Tag Archives: liar

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I almost made this response on the twitter but thought it should be more permanent.

Trying to figure out where to put a rail line in a city where you have lots of unmet transit demand and an inadequate funding stream to do everything you want to do? IE, you live in the real world?

PUT YOUR RAIL LINE WHERE IT REQUIRES THE LEAST POSSIBLE OPERATING SUBSIDY.

kiss

It’s just that simple.

Don’t talk about disrupting traffic. Don’t talk about TOD. Don’t talk about bridges or tunnels.

If you put your rail line where it requires a very large operating subsidy, you end up having to cut bus service to make up the budgetary impact. This is what Capital Metro had to do during the early days of the Red Line. Both the best 98x buses and the 9 bus were cancelled to make up for operating subsidy overruns from the Red Line. Only today is the operating subsidy anywhere close to the original budget (and it’s still monstrously high – something like $20/ride). We’d have more buses running more routes today if the Red Line had never been built, in other words. The presence of the Red Line means fewer people have less transit today than they otherwise would have. This is how you can tell it was a BAD RAIL LINE.

If you put your rail line where it requires a very small operating subsidy (ideally less than existing bus service1, you end up having MORE money to spend on more buses elsewhere, or on the next rail line. The best way to find that corridor is to find a corridor where a ton of people ride the bus, and where research indicates even more people would ride the train (because it’s more comfortable and reliable than the bus is today).

Anybody who wants to make it more complicated than that is trying to confuse you and get you to support a rail line that you should not support.

Hey, you ask. What about my second rail line?

Go back to the beginning of this post and repeat. The same, simple, formula works for every single rail line your city will ever build. Pick the corridor where the rail line will have the lowest possible operating subsidy. Rinse. Repeat.

Third rail line? Is it more complicated yet? NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THIS POST AGAIN.

Fourth? Fifth?

NO. NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING. This simple process works for every rail line – it tells you which one you should do next.

This is how you build an actual network instead of a struggling disaster like we have in Austin. Again, anybody who tells you it’s not this simple is trying to fool you into supporting something that’s not in your best interest. They have ulterior motives, like, for instance, being on the board of a community college which took over a decaying mall2. Or wanting to make a medical school look shinier.

By the way, if you follow this process, you don’t need to lie about your conversations with the Federal Transit Administration either. Hint.

Now I’m off to Germany. Where they actually use logic like the above. Which is why their rail networks actually, you know, work.

parksandrec_micdrop

  1. One way you can tell whether your city is ready for rail at all is whether you can find a corridor where rail would lower the operating subsidy compared to existing bus service. If you have no such corridor, you might not be a good candidate for rail, yet! []
  2. Hello Highland Mall!). Or, for instance, not wanting to be politically embarassed about previous bad decisions ((The real reason for no G/L is this embarassment. Future blog post will show comments about the Federal Transit Administration are misleading at best; lies at worst []

Project Connect Phase 1 Lie Number 1

Lie #1 during Phase 1 of Project Connect was the justification of the collapsing of the West Campus and UT “subcorridors” (zones) into the Core subcorridor/zone “so we could ensure they would both be served by any initial alignment”.

At the time, on November 1st, I made this post, which asserted that there was no way this decision was being made to ‘serve’ West Campus; that, in fact, it was being made to avoid having to serve West Campus (which would obviously imply a route on Guadalupe).

Now, the final alignment through campus has been decided. Let’s see what we got. Click on most of these to make them bigger.

From Project Connect’s presentation to the CCAG on Friday February 21st:

20140221_PC_Campus_Area

Huh. Look at that. Not only do we not even see West Campus, but we can’t even see the western half OF campus. What a shock!

But it’s probably just a misleading image, right? There’s no way Project Connect would have told everybody they were going to serve West Campus and then not do so – West Campus must be just right underneath the words on the left, right?

