How pro-Proposition-1 establishment figures try to get away with it

Dave Sullivan, for months, on the CCAG, at meetings like this one:

“Nobody will show me the data! Show me the data!”

AURA, yesterday, released the latest paper, with data on why Highland/ERC will cripple our transit system and prevent any future rail lines from being built.

20141020auracover

This is the same argument, with data, presented over the last few months by Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano. Dave Sullivan has been pointed to him on multiple occasions, by many people, including yours truly; with no response. Example:

20131204mikelettertodavesullivan

A contemperaneous post by Julio that I was hoping Dave would read: “Highland Score”, November 2013.

Did he ever stop saying “show me the data! Why won’t anybody show me the data?”?

No, he didn’t. Now we move forward to last week.

Dave Sullivan, 10/13/2014:

20141013sullivancomment

Any questions?

A very accurate summary of where we are

I don’t claim to know Leffingwell’s motivation, what is ed but everything else in this short post from Dave Dobbs via twitlonger is accurate:

“Austin’s Proposition One is a poison pill for democracy and the new 10-1 council.

My view is that when Mayor Leffingwell found himself on the losing end of the 10-1 vote, page he decided to make his prediction that such a council so constituted couldn’t function by saddling that future council with enormous debt and a totally non sequitur urban rail plan that doesn’t go where most people go, symptoms doesn’t address congestion, has far too few riders for far too much cost, will see too little fare box return and that will negatively impact bus service. Additionally, the convoluted rail ballot language politically encumbers the new council with certificates of obligation (CO) for $400 million in roads that will do nothing for Austinites, while at the same time authorizing bonds for a rail proposal that the FTA is not likely to put high on the list. And because Austin changed the original destination from Mueller to Highland ACC, another three years of federal planning (and more money) will be necessary to even get on the list for federal funding.

The bottom line here is that if Austin’s Proposition 1 passes, a new council, awash with voter mandated debt, will have it’s hands tied; subject to the charge that it’s not carrying out the voter’s wishes if it doesn’t spend the money. In short, passage of the rail bonds and the problematic road CO’s associated with those bonds is going to create endless static in council chambers for years. How can anything productive come out of that?”

Dave Dobbs,
Texas Association for Public Transportation

Where did the Highland alignment come from?

I don’t claim to know Leffingwell’s motivation, what is ed but everything else in this short post from Dave Dobbs via twitlonger is accurate:

“Austin’s Proposition One is a poison pill for democracy and the new 10-1 council.

My view is that when Mayor Leffingwell found himself on the losing end of the 10-1 vote, page he decided to make his prediction that such a council so constituted couldn’t function by saddling that future council with enormous debt and a totally non sequitur urban rail plan that doesn’t go where most people go, symptoms doesn’t address congestion, has far too few riders for far too much cost, will see too little fare box return and that will negatively impact bus service. Additionally, the convoluted rail ballot language politically encumbers the new council with certificates of obligation (CO) for $400 million in roads that will do nothing for Austinites, while at the same time authorizing bonds for a rail proposal that the FTA is not likely to put high on the list. And because Austin changed the original destination from Mueller to Highland ACC, another three years of federal planning (and more money) will be necessary to even get on the list for federal funding.

The bottom line here is that if Austin’s Proposition 1 passes, a new council, awash with voter mandated debt, will have it’s hands tied; subject to the charge that it’s not carrying out the voter’s wishes if it doesn’t spend the money. In short, passage of the rail bonds and the problematic road CO’s associated with those bonds is going to create endless static in council chambers for years. How can anything productive come out of that?”

Dave Dobbs,
Texas Association for Public Transportation

A short interlude from the “urbanists, search 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?

Update on FTA and Lamar

I don’t claim to know Leffingwell’s motivation, what is ed but everything else in this short post from Dave Dobbs via twitlonger is accurate:

“Austin’s Proposition One is a poison pill for democracy and the new 10-1 council.

My view is that when Mayor Leffingwell found himself on the losing end of the 10-1 vote, page he decided to make his prediction that such a council so constituted couldn’t function by saddling that future council with enormous debt and a totally non sequitur urban rail plan that doesn’t go where most people go, symptoms doesn’t address congestion, has far too few riders for far too much cost, will see too little fare box return and that will negatively impact bus service. Additionally, the convoluted rail ballot language politically encumbers the new council with certificates of obligation (CO) for $400 million in roads that will do nothing for Austinites, while at the same time authorizing bonds for a rail proposal that the FTA is not likely to put high on the list. And because Austin changed the original destination from Mueller to Highland ACC, another three years of federal planning (and more money) will be necessary to even get on the list for federal funding.

