Monthly Archives: October 2007

Early reaction to Mayor Wynn’s rail proposal

Doing this really fast since I’m working outside and almost out of power, but wanted to get this out today.
5:45 Update: I got suckered, folks. I wanted to believe this was different, but after re-reading the Chronicle and Statesman coverage, it’s clear that this is nothing more than Capital Metro’s circulator route with the spur to the Triangle built in the first phase – meaning it doesn’t go down Guadalupe where all the people are and where they all work, it doesn’t go by West Campus, where all of the future non-downtown density is apparently headed, and it doesn’t go by Hyde Park or North University, where all the people who wanted rail in the first place actually are. Instead, it runs through the part of east Austin already ‘served’ by commuter rail and which is violently opposed to more density – and to Mueller, whose modest density is already assured, with or without streetcar, and “to the Triangle”, although anybody who would take this from the Triangle to downtown is a certifiable moron, since it would be several miles out of their way through Mueller and East Austin rather than straight down Guadalupe. Fuck. See, shilli? Even M1EK can be naively optimistic.
4:45 Update: God, I hope I’m wrong, but after reading some additional laughably wrong coverage (“commuter rail election” from fox7, for instance), I’m getting the feeling that the route “to the Triangle” might actually just be completing the upper part of the question-mark from the circulator study’s route, meaning it would run out to Mueller, then up to 51st, then back across I-35 to the Triangle that way, meaning we miss the best part of UT, West Campus, Hyde Park, etc. If that’s the case, ignore everything good I wrote below and go back to the “oh, my god, this will suck goat ass” position.
Now, back to the original 4:15 reaction:
First, thank god he’s finally doing SOMETHING. It would have helped more if he had done it in 2004, of course.
Second, there’s more questions than answers here, and very little I can say definitively. Neither Wynn nor McCracken or their aides e-mailed me back (in McCracken’s case, I didn’t expect anything since he was reportedly pissed at my past interference with one of his attempts at pandering, and Wynn’s might just be too busy or might likewise hate me, but it’s hard to wait any longer).
Third, the emphasis on “doing it ourselves, since Capital Metro wants to let Mike Krusee screw us” SURE SOUNDS FAMILIAR, IF ONLY FOUR YEARS TOO LATE. Still, better late than never.
I will try to follow up on some new terms and questions in this post tomorrow, such as “Rapid Streetcar” and exploring the 2000 LRT route to the airport.

Coverage round-up:

  • Austinist (mostly good)
  • Austin Chronicle (not much here due to their publishing schedule)
  • Statesman – the most stuff, but come on, guys, I don’t want to hear from Daugherty. Also, guys, it’s not going to be DMUs from the commuter rail line, they can’t turn corners tightly enough to be used in-town.
  • News 8 Austin – as I exclaimed to DSK, I don’t know whether to applaud or boo the language involving light rail and resurrection. But they did mention that this is completely separate from commuter rail – far more accurate than I expect from these guys. Dammit, if I had any confidence in their description of this as basically “let’s do 2000 now”, I’d be tapdancing all over the backyard right now (from where I’m composing this). Look at the 2000 picture they dug out of the archives, which would be running by now if Mike Krusee hadn’t kicked Austin in the balls, although probably down the middle of Guadalupe rather than on the edge as this early mockup showed.

