Monthly Archives: January 2007

Nobody talks about Austin rail like this…

Well, except for me, that is.
From Christof’s excellent site in Houston,
this is the kind of discussion we needed to have here in 2000 and again in 2004. Of course, I believe we were about to have this kind of planning in late 2000 for a May or November 2001 election, until Mike Krusee forced Capital Metro to hold the election in November of 2000, before they were remotely prepared to do so. In 2004, nobody bothered to look at the line’s routing and figure out whether it served the needs of choice commuters (people who aren’t willing to ride the bus today). Again, except for me. So here’s a recap, with a new exciing picture at the end.
Note the references to 1/4 mile being the typical capture area for a rail stop (despite what you hear from people who think the typical commuter will walk the 1/2 mile or more from the Convention Center stop to their downtown office building).
Here’s a similar image I’m working on for Austin. I’m no photoshop wiz, obviously, but this might be the best I can make this look, so here you go. The original image comes from “Mopacs”, a poster to the Skyscraper Forum. I’ve drawn in the 2004 commuter rail route in yellow (just barely penetrates the picture on the lower right); the 2000 light rail route in green; and the maybe-never streetcar route in red. Note that the streetcar doesn’t have reserved-guideway, as I’ve noted before, so it’s really not going to help much in getting choice commuters to ride.
Click for full image if you don’t see the yellow route!

The big building you see just north of the yellow line is the Hilton Hotel (not a major destination for choice commuters; anectdotal evidence suggests that a large percentage of workers there actually take the bus to work today).
Note that the walking distance from the yellow stop to the corner of 7th/Congress (rough center of the office buildings on Congress) is a half-mile, give or take which, as I’ve pointed out before to the derision of people who don’t study transportation, is about twice what the average person will walk to a train station if they have to do it every day. Capital Metro knows this, of course, which is why their shuttles are planned for not only UT and the Capitol, but also for downtown; their only error is in repeating the Tri-Rail debacle by forgetting that choice commuters don’t like riding the bus.
Also note in the upper reaches of the image, the other two critical employment centers downtown – the Capitol Complex and UT. Notice how the green line (2000 light rail) goes right next to them as well. What you don’t see is further up to the north, the green line continues up the only high-density residential corridor in our city – that being Guadalupe Blvd., so in addition to being able to walk to their office _from_ the train station, a lot of prospective riders would have been able to walk to the train station from their homes.
That’s what Mike Krusee took away from Austin, folks. And it ain’t coming back once commuter rail opens; there’s no way to operate anything like the 2000 light rail proposal cooperatively with this worthless commuter rail crock.
Update: Here’s the other aerial photos from “Mopacs”. Worth a look.

Ironystorm 2007

Inspired by DSK’s posting of his wife’s snapshots, I present: the most ironic picture of IceStorm 2007. Click for bigger.

Yes, them icicles was over a foot long. And yes, they formed on my icicle lights.

SH45 and SH130 were ALWAYS in the plan

Contrary to what Sal Costello’s band of merry anti-tollers alleges, SH45 and SH130, as tollways, were always supposed to get money from the 2000-2001 city and county bond packages. I remember; I was arguing against it at the time (not on this crackplog; it didn’t exist yet; but still).
Shame on KXAN for just reporting this as fact. Mayor Watson didn’t “re-allocate” any money towards these toll roads; before the election, the city was advertising that these two tollways (and a third, Loop 1 North) were in fact the primary expected recipients of the right-of-way purchase money. While Austin didn’t promise exactly which road projects would receive funding, it was crystal clear at the time that a good chunk of right-of-way purchases were going to go to these tollways.
Costello appears to be hanging his hat on the weak argument that the city bond language didn’t SPECIFICALLY say that any money would go to “tollways” or “toll roads”. But neither did the city bond language say “freeways” or “free roads”; it said that a large chunk of the transportation bond would go to right-of-way contibutions for state highways, which it did. And the city didn’t mislead anybody into thinking these would be for non-toll-roads; again, backup materials before the election clearly indicated that they intended to spend these funds on SH130, etc.
The city, unlike the county, chose to group all transportation bonds together as a tactical move to try to get them passed, rather than risk environmentalists voting against the highways chunk and motorists voting against the bikeways/pedestrian chunk. That’s the only reason they didn’t have separate SH45 and SH130 items.

Neil Abercrombie: Hero

When asked about Tony Snow’s offhand dismissal of the resolution being pushed in Congress to prevent the Worst President Ever from taking us to war against Iran on false pretenses, he replied:

“I haven’t talked to the ASPCA today,”
[...] “I don’t know what’s going on with the lapdogs.”

