Big boxes and the ITE

Councilmember McCracken wrote back to my email referenced in the last post and said some things which made me more optimistic again, help more about which I will cover in my next crackplog, overweight but probably not until Monday. In the meantime, read here’s something I wrote up today on the #27 bus (transit field trip time!)
Short one today – my company was having a rare physical meeting at Ventana del Soul, a non-profit with some meeting rooms. (Well, actually, only three of the five locals, and one non-local; most of the company is still in Virginia). Took the #7 down in order to leave the car with my wife. Google Transit trip indicates 35 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by car in traffic (highly optimistic; more like 30).
I waited about ten minutes for the #7 at or about 8:30 AM; just missed one apparently. When my bus arrived, every seat was full, and there were 10-15 people standing. We picked up one more person before entering the UT area, in which the bus rapidly disgorged – I was able to get a seat when we crossed Dean Keaton, and by the time we hit MLK, nobody was standing and about half the seats were full. Continued on through downtown, people getting on and off (more on than off), and then as the #27 down Riverside through near-in southeast Austin. A few more people got on, but the bus was never completely full; when I disembarked at my stop, there were about 15-20 riders remaining.
So, summary, from 37th to UT, every seat full; 10-15 straphangers. Dropped off about 2/3 of those people at UT, but more got on downtown, and through Riverside about 3/4 of seats were full.
On the way home, I waited about three minutes for the #27 at Burton and Riverside while I was talking with a billing rep at a medical office. The bus actually came while I was still on the phone – and I accidentally tried to board with a soda (oops). Almost every seat was full – I estimate 20 to 25 passengers; but several got off at the next stop and I was able to move to the back next to the window. Picked up a lot more people along East Riverside. Summary: From my stop on Oltorf to downtown, average 3/4 to all seats full; dropped off about half downtown; then about half full to my stop at 33rd.
Hard to believe, but this bus was actually more full than most of my rides on the #3 back when I reverse-commuted in the mornings once or twice a week to Netbotz.

Not sure if it’s a typo, epidemic but Robin Cravey, help who I could support with reservations (given Zilker activities), misbirth and Laura Morrison, who I absolutely could not, given her destruction of the political capital of OWANA that the previous leadership worked so hard to build, and of course, years of ANC shenanigans culminating in the McMansion and VMU opt-out spasm, have apparently both just announced for Place 4, and are both using Threadgills for their petition kickoffs, albeit on adjoining days.
Please, every reader of this blog, if it turns out they’re running against each other, remember: we can’t afford to have a neighborhood-pandering obstructionist sitting at the Council.
I don’t have a site for Morrison’s campaign (email didn’t have a link), but oddly enough, the current ANC president (Danette Chimenti, who like Morrison is a McMansion activist with a big honkin’ expensive house) used these words to endorse her:

Laura did so much for ANC in her two years as President; by reaching out to neighborhoods and leaders all over Austin, and providing unifying, informed leadership she is responsible for ANC achieving the high level of respectability and credibility it has today.

which is amazing, given the ANC’s recent record of striking out on essentially everything except McMansion and CWS. The current city council, at least, clearly has far less respect for the ANC than they did even a couple of years ago. I don’t know if Chimenti actually expects us to believe this, but it’s laughable.

