Rapid Bus Fact Sheet

Over lunch today, I produced this Rapid Bus Fact Sheet which attempts to (before the conclusion) analyze some common BRT treatments and objectively specify which are being used in Capital Metro’s proposal, and what impact they might have on competitiveness with existing bus service and with the car.

Game On

Today’s Statesman (registration required) contains the first non-gushing comment about Capital Metro’s plan to screw the center city in favor of Cedar Park and Round Rock (who don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes) in order to curry favor with Mike Krusee.

But the agency will have to win over some lukewarm Austinites.
“I absolutely reject it on its own merits because of the benefits for people who don’t pay and the lack of benefits for people who do pay, said Mike Dahmus, a member of the Urban Transportation Commission, an advisory board for the Austin City Council.

He said the plan would shortchange the large number of city residents who provide the agency’s tax base in order to serve residents of the suburbs. Plus, he added, “the commuter rail doesn’t go anywhere near the University of Texas or the densest urban core.”

The bulk of Capital Metro’s budget comes from a 1-cent sales tax levied in Austin and a few surrounding communities that are part of the agency’s service area.

News 8, on the other hand, interviewed current bus passengers. Even Capital Metro isn’t quite stupid enough now to think that the opinions of current bus users should shape a rapid transit line, although they’re still attacking the issue from the angle of cost, which is not a winner with rail or bus.

Today during lunch, I hope to get the first fact page up (this one about the proposed rapid bus line). This will be an uphill struggle at best.

Redevelopment and rapid transit

In today’s Salt Lake Tribune, the most explicit explanation yet of why rail is far superior to buses in urban areas seeking redevelopment:

“Unlike buses, rail transit can have tremendous land-use impacts,” D.J. Baxter, Anderson’s transportation adviser, said Tuesday. “Since a bus can be rerouted at the drop of a hat, no savvy investor is going to make development decisions based on bus routes. But streetcars are fixed, permanent. And a streetcar, combined with the right kind of land-use policies and zoning, can lead to very aggressive private investment in urban development — particularly in terms of housing.”

Cost of driving to driver

So in Tuesday’s Cap Metro briefing, one of the points I made is that an attempt to encourage people to use transit based on cost savings is doomed to failure, because the bus really isn’t any cheaper than the car for most people. Assumption here is that you won’t be able to completely get rid of a car, i.e., you ride the bus 4 days a week, or even 5, but can’t reduce your family’s number of cars.

The two downtown lawyers looked at me as if I was crazy. Well, I’m used to it.

Here’s the problem: Most of the people who pay a lot of money to park work downtown. Almost none of the new buildings there are underserved with parking, though; so the average cost per employee to park is dropping, even in the one place in town where it isn’t free. Free is a good assumption to work on (I suspect that most employees in those new buildings are getting free parking from their employers).

Then, we hit the “well, the IRS claims 27.5 cents per mile”, or whatever they’re saying now.

Yes, the IRS does in fact allow you to deduct business-related driving at that level in most cases. A big chunk of that is not gas, or tires, or maintenance – it’s depreciation, which makes sense for a business (which usually must depreciate assets like that as a matter of accounting principle).

But I went over this with my bicycle cost comparator. The fact is that unless you can get rid of a car completely, this depreciation number is not applicable to using your car for personal use (and yes, commuting to work is personal use).
I have never gotten one more dollar for a car on a trade-in for having disproportionately low mileage. Anectodal evidence exists of a few people who got an extra hundred bucks or two on a ten-year-old car for low mileage, but even that figure is trivial compared to how much of the original value of the car depreciated as a function of time, not mileage.

So, if you’re talking about taking the bus to work even every day but you live in the suburbs, you ain’t getting rid of that car, and thus, you ain’t saving 27.5 cents per mile. Gas and tires are about all the consumables you can treat as a mile-based expense; most maintenance is necessary every N months even if you drive the car a tenth as much as the typical user. Insurance is not mile-based (even though there were a flurry of press-releases about it supposedly being offered in Texas, it hasn’t materialized). Neither is registration.

So, a comparison for me:

I drive my wife’s old Honda Civic to work (when I drive). I take my bike on the other days, using the express bus for a boost in the morning. Let’s suppose I took that bus both ways.
From my calculator on my trip:

  • Car cost: $1.20, of which $1.10 is gas.
  • Bus cost: $2.00 ($1.00 each way).
  • Note that the following bus savings can be used:
    1. You can buy pre-paid tickets at half price, thus bringing the bus cost down to $1.00.
    2. You can buy a monthly express bus pass for $17 ($0.84 per day if you used it 25 days a month).

    Even in the most optimistic scenario, I’d only save $0.16 per day by taking the bus. That’s never going to be compelling enough to get me to vote for any transit proposal whatsoever, which was the point to begin with.