Let’s see how far away a couple points on San Jacinto are from a location two blocks west of Guadalupe, using Google Earth. (The center of density in West Campus is not on Guadalupe – the best height entitlements are actually several blocks to the west. A ‘population center’ of West Campus in a few years will likely be 3 or 4 blocks west of Guadalupe; so me using 2 blocks is being generous to Project Connect).

Remember that the rule of thumb in transit planning for years has been that most people will not regularly walk more than a quarter of a mile from their home to their transit stop (or from their transit stop to their office). A few will do more, but the quarter-mile rule ensures you will get most of your possible transit market. Some people lately have tried to assert that good rail transit can do the same thing with a half-mile walking radius; in my opinion, this works in some cities where parking is quite difficult, but primarily on the home end of the trip, not the office end.

First, from 21st and San Jacinto to two blocks west of Guadalupe on 21st:

20140221_21SJ_TO_WC

 

0.6 miles. The main density of West Campus is definitely not served by San Jacinto even by the most generous standard. Guadalupe itself is 0.48 miles away; served only barely by the most generous standard. In other words, the side of campus with the most activity is well outside the commonly accepted walking radius and just barely inside the most generous one.

Now let’s try 24th.

20140221_24SJ_TO_WC

 

0.58 miles to where West Campus’ density starts. West Campus is not served at all by a stop here, either.

Finally, Dean Keeton and San Jacinto:

20140221_DKSJ_TO_WC

 

 

 

Nope. 0.54 miles to the start of West Campus’ density. To the start. Still outside even the most generous reading of “served”.

Project Connect, the claim of yours made back in November is still a lie.

Lie-stamp

What bad guys can accomplish

Over the last few years, I’ve written many times on this blog that Capital Metro was eliminating half of the local service on the route 1 corridor when the route 801 (MetroRapid, or so-called “Rapid Bus”) started service. Many, many times. Here’s one example from last June. Here’s another from October, 2011.

Recently, hundreds of people have expressed surprise and dismay when the events I’ve been telling you about for years actually came to pass. Richard Whitaker came out of the woodwork and talked to me while I was practically dying of the flu on a business trip in Atlanta, shocked that the locals were being eliminated. Nobody on reddit saw it coming. Nobody in the local TV media saw it coming.

Now it’s here, and again, everybody is surprised and dismayed.

The dismay is obvious. But why the surprise?

Honestly? It’s due, in major part, to the fact that one particular employee of Capital Metro has spent years convincing decision-makers and media-members that the author of this blog is a troll who has no idea what he’s talking about. Yes, I know this for a fact.

The last major exchange that Capital Metro employee and I had is still burned into my mind. It was on the same topic as the blog link featured further down this page, but I have yet to be able to get a twitter search tool to bring up the thread. Basically, I spent a couple of hours while on a layover in the DFW airport a couple of years ago making the fact-based case in that blog post below (about the #9 being cancelled without its planned replacement) in tweet form, calmly and rationally, only to be repeatedly told by that Capital Metro employee that I was wrong; and at the end, to be cut off again and labelled a troll. After that, I lost a considerable amount of access I previously had to some members of the media, city council and staff, and other decision-makers and thought leaders. I observed some activity myself where said Capital Metro employee was undermining yours truly with media members, and heard much more from others.

Today, that same Capital Metro employee was given an attaboy by somebody who I respect for supposedly dealing with constructive criticism well. This doesn’t make me feel happy about that person I respect, and it doesn’t make me happy about trusting the organization he leads. I hope this is just a momentary mistake.

Here’s the post which begins by showing how the Capital Metro employee in question really deals with constructive criticism, and my fact-based rebuttal to his dismissive aside to a third-party. Click the big words right after this.

