Tag Archives: suburban freeloaders

Where did the Highland alignment come from?

A short interlude from the “urbanists, seriously, the rail election is important” thread:

As somebody who was involved in the Project Connect Phase 1 process, I can tell you that the inclusion of Highland as a high-scoring choice for the final projects to move forward into Phase 1 was a complete surprise to all of us. Highland is an awful segment of the route. It only works if you ignore every bit of good advice about how to build urban rail – it assumes park-and-rides on the highway for suburbanites are how we fill trains for an urban service. Nobody who was involved in Project Connect Phase 1 liked Highland.

Except, apparently, the Chamber of Commerce.

I’ve made the case lately that the Highland alignment was flat-out chosen for us BY the Chamber of Commerce, based on circumstantial evidence (what other reason could there be?) – and please don’t quote me Project Connect statistics; that entire process was a complete joke. It’s certainly not a good choice on transit grounds (see “urban rail should be urban” series underway at another great blog – CarFree Austin). But when I’ve suggested that the Chamber picked this line, I’ve been attacked by people at the Chamber and told it’s nonsense.

Huh.

Then I got an anonymous tip.

I wonder if you guys would like to see a video.

This is an excerpt from Citizens Communications from 6/13/2014 at the CCAG meeting. The speaker is Beth Ann Ray from the Chamber of Commerce. The full video of the meeting is here at the City, I suggest you click on “Item 5″ on the right and then advance to about 15:30.

Transcript of this section, by me:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Let’s look at that transcript again, with some added emphasis:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Hmmm. I suppose it’s just a coincidence that nobody except the Chamber liked Highland, and Highland ended up being picked, right?

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

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.

The ceiling for the Red Line

is very low.

I keep having to drag up this old Chronicle article so much I finally thought I’d better link to it AND excerpt the relevant parts in case it ever disappears down the memory hole.

February 25, 2000 in the Chronicle:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, supported by Cap Met’s ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a “highly recommended” rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a “not recommended” kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

The key here is that from about 1997-1999, Capital Metro’s plan of record was to take the entire Red Line (what we use now for commuter rail), build two new tracks, put up electric wire, and run light rail trains on it all day long at high frequencies.

The Federal government said the ridership would be low, negligibly higher than what we’re seeing today, and hinted to Capital Metro that they would not fund that line. Capital Metro quickly switched to what became the 2000 light rail proposal – the “Red/Green” line, using the Red Line’s ROW only from Leander to Airport/Lamar, then going in the street from there.

You can use the 1997 proposal as, effectively, a ceiling for what can be accomplished with further investment in the Red Line we have today. Nothing has truly changed since then – Capital Metro anticipated infill then around the stations in the far northwest, and they anticipate it now, and it still turns out to be low-density crap if it ever gets built. No more jobs have moved to be close to the MLK station instead of at UT.

Folks, there isn’t that much more that can be accomplished with a train that doesn’t go very many places worth going. The real action is, as it always has been, around Congress Avenue downtown (not the Convention Center); at the University of Texas (preferably its front door on Guadalupe), and at the Capitol; and no, you aren’t going to convince suburbanites to transfer to a shuttle-bus(*) to get to those places (as we’ve finally, I hope, proven by now).

lowceiling

This is why further investment in the Red Line is best characterized as wasting money trying to disprove the sunk cost fallacy. There’s very little new ridership there, even if the train gets a little faster, or runs a few more hours on the weekend.

* – no, urban rail doesn’t help either. Suburbanites own cars. Two train trips in our commuting environment, even if the second one goes closer to where they want to go, is fundamentally uncompetitive. Believe me, or not, but remember: I’m the guy who predicted the Year 1 ridership correctly, and called that nobody would want to ride shuttlebuses when everybody else said they would.

It’s time to talk about Rapid Bus again.

So the PR machine is out in force trying to make Rapid Bus sound great so people are distracted from the fact that the densest, most active, most vibrant corridor in the city – not only now but 40 years from now – isn’t going to get rail until the 2040s, if then. In the meantime, we’re planning on building another hugely subsidized line to suburbs that don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes; and an urban rail line to a “new urban” development that is new, but isn’t urban; and even when fully built out will have far less people and far less travel demand to the core than Guadalupe/Lamar do today.

Was that sentence long enough? I pay by the period.

Anyways, so Rapid Bus? Snakes like JMVC are pitching the hell out of it and talking about it in the same breath as light rail and commuter rail as “high capacity transit” – which is a way to make people in Central Austin think they’re getting equal or nearly-equal quality.

This is bullshit.

So apparently I need to do this again – and this time, for the maximum possible fairness, I’m going to start with the BEST POSSIBLE CASE for Rapid Bus – the Burnet/Lamar corridor, where no express service currently exists.

Joker-here-we-go

I’m withdrawing my support for rail to Mueller

I don’t have long – just a few minutes to fill the hole of a cancelled conference call before a busy day at work and a quick trip for a friend’s wedding.

In 2008, I wrote a post entitled “Last Best Chance For Urban Rail Is Here” in which I made the argument that the original Wynn/McCracken urban rail proposal to run doubletrack in reserved guideway from ABIA to downtown to UT to Mueller (maybe not reserved guideway on that last bit) was the best we could hope for, and that it was something we could eventually build good rail on top of.