I’m now upgrading my position to cautious pessimism (from complete horror) after a nice exchange of email with Councilmember McCracken. As I said in my initial post a week or two ago, what is ed the early media coverage made it sound like the project would just be an extension of Capital Metro’s awful circulator route (which avoids most places people want to go, information pills and services, urticaria albeit poorly, commuter rail passengers to the exclusion of the central Austinites for whom it was originally promised).
McCracken wrote back late last week, saying he had missed the email originally. Since my email only talked about reserved guideway, that’s all he addressed at first – and he indicated he’d be pushing strongly for reserved guideway whereever possible, agreeing with my opinion that Capital Metro is underplaying the liabilities of running in shared lanes. So far so good. I wrote him back asking about my route questions raised by my second run through the media coverage, and he also indicated he favors a Guadalupe route up to the Triangle, pointing out that the #1/#101 are the most ridden buses we’ve got, proving a strong demand for transit in the corridor even today, even with bad bus service as the only option.
Sounds good, right? Well, to be realistic, it was going to be hard to get reserved guideway on Guadalupe past UT even with true light rail and with the Feds paying half to 80% of the bill. If we’re funding most to all of this system ourselves, as I suspect we are, I think it will be difficult to get an exclusive lane near UT, which, unfortunately, is the place where it would be most needed. Also, the talk about running in reserved guideway alongside Riverside seems unworkable – I paid close attention during Friday’s transit field trip, and didn’t see enough space to get this done, unless there’s something else I’m missing, like narrowing existing lanes.
So, mark me as guardedly pessimistic. I’ll be rooting that McCracken can pull this off – I have not heard similarly educated stuff from any other council member, so he’s the only hope here. I think Wynn believes in the streetcar fairy dust (the idea that streetcar running in shared lane will attract a lot more daily commuters than bus). Keep your eye on the ball.

As reported at the Chronicle’s blog:

The argument made by Responsible Growth For Northcross (RG4N) this morning is that the city’s approval of Lincoln Property’s site plan violated the note, generic which mandates that “Rainfall runoff shall be held to the amount existing at undeveloped status by use of ponding or other approved methods.” The city – with testimony from city engineers Benny Ho and Jose Guerrero – countered that “undeveloped status” means status at the time the application is filed, not a reversion to the status of when the property was a green pasture. Attorney Casey Dobson, representing the city, said “To use a legal term, that [would be] silly.” Guerrero further testified that the law only requires that a project not make flooding worse, and that Lincoln’s site plan will actually reduce impervious cover and presumable send less floodwater off-site.

In other words, the Wal-Mart plan is demonstrably better for drainage than current conditions but RG4N claims code should be interpreted as if a project must (not just can, but MUST) be rejected by city staff if it adds more runoff than the completely undeveloped state would have. Also keep in mind that the RG4N ‘vision’ would also be an improvement over current conditions, but most definitely not over the undeveloped prairie that was there seventy years ago.
If you ever needed proof that RG4N’s legal strategy was the old “throw excrement on the wall and see what sticks” method, here it is. And if there were any justice in the world, the judge would call RG4N forward and issue this speech.
As my cow orker DSK pointed out a moment ago, though, it would almost be worth yielding on this point if the judge put similar conditions on the homeowners of Allandale and Crestview.

Michael King writes that we should support RG4N even though their case is utterly without merit as even their news staff is beginning to discover, ampoule months too late. Here’s a comment I just placed there:

Michael, this is ridiculous. Zoning means something – in this case, it means that Lincoln bought the property knowing what they should be allowed to develop (and what they should not be allowed to develop). If they were up there asking for variances or even a change in zoning, RG4N and the rest of you guys would have a point, but they’re not, and you don’t.
When it comes to cases where developers seek upzoning, many of these same people are very quick to tell you that the prospective developer should have known what they were getting when they bought the tract. Interesting how this doesn’t apply here. Also interesting how none of the RG4N homeowners are volunteering to let Lincoln have veto power over their own development projects within current zoning. Democracy for me, not thee.
As for the comparison to the Triangle – the bulk of RG4N’s supporters are using the group as ‘useful idiots’ here – they have shown through their actions on other projects (including very recently) that they have no interest at all in dense urban development – they want to preserve low-density stuff they already have.
A critical eye once in a while, even at your fellow travellers, would seem to me to be a basic responsibility for a journalist.

One point I should have added but forgot: this lawsuit, in which the city has to defend its legal responsibility to approve site plans that comply with city code, is costing Austin taxpayers a half-million or so at last count. Still think RG4N is so noble?
A second point I just remembered: the Triangle development was such a big fight because the state (leasing the land to the developer) is exempt from Austin zoning codes.

