multi-organization planning efforts and the necessity to keep pushing and go get some money, ignoring the fact that Capital Metro and its defenders basically said this trail would get built and be useful for central Austinites; not that “if you pay your own money we might let you build one in a decade out by Leander where there’s enough room, but then again we might not”.
The Austin-screwing Krusee-train rides again. Yee-haw!
Here’s the quote from the ACA list:

I was in a planning meeting with Lucy Galbraith from Capital Metro last week, and she said the words I’ve been dreading. She said there is no plan — nor has there ever been a plan — to build bike and pedestrian trails along the planned rail commuter lines.
I had been told repeatedly by several sources in Capital Metro that they were committed to building a connected trail for bicycles and pedestrians next to every rail line to allow people to safely walk or ride to or from the nearest station. I said, on this list, I couldn’t wait for that day. It sounded swell to me.
And I voted for the commuter rail in part because I thought it would help us get this bike trail.
Now Ms. Galbraith is saying that Capital Metro never had any such plan. (More specifically, she said the language related to bike/pedestrian trails was ambiguous and vague.) She said there was an idea proposed for bike and pedestrian trails, but there were no funds ever allocated. She also said that Capital Metro intends to build parallel tracks in their right-of-way, so in many places there will not be room for a bike/pedestrian trail.
So, to sum up… There never was a plan, just an idea proposed. There are no funds. And there is no room. And I, for one, feel somewhat fooled.

Here are some excerpts from the austin-bikes list archive both from me and those who scoffed.
One of my first on the topic:

And I want to remind all of you that, while these bike facilities are an unquestionably good thing, it is very unlikely that Capital Metro will build them unless the performance of the starter line is fairly good, and by that I mean it has to be good enough to convince voters to continue to build the system drawn in the long-range plan. The rails-with-trails trail is not going to be part of the starter route; it’s going to be built afterwards IF AND ONLY IF the long-range plan continues to be implemented.
Whether or not this starter line is good enough to get us on the path of implementing that long-range plan (which I think is still awful) is a matter of opinion. I think by now you all know I believe the chance that this starter line will match the extremely poor performance of Tri-Rail in South Florida, which it closely resembles in all important aspects, is quite good).
So please vote simply based on whether you think this starter line is going to work. Voting yes in the hopes of getting bike trails is foolish if the plan itself is never going to get to that point. You might in fact be impeding the development of mass transit in our area and not get the bike trails anyways.

The first real doozy, from David Foster. A nice guy who is probably feeling pretty down right now.

Bike Friends,
I have been out of town for a few days and am catching up on lots of
email on commuter rail and rails-with-trails. Rather than responding
to al of them, I just want to point out a few reasons why RwT is
more likely to happen with than without commuter rail. I will be out
of town again starting tomorrow and not back till Wednesday but I
look forward to the post-election analysis on this forum, and I hope
discussion of how to make rails-with-trails work should the
referendum pass, as I hope it will
1). Cap Metro will have more money if the referendum passes, and may
well not be able to withstand the attack to roll back its sales tax
and put the money into roads if it loses. This means we could lose
funding for RwT and the All Systems Go improvements to the bus
system as well, and cripple the agency’s chance to do any kind of
rail system. This is of course what Skaggs and Levy want.
2) Cap Metro will have an incentive to do RwT if the referendum
passes, namely to increase ridership by providing an easier and
safer way for cyclists to access the stations and trains. Cap Metro
has also agreed to providing bike access on the trains and lockers
and/or bike racks at the stations, which will serve the same purpose
of increasing ridership. A cyclist will be able to ride to the
station, leave the bike there or take it along and ride to his/her
final destination.
3) I do not believe that Cap Metro would commit the political
blunder of backing out on this promise. Many of us worked to get Cap
Metro to agree to RwT, including the bicycle advocacy organizations
who issued the joint press release supporting the referendum (ACA,
AMTG, TBC, and now too Trans Texas Alliance). Cap Metro gives every
indication of wanting to go forward, including helping bring Mia
Birk of Alta Planning in from Portland Oregon to give a presentation
on Rails with Trails while back.

