The Shoal Creek Debacle Keeps Rolling On

There was a public meeting on Wednesday night about the Shoal Creek Debacle in which many previously uninformed local residents complained about curb extensions and cyclists riding too close to the line (forced to do so, by the way, by the fact that there are CARS PARKED IN WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A BIKE LANE).

I just posted the following to the allandale yahoo group, and thought it might have some general interest:

— In, Barbara Frock wrote:
>I, like Rhonda, wonder about those who
> don’t live here who have come out swinging. Is it the cyclists who really
> wanted a “veloway” through our neighborhood from 38th to Foster?
That’s one way to put it.
Another way to put it is that Shoal Creek Boulevard is the most important route for bicycle commuting in the city. It forms the spine of the main route from points northwest (disproportionately recent residential growth) to the center-city and vice-versa; and serves as the bicyclist equivalent to at least Burnet Road, if not Mopac.

Yes, a bunch of people also ride this road for fun. And I’m as frustrated as you are (probably more) when the brightly-plumaged folks out for a training ride treat stop signs as matador capes.

But every day during rush hour you’ll also see dozens of cyclists clearly heading to or from work. This isn’t because they want to turn your neighborhood into a “veloway”; it’s because SCB is the recommended route for people who, in their cars, would be using Burnet or Mopac. And this is the way it’s SUPPOSED to work – you’re not supposed to turn your major arterials into cycling routes, you’re supposed to find a lower-traffic parallel road which can feasibly serve the same purpose.

Without SCB functioning as a major “cyclist artery”, you’d be complaining about these same cyclists slowing you down on Burnet Road.

The city’s legitimate interest in promoting bicycling as transportation requires that some routes like SCB be “major bicycling routes”, which implies that the interests of cyclists should AT A BARE MINIUM be considered above both-sides on-street parking. The city council failed miserably in this case in understanding that those two interests could not be served by a compromise solution; and the neighborhood has failed miserably in understanding that the parking-on-one-side solution already represented a signficant compromise for the bicycling interests, since it still required riding slightly in the “door zone” on the parking-allowed side of the street.

And, by the way, “through our neighborhood” smacks of an ‘ownership’ of SCB which isn’t supported by the facts. Even when misclassified as a residential collector, it’s still “owned” by the city, and the street MUST serve the interests of people who don’t live on that street (or even in that neighborhood). Even if SCB was misclassified all the way down to “residential street”, no automatic right to park in front of your house is conveyed – I have to pay for a permit to park on my street; and some residential streets in my area have large sections where parking is only allowed on one side.
– MD

Shoal Creek Updates

I will hopefully move some of this content to my old moldy Shoal Creek Debacle Page when I get time.

Brief introduction: Prior to around 2000, Shoal Creek Boulevard was a minor arterial roadway with extensive bicycle traffic in fairly wide bike lanes which allowed parking (which presented a problem, since modern engineering practice does not allow parking in bike lanes). Shoal Creek’s turn came in the “put up no-parking signs in bike lanes” carousel, and the city came up with a plan to preserve on-street parking on one side of the street. The neighbors freaked; a consultant came up with a ridiculous cyclist-killer proposal; the city rejected it; and then a small group of neighborhood people came up with the idea to just stripe a wide “shared lane” for parked cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. With curb extensions to theoretically slow traffic, although since the extensions don’t go out to the travel lane (so cyclists can pass), their effect is likely to be minimal.

Here’s some stuff that’s been happening recently:

  1. The neighborhoods’ email groups (allandale and rosedale) have been full of complaints about the curb extensions, as well as observations about bad driver behavior, including running over and up onto curb extensions. Additionally, neighbors have complained that the bike lane stripe (separating the bike lane from the parking lane) never got put in, which shows that some people didn’t realize that the awful Gandy plan was shelved when no engineers would sign on to it. Finally, motorists have (as I predicted) been using the shoulder as a driving or passing lane.
    Gandy’s plan, endorsed by the neighborhood:

    The current striping is basically the image above, with no stripe separating the bike lane and parking lane.

  2. Neighbors still think there’s a “bike lane” here. There isn’t. There’s a shoulder, with insufficient space in which to safely pass parked cars. (the absence of the stripe separating the 10 feet into 4 and 6 a la the Gandy plan doesn’t change the geometry here – bicyclists must still enter the travel lane in order to safely pass a parked vehicle).
    Images copied from Michael Bluejay:

  3. Motorists are still expecting cyclists to stay in the bike lane. I rode home down Shoal Creek on Monday, and had some indications of impatient motorists behind me as I passed parked cars (no honking this time at least). Remember that even when there’s a bit more room than in the pictures above, you still have to worry about the dooring problem. Even the city compromise with parking on one side had this problem (although to a far lesser degree).
  4. Parked car and passing car conflicts continue to be high. Many people who supported this debacle from the beginning are still cowering behind the idea that since parked cars are “scarce” (average of ten on each side for the entire stretch from Foster to 38th), that we don’t need to worry about the passing conflicts. The problem, however, is that due to the higher speeds of automobiles, there is a very high chance of conflict on each one of those passes, meaning that it is very likely that a motorist will slow down and wait behind a passing cyclist on each pass. In fact, on Monday, my experience was that 4 out of the 5 times I performed this passing manuever, there were motorists stuck behind me by the time I went back into the shoulder area; and the fifth time I found myself stuck while a car passed me (I didn’t get out into the lane early enough).
  5. People continue to misrepresent this process as a compromise (implying that cyclists got something, parking motorists got something, drivers got something, neighborhood got something, etc). In fact, any rational observer can compare conditions before this change to conditions now and make the following judgement: Parking won. Period. Cyclists got less than they had before, and far less than they should have had. The neighborhood got curb extensions (even though they won’t work). Cyclists got the middle finger.
  6. The City Council member most responsible for this debacle, Jackie Goodman, is being term-limited out of office. Unfortunately, I hold little hope that a stronger (i.e. decision-maker rather than consensus-hoper) member will emerge from the pack seeking election.
  7. Neighborhood troublemakers are still misrepresenting the history of this debacle; failing to mention that the original proposal from the city for this roadway preserved on-street parking on one side of the road, which is more than almost any minor arterial roadway (SCB’s original classification) has, and about average for collectors (SCB’s new neighborhood-forced underclassification). This city proposal represented a substantial compromise of bicycle interests, but because it didn’t preserve ALL on-street parking, several malcontent nincompoops in the neighborhood fought it bitterly.
  8. The same neighborhood troublemakers continue to misrepresent Shoal Creek’s role in the city’s transportation system. SCB was originally (correctly) classified as a minor arterial, which means that its main purpose is not for property access, but for a combination of traffic collection/distribution and small amounts of through traffic. For cyclists, SCB is a critical transportation link, since it’s so long, and has right-of-way at all intersections (meaning it never has a 2-way stop where through traffic doesn’t stop; everything’s either a 4-way stop or traffic light). SCB was reclassified thanks to neighborhood pressure to a “residential collector” around 2001ish, against my objections (I-TOLD-YOU-SO-MARKER: I told the other members of the UTC at the time that this change would make it easier for them to then prevent no-parking-in-bike-lanes). Also note that this makes SCB, by far, the longest collector roadway in the city. The neighborhood, ever since then, has claimed that SCB is a “residential street”, which means something very different from “residential collector”. A “residential street” is supposed to serve property access first, parking second, and distribution a distant third, with essentially no provision for through traffic. A “residential collector”, on the other hand, is supposed to serve distribution first, property access second, through traffic third, and parking last.
    The original city plan, preserving on-street parking on one side:

  9. (Humor value only): One of the malcontent neighborhood nincompoops has surfaced again on my old fan group (from my undergraduate days; no, I didn’t make it).

Shoal Creek Report #2

Well, I ended up driving down Shoal Creek last night on the way home from work (from 2222 to 41st St.) due to a traffic jam, ironically right after reading a thread on the Allandale neighborhood group in which residents are grumbling about the project now that they’re seeing it ‘in action’.
This trip confirmed some things that I saw before, and conflicted with some things that residents of the street have previously said.

  1. I saw more cars parked this time
  2. I saw one vehicle turn into the ‘shared lane’ and drive down it for at least a block before turning right off Shoal Creek
  3. The apparent space between the white line and the parked car looks much smaller when I’m driving than it does when I’m biking, and it didn’t look big on my bike. Hopefully this will result in drivers being more patient when cyclists take the lane.
  4. I only passed one cyclist (going the opposite direction) during my drive. It’s not surprising that most motorists thus think conflicts with cyclists and parked cars are rare — for each motorist trip, there’s a very low chance of conflict; but for each cyclist trip, there’s a very high chance of conflict. (There’s ten or twenty drivers for each cyclist at a bare minimum – even though this road has a lot of cyclists, there’s still far more motorists).
  5. Most motorists I observed drifted over the white lines on turns. I don’t know how to solve this.

New Shoal Creek Report #1

I’m going to try to bike home on Shoal Creek (at least from Anderson to 41st) once a month or so to track the results of the debacle. I plan on executing a polite but firm passing manuever out of the “shared lane” whenever passing a parked car, since there is insufficient space to safely pass a parked car in the space provided (even if you know ahead of time that the vehicle is empty). This passing manuever is likely to generate conflict with through motorists (“conflict” in this sense not meaning emotional or physical but simply that the through motorist behind me will have to slow down and wait for me to pass – although on many occasions on the pre-striped street, the motorist did in fact get angry enough to honk or swerve).