I wish I lived in Hawaii so I could vote for this guy. Well, I wish I lived in Hawaii anyways, but still.

Higher minimum wage

An argument I’ve made poorly in comments at some of the economics blogs I read has finally been backed up, at least anectdotally by a story linked to by Mark Thoma out of Washington State.
Briefly, if a higher minimum wage leads to higher-quality workers (whether previously uninterested adults or just better teenagers), the predicted negative effects on employment and business may actually not materialize. This is important because despite what the more ideologue economists will tell you (based on theory), there’s actually little real-world evidence that increases in the minimum wage actually increase unemployment.
Just a quick hit for the people getting tired of All Wal-Mart, All The Time.

Why Plug-In Hybrids Are Nowhere Near Ready

I own and drive a Prius. I love the thing. I’m constantly defending it from FUD. But there’s a difference between defending something you like based on facts and just becoming a credulous sucker – and that line is crossed with the plug-in hybrid, being pushed disproportionately by a group connected with our local electric utility. The following is a comment I made to a post at my favorite car blog, Cars Cars Cars:

The metric to help people cut through the plug-in hybrid fog is this:
Toyota had to figure out this “keep the charge on the battery between 30 and 70%” strategy to make the thing last longer than the “few years” the anti-hybrid FUDders like to claim it will.
So figure out how much more battery you’re going to need to drive on all electric for a lot longer than the Prius (several times larger than existing Prius battery). Then double it, so you can keep the charge in that band. Then figure out how much that weighs and costs.
Or, wait for a magic new battery which can fully deplete and fully charge while still lasting 15 years.
Either way, it ain’t happening soon.

Nobody ever raises this “charge band” issue specifically when talking about plug-ins, but it’s clearly the biggest obstacle to surmount. Either you need to haul around batteries ten or twenty times the size and weight of the already big Prius battery, or you’re going to be stuck in cell-phone hell where, like the incorrect FUD spewed about the Prius by hybrid haters, the battery really WILL die after just a few years or a few tens of thousands of miles.
The summary is this: without a radical, not merely evolutionary, improvement in battery technology, the plug-in hybrid is a non-starter. Period.
Keep in mind, while digesting these arguments, that the electric utility has a demonstrable incentive to push plug-in cars even when the technology isn’t really ready – the intention is that people will charge these vehicles mainly overnight, when the utility is literally swimming in energy it can’t really sell. It’s a boon to the utility to be able to get any money for that night-time electricity; otherwise they need to run some of their plants in less efficient modes (raising overall costs) or resort to costly energy storage schemes. They’re not idealistic crusaders here; they stand to seriously improve their finances.

McDorms happened because idiots restricted apartments

Austin Contrarian makes a good point about student rentals which further supports the contention that it’s better for surrounding neighbors if students rent individually rather than sharing a big house. My argument (re-expressed through comment to his post) was based on landlord’s disincentive to penalize tenants in a big house versus in a fourplex or apartment/condo building; his adds a point I’ve not discussed before – the “party house” factor.

Yes, all college towns have students sharing houses, but we’ve got a lot more than you would expect, given the size of our city, health of our central-city residential economy, etc. We have so many (disproportionate for a ‘college in healthy big city’) bad student rental houses because people like my neighborhood association fought true multi-family development even on Guadalupe for decades – meaning that students who want to live near campus get artificially incented to live together in houses. Many of the students sharing these houses, in other words, would have been just as happy (or more so) in an apartment – where you can count on more amenities and less hassle – but have been forced to choose between jamming into a house or moving to Far West or Riverside.

I’ve addressed this before:

The McMansion ordinance further exacerbates the problem. The “highest use” for small single-family houses in my area particularly has now shifted much farther towards student rental and much farther away from “sell to a family that wants to live central” since the expandability of these properties has taken a drastic hit. The too-little too-late West Campus upzoning isn’t going to help now that we’ve thrown another obstacle in the way of families wealthy enough to buy entry on a small lot property but not wealthy enough to live on the bigger lots that the Karen McGraws and Mary Gay Maxwells can afford (or were able to buy back when they were merely expensive, not astronomical). In other words, despite what you heard about the ordinance protecting families, actual central Austin owner-occupant families like me and my neighbor are just getting screwing out of a future in Central Austin – when my neighbor goes, and he’s currently looking, he’ll be renting to students).