My response to David:

My statement that “you won’t get rails-with-trails if commuter rail
fails to deliver passengers” is based on political pragmatism, not what
Capital Metro happens to be saying right now.
1. There is no legal requirement that they provide RwT if the election
passes. I don’t think David disputes this. Nothing but the initial
commuter line is really up for a vote here. I believe Capital Metro
intends to build RwT. I also believe that if the commuter rail line
meets my expectations (performs similar to South Florida’s Tri-Rail
line, the only other new start of the last 20-30 years which relies on
shuttle buses for distribution), the political pressure to give back 1/4
cent (at least) of Capital Metro’s money will be as strong as it ever
has been. So I don’t buy the argument that the money’s only going back
if the election fails. I think the money’s also going back if the
election succeeds but the starter line fails.
2. I don’t think RwT provides much boost to ridership. This isn’t going
to be providing cycling access to stations, for the most part; it will
be providing cycling routes ALONG the rail line, not TO the rail line.
The neighborhoods in Leander will continue to have no bicycling access
to stations whatsoever – RwT will not change this. Nor will RwT improve
access for central Austinites since the part of the line they call
“central Austin” (really north Austin – Crestview/Wooten) is the least
likely to have space for the trail due to narrower RoW. Also, cycling
access to stations in this part of Austin is already pretty good -
roughly ten million times better than in Leander or far northwest Austin.
3. If Capital Metro wants to keep running the commuter rail line after
this point (attempting to fix it with streetcars or by going to
Seaholm), they’re going to need to fight a POLITICAL battle to keep that
money. Guess what the likely casualty would be in that case? In other
words, the “political blunder of backing out” may end up being one
necessary part of Capital Metro’s strategy to make the rail service
survive long enough for an attempted rescue by streetcars (or Seaholm).
In conclusion: I respect David and, unlike many on the
pro-commuter-rail-side, he has been an honorable and informed opponent.
I think he’s kept that standard up here. I don’t disagree that
rails-with-trails would be really nice if they happen; and my prediction
that they will not occur is based on my informed guess of what will
happen politically when the rail line fails to deliver passenger load. I
think he honestly believes the line will deliver enough passengers to
survive long enough for RwT to happen; and obviously I don’t.

And a response from Eric Anderson…

Certainly, construction of Rails-with-Trails will accelerate with voter buy-in and continued build-out of Cap Metro’s long range transit plan.
There is however simply no evidence that any/all bike facilities associated with the Austin-Leander commuter rail line must jump through some performance hoop.
[...]
In fact, Cap Metro spokesperson Sam Archer indicated to those present at Austin Cycling Association meeting on Oct. 11th, that immediately following an affirmative Nov. 2nd vote, Cap Metro would begin master-planning efforts for such Rails-with-Trails facilities in tandem with commuter rail planning efforts.

STILL feel good about falling for this snow-job instead of fighting for light rail for central Austin?

Bad Neighborhoods Shouldn’t Get Help

Inspired by a survey pushed by Tarrytown neighborhood activists, I’ve re-entered the fray on McMansions. Read the survey, and note that if those regulations were enforced, essentially none of the best streets for pedestrians and residents in central Austin would be remotely legal (as opposed to current suburban-oriented zoning code, under which they’re only MOSTLY illegal).
My latest contribution on the residential regulations discussion board relating to the McMansion debate follows. Please sign up and comment in the thread if you have an interest in this stuff. The perception that most homeowners believe that this stuff is OK is what gives these people the disproportionate power that they have today.
In other words, right now it looks like eeevil developers are the only people who would oppose these additional restrictions, since most of the responsible adults in Austin have stayed silent. It’s my belief that the City Council will cave and essentially do whatever the task force comes up with, if it looks like their regulations have the support of a sufficiently large majority of people who expressed some interest in the process, just like another recent cowardly pandering dodge of their responsiblity as city leaders.
This builds on a thread by Chris Cosart.

