Monthly Archives: December 2008

Tagged

It’s the last slow work day before the holiday; I’m waiting for a build to finish; so I’m playing along – tagged by Chris at Austin Contrarian. I’m supposed to list seven facts about myself and tag seven others. Facts cherry-picked to mesh with stuff I’ve posted here on the crackplog.
1. Despite still being a strong advocate for bicycle transportation, I haven’t ridden my bike for about 3 years now. I could physically manage a ride, most days, but the consequences of overdoing it are severe – the last time I pushed it too hard, I had to ride a wheelchair in JFK and AUS on the way back from a trip to Manhattan. I’m saving the feet for some rides with Ethan when he’s old enough to learn how to ride (any day now) – another flare-up could make it a permanent non-option. The really ironic thing is that my new suburban office is on a perfect bike commute – a route I used to use to get out to Loop 360 for a fun loop on the weekends.
2. I actually have handicapped plates on the older Prius because of that, yet I rarely park in the handicapped space (most days I can walk well enough, and always think people are shooting me the crapeye when they see I’m not in a wheelchair and not elderly).
3. Despite being a fervent critic of PSU homers and at times Joe Paterno’s seeming insistence on destroying the program he single-handedly built, you don’t get any more tried and blue than me – I won a contest as a child for having the most members of my family in the alumni association, and actually have a framed award somewhere for it; some of my aunts babysat for Joe Paterno’s kids at least a few times; and my grandparents used to go to church with his wife. I was in the Blue Band for four years, and still wear my dorky band jacket (just last night to the wonderful mall up in Cedar OhMyGodWhatTheHellAmIDoingUpHerePark). I think there’s even a picture at home of me as a baby being held by Paterno at some kind of family day at the stadium in the early 1970s, but my memory may be exaggerating things. Will check in a few days.
4. I have never ridden one of the new (Portland and following) generation of light rail lines – I have driven and walked near a couple of them a few times (San Jose, Phoenix’s under construction), but never actually had an opportunity to ride, nor have I been able to justify a weekend trip to Dallas or Houston to ride.
5. I work across from Westlake High School. I loathe Westlake and Rollingwood, people who live there, and everything they stand for. It is difficult to contain the revulsion and not speed the hell out of here after every work day, but then I remember that Baba got a ticket for something like 1 mile over the limit here (i.e. “Driving while Clearly From Austin”).
6. I constantly get accused of being a developer by the granola mafia, which is funny, because I am a developer. Of software.
7. I hate Wal-Mart. I really really hate Wal-Mart. Which is why the whole Northcross thing was so funny. Well, one of the reasons.
I bet nobody will see this given the break, but I’ll tag DSK, Gregg, Teresa, Steve, Thomas, Mike (for motivation to increase his blogs/month to greater than 0.1), and Chris.

Kool-Aid Overload

Dear Kool-Aid drinkers: I, and two others you still tolerate, told you that it was pretty obvious they had picked Clark very early in the preseason and never intended to give Devlin serious snaps. This makes you guys, what, 0-245 by now? And what’s the downside, anyways?
Here it is. And the “I told you so” part: You can’t expect a top quarterback to stay for another year riding the bench where he wasn’t given a serious chance to compete for the starting job last time, and got only ludicrously tiny amounts of mop-up duty. And, what’s more important, you can’t trust a coaching staff with a 100% solid record of always picking the upperclassman(*) to actually make it a fair competition no matter what they claim they did or are going to do.
Now we get to play next year with no real backup and no real starter on the horizon. Good job, guys.

(* – yeah, they’ll make a senior the backup if he’s a walk-on or a recruit who would never have started even in the lower conferences. Otherwise, no – the record is incredibly clear).

Labor cost isn’t the Big 3′s problem

Backing up a point I’ve made many times at my favorite car blog, we now have a link from Marginal Revolution to a Times story which says:

[H]ere’s a little experiment. Imagine that a Congressional bailout effectively pays for $10 an hour of the retiree benefits… the U.A.W. agrees to reduce pay and benefits for current workers to $45 an hour — the same as at Honda and Toyota. Do you know how much that would reduce the cost of producing a Big Three vehicle? Only about $800…. An extra $800 per vehicle would certainly help Detroit, but the Big Three already often sell their cars for about $2,500 less than equivalent cars from Japanese companies….

The problem isn’t the $800. The problem is the $2500 (and I think that number is a bit low, actually). If GM was building Cobalts that were as good as Civics, they’d have a small case for some help – but they aren’t; not even close; not even in the same ballpark.

2047 words about the commuter rail station downtown

The first of a series of images I created on the plane to JFK on Sunday night:

Red dots are 10+ story office buildings, obtained from skyscraperpage. Click for larger image.