What do we know so far? Very little. Some kind of rail being proposed for generally the part of town that needs it (nobody wants to be on Airport Boulevard). Connecting to, but not running on, commuter rail. Some indications that McCracken and Wynn are thinking about some reserved guideway rather than just going along with the magical streetcar fairydust approach that thinks running in shared traffic doesn’t suck.
Vehicle/Technology: Streetcar or light rail. Sigh. Much confusion and conflation here, from News 8 probably not being able to tell the difference to Gerald Daugherty wanting to tar light rail with the same brush as streetcar to the councilmembers just not being able to commit. Statesman mentions DMU, but there’s no way. These things are way too porky – the only way one even ran through the city in New Jersey on the other commuter line Lyndon Henry and his band of serial confusimicators like to call light rail was to cut corners through city blocks (workable in New Jersey since their downtowns, uh, don’t have anything going on, to be charitable.
Route: They’re talking about Triangle to UT to Capitol to downtown to the airport. This probably means the 2000 LRT route, which probably means no reserved guideway since it was a tough sell even with long and frequently running LRT vehicles. We’re not going to be able to afford to give up 2 of 4 lanes on Guadalupe for vehicles the size of streetcars. Could be on Congress in the downtown stretch, in which you could bet against reserved guideway, or on one of the parallel streets, in which reserved guideway (or maybe just shared with buses) might be feasible. On Riverside, some talk of running off the side of the road so as to not take up lanes. As weird as this sounds, this is the best piece of news out of the plan, because it means that McCracken and Wynn at least understand that running streetcar purely in shared traffic lanes is a complete waste of money. Unfortunately, the one street they talk about doing this on is the one street where it’s not really needed. Baby steps. My desperate hope is that this talk means they’re comparing Riverside to other streets where they’d have to give up car lanes, not that they mean that they’d run in a shared lane on the other streets. Going to the airport is a new touch (was in eventual expansion plans in 2000).
Funding: Talking about using city money. Interesting wrinkle is using airport money for part of this. Federal funding mentioned, but I find it unlikely in the near term (give the Democrats a few years to reverse the past 8 years of disaster at the FTA, first). This line hits all the urban parts of town but doesn’t grab the suburban park-and-rides. The Feds loved the 2000 plan because it hit both. They would have hated the 2004 commuter plan for skipping one, and they’d probably hate the 2008 plan for skipping the other one, unless this is substantially cheaper than I expect it to be. (“Rapid Streetcar” possible way around this?)
Operations: Getting Capital Metro out of the way for construction and funding: a good idea. Getting them involved in operations? A bad idea. We can’t afford to subsidize suburbanites any more with this thing – if anything we should be treating this as an opportunity to build and operate our own rail system and grab back 1 of the 3 quarter-cents we give to Capital Metro in the process. 1/2 a cent is enough for bus needs, and Leander ought to be funding commuter rail themselves (maybe Cedar Park and Mike Krusee can kick in for the free-riders).
Conclusions: None, really. If they just try to build stuck-in-traffic streetcar, well, it’ll be better than what Capital Metro wanted to build, since it’ll run on the end of UT actually worth going to, and will run up past Hyde Park and the Triangle, and a few travellers to the airport will find it nominally more attractive than the #100. So, worst-case build scenario, we’re better off than Cap Metro’s awful circulator. Best-case? Probably some variant of light rail or “Rapid Streetcar”. I can’t see any possibility for reserved guideway where it would be needed the most – on Guadalupe between MLK and 29th – but if there’s reserved guideway downtown, it’d be a lot better than what we could otherwise expect. Still, compared to 2000′s light rail, this won’t be worth much, but it’s better than nothing. Stay tuned.

My take on the rail announcement is coming later

For those who are asking: after this morning’s Chronicle mention, I wrote Mayor Wynn and Councilmember McCracken asking a question or two, and I want to give their aides a chance to clarify before I jump on something which I might be mischaracterizing. I’ll give it until mid-afternoon or so.

Gluten-free eating in Austin

Having gotten to eat many of her desserts thanks to the brother-in-law privilege, I can vouch for her delicious recipes and now she’s on the front of the Life section of the Statesman in a big article on gluten-free cooking and eating in Austin. Congrats, Karen.

Commuter rail train arrives; raises M1EK’s blood pressure

Since the delivery of the new rail cars have spurred a few “god dammit it’s NOT LIGHT RAIL” responses from me, and since I typed something like the following up for Ben Wear’s blog and am not sure it went through, here’s a quick refresher on three major problems with this commuter rail line:
1. It does not primarily serve Austin residents. Leander residents deserve some service, because they pay some Capital Metro taxes, but the second best-served population for this line is actually Cedar Park, who pays absolutely nothing (it’s considerably more feasible for the average Cedar Park resident to just drive down the road a bit to the NW Austin Park-and-ride and ride the train than it is for 90% of Austin residents to ride this train at all). Most of the Austin stations don’t have parking, but are also not located in areas where a non-trivial number of people could walk to the stations (unlike the 2000 light rail line, which ran within walking distance of a few of the densest neighborhoods in the city).
2. It relies on shuttle buses for passenger distribution. No, you won’t be walking to work, not even if you work downtown, unless you’re even more of a stubborn cuss than M1EK is. The rule of thumb for transit agencies is 1/4 mile, that being, if their office is within a quarter-mile of the train station, most people would be willing to walk. The Convention Center station is a bit more than a quarter-mile from the closest major office building and more like 1/2 to 3/4 mile away from most downtown offices. And UT and the Capitol are much farther away than that from their purported station. Why is this a problem? Since anybody who wants to ride this thing is going to have to take shuttle buses, we’re relying on the theory that people who aren’t willing to ride the excellent express buses straight to their offices at UT, the Capitol, or downtown will somehow become major fans of buses when they are forced to transfer to one at the train station.
3. Yes, you have to builld one line in order to build a system – but in this case, the line we’re building prevents us from ever building a good system. lt precludes the only realistically feasible light rail line from being built, and even if it didn’t, the political blowback from “let’s ride and then decide” would knock us dead once it becomes clear that Ben Wear and I were telling the truth when we said Capital Metro is only planning for something like 1500 riders per day. And no, Virginia, streetcar won’t help one bit – it’s still a daily transfer from a good mode – reserved-guideway fast rail transit – to a bad mode – stuck-in-traffic slow rail transit which is no better than stuck-in-traffic slow shuttlebus.
Think this is just a broken-record? When the initial impulse of writers who generally have clues is still to call this light rail and when people get unreasonably optimistic without thinking about where the stations actually are, my work continues to be necessary. Sorry, folks.