The bottom line here is that if Austin’s Proposition 1 passes, a new council, awash with voter mandated debt, will have it’s hands tied; subject to the charge that it’s not carrying out the voter’s wishes if it doesn’t spend the money. In short, passage of the rail bonds and the problematic road CO’s associated with those bonds is going to create endless static in council chambers for years. How can anything productive come out of that?”

Dave Dobbs,
Texas Association for Public Transportation

A short interlude from the “urbanists, search 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?

A comment by Roger Cauvin, epidemic originally on facebook and then made to this post about Lamar/Guadalupe and the FTA which deserves promotion, immediately following:

In the debate around the proposed urban #rail plan in #Austin, one of many areas where I see unfortunate speculation pertains to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding. Some advocates of the current plan contend that the already-approved FTA funding of #MetroRapid on the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor precludes such funding for #rail on the same corridor.

A Capital Metro memo (see attached image of memo obtained through an open records request by the Central Austin Community Development Corporation) attempts to summarize its correspondence with the FTA on the issue. Unfortunately, people have different interpretations of the memo and perhaps no knowledge of the actual contents of the correspondence.

Yet this memo was used as a sort of “trump card” to put to rest further consideration of the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor for the initial rail investment.

Fast forward to August 25, when I attended a press conference covering the #MetroRapid 803 launch. Bob Patrick, the regional administrator for our region, as well as Gail Lyssy, the deputy regional administrator, attended the event.

It occurred to me that, if so much speculation is swirling around the issue of FTA funding, why not just ask these FTA administrators directly, and in person? So I did. Would existing MetroRapid funding by the FTA preclude funding Austin’s first light #rail investment on the same corridor?

Bob’s response (paraphrasing): “As far as I know, one wouldn’t preclude the other, but I’d need to check with Washington.” But he then referred me to Gail Lyssy as someone who could give me a more definitive answer.

Gail’s verbatim reply, after I asked her the same question: “Absolutely not. We’d work it out.”

Now, I don’t think these informal exchanges, by themselves, put to rest speculation about FTA funding. But they do suggest the issue merits further exploration through direct contact with the FTA instead of continued speculation.

Bill Spelman was a bully.

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, neuropathist 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, view 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, ask 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 service ((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!)), 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 mall ((Hello Highland Mall!). Or, for instance, not wanting to be politically embarassed about previous bad decisions (Hello Rapid Bus!). Or wanting to make a medical school look shinier (H

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
The week before last, sildenafil when I ripped one on the radio, I took hours off from work and family to go downtown to give a speech before the City Council in what was supposed to finally be the one and only chance to give meaningful public input on the Project Connect plan.

I had this outline ready to speak to – planned at a minimum of 3-6 minutes but expandable to the full 15 minutes that I apparently had to use thanks to others’ donations.

As you probably know, at the last second, council voted 5-2 (at Mayor Leffingwell and Mike Martinez’ seeming direction, with Councilmember Bill Spelman’s vote in favor) to limit testimony. Roughly 2 hours of anti-plan testimony had been signed up by then and roughly 30 minutes of pro-plan testimony. Each side was given 30 minutes; and the anti-plan side ended up with more like 20 due to interference by Leffingwell.

As I was walking back from the podium after my abbreviated speech, Spelman called out from the dais something like “I don’t remember seeing Mr. Dahmus or Mr. Morris at any CCAG meetings”.

This was bullying, people. We already have a significant and obvious (and appropriate) power imbalance. But to make it worse by trying to color perception of my short speech by calling my credibility into question was beyond the pale.

As a matter of fact, I gave a speech at the November CCAG (again having to take hours off of work and family obligations) – and Spelman didn’t hear that speech because he arrived late. And I know Scott Morris did so on at least one occasion as well. But this is also not the only time we’ve talked on this. His kid and my kid were in the same chess tournament last fall – and both Mr. Morris and myself talked with him at length on that occasion about our concerns.

After Spelman made that comment, I attempted to answer from the back of the room “I spoke in November” but was cut off by the mayor with “No speaking from the gallery”. Mr. Spelman did not ask me a question; he just let the perception stand that I had shown up at the last second and had no idea what I was talking about when I said there were no true opportunities to shape the plan.

