What a great favor done for me by the heroic journalist

The story

Cap Metro Hangs Hopes on “Connections 2025”

The quote, with the emphasis added by me

Mike Dahmus, a transit blogger who is known for getting into heated online spats with fellow urbanists, argues that the plan tries to do too much for those outside the core. He highlights a reduction in service to Hyde Park, one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, as well as the already implemented extension of the 801 rapid route to Slaughter Lane, as flawed attempts to address the suburbanization of poverty, a phenomenon he says is “largely a myth used by suburbanites to gain access to services they aren’t paying taxes for.” The most obvious example, he says, is MetroRail. The money Cap Metro spends to bring commuters into town from as far away as Leander dwarfs the revenue it brings in through fares.

Note the emphasis.

Not “Former member of the Urban Transportation Commission known for making controversial but correct calls on transit”.

It maps to “Crazy Person”.

What merited such a description? It must have been the e-mail conversation. Let’s go to the tape!

The background (the unpaid labor):

(Stick with me as I reformat this):

First email


Jack,

Sorry for short disjointed email. All I have time for today is dictation and some phone clean up.

Of the changes going in in the first round soon, the ones that are the most problematic for me are the elimination of the Hyde Park section of the five, and the 21/22 changes. If capital metro were using the more standard quarter mile walking distance, it would leave large sections of Hyde Park with no frequent service whatsoever. However, in a very dishonest attempt to make things look better, they use a half mile walking radius for rapid bus stations, even though that's not an excepted practice in the industry. The original connections 2025 proposal actually called for eliminating all of the one and three runs that remain, which right now is about every half hour.

So, capital metro is out there selling this plan as if it's a ridership over coverage redesign, which tends to put an image in peoples mind that walkable places with density like Hyde Park should be gaining service, when the reality in our case is that we're losing service. The people gaining service in this plan are actually in more suburban areas, especially those on the far reaches of the rapid bus routes, where are the benefits of the fewer stops approach actually outweighs the longer walks.

The 21/22 are a slightly different story. Those areas are definitely walkable and urban, but medium ridership. Low by the standard of our more successful bus routes, to be sure, but also have lower subsidies than the redline, for instance. There's a major political and equity problem with those routes. They tend to have two types of riders disproportionately: number one is students transferring into the West Austin elementary middle and high schools, and number two, people living east taking the bus west to work at places like Randalls or Tarrytown pharmacy. It's true that the residence in Tarrytown really use the services, but that's not the only metric that should matter in a case like this.

So on equity grounds, the plan fails. That would be OK if it was a pure ridership play, but you can see from the Hyde Park example that it doesn't meet that metric either. A true ridership over coverage play would have restoring all of the locals on Lamar and Guadalupe to the way they used to be as the number one priority, given the demonstrated high demand for ridership and walkable focus of those neighborhoods.

Let me know if any questions. And again I apologize for the poor formatting, I was dictating this outside my son's Boy Scout meeting.

Thanks,
Mike

The second e-mail


That was supposed to be Tarrytown residents RARELY use the services. Sorry.

The first response


Thanks Mike!

What are examples of suburban areas gaining service? Are you referring to one of the rapid routes going down to Slaughter etc? Anything else?

Also, most of the complaints I've heard have been the opposite...that low income people on the outskirts (where they've been forced to live as Austin prices go up) are getting shafted. Do you see any evidence of that?

Also, what is your theory for why Metro's ridership has dropped in recent years amidst record population growth?

The third e-mail


Main example of suburban areas gaining service is additional frequency on the 80x routes and Red Line.

And why Cap Metro lost ridership is the same reasons - Red Line requires huge op subsidies which led to cuts in local urban bus service. Rapid cut locals on corridor by half and ridership still hasn't recovered.