Whole Shakers Of Salt, from 2010

I’ve been told by the leaders of the organization I mentioned above that I’m wrong for attacking said Capital Metro employee, even after that employee lied repeatedly during the Project Connect process. I’ve let leaders of the organization I mentioned above know that the Capital Metro employee in question made some clumsy threats against another supporter of said organization which were not consistent with the image of that Capital Metro employee that they continue to firmly grasp to. After all this, I find myself wondering what it takes to make those people angry. I know I’ve done so, by taking issue with their strategy and tactics both privately and publically, but apparently actually lying in order to steal political capital to support a hare-brained, mendacious, underhanded political process is just A-OK, as long as they see you a lot and you smile and shake their hand while stabbing them in the back. You’ll still be their chum, and still get lionized for your ability to handle constructive criticism.

Again, I hope I’m wrong. But like them, I’m reading some tea leaves.

Great responses to John Langmore

On days like this where I have no time it’s so nice that others have picked up the slack. I’m just going to republish their comments to Langmore’s disingenuous and mendacious letter to the Chronicle. It is just horrible that a guy like Langmore, a rail consultant responsible for many horrible projects that have set back transit for years due to low ridership and huge operating subsidies, has this kind of soapbox and power.

First, from Chris Lazaro:

One of my biggest problems with Mr. Langmore’s letter is not that he misinterpreted our call to consider Lamar/Guadalupe as a call to pull the plug on MetroRapid (which is not true, by the way). Rather, my biggest issue here is this data that he and others are so quick to trust, despite warnings from trustworthy professionals in the transportation field that the data is both flawed and incomplete.

I can tell you that, as a transportation planner myself, garbage in absolutely equals garbage out–and that is precisely what is happening here. Frankly, some of the metrics used by the Project Connect team to evaluate the transit sub-corridors is laughable and, at the least, should not have been given nearly as much weight as they were. The team can pretend that they altered weights and still identified Highland as the #2 route, but when some of the appropriate datasets are ignored altogether, how can we trust that we have been given the complete picture?

And, beside all of that, Langmore and other Council members have spent all this time defending the Highland sub-corridor that East Riverside (a corridor that we all agree makes sense) is quickly falling by the wayside. It is becoming evident that the Mayor wanted Highland to move into the Phase 2 study, regardless of what else was going on.

At the very least, Langmore, Leffingwell, and the rest of City Council needs to come clean about their intentions for Austin’s next transit investment. If it is to serve the interests of ACC and the Seton Medical Center, then they need to admit that. Hiding behind threats of lost funding and lost support from the FTA will not suffice.

Last, but not least, cities across this country sell Bus Rapid Transit to its residents as an interim solution until rail is affordable along a particular corridor. In other words, cities invest in BRT because they believe it is viable for fixed rail (streetcar, light rail, etc.) and that the system can later be upgraded. If Austin instead wants to argue that its pseudo-BRT system actually precludes future rail investment, then we MUST stop using this upgradability as a selling feature. Period.

It’s time that Langmore, the Mayor, the rest of Council and the Project Connect team be honest about what is happening.

Second, from Cory Brown:

t’s not the least bit unreasonable to question the institutional support of organizations that brought us MetroRail, and its expensive rider subsidies.

It’s also not unreasonable to question the claims of Mr. Langmore, who has chosen to publicly ignore the truth. The next person Mr. Langmore can name as suggesting we “pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens” will be the first.

If Mr. Langmore & CapMetro can’t be truthful regarding advocates who merely disagree with one facet of their proposal, how can we trust them when it comes to operational costs & ridership estimates?

Third, from Niran Babaloa:

John Langmore’s willingness to misrepresent the arguments of the folks he disagrees with is insulting. Who said we should “pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens”? The message he has heard from the citizens who disagree with him is clear: do not build a rail line to Highland before putting rail on Lamar. Either start with a line on Lamar and move MetroRapid when the rail line opens a decade from now, or start with East Riverside so Lamar can come second.

As an exercise for the reader, how often do you find yourself needing to head to places on Guadalupe and Lamar? How often for Red River? If you’re like most of the Austinites that are forced to waste their time stuck in traffic on the Drag each day, it’s clear that there are tons of people who want to go places along the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor. We should put rail there.