I suppose you could sum up my “responsible urbanism” position this way:
Neighborhoods which have vigorously fought all density and infill over the years which could have helped the city achieve its overall goals should not receive extra protection from the market forces they have distorted in the process.
Specifically: if your neighborhood’s plan doesn’t allow for additional multifamily development not only on the fringes but on the inside of your neighborhood, in some non-trivial way, you shouldn’t expect the support of the city to defend you against incompatible development. Period.
Living in a city entails responsibilities as well as rights. Too often, central neighborhoods such as Hyde Park and especially NUNA, have irresponsibly fought density which would have helped the city as a whole (the Villas on Guadalupe, for instance). Now, those same people who fought responsible multi-family development in places where it was drastically needed (even far away from their homes), and who, by the way, live in homes which are already big and/or incompatible with their neighbors, want additional city protection from the market distortions they themselves helped create through decades of obstructionism.
What we need is additional multifamily infill EVERYWHERE – not just on the big roads like Guadalupe and Lamar (where you’ve fought it), but also in garage apartments, even on small lots (where you’ve fought it); in duplexes (where you’ve fought it); two and four-plexes and rowhouses even on the inside of neighborhoods (where you’ve fought it). All that fighting only resulted in gross distorting loopholes like Super-Twos and Super-Duplexes, when a more rational response to the market would have resulted in quality multi-family infill. Who knows what will result from this latest attempt to stick another finger in the dike – but I can guarantee it won’t be nice, and it won’t be what you expect.
You won’t get my support. I hope you won’t get the City Council’s support either.

Shoal Creek Summed Up

Michael Bluejay made an outstanding presentation (Quicktime slides with audio) which everybody needs to read. (He presented this before the City Council right before they approved the cyclist-endangering Option III).

Again, I can’t recommend this video enough. It’s the best quick summary of this issue, with pictures, that I’ve ever seen. Watch it now.

Broken Commuter Rail Promises, Part One And A Half

(Bet you thought I was going to address the debt issue, since the Statesman wrote a scathing editorial today. That’s Part Two, but it’s coming later.)
Following up on Part One, Capital Metro has put up a survey trying to narrow down road choices for the infamous “circulator service” which represents the sum total of the ‘additions’ which were promised to transit-loving central Austinites who observed that All Systems Go doesn’t go anywhere people want to go; nor does it go near people who might want to ride.

Notice from the picture: it doesn’t go through residential central Austin in any way, shape, or form. This service, when implemented, is just a bus (maybe a streetcar) from Mueller to UT or downtown; it does NOT do anything to make up for the slap in the face to central Austin.
Note where it doesn’t go. It doesn’t go up Guadalupe, where tens of thousands of people live within a short walk of the 2000 light rail route. It doesn’t go next to the Triangle, a transit-oriented development which is actually BUILT, not just a twinkle in somebody’s eye. It doesn’t go by high-density residential development presently under construction in West Campus. It doesn’t reward the central Austinites who pay essentially all of Capital Metro’s bills with any transit improvements at all (and no, Rapid Bus isn’t worth shit).
And also remember that Capital Metro has already ruled out reserved-guideway-transit for this route. This means, essentially, that whether the vehicle has rubber tires (bus) or steel wheels (streetcar), it’s still going to be stuck behind other peoples’ cars in traffic.
Still feel good about falling for this snowjob, folks?

I Got Mine, Now You Can’t Have Yours

Disappointing one of my three loyal readers who has been bugging me for Part II of Capital Metro’s Broken Promises, I thought I should call attention to the bulletin board being used to hash out permanent version(s) of the McMansion Ordinance.
Specifically, I noticed that on the Task Force, the three representatives closest to my area have one guy with whom I don’t have much problem with in general, but also two people who I most certainly have: one from Hyde Park and one from NUNA.
I did a little sleuthing on zillow.com, since I can’t yet walk as far as Hyde Park thanks to the still-mostly-unresponsive-to-treatment-arthritis. The representative from Hyde Park’s home is friggin’ huge compared to its neighbors and the typical Hyde Park bungalow.
I did make it by the representative’s house in NUNA, which, despite not being as huge, was arguably even more incompatible with its neighbors, having the cardinal sin of “looming over its neighbor’s backyards” which is an oft-heard complaint against McMansions.
I’d also like to call attention to an excellent thread started by Chris Cosart, who has commented here in the past.
I’ll close with those quote from another thread on that very board:

As I’ve pointed out with the two examples from the task force, though, this boils down to “I got mine; now you can’t have yours”. Both 111 Laurel and 4315 Avenue C are incompatible with their neighbors. Why should they be allowed to tell me how compatible I must be with mine?