The fourth e-mail


Finally, the "suburbanization of poverty" theme is largely a myth used
by suburbanites to gain service they're not paying taxes for. A few
poor people move out, sure, but the median income in Pflugerville is
higher than East Austin. Most of the poor people who were in Austin
ten years ago are still in Austin today, paying taxes to support Cap
Metro but losing rides to pay for rides at the edges of the service
area for nontaxpayers. (Note location of park and rides obviously
tends to attract people from outside the service area - majority of
Red Line riders don't pay Cap Metro taxes, for instance).

The fifth e-mail


I had a contest last week trying to get people to identify a stop
losing service (I was dumb and included enough detail for it to be
easy). Laundrette, Holly & Robt E Martinez, is slated to completely
lose service.

Here's a zoom-in of the new world if CM gets their way - 1/4 of a mile
at least to the closest LINE, much more than 1/4 of a mile to the
actual stops. This is in an urban medium-density area with a good grid
which still has very high transit usage.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1QWIxCZeZPRRN15GkB0z8QcRQXn0&ll=30.254114230537375%2C-97.72539144874577&z=16

(in the new plan, #22 is being shortened and now runs mainly N/S along
Chicon; #17 runs CC, nothing runs on Holly or REM).

CM's overall strategy on the plan seems to align with good practice
from other regions about reducing winding routes and increasing
frequency at the expense of transfers. But when you zoom in to areas
of concern, you see that something's not quite right - even the areas
that you would expect to get better service or at least keep it,
pretty much aren't. (CM hides this by moving to "1/4 mile from LINE,
not STOP" or even "1/2 mile from stop" metrics which are bullshit).

Hope this is enough,
MD

The second response


Here's another question:

John Laycock tells me that the plan will double the number of households with access to frequent transit and increase by 75% the number of households in poverty w/access to frequent transit. Do you believe that is true?

The sixth e-mail


No, I do not. They are using sketchy metrics like "distance to the
LINE instead of to the STOP", and using 1/2 mile instead of 1/4 mile,
just like I pointed out Cap Metro was doing earlier. They're also
using "people within X distance of rapid bus lines have access to
frequent transit" which is even worse - many households whose closest
'frequent' transit is rapid bus face an even longer walk to the bus
stop from their home (and sometimes on the destination end) than 1/2
mile.

The seventh and final e-mail


And I know you can't use this in your story, but bear in mind that
both Laycock and Crossley are public-sector folks who appear to (in
the medium-term) be angling for contracts that might come from Capital
Metro. Their independence is highly questionable given that their
financial prospects may depend on not angering those folks.

I have a day job at a horrible corporate cube farm and don't use
transit regularly now - every dumb opinion I give you is legitimately
my own with no possibility of personal gain ;+)

- MD

On calling bullshit

Don’t sign AURA’s petition. They are assholes who are doing bad things and being dishonest about it. But even more importantly, once you have processed the message in these pictures, move on and read the money point.

As usual, it’s up to me to point out that the emperor has no fucking clothes. People, including many in AURA, have made both of these points at the same time, often very close to one another:

  1. The right lane is already a defacto bus/right-turn-lane during heavy traffic periods
  2. Making the right lane a bus/right-turn-lane will dramatically improve travel times during heavy traffic periods.

These things cannot both be true, and people who say both are either too stupid to be listened to, or too dishonest to be listened to, so of course, in Austin, we’re listening to them.

As for center-running bus lanes, fuck those. Those would even further cement the permanence of rapid bus over light rail. There is no migration path; you get buses forever if you go that way (even with right turn and bus lanes, you’re 99% of the way to killing light rail forever).

Hey, reminder: this exists

It’s hard to justify a large investment in crackploggery when Bad AURA is out there stealing the air supply. But remember, there’s always twitter. Today, there’s a great thread where AURA’s trying to say their play-along-plan doesn’t mean they don’t care about regular folks’ transit.

