Category Archives: Transit in Austin

Cap Metro Almost Lies

I just sent the following to the City Council. Not much time to blog lately; but this is some relevant content at least.


Mayor and councilmembers:
My name is Mike Dahmus and I currently serve on the Urban Transportation Commission. I was also the chairman of the transportation committee for the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan.

The story in Sunday's statesman about Envision Central Texas finally compelled me to write about a subject which has been bothering me for quite a while: neighborhood planning. When we worked on the OWANA plan, ed pilule we were operating under the assumption that we were supposed to be telling the city _where_ we wanted additional density to _go_, NOT _whether_ we wanted it at all. The Statesman and ECT have noticed what I've also seen: that other neighborhoods have not been held to this responsible position.
My current residence is in the North University neighborhood. I've witnessed weeks of self-congratulatory hype over the fact that building height limits will be loosened in West Campus, and that in return, no additional density (in fact, less than currently exists) will be required in NUNA.

However, when I explain to other people that West Campus building heights will be allowed to go as high as 175 feet or so under the new amazing plan, the typical response is not, "wow, they're being very responsible"; rather, it is, "I can't believe they weren't allowed to do that already".

In other words, the best that the current batch of neighborhood plans are able to come up with is restoring West Campus to what it always should have been while allowing nearby roads like Duval and Speedway to maintain a purely single-family pattern, which is ludicrously restrictive.

I've not become involved in this neighborhood plan because I only moved to the area a year ago, and then my wife had a baby; so my time is limited. In my limited interactions with the planning team, it is clear to me that my input would not have been welcome anyways; for this team (and most recent neighborhoods) have clearly been using the planning process as a club to drive out redevelopment (as you have noticed them doing with inappropriate uses of historic zoning).

I urge you to view this plan with a skeptical eye; and please hold this and future neighborhoods more accountable in the future. We will not get where we need to go if we codify restrictive single-family-only-zoning even on major transit routes like Duval and Speedway.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus

Short entry: I went down to Cap Metro at 11 for a briefing on the new different long-range transit plan (they’re not ready for open-records stuff yet so they were only willing to talk to 4 people from our commission at a time) and yes, advice the urban core of Austin is getting screwed. Rail for people in the densest parts of town is now gone; replaced with “rapid bus” lines, pills which do not include plans for any knd of prioritization beyond the “keep the green light a few seconds longer”.

In other words, sildenafil the far suburbs, many of whom don’t pay taxes to Cap Metro, are getting commuter rail; and the urban core, where most of the money comes from, is getting a slightly better version of the #101.

Cap Metro just got a new worst enemy. I don’t expect to have any influence over the outcome, but I can and will make the people responsible for this decision as miserable as possible.

(17:10:34) mdahmus: oh, sale forgot to tell you about my dillo experience
(17:10:39) mdahmus: 3 HIGHLY drunk guys on 4th and congress
(17:10:47) mdahmus: scaring the crap out of the white chick sitting next to me on bench
(17:10:54) mdahmus: as I waited for red dillo to go back to park-and-ride
(17:11:06) mdahmus: and then one of them DROPPED HIS FRIEND’S LIQUOR BOTTLE and it BROKE
(17:11:12) mdahmus: the apologies were flowing like cheap liquor
(17:11:22) mdahmus: man, adiposity did they smell stinky
(17:11:36) (coworker): there is no defining the amount of class it takes to drink liquor from a bottle on the street
(17:11:42) mdahmus: every time a bus came up, the drunker and stupider one would go up to the bus and his friends would yell “that’s not the right bus man, we’re looking for the 26”
(17:11:53) mdahmus: apparently he was not only illiterate but illnumerate as well
(17:12:08) (coworker): you should submit “illnumerate” to something
(17:12:14) mdahmus: yes
(17:12:24) mdahmus: I will submit it to my crackpot blog
(17:12:32) (coworker) logged out.

So in Tuesday’s Cap Metro briefing, sickness one of the points I made is that an attempt to encourage people to use transit based on cost savings is doomed to failure, this because the bus really isn’t any cheaper than the car for most people. Assumption here is that you won’t be able to completely get rid of a car, search i.e., you ride the bus 4 days a week, or even 5, but can’t reduce your family’s number of cars.
The two downtown lawyers looked at me as if I was crazy. Well, I’m used to it.
Here’s the problem: Most of the people who pay a lot of money to park work downtown. Almost none of the new buildings there are underserved with parking, though; so the average cost per employee to park is dropping, even in the one place in town where it isn’t free. Free is a good assumption to work on (I suspect that most employees in those new buildings are getting free parking from their employers).
Then, we hit the “well, the IRS claims 27.5 cents per mile”, or whatever they’re saying now. Yes, the IRS does in fact allow you to deduct business-related driving at that level in most cases. A big chunk of that is not gas, or tires, or maintenance – it’s depreciation, which makes sense for a business (which usually must depreciate assets like that as a matter of accounting principle).
But I went over this with my bicycle cost comparator. The fact is that unless you can get rid of a car completely, this depreciation number is not applicable to using your car for personal use (and yes, commuting to work is personal use).
I have never gotten one more dollar for a car on a trade-in for having disproportionately low mileage. Anectodal evidence exists of a few people who got an extra hundred bucks or two on a ten-year-old car for low mileage, but even that figure is trivial compared to how much of the original value of the car depreciated as a function of time, not mileage.
So, if you’re talking about taking the bus to work even every day but you live in the suburbs, you ain’t getting rid of that car, and thus, you ain’t saving 27.5 cents per mile. Gas and tires are about all the consumables you can treat as a mile-based expense; most maintenance is necessary every N months even if you drive the car a tenth as much as the typical user. Insurance is not mile-based (even though there were a flurry of press-releases about it supposedly being offered in Texas, it hasn’t materialized). Neither is registration.
So, a comparison for me:
I drive my wife’s old Honda Civic to work (when I drive). I take my bike on the other days, using the express bus for a boost in the morning. Let’s suppose I took that bus both ways.
From my calculator on my trip:
Car cost: $1.20, of which $1.10 is gas.
Bus cost: $2.00 ($1.00 each way).
Note that the following bus savings can be used:

  1. You can buy pre-paid tickets at half price, thus bringing the bus cost down to $1.00.
  2. You can buy a monthly express bus pass for $17 ($0.84 per day if you used it 25 days a month).

Even in the most optimistic scenario, I’d only save $0.16 per day by taking the bus. That’s never going to be compelling enough to get me to vote for any transit proposal whatsoever, which was the point to begin with.
For comparison, Cap Metro’s calculator says it costs me $184 a week if I drive all 5 days.
Cap Metro doesn’t understand “choice commuters”. The things that could get them to vote for more money for transit are:

  1. Reliability – my trip down Mopac takes 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on traffic. A guaranteed trip time of 45 minutes on which I could read would be worth something.
  2. Performance – 45 minutes, OK. 1 hour, no way.

Unfortunately, their rapid bus proposal does next to nothing on either metric above.

In today’s Salt Lake Tribune, contagion the most explicit explanation yet of why rail is far superior to buses in urban areas seeking redevelopment:

“Unlike buses, rail transit can have tremendous land-use impacts,” D.J. Baxter, Anderson’s transportation adviser, said Tuesday. “Since a bus can be rerouted at the drop of a hat, no savvy investor is going to make development decisions based on bus routes. But streetcars are fixed, permanent. And a streetcar, combined with the right kind of land-use policies and zoning, can lead to very aggressive private investment in urban development — particularly in terms of housing.”

Today’s Statesman (registration required) contains the first non-gushing comment about Capital Metro’s plan to screw the center city in favor of Cedar Park and Round Rock (who don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes) in order to curry favor with Mike Krusee.