Why don’t progressives get it about panhandling?

From two comments I just made on this posting at Burnt Orange Report:

1. The people who really need (and want) help are getting it, perhaps less than we would like, but not at street corners. The guys at street corners are what we used to call ‘bums’ – if you actually offer to give them work or food, they will inevitably decline; and if you give them money, you can win on 10-1 odds that their next stop is the liquor store.
2. If you want an economically healthy city, you absolutely cannot tolerate normal citizens being harassed by panhandlers. And a healthy city helps the people who really need the help a lot more than the donut-hole-wasteland that results from an unhealthy city. Try convincing a fence-sitting business’ CEO to move downtown when his employees and clients have to dodge panhandlers.
This marriage of self-identified progressives and bums has got to stop. It tempts guys like me to vote Republican.
By healthy city, I mean that if businesses move to Round Rock because Austin is the panhandler-ridden cesspool that some of you seem to prefer, the city of Austin has fewer tax funds to spend on helping the people who really want and need the help. And I guarantee you Round Rock isn’t going to pick up the slack.

This kind of wooly-headed thinking by self-identified progressives has bothered me ever since I saw the first (but not the last, by far) local TV expose of what panhandlers really do with your donations of money (or in some cases food) and what they do when you offer them work. Folks, the people who need your help are in shelters and soup kitchens. The guys on the corner are hustlers who can simply make a better living by fleecing unsuspecting drivers than by honestly working.
It’s as if these people can’t possibly conceive that guys holding up signs at street corners could possibly be dishonest. GMAFB – if Congress can get lied to in order to drag us into an ill-advised war of choice, as I’m sure all of these folks believe (as I do!), then you really think a bum on the corner won’t lie to you too, to get some beer without having to work?
There are lots of reasons to vote against Jennifer Kim. But this one is just stupid – Kim is, whether for purposes of getting elected or actually being responsible, doing the right thing this time.

I’m with Ellen

NON-TRANSPORTATION!
Ellen DeGeneres is in hot water for a dog-adoption fiasco. Relatively few people are paying attention to the fact that this dog-rescue group will not place any dogs in families with kids younger than 14. Yes, FOURTEEN.
In our case, we badly wanted to get a pound dog, but it had to be small, and a good temperament. Our mighty beast was obtained from a breeder. Why? Because small-dog “animal rescue” groups have a stranglehold over the Austin pound (basically picking up small dogs as soon as they were dropped off, at least back then), and they will not allow adoption by a family with reasonably-aged children. Just like the ridiculous power-hungry idiots who think that a family with girls aged 11 and 12 aren’t a good place for a puppy.
GMAFB. Most dogs are far better off with kids than with the typical single female that these dog rescue groups would place with, where the dog will be alone all day. Dogs like to play. Kids have the energy and the time to play with them. More attention on these ridiculous nitwits, please, and less on the fact that DeGeneres technically violated the contract. It was a bad contract to begin with.

Clue: “On a bus route” is not remotely the same as “downtown near dozens of bus routes”.

The Statesman reports that the ACLU and LULAC have complained about the location of the new municipal court. They’re exactly right. The idea that Capital Metro is going to move any non-trivial bus routes is, as it was with the new library location, wishful thinking from suburban drivers who have no idea how much transit agencies rightfully loathe the idea of introducing a little jog into any long and heavily used bus route.

A bus line runs next to the St. Johns site, and the city will work with Capital Metro if other routes need to be added, McDonald said.

Sure, they will. They’ll ask Capital Metro, and Capital Metro will dutifully say “we’ll look into it”, and then they’ll do nothing, because diverting one of the useful north/south routes all the way over to I-35 would lose a big chunk of their existing riders, and starting a new route just for the court would be a disaster.
MJ Kellogg also covered this at Metroblogging Austin a few days back. Sorry I missed linking from here.
I’m especially disappointed in councilmember Cole – I would expect her to know better than to claim that being next to a couple of the crosstown bus routes (which are execrable – slow and low-frequency) on St. John’s is enough to get the transit-dependent to court. We’re talking multiple transfers to get there for most people – while the downtown location requires only one bus ride for a large number of the transit-dependent, and is served with high frequency.
Existing location here, thanks to Google transit. Click on the little bus icons to see what routes are within a few blocks of the court. Hint: low numbers mean frequent service. Now try the new location. Click on the little buses. Notice how all the route are in the 300 range? That means they run infrequently, and don’t go downtown.