Updated Consumer Reports FUD

I’ve plugged my own, more consistent, data into CR’s corrected formula and applied them below.
Conclusions: With the full tax credit, the Prius beats the pants off even the Corolla. Without any of the tax credit (which will eventually happen this year, since it gradually expires as more Toyota hybrids are sold), the Prius doesn’t beat the smaller Corolla (if you use accurate data) but still beats the pants off the Camry.

Cost Item Prius vs. Corolla
CR’s version
Prius vs. Corolla
Fair version
Prius vs. Camry
Purchase-price premium $5700 $5700 $3001
Extra sales tax $400 $400 $201
Extra financing cost $792 $792 $426
Savings from hybrid tax credit $(3150) $(3150) $(3150)
Fuel savings $(2300) $(2300) $(3060)2
Extra insurance cost (or savings) $300 $3003 $03
Extra maintenance cost (or savings) $300 $04 $04
5-year resale price differential7 $(2494) $(4000)5,8 $(1000)5,8
Total extra cost (savings) with/without tax credit $(406)
$2744
$(2258)
$892
$(6848)
$(3698)

Notes:

  1. Purchase price estimated from midpoint of range published in CR.
  2. Using estimated combined MPG of 24 in CR’s tests. Don’t yet know figures for new Camry.
  3. This is probably correct, but has to do with the higher purchase price more than anything else. Estimated same insurance for Camry for that reason.
  4. Previous-gen Prius broke down less than Corolla and required less scheduled maintenance (brake pads and such). Higher cost of having to go to dealer instead of independent sometimes makes up for this.
  5. Prius has depreciated less than essentially any car out there – in fact we still get offers from our dealer to buy it back for about what we paid for it 2 years ago. I’m being conservative here in favor of the Corolla and Camry, believe it or not.
  6. Proportional adjustment from extra cost to Corolla – this is probably slightly off since it’s not quite that simple, but close enough for our purposes.
  7. This is how they fixed their methodology. Negative numbers (in parentheses) indicate higher resale value for Prius.
  8. I’ve estimated higher sales price after 5 years for Prius vs. Corolla and Prius vs. Camry based on CR’s own depreciation ratings from later in the issue (see note 5).

CR admits error

Updating yesterday’s entry, CR has now admitted a methodology flaw in their hybrid comparison – (which, admittedly, I even carried over into my own table – I assumed their error was in data rather than in methodology). They haven’t acknowledged the inconsistency in their depreciation figures (still claiming even in the revised article that the Prius depreciates worse than the Corolla; and simultaneously claiming in their data in the car tables later in the same issue that the Corolla depreciates much worse than the Prius), but they have noted that simply adding together purchase price difference plus depreciation difference plus financing is effectively double-counting depreciation.
Their modified figures show the Prius winning by a small amount over the Corolla. Oh, and by the way, they also haven’t addressed the fact that the Prius is a lot bigger than the Corolla – not a fair head-to-head comparison without at least mentioning that the Prius is in between the Corolla and Camry in size.
Of course, the damage is already done. The hybrid FUDders are gleefully cackling; and the American consumer now ‘knows’ that hybrids ‘don’t save any money’. Good job, CR.