But the agency will have to win over some lukewarm Austinites.
“I absolutely reject it on its own merits because of the benefits for people who don’t pay and the lack of benefits for people who do pay, case ” said Mike Dahmus, clinic a member of the Urban Transportation Commission, nurse an advisory board for the Austin City Council.
He said the plan would shortchange the large number of city residents who provide the agency’s tax base in order to serve residents of the suburbs. Plus, he added, “the commuter rail doesn’t go anywhere near the University of Texas or the densest urban core.”
The bulk of Capital Metro’s budget comes from a 1-cent sales tax levied in Austin and a few surrounding communities that are part of the agency’s service area.

News 8, on the other hand, interviewed current bus passengers. Even Capital Metro isn’t quite stupid enough now to think that the opinions of current bus users should shape a rapid transit line, although they’re still attacking the issue from the angle of cost, which is not a winner with rail or bus.
Today during lunch, I hope to get the first fact page up (this one about the proposed rapid bus line). This will be an uphill struggle at best.

Over lunch today, approved I produced this Rapid Bus Fact Sheet which attempts to (before the conclusion) analyze some common BRT treatments and objectively specify which are being used in Capital Metro’s proposal, and what impact they might have on competitiveness with existing bus service and with the car.
This morning, disorder after I finished a short interview with KLBJ-AM’s morning news show (despite being well-meaning in their attempts to cover local issues, stuff the format isn’t very helpful – I only spoke about ten sentences total), I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway. Since I was up extra early, my choices were to take the #3 bus at 7:16 (arriving up near my office at 7:44) or take the more comfortable and quicker express bus at 7:48 (arriving near my office at 8:08).
I arrived at the bus stop about 5 minutes early (late for me), and waited. And waited. And waited. The bus finally showed up at about 7:30.
It’s now 8:03 and I’m finally at my desk. And by the way, thanks to the motorists on Jollyville who were relatively understanding of my slow cycling due to the water. I didn’t get splashed once.
The bus wasn’t late because it makes a lot of stops. That’s factored into the schedule.
The bus wasn’t late because it travels on city streets instead of the freeway. That’s factored into the schedule.
The bus was late because of unpredictable traffic downtown. And because there’s no transit priority (bus lanes or other) anywhere downtown, the bus suffers when cars jam the streets.
Now, compare and contrast to Capital Metro’s so-called “rapid bus” proposal. Their bus would run through downtown in shared lanes with cars, just like today’s #3 did. In downtown and through UT, it is unlikely that it would have been able to hold any lights green (without destroying the sequencing of the lights on that corridor). It would have been able to hold a few lights green outside downtown (but, when I got on the bus at 38th/Medical, we didn’t hit more than 2 red lights all the way up to my stop at Braker and Jollyville – and at one of those, we had stopped to pick up passengers anyways).
In short: the “rapid” bus wouldn’t have been any more reliable than the city bus I took this morning. And that’s not good enough for the taxpayers of Austin.

Today at lunch, sickness I wrote this commuter rail fact sheet. Short on time, capsule I made the hopefully correct assumption that relatively few readers would need a detailed introduction to the technology and terminology, so most of the page actually analyzes Cap Metro’s plan.

Finally some meat to add to a new transportation links section. Two bike commuter bloggers so far, rx who, doctor despite being rather dense on the helmet issue (hint: they discourage cycling and don’t work), seem to have a lot of interesting stuff to say.

My motion last night failed for lack of a second. This is less than I expected (I thought I’d likely lose 6-2 or 7-2). Like I said, adiposity long uphill battle (most people are willing to take Cap Metro’s word on performance rather than thinking critically and/or looking at peer cities).
Oh, clinic and even though Cap Metro didn’t bother to send somebody to talk about the long-range plan, not one other commissioner had the guts to go out on a limb and call them on this plan’s lack of support for Austin’s needs. Rather disappointing.
I’ve now finished a rough draft of some Qs and As about my opposition to this plan. More to come when I get spare moments.

Today’s Statesman featured a sidebar on page 1 of the Metro section which picked up on the “running a poorly designed commuter rail system to suburban areas which don’t pay Cap Metro taxes may increase operatng costs to the point where the urban core will never be able to get rail service” meme I’m working so hard on.
relevant excerpt:

A figure of $1 a ride, pilule identical to what it costs now to ride express buses, has been kicked around but is by no means certain. But the train line probably would create a new operating deficit to add to the red ink.
With all that in mind, the Capital Metro staff has been looking at its entire fare structure. Staff members, with the aid of graduate students from the University of Texas, have been running economic models to see how higher fares might affect services, looking to find the number that optimizes revenue. The staff will make a recommendation to the Capital Metro board in July.
What emerges will no doubt still be a bargain. The board will not want to give its mostly urban bus riders — and rail election voters — the impression that they are subsidizing suburban train riders.

