Transit Field Trip: Back From Jury Duty

Today at 7:42 AM, hemorrhoids I was stopped southbound on Red River at the light at MLK, viagra here and saw two rail shuttles cross the intersection eastbound; one headed to the Capitol Complex and one headed to UT.
There were 2 people on those buses, bronchitis combined. One driving one bus, the other driving the other bus.

To be fair, these were likely the second shuttle in each case (I’m being charitable here – I have no way of knowing for sure). There are two buses running the same route for each train arrival – because Capital Metro was telling everybody they expected overflow crowds on the train. There’s likely more than zero people still getting off the train at MLK and heading to UT, in other words, but for the station that’s supposed to be the busiest these days, not being able to fill up the first shuttle enough for even one person to ride the second one is, well, according to Capital Metro and idiots like John Cowman, I guess, a positive sign?
Another point: Checking the schedules, the second UT shuttle was actually supposed to be at the drop-off at 23rd/San Jacinto at 7:42. Yes, the shuttle schedules, padded as they are, apparently aren’t padded enough. The capitol shuttle was actually later still; supposed to be at 18th/Congress at 7:39.

From The Chronicle in 2000:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, more serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, prostate supported by Cap Met’s ample sales tax revenue, health would be a slam dunk for a “highly recommended” rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a “not recommended” kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

The differences between that “original Red Line” and the current Red Line that Krusee and Capital Metro forced on us in 2004 (now producing stunning ridership results for us) is that it would have had double tracks and electrification on its whole route (i.e., the Feds back in 2000 were telling Capital Metro that today’s Red Line AFTER adding a second track and electric wires would STILL produce disappointing ridership and that they wanted no part of funding it).
Guess what Capital Metro’s plans are to improve rail transit in Austin now?

This morning since I had jury duty, visit which starts quite late compared with my normal workday, viagra 60mg I was able to stop at the MLK station to meet a Red Line train after dropping off the boys at their schools.
The 8:25 train arrived on time. Two of the four shuttle-buses arrived at the same time; the other two arrived shortly thereafter.
There were TWO PEOPLE that got off this train. TWO.

One was a woman with a bike; the other a man in a suit. For these two people, buy information pills four shuttlebuses were deployed. (I think the woman just rode off on her bike, but didn’t get a good view as I was leaving).
Want to know why the train was so crowded on Saturday and so empty today? It’s really quite simple; I’ve been talking about it for six years now:
Most people will ride a train if the station on the other end is within a short walk of their office. Most people will not ride that same exact train if you expect them to ride a bus to get to their office from the train station.
I just sent this to the busriders-austin list in response to a post from our old friend Lyndon Henry:

Continue reading “Transit Field Trip: Back From Jury Duty”

Transit Field Trip: Houston 2010

Really sorry I don’t have more time to spend on this blog – day job; family; etc. But this comment needed to be saved somewhere other than CM’s blog so I could point to it. I’ve been meaning to write a long post on “staying friends versus getting something done”, public health anemia but this will have to suffice for now.
Commented to this post:

SR, capsule it’s really simple: Mike Krusee was willing to fight for his interests (kill light rail, visit this site allow commuter rail), and our city council members were not (nor was anybody else in Austin, except yours truly, as evidenced by this sad bit of history).
Talking, having charettes, staying connected, keeping in contact, maintaining relationships, giving input – none of this matters if the guy on the other side is willing to exercise his power to get what he wants and you aren’t. (This, by the way, is why I don’t bother showing up and giving ‘input’ at things like the 2020 service plan meetings – despite nice invitations and hurt feelings when not taken up on; I’m better off with speaking to hundreds of readers and having a 1% chance of slightly modifying the opinion of somebody with real power than I am giving my one input and having it roundly ignored).

In reality, the message really isn’t “don’t waste your time by giving input”, but rather, it’s make sure you’re giving your input to people who are willing to listen and are willing to exercise their power to help get what you want. An awful lot of people in the political ecosphere are very, very, very skilled at using the input-gathering process to defuse opposition to things they’ve already decided they’re going to do. Don’t allow yourself to be effectively neutered in this fashion – make sure you’re only spending your time with people who aren’t just listening politely to keep you from talking to somebody else about it.