As DSK notes, implant this isn’t incredibly clear on first reading, so here’s a new lead-in:
I forgot to crackplog about this when it happened: a “remodel” of a property with a duplex on it on 34th was the subject of a lawsuit filed by some of the leadership of my neighborhood association which went down in flames, since the property owner clearly satisfied the legal requirements in the zoning code (although those requirements were indeed very vague and very generous). News 8 has given the complaining neighbor some pity press (was in first link but not obvious), and I was reminded to talk about it. Here we go!
This new kind of awful seems to be cropping up a lot lately – the tendency for people who ought to know better to insist that the legal system is broken if it doesn’t give them outcomes they like – in other words, since we care enough to shine our rainbows on the problem (Julian Sanchez), that ought to be enough to solve it. But the legal system doesn’t operate in the world of democracy; it operates in the world where the law means something, and in this case, my idiot neighbors wasted a bunch of money on a lawsuit that was clearly doomed to failure.

In other words, even though I, personally, think that these new duplexes are actually a lot nicer for the neighborhood than the old ones (described by a more moderate person than I as “red shacks from Somalia”), and that my neighbors are just plain bad people for wanting to keep out slightly-more-affordable housing than the single-family-classic-mansions that infest that side of Speedway (34th being the dividing line on that side between historically rich mansion stuff and more modest development), it’s irrelevant: in this case, the law is clear, and what’s more, was clear before they bothered to file the suit. If some neighbor was building a garage apartment on a 6000 square foot lot, an action which is consistent with my preferences but against the city code since our neighborhood plan prohibits it, I’d likewise think anybody who filed a suit to do it was stupid. Still left undetermined is how much of this frivolous lawsuit’s cost my neighborhood association will ultimately bear – since the leadership is overwhelmingly from that side of Speedway and on the wrong side of so many other development issues, I expect them to eventually donate some funds. Ha ha, DSK, I never joined, so it won’t be my money, at least!
Are you listening, Chronicle?

“CAMPO wresting rail planning from Capital Metro” is the headline. Sounds good to me – Wynn and Watson in charge means smarter rail than Capital Metro’s stupid useless stuck-in-traffic streetcar plan. Right?
But who else is going to be in charge here? Let’s see:

The 14-member group will be led by Austin Mayor Will Wynn and will include among others McCracken, more about Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson (who had a whole lot to do with creating the group after Wynn called for something similar last month), global burden of disease Williamson County state Rep. Mike Krusee, Travis County Commissioner and Capital Metro critic emeritus Gerald Daugherty, and representatives of the University of Texas and road and rail advocacy groups.

Yes, that’s the same Mike Krusee that got us into this mess in the first place – the asshat who screwed Austin out of a good starter rail line like Houston and Dallas and everybody else built. That Mike Krusee. The guy who derailed efforts to build good rail for Austin so his constituents (most of whom don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes) could get more transit investments than the residents of central Austin who pay most of the bills.
Shit. We’re screwed.
Note that even if Krusee wasn’t involved, the implementation of commuter rail has now precluded anything like 2000’s light rail line from being built and that’s about the only light rail line worth trying around here. In other words, the damage has already been done – we can’t recover the 2000 route now. But still – having him (and even Daugherty) involved is the death knell for even a mediocre effort at urban transit – as neither one is likely to support investing enough money in reserved guideway transit in the city core. To them, every dollar spent on the dirty hippies in Central Austin is a wasted dollar that should instead be spent ferrying some SUV-driving soccer mom from one strip mall to another.
If Krusee had just kept his mouth shut in 2000, we’d have had a light rail election in May of 2001, and it likely would have passed. By now, you’d be seeing trains running in their own lane down Guadalupe right in front of UT, and down Congress Avenue right in front of all those big office buildings. Instead, we’re seeing test runs of a useless commuter line running out by Airport Boulevard that nobody will actually ride. That’s what he got us last time. Imagine what he can do for an encore!

This story is kind of sad, this site but also a bit of an I-told-you-so moment. I’ve expressed in other forums (comments, mostly) that local businesses around here have sadly not been prepared to adapt to a more urban environment – ref among others the locally-owned businesses around Northcross in pedestrian-hostile parking-loving strip centers protesting against a slightly-more-urban and slightly-less-hostile-to-pedestrians Northcross redesign, and don’t forget Karen McGraw’s shenanigans in Hyde Park. And now, from 2nd street:

Speaking confidentially, other tenants are concerned that there’s no interest in keeping them in business and that the lack of parking in the area makes life as a retailer virtually impossible.