The question before us is timing. Ideally, we’d start with Lamar, which has the jobs and housing that make it the highest transit ridership already. A good plan B would be starting with East Riverside, where ridership is high, and the zoning allows for enough density for the ridership to be even higher. Highland, however, doesn’t have the density of people or jobs to make for a blockbuster first line, which endangers our chances of building a second and a third.

The biggest issue with Highland is that there is no way voters will approve rail down Lamar once there’s a line to Highland. A second line through Hyde Park before the rest of the city has seen any rail won’t seem fair to most people, and I don’t blame them. Rail to Highland means rail on our best transit corridor won’t happen until the middle of the century. If the places that people want to go can only be reached by buses stuck in traffic, people will stay in their cars, traffic will stay terrible, and we won’t become a city where it’s normal to take transit for decades.

This is the future that the citizens who have been paying attention are trying to avoid. We’re not trying to “pull the plug” on MetroRapid. We’re trying to avoid making the mistake of allowing the backbone of our transit system to remain slow for decades. Join us, and tell city council that if they put a rail line to Highland on the ballot, you’ll vote against it.

Finally, Mark Cathcart expresses his concerns in a separate post

Oh, and I’m giving John a rare Worst Person In Austin award. Well done.

The FTA and last night

if you parse Langmore’s comments it makes me think he was asking them about cancelling the project now (rather than moving the middle third in 8 years); and Project Connect staff were vocal and public at the beginning of the process that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and that we should not act as if rapid bus precluded urban rail there.

They either lied then or they’re lying now. Personally, I believe they lied then in order to try to get more buy-in for this process (I myself believed Rapid Bus effectively precluded urban rail and was convinced to believe it might not by those staff members); but it could be now, too; the mixed messages last night about the FTA maybe considering Rapid Bus ‘permanent’ versus what the City Council eventually threw in as a fig leaf is just one obvious indicator.

The fact that the guy who ran the Rapid Bus project at Capital Metro came up and spoke in favor of Lamar and said he doesn’t buy the FTA argument should tell you something.

No sir, I don’t buy it.

No, the Riley fig leaf last night changes nothing – it does not commit to a fair evaluation of the Lamar/Guadalupe ROUTE against whatever is shat out for Highlandmall or Highlandmueller; and it does not force a real answer about the FTA’s opinion about moving Rapid Bus in 2020 or 2022 or whenever (instead of John Langmore’s claims that made it pretty clear he implied to them he wanted an opinion on cancelling it today, in 2013). Its only tangible effect would be an attempt to delay opposition until it’s too late.

I’m continuing to urge all transit advocates to vote AGAINST the bond referendum in 2014.

Why shouldn’t we just say we’ll play along if they come clean about Rapid Bus?

This meme has been floating around the tworterverse. The words below were sent by me over Thanksgiving in response to an email from a CCAG member who sought insight from us (a selection of pro-Lamar/Guadalupe people) on why we thought we should pursue this corridor despite the implied conflict with Rapid Bus (a post on which I owe the community but am less motivated to do so every day – suffice to say it’s not a major improvement, and certainly not worth delaying good rail over).

The meme I refer to above is this: Project Connect is now halfheartedly threatening that if we keep pushing Lamar, who knows what might happen with the FTA? Some have responded with “prove that the FTA would punish us severely and we’ll simply give up and move on”. To that I point you to some key parts of the email below - a lot of people (myself included but by no means the most) spent a lot of time on the word of certain staff members involved in this process that urban rail on Lamar/Guadalupe was IN NO WAY precluded by Rapid Bus, so we should join the team and play along and it would definitely get a fair shake. I don’t know about the rest of the gang, but now that I know my time was spent under false pretenses in order to lend some political capital to Project Connect, it’s going to take a lot to get me to not reflexively oppose whatever variant of Highlandmueller they end up crapping out.

