More on Yesterday’s Whiff

Yet more proof from yet another city that panhandlers aren’t the ones who need the help, pulmonologist sale yet it’s like pulling teeth around here to get an ordinance that the cops can enforce against the bums that infest the Drag and downtown Austin. The homeless that deserve help are, web for the most part, phlebologist getting it from charities. These bums on street corners, on the other hand, just don’t want to work.
The same type of expose ran on one of the stations in Miami about fifteen years ago with similar results – except even more appalling; they GAVE food to one of the “Will Work For Food” guys, and he threw it away. Then they came back and gave him money and watched where he went – which, of course, was the liquor store.
I remember one time when I was walking down 6th Street from my condo to a show and was accosted by a bum for money. I ignored him; and he started following me and yelling at me. At that time, even I was rethinking my decision to be on the sidewalk at night instead of in my car, and those who know me know that doesn’t happen easily.
One of the biggest obstacles to restoring downtown Austin into a place where people want to live, work, and play is these obnoxious bums. I can’t believe that any executive thinking of moving a company’s offices downtown is going to enjoy running the gauntlet of beggars that render certain corridors stinky and barely navigable. This hurts our city’s economy as companies stay away from the center-city, where the infrastructure to support them already exists, and stay out in the burbs or leave Austin’s city limits entirely. A weak economy means less money available for the groups that really DO help the homeless.
There’s nothing noble about begging; and those who try the hardest to help the homeless actually discourage the public from donating at streetcorners; but this doesn’t stop professional protestors like Richard Troxell. I don’t know how this can be solved until people who want to help the homeless can stand up and distinguish between those who want help, and those who just want a hand-out.

This was going to be a comment at infobong to his entry about another local business biting it on the Drag, this web but I realized it was getting way too long and probably way too wonkish for that venue.
It’s a simple but sadly misunderstood formula:
# of potential customers in area has been going up (more students; more residents).
Amount of retail space has been staying the same (stupidly limited by zoning regulations which effectively prevented any redevelopment along the drag which has way too much single-story car-oriented retail and even surface parking.
Result? Higher demand (from customers); stagnant supply; more demand (from businesses) for static space = higher rents = more national chains
Solution? No parking requirements and very very very generous height limits along the Drag. But even the recent West Campus rezoning didn’t go far enough down that path – there’s still way too much emphasis on parking minimums. Properties right along Guadalupe as far north as 38th and possibly 45th should have NO required parking, online in my opinion. If you think this gives them too much of a leg up (even given the much higher rent they’ll pay than their suburban competitors), consider having them pay an “in-lieu parking fee” dedicated to mass transit and pedestrian improvements along the corridor.
That’s another piece of the formula of course, which ends up leading to a few big tenants being healthy because they can lock up access to a lot or a garage; while the little individual (usually local) tenants blight out – like what’s happening up on Guadalupe between 29th and 45th. Properties can’t redevelop because change of use between one type of commercial business and another make the grandfathered variance go away, which means they’re suddenly subject to suburban-style parking requirements.

About 3/4 of the way through the subcommittee meeting and it looks like the 3 council members are falling back into a “let’s get a consensus plan together which meets all stakeholder interests” mode which, remedy in case anybody’s forgetting, is what ended up giving us this abomination and all of the nightmare since then.
This is not a situation where compromise works. This is a situation where the Council has to CHOOSE between:
1. Parking on both sides of the street, and the elimination of Shoal Creek Boulevard as a safe and useful link in the bicycle route system for Austin (no alternates exist which come close to the length and right-of-way advantages of SCB).
2. Bicycle lanes on both sides with no parking (in the bike lanes); and on-street parking restricted to one side of the street (also known as “Option 2”).
But instead, it sure as heck looks like they’re ignoring the advice of the TTI (which was absolutely clear about what other cities do in cases like this – they do #2) in favor of kow-towing to the neighborhood yet again; inevitably ending up with some stupid combination of Option 3 and the Gandy debacle.
The worst part is Brewster’s gang of “stakeholders” which includes nobody credible from the transportation bicycling community (no, the ACA doesn’t represent these folks) and has come up with a plan to try a BUNCH of different things on the road, all but one of which (option 2) are heartily discouraged by modern roadway designers.
This is so depressing…