I gave Mr. Spelman more than a week to communicate with me (I emailed him, attached below). He has not done so. The only conclusion I can come to now is that despite his public image as the affable wonk, Bill Spelman is every bit the bully as the mayor has already proven himself to be.

Sent on June 27th, to no response:

This message is from Mike Dahmus. [ mike@dahmus.org ]
Mr. Spelman, Regarding last night’s council meeting, I’m not sure you heard my response as the mayor immediately cut me off. I didn’t find your comment appropriate but am not sure you even heard the answer either. In fact, I gave a speech at the November CCAG (to which you arrived late). Like most of the people in the true grassroots, I have to take time off from work to speak to you in virtually any venue. Despite this, I also participated 4 or 5 times in Project Connect events. Kyle Keahy and Scott Gross have spent enough time talking to me that they know me well by now. My comments about public involvement are from experience. I’d like to give you a short window to respond and correct this misunderstanding before I open up. I’m quite angry still about last night, and I want to make sure you’re not included if you don’t deserve to be. Please let me know soon. Thanks, Mike Dahmus mike@dahmus.org

It’s July 9th. Nothing came back. I’ve waited long enough for an apology. Bill, you used to be one of my most admired Austin politicians, but at the end you were a bully. Austin deserved better than this.

spelman

Council, board: Reject the LPA so we don’t have to vote it down.

The acronym is for “Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved”.
I’ve been meaning to write a series of these for a long time for posterity’s sake, buy hemorrhoids but the combination of a recent bout of stupidity in the comments at austinist and recent economic conditions have reminded me to get going.
Here we go with #1.

Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #1: Central Austin (Clarksville) to North Austin (IBM)
Timeframe: 1997-1998
Rough sketch of route

Background: After spending my first year in Austin living in an apartment behind IBM on Gracy Farms and riding with a friend down to Town Lake and back many weekends, information pills I bought a condo in Clarksville and decided I’d bike to work more seriously (I had done it occasionally from the apartment – although it was so short it was kind of a waste of time). At the start of this period, I was still a borderline novice – I would shy away from busy streets and cling to hike/bike trails whenever possible.

Bike used: the old no-shock mountain bike (only one I still have in 2008). I bought the used touring bike right before I quit IBM in the spring of ’98.
Distance/Time: About 11 miles each way. In my typical physical condition at the time, the morning commute would take about 1:15 (75 minutes); the afternoon commute about 45 minutes.
Showers: Yes. IBM has a locker room in one of the “pink buildings” (east side of Burnet).

Route and comments:

When I first started this commute, I used the Shoal Creek Hike & Bike Trail up to 34th/38th. That proved to be dumb after a few trips; I found a much shorter and actually safer on-road route, detailed below.

First segment: To 35th: Get on West Lynn in Clarksville heading north. (Pictures are from 1999ish commute to S3, which comes later in the series). Cross Enfield at nice signalized crossing. Enjoy shade and picturesque mansions to end of West Lynn at Niles; turn left and head down to Hartford (one 4-way stop at Pease); then go up Hartford across Windsor (light). Hartford eventually bends and turns into Jefferson. Head up Jefferson and pass two busy 4-way stops for Westover & 29th; speed humps after that; but still a very civilized and shady and flat route up to light at 35th, where it opens way up.

At this point, my original idea was to get on Shoal Creek as quickly as possible – because I was still uncomfortable with bigger roads. I’d actually take a turn before arriving at 35th; heading down 34th and then through Seiders Springs Park to where Shoal Creek Boulevard starts at 38th; but this adds a big hill or two to the trip and a lot of time. Based on a recommendation from the austin-bikes list, I ended up with the approach below instead, which was far superior.

Segment #2: 35th to Shoal Creek: The trick here is that Jefferson crosses 35th and then hits an intersection at 38th where you can hop on Bull Creek Road, which appears to take you out of your way to the northwest, but is actually a faster and easier route overall. After crossing 35th, turn left at the next light to start up Bull Creek. Pass through light at 45th to end of road at Hancock. Turn right on Hancock, go down hill across the creek, back uphill; turn left at light on Shoal Creek. This particular spot was scary to me at first, as it requires one of the basic intermediate cycling tasks – taking the lane and then moving left to turn, although traffic was pretty light, but also required doing so on an uphill (unless I had maintained enough speed from previous downhill, I was usually going pretty slow by the time I got to the light).