Huge, effusive, public apologies, preceded by humble admissions of wrong behavior, would be the bare minimum it would take to even open that conversation.

The email (most of it, anyways), responding to the question “Could you please share with me your opinion of what would happen with regard to the upcoming 801 and 803 routes & resources if we try to add rail to Lamar or Burnet, and how that would affect Austin’s relationship with the FTA regarding funding the rail and other future projects?”

(CCAG member),

The simplest answer is that we don’t know – the future is hard to see.

The next simplest answer is that we were never able to get anybody who could get a reliable answer to be willing to ask the question. This is an important point; I myself spent many years arguing that we couldn’t put our first rail investment on L/G because the FTA would put the kibosh; but this becomes less of an issue as the years pass, and nobody’s willing to get a real answer. (No, this is not an answer a guy like me or even (pal) can get with any certainty, but people at the city and at Capital Metro certainly could). Why haven’t they?

(Other pal) makes a lot of compelling points, but the lack of a real desire to get a real answer from the actual people with that actual responsibility speaks volumes to me. I was a skeptic about this process at the beginning, and became somewhat less skeptical as we went along thanks to the incredible hard work of (list of pals). Those people invested a hundred times my effort, which was still substantial enough to cause me some degree of friction at home and at work. Importantly, at the beginning of this process, they were told by (staffer mentioned by name) and other PC staff that Lamar was not off the table; that Rapid Bus did not preclude urban rail there.

The problem is that they then invested that incredible time and effort, granting PC a degree of legitimacy through their own efforts and hard-earned political capital. If that contention turned out to be false, as I now believe it to be, then Rapid Bus got some free time without opposition (remember in 2006, then council members Leffingwell and McCracken voted against it precisely because they were told it would preclude urban rail!). And Project Connect got a bunch of people involved in a process which was never legitimate to begin with.

IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, that last paragraph or two are not opinion; they are fact. Sad facts; facts I moved away from believing at one point, which is one reason why I found myself surprisingly ticked when the ridiculous Highlandmueller recommendation came out (unlike our mutual acuaintance (other pal) who never wavered from the cynicism and skepticism many thought I shared in equal or greater degree).

IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, PC owes a lot of people a lot of apologies, and I don’t know if we can get behind whatever rail recommendation ends up happening after being used to this degree to support a process which was never open to our preferred route to begin with.

Now if rapid bus DOESN’T preclude urban rail at the FTA, then we still have some degree of working relationship to preserve. At that point we have to give Lamar/Guadalupe a fair reading, unlike the ridiculous nonsense it’s gotten so far.

So go back to why nobody wants to ask. Two possible reasons come to mind:

1. They know the FTA will say it precludes urban rail, and they don’t want to have had that answer because of what I said above.

2. They suspect the FTA might say it does NOT preclude urban rail, and they don’t want to get that answer. Why not? I’ve believed for many years that many people in the establishment here don’t want to admit what a pig in the poke we got with Rapid Bus. I still believe that now; I think this is the most likely answer.

Regards,

Mike

Citizen comment from 11/15/2013 CCAG

Summary of yesterday

Update: The video’s already up; you can see my speech here (click on Citizens Communications to jump to me).

I spoke in citizens’ communication yesterday to the CCAG. Gave up a half day to do so (had to be there to sign up at 1:15; limited slots; ended up getting there shortly after noon to make sure I got my spot). Found out as the meeting started that citizen communication is the LAST thing. Uh-oh.

My original speech was going to be about why Rapid Bus should not preclude rail in the Lamar ‘subcorridor’. Since I ended up giving my speech AFTER the ridiculous announcement that it’s going to be Highland ‘and ERC’; I ended up rewriting my speech into an indictment of the process, which has been gradually revealed to have been designed to generate the predestined conclusion that Mueller (i.e. Not Lamar) should be the initial route. (Note that Highland is, as I’m calling it, “Mueller in drag”; Kyle Keahy made sure to mention many times that it takes you right to the edge of Mueller).