Ben Wear is now blogging

Short Cuts is Ben Wear’s new blog at the Statesman. I’m trying to present the progressive and/or educated viewpoint in comments, but there’s also a fairly high population of car-only Neanderthals. And Sal Costello, which is, of course, worse. Please go on by and check it out.

TWITC: Save Town Lake Kills Town Lake Trail

Of course, the Chronicle plays this up as a win for the lake:

This would have allowed them to move their secondary setback line from the river forward 50 ft, and 130ft on East Bouldin Creek, pushing their proposed developments at 222 and 300 East Riverside much closer to the waterfront.

Once again, we see the writers at the Chronicle pretty much taking the ANC line hook, line, and sinker – without any qualification whatsoever. And:

it seems likely that CWS will withdraw to lick their wounds and come up with another plan.

but here’s the money quotes, courtesy of the ABJ:

If the variance request remains denied, CWS plans to build two highrises — one 200 feet, the other 120 feet — and redevelop dozens of apartments that sit as close as 20 feet from the lake shore to sell them as townhomes. Those apartments pre-date the 200-foot rule.

So, who are you going to trust? The developer? The ANC? Well, I’d say at a bare minimum, a journalist ought to at least report what the developer says they’re going to do. The ABJ did, but not the Chronicle.
My prediction: While there’s a distant possibility CWS would re-re-negotiate, the most likely scenario now is that there’s two rather than three towers on the site, and that the existing buildings right next to the water get rebuilt and sold as townhomes/condos. Remember – after the sales happen, any donation of parkland (even a foot next to the water) would require a vote of that condo association. Key here: there’s nothing non-trivial left to negotiate. CWS was denied just about the smallest variance that was worth anything; there’s nowhere to retreat to from here. And the rich folks in Travis Heights (using the rest of you as dupes) won the battle they really cared about: keeping their property values high and their views unobstructed.
Anyways, this is what you get by standing up behind the ANC and Laura Morrison, folks. Hope you enjoy jogging on the Riverside sidewalk.

Several commissioners referred to the vote as a lose-lose situation because CWS will still rebuild close to the lakeshore and the public will lose an extension of the hike-and-bike trail.

And, Planning Commission, shame on you. Going on the record as saying this is a lose-lose situation but then voting unanimously for the ANC position? WTF?
Additional coverage:

From that Austinist piece, in comments, “Scooby” says:

I see that the Austin Chronicle is a “Waterfall Sponsor” ($2,500 donated). I wonder if that includes the in-kind donation of slanted “news” coverage?

Open letter to Tim Curley

(AD of Penn State)
I bleed blue and white, but I will never have any interest in seeing games against FIU, Buffalo, Temple, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Illinois, and their ilk. Of course, if that wasn’t enough, you scheduled a 1-AA team to fill out the slate (Coastal Carolina). Even if I wanted to watch those games, I live in Texas, and I will never have the Big Ten Network, nor will most of the country, where a heck of a lot of your alumni live.
If I don’t watch games, I get less enthusiastic about buying PSU stuff.
If I don’t watch games, I get less enthusiastic about donating money. It would be hard for me to get less enthusiastic about donating money, but you at least remove the possibility of a head-injury-induced bout of giving later in life.
Sooner or later, when nobody watches these games, ESPN stops putting the bigger games on TV too. Then, even more people buy even less PSU stuff and donate even less money.
This year, and possibly in earlier years, playing games like these, against teams we knew would suck, did nothing to prepare us for the games against teams we thought wouldn’t suck. And as a result, we got pantsed. TWICE! Plus, the one out-of-conference game which we thought was against a team which didn’t suck ended up being a laugher too. Which argues that scheduling only one game against a team that might not suck is probably not going to help us either, not that you’re committing to even _that_ going forward, since our ‘marquee’ opponent in the next couple years is Syracuse. Yes, Syracuse. And by the next couple of years going forward, I don’t mean next year, in which we have three of those cupcakes listed above plus a TBA slot to fill with Temple’s name on it. Syracuse is our big opponent to look forward to in 2009 and 2010. Yay!
You often claim that economics dictates these decisions. It’s my considered economic opinion that you are quite possibly the dumbest motherfucker in the history of college sports, if you don’t think that there will be a negative long-term economic impact to scheduling these kinds of games.
I would much rather watch PSU play a one-and-done away game somewhere like Florida than ever see this type of schedule again. If Joe Paterno is really calling the shots and forcing you to schedule this sort of stuff against your will, as is sometimes alleged, then you owe it to the world to resign immediately. Continuing to assist in the perpetuation of this kind of scheduling is just plain evil.
Your pal,
M1EK