Councilmember McCracken wrote me back, diagnosis defending his successful attempt to draw this out further, viagra order by claiming that there was “no data about any of the options”. This is true, generic if you restrict the question to “what are the motor vehicle speeds on a roadway with bike lanes and on-street parking on one or both sides with various treatments”. However, as I noted above, the TTI was quite clear about the safety recommendation from peer cities – that being, do option 2 and do it now.
The other things McCracken wanted to put on the road in test sections, if I’m remembering correctly, were:

  • Current design (with curb extensions) – there’s really no point in doing this, unless your ONLY goal is to measure motor vehicle speeds – it’s a well-known safety hazard for all road users.
  • Painted bike lane (presumably this is in the original Gandy 10-4-6 configuration which doesn’t provide enough space for a driver to pass a cyclist who is passing a parked car)
  • Bike lane with raised markings next to either parking lane, driving lane, or both (I’m unclear whether this treatment would include parking on both sides or on one side only – the raised markings would take up enough space that it would seem to rule out the Gandy configuration, but at this point who knows).

As you can see from the linked items above, to imply that these facilities haven’t been studied isn’t particularly accurate – they have, and substantial safety problems have been noted. It’s true that nobody bothered to measure motor vehicle speed next to these various bicycle facilities – frankly because nobody cared – the speed of a car when it hits you on one of these roads isn’t particularly important – whether that car is going 25 or 35 when it runs over you because you slipped on a raised curb marking, for instance, isn’t very relevant.

Council Whiffs Again On Shoal Creek

Yet more proof from yet another city that panhandlers aren’t the ones who need the help, pulmonologist sale yet it’s like pulling teeth around here to get an ordinance that the cops can enforce against the bums that infest the Drag and downtown Austin. The homeless that deserve help are, web for the most part, phlebologist getting it from charities. These bums on street corners, on the other hand, just don’t want to work.
The same type of expose ran on one of the stations in Miami about fifteen years ago with similar results – except even more appalling; they GAVE food to one of the “Will Work For Food” guys, and he threw it away. Then they came back and gave him money and watched where he went – which, of course, was the liquor store.
I remember one time when I was walking down 6th Street from my condo to a show and was accosted by a bum for money. I ignored him; and he started following me and yelling at me. At that time, even I was rethinking my decision to be on the sidewalk at night instead of in my car, and those who know me know that doesn’t happen easily.
One of the biggest obstacles to restoring downtown Austin into a place where people want to live, work, and play is these obnoxious bums. I can’t believe that any executive thinking of moving a company’s offices downtown is going to enjoy running the gauntlet of beggars that render certain corridors stinky and barely navigable. This hurts our city’s economy as companies stay away from the center-city, where the infrastructure to support them already exists, and stay out in the burbs or leave Austin’s city limits entirely. A weak economy means less money available for the groups that really DO help the homeless.
There’s nothing noble about begging; and those who try the hardest to help the homeless actually discourage the public from donating at streetcorners; but this doesn’t stop professional protestors like Richard Troxell. I don’t know how this can be solved until people who want to help the homeless can stand up and distinguish between those who want help, and those who just want a hand-out.

This was going to be a comment at infobong to his entry about another local business biting it on the Drag, this web but I realized it was getting way too long and probably way too wonkish for that venue.
It’s a simple but sadly misunderstood formula:
# of potential customers in area has been going up (more students; more residents).
Amount of retail space has been staying the same (stupidly limited by zoning regulations which effectively prevented any redevelopment along the drag which has way too much single-story car-oriented retail and even surface parking.
Result? Higher demand (from customers); stagnant supply; more demand (from businesses) for static space = higher rents = more national chains
Solution? No parking requirements and very very very generous height limits along the Drag. But even the recent West Campus rezoning didn’t go far enough down that path – there’s still way too much emphasis on parking minimums. Properties right along Guadalupe as far north as 38th and possibly 45th should have NO required parking, online in my opinion. If you think this gives them too much of a leg up (even given the much higher rent they’ll pay than their suburban competitors), consider having them pay an “in-lieu parking fee” dedicated to mass transit and pedestrian improvements along the corridor.
That’s another piece of the formula of course, which ends up leading to a few big tenants being healthy because they can lock up access to a lot or a garage; while the little individual (usually local) tenants blight out – like what’s happening up on Guadalupe between 29th and 45th. Properties can’t redevelop because change of use between one type of commercial business and another make the grandfathered variance go away, which means they’re suddenly subject to suburban-style parking requirements.