Using the new schedules on Capital Metro’s spiffy new MetroRail site; this afternoon in the 5 minutes I could spend, viagra order we now know that, hepatitis according to schedules, viagra here if you’re leaving UT for Leander and want to take the first available trip after 5:00, the express bus that currently takes you 68 minutes is on tap to be replaced by a shuttle-bus plus Red Line option that will take you either 71 or 76 minutes, depending on if you feel like taking your chances on maybe not fitting on the second shuttle bus for the 5:40 trip heading up to Leander.

Trip Pickup at UT Arrive MLK station Leave MLK station Arrive Leander station Total travel time
#987 express bus 5:04 PM N/A N/A 6:12 PM 68 minutes
Red Line with #465 shuttlebus (first one) 5:16 PM 5:28 PM 5:40 PM 6:32 PM 76 minutes
Red Line with #465 shuttlebus (second one) 5:21 PM 5:33 PM 5:40 PM 6:32 PM 71 minutes

I wonder if there was anyone who predicted way back when that the Red Line would be slower, thanks to its reliance on shuttle-buses, than existing express bus service? Nah. Couldn’t be. Nobody could have predicted this debacle way back in, say, 2004.

July 15, 2004:

The current commuter rail plan, for reference, requires both of these constituencies to transfer to shuttle buses to reach their final destination. This, as I’ve pointed out before, means that anybody who has a car and can afford parking will never ride this route.The shuttle transfer kills the performance of the transit trip to the point where only people who don’t own cars or have difficult parking situations would consider it, as is the case with today’s express bus lines.

More references:

Today’s entry: Somebody who fell for the “TOD” hype and moved into Crestview Station so they could walk to the Red Line and take it to work at UT. Morning commute this time around; assume they want to get in comfortably before 9:00AM. Note that the Red Line shuttle drops off on San Jacinto; the two bus options here drop off on Guadalupe; the typical UT office is, epidemic if anything, click closer to Guadalupe than San Jacinto.
Spoiler: Even the local bus beats the Red Line, click because of the shuttle-bus trip. Yes, even though that local bus travels through half of the congestion on the Drag.

Continue reading “Transit Field Trip: Houston 2010”

Tri-Rail, The Red Line, and “Is It TOD?”

This is pretty amazing. Thanks to Barry Ritholtz for finding it.
The original:

The update:

True.

These guys LOST TO OLE MISS. AT HOME.
No, valeologist Ole Miss isn’t magically superpowered because they happen to be in the SEC. Here’s where Florida stacks up against Penn State so far this year:

Rank (Sagarin PREDICTOR) Team Result
14 Georgia Florida 49, web Georgia 10 (Neutral Site)
15 Ohio State Penn State 13, infertility @Ohio State 6

Looks pretty good so far, right? Not so fast. The next entries for Florida:

Rank (SAGARIN PREDICTOR) Team Result
23 LSU @Florida 51, LSU 21
30 Ole Miss Ole Miss 31, @Florida 30

Huh. One thing sure seems to jump out at you, doesn’t it? But surely this doesn’t show anything, right? Penn State hasn’t played anybody that good at home, right? Let’s expand that section of the table:

Rank (SAGARIN PREDICTOR) Team Result
19 Oregon State @Penn State 45, Oregon State 14
23 LSU @Florida 51, LSU 21
27 Illinois @Penn State 38, Illinois 24
30 Ole Miss Ole Miss 31, @Florida 30
39 Wisconsin Penn State 48, @Wisconsin 7
52 Tennessee Florida 30, @Tennessee 6

Well, I’m sure we’ll figure out some new reason why Florida deserves it more. Keep on trucking, internet warriors!

As part of an excellent series of takedowns of BRT, psychotherapist the San Francisco Bike Blog has written an excellent rebuttal to the frequent claims that BRT or Rapid Bus plans can function as stepping stones towards light rail. One relevant excerpt relating to a transitway in Ottawa that was designed to be convertible to LRT::

The study concludes that with limited financial resources, for sale it is better to invest in new rapid transit corridors than to replace an existing one. It is not considered cost-effective to convert the Transitway to LRT at this time.

