Very disappointing to read this hagiography of AURA, which has diverged from its original principles and become nothing but a platform for vainglorious semi-employed dishonest people to seek public spotlight so they can get seats on commissions that end up producing no tangible movement towards urbanist goals.
They started out as a “cut the BS” transit advocacy group and have pivoted towards credulous support of Capital Metro initiatives that cut local bus service on our most productive transit corridors and support future plans that eliminate the rest (supporting suburbanism over urbanism; not coincidentally due to the fact that the AURA president lives at the end of one of these ‘rapid’ bus lines). They now fully buy into a line from Capital Metro that transit ridership has dropped due to poor land use despite the facts on the ground being entirely the opposite (transit service was slashed on the corridors with the most supportive land use). More on that here: https://restoreourlocals.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/how-urbanists-talk-about-transit/
Please don’t buy into this rewriting of history. AURA is nothing more than a vanity group led mostly by people working (if you can call it that) in the public sector. This is not the urbanism Austin needs.
About two weeks ago, I had business about two miles north of my house1, at “Happy Hybrid”2, to pick up our old car3. I came home from work early, left my company car parked at the house, and thought about how I would get to the auto shop to pick up the old car and bring it home.
In the old days, before MetroRapid, this would definitely have been a bus trip. Here’s what that trip would have looked like, in the “show up and go” model where the wait time is assumed to be “half the headway”…
Walk 4 minutes a block south and two blocks west to the #1 stop. Wait there for a 13-minute headway frequent local. Get on. Ride to Happy Hybrid. Get off. (0 minute walk there).
The 801, though, is a different story. My house and the destination are both (each) about halfway between two MetroRapid stops! So the 801 trip looks like this: Walk 7 minutes west and south to the Hyde Park station. Wait 10 minutes (runs every 20 minutes midday). Ride 10 minutes to the station north of Happy Hybrid. Walk 6 minutes back south. (Yes, this is what Google Maps recommended; so the alternative stations must be slightly longer walks, even!). Total time: 33 minutes.
The current 1 is the same as the old 1, except it runs half as often (26 minute headways mid-day). So I didn’t bother. What did I do instead?
Walked the whole fucking way there on my athritic toes, and paid severely for it for the next few days.
Here’s what the decision looked like:
This is what AURA did for urbanism – they supported a rapid bus plan that made the most logical option for somebody who had to travel 2 miles on our best transit corridor to the auto shop to WALK THE WHOLE GODDAMN WAY THERE4. (No, changing the fare back to parity doesn’t affect this. Only restoring true local service on this corridor does). And I, on this trip, showed that the service Cap Metro is now providing on this corridor has degraded drastically – to the point where it’s unreliable and unusable except for those who have no other possible option.
Last fall, I made this post in which I attended a Friends Of Hyde Park briefing on Project Connect in which I took major issue with Javier Arguello defending a supposed I-35 BRT project in Minneapolis as a successful high-capacity-transit investment (it wasn’t and still isn’t actually running yet, and will suck if it ever gets built), and then using a bad sort-ofBRT project and a bad mixed-traffic streetcar project as the other two pictures, cooking the books against people considering light-rail transit in the center of an arterial roadway. Hey, here’s a picture of what I wrote last fall!
A friend of the crackplog reports that the picture below was just used yesterday, May 3, 2017, to brief City Council about the progress, showing examples of successful high-capacity transit investments.
That’s OK, though. Let’s check with our local urbanist org, Austinites For Urban Rail Action:
Oh good, they’re on the MCAG and have been since last fall! Let’s check to see how they have reacted. I’m sure there’s lots of stuff they’ve written since last fall, using this board seat to good ends. I’m sure they have spoken truth to power; afflicted the comfortable; etc etc. Here, I’ve loaded up everything they have said in public about Project Connect 2.0 for your persual:
In an article in today’s Austin Monitor, the inimitable Caleb Pritchard reports that the plan to resurface the right lane in concrete is Moving Right Along. This plan is part and parcel of this other plan which has won the support of the curiously named Austinites for Urban Rail Action. Image follows.