Amazingly, Scott Gross had the gall to put up a slide showing an overwhelming citizen preference for Lamar over the next closest two alternatives; and then proceeded to argue it meant nothing; that their made-up or mangled data which led to misleading conclusions was somehow more valid than the opinion of the transiterati in this town. Well, he just implied that; they never went back and mentioned the overwhelming vote for Lamar again.

My thoughts on the reason for this choice largely mirror Chris Bradford, aka the Austin Contrarian, who made this excellent comment in response to Julio’s blog post:

I don’t agree with B-.

We all agree that ERC should be part of a fully built-out urban rail system. It is highly unlikely that it will be built first, though. The obstacles are just too high. Building another bridge over LBL is very tricky, and very expensive. Then they will have to lay a mile of track and get across I-35 just get to East Riverside’s western edge. Given that any initial starter line will (and should) connect downtown and UT, the next logical phase is to keep heading north. Heading across the lake and then down East Riverside for the first phase will require a really high initial bond amount, giving voters sticker shock.

If ERC isn’t a genuine first-phase option, then why was it named? I believe it is being dangled out there to prevent the Highland opponents from mobilizing for a fight. It will be pulled back as a true first-phase option at the last possible moment.

And we shouldn’t lose sight of this: Highland will be first. Going up to Highland Mall through UT’s eastern edge and Red River (or some route even further east) is a bad route. It’s a waste of money. And, yes, it will foreclose rail on Guadalupe/Lamar indefinitely. It will do so for a couple of reasons: (1) it will have relatively low ridership, which will dampen public support for further investments; and (2) although it is too far from Guad/Lamar to serve the dense neighborhoods on that route, it is too close to justify another investment on Guad/Lamar until other parts of town have been served.

I see their announcement of Highland/ERC as a cynical political strategy to dampen opposition until it’s too late. That deserves an “F,” not a B-.

If they put forward a plan to build ERC first, I’ll switch to B. But I don’t think that will happen.

WTB a new Cap Metro.

ERC is not going to be built in the first phase; this is the city staff being aware enough to group it with Highland so people will say “well, at least they hit SOME density (in ERC)”. It’s going to be Highland, which takes you right to the edge of Mueller, and then, oops, we’re right back to that predetermined conclusion that we should do exactly what the plan was in 2010.

These look so very very different.

These look so very very different. (Image courtesy @jacedeloney)

The meeting will go up soon on the city channel 6 site. I’m told I was viewed as “intense”.

Tried to make my 3 minutes at 3:00 count, but there was no reaction from the CCAG; except that afterwards I was cornered by a UT VP and lectured for not having provided them much data. Sorry, ma’am, I got a job and a family; it ought to be the job of the people you PAY TO DO THIS to provide honest data. Oh, and Dave Sullivan got mad because I didn’t mention the GPS stuff in Rapid Bus as an improvement. Dave, it was in the earlier draft. Trust me.

The Rapid Bus post will have to wait. The time I was going to spend at this chess tournament writing it up turned out to be burned up by running around after my 4 year old, although I did get to talk to Councilmember Spelman for ten minutes before Sophie insisted that enough was enough.

How do I feel? Despite popular conception, I’m apparently not completely cynical as I was surprised at how embarassingly shameless this con-job ended up being. Thrown for enough of a loop that I ended up throwing bile all over twitter last night of a caliber that the world hasn’t seen in many years. Worrying-the-coworkers level, here.

I’m most upset, though, I think, at the fact that the AURA people were conned by people like friend-of-the-blog JMVC into thinking that Rapid Bus did not, in fact, preclude urban rail. Those folks then proceeded to invest a huge amount of their time in this process, when the fix had been in since the very beginning; and they ended up giving Project Connect relevance and respect it didn’t deserve in the process. Had people been honest from the beginning, we might have been able to have an adult conversation about “why aren’t we doing more for Guadalupe than this shitty bus service that makes things worse for most people north of the river anyways?”. Now we never will. I wasted a couple of days of vacation time. The AURA executive committee spent ten times as much, each.