Please check out the rest. There’s a lot more good stuff in the other links from Jeff’s collection as well, mind including impacts on the urban environment from smelly, noisy, uncomfortable buses versus electric trains.
In our case, our potential investments in our completely useless Rapid Bus plan are completely nonportable to light rail (the stations are on the wrong side, for instance). Ironically, as the linked story points out, every improvement that could be made to make Rapid Bus more like Bus Rapid Transit would make it less likely we’d ever see light rail on the #1 corridor.

Quick reminder as I prepare to go on a business trip. The reason we need to subsidize projects like the Domain, cheap and especially Mueller, stomatology is that existing crappy strip malls actually cost us (the city) more money than they make but thanks to our suburban zoning code, story they are the only thing that can be built without special subsidy or regulatory relief.

Read that again. You heard me right – Brian Rodgers’ strip malls are already getting subsidized via the tax code and already get regulatory preference in the zoning code. We tax by land and improvement value rather than assessing based on the costs generated by retail – and strip retail is the worst on this scale, since, for one simple example, if you want to visit a half-dozen different stores on Anderson Lane, you may have to move the car 6 times(!). That’s not good for Austin, and it shouldn’t be subsidized – but if we can’t change the tax/regulatory code, and the neighborhoods won’t let us do that, then at least we can attempt to level the playing field by subsidizing their more sustainable competition.

I’ll try to fill this argument in with some backing data when I get more time, but I thought it important to say this right after the election, since he and SDS are making noise about how close they got. The only reason it was that close is because most people have no idea how much of the status quo isn’t natural or ‘choice’; but actually the result of public policy that has favored suburban crap like strip malls for decades.

It makes it even harder when a project like Mueller faces so much opposition from nearby neighborhoods that affordability has to be ‘bought down’ rather than provided through more reasonable density entitlements (subsidizing affordable housing is less efficient than getting the ridiculously low-density zoning out of the way and letting the market provide more supply, but local neighborhoods hate that, so we had to settle for this far-inferior option). No, Virginia, Mueller isn’t going to be high-density, not even close – the area around the Town Center, if it’s ever built, will approach but not exceed the density of the Triangle – i.e. moderate density mid-rises.

Update: Austin Contrarian argues that retail subsidies are bad but leaves a “design subsidy” hole large enough to admit both the Domain and Mueller, arguably. I’d have no problem dressing my position up in a similar fashion except that I suspect this is too nuanced for the average “corporations bad!” voter to accept.

PS: I believe on this issue that I’m now More Contrarian Than The Austin Contrarian. Woo?
CNN’s Campbell Brown’s words ring true in relation to this pantload, impotent whom the media never bothered to fact-check on anything:

Brown spoke of the “false equivalency” that’s often practiced in journalism. “Our view is that when Candidate A says it’s raining outside, and Candidate B says it’s sunny, a journalist should be able to look outside and say, ‘Well it’s sunny, so one of these guys is wrong,'” she told Stewart.

Guess what? Sal Costello was wrong on almost everything he ever said. But you wouldn’t know that for reading the Statesman, or the Chronicle, or even Burnt Orange Report – and the transportation discourse has suffered drastically for it. Instead of flat-out telling their readers that Costello’s position wasn’t true, they, at best, alluded to it indirectly, assuming people would get it. They didn’t. As a result, people now honestly believe his bullshit about being double-taxed and the money supposedly diverted to ‘toll roads’ from ‘free’ways.
In this whole process, one might assume the losers are suburban motorists. Not so; the losers are central city Austin residents, both drivers and non-drivers, who have to continue the unfair process of paying for suburban commuters’ highways through both the gas tax subsidy and the property tax and sales tax subsidy. With toll roads, at least suburban commuters would have paid something closer to the cost of their choice to live out there. Now? Back to business-as-usual, meaning people who ride the bus in East Austin get to subsidize people driving in from Circle C. My environmentalist friends who think this means “no roads” are deluded – the phase II toll roads weren’t highways to nowhere like Southwest Parkway; there already exists sufficient commuting demand and more than enough political support to make these roads happen, whether ‘free’ or tolled.
Anyways, to our erstwhile Circle C Crackpot: don’t let the door hit you. And shame on you, reporters. It was raining the whole time, and you let people think there was an honest disagreement on the weather.
(The worst part? As I mentioned to a facebook friend, he actually made me feel a little bit sorry at one point for this guy. UNCLEAN).