Consumer Reports’ Hybrid FUD

Sadly, just as I was becoming comfortable with using Consumer Reports’ data to defend against hybrid FUD, the most recent issue contains an article as bad as any of it out there.
Nearly every assumption they make in the article is flawed (not backed up by real-world data). Odograph has already covered the unfairness of comparing the Prius to the much smaller Corolla without at least mentioning the fact that unlike all of the other comparisons they did, they aren’t really anything close to the same car. I noted in his comments that CR was also inconsistent about depreciation – their table charges a huge “extra depreciation” fee to the Prius, but their own statistics later in the issue show the Prius’ depreciation to be “much better than average” while the Corolla is merely “average”.
Additional points they got wrong are the infamous “battery life” scare tactic (hint: they will probably outlive your car). I’ve posted two tables below, comparing the Prius (more fairly) to the Corolla, as well as to the Camry (which is the car in the same size class as the Prius as well as its much more credible gas-only competitor), and showing their original comparison vs. the Corolla.
(scroll wayyyy down – I don’t know why Movable Type hates table tags so much, but it does; it’s down there eventually I promise).

Cost Item Prius vs. Corolla
CR’s version
Prius vs. Corolla
Fair version
Prius vs. Camry
Purchase-price premium $5700 $5700 $3001
Extra sales tax $400 $400 $201
Savings from hybrid tax credit $(3150) $(3150) $(3150)
Fuel savings $(2300) $(2300) $(3060)2
Extra insurance cost (or savings) $300 $3003 $03
Extra maintenance cost (or savings) $300 $04 $04
Extra depreciation cost $3200 $(1000)5 $(2000)5
Extra financing cost $5250 $5250 $2806
Total extra cost (savings) $5250 $750 $(7610)

Notes:

  1. Purchase price estimated from midpoint of range published in CR.
  2. Using estimated combined MPG of 24 in CR’s tests. Don’t yet know figures for new Camry.
  3. This is probably correct, but has to do with the higher purchase price more than anything else. Estimated same insurance for Camry for that reason.
  4. Previous-gen Prius broke down less than Corolla and required less scheduled maintenance (brake pads and such). Higher cost of having to go to dealer instead of independent sometimes makes up for this.
  5. Prius has depreciated less than essentially any car out there – in fact we still get offers from our dealer to buy it back for about what we paid for it 2 years ago. I’m being conservative here in favor of the Corolla and Camry, believe it or not.
  6. Proportional adjustment from extra cost to Corolla – this is probably slightly off since it’s not quite that simple, but close enough for our purposes.

Broken Commuter Rail Promises, Part One

The ongoing brouhaha with Lyndon reminded me to start collecting these in one place. First in a series of at least three.
Advocates of light rail through central Austin (including myself, of course) were encouraged to vote for this commuter rail plan, and get “light rail later”. Dave Dobbs took me to lunch and tried real hard to get me to fall into line on this, as a matter of fact. This strategy extended to electioneering by Capital Metro itself, who originally stated in Rapid Bus materials that the one proposed route was a “possible placeholder for light rail”. One example here. After getting the pro-transit forces to ease up (except me, of course), they dropped this language from their materials. Since then, Capital Metro has never mentioned running rail on the 2000 light rail route past such minor destinations as the center of downtown, the Capitol, the University of Texas, high-density residential development in West Campus and points north, and the Triangle.
From Jeff Wood’s thesis, the following:

Robin Rather, who also attended the meeting, asked the hard questions. “What is the best system and what does the Central City get out of all this?” She had a point. Bus Rapid Transit would not sit well with people who had voted overwhelmingly for light rail in 2000. “With the stroke of a pen, I could wipe out this whole proposal at the ballot box,” she said “So why should we support this if we are not getting anything out of it?”

Fast-forward to 2006. Capital Metro has eliminated any talk of reserved-guideway rail on the 2000 light rail route; and the “circulator” service being hashed out is leaning heavily towards buses (although still keeping streetcars on the list until the bitter end as is typical). Where’s it going to run? Through downtown and by the capitol; but then veering east past the south edge of UT and out to the old airport; avoiding all of the residential density which exists now or in the near future. In other words, this amazing “center-city circulator” which was supposed to make commuter rail provide some benefits to the people who pay essentially all of Capital Metro’s tax dollars has morphed into “The Bus People Living At Mueller Will Take To Get To Their Job If They’re Members Of The Small Group That Have To Pay A Lot To Park”. (Need a catchy slogan for this vehicle! Ideas gladly stolen^H^H^H^H^H^Haccepted!)
Feel good so far about falling for this snow-job, folks?