(Of course, an anonymous commenter has already said that they think shopowners/employees were hogging the few curbside spaces that existed – hard to verify, but wouldn’t surprise me). The idea that you can’t have retail without free nearby parking is a suburban mindset – which is the most clear indication that these people weren’t prepared for urban retail.

Here’s a clue: Don’t move downtown if you can’t figure out a way to attract customers who arrive by any means other than the private automobile parked right in front of your store. Sadly, there are a lot of national retailers who DO know how to do this – and we’re probably better off with a pedestrian-oriented national business than a local business that doesn’t know how to play in an urban center. That’s going to result in a lot of backlash from the paleoliberals, and I won’t be thrilled either, but I don’t see any other way forward.

This might get worse before it gets better – transit ACCESS downtown is good, but competitiveness is poor, unless you have to pay to park. People who have free parking at their offices in the suburbs aren’t going to enjoy paying to park to shop – so again, these businesses need to not rely on that type of customer to survive, but the other type of customer – the local (urban) resident – may not exist in large enough numbers (yet) to make up for a retailer that doesn’t have a lot of experience marketing to those urbanites.

A fairly good article this time about Krusee seeing the light on new urbanism and stepping down. I’m honestly not sure how much I believe, viagra 100mg which is a huge step up for me on this guy, cheap actually. Here’s some interesting quotes:

“It’s an article of faith for Democrats that the sales tax is regressive. The gas tax is much, food much more regressive. The gas tax is, literally, a transfer of wealth from the poor to the middle class – to the upper-middle class.”
That’s not some blogging transit activist or Green Partier speaking on the inequitable burdens of highway costs. It’s District 52 state Rep. Mike Krusee, who’s currently best known – for better and worse – as the legislative face of Texas toll roads.

Gosh, I wonder if anybody else has been talking about that for years now. Couldn’t be, huh? I presume the “transit blogger” might be me, given that every other blogger in the universe has swallowed Costello’s tripe “TOLLS BAD. HURRRR.”
As for the rail issue:

There are those who say his successful advocacy of suburban commuter rail instead of the light-rail lines initially proposed clumsily destroyed the possibility of effective Downtown mass transit for another decade – and that instead, we’ll be trying to retrofit a system conceived for the very suburban sprawl it’s supposed to replace. But as Mike Clark-Madison wrote here, about a year after Krusee was having his New Urbanism epiphany, “It’s also pretty obvious that the only way Austin will ever have rail transit is if we start with a commuter system serving western suburbanites” (“Austin @ Large,” April 9, 2004).

It’s too late, Mike. The first quote is right – we’re screwed; but Michael King is as wrong now as Mike Clark-Madison was then; there is literally no way to start with this commuter rail line and end up with a system which both suburbanites and urbanites can ride and get some benefit from. Even a transfer from “good rail” to “good rail” (both running in their own right-of-way) is enough to turn off essentially all suburban commuters not currently taking the bus, unless we reach Manhattan levels of density and parking costs (which we never will). And that presumes that we’re somehow able to surpass tremendous obstacles and get a light rail stub built down Lamar and Guadalupe, which I doubt very much that we can (now that we wasted all our money on “urban” commuter rail that serves the suburbs poorly and the urban area not at all).
My comments posted there (some repetition of the above):

I can’t believe Krusee gets it about inner-city drivers. That makes precisely ONE politician that does.
Of course, that doesn’t make the gas tax regressive by itself – it’s the fact that we pay for so many of our roads (even parts of our state highways) with even more regressive taxes (property and sales) which do the trick.
As for the rail thing – Krusee has destroyed it here, forever. You can’t start with commuter rail and end up with something good – suburban passengers won’t transfer from one train to another train (even if by some miracle we GOT a second train running down Guadalupe in its own lane) to get to work until we’re reaching Manhattan levels of density. He doomed us to the point where we have to abandon transit to the suburbs, even though we spent all of our money building it. Good show.