Yesterday’s enjoyable lunch with Dave Dobbs reminded me that I intended to write this short piece, patient entitled “Why You Should Support (At Least Most Of) The Toll Road Plan Even If You Hate Sprawl”.
So, pills there’s ths big plan out there to build a bunch of toll roads. Well, not exactly. Realistically, the plan is to add toll lanes to a bunch of existing roads, and build a few new toll roads. The new toll lanes would be freeway-quality; some of the existing roads’ capacity would be shifted to free frontage roads. This provides ammunition for the (false, but compelling) claim that existing roads are being ‘converted’ to toll roads, which I’ll explore in detail perhaps in a later posting.
The assumption is that if you care about the center city, and you hate sprawl, that you should be against this plan. Well, I love the center city. I hate the suburbs. I think gas needs to be a lot more expensive. I ride my bike to work a couple days a week. And yet, I’m going to support this plan.
Most of this plan was already on the books in one way or another. For instance, the long-range CAMPO plan always had an upgrade planned for Loop 360 (usually “expressway 6”, meaning 6 lanes and probably some more grade separation; by CAMPO’s terminology “expressway” indicates some separation but still some traffic lights). That means that sooner or later, these roads would have been built, with a combination of woefully underfunded state gas tax dollars, CAMPO-controlled federal gas tax dollars, and a dollop of city, county, and even Capital Metro funding from property and sales taxes.
Read that again. Most of these roads would be built anyways. That’s the first assumption you need to buy into in order to support these toll roads, and some people simply don’t. That’s fine, but at least understand the reasoning before you go on.
Why would these roads be built anyways? 99% of the drivers in this area think we don’t build enough roads. Yes, they’re wrong. Yes, informed people disagree. But those drivers are 99% of the population. You’ve got a lot of work to do to change their minds. I say good luck to you sir.
So, we’re stuck between choosing a slow buildout of free freeways like the US 183 creeper northwest, or a quick buildout by some other means. Some people suggest simply raising the gas tax. While this would address the impact on non-drivers (I, personally, hate the fact that City of Austin general fund monies go to pay for roadways like US 183 which not only don’t provide pedestrian accomodation, but are actively hostile to later accomodation – future paper on this subject to come), it doesn’t address the city/suburb equity problem.
Consider this: if I drive 10 miles through the city on S 1st St., Lavaca, Guadalupe, and Lamar; and my vehicle gets 20 mpg, I pay about 18 cents in gas tax, about a dime of that to the state. If my friend drives 10 miles through Round Rock on FM 620, he pays 18 cents in gas tax, about a dime of that to the state.
However, the state gas tax money (and the overwhelming majority of the federal gas tax money) is dedicated to roadways like FM 620. In fact, the state gas tax money cannot, by law, be spent on city roads (even major arterials).
So what’s the big deal? Look at a bunch of streets sometime and see what roads have route symbols on them and what don’t. (You might be fooled by Loop 343 through town on some maps – that’s old data; the signs on the street are the only reliable judge). Anything with a “SH”, “FM”, “RM”, “Loop”, “US”, or “Interstate” on it is getting gas tax money. Anything without is not. In most cases, not even federal gas tax money (on average, one major non-state-highway project per year gets a dollop of federal gas tax money through CAMPO’s process).
So most of the big roads in the City of Austin don’t get any gas tax money. This means that they must be funded by property and sales taxes. For instance, if one was going north from the river and looking at major E-W routes, all downtown streets (including Cesar Chavez); all numbered streets; Anderson Lane; Steck; basically every road between the river and US 183 with the exception of FM2222 is paid for by the city. And the same is true for N-S routes – such as Burnet Rd (south of US 183), Lamar Blvd. (ditto), Guadalupe, Red River, etc.
On the other hand, towns like Round Rock and Cedar Park have a much higher proportion of their infrastructure as signed and marked state highway routes (or US, which is really state under the covers). Go drive around and check it out if you don’t believe me.
So the gas tax is inequitable to city drivers and encourages sprawl. Most of the gas tax money you pay while driving around Austin goes to the ‘burbs.
So building these roads by increasing the gas tax is a bit more optimal than what we do now, but not much.
Finally, there’s the choice of tolling the roads. This, at least, only hits the people who use the road. So the people who chose to live in areas which now must be served with expensive roadways pay for the trouble, at least. And the future option exists to use this toll money to improve other modes of transportation (again: the state gas tax, by law, cannot be used on anything but highways; tolls have no such restriction).
So what about the argument that these toll roads will encourage more sprawl? Well, it’s possible. There’s two basic subarguments here, that I’ll address quickly:
1. That adding capacity, even toll capacity, encourages people to move further out. I do believe this to be the case – but it’s less of an effect than adding free capacity would have been. And as said above, I don’t believe that not adding the capacity at all is a realistic option given the feelings of 99% of drivers.
2. That the interests holding the bonds will have an economic incentive to produce more development in these areas in order to ensure adequate economic return (i.e.: the guys loaning the money need to make sure the supply of drivers fills the tollbooths). I find this less believable, because I think that most of the projects in this plan are going in corridors where sufficient demand for improved travel already exists, as long as the tolls are relatively low. Ironically, a toll project which sailed through with far less opposition (SH 130) seems to me to be a much worse bet. I have no problem believing current drivers will pay tolls today to travel up and down Loop 360 at twice current speed, in other words; but I don’t believe SH 130 is going to fill its coffers anytime soon.
The final bit is to analyze the projects and see which ones make sense and which might not, although I’ve already said that I think that at least one project under construction (SH 130) is worse than any of these. The RMA doesn’t want us to think this way, because they’re relying on an economic package consisting of all of the roads put together (i.e. they think they need the dollars from the better ones to pay for the weaker ones, and they need the capacity from the weaker ones to feed the better ones). This argument, while I disagree with it, is more defensible than many would have you believe – it’s the same argument transit supporters use to support little-travelled late-night trips on major routes (am I going to commit to riding the bus if it’s not going to be there the one night I work late?).
But I’ll analyze them anyways, because that’s what I’m supposed to do. When I rate revenue, I’m assuming no new development of any kind (in other words, this is based on my subjective opinion of existing traffic demand).
Already underway:
US 183A – seems a poor candidate for revenue to me, but it was already approved.
SH 130 – very poor candidate for revenue, but it was already approved.
SH 45 N – good candidate for revenue, already approved.
Loop 1 N – good candidate for revenue, already approved.
SH 45 SE – marginal candidate for revenue, already approved. (Remind me to write an article about the 45 naming sometime – TXDOT is still keeping alive the Outer Loop through shenanigans like this).
New proposal:
“Y” in Oak Hill – SH 71 phase – very good candidate (neighborhood very opposed since they assumed they were getting free capacity, but this does NOT qualify as “converting a free road”)
US 183 in East Austin – very good candidate (airport traffic tends to seek predictable routes even at higher expense)
SH 71 Southeast Austin – very good candidate (same as above)
Loop 1 S (SH 71 to William Cannon) – dubious candidate (short segment, unclear how feasible tolling it wll be). Seems like a stupid idea to toll a small segment in the middle of a long free stretch.
SH 45 S from Loop 1 to 1626 – dubious candidate, and opposed by the City of Austin.
“Y” in Oak Hill – US 290 phase – same as 71 phase.
Loop 360 – Bee Caves (2244) to Walsh Tarlton – very good candidate.
Loop 360 – remaining segments (as franchise) – would be good candidates. I don’t understand the desire to have one part of this road operated by the RMA and the rest by a franchise – this seems stupid (would be better to do it all one or the other).
OK, back to work.

So in every article I’ve read so far on the shootings in the residential complex over the weekend, help the mention of higher oil prices is always tempered by comments that the oil infrastructure is well-protected. (example).
Why is it that none of these journalists have the balls to say why these attacks are bad? The fact is that the Saudis can’t run their own oil industry. They rely on foreigners (Westerners) for nearly all of the human capital involved – and the Americans and British have advised all their citizens to leave the country.
It just amazes me how pansy our press has become. This is a huge deal; and yet they’re focusing on the infrastructure instead of the workers.
Oh, and I just filled up the Civic. 36 mpg on last tank. Had to wait 15 minutes in hot sun at Costco behind megaSUVs. We also filled up the Prius this weekend – averaging upper 40s so far. (It was our fourth fillup since we bought the car in late February).

So in every article I’ve read so far on the shootings in the residential complex over the weekend, help the mention of higher oil prices is always tempered by comments that the oil infrastructure is well-protected. (example).
Why is it that none of these journalists have the balls to say why these attacks are bad? The fact is that the Saudis can’t run their own oil industry. They rely on foreigners (Westerners) for nearly all of the human capital involved – and the Americans and British have advised all their citizens to leave the country.
It just amazes me how pansy our press has become. This is a huge deal; and yet they’re focusing on the infrastructure instead of the workers.
Oh, and I just filled up the Civic. 36 mpg on last tank. Had to wait 15 minutes in hot sun at Costco behind megaSUVs. We also filled up the Prius this weekend – averaging upper 40s so far. (It was our fourth fillup since we bought the car in late February).

Kevin Drum points out that the media continues to ignore the fact that the Saudis are the only major producer with unused short-term oil pumping capacity. This is the other piece of the story which bugged me for a long time – two years ago, physician
when it was clear that these asswipes were behind a big chunk of the 9/11 attacks, and
it seems like the mass media in this country bent over backwards to ignore the fact that we were afraid to confront them for it – and the biggest reason for that fear? The Saudis have the only reliable control over world oil prices.



(the bravest man I’ve seen in my lifetime, internist presumed dead).

We shouldn’t have opened our trade relationship with these bastards, sovaldi sale and they arguably aren’t any better now than they were then, putting the lie to the theory that trade inevitably leads to freedom. Much of the Chinese goods sold at places like Wal-Mart is produced by prison labor, not middle-class factory workers.

I had a good lunch with Dave Dobbs about two weeks ago. Dave’s a stand-up guy who is really working hard to get more mass transit on the ground in Texas cities, recuperation including Austin. So, bulimics any disagreements exposed in this article are honest ones; both Dave and I want more mass transit, not less. In fact, we both want more rail transit, too.

