BRT: The R stands for unReliable

Today, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway to get on the “express bus” to northwest Austin (there’s a stop near my new office). This works pretty well most of the time. I don’t have a shower at work and am out of shape right now; so I take the easy trip in the morning and then bike home in the afternoon.

There’s a 983 bus every hour (most of the buses on this route run normal southbound and then switch to a different route northbound to pick up people in far suburbia; only a few buses ‘deadhead’ on the reverse-commute – but they are quite full; today’s bus had about 20 people on it).
The bus was supposed to arrive at 7:48. It arrived at 8:02. The interesting thing is that had this bus broken down (as they do constantly, unlike rail), the next one would have been at 8:48. Ever sat at a bus stop for an extra hour?

One of the greatest advantages of light rail over bus rapid transit (to which these express buses are very similar) is reliability. They simply don’t break down; and barring Houston-like idiot drivers, they don’t get into accidents. They don’t get stuck in traffic (90% of US so-called rapid bus installations end up without dedicated runningways, meaning that cars can use the bus lane and therefore the bus can still be stuck in gridlock). EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT A MINUTE FASTER, you won’t be stuck at 8:01 wondering if you’ll be waiting another hour or not.

Unfortunately, BRT is what Austin is going to get, thanks to a local pantload state legislator from a suburb that doesn’t even pay into the system. Why nobody is willing to stand up to this guy is beyond me; Austin itself voted something like 55-45 for light rail even with all of its half-baked problems at the time.

It’s Hard To Be Both A Cyclist And A Driver

(This entry is over a year old; but somehow it got reposted to austinbloggers.org as a new entry today while I was adding the Shoal Creek Debacle category to my site – apologies; but I can’t seem to fix it).
While driving home this afternoon (switching to working at home part of the day until my wife’s C-section is healed up better), I had the top down and was enjoying a nice (but windy) day travelling east on FM 2222 towards Loop 360 from the office. I came up to the light at City Park Road and caught up to two recreational cyclists (decked out with fancy bikes, fancy clothes, and fancy helmets). The light turned red. I and they slowed down. I stopped. They did not.

As is often my wont, when I caught up to them I yelled out “red means stop, asshats!”. One of them flashed me a peace sign. Hooray! Peace on Earth trumps traffic law.

I’m one of the perhaps 2% of cyclists locally who stops for stop signs and red lights. That’s because of two reasons: 1. I’m both a cyclist and a driver, and 2. I sit on the Urban Transportation Commission and have to fight quite hard for cyclist facilities.

1. As a cyclist myself, I’m occasionally hassled by drivers on the road and more frequently harangued off the road because other cyclists break the law. This is irritating but rarely important enough to worry about.

2. As a commissioner, however, you have no idea how often I’ve heard “why should we build (bike lane / shoulder / loop detector / etc) for cyclists when they’ll just jump on and off the sidewalk and run red lights anyways?” – even from the (outgoing) chair of the commission. In fact, we even lost a facility vote once on the commission on those grounds. (It gets hard to fight battles for things like Shoal Creek bike lanes when the racing cyclists piss off all the neighbors so badly that even I’m tempted to smack them).

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, I’m one of perhaps 2% of the cyclists that actually follow the law in this respect. The remaining 98% fall out roughly as follows:

Ignorant of traffic law – about one-third of the total – pretty much everybody around the University, and a lot of people who are clearly biking to work because they lost their license in a DWI conviction, or can’t afford a car. I don’t get angry at these people.

Self-righteous twits – another third of the total – mostly on the far left. The austin-bikes email list is full of people who defend running red lights by claiming that the environmental superiority of cycling justifies any transgression of mere traffic laws. If I point out that they make the job of reasonable cyclists quite difficult, they enter la-la land by claiming that motorists will hate all cyclists no matter what, so why bother being respectful and responsible. Additionally, this group quite often repeats the canard that motorists always run red lights too (what motorists do is often floor it on a yellow or the very start of a red light – this is often referred to as “running an orange” – while this is a serious threat, it’s far less serious than what cyclists do in completely ignoring red lights and stop signs altogether). Oh, and motorists do running stops at stop signs. Guilty. At least they slow down to a crawl first.

Finally, we have the recreational racers – the crowd that think that serious riders must wear certain clothes and drive to a ride start point (very high intersection with the Austin Cycling Association). These folks will tell you you’re going to remove yourself from the gene pool if you don’t wear a helmet, and then proceed to blow a stop light on a road with a 60 MPH speed limit (as in today’s example).

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why it’s difficult being a utilitarian cyclist in Austin. Any questions?

Mike Levy Hates Pedestrians

Mike Levy, publisher of Texas Monthly, is at it again. For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, Mr. Levy’s favorite pastime is finding a local transportation issue (relating to downtown, most of the time) that irks him, and then firing off an angry email to about 100 people around the city (the people he considers movers and shakers). In said email, Mr. Levy’s usual tactic is to find a city staff person whose job it is to implement some policy with which he disagrees and ascribe all sorts of sinister motivations to that employee. Said employee is almost always just carrying out the express will of the City Council, with whom Mr. Levy somehow never picks a fight directly.

Today’s example is light synchronization downtown. Mr. Levy admires Houston’s system (in which supposedly all lights on one corridor turn green at the same time – which is a disaster for air pollution and for pedestrians, since the incentive of the driver is to hit the gas and go as fast as possible while he still has greens). Austin’s system is more properly described as sequencing, in which lights are staggered on a major corridor to encourage 25mph automobile travel (better for the air; better for safety of motorists and pedestrians).