I made my first trip (post-stripe) yesterday (Monday).

The striping is done, but the islands are just getting started – post holes have been cut, and some markings made, but that’s it.

First impressions:

  • When no cars are parked, this lane is really wide. Wider than the usable shoulder on Loop 360.
  • Cars are going to try to use this as a lane, at least the way it’s striped now. When you’re turning onto Shoal Creek, it’s not altogether clear where you should go.
  • Few parking conflicts so far; most of the vehicles that were parked Monday night were parked on the northbound side. I passed four or five parked vehicles on my stretch, and only once did my passing manuever cause a conflict with a through motorist (and this one was polite).
  • When a small car is parked near the curb, there is enough room to pass in the lane, if I could be 100% positive that the car was unoccupied. However, with larger vehicles (SUVs/trucks) this is not true. Also, one of the two cars was parked far enough away from the curb (you get up to 18 inches legally) that it might as well have been a fire engine.

Verdict so far: Not enough data. Far more vehicles were parked northbound; I don’t know why southbound was so comparatively empty yesterday. (Perhaps this side was striped last?).

The Chronicle gets Shoal Creek badly wrong

This week’s Chronicle badly misremembers the history of the Shoal Creek Blvd. Debacle of ’00; casting city staff as villains and Jackie Goodman and the neighborhood as heroes. Here’s a short (correct) timeline, along with what they got wrong:

  1. Prior to 2000, SCB allows parking in bike lanes. This is something which nobody would do today; these bike lanes predate modern bicycle traffic engineering practice.
  2. SCB’s turn comes in the “let’s ban parking in existing bike lanes” carousel. The past couple of years saw the no-parking signs go up on about a half-dozen streets with old bike lanes such as Mesa Dr.
  3. City staff from bike/ped program decides to be nice and come up with a plan which allows on-street parking on one side of the street (see this picture). Chronicle writer misconstrues this as a bike lane “on one side of the street”.
  4. Neighborhood freaks. Jackie Goodman sides with them, of course.
  5. Staff and neighborhood come up with an “alternating sides” strategy where there’s still only parking on one side, but it winds back and forth every so often.
  6. The “alternating sides” strategy is tested and fails.
  7. Charles Gandy comes in and convinces the neighborhood and a couple of well-meaning but naive cyclists that this plan can work.
  8. City engineers reject that plan for liability reasons (damn straight – look at the pictures again if you have to).
  9. Fallback plan of maintaining slightly modified original layout with some bulb-outs. IE, instead of 12-13 ft travel lanes with 7-8 ft “bike lane with parking”, we get 10-ft travel lanes with 10-ft “bike lane with parking”. Chronicle writer misrepresents city engineers’ opposition as against this fallback plan rather than to Gandy’s 10-4-6 disaster.

And of course the conclusion to the article comes from Paul Nagy. As one person on Michael Bluejay’s page put it:

Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process — however slight — was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his “solution” would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don’t feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others — except Dahmus — were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it’s clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an “expert,” and clearly he is not.
At the point where the original design — which was agreed upon by the original consensus committee as final — was tossed back, Nagy and Gandy jumped on the opportunity to assume the helm without any input from anyone else. There is NO cycling voice in the process AT ALL now.

Pure hatchet-job. Where are you, Lauri Apple and Mike Clark-Madison?

Here’s the letter. Let’s see if it makes it in.

In reference to this week’s column by Daniel Mottola, allow me to suggest that in the future a columnist who picks up a long-running issue for the first time be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the history of the issue before writing a wrap-up. For one thing, the city staff proposal originally presented by a long-serving and dedicated employee of the bike/ped program had bike lanes on both sides of the street, with on-street parking allowed only on one side. No proposal with a bike lane on one side of the street only was ever proposed.

More importantly, both Michael Bluejay ( and myself ( have long had summaries of the issue with diagrams. I highly encourage people to look at the picture of Charles Gandy’s original proposal at (showing a cyclist narrowly avoiding getting disembowled as they attempt to travel between a SUV and a parked truck) before coming to conclusions that Jackie Goodman’s “give the neighborhood whatever they want no matter what” position was the right one.

The city engineers deserve medals, not ridicule, for standing up for the safety of cyclists and against the bogus 4-foot-bike-lane next to substandard-parking-lane design supported by Gandy and the neighborhood. The “shared multipurpose lanes” were a REACTION to their threat not to sign off on Gandy’s plan, another thing your columnist gets wrong.

In short: the Shoal Creek debacle showed that even on the most important route in the city for commuting cyclists, the city doesn’t have the guts to put safe travel for cyclists ahead of on-street parking (even when on-street parking is preserved on one side of the street). The multipurpose lanes are essentially what was on the street to begin with – a solution that no traffic engineer or bicycle coordinator would today approve — bicycle lanes which cars can park in at will.

Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commissioner
and Only No Vote on Great Shoal Creek Debacle of ’00

Lessons from the Shoal Creek debacle

Michael Bluejay, who runs the largest and most comprehensive site on bicycling in Austin, wrote a letter which appears in this week’s Chronicle. The letter refers to the infamous Shoal Creek debacle.

Lessons can be learned here.

Lesson 1: Don’t bet against Mike Dahmus. He’ll lose, but he’ll be right. :+) This comment comes from an anonymous contributor whose missive is stored for posterity on Michael’s site on the Shoal Creek debacle:

I am dismayed that Mike Dahmus was so damned right about this whole debacle from the very beginning. Although originally, I was very hopeful that a community consensus could be reached that could benefit everyone (and possibly even improve relations amongst the diverse users of SCB), I see now that I was completely naive. What we have now is little better than what we had originally: parking in bike lanes. I’m still hopeful that traffic will be a little calmer, but I doubt that drivers will remain in their lanes, and cyclists riding near the stripe will be at risk of being struck.
Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process — however slight — was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his “solution” would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don’t feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others — except Dahmus — were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it’s clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an “expert,” and clearly he is not.

Lesson 2: Don’t negotiate away your core positions. On Shoal Creek, car-free bike lanes should have been non-negotiable. (They were, for me).

Lesson 3: Don’t dig yourself in a hole. The Shoal Creek neighbors successfully (against my vote) got Shoal Creek downgraded to a residential collector (from a minor arterial) which then made it easier for them to make misleading claims like “this is a residential street so we have to have on-street parking on both sides of the street”. (“residential collector” is not the same thing as “residential street” in technical terms – the former is expected to maintain traffic flow and access over parking). Shoal Creek is, by objective measures, a minor arterial (it’s almost 5 miles from 38th st to Foster, the length which was downgraded; and has no intersections where cross-traffic does not stop or have a light). So in an effort to be nice, the UTC supported the downgrade, which made it easier later on to mislead some people into thinking that restricting parking on the road was an unreasonable imposition.

Applications to the current commuter rail situation:

1. Obvious. :+)

2. Non-negotiable positions should be that at least one and preferrably two major employment attractors should be reached within walking distance without a transfer. IE, no change to shuttle-bus; no change to streetcars. Center-city folks should have fought Capital Metro when it came to running rail down corridors where people wanted it in ’00 rather than where Mike Krusee wants it in ’04. This is the most critical error in my estimation – people who really want rail to succeed in Austin got snookered into thinking that they could negotiate it with Capital Metro when Capital Metro already had its own non-negotiable position (i.e. do what Mike Krusee wants). The result was: no rail to Mueller; no rail to Seaholm; transfers to all major attractors; no service in the center-city residential areas.

3. Mike Krusee won here, big-time. Capital Metro’s allies should have fought the early election he forced in 2000 (making CM go to the polls with a rail plan they weren’t really ready to discuss – they hadn’t even figured out what streets it would run on downtown yet; they were clearly shooting for a timeframe of May 2001 or so until Krusee wrote the infamous bill).

Now, for the big finish:

What damage was done?

This isn’t a silly question. There are those who think that the Shoal Creek debacle didn’t do any harm, since we started out wth parked cars in bike lanes and are ending up with parked cars in marked shoulders.

Damage in the Shoal Creek case: Precedent was set that car-free bike lanes can be vetoed by neighborhoods. The previous bike coordinator had already made it city policy not to build new (or support existing) bike lanes on residential streets; and it was commonly understood BEFORE this debacle that any city changes to collectors and arterials would, while soliciting neighborhood INPUT, NOT be subject to an implicit VETO. IE, collectors and especially arterials serve the needs of far more than the immediate residents.

Now, not so much. Notice that Michael correctly points out that the media now thinks the SCB process was a model of new consensus-based charette-including everybody-holding-hands everybody-won neighborhoods-centric bike-friendly delicious-candy-flavored planning that resulted in sunshine and butterflies for all.

In addition, at the city level, because so many smart people in the bicycle community were part of this process (snookered by it, you might say), the city thinks that the end-result was what the cyclists and the neighbors wanted. Basically, the cycling community (except yours truly) is now implicitly linked to this plan, in the minds of the people who matter.

In short: their names are on this piece of garbage.

As for commuter rail – the same lesson holds. The groups who lobbied so hard to work WITH Capital Metro before the final ballot proposal was set were fighting very hard for some minor improvements to the ASG plan, but made it clear from the beginning that they’d support it anyways. Now, these center-city groups are linked to this plan irrevocably – if I’m right, and it doesn’t attract riders, then they’ll have been on the record as supporting a plan which will have been found to be a stupid failure. Do you think that’ll affect their future credibility?

Don’t sign on to something you can’t support. The end.

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).

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

(This entry is over a year old; but somehow it got reposted to 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?