That was 2008. 2008 was too close to 2000, and especially to 2004, to risk putting Lamar/Guadalupe in front of voters. And had we passed that plan in 2008, it’d be running now, and we could be working on the Lamar/Guadalupe path right now with hopefully 15,000 boardings/day on a good urban rail line to point to a reason we should build an even better one.

We’re now in 2013. The election for the city’s urban rail plan appears to be targeted to 2014. Reserved guideway has become a mirage; as has starting at ABIA to pick up East Riverside. Instead, Mueller is all there is to fill trains, and that’s not nearly enough. The current plan has us building another suburban commuter rail line for more suburbanites who don’t pay Capital Metro taxes, then messing around with some more express and rapid bus stuff; then maybe getting back to urban rail. If we approve this plan, the current thinking is that we might get to Lamar/Guadalupe in the 2040s.

Fuck that.

If we have to wait until the 2040s to put rail on an actual decent, dense, transit-supportive corridor, we might as well give up now. I know I will – I’m going to be retired by then; and if we have to wait that long to build a rail line that more than a handful of people will actually use, our city will be in such deep shit that I’ll probably have moved, or at least will have encouraged my kids to do so.

It’s time to go for broke here. Lamar/Guadalupe or bust. 2040 is too long; and Mueller is too suburban. Yes, it’s going to be hard. Yes, Guadalupe north of 27th is a bitch. But we’re out of time – the plan hatched up by the typical gang of consultants and politicians and tepidly supported by sycophants like the Alliance for Public Transportation isn’t going to get us anything worth getting until almost everybody reading this blog is retired.

It’s time to stand up for Austin, who pays 90% of Capital Metro’s bills, yet isn’t slated to get any real rail service to its densest residential areas until the 2040s. It’s time to stand up for serving existing density over pastures and new suburbs. It’s time to admit that Rapid Bus is a piece of crap that isn’t going to make more than a trivial difference on the corridor.

It’s time.

More soon.

Capital Metro and Rail Demand, Part The Deux

As always, click to embiggen.

According to our buddy John-Michael Vincent Cortez, this area justifies rail service:

Lakeline "station"
Do the Cedar trees make it urban?

but this location does not:

NB Guadalupe near 27th
Clearly there’s no demand here.

But surely I must have taken a bad picture of the first location. Let’s spin around and take a couple more shots:

Lakeline "station" looking west-ish?
Vibrant!
Lakeline "station" looking east-ish?
Urban!

One last one, to the north-ish, showing development happening any day now which will turn this into an urban paradise:

Lakeline "station", looking north-ish
Man, that screams “future TOD”, don’t it?

Oops, looks like suburban homebuilder signs. Well, still, if he says that this area justifies rail service:

Lakeline "station", looking north-ish
Man, that screams “future TOD”, don’t it?

 

Lakeline "station" looking east-ish?
Urban!

 

Lakeline "station" looking west-ish?
Vibrant!

 

Lakeline "station"
Do the Cedar trees make it urban?

and this does not:

Guadalupe near 27th, looking south
Desolate low-density wasteland with no urban activity, obviously

who are we to argue?

Previously.

(All Lakeline pictures taken during a serendipitous Saturday morning trip from my kid’s chess tournament up in Cedar Round Rock Park to the Super Awesome Target to buy a camp chair, in which I coincidentally (yes, coincidentally) drove right by the ‘station’. Austin pictures horked from Google streetview, which were obviously snapped during a slow period. Posted with some pain to bookface because RRISD blocks that, and IMAP/SMTP, but NOT tworter for some reason, so Round Cedar Park Rock punks should please plan on getting tworter accounts posthaste).

Spin alert: Back to our buddy

From his twitter last night:

JMVC on twitter, 1/15/2013
JMVC on twitter, 1/15/2013

Huh. Interesting this survey has not been published. Meanwhile, I refer again back to my three posts on the specific issue of who’s riding from where:

 

First, in Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part One?, I showed that the overwhelming majority of Red Line passengers are boarding at the three park and rides on the northern end of the line; NOT from the stations most people would think of as “in Austin”.

In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Two?, I showed that it was expected that most riders at the Lakeline and Howard stations would not be from the City of Austin due to simple geography (i.e. of the people for whom it would make sense to drive a reasonable distance in the correct direction to the station, the overwhelming majority would be outside the Capital Metro service area and the city of Austin).

In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Three?, a rider from up north verified that most passengers getting on board at the Lakeline Station (within Austin city limits, but just barely) are actually from Cedar Park, and pay zero Capital Metro taxes when in their home jurisdictions (no, the one or two lunches a week they might do in Austin don’t amount to a hill of beans).


So, back to today: If JMVC is asserting that most riders are from Austin, he has a duty to share his survey methodology and results with the public. If legitimate, I’ll cheerfully append them to each and every post above. Let’s see what he’s got.

Capital Metro and rail demand

According to Capital Metro, this spot has enough demand to justify rail:

Leander "station"
Leander “station”

But this spot does not:

24th and Guadalupe during a slow period
24th and Guadalupe during a slow period