You can guess how I feel about the #1 target from this comment I just left at this thread at gm-volt.com. Yes, herpes the same bunch of idiots who scoffed at me and others a few months back who said the Volt wouldn’t make it because GM was going Chap 11.
Hint: Ford might be worth throwing a life-jacket to. The others? (Outer blockquote is me).

It’s also important to remember that it wasn’t only the U.S. automakers who built these lumbering behemoth trucks and SUVs. Toyota, the auto maker with the fallen green halo is slowing down production of its Toyota Tundra monster truck plant here in San Antonio. They have also stated that they do not plan to build a plug-in hybrid and have talked down GM’s progress on the Chevy Volt.

More crap from denialists.
Honda and Toyota didn’t fight CAFE kicking and screaming and getting loopholes for awful SUVs and pickup trucks. Toyota sells trucks to those who want them, sure, but hasn’t tried to create the market from those who didn’t want them and never needed them.
As for talking down the Volt, they’ve sold a million Prii. Even if the Volt was an obvious success, talking down the Volt to sell the Prius isn’t damaging to the economy, the environment, or our national security the way it was when GM spent years talking down hybrids so they could continue to sell polluting inefficient SUVs.
GM needs to die in a fire. Yesterday.

I always forget to mention GM’s role in destroying urban rail. Yes, a lot of the stuff you hear is exaggerated if not myth, but they did play a large role in it nonetheless.
If GM was a person, I have a hard time believing we wouldn’t be charging him with treason for enabling our enemies (and disabling our ability to pressure our ‘friends’ the Saudis) and destroying our environment and our economy.

Some folks are getting excited about the “downtown” station being nearly complete on our asstastic commuter rail line. Maybe the pictures below will be of some help. Click on the pictures for explanations.
1. “Why is that bus labelled “DOWNTOWN” if this is the “downtown” station?

2. “What is that yellow line and why is it so far from all the big buildings?”

3. “Well, website like this are there any office buildings within a short walk of the ‘downtown’ station”?

On my next business trip, decease probably next week, I’ll try to take some time to get a better image of dots overlaid on a better map for “major downtown office buildings” built from actual data rather than from my own recollection. Expect it to look even less promising than that last image from 2004, though.
Bonus Update in case it’s lost: a comment I just made in response to the typical CM talking point (in comments to their own article about the ‘downtown’ station) that this is just a ‘start’ for a multi-modal transportation system that will make choice commuters somehow enjoy changing vehicles three times on the way to work:

Unfortunately, that’s a load of nonsense, Misty; there is no way this line can possibly serve as a first step anywhere worth going, because the vehicles (and technology) you chose is incompatible with truly urban rail – can’t navigate corners sharply enough to ever go anywhere closer to where the actual commuting demand is.
To the readers, the best hope for urban rail in Texas is to get the CAMPO TWG plan passed before people realize how awful this commuter rail start is, because while it connects to commuter rail and has a suboptimal route itself, it at least serves a few good sources and destinations directly without requiring transfers.
It’ll be decades, if ever, before we reach traffic levels which actually make transit trips with transfers anything but a poison pill for choice commuters. Any plan, like this commuter rail debacle, which relies on transfers for most of its ridership is thus doomed to failure.

Updated update
Nice photo from priller at the skyscraperpage forum. The pointy building in the distance is the closest offices of any signficance, and they’re right past the edge of the normal quarter-mile rule for how long the average person would be willing to walk to work to take transit on a regular basis.

Some folks are getting excited about the “downtown” station being nearly complete on our asstastic commuter rail line. Maybe the pictures below will be of some help. Click on the pictures for explanations.
1. “Why is that bus labelled “DOWNTOWN” if this is the “downtown” station?

2. “What is that yellow line and why is it so far from all the big buildings?”

3. “Well, website like this are there any office buildings within a short walk of the ‘downtown’ station”?