One of the things being floated in the face of center-city opposition to Cap Metro’s new long-range plan is the idea that commuter rail is practically the same thing as light rail, except cheaper, so why would any of you light-rail guys oppose it anyways. Dave, in particular, was exasperated by my insistence in calling this plan “commuter rail” and comparing it to other commuter rail lines, such as Tri-Rail’s disaster in South Florida. Let’s analyze the things that were good about light rail, and see if that holds up:

The primary positive aspects of the 2000 light rail proposal, in my opinion, are (were):

  • Very short headways (initially only moderately short; but double-tracking the entire length of the corridor meant it would be easy to go to very short headways).
  • Opportunity for dense transit-oriented redevelopment in the Robinson Ranch, the Burnet/Metric corridor, and the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
  • Electrified runningway (means that the vehicle can accelerate and stop fairly well, runs fairly quietly, and does not pollute at source).

In addition, the light rail route would have alloed for pickup and delivery of passengers via pedestrian arrivals (i.e. less than a ten-minute easy walk to or from the station) at all of the following major attractors (north-south):

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Central Market / Central Park (38th/Lamar)
  • 38th St medical complex
  • University of Texas main campus
  • State Capitol complex
  • Congress Avenue
  • City Hall / CSC
  • South Congress

Evaluating the commuter rail proposal on the same metrics, we have:

  • Very long headways initially (every 30 minutes). Most bus routes in the city operate this frequently or more frequently, and yet one of the most common complaints from passengers is that they have to wait too long for a bus. This is unlikely to improve without double-tracking the whole corridor, and even then, I doubt whether headways could be improved beyond 15 minutes due to the performance characteristics of commuter rail vehicles.
  • Dave thinks the same opportunities for redevelopment exist (of course, in different corridors in some cases). l disagree – in no city in the USA has commuter rail ever resulted in the type of transit-oriented redevelopment you see with light rail, and it’s not a simple terminology difference. I’ll address this component in a later article. Even if Dave is right, the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor (and hence the near-UT areas which would be most obviously ripe for transit-oriented development due to their demographics) are not served by this plan.
  • These vehicles are going to be diesel locomotive-driven. At best, they might be similar to the RegioSprinter which was run around town a few years ago for a demonstration. These vehicles are likely to be far noisier, more polluting, and have worse acceleration and deceleration characteristics than would a typical light-rail vehicle.

And for pickup/delivery, we have:

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Convention Center

Some might argue that Cap Metro’s map shows this line going to Seaholm, and that a station at 4th and Congress is likely. I disagree:

  • Adding commuter rail trackway in the street is much more difficult than it would have been to built a LRT runningway. It will also interfere with plans for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Expecting this rail to be built anytime soon is a fool’s hope. And if reasonable headways (less than 30 minutes) are to be delivered, this will require double-tracking the entire downtown stretch. Keep in mind that this rail will be wider than the light rail trackway would have been.
  • Even when built, the idea that downtown can hang its hopes on a station that will definitely be at 4th and Congress is foolish. That’s too close to the station at Seaholm to be feasible (ironically, this is true even though the station at Seaholm is too far away to make pedestrian access to Congress feasible for most – IE, it’s too close for the vehicle but too far away for people).

Unfortunately, instead of opposing the plan on its (lack of) merits, most of the center-city people are wasting their time pushing for a quicker path to Seaholm (again, on the questionable principle that they can get a station on Congress by doing so). They then make this extraordinary claim:
“A rail line through the middle of downtown would allow a high
frequency circulator to quickly and efficiently carry commuters north,
to the Capitol complex and the University of Texas, and south, to the
South Congress District.”
We have that high-frequency circulator already. It’s called the Dillo, and nobody who has free or cheap parking ever uses it, because it’s dog-slow, because it’s stuck in the same traffic as your car would be.

Took my stepson to camp at UT this morning (on our bikes); he thinks he left his helmet there last Monday (the last time we rode our bikes there). While I make him wear his helmet normally (it’s the law here), and I wasn’t willing to give up the only chance to ride this week (due to scheduling conflicts) just because we couldn’t find it at home this morning.
Coincidentally, treatment today I saw this from England, which was considering a mandatory helmet law for children.
Note from 2005: That link no longer works, but I found an excerpt from the document and include it here now for reference.

EDM 764 * * * CYCLE HELMETS * *03.03.04 Griffiths/Jane That this House notes the substantial disparity between claims made for the efficacy of pedal cycle helmets and their measured effect in real populations; notes that the Transport Research Laboratory has reported the promotion of pedal cycle helmets may lead to increased injury rates; notes that cyclist injury rates remain unchanged following passage of mandatory helmet legislation in several countries; and calls on the Department of Transport to initiate a programme of research designed to establish why increases in helmet wearing rates are not associated with reductions in head injury rates, and why the countries with the lowest helmet wearing rates are those with the lowest cyclist injury rates

Of course, the New York Times covered the fact that helmets don’t seem to be doing anything in the general population, but peoples’ anectdotes about cracked helmets that surely saved their lives continue to win the battle on this side of the pond. Even the Times swallowed a load of credulity by blaming the inefficacy of helmets on everything possible except the chance that a tiny piece of plastic might not be living up to its Herculean billing.

This presentation incorporates some responses to people (including myself) who have yet to swallow the “building commuter rail for people who don’t pay into Capital Metro while giving the center city a rapid bus line” plan.
The most egregious is on this page, sale where Cap Metro makes this claim:
“Could serve central city passengers, as well as suburban passengers in our northwest service area”
WRONG. No “central city passengers” will live anywhere near a station proposed for the initial route of this line, by the accepted definition of “central city”. Airport Blvd. is not “central city”. Hyde Park is “central city”. Rosedale and North University and West Campus are “central city”. Only somebody living out in Round Rock would look at the 1960s era neighborhoods of Crestview that the line slices through and consider it “central city”.
This line does not go anywhere near the densest residential parts of Austin, unlike the 2000 light rail route. Nobody living along Lamar or Guadalupe is going to hop a bus to go north to the commuter rail station (if one is built anywhere between Mopac and I-35) only to ride the commuter rail back downtown only to hop a shuttle bus to their ultimate destination.
And then, they make this claim:
“Over time, more stations and service in urban areas”
MISLEADING. This rail line isn’t going anywhere it doesn’t currently go. Yes, Capital Metro could knock down a bunch of businesses and homes to build more stations in the ‘central city’ by their generous definition, but even then, not enough residential density exists near those stations to make them feasible.

Commuter Rail #48: It’s Not Light Rail, No Matter What You Say

I just sent the following to the City Council. Not much time to blog lately; but this is some relevant content at least.


Mayor and councilmembers:
My name is Mike Dahmus and I currently serve on the Urban Transportation Commission. I was also the chairman of the transportation committee for the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan.

The story in Sunday's statesman about Envision Central Texas finally compelled me to write about a subject which has been bothering me for quite a while: neighborhood planning. When we worked on the OWANA plan, ed pilule we were operating under the assumption that we were supposed to be telling the city _where_ we wanted additional density to _go_, NOT _whether_ we wanted it at all. The Statesman and ECT have noticed what I've also seen: that other neighborhoods have not been held to this responsible position.
My current residence is in the North University neighborhood. I've witnessed weeks of self-congratulatory hype over the fact that building height limits will be loosened in West Campus, and that in return, no additional density (in fact, less than currently exists) will be required in NUNA.

However, when I explain to other people that West Campus building heights will be allowed to go as high as 175 feet or so under the new amazing plan, the typical response is not, "wow, they're being very responsible"; rather, it is, "I can't believe they weren't allowed to do that already".

In other words, the best that the current batch of neighborhood plans are able to come up with is restoring West Campus to what it always should have been while allowing nearby roads like Duval and Speedway to maintain a purely single-family pattern, which is ludicrously restrictive.