As for where we go from here? I will see what the AURA guys end up doing. If they continue to be suckered into believing, or even just acting like JMVC and his pals driving Project Connect are their friends rather than the obstacles they really are, then we’ll be parting ways. I said at the beginning of this process that if a non-Guadalupe route was recommended through an honest process using legitimate data and reasonable assumptions that I’d support it. THAT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO WHAT WE GOT.

And I don’t agree with Julio that we’ve made incredible progress. ‘We’ forced Project Connect to come up with bad data, bad analysis, and bad conclusions to justify their predetermined route, sure; but the route is still bad – it’s the same goddamn route as before – with the same 0% chance of being full-enough-of-riders to lead to a full system of urban rail instead of another RedLine-esque generation-losing one-and-done.

I definitely won’t be voting for a Highland/”ERC but really no just Mueller” alignment the way things stand now, nor should you.

Project Connect’s “response”

Doing this quickly at the car dealer to get it out. Thus, this is going to be a lot of screencaps ‘n’ paste action and poorly formatted. You are forewarned.

First, some background, via cheap and dirty screencaps of some twitter conversations; click to embiggen:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.55.28 AM

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.55.48 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.09 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.21 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.45 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.55 AM

Notice how many people immediately saw the problem with this map (as soon as they looked).

Then, Project Connect finally issues an initial response; more than 24 hours later. Note that these four are in reverse order (oldest at the bottom).

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.58.17 AM

Realizing right about now I should have done this in storify, but pressing onward. The first point to see here is that Project Connect is more than happy to send out updates on everything via twitter where everybody can see, but they don’t seem happy to engage with people giving feedback on that mechanism. While I understand at this point whomever’s behind the account (JMVC used to be, don’t know if he is now) is feeling a bit set upon, the fact of the matter is that if you ask for more feedback via email you’re not being transparent. People need to see both the question AND the answer for it to qualify as transparency and as Austin CDC noted earlier, previous feedback via email had been ignored.

Over the weekend and early the next week, the incredibly busy people at Project Connect who were treating this issue with the seriousness it deserved spent all their time fixing the data. Or did they?

No, they didn’t. They presented at, with the previous map book:

  1. University Area Partners
  2. Planning Commission
  3. Barton Hills NA
  4. Oak Hill Parkway Open House
  5. Mueller Neighborhood Association (link may require registration there)

About halfway through this schedule they noted:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.07.37 AM

Here’s what that release said:

It was brought to the attention of the Project Connect Central Corridor team that there was a potential
issue with the Central Corridor Map Book. The team reviewed versions 1 through 4, confirmed an error
and has made the necessary corrections.
After further review of the Bus Ridership Map featured on page 36 of Map Book version 4, we
discovered that the map had been populated using the wrong data field (bus stop rankings instead of
stop boardings). The source data set posted to ProjectConnect.com was not incorrect or incomplete, but
the map in the Central Corridor Map Book displayed the wrong data field.
The project team will publish version 5 of the Map Book online in the Central Corridor Resources, on
Wednesday Oct. 23, 2013. It will include the corrected map with fall 2011 Ridership Data as well as a
new map with spring 2013 Ridership Data. Both data sets are populated using boardings (or “ons”) at
each stop; data by route is not specified on the map.
The Central Corridor Map Book is a working document that is subject to frequent updates. We
appreciate interested community members taking a vested interest in the project and providing
feedback. The Central Corridor team reviews every comment, critique and compliment received by
members of the public, regional leaders and interested parties as part of our inclusive, deliberative
process. The Project Connect Twitter and Facebook accounts continue to be great resources for
community input but if your feedback exceeds 140 characters, please email info@projectconnect.com

The map was indeed released on Wednesday, five days after initial feedback was given. Many many people were misinformed by the previous map during that period; many more people missed the opportunity to be correctly informed by the actual data during that period; and Project Connect thinks this is no big deal.