Here’s a good place to dive in and start browsing:

I guess everybody has their own version of Jane Jacobs…

I just read this quote from Jane yesterday:

As a general rule, I think 100 dwellings per acre will be found to be too low

from this article I found when searching on something like “Jane Jacobs and density”: Jane Jacobs-style Density: It may not be what you think

Then, today, on my neighborhood’s yahoo group, I see a nice invitation to a screening about Jacobs from, of all people, one of the board members of Preservation Austin:

Hi friends and neighbors:

We’re just two weeks away from Citizen Jane, Battle for the City, presented with the Paramount Theatre and sponsored by AIA Austin! This 2016 documentary tells how preservation and planning icon Jane Jacobs fought to save Manhattan from urban renewal in the mid-20th century. Her human-scaled approach to cities transformed the way we view urban communities and neighborhoods, with major implications for challenges we face in Austin today. We’ll discuss all of this with our expert panel following the film, including Kim McKnight, Environmental Conservation Program Manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department; Catherine Sak, Executive Director of Texas Downtown Association; and Bob Paterson, Associate Dean for Research and Operations (Interim) at the The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.

VIP tickets include a pre-show meet and greet with panelists, along with hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Regular tickets are just $20! AIA Continuing Education Credits: 1LU.

Get your tickets here: https://tickets. austintheatre.org/single/ eventDetail.aspx?p=3325

Details
The Paramount Theatre and Preservation Austin present a screening of the award-winning documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City followed by a panel discussion featuring experts from the fields of historic preservation, urban design, and architecture. Some say that Jane Jacobs, subject of the documentary, single-handedly saved the soul of New York City in the 1960s. Join us to find out how! (AIA Continuing Education Credits: 1LU)

About the film:
“In 1960 Jane Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. Jacobs was also an activist, who was involved in many fights in mid-century New York, to stop “master builder” Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda. Many of the clues for formulating solutions to the dizzying array of urban issues can be found in Jacobs’s prescient text, and a close second look at her thinking and writing about cities is very much in order. This film sets out to examine the city of today through the lens of one of its greatest champions.” -Altimeter Films

Hope you can make it! Thanks!
Ann
Member, Board of Directors
Preservation Austin

Go see the film! It might be neat!

But also! A thought experiment: Do you think Ann, or any other board member of Preservation Austin, is picturing 100 dwelling units per acre when they throw around terms like “human-scaled”? Or do either one of the pictures in the article I linked at the top look anything like the Hyde Park you think Preservation Austin prefers?

Letter to Cap Metro board: OPPOSE Connections 2025

Dear board members,

I am writing as a former member of the city’s Urban Transportation Commission and a frequent author on the subject of transit to urge you to vote NO on Connections 2025.

Despite efforts to portray this as a standard “ridership over coverage” redesign (which is defensible on its merits), Capital Metro is actually using this opportunity to double-down on the last decade of redirection of service from the dense urban core to low-density suburban areas. In the process, they are abandoning their most loyal riders to longer walks and longer waits so that they can provide service to people who live in areas that don’t pay for the services being provided.

Capital Metro is engaged in sleight of hand when promoting this redesign. Switching from the standard quarter-mile walkshed to half-mile distances is the most obvious example (also, using half-mile distance to LINES rather than to STOPS tends to hide the drastic effect of long distance between stops on lines like MetroRapid). They are using the right style (claiming ridership over coverage), but the substance is lacking, and often in direct contradiction to the stated goals of the redesign.

For instance: Neighborhoods like Hyde Park and North University, which are walkable grids with high transit ridership, are losing service. The #5 is being eliminated in this area; the #21 and #22 are to be eliminated in this area; the #1 remains non-frequent (was originally slated for complete elimination!); the #801 remains non-local. Large swaths of our most historic transit-supportive areas are being effectively abandoned (to 1/2 mile or greater walking distance, which tends to make people resort to their cars). I have also heard from patrons of the southern portions of the #5 route that similar actual service reductions to the densest areas are proposed.