I've not become involved in this neighborhood plan because I only moved to the area a year ago, and then my wife had a baby; so my time is limited. In my limited interactions with the planning team, it is clear to me that my input would not have been welcome anyways; for this team (and most recent neighborhoods) have clearly been using the planning process as a club to drive out redevelopment (as you have noticed them doing with inappropriate uses of historic zoning).

I urge you to view this plan with a skeptical eye; and please hold this and future neighborhoods more accountable in the future. We will not get where we need to go if we codify restrictive single-family-only-zoning even on major transit routes like Duval and Speedway.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus

Short entry: I went down to Cap Metro at 11 for a briefing on the new different long-range transit plan (they’re not ready for open-records stuff yet so they were only willing to talk to 4 people from our commission at a time) and yes, advice the urban core of Austin is getting screwed. Rail for people in the densest parts of town is now gone; replaced with “rapid bus” lines, pills which do not include plans for any knd of prioritization beyond the “keep the green light a few seconds longer”.

In other words, sildenafil the far suburbs, many of whom don’t pay taxes to Cap Metro, are getting commuter rail; and the urban core, where most of the money comes from, is getting a slightly better version of the #101.

Cap Metro just got a new worst enemy. I don’t expect to have any influence over the outcome, but I can and will make the people responsible for this decision as miserable as possible.

(17:10:34) mdahmus: oh, sale forgot to tell you about my dillo experience
(17:10:39) mdahmus: 3 HIGHLY drunk guys on 4th and congress
(17:10:47) mdahmus: scaring the crap out of the white chick sitting next to me on bench
(17:10:54) mdahmus: as I waited for red dillo to go back to park-and-ride
(17:11:06) mdahmus: and then one of them DROPPED HIS FRIEND’S LIQUOR BOTTLE and it BROKE
(17:11:12) mdahmus: the apologies were flowing like cheap liquor
(17:11:22) mdahmus: man, adiposity did they smell stinky
(17:11:36) (coworker): there is no defining the amount of class it takes to drink liquor from a bottle on the street
(17:11:42) mdahmus: every time a bus came up, the drunker and stupider one would go up to the bus and his friends would yell “that’s not the right bus man, we’re looking for the 26”
(17:11:53) mdahmus: apparently he was not only illiterate but illnumerate as well
(17:12:08) (coworker): you should submit “illnumerate” to something
(17:12:14) mdahmus: yes
(17:12:24) mdahmus: I will submit it to my crackpot blog
(17:12:32) (coworker) logged out.

So in Tuesday’s Cap Metro briefing, sickness one of the points I made is that an attempt to encourage people to use transit based on cost savings is doomed to failure, this because the bus really isn’t any cheaper than the car for most people. Assumption here is that you won’t be able to completely get rid of a car, search i.e., you ride the bus 4 days a week, or even 5, but can’t reduce your family’s number of cars.
The two downtown lawyers looked at me as if I was crazy. Well, I’m used to it.
Here’s the problem: Most of the people who pay a lot of money to park work downtown. Almost none of the new buildings there are underserved with parking, though; so the average cost per employee to park is dropping, even in the one place in town where it isn’t free. Free is a good assumption to work on (I suspect that most employees in those new buildings are getting free parking from their employers).
Then, we hit the “well, the IRS claims 27.5 cents per mile”, or whatever they’re saying now. Yes, the IRS does in fact allow you to deduct business-related driving at that level in most cases. A big chunk of that is not gas, or tires, or maintenance – it’s depreciation, which makes sense for a business (which usually must depreciate assets like that as a matter of accounting principle).
But I went over this with my bicycle cost comparator. The fact is that unless you can get rid of a car completely, this depreciation number is not applicable to using your car for personal use (and yes, commuting to work is personal use).
I have never gotten one more dollar for a car on a trade-in for having disproportionately low mileage. Anectodal evidence exists of a few people who got an extra hundred bucks or two on a ten-year-old car for low mileage, but even that figure is trivial compared to how much of the original value of the car depreciated as a function of time, not mileage.
So, if you’re talking about taking the bus to work even every day but you live in the suburbs, you ain’t getting rid of that car, and thus, you ain’t saving 27.5 cents per mile. Gas and tires are about all the consumables you can treat as a mile-based expense; most maintenance is necessary every N months even if you drive the car a tenth as much as the typical user. Insurance is not mile-based (even though there were a flurry of press-releases about it supposedly being offered in Texas, it hasn’t materialized). Neither is registration.
So, a comparison for me:
I drive my wife’s old Honda Civic to work (when I drive). I take my bike on the other days, using the express bus for a boost in the morning. Let’s suppose I took that bus both ways.
From my calculator on my trip:
Car cost: $1.20, of which $1.10 is gas.
Bus cost: $2.00 ($1.00 each way).
Note that the following bus savings can be used:

  1. You can buy pre-paid tickets at half price, thus bringing the bus cost down to $1.00.
  2. You can buy a monthly express bus pass for $17 ($0.84 per day if you used it 25 days a month).

Even in the most optimistic scenario, I’d only save $0.16 per day by taking the bus. That’s never going to be compelling enough to get me to vote for any transit proposal whatsoever, which was the point to begin with.
For comparison, Cap Metro’s calculator says it costs me $184 a week if I drive all 5 days.
Cap Metro doesn’t understand “choice commuters”. The things that could get them to vote for more money for transit are:

  1. Reliability – my trip down Mopac takes 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on traffic. A guaranteed trip time of 45 minutes on which I could read would be worth something.
  2. Performance – 45 minutes, OK. 1 hour, no way.

Unfortunately, their rapid bus proposal does next to nothing on either metric above.

In today’s Salt Lake Tribune, contagion the most explicit explanation yet of why rail is far superior to buses in urban areas seeking redevelopment:

“Unlike buses, rail transit can have tremendous land-use impacts,” D.J. Baxter, Anderson’s transportation adviser, said Tuesday. “Since a bus can be rerouted at the drop of a hat, no savvy investor is going to make development decisions based on bus routes. But streetcars are fixed, permanent. And a streetcar, combined with the right kind of land-use policies and zoning, can lead to very aggressive private investment in urban development — particularly in terms of housing.”

Today’s Statesman (registration required) contains the first non-gushing comment about Capital Metro’s plan to screw the center city in favor of Cedar Park and Round Rock (who don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes) in order to curry favor with Mike Krusee.

But the agency will have to win over some lukewarm Austinites.
“I absolutely reject it on its own merits because of the benefits for people who don’t pay and the lack of benefits for people who do pay, case ” said Mike Dahmus, clinic a member of the Urban Transportation Commission, nurse an advisory board for the Austin City Council.
He said the plan would shortchange the large number of city residents who provide the agency’s tax base in order to serve residents of the suburbs. Plus, he added, “the commuter rail doesn’t go anywhere near the University of Texas or the densest urban core.”
The bulk of Capital Metro’s budget comes from a 1-cent sales tax levied in Austin and a few surrounding communities that are part of the agency’s service area.

News 8, on the other hand, interviewed current bus passengers. Even Capital Metro isn’t quite stupid enough now to think that the opinions of current bus users should shape a rapid transit line, although they’re still attacking the issue from the angle of cost, which is not a winner with rail or bus.
Today during lunch, I hope to get the first fact page up (this one about the proposed rapid bus line). This will be an uphill struggle at best.