    For comparison, Cap Metro’s calculator says it costs me $184 a week if I drive all 5 days.

    Cap Metro doesn’t understand “choice commuters”. The things that could get them to vote for more money for transit are:

    1. Reliability – my trip down Mopac takes 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on traffic. A guaranteed trip time of 45 minutes on which I could read would be worth something.
    2. Performance – 45 minutes, OK. 1 hour, no way.

    Unfortunately, their rapid bus proposal does next to nothing on either metric above.

bus hilarity

(17:10:34) mdahmus: oh, forgot to tell you about my dillo experience
(17:10:39) mdahmus: 3 HIGHLY drunk guys on 4th and congress
(17:10:47) mdahmus: scaring the crap out of the white chick sitting next to me on bench
(17:10:54) mdahmus: as I waited for red dillo to go back to park-and-ride
(17:11:06) mdahmus: and then one of them DROPPED HIS FRIEND’S LIQUOR BOTTLE and it BROKE
(17:11:12) mdahmus: the apologies were flowing like cheap liquor
(17:11:22) mdahmus: man, did they smell stinky
(17:11:36) (coworker): there is no defining the amount of class it takes to drink liquor from a bottle on the street
(17:11:42) mdahmus: every time a bus came up, the drunker and stupider one would go up to the bus and his friends would yell “that’s not the right bus man, we’re looking for the 26”
(17:11:53) mdahmus: apparently he was not only illiterate but illnumerate as well
(17:12:08) (coworker): you should submit “illnumerate” to something
(17:12:14) mdahmus: yes
(17:12:24) mdahmus: I will submit it to my crackpot blog
(17:12:32) (coworker) logged out.

It’s Rapid Bus, Folks

Short entry: I went down to Cap Metro at 11 for a briefing on the new different long-range transit plan (they’re not ready for open-records stuff yet so they were only willing to talk to 4 people from our commission at a time) and yes, the urban core of Austin is getting screwed. Rail for people in the densest parts of town is now gone; replaced with “rapid bus” lines, which do not include plans for any knd of prioritization beyond the “keep the green light a few seconds longer”.

In other words, the far suburbs, many of whom don’t pay taxes to Cap Metro, are getting commuter rail; and the urban core, where most of the money comes from, is getting a slightly better version of the #101.

Cap Metro just got a new worst enemy. I don’t expect to have any influence over the outcome, but I can and will make the people responsible for this decision as miserable as possible.

Neighborhood Plans: Threat or Menace?

I just sent the following to the City Council. Not much time to blog lately; but this is some relevant content at least.


Mayor and councilmembers:
My name is Mike Dahmus and I currently serve on the Urban Transportation Commission. I was also the chairman of the transportation committee for the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan.

The story in Sunday's statesman about Envision Central Texas finally compelled me to write about a subject which has been bothering me for quite a while: neighborhood planning. When we worked on the OWANA plan, ed pilule we were operating under the assumption that we were supposed to be telling the city _where_ we wanted additional density to _go_, NOT _whether_ we wanted it at all. The Statesman and ECT have noticed what I've also seen: that other neighborhoods have not been held to this responsible position.
My current residence is in the North University neighborhood. I've witnessed weeks of self-congratulatory hype over the fact that building height limits will be loosened in West Campus, and that in return, no additional density (in fact, less than currently exists) will be required in NUNA.

However, when I explain to other people that West Campus building heights will be allowed to go as high as 175 feet or so under the new amazing plan, the typical response is not, "wow, they're being very responsible"; rather, it is, "I can't believe they weren't allowed to do that already".

In other words, the best that the current batch of neighborhood plans are able to come up with is restoring West Campus to what it always should have been while allowing nearby roads like Duval and Speedway to maintain a purely single-family pattern, which is ludicrously restrictive.

I've not become involved in this neighborhood plan because I only moved to the area a year ago, and then my wife had a baby; so my time is limited. In my limited interactions with the planning team, it is clear to me that my input would not have been welcome anyways; for this team (and most recent neighborhoods) have clearly been using the planning process as a club to drive out redevelopment (as you have noticed them doing with inappropriate uses of historic zoning).

I urge you to view this plan with a skeptical eye; and please hold this and future neighborhoods more accountable in the future. We will not get where we need to go if we codify restrictive single-family-only-zoning even on major transit routes like Duval and Speedway.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus

More fun with bad cyclists

The issue of stop signs and red lights came up again on the
austin-bikes email list.
Here’s a sampling of what others and I have written in the past few days:
entry number one:

In fact, my fantasy is that the next time CAMPO or the City Council wants to deny funding to cyclists because some cyclists run red lights, I want to be there to enthusiastically scream, “I couldn’t agree more!” And then show a homemade video of motorists running every single cycle of a red light at some prominent Austin intersection 20 times in a row, and then ask, “Since road users who run red lights don’t get funding, when can we expect funding to be cut for new highways?”