Do you think it’s a big deal? Here’s the original map:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.10.24 AM

 

If you saw this map, your likely reaction (if you took it for the truth) might be: “Why are those Guadalupe/Lamar guys asking for rail when there’s so much existing transit demand out towards Mueller?”

Here’s the corrected map:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.12.11 AM

If you were a resident of Mueller and saw this map, you might even be honest and say “we don’t deserve rail over the obvious high-demand corridor here”. If you were on the Planning Commission, you’d definitely say so. But Project Connect robbed you of the opportunity to form that opinion with correct data.

Was it a simple accident? Well, it’s conceivable. But is that any better?

Let me make an analogy for you.

Suppose you’re a college student back in the day when we turned in physical papers instead of via email. You got an assignment to write a 500 word paper on why the Federal Transit Administration views existing bus ridership as the most key metric in determining the viability of rail service.

You write your paper. You print it out, and hand it in.

The professor returns it a day later with an F, indicating that you didn’t write enough words.

“I did,” you insist; “I remember writing for hours!”

The professor shows you the paper you turned in. It looks like this:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.15.57 AM

 

Your initial response is “that looks like my term paper, but I’ll look into it!”.

You take five days to look into it.

You finally come back to the professor and say “It looks like I only handed in the third page of my paper by accident. Here’s the next iteration of the paper” and hand the full 3 pages in.

Any professor worth their salt is going to say “Did this look like 500 words when you handed it to me? Did you even check? If this is how seriously you take my class, I’m going to explore whether I can issue a grade lower than F”.

Project Connect, if they cared at all about the data that’s theoretically informing opinions in this process, would never have let the old map go out. It was SO OBVIOUSLY WRONG that it was immediately spotted by everybody who knows anything about transit in Austin as soon as they looked at it. It’s the equivalent, for instance, of putting out a road map with Cedar Park labelled as Austin and vice-versa. There’s only two reasons this would have gone out that way – and again, the most positive one to PC is that they don’t care that peoples’ data is crap, because they don’t care about the opinions generated by those data, because they don’t intend to actually take those opinions into account.

Yeah, that’s the BETTER interpretation. The worse is that, like many other modifications to maps many of us have found, they’re messing with the data on purpose to try to get the public to actually support a lesser rail route.

Obviously I’m not among those who have, either as a political calculation, or otherwise, just politely thanked Project Connect for their corrections on this matter. As I noted above, this is not nearly enough. What would it have taken to get me not to open up on these guys?

1. An immediate and strongly worded apology last Friday for the obviously wrong map. There is no way that anybody who knows anything about transit in Austin would look at that map and say “looks fine to us!”, but that’s what they did.

2. A loud and large public relations campaign with the corrected map – show everybody who you misinformed with the old map the new map and explain the error and what it signified, instead of burying it in a PDF press release issued only from your web site. Remember, for instance, lots of people at the Mueller NA now actually think they have more bus riders going there than up Guadalupe! And they’re talking to their friends about it as we speak.

3. An immediate and serious commitment to handle all future issues of this type in a truly transparent fashion – for starters, show Austin CDC’s questions and provide answers in PUBLIC. Don’t let them go down the e-mail hole. If you feel like you can use twitter to advertise your meetings and maps, then reasonable people expect you to answer issues about them in the same forum in a timely fashion – indicating that you’d prefer such feedback via email is not acceptable.

My car’s almost done, so this is going to have to be it for now. Suffice to say these guys have not learned their lesson at ALL, and thus have not earned my trust, and they should not have earned yours either. Continue to take every thing these guys do with a hefty dose of skepticism.