Over lunch today, approved I produced this Rapid Bus Fact Sheet which attempts to (before the conclusion) analyze some common BRT treatments and objectively specify which are being used in Capital Metro’s proposal, and what impact they might have on competitiveness with existing bus service and with the car.
This morning, disorder after I finished a short interview with KLBJ-AM’s morning news show (despite being well-meaning in their attempts to cover local issues, stuff the format isn’t very helpful – I only spoke about ten sentences total), I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway. Since I was up extra early, my choices were to take the #3 bus at 7:16 (arriving up near my office at 7:44) or take the more comfortable and quicker express bus at 7:48 (arriving near my office at 8:08).
I arrived at the bus stop about 5 minutes early (late for me), and waited. And waited. And waited. The bus finally showed up at about 7:30.
It’s now 8:03 and I’m finally at my desk. And by the way, thanks to the motorists on Jollyville who were relatively understanding of my slow cycling due to the water. I didn’t get splashed once.
The bus wasn’t late because it makes a lot of stops. That’s factored into the schedule.
The bus wasn’t late because it travels on city streets instead of the freeway. That’s factored into the schedule.
The bus was late because of unpredictable traffic downtown. And because there’s no transit priority (bus lanes or other) anywhere downtown, the bus suffers when cars jam the streets.
Now, compare and contrast to Capital Metro’s so-called “rapid bus” proposal. Their bus would run through downtown in shared lanes with cars, just like today’s #3 did. In downtown and through UT, it is unlikely that it would have been able to hold any lights green (without destroying the sequencing of the lights on that corridor). It would have been able to hold a few lights green outside downtown (but, when I got on the bus at 38th/Medical, we didn’t hit more than 2 red lights all the way up to my stop at Braker and Jollyville – and at one of those, we had stopped to pick up passengers anyways).
In short: the “rapid” bus wouldn’t have been any more reliable than the city bus I took this morning. And that’s not good enough for the taxpayers of Austin.

Today at lunch, sickness I wrote this commuter rail fact sheet. Short on time, capsule I made the hopefully correct assumption that relatively few readers would need a detailed introduction to the technology and terminology, so most of the page actually analyzes Cap Metro’s plan.

Finally some meat to add to a new transportation links section. Two bike commuter bloggers so far, rx who, doctor despite being rather dense on the helmet issue (hint: they discourage cycling and don’t work), seem to have a lot of interesting stuff to say.

My motion last night failed for lack of a second. This is less than I expected (I thought I’d likely lose 6-2 or 7-2). Like I said, adiposity long uphill battle (most people are willing to take Cap Metro’s word on performance rather than thinking critically and/or looking at peer cities).
Oh, clinic and even though Cap Metro didn’t bother to send somebody to talk about the long-range plan, not one other commissioner had the guts to go out on a limb and call them on this plan’s lack of support for Austin’s needs. Rather disappointing.
I’ve now finished a rough draft of some Qs and As about my opposition to this plan. More to come when I get spare moments.

Today’s Statesman featured a sidebar on page 1 of the Metro section which picked up on the “running a poorly designed commuter rail system to suburban areas which don’t pay Cap Metro taxes may increase operatng costs to the point where the urban core will never be able to get rail service” meme I’m working so hard on.
relevant excerpt:

A figure of $1 a ride, pilule identical to what it costs now to ride express buses, has been kicked around but is by no means certain. But the train line probably would create a new operating deficit to add to the red ink.
With all that in mind, the Capital Metro staff has been looking at its entire fare structure. Staff members, with the aid of graduate students from the University of Texas, have been running economic models to see how higher fares might affect services, looking to find the number that optimizes revenue. The staff will make a recommendation to the Capital Metro board in July.
What emerges will no doubt still be a bargain. The board will not want to give its mostly urban bus riders — and rail election voters — the impression that they are subsidizing suburban train riders.

Yesterday’s enjoyable lunch with Dave Dobbs reminded me that I intended to write this short piece, patient entitled “Why You Should Support (At Least Most Of) The Toll Road Plan Even If You Hate Sprawl”.
So, pills there’s ths big plan out there to build a bunch of toll roads. Well, not exactly. Realistically, the plan is to add toll lanes to a bunch of existing roads, and build a few new toll roads. The new toll lanes would be freeway-quality; some of the existing roads’ capacity would be shifted to free frontage roads. This provides ammunition for the (false, but compelling) claim that existing roads are being ‘converted’ to toll roads, which I’ll explore in detail perhaps in a later posting.
The assumption is that if you care about the center city, and you hate sprawl, that you should be against this plan. Well, I love the center city. I hate the suburbs. I think gas needs to be a lot more expensive. I ride my bike to work a couple days a week. And yet, I’m going to support this plan.
Most of this plan was already on the books in one way or another. For instance, the long-range CAMPO plan always had an upgrade planned for Loop 360 (usually “expressway 6”, meaning 6 lanes and probably some more grade separation; by CAMPO’s terminology “expressway” indicates some separation but still some traffic lights). That means that sooner or later, these roads would have been built, with a combination of woefully underfunded state gas tax dollars, CAMPO-controlled federal gas tax dollars, and a dollop of city, county, and even Capital Metro funding from property and sales taxes.
Read that again. Most of these roads would be built anyways. That’s the first assumption you need to buy into in order to support these toll roads, and some people simply don’t. That’s fine, but at least understand the reasoning before you go on.
Why would these roads be built anyways? 99% of the drivers in this area think we don’t build enough roads. Yes, they’re wrong. Yes, informed people disagree. But those drivers are 99% of the population. You’ve got a lot of work to do to change their minds. I say good luck to you sir.
So, we’re stuck between choosing a slow buildout of free freeways like the US 183 creeper northwest, or a quick buildout by some other means. Some people suggest simply raising the gas tax. While this would address the impact on non-drivers (I, personally, hate the fact that City of Austin general fund monies go to pay for roadways like US 183 which not only don’t provide pedestrian accomodation, but are actively hostile to later accomodation – future paper on this subject to come), it doesn’t address the city/suburb equity problem.
Consider this: if I drive 10 miles through the city on S 1st St., Lavaca, Guadalupe, and Lamar; and my vehicle gets 20 mpg, I pay about 18 cents in gas tax, about a dime of that to the state. If my friend drives 10 miles through Round Rock on FM 620, he pays 18 cents in gas tax, about a dime of that to the state.
However, the state gas tax money (and the overwhelming majority of the federal gas tax money) is dedicated to roadways like FM 620. In fact, the state gas tax money cannot, by law, be spent on city roads (even major arterials).
So what’s the big deal? Look at a bunch of streets sometime and see what roads have route symbols on them and what don’t. (You might be fooled by Loop 343 through town on some maps – that’s old data; the signs on the street are the only reliable judge). Anything with a “SH”, “FM”, “RM”, “Loop”, “US”, or “Interstate” on it is getting gas tax money. Anything without is not. In most cases, not even federal gas tax money (on average, one major non-state-highway project per year gets a dollop of federal gas tax money through CAMPO’s process).
So most of the big roads in the City of Austin don’t get any gas tax money. This means that they must be funded by property and sales taxes. For instance, if one was going north from the river and looking at major E-W routes, all downtown streets (including Cesar Chavez); all numbered streets; Anderson Lane; Steck; basically every road between the river and US 183 with the exception of FM2222 is paid for by the city. And the same is true for N-S routes – such as Burnet Rd (south of US 183), Lamar Blvd. (ditto), Guadalupe, Red River, etc.
On the other hand, towns like Round Rock and Cedar Park have a much higher proportion of their infrastructure as signed and marked state highway routes (or US, which is really state under the covers). Go drive around and check it out if you don’t believe me.
So the gas tax is inequitable to city drivers and encourages sprawl. Most of the gas tax money you pay while driving around Austin goes to the ‘burbs.
So building these roads by increasing the gas tax is a bit more optimal than what we do now, but not much.
Finally, there’s the choice of tolling the roads. This, at least, only hits the people who use the road. So the people who chose to live in areas which now must be served with expensive roadways pay for the trouble, at least. And the future option exists to use this toll money to improve other modes of transportation (again: the state gas tax, by law, cannot be used on anything but highways; tolls have no such restriction).
So what about the argument that these toll roads will encourage more sprawl? Well, it’s possible. There’s two basic subarguments here, that I’ll address quickly:
1. That adding capacity, even toll capacity, encourages people to move further out. I do believe this to be the case – but it’s less of an effect than adding free capacity would have been. And as said above, I don’t believe that not adding the capacity at all is a realistic option given the feelings of 99% of drivers.
2. That the interests holding the bonds will have an economic incentive to produce more development in these areas in order to ensure adequate economic return (i.e.: the guys loaning the money need to make sure the supply of drivers fills the tollbooths). I find this less believable, because I think that most of the projects in this plan are going in corridors where sufficient demand for improved travel already exists, as long as the tolls are relatively low. Ironically, a toll project which sailed through with far less opposition (SH 130) seems to me to be a much worse bet. I have no problem believing current drivers will pay tolls today to travel up and down Loop 360 at twice current speed, in other words; but I don’t believe SH 130 is going to fill its coffers anytime soon.
The final bit is to analyze the projects and see which ones make sense and which might not, although I’ve already said that I think that at least one project under construction (SH 130) is worse than any of these. The RMA doesn’t want us to think this way, because they’re relying on an economic package consisting of all of the roads put together (i.e. they think they need the dollars from the better ones to pay for the weaker ones, and they need the capacity from the weaker ones to feed the better ones). This argument, while I disagree with it, is more defensible than many would have you believe – it’s the same argument transit supporters use to support little-travelled late-night trips on major routes (am I going to commit to riding the bus if it’s not going to be there the one night I work late?).
But I’ll analyze them anyways, because that’s what I’m supposed to do. When I rate revenue, I’m assuming no new development of any kind (in other words, this is based on my subjective opinion of existing traffic demand).
Already underway:
US 183A – seems a poor candidate for revenue to me, but it was already approved.
SH 130 – very poor candidate for revenue, but it was already approved.
SH 45 N – good candidate for revenue, already approved.
Loop 1 N – good candidate for revenue, already approved.
SH 45 SE – marginal candidate for revenue, already approved. (Remind me to write an article about the 45 naming sometime – TXDOT is still keeping alive the Outer Loop through shenanigans like this).
New proposal:
“Y” in Oak Hill – SH 71 phase – very good candidate (neighborhood very opposed since they assumed they were getting free capacity, but this does NOT qualify as “converting a free road”)
US 183 in East Austin – very good candidate (airport traffic tends to seek predictable routes even at higher expense)
SH 71 Southeast Austin – very good candidate (same as above)
Loop 1 S (SH 71 to William Cannon) – dubious candidate (short segment, unclear how feasible tolling it wll be). Seems like a stupid idea to toll a small segment in the middle of a long free stretch.
SH 45 S from Loop 1 to 1626 – dubious candidate, and opposed by the City of Austin.
“Y” in Oak Hill – US 290 phase – same as 71 phase.
Loop 360 – Bee Caves (2244) to Walsh Tarlton – very good candidate.
Loop 360 – remaining segments (as franchise) – would be good candidates. I don’t understand the desire to have one part of this road operated by the RMA and the rest by a franchise – this seems stupid (would be better to do it all one or the other).
OK, back to work.