On my next business trip, decease probably next week, I’ll try to take some time to get a better image of dots overlaid on a better map for “major downtown office buildings” built from actual data rather than from my own recollection. Expect it to look even less promising than that last image from 2004, though.
Bonus Update in case it’s lost: a comment I just made in response to the typical CM talking point (in comments to their own article about the ‘downtown’ station) that this is just a ‘start’ for a multi-modal transportation system that will make choice commuters somehow enjoy changing vehicles three times on the way to work:

Unfortunately, that’s a load of nonsense, Misty; there is no way this line can possibly serve as a first step anywhere worth going, because the vehicles (and technology) you chose is incompatible with truly urban rail – can’t navigate corners sharply enough to ever go anywhere closer to where the actual commuting demand is.
To the readers, the best hope for urban rail in Texas is to get the CAMPO TWG plan passed before people realize how awful this commuter rail start is, because while it connects to commuter rail and has a suboptimal route itself, it at least serves a few good sources and destinations directly without requiring transfers.
It’ll be decades, if ever, before we reach traffic levels which actually make transit trips with transfers anything but a poison pill for choice commuters. Any plan, like this commuter rail debacle, which relies on transfers for most of its ridership is thus doomed to failure.

Updated update
Nice photo from priller at the skyscraperpage forum. The pointy building in the distance is the closest offices of any signficance, and they’re right past the edge of the normal quarter-mile rule for how long the average person would be willing to walk to work to take transit on a regular basis.

Finally got around to these, stuff
mostly today:
Urbanist sites (Austin):

Bike sites (Austin):

Occasional commenter: Snowed In

Recent blogroll addition the Austin Bike Blog points us to a study on cyclist behavior in bike lanes and wide curb lanes. Years ago, health pre-blog and pre-cycling-killing-arthritis, I wrote the following on passing behavior in both facilities which still has some relevance today. Dragging this into the blog so it can be archived and whatnot; original is here. Done with HTML tables, the way God intended! Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate so well inside the blog. Any HTML/Movable Type geniuses want to suggest a formatting fix for me here?

One of the most common arguments in bicycle transportation circles stems from the disagreement over whether bike lanes or wide outside lanes provide "better passing distance". Foresterites claim that wide outside lanes are better for a variety of reasons; bike lane advocates come back with the "dedicated space" argument; which Foresterites then attempt to rebut by saying passing distance is "better" in wide curb lanes.

I have direct experience in this matter: my commutes to work generally take me along Shoal Creek Boulevard in north central Austin; which had fairly wide (6′?) bike lanes for several years; and then very wide (19′) curb lanes for several more years. I found that a typical 10-pass scenario would go something like the table below. The "distance" given is from car’s mirror to where I was riding in approximate center of bike lane.

Passing distance on Shoal Creek Boulevard with Bike Lane Passing distance on Shoal Creek Boulevard with Wide Outside
Lane
1 3.5 ft With minor fluctuation, the typical pass
with the bike lane consisted of the driver giving about half a foot
of distance between their right mirror and the bike lane stripe; thus
providing approximately the same passing space every time. Why does
this happen? Motorists are conditioned in other traffic interactions
to respect lane stripes.
2 3.5 ft
3 3.5 ft
4 3.5 ft
5 3.5 ft
6 3.5 ft
7 3.5 ft
8 3.5 ft
9 3.5 ft
10 3.5 ft
1 5 ft Some motorists (perhaps even a majority)
provide better passing distance in the wide outside lane scenario
because they are thinking about how much space to give, rather than
letting the lane stripe decide for them.
2 5 ft
3 5 ft
4 5 ft
5 5 ft
6 5 ft
7 4 ft  
8 3 ft  
9 2 ft On the other hand, some other motorists provide considerably
less passing space without the lane stripe to guide them (some from
ignorance; others from antipathy towards cyclists riding in "their
lane").
10 1 ft
Average passing distance from centerline of my bike: 3.5 ft Average passing distance from centerline of my bike: 4.0 ft
10th percentile passing distance: 3.5 ft 10th percentile passing distance: 1 ft

In this dataset, the 30th percentile passing distance for wide outside lanes was worse than for bike lanes; meaning that 3 out of 10 times, the passing distance could be expected to be less for wide outside lanes than it was for bike lanes. (Or, to turn it around, 7 out of 10 times, the passing distance in wide outside lanes would be better than in bike lanes).
Despite the fact that this dataset shows a superior passing distance in 7 out of 10 cases for wide outside lanes, I would choose the bike lane over the wide outside lane in this scenario. I submit that the deciding factor for cyclists, if they are thinking rationally, should not be the average passing distance; since most motorists, whatever the facility, do a fairly good job of providing adequate passing distance. The deciding factor should be the likelihood that motorists who, because they either don’t know or don’t care, don’t provide adequate passing distance. Clearly, in my experience, although average passing distance can be higher in a wide outside lane scenario, the minimum passing distance can at the same time be a lot lower. In this dataset, for instance, I’d argue that the 2 ft and 1 ft passes were close enough to be dangerous (given my width).