About 3/4 of the way through the subcommittee meeting and it looks like the 3 council members are falling back into a “let’s get a consensus plan together which meets all stakeholder interests” mode which, remedy in case anybody’s forgetting, is what ended up giving us this abomination and all of the nightmare since then.
This is not a situation where compromise works. This is a situation where the Council has to CHOOSE between:
1. Parking on both sides of the street, and the elimination of Shoal Creek Boulevard as a safe and useful link in the bicycle route system for Austin (no alternates exist which come close to the length and right-of-way advantages of SCB).
2. Bicycle lanes on both sides with no parking (in the bike lanes); and on-street parking restricted to one side of the street (also known as “Option 2”).
But instead, it sure as heck looks like they’re ignoring the advice of the TTI (which was absolutely clear about what other cities do in cases like this – they do #2) in favor of kow-towing to the neighborhood yet again; inevitably ending up with some stupid combination of Option 3 and the Gandy debacle.
The worst part is Brewster’s gang of “stakeholders” which includes nobody credible from the transportation bicycling community (no, the ACA doesn’t represent these folks) and has come up with a plan to try a BUNCH of different things on the road, all but one of which (option 2) are heartily discouraged by modern roadway designers.
This is so depressing…

SCB: Speed Is Not The Problem

A lot of folks (especially Stuart Werbner and Preston Tyree, who normally do a lot of good work for the cycling community) fell hard for the position that “the problem on Shoal Creek Boulevard isn’t the bike lanes, it’s the traffic speed”. Since this position continues to rear its ugly head in discussions before and after yesterday’s meeting, I thought I’d address it here.

The key is that all other things being equal, higher car speeds do indeed result in less safety for nearby cyclists and pedestrians. This is unquestionably true.

The problem is that all things aren’t equal. This picture shows a cyclist trying to pass a parked vehicle at the same time he is being passed by a moving vehicle. It doesn’t matter if the passing vehicle is going 45 or 25; if the cyclist veers out unexpectedly into the through lane and is hit, they’re in bad, bad, BAD shape. (Note: you have to imagine that the stripe between the 4-foot ‘bike lane’ and 6-foot ‘parking lane’ isn’t there to match the current conditions on SCB).

Likewise, this infamous accident happened despite the fact that the conflicting vehicle’s speed was 0 MPH and the vehicle which ended up killing her wasn’t going very fast either.

On the other hand, hundreds of cyclists use Loop 360 every day with no conflicts with motorists. Automobile speed in the through lanes of that roadway is typically around 60 MPH.

What can we conclude? Traffic engineering seeks to avoid presenting users with unexpected conflicts; and having a cyclist veer out into the travel lane when the motorist in that lane thinks they’re not going to have to is the very definition of unexpected. A safe pass by a car going 40 is far preferrable to a collision with a car going 30.

How does this apply to Shoal Creek Boulevard? It’s clear to me at least that the original city plan probably wouldn’t have reduced automobile speeds much, but definitely would have resulted in fewer conflicts with cyclists who need to leave the bike lane to get around obstructions. As on Loop 360, if you rarely need to leave the bicycle facility, you don’t need to worry as much about the speed of the cars in the lane next to you.

