Letter to Cap Metro board: OPPOSE Connections 2025

Dear board members,

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

A sustainable transit plan for Austin – outline and introduction

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

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

Above all else, be skeptical of Capital Metro

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

Background:

Watch the diversion of service dollars to the suburbs

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

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

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

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

Background:

Specifically watch for land use claims that fall apart under scrutiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolve Austin continues AURA line of horseshit about transit and density


Dear mayor and council members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

AURA hagiography makes M1EK surface to post comment

No further news.

In case AURA succeeds in eliminating the comment; here it is for posterity:

Article: https://nextcity.org/features/view/austin-yimby-movement-city-hall

Comment:

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.

AURA has tried to grow towards tenants-rights groups and as a result has become anti-landlord; anti-property-rights; and effectively anti-urbanism. General story here: http://m1ek.dahmus.org/de-endorsement-of-aura/

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.

No-transit field trip: Dropping off the car

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.

Find better urbanists, Austin. AURA sold you out.


  1. two blocks off Guadalupe in Hyde Park 

  2. directly on North Lamar between North Loop and Koenig 

  3. which was there to get a problem looked at in preparation for hopefully selling it 

  4. really, though, what I did was start walking and keep looking for the local coming up behind me, which it never did 

Cap Metro Is Lying To You About Successful HCT

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:

Cap Metro Is Lying To You About Guadalupe

In Project Connect 2.0 meetings, they are still saying that “nothing is decided” and that the horseshit decision to put Lamar and Guadalupe in the second class grouping of corridors for study doesn’t mean anything.

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.


  1. they can’t wait three seconds without telling us how joined-at-the-hip they are these days, after all 

CodeNEXT was not worth the wait

This is my short and sharp reading of the CodeNEXT ‘draft’ that came out this week.

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.

If you want a longer reading by a more qualified person with a different strategic outlook on it than I have, you could not do better than to read Chris Bradford’s take.


  1. 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