I’m probably much more amused by myself than warranted. Judge for yourself:

Been itching to climb aboard a Capital Metro train? Understandable, store given that we’ve been talking about light rail/commuter rail around Austin since the mid-1980s.
Well, that first chance will come next week when Capital Metro and the Downtown Austin Alliance host a “hop ‘n shop” at Brush Square. Up to now Capital Metro has allowed only the media and few selected others to take an up-close gander at the red-and-silver-and white train cars.
[…]

and my response:

There should really be a requirement that people spend 15 minutes sitting on board a stationary shuttle bus before disembarking and boarding the stationary train, shouldn’t there?

Erica from Capital Metro, store in comments to this post, troche brings up the fact that the third image (originally from the city’s old OnTrack newsletter, urologist updated with green and yellow dots by yours truly), had an error in how the circles were drawn around prospective rail stations on the extension to Seaholm many people unsuccessfully lobbied for in 2004. The point of this image was to show the locations of the office buildings — not the circles (although that is not inherently obvious if the image is viewed in isolation), and the error wasn’t mine (somebody at the city drew a 1/4 mile diameter rather than radius) – but I’ve known about it for quite some time; using the image just to show the office locations since I have not yet created a new map with a better representation of offices. Typically when I discuss this issue on other forums, I prefer to use a google maps link like this one which shows a walk of 0.4 miles to 6th and Congress.
However, some folks at CM just produced the image below, which is about the best light you can put this ‘downtown’ station in, and which I will post even though it has its own problem: an attempt to fudge the issue by presenting both the legitimate 1/4 mile circle and a far less legitimate 1/2 mile catchment zone. Another discrepancy between the maps, not anybody’s fault, is that in 2004, the station location was projected a half block or so farther east.
Please see comments after the image.

Important things to note here:

  • Most major office buildings are outside the 1/4 mile zone. Most are also inside the 1/2 mile range. However, using the same principle as above, note that, for instance, the second-newest big office building downtown is more than a half-mile from the train station. Essentially all major office buildings downtown, including this one, would have been within 1/4 mile of the 2000 light rail route, whether on Congress or Colorado or even Guadalupe/Lavaca.
  • The 1/2 mile radius is used as a fallback ‘rule’ to declare that you can attract a few more choice commuters to excellent high-frequency rail service than the 1/4 mile rule would suggest. The problem here, of course, is that the service we are providing is neither high-quality (doesn’t go to UT or the Capitol or anywhere else worth going if your origin is ‘downtown’) nor high-frequency (runs only every 30 minutes and only during rush hours). In addition, the expanded catchment area is most suited to the residential end of the trip – i.e. you might walk farther from your home to pick up the train if it’s really good – but surely not to take the train if the walk FROM the train station TO your office was extra-long – this is borne out by New York’s transit agency’s project to spend billions to bring the LIRR a bit closer to employment centers (see also: non-trivial unwillingness of choice commuters to tolerate transfers even from ‘good rail’ to ‘good rail’, even in Manhattan).
  • We don’t have a large population of people who would be willing to walk 1/2 mile to work from the train station (and risk mistiming a 1/2 mile walk back to the train station in the afternoon only to maybe miss the once-every-half-hour train) who, and this is critically important here: aren’t already riding the bus. The same people who would give the train such an incredible time investment are already going to be riding the buses from all over the city that head straight to their offices downtown. I speak from experience here: a long walk to pick up transit from the office isn’t sustainable in the long-run even for transit-positive people like me. If I had to pay $10/day to park, I might think differently, but then I’d already be taking the bus, wouldn’t I?
  • And, most importantly, if Capital Metro really believed that the average choice commuter would consider this train station to be within a quick, comfortable, walk of their office, they wouldn’t be providing these three downtown shuttles, one of which runs right up Congress Avenue.