Continue reading

The downtown station, drawn optimistically

Erica from Capital Metro, in comments to this post, brings up the fact that the third image (originally from the city’s old OnTrack newsletter, updated with green and yellow dots by yours truly), had an error in how the circles were drawn around prospective rail stations on the extension to Seaholm many people unsuccessfully lobbied for in 2004. The point of this image was to show the locations of the office buildings — not the circles (although that is not inherently obvious if the image is viewed in isolation), and the error wasn’t mine (somebody at the city drew a 1/4 mile diameter rather than radius) – but I’ve known about it for quite some time; using the image just to show the office locations since I have not yet created a new map with a better representation of offices. Typically when I discuss this issue on other forums, I prefer to use a google maps link like this one which shows a walk of 0.4 miles to 6th and Congress.
However, some folks at CM just produced the image below, which is about the best light you can put this ‘downtown’ station in, and which I will post even though it has its own problem: an attempt to fudge the issue by presenting both the legitimate 1/4 mile circle and a far less legitimate 1/2 mile catchment zone. Another discrepancy between the maps, not anybody’s fault, is that in 2004, the station location was projected a half block or so farther east.
Please see comments after the image.

Important things to note here:

  • Most major office buildings are outside the 1/4 mile zone. Most are also inside the 1/2 mile range. However, using the same principle as above, note that, for instance, the second-newest big office building downtown is more than a half-mile from the train station. Essentially all major office buildings downtown, including this one, would have been within 1/4 mile of the 2000 light rail route, whether on Congress or Colorado or even Guadalupe/Lavaca.
  • The 1/2 mile radius is used as a fallback ‘rule’ to declare that you can attract a few more choice commuters to excellent high-frequency rail service than the 1/4 mile rule would suggest. The problem here, of course, is that the service we are providing is neither high-quality (doesn’t go to UT or the Capitol or anywhere else worth going if your origin is ‘downtown’) nor high-frequency (runs only every 30 minutes and only during rush hours). In addition, the expanded catchment area is most suited to the residential end of the trip – i.e. you might walk farther from your home to pick up the train if it’s really good – but surely not to take the train if the walk FROM the train station TO your office was extra-long – this is borne out by New York’s transit agency’s project to spend billions to bring the LIRR a bit closer to employment centers (see also: non-trivial unwillingness of choice commuters to tolerate transfers even from ‘good rail’ to ‘good rail’, even in Manhattan).
  • We don’t have a large population of people who would be willing to walk 1/2 mile to work from the train station (and risk mistiming a 1/2 mile walk back to the train station in the afternoon only to maybe miss the once-every-half-hour train) who, and this is critically important here: aren’t already riding the bus. The same people who would give the train such an incredible time investment are already going to be riding the buses from all over the city that head straight to their offices downtown. I speak from experience here: a long walk to pick up transit from the office isn’t sustainable in the long-run even for transit-positive people like me. If I had to pay $10/day to park, I might think differently, but then I’d already be taking the bus, wouldn’t I?
  • And, most importantly, if Capital Metro really believed that the average choice commuter would consider this train station to be within a quick, comfortable, walk of their office, they wouldn’t be providing these three downtown shuttles, one of which runs right up Congress Avenue.

Hop on the Shuttle

I’m probably much more amused by myself than warranted. Judge for yourself:

Been itching to climb aboard a Capital Metro train? Understandable, given that we’ve been talking about light rail/commuter rail around Austin since the mid-1980s.
Well, that first chance will come next week when Capital Metro and the Downtown Austin Alliance host a “hop ‘n shop” at Brush Square. Up to now Capital Metro has allowed only the media and few selected others to take an up-close gander at the red-and-silver-and white train cars.
[...]

and my response:

There should really be a requirement that people spend 15 minutes sitting on board a stationary shuttle bus before disembarking and boarding the stationary train, shouldn’t there?

Bike lanes versus wide curb lanes

Recent blogroll addition the Austin Bike Blog points us to a study on cyclist behavior in bike lanes and wide curb lanes. Years ago, pre-blog and pre-cycling-killing-arthritis, I wrote the following on passing behavior in both facilities which still has some relevance today. Dragging this into the blog so it can be archived and whatnot; original is here. Done with HTML tables, the way God intended! Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate so well inside the blog. Any HTML/Movable Type geniuses want to suggest a formatting fix for me here?

One of the most common arguments in bicycle transportation circles stems from the disagreement over whether bike lanes or wide outside lanes provide "better passing distance". Foresterites claim that wide outside lanes are better for a variety of reasons; bike lane advocates come back with the "dedicated space" argument; which Foresterites then attempt to rebut by saying passing distance is "better" in wide curb lanes.

