Monthly Archives: November 2006

When will I learn?

Despite past experience, I’ve once again gotten suckered into arguing with a sub-group of zealot mostly counter-culture exclusive-cyclists at Michael Bluejay’s list that cyclists do, in fact, disobey traffic signals much more often than do motorists, a position which is commonly understood by the 99.5% of the population that is not clinically insane.
I was somewhat enheartened (?) to see that there are guys like me all over the country as well as in other countries making this same case: running red lights and stop signs hurts the cause of transportation bicyclists.
Want to maintain the reasonable right to ride without a bicycle helmet? Want to get bicycle facilities? Want to be taken seriously when you try to get the cops to enforce the laws against bad motorists? BEHAVE LIKE A GROWN-UP FIRST.
PS: Every time this comes up on Michael’s e-mail list, I’m alone out there fighting the good fight. This has allowed the conventional wisdom among these folks to be: “car drivers run red lights more than bicyclists do; and you’re making up all this stuff about how drivers see so many cyclists breaking the law that it causes them to lose respect for cycling as transportation”. If you’re reading this, and you’re on that list, and you don’t chime in, you’re part of the problem.

Streetcar isn’t a step in the right direction

A quick hit; just posted to the austin streetcars mailing list in response to my old buddy Lyndon Henry, who defended streetcar investment against somebody complaining about low-frequency east-west downtown bus service on the weekend. I meant several months ago to address this “streetcar is a step towards light rail” issue – it still deserves its own post, but here’s a start.

On 10:28 PM 11/12/2006 -0600, Nawdry wrote:
There are plenty of advantages that streetcars can have over buses,

exactly zero of which would help any of the issues (original complainaint) raised. The streetcar service proposed by Capital Metro truly is “bus on rails” – it has zero feet of reserved guideway; zero instances of signal prioritization; will be slow and take many stops. None of the advantages remaining which one could fairly assign to streetcars help local riders in the slightest – they just help tourists and businesses that cater to the same (the rails in the street making it more obvious that transit service exists and in which direction it goes).
It will not improve circulation from commuter rail one lousy iota. In fact, the initial shuttle buses will likely perform better than this streetcar, given Cap Metro’s intention to have the streetcar line make many many stops (the early shuttles will likely not do this until they reach the area of their destination – i.e. they won’t be stopping along Manor).
Nor can streetcar be upgraded to higher-quality reserved-guideway service once installed. No transit agency would dream of attempting to run reserved-guideway transit in the RIGHT lane – but that’s exactly where the streetcar is getting put.
You and yours sold the Austin area a pig in a poke that can never and will never turn into the light rail we should have built all along. I remain ready to point this out whenever necessary.
Your pal,

Note that I absolutely reject this bogus “run buses more often and see what happens before investing in rail” argument in general but in this particular case, the rail investment really isn’t any better than the existing buses, so it actually does hold.
So, as a review: streetcars were originally sold two ways: first, as as a replacement for the rail service that Central Austin is not getting from commuter rail, and second as a good distributor/circulator for the commuter rail line passengers themselves, since commuter rail goes nowhere near the primary work destinations in the center-city. How’s that working out? First, streetcars aren’t going through Central Austin at all, and second, they aren’t going to be an attractive transfer for commuter rail passengers. Yeehaw.

Sprawl is rarely the result of the free market

AC cites a WSJ article about Houston which perpetuates the misconception that Houston’s ugly, sprawling development is somehow the result of the free market because they don’t have strict use-based zoning like most of the country.
I’ve addressed this before in reference to housing density; and Christof in Houston has addressed the parking end of things. There’s a lot more that goes into subsidizing sprawl than even those two, but those two are largely sufficient to produce the typical suburban land-use pattern even without the subsidized freeways and sundry other market interferences that cooperate to produce the supposed “free outcome” of suburban sprawl.
Sprawl isn’t the natural result of free-market processes; it’s what the market gets forced into providing when regulations require fairly large minimum lot sizes and a ton of parking and subsidize single occupant automobile travel over other modes. Otherwise, we would have seen a lot more modern-style sprawl before the advent of zoning codes, parking minimums, lot size requirements, and government-subsidized freeways – all of which occurred long after most households had access to at least one automobile.