Another thing Preston in particular got wrong was the theory that riding on Shoal Creek is ‘easy’ once you ‘learn’ how to pass. Even for an experienced cyclist like myself, the conflict with motorists during a pass is irritating (the motorists don’t understand why I go into the travel lane and are sometimes aggressive in expressing their displeasure). For a novice cyclist, it’s likely to be so intimidating that they will (unwisely) stay in the far-too-narrow space between the white stripe and the parked car, and someday soon somebody’s going to get killed that way.
Finally, of critical importance to the City of Austin is the following paragraph, excerpted from a detailed analysis of the Laird case in Boston:

The City might be held negligent for creating what is called in legal language an “attractive nuisance” — that is, a baited trap. Ample evidence exists that the City of Cambridge had been notified of the hazards of bike lanes in the “door zone” before the Massachusetts Avenue lane was striped, yet the City continued to stripe them.

This is basically why Shoal Creek Boulevard doesn’t have bike lanes today, it has a “multipurpose shoulder”. Unknown whether this will do enough to shield Austin from liability in the event of an accident, but cyclists ought to think about this when you decide to ride on this facility.

Shoal Creek Meeting Is Done

Largely as expected – council members want to remove the islands, and then we’re going to talk some more about what to do. Some indications that they’re either not willing to admit or not capable of understanding that a compromise solution is impossible for this roadway. Neighborhood people largely against the curb extensions but still adamant that parking on both sides must be preserved — which means that we’re back to bike lanes with parking in them, hich pretty much the entire rest of the world views as an oxymoron.

Here’s the letter I just sent to the three council members on the subcommittee:

Councilmembers:
I watched most of the meeting today while working at my desk, and had a couple of comments:

1. 2-way on-street bike lanes are not accepted in traffic engineering circles and have not for quite some time. They will not be an option for Shoal Creek Boulevard unless you want to override your staff.

2. Bike lanes down the median – same story.

3. A reminder: We already know there is no way to reconcile “parking on both sides” with “car-free bike lanes” on this street. There is insufficient width. Either one or more bike lanes must be abandoned, or one or more sides of parking must be abandoned.

Comments that you made in regards to #3 were especially disappointing – the failure of the previous council was in attempting to avoid this painful choice, which MUST be made. EITHER car-free bike lanes OR parking on both sides – you cannot have both. I would argue that the correct choice is to preserve on-street parking on ONE side of Shoal Creek Boulevard – this is not an unreasonable imposition on residents (my own neighborhood has highly restricted on-street parking; many streets allow it on one side and a few not at all).

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
(old email address removed)

Update from 2017: Yes, some people are actually pushing for 2-way one-side bike lanes on this roadway now, incredibly, the “bike lanes as stupid glorified sidewalks that are actually more dangerous even if they don’t feel more dangerous” fad is back!.

Letter to Council on Shoal Creek Debacle

A subcommittee of the City Council is getting some kind of an update on the Shoal Creek Debacle. I just sent this email to them.


Dear Mayor and councilmembers:
My name is Mike Dahmus, and I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000 through 2005. I cast the lone vote in opposition to the plan which (with modifications) ended up being constructed on Shoal Creek Boulevard. During my terms on the UTC, I served as the lone member who utilized both an automobile and a bicycle to commute to work — i.e., I’m not a pure cyclist, and I’m not a pure driver. I used Shoal Creek Boulevard as part of my bicycle commute for years and occasionally drove it as well.

I understand you’re going to address this issue in a subcommittee meeting this week, and I thought I should comment.
For those of you who don’t bicycle; Shoal Creek Boulevard is, without hyperbole, the most important route in the city for bicycle commuters. (It has a lot of recreational traffic as well, of course). It forms the spine of the route between northwest Austin and central Austin – alternate routes either are far too hilly for normal use (to the west) or do not connect with routes which can get cyclists across the Mopac/183/360 barrier.

Years back, Shoal Creek’s turn came up in the “let’s do what every other city does and put up no-parking signs in our bike lanes” process. Since the bike program staff at the time knew that Shoal Creek had long blocks and (some) short driveways, they offered a compromise plan which would have allowed parking on one side of the road, with smaller-than-typical bike lanes on both sides. This plan was opposed by the neighborhoods, for whom on-street parking was the priority over through cyclist travel.