I am available to answer any questions you may have. Please do the right thing and require an honest service proposal to replace this dishonest one.

Thanks,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

PROS AND CONS OF BIKE LANES – 15 years ago

Just found this encapsulated in one of Michael Bluejay’s constellation of web pages and thought I should copy it back here since I wrote it… and it holds true today just as much as in the early aughts. I sure did like numbered lists back then, huh?

Source: https://bicycleuniverse.info/bicycle-lanes-no-brainer/

PROS AND CONS OF BIKE LANES

There are no good studies proving that bike lanes or wide curb lanes are better than the other. ALL theories you hear on which one is better are resting on somebody’s opinion. [Updated, Feb. 2007: A few months ago, a study did come out which claimed to show a non-trivial safety enhancement for marked bike lanes vs. wide curb lanes.]

then some more text by me:

I’m one of the people who thinks we overprescribe bike lanes, but it bugs me that so many Forsterites are so hostile to them in general. Both bike lanes and wide curb lanes have their place.

I’m operating under the assumption that we’re comparing bike lanes to wide curb lanes; not narrow curb lanes. The theory that we can reengineer the 98% of Austin that needs it to a grid pattern like Hyde Park where we don’t need EITHER facility is just ludicrous.

My general feeling on when bike lanes are appropriate:

  1. Where there are lots of inexperienced bicyclists
  2. Where speed differential is fairly high
  3. Where volume of bicyclists is very high

My general feeling on when wide curb lanes are appropriate:

  1. Where speed differential is lower
  2. Where bicycle volume (all types) is moderate to low

Where not to put bike lanes:

  1. Low-speed or congested roadways where turning volume is very high
  2. Residential streets (NOTE: DESPITE NEIGHBORHOOD MISREPRESENTATIONS, “RESIDENTIAL STREET” IS A CATEGORY OF ROADWAY SEVERAL LEVELS BELOW SHOAL CREEK BOULEVARD).
  3. Where they can’t be swept or otherwise maintained
  4. Where you can’t commit to “no parking”.

Things I believe that are PROs for bike lanes:

  1. Bike lanes attract new cyclists; wide curb lanes do not. I think this is self-evident. Patrick agreed, and so do most people who actually work in the field (not the people who commute and criticize; but the people who are paid to try to increase cycling in their particular city).
  2. No amount of education so far has been able to match up against the bike lane stripe as a way to get people out on their bikes. Of course, this may be a good thing if you think we don’t need more uneducated cyclists out there.
  3. You can’t attract new cyclists to a road like Jollyville without a bike lane stripe. Period. The automobile traffic moves too fast. A wide curb lane simply doesn’t provide the space that new cyclists think they need in a way which makes sense to them, coming from the world of the automobile. (We don’t make the right-hand lane up a hill twice as wide so trucks can pull to the side; we stripe another lane).
  4. If you accept riding on shoulders on 360, you should accept riding in bike lanes on Jollyville. The argumentative convulsions some Forsterites go through to defend shoulders from the same logic they use against bike lanes are breathtaking. (They do this, I think, because they know that even most Forsterites don’t want to share a lane at 65; the same anti-bike-lane reasoning with a few exceptions would logically apply to shoulder-riding).
  5. Most cyclists for whom bike facilities are built are not the expert cyclists that you and I might be. They are instead the novice cyclist that I used to be (and presumably you used to be).
  6. Even on low-speed roadways, utility for the population AS A WHOLE sometimes demands the channelization of low-speed traffic. For instance, Speedway and Duval north of UT – car speeds are 25-30; bike speeds are 10; this isn’t normally enough speed differential to justify separation, but the volumes of cars and bikes are both high, and the corridor’s thoroughput for both cars AND bikes is thus improved by partial separation of the modes.
  7. (this is from the link I gave a few days ago) – it is possible to have a better average passing distance on a roadway with a wide curb lane, but still have a better overall level of safety in passing distance with a bike lane. Whether this happens in practice is debatable – but it is a fact that you shouldn’t use “average passing distance” to compare the facilities.
  8. The idea (stolen from a semi-Forsterite) that we can easily get roads restriped with wide curb lanes is in reality not true. If you want space for bikes to be taken from car lanes, it generally has to be a bike lane. (I don’t know why this is, but it seems to be true, although Austin has an exception or two here).