So in every article I’ve read so far on the shootings in the residential complex over the weekend, help the mention of higher oil prices is always tempered by comments that the oil infrastructure is well-protected. (example).
Why is it that none of these journalists have the balls to say why these attacks are bad? The fact is that the Saudis can’t run their own oil industry. They rely on foreigners (Westerners) for nearly all of the human capital involved – and the Americans and British have advised all their citizens to leave the country.
It just amazes me how pansy our press has become. This is a huge deal; and yet they’re focusing on the infrastructure instead of the workers.
Oh, and I just filled up the Civic. 36 mpg on last tank. Had to wait 15 minutes in hot sun at Costco behind megaSUVs. We also filled up the Prius this weekend – averaging upper 40s so far. (It was our fourth fillup since we bought the car in late February).

So in every article I’ve read so far on the shootings in the residential complex over the weekend, help the mention of higher oil prices is always tempered by comments that the oil infrastructure is well-protected. (example).
Why is it that none of these journalists have the balls to say why these attacks are bad? The fact is that the Saudis can’t run their own oil industry. They rely on foreigners (Westerners) for nearly all of the human capital involved – and the Americans and British have advised all their citizens to leave the country.
It just amazes me how pansy our press has become. This is a huge deal; and yet they’re focusing on the infrastructure instead of the workers.
Oh, and I just filled up the Civic. 36 mpg on last tank. Had to wait 15 minutes in hot sun at Costco behind megaSUVs. We also filled up the Prius this weekend – averaging upper 40s so far. (It was our fourth fillup since we bought the car in late February).

Kevin Drum points out that the media continues to ignore the fact that the Saudis are the only major producer with unused short-term oil pumping capacity. This is the other piece of the story which bugged me for a long time – two years ago, physician
when it was clear that these asswipes were behind a big chunk of the 9/11 attacks, and
it seems like the mass media in this country bent over backwards to ignore the fact that we were afraid to confront them for it – and the biggest reason for that fear? The Saudis have the only reliable control over world oil prices.



(the bravest man I’ve seen in my lifetime, internist presumed dead).

We shouldn’t have opened our trade relationship with these bastards, sovaldi sale and they arguably aren’t any better now than they were then, putting the lie to the theory that trade inevitably leads to freedom. Much of the Chinese goods sold at places like Wal-Mart is produced by prison labor, not middle-class factory workers.

I had a good lunch with Dave Dobbs about two weeks ago. Dave’s a stand-up guy who is really working hard to get more mass transit on the ground in Texas cities, recuperation including Austin. So, bulimics any disagreements exposed in this article are honest ones; both Dave and I want more mass transit, not less. In fact, we both want more rail transit, too.

One of the things being floated in the face of center-city opposition to Cap Metro’s new long-range plan is the idea that commuter rail is practically the same thing as light rail, except cheaper, so why would any of you light-rail guys oppose it anyways. Dave, in particular, was exasperated by my insistence in calling this plan “commuter rail” and comparing it to other commuter rail lines, such as Tri-Rail’s disaster in South Florida. Let’s analyze the things that were good about light rail, and see if that holds up:

The primary positive aspects of the 2000 light rail proposal, in my opinion, are (were):

  • Very short headways (initially only moderately short; but double-tracking the entire length of the corridor meant it would be easy to go to very short headways).
  • Opportunity for dense transit-oriented redevelopment in the Robinson Ranch, the Burnet/Metric corridor, and the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
  • Electrified runningway (means that the vehicle can accelerate and stop fairly well, runs fairly quietly, and does not pollute at source).

In addition, the light rail route would have alloed for pickup and delivery of passengers via pedestrian arrivals (i.e. less than a ten-minute easy walk to or from the station) at all of the following major attractors (north-south):

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Central Market / Central Park (38th/Lamar)
  • 38th St medical complex
  • University of Texas main campus
  • State Capitol complex
  • Congress Avenue
  • City Hall / CSC
  • South Congress

Evaluating the commuter rail proposal on the same metrics, we have:

  • Very long headways initially (every 30 minutes). Most bus routes in the city operate this frequently or more frequently, and yet one of the most common complaints from passengers is that they have to wait too long for a bus. This is unlikely to improve without double-tracking the whole corridor, and even then, I doubt whether headways could be improved beyond 15 minutes due to the performance characteristics of commuter rail vehicles.
  • Dave thinks the same opportunities for redevelopment exist (of course, in different corridors in some cases). l disagree – in no city in the USA has commuter rail ever resulted in the type of transit-oriented redevelopment you see with light rail, and it’s not a simple terminology difference. I’ll address this component in a later article. Even if Dave is right, the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor (and hence the near-UT areas which would be most obviously ripe for transit-oriented development due to their demographics) are not served by this plan.
  • These vehicles are going to be diesel locomotive-driven. At best, they might be similar to the RegioSprinter which was run around town a few years ago for a demonstration. These vehicles are likely to be far noisier, more polluting, and have worse acceleration and deceleration characteristics than would a typical light-rail vehicle.