I’m shocked, amazed, truculent, etc that it falls to me, and only me, yet again to call Capital Metro on their bullshit. Clearly they have long since decided that whatever Project Connect 2.0 spits out, it will not include rail running in the center of Guadalupe (and thus obviously Lamar as well). Otherwise, their partners at the city1 wouldn’t be doing what they are doing right now.
Where is Austinites for Urban Rail Action throughout all this?
Oh yeah. They sold you out for a seat on the MCAG, with which they apparently intend to make sure they don’t do anything to stop this.
Key things to remember in case you’re tempted to Well This Ain’t So Bad me on this:
No city has ever converted bus lanes to LRT and retained any of the original infrastructure. One city I’m aware of has sort-of converted BRT to LRT by tearing the entire thing up and starting over.
No city with half a brain would run LRT on the right side of a two-way street with lots of right turns. So this isn’t an approach to put rails in the bus lanes later anyways.
Cap Metro plans to increase ‘stations’ on the 80x this year anyways – which will be further obstacles, legitimate or merely political, for LRT on this corridor.
There is no path which ends with light rail on Guadalupe within the next couple of decades which starts with what you see above, with what AURA is supporting today. Do not be fooled.
they can’t wait three seconds without telling us how joined-at-the-hip they are these days, after all ↩
I’ve been describing it as “activist flypaper” for years – and am sad to state that may have been overly optimistic. My quick reading of the code makes it look even worse than what we have today. I don’t think many, so far, disagree at a high level, too. It basically zones the entire city outside downtown and corridors to a maximum of 2 stories (even the parts where the new transect code applies, much less the huge swaths of the city which still get essentially the old code) and adds additional restrictions on ADUs compared to current code. It adds code obstacles for even downtown redevelopment by promulgating stupid ideas about minimum lot width and floor plates. The plan, folks, is a bad plan. Even if you like planning, it’s a bad plan. For a freedom urbanist, it’s horrible.
This is not a step forward; it’s a step back. My strategic take is going to be to try to support those making individual recommendations for change1 but to also urge everybody to look at the plan as a whole and remember “worse than nothing”, which this thing is. Rather, it’s worse than doing nothing. Current code, as suburban as it is, is still better than this piece of garbage.
register on the site linked above, then wade through hundreds of pages of code through a bad internal scroll window to make comments that will doubtlessly be used as evidence of a public input process but not be taken seriously ↩
So I went to a Project Connect 2.0 presentation on Tuesday night, organized by Friends of Hyde Park. As is my wont, I also asked some pointed questions. You can get the original notes and detailed tweetstorm in yesterday’s post. Today’s is about the general things I noticed. “Javier” is Javier Arguello, “Jackie” is Jackie Nirenberg. So, here we go:
Their top ‘lesson learned’ from 2014 was: “we didn’t have long enough to convince people that the Highland/EastRiverside line was good”.
(My paraphrase). I did pointedly and directly ask this question and was unsatisfied with the response. A member of the CAG has confirmed to me in private that they keep asking this question and keep getting this deeply unsatisfying response, so it is clear to me that Capital Metro will admit to no wrongdoing in Project Connect 1.0 despite the vast majority of transit activists eventually agreeing that their process was corrupt and, in the end, publicly opposing their proposal. (I interrupted at one point and reminded them how unprecedented that was – I’m not aware of any other case in the entire country where a major transit proposal was so publically opposed by such a large group of transit activists from that city).
They keep claiming nothing is decided, but it’s clearly decided in some ways.
The framework for discussion has been set in a way that heavily disfavors Guadalupe/Lamar rail. There are three ‘segments’ of travel they put up on the screen; as well as a slide which shows “previous HCT studies”. Guadalupe/Lamar is not in the top slide (most important service), nor is it listed in “previous HCT studies”. It is instead consigned to the second group, called “connector corridors”, implying that Capital Metro has already decided that it cannot be the spine of the transit network. The images they chose to prove that they are ‘mode-neutral’ are, in order, a bad modern streetcar stuck in traffic, a bad BRT system that has proved far less than advertised (Cleveland), and a bad freeway BRT proposal (Minneapolis). I directly asked Javier why they chose these images, and he claimed it was just random chance. Sure it was.