Segment #3: Shoal Creek to almost 183: During the timeframe for this particular commute, Shoal Creek still had its original, pre-debacle, configuration: 7-ish foot wide bike lanes that occasionally had parked cars. (Note that in the slideshow, the striping is actually gone). At the time, I didn’t really know any better and would stay in the bike lanes – failing to assert proper positioning to safely pass parked cars – but there weren’t quite as many back in the late 1990s. Shoal Creek was a pretty good long route at this time – you always had or could obtain right-of-way at intersections (either 4-way stops or lights) all the way up to 183. When I first did this commute, I’d ride straight up to 183 and then sidewalk all the way past Burnet; but I later learned a route through the neighborhood which took me to the 183 frontage road much closer to Burnet, which is too convoluted to recall here, but this map of the area would probably suffice. Even as an experienced cyclist, I’d walk my bike across 183/Burnet; there were places I’d ride on the frontage roads, but this was not one of them.
Now, we leave the nice pictures behind.
Segment #4: Cross Burnet/183 and get on Metric. Easier said than done. There’s a fairly convoluted on-road route which could accomplish this which involved Steck, Ohlen and some backtracking, but at the time I did this commute, I’d rather be an occasional pedestrian than ride on some of those roads (Steck may soon become 3 lanes with bike lanes rather than its existing 4 narrow lane configuration, which would make that route much nicer). From last segment, walk bike along 183 frontage past strip mall to 183/Burnet light; cross Burnet and 183 eastbound frontage; cross under 183 to south side of northbound frontage; walk bike down that side to end of Metric; walk bike across to Metric Blvd. (Actually, Metric didn’t go all the way through when I started this commute – but it did by the end). On some of this route, you could actually ride (interior paved areas under the overpass), but it’s kind of dodgy on a road bike due to debris.
Segment #5: Up Metric to IBM. The southernmost stretch of Metric Blvd, from 183 to Rutland, was built during a brief time where the city actually put bike lanes on all new arterials – and is pretty darn nice. Crossing Rundberg, you get on a much older section of road, but there’s still plenty of space – super wide right lanes thanks to excessive freight truck use of this roadway. Some hills which are moderately difficult for the novice. There’s lights at Rutland, Braker, and Kramer, before you get up to Gracy Farms, where you want to turn left. Gracy Farms is 4 lanes and undivided but fairly low traffic, so even the novice me was comfortable taking the lane (especially downhill in the morning) and heading in the northwest corner of IBM off Gracy Farms.
Bus boost possibility: You can pick up the #3 shortly after segment #1 by heading over to 38th/Medical Parkway; but it only takes you to Braker, and is a pretty slow trip. Google Transit has this trip at 26 minutes which seems a bit low compared to my experience. This bus runs every 20 minutes and is heavily used – likelihood of the bike rack being full is pretty high. See other bike commutes for much better bus options.
Ratings:

  Rating Notes
Physical difficulty 3 Northbound: Some minor uphills south of 183; a moderate uphill north of 183. Southbound: Moderate hill up Gracy Farms; easy after that.
Scary factor 5 Burnet/183 crossing will scare away uncommitted novices.
Exercise efficiency 7 out of 10 Car trip in morning was very fast but exercise fairly high – inested about 55 minutes of time to get 75 minutes of exercise. Car trip in afternoon was only about 5 minutes faster than bike trip – invested 5 minutes to get 45 minutes of exercise
Enjoyment 5 out of 10 Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
Services/Safety 9 out of 10 Plenty of opportunities to hop on a bus with a flat tire, which I had to do many times on parts of this route on other commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

Overall conclusion: A good starter commute for the most part, although a better bus boost would have been more helpful. Some mornings I didn’t have the time to spend to go all the way up there and take a long (low water-pressure) shower, so a bus-in-the-morning; bike-in-the-afternoon plan like I did at various other offices would have resulted in more days on the bike. As it was, I averaged 2 days a week in spring/summer/fall; only about once every other week in the winter.

A letter I just sent to the City Council and Capital Metro board.

Mayor, doctor council members, and board members:

Please oppose the Project Connect Locally Preferred Alternative presented to you tomorrow. This project, far from being the start of a worthy system, will ensure we are never able to develop a strong rail backbone for our area.

Many of you have heard complaints about the Project Connect process. Suffice to say that it’s a nationwide laughingstock at this point. Far from lauding them for their transparency, you should be asking yourselves why the most knowledgeable transit advocates here (and some from outside Austin as well) are opposing this proposal when in most cities, your best transit advocates are the most enthusiastic supporters of a rail proposal.