Of course the irony here is that it was CAMPO member Senator Barrientos who implied at a meeting that he wouldn’t support increased bike funding because cyclists run red lights, and then a while after that the good Senator was arrested for drunk driving.

my first response:

Otherwise known as Fallacious Bike Argument #46.

Motorists don’t run red lights the way cyclists do. Period. They “run the orange” pretty often. This is a very different violation in terms of the real, pragmatic, world we actually live in.

“running the orange” means that some impatient jerk decides to keep going even though the light just turned from yellow to red.

Compare and contrast to cyclists – in my estimation, close to 50% of the cyclists I see on the road do not stop at stop signs unless they see traffic; and do not stop for traffic lights or sometimes stop-and-go (AND DON’T TELL ME ABOUT THE ONES THAT DON’T TRIP; I’M TALKING ABOUT LIGHTS LIKE SPEEDWAY AT 38TH WHICH IS ON A PURE TIMER).

It’s not the same thing. Every time you equate what cyclists do to what motorists do, you make it that much harder on people like me who are trying to get real things accomplished. Our outgoing chairman of the UTC voted against bike facilities on at least one occasion because of the obnoxious lawbreaking attitude evinced by cyclists like that; so we even have this problem at the city level.

SUMMARY: CYCLISTS RUN RED LIGHTS AND STOP SIGNS IN A WAY THAT MOTORISTS DO NOT. MOST MOTORISTS, IF THEY EVER DO THIS, “RUN THE ORANGE” OR DON’T COME TO A FULL ROCK-BACK AT A STOP SIGN. TRYING TO EQUATE THIS WITH THE WILD-WEST ATTITUDE OF MANY CYCLISTS IS MAKING YOU LOOK STUPID AND MAKING MY JOB HARDER.

The most reasonable retort:

It seems to me that hurling 4000lbs of glass, steel and rubber thru an
intersection at a high speed on a light that just turned red is a bigger
hazard to society than me pedaling thru it after quadruple checking that
the coast is clear. Granted both may be bad but why would you consider
my offence more grievous?

Me again:

“Running the orange” is a matter of education trumping impatience. We’ll get there sooner or later.

“Running the red” is a matter of your own convenience trumping _everything_ – it shows a complete lack of respect for the law that requires motorists to treat you as a vehicle.

Ask yourself which is worse from a purely motorist perspective: continuing to turn left at an intersection even though the light just turned red, or running the intersection halfway through the other peoples’ green cycle.

You run enough red lights and stop signs, and drivers will, no matter what the law says, treat you as a menace.

I’ve nearly wrecked my car at an intersection near UT because some bozo on a bike ran the stop sign. If I were older (worse reflexes), I would have. So there you go.

But getting back to the point – 99% of the people in this town drive. Pissing off 99% of the population in order to make some point about danger is really really really stupid from a pragmatic political perspective. Sooner or later, it comes back to bite you in the ass, as it did when our UTC chairman voted against bike facilities, using lack of respect for the law as his stated reason for doing so.

Then, they get angry:

I think Dahmus was suggesting that when motorists run red lights, it’s typically because they’re trying to beat a yellow light, while bicyclists will run a red light smack in the middle of the red light.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always true. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a car blast through an intersection right in the middle of the red part of the cycle (whether intentional or not — does it really matter?) then I wouldn’t be wasting my time on this forum, I’d be too busy enjoying my new private tropical island.

This discussion seems to come up over and over on this list. I personally don’t see anything wrong with going through a red light when there are no cars in the opposing lanes to be inconvenienced, others beg to differ. I don’t think anyone’s mind is going to be changed by blabbing about it on an email list, so why even bother bringing it up (Mike)?

#2:

First of all, as for motorists running lights, it’s not a case of “if they ever do this”. I can go to most busy intersections in Austin and see motorists running red lights on every single cycle, period.

As for motorists not running red lights in the same way that cyclists do, that’s really funny. I thought the argument was that cyclists were bad because they were breaking the law? Oh no, my mistake, it’s not that they’re breaking the law, it’s that they’re breaking the law in a less socially acceptable way. It’s perfectly acceptable to break the law if you do it the proper way. Motorists break the law in a good way, cyclists break the law in a bad way.

So it sounds like Dahmus’ real problem is with cyclists who do things that are unsafe. If that’s the case, then why SAY that their problem is with cyclists breaking the law? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t harp on cyclists for breaking the law and then excuse motorists for breaking the law. The argument that they break the law “in a different way” is weak, weak, weak.

Motorists break the law in Austin every day in ways that are truly dangerous. People get hurt and killed as a result. But when was the last time anyone suggested that we cut roadway funding as a result? Let’s face it: people only care about cyclists breaking the law. They don’t extend that same outrage to their fellow motorists, period.