They keep claiming they’re not going to waste a ton of time on more planning, because “the plans are already on the shelves”
yet they are ignoring the 2000 light rail plan, as shown above. In fact, later in the night, Javier tried to claim we didn’t know what people would or wouldn’t support, so I asked him directly “what corridor got the most support in Project Connect 1.0”, and to his credit, he finally answered directly: “Guadalupe/Lamar”.
They really want to triple down on the Red Line.
Javier claimed at one point that reputable people believe they can get 32,000 boardings per day by making more investments in that corridor. Not actual extensions of the line, mind you. He claims that they believe they can get as many riders as a below-average light rail line by simply adding more double-tracked segments and buying more train cars. This is, of course, complete bullshit.
They really want to play up investment in freeway transit.
Javier talked up Mopac express lanes on numerous occasions, which are sort-of OK in my book (many riders of express buses actually pay taxes to Capital Metro, unlike the median Red Line rider). But they’re not actual transformative transit in the land use perspective, for sure. I-35 BRT is a different animal. They envision stations in the freeway corridor – and then, see the next point, they envision circulating passengers off that presumed spine with another bus trip, ignoring the fact that people with actual choices don’t typically take 2-bus rides to work every day.
They have learned that “last-mile problem” is a get out of jail free card for bad transit.
I blame every other transit advocate in Austin for continuing to enable this excuse. As I often say, if your transit provider spends a lot of time talking about their last mile problem, you have a bad transit system. No, not every location can be served without lots of transfers. But when the majority of your passengers on your theoretical ‘spine’ have to transfer, YOU HAVE A BAD SPINE, DAWG. Spines need to go down the middle and get to the good stuff. And especially on the ‘work end’ of the trip (not the ‘home end’): if a large percentage of your riders have to transfer off the spine, you’ve chosen poorly.
For Houston, the strategy meant building a light rail through the city’s primary urban corridor, where lots of people already live and work.
Cities often shy away from that approach because it’s more expensive and disruptive to lay tracks in such populated locations. But the factors that make it difficult to build light rail there were exactly the things that made it the right place to have light rail.
“Often, light rail is driven by people saying, ‘we need light rail somewhere,’ and the political process will tend to put it where it doesn’t upset anyone, where it isn’t in the way of anything,” said Spieler, who is also the head of planning for Houston-based architecture firm Morris. “That is generally not a high ridership corridor. The congested places are the places people are trying to go.”
And since transit riders are almost always pedestrians on each end of their trip, you can only expect riders to walk to destinations within a quarter mile of a station. That makes it especially important to have stations right in the center of the action, not just near it.
“If you propose transit and no one is against it, it’s a bad project,” Spieler said. “Do you build it where it’s needed, or where it’s easy? That’s the central tension in U.S. cities, and too often they make decisions based on what’s easy.”
They have also learned that “we have to fix land use” is another get out of jail free card for bad transit.
They are still treating public input as a charade.
Both Javier and Jackie asked me to keep participating and keep giving input, and Javier expressed frustration at how many times he has heard versions of “you guys lied during Project Connect 1.0, why should we trust you now”. There was also one unsubtle dig during the Q&A period. The most fun part of the night for me was when Javier tried to turn around my “so what did you learn from the 2014 election loss” question at me and asked me why the 2000 rail plan lost. I think people around me saw my eyes turn to saucers and drool start to drip from my mouth at that spicy meatball, which I of course answered with a 60-second version of this old post1.
Oh, and also: I didn’t have the presence of mind to remind them of a pretty important part of the public involvement process that one of their predecessors accomplished…
Thanks to the Friends of Hyde Park, I got presented at last night by Project Connect (2.0, now more than ever, etc etc). Here are my notes from the event, followed by a storify of the livetweets. Next post will be a next-day summary.