CONS for bike lanes

  1. Car drivers do tend to think you need to stay in the bike lane (even when obstructed, unsafe, whatever – they usually can’t see the obstruction). Also, car drivers often think you should only ride on roads that have bike lanes. This problem exists with wide curb lanes too, by the way.
  2. Bike lanes are theoretically more obstructed than wide curb lanes. I don’t believe this to be true, but most people do, so I’m listing it here. For instance, Bull Creek doesn’t seem any less obstructed north of 45th where there are wide curb lanes. In Austin, at least, BOTH facilities need vast amounts of sweeping which they’re just not getting.
  3. Sometimes cyclists will stay in a bike lane when they need to leave it due to an obstruction or intersection approach. This is a sign of bad bike lane design in most cases and can be overcome, but is hard to get right, judging from how often it’s done wrong.
  4. Sometimes cyclists will stay in a bike lane when they should be leaving it to turn (the “turn left out of the far right lane” phenomenon). The problem here is that I see this happen on wide curb lanes fairly often as well. The only solution here is heavy enforcement.
  5. Bike lanes supposedly encourage wrong-way cycling. (Whatever happened to painting arrows, by the way? Jollyville didn’t get them…) – again, I see this often with wide curb lanes too. Heavy enforcement and more arrows.

A sustainable transit plan for Austin – outline and introduction

If this is sufficiently well-received I may fill in more later.

This post is in response to a request from Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, an organization of which I am a member, for some transit talk leading up to a position / plan from them. My key elements follow, in outline form, with links to old writing where feasible. I expressed my concerns that this would be a waste of time due to the alliance of FAN with AURA and Evolve Austin but was assured this was not an issue, so here we go.

Above all else, be skeptical of Capital Metro

Cap Metro’s record for honesty is bad and not improving. Lately, they mislead people about Connections 2025 (selling it as a “ridership over coverage” redesign, but in reality, it’s cutting service to our densest areas and rebalancing towards more suburban service). Under this we have details like conflating Rapid Bus with local service; using 1/2 mile or larger catchment zones when 1/4 mile is the industry standard, etc. Project Connect 1.0 was an unmitigated disaster due to a lack of honesty about constraints and aims by the people leading it, and they have never been held to account for it. We will not make any real progress for transit in Austin until these agencies act with transparency and honesty. FAN should demand better governance of, and leadership at, Capital Metro. My basic recommendation would be that board members need to at least ride transit sometimes and have a deep fundamental understanding of what actually raises and lowers transit ridership; and top leadership must be honest and ethical. Neither of those standards is met today by any board members or anyone in top leadership of the agency.

Background:

Watch the diversion of service dollars to the suburbs

Even AURA is on board with the Red Line being a bad investment, and I-35 BRT being a horrible idea. But that’s not where it ends.

The service just introduced for Round Rock is a horrible deal. Cap Metro is being misleading about it being a “contracted service”. Round Rock doesn’t pay overhead that supports Cap Metro’s structure in general, and their passengers can continue onto mainline routes despite not having paid taxes to support them. They’re getting a sweetheart deal in return for not paying into the system. This is bad for Austin.

Likewise, park and rides placed near the edge of the city limits or the edge of the service area are obviously going to tend to attract patrons from jurisdictions that don’t pay to support the agency. While you might want to supply them with transit anyways, this is a zero-sum game or worse. Every $25 operating subsidy paid so somebody from Cedar Park can ride the train despite not paying taxes to support it results in 5-10 Austinites not getting to ride a bus that their city did pay taxes to support.