I have direct experience in this matter: my commutes to work generally take me along Shoal Creek Boulevard in north central Austin; which had fairly wide (6′?) bike lanes for several years; and then very wide (19′) curb lanes for several more years. I found that a typical 10-pass scenario would go something like the table below. The "distance" given is from car’s mirror to where I was riding in approximate center of bike lane.

Passing distance on Shoal Creek Boulevard with Bike Lane Passing distance on Shoal Creek Boulevard with Wide Outside
Lane
1 3.5 ft With minor fluctuation, the typical pass
with the bike lane consisted of the driver giving about half a foot
of distance between their right mirror and the bike lane stripe; thus
providing approximately the same passing space every time. Why does
this happen? Motorists are conditioned in other traffic interactions
to respect lane stripes.
2 3.5 ft
3 3.5 ft
4 3.5 ft
5 3.5 ft
6 3.5 ft
7 3.5 ft
8 3.5 ft
9 3.5 ft
10 3.5 ft
1 5 ft Some motorists (perhaps even a majority)
provide better passing distance in the wide outside lane scenario
because they are thinking about how much space to give, rather than
letting the lane stripe decide for them.
2 5 ft
3 5 ft
4 5 ft
5 5 ft
6 5 ft
7 4 ft  
8 3 ft  
9 2 ft On the other hand, some other motorists provide considerably
less passing space without the lane stripe to guide them (some from
ignorance; others from antipathy towards cyclists riding in "their
lane").
10 1 ft
Average passing distance from centerline of my bike: 3.5 ft Average passing distance from centerline of my bike: 4.0 ft
10th percentile passing distance: 3.5 ft 10th percentile passing distance: 1 ft

In this dataset, the 30th percentile passing distance for wide outside lanes was worse than for bike lanes; meaning that 3 out of 10 times, the passing distance could be expected to be less for wide outside lanes than it was for bike lanes. (Or, to turn it around, 7 out of 10 times, the passing distance in wide outside lanes would be better than in bike lanes).
Despite the fact that this dataset shows a superior passing distance in 7 out of 10 cases for wide outside lanes, I would choose the bike lane over the wide outside lane in this scenario. I submit that the deciding factor for cyclists, if they are thinking rationally, should not be the average passing distance; since most motorists, whatever the facility, do a fairly good job of providing adequate passing distance. The deciding factor should be the likelihood that motorists who, because they either don’t know or don’t care, don’t provide adequate passing distance. Clearly, in my experience, although average passing distance can be higher in a wide outside lane scenario, the minimum passing distance can at the same time be a lot lower. In this dataset, for instance, I’d argue that the 2 ft and 1 ft passes were close enough to be dangerous (given my width).

blogroll updates

Finally got around to these, mostly today:
Urbanist sites (Austin):

Bike sites (Austin):

Occasional commenter: Snowed In

You forgot the air quotes

Some folks are getting excited about the “downtown” station being nearly complete on our asstastic commuter rail line. Maybe the pictures below will be of some help. Click on the pictures for explanations.
1. “Why is that bus labelled “DOWNTOWN” if this is the “downtown” station?

2. “What is that yellow line and why is it so far from all the big buildings?”

3. “Well, are there any office buildings within a short walk of the ‘downtown’ station”?

On my next business trip, probably next week, I’ll try to take some time to get a better image of dots overlaid on a better map for “major downtown office buildings” built from actual data rather than from my own recollection. Expect it to look even less promising than that last image from 2004, though.
Bonus Update in case it’s lost: a comment I just made in response to the typical CM talking point (in comments to their own article about the ‘downtown’ station) that this is just a ‘start’ for a multi-modal transportation system that will make choice commuters somehow enjoy changing vehicles three times on the way to work:

Unfortunately, that’s a load of nonsense, Misty; there is no way this line can possibly serve as a first step anywhere worth going, because the vehicles (and technology) you chose is incompatible with truly urban rail – can’t navigate corners sharply enough to ever go anywhere closer to where the actual commuting demand is.
To the readers, the best hope for urban rail in Texas is to get the CAMPO TWG plan passed before people realize how awful this commuter rail start is, because while it connects to commuter rail and has a suboptimal route itself, it at least serves a few good sources and destinations directly without requiring transfers.
It’ll be decades, if ever, before we reach traffic levels which actually make transit trips with transfers anything but a poison pill for choice commuters. Any plan, like this commuter rail debacle, which relies on transfers for most of its ridership is thus doomed to failure.

Updated update
Nice photo from priller at the skyscraperpage forum. The pointy building in the distance is the closest offices of any signficance, and they’re right past the edge of the normal quarter-mile rule for how long the average person would be willing to walk to work to take transit on a regular basis.