Trying to downplay urban rail component and talk up regional plan
New "focus area" 183 mopac BW
CBD defined 15 BS/R Lamar 35
3 examples of HCT are KC streetcar, Cleve BRT, shitty Minn 35 BRT
"Tired of planning", want our input from the beginning
2.real solutions for real problems - tier 2 tech eval 14-18m
3. Path to implementation - Lpa selection 4-6m
Bragging about talking to COA, TXDOT, CTRMA
MENTIONING GL but hedging with references to city having to give ROW and "people still want to drive" clearly shaping expectations away from there already.
Phase 1 notes mention "not doing corridor planning", taking things done in the past. One input shown as "recommendations from previous plans".
Output is draft list of projects and transit corridors
Vetted with public and stakeholders
Draft tier 1 screening criteria (also claim vetted with public and stakehold)
CMTA Financial Capability Analysis
Looking over next 25 years at just cap metro financial capacity but assume some help on top
Mentions park and rides are a bad investment
Takes a long convoluted way to explain "need to move more people in less space"
Claims Red Line isn't finished. Only 4 cars, corridor can support 14!
Claims Red Line would have 32000 trips per day if they got enough infrastructure. And op subsidy would go down from $22 to 7.
Their map of corridors studied for hCT in the past does not include GL. GL at same level as RR now in 2nd class map of "connector corridors"...
Also mentions obliquely Elgin Line (other rail lines they own).
Last mile connections. Drink!
New slide draft enhancement projects - where they talk up MR and RL.
Downtown entryways talks up priority treatments at i35 and river crossings and then C2025
Bunch of bullshit about mobility hubs
Map asking for priority lanes on SL, SC. North of river focus on a new RL station, and some useless MR crap.
Public involvement process schedule shows they're already 3/4 done with "listen and inform" phase but "haven't done anything" meaning no decisions. Major event on Feb 4. Public launch Jan to feb through mar 2017.
Now Annick jumps in to talk strategic mobility plan on whiteboard
Compact and connected. Drink!
Response to my comment asking specifically for 2014 failure was that they didn't have enough time to 'compare' to Guadalupe and Lamar. Then some bullshit about lack of regional.
As a former proud member of the city’s Urban Transportation Commission, stuff I am disgusted with Cynthia Weatherby’s transparently obvious water-carrying for Mayor Adler in making clearly false statements about the CACDC rail plan. Shame on you.
Had my sponsor asked me to say anything that was this dishonest to the public, physiotherapy I would have immediately resigned my position in protest. It’s to his credit that he never did ask for anything like that when marketing a transportation issue, information pills unlike Mayor Adler (this is the second time it has become clear that Adler has sent his appointee to a commission with less than savory instructions).
I had high hopes for the AURA organization as an honest, approved ethical, food freedom-oriented counterbalance to the ANC that could act as a “force-multiplier”, viagra in which I could asynchronously and remotely debate policy and grow the group’s numbers so we could decide what to do together and then take turns showing up in person to do it. The idea was that unlike the ANC, most urbanists have jobs (and some even have families), so we shouldn’t strive to each attend meetings individually over and over again to hope to effect change; we should instead focus on our strengths – honest debate, open transparent communication, and then, as I said, take turns showing up and expressing the will of the group. Didn’t turn out that way, obviously. As my few remaining readers may know, I left the AURA organization quite some time ago due to disagreements about process (namely: they turned into the meetingocracy I had hoped they would be an antidote for1 ).
Ever since then, we have existed in a state of mostly alliance. Mostly. I assisted on several efforts after I was no longer an official member of the group. Some day I’ll tell you about them. But several recent shifts and failures to act by the group are incompatible with my firmly held beliefs about urbanism and ethics and freedom – things like abandoning the lower income riders of Capital Metro’s old local bus routes; or attaching burdensome regulations on landlords that will inevitably inhibit housing supply. Many of these decisions were clearly made to attempt to curry favor with the establishment politicians and hangers-on here in Austin.