Yes, Dahmus repeats this a lot, and I’ve addressed it a lot. The fact is that I’m not going to accept responsibility for somebody else’s faulty logic. Someone could tell me that he’s going to kill a baby kitten for every week I remain a vegetarian. Well, I wish he wouldn’t be that cruel, or unfair, but ultimately, is it his fault or mine?

I don’t deny that the outgoing UTC chairman may have voted against bike facilities because he saw cyclists breaking the law. I simply can’t help it if that guy had a double standard. We certainly never saw him trying to cut facilities for cars because motorists break the law, did we? I won’t pander to that double standard, it’s unfair, and it’s ridiculous.

This is probably the biggest straw man argument I’ve ever seen in my life. Who exactly is it who’s advocating that cyclists run stop signs when it’s not safe to do so?

Anyway, let me return to the newsletter article that so raised Dahmus’ ire. In that article I pointed out that Senator Barrientos hinted about not funding bike facilities because cyclists break the law. And a while after that the good Senator was arrested for driving drunk. Is THAT how motorists break the law in a different way than cyclists that is so much safer? Does this person have any business chastising cyclists for breaking the law, much less denying them funding? Probably close to 100% of motorists who drive in an unsafe manner think it’s worse when cyclists do so. The question is, do we pander to that delusion or do we call them on it? Dahums evidently chose the former. I choose the latter.

Shoal Creek Debacle, Part XXXVII

Well, I rode down Shoal Creek yesterday (I’ve taken to alternating between two routes home – one east on Morrow to Woodrow and then south to North Loop; the other south on Shoal Creek and east on Hancock, then down Burnet and Medical Parkway). This one trip brought up several recent and not-so-recent points:

  1. Debris – Shoal Creek is now effectively a wide curb lane facility from Foster (just south of Anderson) to 45th. The debris is horrible – worse than I remember it. To be fair, the bike lane stretch between Steck and Anderson has one large gravel patch in it as well. This reinforces my thinking that the absence of the stripe does not in fact encourage cars to act as street-sweepers, or at least, that they don’t do a very good job of it.
  2. Parking – at the time we went over the Shoal Creek debacle, some claimed that the criminally negligent design sponsored by the neighborhood would not be a problem since it would rarely happen that you would be passing a parked car at the same time a car was driving past you. This happened six times during my short trip on Shoal Creek yesterday.
  3. Neighbors – during one of those six times, I took the lane as I always do, and a car turned left onto Shoal Creek behind me, and proceeded to lay on the horn. I told her via a charming pantomime that she was number 1 in my book. So it goes; even when you ride legally, sometimes some motorists don’t get it. (This is a bone thrown to my colleagues who disobey every traffic law they find inconvenient on the theory that all motorists hate them anyways).

Years later, Shoal Creek has no stripes and no calming. Read up on this page for more background on why the neighbors won, and why we never should have negotiated away the flow of traffic on a top-5 bicycle route in the city (and in my opinion, why we never should have supported their downgrade of this road from arterial to collector in the CAMPO plan).

Proof of Yesterday’s Entry

Yesterday, I gave a hypothetical example which showed why suburbanites might only see empty buses, and incorrectly assume that all buses are always empty.
It took exactly one day to prove the hypothetical.

This morning, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway intending to take the express bus into work as usual. However, I got there a bit early due to green lights, and the #3 bus showed up right as I pulled in. I thought I’d give it a whirl, since it ends up arriving up here at about the same time as the express bus, and has the added advantage of dropping off at Braker rather than Balcones Woods, which allowed me to more easily deposit some rent checks at the ATM.

There were 24 people on the bus, including me, when we pulled away from the bus stop. Note that this stop is about a quarter of the northbound length away from downtown, i.e., if you rode from the central point of the route to its far northern end, this stop is about 1/4 of the way up.

We puttered up Medical Parkway and Burnet, stopping at about 60% of the stops, usually to let people off; occasionally to pick people up. By the time we got to US 183 and Burnet, there were about 10 people still on the bus.

At Braker and Mopac, there were 4 people left, includng me.

At my stop on Braker between 183 and Jollyville, one other guy left the bus with me. That left 2 people to go to the end of the northbound route at the Arboretum (actually a loop end-point; it’s technically south of where I got off, but still before the layover point).
So if you had seen the bus between downtown and Burnet at 183, you would have thought: “that’s a pretty full bus” (nearly every seat was taken). If you had seen the bus at the Randall’s on Braker, on the other hand, you would have said “that bus is empty”.

And if you were as stupid as most suburbanites, that would be ammunition for you to run around and claim that Capital Metro wastes your money because all they do is run empty buses.

PS: The ride stunk. Bumpy and jerky. Hard to read. Not worth the 50 cent savings. I’ll wait for the express bus next time.