Statesman clueless about urban development

Shilli knocks it out of the park: urban is more than a different coating to the building; and it’s more than the number of floors. This Wal-Mart will still be car-friendly and pedestrian-and-transit-hostile; and should be opposed on those grounds alone. As I commented in an earlier item there, I also doubt Wal-Mart’s urban bona-fides compared to Target, who seems to actually walk the walk on this stuff.
Not surprisingly, the Statesman credulously swallowed the misrepresentation of this project as both urban (see above) and central-city (Anderson Lane may be geographically central by some standards, but the area itself isn’t “city”). Also not surprisingly, the typical whines about local businesses have come up – precisely the wrong reason to oppose this Wal-Mart. Let me state this succinctly:
A big box store which engages the street rather than a parking lot, and prioritizes pedestrian arrival over automobile convenience is much better for us in the long-run than a half-dozen ‘local businesses’ in pedestrian-hostile strip malls. Strip mall patrons come and go; but the physical buildings (and parking lots) don’t. If Wal-Mart did what Shawn suggests and plunked down an urban building right on the corner of Anderson and Burnet (right next to a bunch of bus stops), I’d be supporting them whole-heartedly.
Remember: urban and suburban are styles of development, not just designations for geographic areas. You can have a suburban development right in the middle of downtown, and you can have an urban development in the middle of a ton of sprawl.

Red light cameras: Unjustified hate

Huevos Rancheros hates ‘em. As for me, I don’t mind them. If we lived in some kind of utopia where cops actually enforce laws (say, going after property thieves, pulling over people who ran red lights, etc.) instead of sitting on the side of the road waiting for cars to break drastically underposted speed limits (Spicewood Springs Road between Mopac and Mesa, I’m looking your way), I might be more upset; but as it stands, I’m with Jennifer Kim: this is really the only practical way to get people to stop running red lights. What follows started as a comment to his blog; which grew way too large, so I’ve posted it here instead.
You’re [HR] just as guilty as Martinez at making broad-stroke conclusions without any backing evidence. Two simple examples:

People don’t run red lights on purpose, they tend to do it by accident, and cameras won’t help that.

I don’t buy that without a citation. It looks to me like most red-light runners are of the “run the orange” variety where they speed UP in order to avoid having to wait through another cycle.

But the city isn’t looking at increasing yellow light times. Why? Because it would decrease camera revenue.

This would be a poltiically foolish move. Increasing yellow light times more likely means fewer cars make it through each cycle (some people stop earlier as they continue to do what they were taught to do in driving school; the people who ran the red light now just run the yellow; the people waiting on the other side continue to wait). What do you suppose the public would do upon hearing that the city was about to lessen the thoroughput of major intersections in the city?
One can easily fashion red-light camera laws which don’t provide the perverse revenue incentives for the contractor (your only strong point) – and one can just as easily find perverse law enforcement incentives in speed limit laws, yet nobody serious argues for their complete elimination.
Besides, every single argument you make applies equally to simply stationing cops in unmarked cars at these same intersections. Could lead to an increase in rear-end collisions. Check. Provides incentive to mess with yellow-light timing. Check. Etc.
Now, if I could only get somebody to make sure they also caught cyclists blowing through red lights
Update which came to mind while I was talking to a skeptical compadre: How about this compromise, by the way: increase the yellow light time, and stick the red light camera on there? I’d be willing to pay the thoroughput penalty as long as it was publically understood that it was part of this compromise to avoid the supposed bad financial incentives for the contractor / city. Of course, that would never work; the suburbanites and road warriors would resume their ignorant claims about traffic lights being out-of-sequence about fifteen seconds later…