One of the many pieces of excrement flung against the wall by RG4N in the desperate hope something would stick was an ITE Journal article in which the author asserted a disproportionate (to square footage) traffic impact for “free-standing discount superstores” over 200, look 000 square feet. The conclusion, dentist in other words, seek was that 199,999 square feet stores should have a trip generation figure of X per square foot; while 200,000 square foot stores should have a trip generation figure of Y, where Y is much larger than X.
This is counter-intuitive to say the least. One could argue that the increased size results in more trips overall – which would be the result of continuing to apply X trips per square feet (X times 200,000 is obviously more than X times 100,000). One could even argue that the increased size results in fewer trips than the same number of square feet in _two_ stores (“one-stop shopping”). But the theory that a bigger store results in, and I emphasize units here, more trips per square foot has always seemed ludicrous to me.
Anyways, as it turns out, Wal-Mart went with a slightly smaller store – which the army of anonymous RG4N trolls have used for quite a while as conspiracy fodder – claiming that they snuck it in under the threshold to avoid these supposedly more valid rules (which, again, as far as I can tell, the ITE still hasn’t seriously considered adopting).
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in my skepticism. In addition to several disagreements about methodology, the respondent (another traffic engineer) points out that the study was too small to be statistically rigorous; the stores were too different to draw any firm conclusions; and that the author’s supposed intuitive conclusion isn’t. Some excerpts follow, since I’m not sure how long this article stays up for free. I’ll leave out the most esoteric stuff.

DEAR EDITOR:
As a transportation consultant who is involved in both the performance and the review of traffic studies, my colleagues and I at McMahon Associates, Inc. are extremely concerned that the August 2006ITE Journal article entitled “Trip Generation Characteristics of FreeStanding Discount Superstores” lacks the rigorous scientific analysis and thoroughness that we have come to expect in ITE Journal articles.
As such, although ITE Journal states: “Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not reflect official ITE or magazine policy unless so stated,” the article may be utilized by transportation professionals and others as “gospel” even though its analysis is flawed, in our opinion, in many respects.

2. Additionally, the square footage of a gas station is not a good choice for independent variable, as compared to the number of fueling positions, when determining its estimated trip generation; i.e., a 225-square-foot building could serve four fueling positions or 14 fueling positions.

5. We also question whether the author confirmed, in her comparison to the ITE Land Use Code 813 rates, that the latter (ITE) square footage baselines are the same as she assumed, especially with regard to the garden center, which typically has significant (15,000 to 20,000 square feet) square footage. While we agree that the rates should be applied to “total” square footage, inclusive of a garden center, it is our understanding that the ITE samples were largely (or totally) based on building foundation square footage, not inclusive of outside garden centers. Our observations about baselines and “with and without gas pumps” are intended to reinforce our opinion that the author’s analysis appears to be an “apples to oranges” comparison rather than “apples to apples.”

7. There is also a fairly large discrepancy between the number of vehicle trips collected between different days at some of the supercenter locations. Site 3 shows an increase of almost 17 percent in site traffic between the day 1 and day 2 counts. The increases in site traffic between the day 1 and day 2 counts at site 1 and site 5 are both about 10 percent. The fluctuation in these counts suggests that there could be flaws in the data or that other factors may have been involved in the traffic generation of the site on one or both days of the counts. These discrepancies may reflect seasonal variations, as the article indicates that the first weekday count was taken in July while the second count was taken in October.


and here’s the one that I think is the most important to laypeople:

9. We also take issue with the author’s statement that “free-standing discount superstores intuitively should have a higher trip generation rate than free-standing discount stores, which by definition do not contain a full-service grocery store but have most of the other amenities of the superstore.” Are not shopping centers evidence that larger stores, with presumably more services or products in one location, result in documented lower trip rates, because customers shop longer and their shopping needs can be accommodated in fewer trips due to greater availability of goods and services? In fact, the author’s argument is shown not to be the case in Table 1 of the article, where the author’s own comparisons show that, as retail store sizes become larger and more services/products are offered, trip generation rates decrease. We also note that the number of samples for ITE free-standing discount store (47) and ITE shopping center (407) is large enough so as to make these land uses’ rates statistically more reliable than ITE’s rates for free-standing discount superstore (10 samples) or the author’s study (five samples).