Erica from Capital Metro, store in comments to this post, troche brings up the fact that the third image (originally from the city’s old OnTrack newsletter, urologist updated with green and yellow dots by yours truly), had an error in how the circles were drawn around prospective rail stations on the extension to Seaholm many people unsuccessfully lobbied for in 2004. The point of this image was to show the locations of the office buildings — not the circles (although that is not inherently obvious if the image is viewed in isolation), and the error wasn’t mine (somebody at the city drew a 1/4 mile diameter rather than radius) – but I’ve known about it for quite some time; using the image just to show the office locations since I have not yet created a new map with a better representation of offices. Typically when I discuss this issue on other forums, I prefer to use a google maps link like this one which shows a walk of 0.4 miles to 6th and Congress.
However, some folks at CM just produced the image below, which is about the best light you can put this ‘downtown’ station in, and which I will post even though it has its own problem: an attempt to fudge the issue by presenting both the legitimate 1/4 mile circle and a far less legitimate 1/2 mile catchment zone. Another discrepancy between the maps, not anybody’s fault, is that in 2004, the station location was projected a half block or so farther east.
Please see comments after the image.

Important things to note here:

  • Most major office buildings are outside the 1/4 mile zone. Most are also inside the 1/2 mile range. However, using the same principle as above, note that, for instance, the second-newest big office building downtown is more than a half-mile from the train station. Essentially all major office buildings downtown, including this one, would have been within 1/4 mile of the 2000 light rail route, whether on Congress or Colorado or even Guadalupe/Lavaca.
  • The 1/2 mile radius is used as a fallback ‘rule’ to declare that you can attract a few more choice commuters to excellent high-frequency rail service than the 1/4 mile rule would suggest. The problem here, of course, is that the service we are providing is neither high-quality (doesn’t go to UT or the Capitol or anywhere else worth going if your origin is ‘downtown’) nor high-frequency (runs only every 30 minutes and only during rush hours). In addition, the expanded catchment area is most suited to the residential end of the trip – i.e. you might walk farther from your home to pick up the train if it’s really good – but surely not to take the train if the walk FROM the train station TO your office was extra-long – this is borne out by New York’s transit agency’s project to spend billions to bring the LIRR a bit closer to employment centers (see also: non-trivial unwillingness of choice commuters to tolerate transfers even from ‘good rail’ to ‘good rail’, even in Manhattan).
  • We don’t have a large population of people who would be willing to walk 1/2 mile to work from the train station (and risk mistiming a 1/2 mile walk back to the train station in the afternoon only to maybe miss the once-every-half-hour train) who, and this is critically important here: aren’t already riding the bus. The same people who would give the train such an incredible time investment are already going to be riding the buses from all over the city that head straight to their offices downtown. I speak from experience here: a long walk to pick up transit from the office isn’t sustainable in the long-run even for transit-positive people like me. If I had to pay $10/day to park, I might think differently, but then I’d already be taking the bus, wouldn’t I?
  • And, most importantly, if Capital Metro really believed that the average choice commuter would consider this train station to be within a quick, comfortable, walk of their office, they wouldn’t be providing these three downtown shuttles, one of which runs right up Congress Avenue.

The first of a series of images I created on the plane to JFK on Sunday night:

Red dots are 10+ story office buildings, check obtained from skyscraperpage. Click for larger image.

Continue reading “Tri-Rail, The Red Line, and “Is It TOD?””

Two quick hits

This is pretty amazing. Thanks to Barry Ritholtz for finding it.
The original:

The update:

True.

These guys LOST TO OLE MISS. AT HOME.
No, valeologist Ole Miss isn’t magically superpowered because they happen to be in the SEC. Here’s where Florida stacks up against Penn State so far this year:

Rank (Sagarin PREDICTOR) Team Result
14 Georgia Florida 49, web Georgia 10 (Neutral Site)
15 Ohio State Penn State 13, infertility @Ohio State 6

Looks pretty good so far, right? Not so fast. The next entries for Florida:

Rank (SAGARIN PREDICTOR) Team Result
23 LSU @Florida 51, LSU 21
30 Ole Miss Ole Miss 31, @Florida 30

Huh. One thing sure seems to jump out at you, doesn’t it? But surely this doesn’t show anything, right? Penn State hasn’t played anybody that good at home, right? Let’s expand that section of the table:

Rank (SAGARIN PREDICTOR) Team Result
19 Oregon State @Penn State 45, Oregon State 14
23 LSU @Florida 51, LSU 21
27 Illinois @Penn State 38, Illinois 24
30 Ole Miss Ole Miss 31, @Florida 30
39 Wisconsin Penn State 48, @Wisconsin 7
52 Tennessee Florida 30, @Tennessee 6

Well, I’m sure we’ll figure out some new reason why Florida deserves it more. Keep on trucking, internet warriors!