As, unfortunately, was a change to the #atxurbanists facebook group, which is currently the only feasible place to talk about urbanism in Austin. At the request of the people who brought you the Project Connect 2014 Lie Festival, the board members of AURA who also serve as moderators of that group instituted a new set of rules which seemed explicitly designed to prevent those establishment folks from being held accountable for their words and their actions.
At the time those rules were changed, I directly warned the moderators what I would do if the rules did what I was fairly certain they were designed to do2.
That day has come. Yesterday, three board members of AURA exercised those powers in a capricious, malicious, and damaging fashion, against yours truly, in a way that was a direct assault on my credibility and integrity; and I thus have no reasonable choice but to follow through with my promises. I did, as I often do, allow them time to reconsider their actions3. They have chosen not to.
But as is often the case with me, I probably should have done this a while ago. The recent entanglements with CNU (a hopelessly corrupt local organization) and failure to even slightly hold Capital Metro accountable (as well as failing to assist in efforts to do rail instead of a highway bond for 2016) should have been the things that made me write this post. However, it usually takes getting angry to motivate me to prioritize what often seems like a pointless exercise. Well, now I’m angry, and I’m doing it.
If you believe as I do – that behavior matters, but also, that policy matters; that freedom matters; that giving people more freedom in cities leads to better outcomes, rather than getting entangled with identity politics and SJW nonsense, then I urge you to reconsider your own membership and/or support of this group. Because they haven’t been the AURA I hoped they would be for a long time now.
All prop 1’s suck, weight loss at least lately.
Two facebook comments I have assembled into what will hopefully give you the general gist of my position:
Austin has a nearly perfect record of projects being sold as “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” when they are actually making things worse, and this bond is no exception. The amount of money dedicated to speeding suburban commutes for the mayor’s donor class (as well as “getting buses out of your way”) vastly dwarfs what little good will result from the crumbs thrown to bike and pedestrian projects. It makes things worse for transit by promoting bus pull-outs (which even when paired with queue jump signals can only make things worse for transit, not better). And it quite likely prevents rail transit from ever being built on our best transit corridor.
I recommend people vote no.
(and then, in response to a “so what would YOU do, M1EK” reply):
1. No suburban spending at all (no 360, no North Lamar, no 969). Spending general funds on state highways makes the gas tax subsidy to the suburbs even worse.
2. No beautification spending at all. While I like medians more than chicken lanes, the COC should pay for it.
3. No reserved transit lanes on the route the voters just rejected.
4. No transit-and-turn lanes on Guadalupe, which will preclude rail and not do much good for buses.
5. At the end of this, float a $200M bond for bike/ped projects only. That saves enough bond capacity for rail later.
this is due to a combination of factors: because they started relying more on in-person meetings, with the backup being synchronous (live) online meetings, and because they decided open and robust debate on their e-mail list was no longer welcome. My only realistic ways of participating, in other words, were marginalized over time. ↩
eliminate any semblance of tough but honest ideological attacks against Austin’s political establishment through pretense of maintaining ‘civility’ ↩
as I first did to the person who eventually prompted my retaliatory, but completely proportional, comment in reponse to a personal attack ↩
That interest in return on investment opens the chamber up to critics who drubbed the 2014 light rail proposal as a suboptimal choice of projects. Its huge price tag and relatively low ridership projections – due in part to a route that bypassed some of the city’s densest neighborhoods – could have drastically cut into the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s operating budget, which could in turn have hurt the agency’s bus service, those critics argued.
“I don’t think I would characterize the 2014 bond proposal as a bad plan or a bad investment,” Cantú said in the chamber’s defense. “It might not have been the perfect plan. And I think a lot of people and groups in Austin are looking for perfection, and perfection is the enemy of good enough.”
He either doesn’t know the concept “worse than nothing” or knows it and doesn’t care. Ignorant or dishonest. You pick.
If the Chamber’s ‘new approach’ that identifies sprawl as bad does not include radical honesty about how bad the 2014 light rail plan was (instead extolling I-35 ‘improvements’ and more state highway ‘investment’), then they have learned nothing; we are all dumber for having listened to them. I award them no points; and may god have mercy on their souls.