We should not be subsidizing the suburbs’ road network and also subsidizing their transit. If we don’t get to cut one, cutting the other is not only good but necessary. Again, in Austin, transit is a zero-sum game; we have no ability to increase operating funds, so every dollar we blow on somebody in Cedar Park is taken away from a prospective rider in Austin. Friends of Austin Neighborhoods should be about supporting Austin’s interests first against so-called predatory regionalism.

Background:

Specifically watch for land use claims that fall apart under scrutiny

In 2014, I made this warning about Rapid Bus: Rapid Bus Has Degraded Bus Service.

We were told continuously by people more credulous than I that Rapid Bus was a great deal. I went to a lot of trouble to show that its benefits accrue disproportionately to those who live the furthest out, while those who live close in suffered service degradation.

The Panglosses kept at it, assuring us that infill stops would be added any day now. It’s now looking like 2018 or later for two infill stops, and even with those infill stops, Hyde Park will still have worse service than it did in 2011. Connections 2025 will make it even worse than that!

Rapid Bus is also a suburban subsidy although it’s more of a subsidy to the worst land use INSIDE Austin (i.e. low-density sprawl inside far north and far south Austin gets better service now, by speed, than does Hyde Park). AURA hasn’t opposed Rapid Bus primarily because their president lives close to an 803 stop and saw personal benefit from the service change that screwed thousands of others. I think FAN needs to be more honest and transparent than that, and hope you agree.

Watch out for things that don’t pass the BS test

Don’t ask a transit rider if the grid redesign’s requirement to add transfers will increase or reduce ridership. They have no idea; they’re already riding. Ask somebody who has a long history of being right about service changes’ impact on ridership. Ask somebody who is transit-positive but has to drive to work.

The fact is that the Connections 2025 redesign cuts local service even further for the areas of Austin with some of the highest modeshare, and yet, Evolve Austin and AURA have bought into the Big Lie from Capital Metro. I shouldn’t have to keep explaining this, but in 2011, you could pick up a #1 on Guadalupe in Hyde Park every 10-12 minutes during peak and a #101 every 20 minutes or so. Now there is a local every 30 minutes, and the distance to walk to ‘rapid’ (fancy 101) is too long to make up for the increased frequency. Actual riders are worse off today; and yet Connections 2025 proposed making that even worse under the guise of improving things. (Eliminating local service on Speedway, and originally proposing eliminating the remaining locals on Guadalupe too!)

Friends of Austin Neighborhoods generally promotes urbanist ideals. Having a transit agency which cuts service to the areas that buy into urbanism inevitably leads to pushback in the future for land-use changes as people become justifiably skeptical that new residents of infill developments will use transit at non-trivial levels.

If you say you want ridership over coverage, be serious about it

Ridership, ridership, ridership. This is a public investment; we need our transit dollar to go as far as it possibly can.

That’s all the time I can spend now. Let’s see if FAN was serious about taking this seriously before I invest any more.

Evolve Austin continues AURA line of horseshit about transit and density


Dear mayor and council members:

My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000-2005, and have written a bit on the topic of transportation (mostly transit) ever since.

You've received some correspondence recently on and on behalf of Evolve Austin that continues to claim that Capital Metro is reorienting its services to better support land use that provides the density and walkability to make transit service more feasible and sustainable at a lower cost.

This is false. Cap Metro has not changed one iota; the recent service changes continue a pattern of reorienting service to unproductive suburban areas and away from the areas that produce the highest transit ridership (and have the highest potential for additional ridership).

This presentation, from 2015, explains why the Rapid Bus shift was a degradation of transit service. Connections 2025 doubles down on this shift, removing even more local walkable transit service from the core neighborhoods where it is most heavily used.

https://www.slideshare.net/mikedahmus/20150211-transitvslanduse

I'm eager to communicate via email if any of you have any questions.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org