In conclusion, while the author’s study and article adds to the body of knowledge on trip generation characteristics of superstores in excess of 200,000 square feet, its data and analysis of that data, we submit, are not rigorous or conclusive enough to support the article’s recommendation that the rates derived from the author’s analysis should be used as the future norm for 200,000 square-feet-plus superstores. Until such time that more samples are collected (we would recommend at least 20); preferably from various locations in the country, as she also recommends, to test geographic differences, if any; and are computed on common baselines first (separately, without, or with gas pumps) before combined (i.e., if not statistically different), we suggest that the jury is still out on the validity of this article’s rates, conclusions and future use.

8 Replies to “Big boxes and the ITE”

  1. It seems to me that peer review should have caught these flaws.
    BTW, I have the Northcross briefing, or at least the briefing filed with the clerk. Here is the _only_ traffic argument RG4N made in the briefs I have: Wal-Mart will generate another 7,500+ trips, which will send more traffic onto Northcross Drive, which sometimes has dangerous flooding; thus, the traffic increase “endangers public safety.” RG4N elsewhere argued that Lincolnn should have been forced to fix the Northcross Drive flooding, which I guess would have eliminated their only traffic objection.
    Caveat: RG4N may have made additional arguments through testimony or in closing, and it is possible (but not likely) that they submitted a letter brief that did not get filed with the clerk. But this is the only traffic argument in the two briefs I have.

  2. Yes, I was referring mainly to the PR talk about traffic – this ITE article came up numerous times. I’m similarly flummoxed at how this got through peer review. Possible they don’t do it for mere articles? Who knows.

  3. We should be able to see this for ourselves when the HEB on Riverside is replaced with a 125,000 sq/ft HEB Plus just north of the current site. I’m quite interested to see what happens.

  4. I’ve never understood these traffic counts anyway. It seems to me that variations in store quality/popularity would make any averages meaningless. A new HEB Plus will generate a lot more traffic than an old HEB partly because it will be more up to date. And how do the traffic counts of a K-Mart and similarly sized Wal-Mart compare? I bet they’re not even close. If everyone had close to the same traffic counts, no one would ever go out of business for lack of customers.
    I know traffic engineers have an answer, I just don’t know what it is.

  5. Well, you can’t measure intangibles like you talked about above – they tend to go with a generous average in my experience, meaning that they estimate conservatively in the high direction above the average for that category.

  6. “I think it is very interesting that their talking points in public don’t at all match up with their legal arguments.”
    Isn’t it?
    Yet another example of how RG4Ns suit and its arguments is merely a desperate means to a different end. But I’m sure they will insist that their suit is neither irresponsible, wasteful, nor frivolous.

  7. There is another factor rarely discussed, but which will be very significant in the case of Northcross.
    The extra vehicle trips arriving and departing at the new Northcross do not imply an equal amount of extra vehicle trips on the surrounding roads, which is the real traffic issue.
    I contend that a large portion of “new” traffic to the Northcross is already driving on Burnet and Anderson and the neighorhood roads.
    Out in the ‘burbs and on the highway access roads, this is not the case with Wal-Marts. Consider the Austin examples used to show how the ITE guidelines underrepresented the traffic: They took traffic counts at the 620 & 183 Wal-Mart, the I-35 & Ben White Wal-Mart, and the I-35 & Slaughter Wal-Mart.
    All of those examples require a larger proportion of shoppers to significantly alter their current traffic patterns in order to shop there. The proportion should be lower for Northcross (because many of the targeted shoppers already commute on Burnet & Anderson), but this issue is conveniently not addressed by RG4N crowd.
    Also not addressed is how the existing Northcross bus lines should be considered as a reducing modifier in the traffic calculations. After all, a certain number of shoppers and workers will be using the buses instead of driving.
    I think it just goes to show that traffic calculation is very complicated and is best left to trained individuals.
    And it is telling that RG4N has failed to produce one of these trained individuals who is willing to go on record to dispute the TIA.

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