Courtesy Marcus Denton
Courtesy Marcus Denton

Despite what you hear from Project Connect, this is not simply a matter of wanting rail on Guadalupe and Lamar first. Those of us involved in transit advocacy for the longest time here in Austin and that have the most experience observing other cities have come to the conclusion that for a couple of reasons, building rail on the Highland route means we will never get rail on our best corridor.

The choice of a low ridership route to serve development interests means we will have large operating subsidies for riders compared to existing bus service on that corridor, which will lead to service cuts – a death spiral for transit rather than the virtuous circle we hope rail transit will be when applied to our best corridors. We will have used up our scarce remaining financial and political capital on a line that never pays us back. Rail should be built where it provides operating cost advantages over existing bus services – not where it will cost even more to run.

In addition, there exists substantial doubt among transit advocates that the FTA would ever fund rail on Guadalupe/Lamar if they already funded Highland, due to the proximity of the corridors. Of course, we’d also face political headwinds in building what voters would perceive as a 3rd rail line serving north central Austin.

Please do the right thing and reject this LPA before we organize the voters to do it. I stand with many strong local transit advocates in promising that we will oppose this line if it is placed on the ballot in November, and we will do our best to make sure it does not pass. I hope you do not allow it to come to this.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
(Urban Transportation Commission 2000-2005).

Project Connect Phase 1 Lie Number 2

“We can’t ask the Federal government to fund urban rail on Lamar/Guadalupe because they already paid for Rapid Bus, and they told us they wouldn’t pay for it, and would instead demand all the BRT money back” or variations of same.

This one has legs. I even believed it myself to an extent, once. It’s a little complicated, because nobody at the FTA is truly going to go on the record, but there’s a couple of angles here that are clearly about Project Connect misleading the public (i.e. misinforming; even lying).

In 2004, though, the project was originally marketed to voters as a “possible placeholder for future urban rail”. Unfortunately, this was before I learned I needed to save images of anything put up by Capital Metro, so you’re going to have to trust my memory on this one. Suffice to say I didn’t find it compelling back then as I believed this was an attempt to get central Austin voters to support the plan but that Capital Metro had no interest in actually following through with the “first rapid bus, then rail” angle. They took down that language right after the election, by the way.

Fast forward, then, to Project Connect in 2012.

The first angle – was it ever on the table?

At the beginning of the Project Connect process, we were told that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and would be fairly evaluated. We were also told for years, in no uncertain terms, that Rapid Bus should not be stopped because it was not an obstacle to urban rail there. Now, granted, I didn’t always believe this myself – note that in this very blog, back in 2006, I approvingly linked to a Statesman article about Leffingwell and McCracken halting (for a time!) Rapid Bus because they correctly determined that wasting our best rail corridor on buses no better than current #101 service was incredibly stupid.

Capital Metro and Project Connect employees went to great pains to tell people (in person) that Lamar/Guadalupe was not precluded from the urban rail corridor selection process by the presence of Rapid Bus. This is the only reason I bothered to get involved with the process! People like Jace Deloney were told by people like John-Michael Vincent Cortez that there was no obstacle to Guadalupe getting trains on it. Cortez spent the better part of an hour dissembling at an Urban Transportation Commission meeting to Deloney’s questions about Rapid Bus – saying variants of “well, we could put urban rail there, but why would you ever want to, because Rapid Bus is going to be so great”.

Put a pin in this – we’ll get back to this later.

Project Connect Phase 1 went through their ridiculous, contrived, process which was obviously designed to produce justification for the predetermined rail route to Hancock. I think most of us have finally settled on that characterization by now. But one of the most irritating things, at least to Project Connect, about this process was their failure to convince the public to abandon the Guadalupe corridor as their #1, by far, choice. Despite the flawed (on purpose) design of the study; despite all the shenanigans, people still preferred Guadalupe by large margins to either of the corridors Project Connect wanted them to prefer. People still weren’t choosing the corridors Project Connect had been designed to get them to prefer! Those ungrateful wretches!

So at the very end of the phase, Project Connect and their lapdogs  went on a full-court press to explain to people why, despite massive continuing public preference, we would not be studying Lamar/Guadalupe in Phase 2. The claim was made that they had back-channel correspondence with the FTA that indicated they would not look kindly on ripping out MetroRapid right as it was starting just to put in urban rail. Which is where we get to the next angle. But first:

This is where I really got pissed off.