Mr. Levy, of course, ascribes this instead to a supposed desire by Austen Librach to ruin downtown traffic so that light rail becomes more viable. (Hence the title of this entry – pick the most awful reason for doing something that your audience will ascribe to your designated villain, and stick it in his mouth no matter what he really says).
Levy’s audience will probably buy it, since most of the people on his list are knuckle-dragging I-can’t-imagine-anything-but-single-occupant-vehicle-travel pedestrians-are-Communist old-school Austin Republicans. But really. If somebody was trying to sabotage commutes to make light rail look better, wouldn’t they instead gum up Mopac and I-35, since at its worst, the downtown part of the typical suburbanite’s commute is 5 or 10 minutes of the hour – 90 minute total trip? And who, dare I ask, would be responsible for the current gumming up of I-35 and Mopac?

Yes, readers, it’s the suburban wankers (assisted by Cap Metro destroyer Mike Krusee who used his power at the state lege to force an early election) who narrowly voted down light rail in 2000. Or, maybe, it’s the guys in charge of TXDOT who built highways to serve real estate speculators rather than actual transportation needs.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s Mike Levy, who, instead of using his awesome powers for good (getting downtownites to understand that nothing but rail can fix traffic there since we ain’t gonna knock down skyscrapers to add more lanes) has squandered them on evil. Yes, folks, it’s all because Mike Levy Hates Pedestrians.

Envision Circle C in Downtown Austin

Well, the neighborhood associations of the center city are at it again; this time trying to rally the troops against the clear consensus expressed in the Envision Central Texas surveys.

The Austin Neighborhoods Council, umbrella wing for most of the worst of the lot (the kind of people who opposed the Villas on Guadalupe by claiming that rush-hour traffic would get horrible because of all of the students driving their SUVs to UT) is now fighting the Envision Central Texas project because people voted in huge numbers to direct new development to “infill”, i.e., build stuff closer in to the city so we don’t destroy quite as much of the environment around Austin that we (a) depend on and (b) enjoy. This consensus was overwhelming.

And yet, it still doesn’t penetrate these peoples’ heads that perhaps they’d get more support from the public at large if the sum total of the last ten neighborhood plans wasn’t “please don’t build anything new in or around our neighborhood, and please get rid of a bunch of existing multi-family development here, and please spend ten million dollars on these improvements when you’re done with all of that”. Their tack, instead, apparently, is going to be More Of The Same: Obstructionism in the name of “preserving neighborhoods”, as if we’re too unintelligent to notice that “neighborhoods” in real cities consist of more than single-family homes.

Here’s the note they sent:

Continue reading “Envision Circle C in Downtown Austin”

Bad Neighborhood Plans, Part Three

Well, the neighborhood that destroyed light rail’s chances in 2000 (“yes, we moved next to an active railroad; but NO, we don’t think we should live with light-rail for the benefit of the city”) has finished their neighborhood plan.

Big surprise: Calls for a drop in multifamily development.

Once again, the point of this exercise was supposed to be for neighborhoods to tell the city where they want additional density, NOT to tell the city that they want less density.

This is a city. Grow up, people!

Irresponsible Neighborhoods, Part Two

I was watching Channel Six for a bit while waiting for my wife to get ready to go out to a childbirth class, and I saw a zoning case being debated in front of council which has come up in a couple of the Yahoo groups I read. This particular case involves a SF-3 lot with two houses on it, each one fronting a different street (the lot has frontage on two parallel streets – not a typical corner lot) which the owner wants to subdivide into two SF-4A lots, so that each house can be a legally separate property.

A bunch of caterwauling has occurred from the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association over the fact that they explicitly rejected this kind of lot during their neighborhood planning process. The assumption is that the City Council would hear this, and rule against the zoning case because of it. (Note: the City Council ruled in favor of the applicant 7-0 on first reading; displaying what has become their typical pragmatism, but see more below).

This assumes, of course, that the City Council finds banning small lots throughout a neighborhood in the center city to be a reasonable thing to do in a neighborhood plan. I hope they didn’t; but I wonder why the plan passed in the first place.

I worked on the Old West Austin neighborhood plan. We were responsible. We allowed for densification with character throughout the neighborhood. We allowed for some multifamily which wasn’t only on arterial roadways (see future piece on Asshat Neigborhood Clowns Who Think Multi-Family Residents Don’t Care About Noise). We were specifically seeking to satisfy the intentions of the neighborhood planning process, which was NOT “Tell us WHETHER you want density”, but rather, “tell us WHERE you want density”, and we also didn’t think saying “only on Lamar” was a responsible answer.

Sadly, it seems more and more that the City Council has allowed other neighborhoods to get away with joke neigborhood plans which boil down to: Do these 20 transportation projects for us, and prevent any densification from occurring to our neighborhood, OK thanks bye.

Get Off Da Bus

It’s been rumored for a long time, but further more credible signs are afoot that Capitol Metro is abandoning plans for in-town light-rail transit in favor of a bus rapid transit system.

I could not be more alarmed at the incredible stupidity of the board and other leadership at that agency.

  1. They’re supplying commuter rail to areas which are primarily not Capital Metro taxpayers at the urging of the same state legislator who forced Capital Metro to call a rail election before they were ready, which they then lost by an incredibly small margin (winning in the city of Austin proper), primarily due to an insufficiently baked plan.
  2. For the majority of residents of the city of Austin, they’re now going to continue to provide transit which is not reliable (sure, the bus can change a traffic light ahead of it to green; but cannot move gridlocked cars out of its way) and very slow.

Of course, the disingenuous jackanapes who pushed the anti-rail campaign in 2000 will be silent about the fact that BRT takes even MORE street space from cars, and provides even LESS benefit for the money.

Capital Metro is signing its own death warrant. But as I predicted back before the 2000 election (Patrick Goetz: you still owe me a steak dinner), the state is the ultimate power here, and the state hates public transportation.

HOUSTON HAS LIGHT RAIL.

Truly, the apocalypse is nigh.