And for pickup/delivery, we have:

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Convention Center

Some might argue that Cap Metro’s map shows this line going to Seaholm, and that a station at 4th and Congress is likely. I disagree:

  • Adding commuter rail trackway in the street is much more difficult than it would have been to built a LRT runningway. It will also interfere with plans for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Expecting this rail to be built anytime soon is a fool’s hope. And if reasonable headways (less than 30 minutes) are to be delivered, this will require double-tracking the entire downtown stretch. Keep in mind that this rail will be wider than the light rail trackway would have been.
  • Even when built, the idea that downtown can hang its hopes on a station that will definitely be at 4th and Congress is foolish. That’s too close to the station at Seaholm to be feasible (ironically, this is true even though the station at Seaholm is too far away to make pedestrian access to Congress feasible for most – IE, it’s too close for the vehicle but too far away for people).

Unfortunately, instead of opposing the plan on its (lack of) merits, most of the center-city people are wasting their time pushing for a quicker path to Seaholm (again, on the questionable principle that they can get a station on Congress by doing so). They then make this extraordinary claim:
“A rail line through the middle of downtown would allow a high
frequency circulator to quickly and efficiently carry commuters north,
to the Capitol complex and the University of Texas, and south, to the
South Congress District.”
We have that high-frequency circulator already. It’s called the Dillo, and nobody who has free or cheap parking ever uses it, because it’s dog-slow, because it’s stuck in the same traffic as your car would be.

Proof of Yesterday’s Entry

woo. Movable Type. I’ll move the other stuff here maybe tomorrow.

woo. Movable Type. I’ll move the other stuff here maybe tomorrow.

OK, cure
I grabbed the links (and format) on the left from Steve, tore out a bunch of them, and will be filling in with stuff I like later on.

The Bush administration is at it again.

Thanks, seek Naderites! (Unfortunately, rubella the Onion didn’t archive possibly the best What Do You Think ever, check which generated at least two chestnuts in response to Bush’s devolution of environmental protection: “I voted for Nader. Tee Hee, Ain’t I The Dickens?” and “They say you get the government you deserve, but I don’t remember knife-raping any retarded nuns.”

Well, cheapest the neighborhood that destroyed light rail’s chances in 2000 (“yes, we moved next to an active railroad; but NO, we don’t think we should live with light-rail for the benefit of the city”) has finished their neighborhood plan.

Big surprise: Calls for a drop in multifamily development.

Once again, the point of this exercise was supposed to be for neighborhoods to tell the city where they want additional density, NOT to tell the city that they want less density.

This is a city. Grow up, people!

Well, cheapest the neighborhood that destroyed light rail’s chances in 2000 (“yes, we moved next to an active railroad; but NO, we don’t think we should live with light-rail for the benefit of the city”) has finished their neighborhood plan.

Big surprise: Calls for a drop in multifamily development.

Once again, the point of this exercise was supposed to be for neighborhoods to tell the city where they want additional density, NOT to tell the city that they want less density.

This is a city. Grow up, people!

Thanks to Chris, prescription
found a good political economics blog (or economic politics blog): The Whiskey Bar.

Well, sanitary the neighborhood associations of the center city are at it again; this time trying to rally the troops against the clear consensus expressed in the Envision Central Texas surveys.
The Austin Neighborhoods Council, somnology umbrella wing for most of the worst of the lot (the kind of people who opposed the Villas on Guadalupe by claiming that rush-hour traffic would get horrible because of all of the students driving their SUVs to UT) is now fighting the Envision Central Texas project because people voted in huge numbers to direct new development to “infill”, i.e., build stuff closer in to the city so we don’t destroy quite as much of the environment around Austin that we (a) depend on and (b) enjoy. This consensus was overwhelming.
And yet, it still doesn’t penetrate these peoples’ heads that perhaps they’d get more support from the public at large if the sum total of the last ten neighborhood plans wasn’t “please don’t build anything new in or around our neighborhood, and please get rid of a bunch of existing multi-family development here, and please spend ten million dollars on these improvements when you’re done with all of that”. Their tack, instead, apparently, is going to be More Of The Same: Obstructionism in the name of “preserving neighborhoods”, as if we’re too unintelligent to notice that “neighborhoods” in real cities consist of more than single-family homes.
Here’s the note they sent:

Continue reading Proof of Yesterday’s Entry

Why suburbanites think all buses are empty, Part One

woo. Movable Type. I’ll move the other stuff here maybe tomorrow.

woo. Movable Type. I’ll move the other stuff here maybe tomorrow.

OK, cure
I grabbed the links (and format) on the left from Steve, tore out a bunch of them, and will be filling in with stuff I like later on.

The Bush administration is at it again.

Thanks, seek Naderites! (Unfortunately, rubella the Onion didn’t archive possibly the best What Do You Think ever, check which generated at least two chestnuts in response to Bush’s devolution of environmental protection: “I voted for Nader. Tee Hee, Ain’t I The Dickens?” and “They say you get the government you deserve, but I don’t remember knife-raping any retarded nuns.”

Well, cheapest the neighborhood that destroyed light rail’s chances in 2000 (“yes, we moved next to an active railroad; but NO, we don’t think we should live with light-rail for the benefit of the city”) has finished their neighborhood plan.

Big surprise: Calls for a drop in multifamily development.

Once again, the point of this exercise was supposed to be for neighborhoods to tell the city where they want additional density, NOT to tell the city that they want less density.

This is a city. Grow up, people!

Well, cheapest the neighborhood that destroyed light rail’s chances in 2000 (“yes, we moved next to an active railroad; but NO, we don’t think we should live with light-rail for the benefit of the city”) has finished their neighborhood plan.

Big surprise: Calls for a drop in multifamily development.

Once again, the point of this exercise was supposed to be for neighborhoods to tell the city where they want additional density, NOT to tell the city that they want less density.

This is a city. Grow up, people!

Thanks to Chris, prescription
found a good political economics blog (or economic politics blog): The Whiskey Bar.

Well, sanitary the neighborhood associations of the center city are at it again; this time trying to rally the troops against the clear consensus expressed in the Envision Central Texas surveys.
The Austin Neighborhoods Council, somnology umbrella wing for most of the worst of the lot (the kind of people who opposed the Villas on Guadalupe by claiming that rush-hour traffic would get horrible because of all of the students driving their SUVs to UT) is now fighting the Envision Central Texas project because people voted in huge numbers to direct new development to “infill”, i.e., build stuff closer in to the city so we don’t destroy quite as much of the environment around Austin that we (a) depend on and (b) enjoy. This consensus was overwhelming.
And yet, it still doesn’t penetrate these peoples’ heads that perhaps they’d get more support from the public at large if the sum total of the last ten neighborhood plans wasn’t “please don’t build anything new in or around our neighborhood, and please get rid of a bunch of existing multi-family development here, and please spend ten million dollars on these improvements when you’re done with all of that”. Their tack, instead, apparently, is going to be More Of The Same: Obstructionism in the name of “preserving neighborhoods”, as if we’re too unintelligent to notice that “neighborhoods” in real cities consist of more than single-family homes.
Here’s the note they sent:

Continue reading Why suburbanites think all buses are empty, Part One