A lot of people spent a lot of time on the premise that our best rail corridor was, in fact, on the table. I took time away from my job and my family to do so. Many others took much more time away from their jobs and their personal lives. So it’s incumbent on Project Connect to tell us why they lied at the beginning, or why they’re lying now, because it has to be one or the other. Either Guadalupe was on the table, in which case they lied at the end; or it was never on the table, in which case they lied at the beginning. We are owed an explanation for this. I explained that last bit in a note I sent over my Thanksgiving holiday, for god’s sake, and nobody ever even attempted to resolve this at Project Connect or at the CCAG.

The second angle – did they even ask the FTA the right question?

Any urban rail project won’t be tearing up streets right away, even if it passes in November of 2014. The first time you’d see jackhammers and bulldozers would be at least 3 or 4 years further down the road – so let’s say 2017. Additionally, as pointed out by numerous people on both sides of the issue, the proposed alternative urban rail alignment (starter) for Lamar/Guadalupe only overlaps the middle quarter or third of the Rapid Bus alignment. Finally, nobody proposed eliminating Rapid Bus immediately, although I think we can all agree that running buses like that through a construction zone on the Drag would really suck. Slightly worse than running them through normal Drag traffic!

So did they ask the FTA “What would you do if we started upgrading the middle part of the Rapid Bus corridor to urban rail in 2017 or 2018?”

Nope. According to their public statements, they asked the FTA “How about if we immediately stop Rapid Bus ((two months BEFORE the buses were to start running)) and start working on urban rail here. How would you guys feel about that?”

Of COURSE the FTA said “you’d have to pay us back our Rapid Bus money”. To that question, why would you expect anything else? But even if we had to pay back the Rapid Bus money, it’s still peanuts compared to how much money we’re going to spend on Urban Rail, both Federal and local.

To equate “Can we just immediately stop Rapid Bus right now” with “Would you mind if we started upgrading the middle part of the corridor 3 or 4 years after service begins, probably continuing to run Rapid Bus as-is on the north and south ends of the corridor” is disingenuous. Misleading. Dishonest. Some might even say – a lie. To say nothing of the fact that during this phase of planning, we’re supposed to be talking about ‘corridors’, not ‘streets’; and some people like “OurRail” are proposing running urban rail a block off the Drag anyways, further reducing the area of supposed conflict to just a mile or two.

Finally, we heard from the guy at Capital Metro who planned the whole Rapid Bus project. Surely he’d set all of the Lamar/Guadalupe partisans right. Surely he’d line up with the fine leaders of the political machine on this one. Right?

The third angle: The guy in charge of Rapid Bus planning

I watched a CCAG meeting where Surinder Marwah spoke, and have been on a lot of email threads where he was CC’ed. He responded in onethread to a question by me of whether John Langmore had ever been forced to explain why the Rapid Bus project manager would support rail on Guadalupe (this is an edit from early versions of this post – I missed it the first time around). His response had a bunch of good technical detail about the FTA, useful life of bus projects, the definition of “permanence”, etc. which I’d have to go seek permission to repost.

However, Lyndon Henry has already done the legwork on this one. From an article in Railway Age:

Indeed, Surinder Marwah — the Capital Metro planner who originally designed the MetroRapid project and helped secure FTA Small Starts funding — corroborates MetroRapid’s role as a precursor to urban rail, and disputes that the project was ever intended to block rail in the G-L corridor. Marwah ranks as a strong and knowledgeable advocate of urban rail in the corridor.

Oops. Well, surely the FTA itself can be trusted to back up the leaders of our local political machine?

The fourth angle: The FTA’s Actual Public Response

Posted by the Central Austin CDC and others, this is the actual content of the response from the FTA to requests for information about this issue:

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What the FTA says here is that they would consider funding urban rail in this corridor as if it was any other corridor; but they might want some of the BRT money back (because, of course, they were asked the wrong question – listed above).

Even when asked a leading question implying a complete abandonment of the “BRT” investment, the FTA said they’d still be willing to fund urban rail in this corridor. They didn’t promise they would; but for the leaders of our political machine to characterize this, as they have, as “the FTA won’t pay for urban rail there because they already paid for Rapid Bus there” is a LIE.

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That’s all the time I have for now. Look for edits as I get more.

 Further reading

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, buy information pills you live in the real world?

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

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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 that the people of Austin 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 service ((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!)), 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 mall ((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)). 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.

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