Years ago, thanks to neighborhood pressure, Shoal Creek Boulevard was reclassified from a minor arterial to a residential collector (an inappropriately low classification by engineering standards). This allowed the neighborhood to then push back against that eminently reasonable plan to allow parking only on one side of the street (neighborhood partisans could declare that SCB was a ‘residential street’ and that therefore parking was more important than through traffic). The bike program plan was rejected thanks to a few neighbors who valued both-sides on-street parking more than cyclist safety.

At this point, as I’m sure many of you remember, the neighborhoods got Councilmember Goodman’s approval to start a planning process which ended with the absurd plan by Charles Gandy which none of your engineers would sign their name to, and which made Austin a laughingstock in other cities around the country. The modified version of that plan (removing the stripe between the ‘bike lane’ and the parking area) is nearly as ludicrous, but since it’s not marked as a ‘bike lane’ is nominally acceptable to engineers, I suppose.

The Shoal Creek Boulevard plan as implemented is a liability problem for the city of Austin (although not as bad as the original Gandy “10-4-6” plan would have been, since city engineers were smart enough to remove the “bike lane” designation). Sufficient space does not exist for a cyclist to safely pass parked cars and remain in the bike lane, yet drivers in the through traffic lane expect them to do so. This is a textbook example of bad traffic engineering (when one street user performs a safe and legal manuever, another street user should not be caught by surprise).

This isn’t about the curb islands, by the way. The safety obstacle for cyclists is parked cars. The curb islands must be passed in a fairly narrow space, but there’s zero chance that one of them is going to open their door while you’re passing it.

But what the curb islands and striping HAVE done is encourage more people to park on the street; increasing the frequency of the street user conflict which will eventually result in a serious injury – a car passing a cyclist while the cyclist is passing a parked car.

This entire process was nothing more than an abrogation of responsibility by the City Council. Your job is to make decisions, not to encourage a make-believe consensus when none can be found. There simply is no way to reconcile both-sides on-street parking with car-free bike lanes (and, by the way, the rest of the world views parking in bike lanes as an oxymoron). A decision either way would have been better than the mess you left us with — and cyclists are getting hurt already as a result.

I urge you to learn from this horrible mistake, and remember that your job is to make the tough decisions. Shoal Creek Boulevard has already been ruined for bicycling commuters – please don’t take this precedent anywhere else.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus



Commuting To Riata

I had a nice conversation with Jonathan from Another Pointless Dotcom while doing some work last night, and it came to light that he works in the same complex I did for about a year and a half. This reminded me to share with him my old slideshow of that commute, which I’ve probably never mentioned on the blog. I also then chatted about it this morning with my current cow orker who has a lot of experience in the area. Since this might be of general interest to people who work in the area, I’ll initiate this new Bicycle Commuting category with this oldie-but-goodie.

Riata is a cautionary tale of any number of my hot buttons, including the problems that frontage roads cause transit and pedestrians, neighborhoods being irresponsible, developers getting to claim credit for being ‘near’ transit when it’s not feasible to actually use, high tech offices and apartment complexes metastasizing along sprawl corridors rather than being downtown where they ought to be, etc. There’s at least a few thousand employees of various companies in there now – probably still down from the pre-bust peak.

The key things to remember about commuting to Riata, which is halfway between Duval and Oak Knoll on the north/east side of US 183 are:

  1. Use Jollyville. Now with bike lanes!
  2. When transitioning to Riata Trace Parkway, your choices are to go all the way up to Oak Knoll and come in the back way, or go over on Duval to the 183 frontage, and go in that way. In the morning, the northbound 183 frontage is very civilized and not a problem.
  3. When going home in the afternoon, you’ll want to use the TI/Oak Knoll back way. Don’t mess with 183 then.
  4. Think about using the bus for a boost uphill in some mornings, if you’re like the (old) me and commuting from central Austin.
  5. Decide whether you want to cross Mopac on Spicewood or Steck. My current cow orker prefers Steck all the time; I prefer Steck uphill and Spicewood downhill. Depends on your tolerance for the stress of the crossing at Mopac/Spicewood versus the speed you’ll give up at the 4-way stop on Steck.

(Technical details: I wrote the crappy slideshow script which reads pseudo-XML a long time ago and have never touched it since; it BARELY works; don’t look at it cross-eyed or you might break the internet).