As part of an excellent series of takedowns of BRT, psychotherapist the San Francisco Bike Blog has written an excellent rebuttal to the frequent claims that BRT or Rapid Bus plans can function as stepping stones towards light rail. One relevant excerpt relating to a transitway in Ottawa that was designed to be convertible to LRT::

The study concludes that with limited financial resources, for sale it is better to invest in new rapid transit corridors than to replace an existing one. It is not considered cost-effective to convert the Transitway to LRT at this time.

Please check out the rest. There’s a lot more good stuff in the other links from Jeff’s collection as well, mind including impacts on the urban environment from smelly, noisy, uncomfortable buses versus electric trains.
In our case, our potential investments in our completely useless Rapid Bus plan are completely nonportable to light rail (the stations are on the wrong side, for instance). Ironically, as the linked story points out, every improvement that could be made to make Rapid Bus more like Bus Rapid Transit would make it less likely we’d ever see light rail on the #1 corridor.

Quick reminder as I prepare to go on a business trip. The reason we need to subsidize projects like the Domain, cheap and especially Mueller, stomatology is that existing crappy strip malls actually cost us (the city) more money than they make but thanks to our suburban zoning code, story they are the only thing that can be built without special subsidy or regulatory relief.

Read that again. You heard me right – Brian Rodgers’ strip malls are already getting subsidized via the tax code and already get regulatory preference in the zoning code. We tax by land and improvement value rather than assessing based on the costs generated by retail – and strip retail is the worst on this scale, since, for one simple example, if you want to visit a half-dozen different stores on Anderson Lane, you may have to move the car 6 times(!). That’s not good for Austin, and it shouldn’t be subsidized – but if we can’t change the tax/regulatory code, and the neighborhoods won’t let us do that, then at least we can attempt to level the playing field by subsidizing their more sustainable competition.

I’ll try to fill this argument in with some backing data when I get more time, but I thought it important to say this right after the election, since he and SDS are making noise about how close they got. The only reason it was that close is because most people have no idea how much of the status quo isn’t natural or ‘choice’; but actually the result of public policy that has favored suburban crap like strip malls for decades.

It makes it even harder when a project like Mueller faces so much opposition from nearby neighborhoods that affordability has to be ‘bought down’ rather than provided through more reasonable density entitlements (subsidizing affordable housing is less efficient than getting the ridiculously low-density zoning out of the way and letting the market provide more supply, but local neighborhoods hate that, so we had to settle for this far-inferior option). No, Virginia, Mueller isn’t going to be high-density, not even close – the area around the Town Center, if it’s ever built, will approach but not exceed the density of the Triangle – i.e. moderate density mid-rises.

Update: Austin Contrarian argues that retail subsidies are bad but leaves a “design subsidy” hole large enough to admit both the Domain and Mueller, arguably. I’d have no problem dressing my position up in a similar fashion except that I suspect this is too nuanced for the average “corporations bad!” voter to accept.

PS: I believe on this issue that I’m now More Contrarian Than The Austin Contrarian. Woo?
CNN’s Campbell Brown’s words ring true in relation to this pantload, impotent whom the media never bothered to fact-check on anything:

Brown spoke of the “false equivalency” that’s often practiced in journalism. “Our view is that when Candidate A says it’s raining outside, and Candidate B says it’s sunny, a journalist should be able to look outside and say, ‘Well it’s sunny, so one of these guys is wrong,'” she told Stewart.

Guess what? Sal Costello was wrong on almost everything he ever said. But you wouldn’t know that for reading the Statesman, or the Chronicle, or even Burnt Orange Report – and the transportation discourse has suffered drastically for it. Instead of flat-out telling their readers that Costello’s position wasn’t true, they, at best, alluded to it indirectly, assuming people would get it. They didn’t. As a result, people now honestly believe his bullshit about being double-taxed and the money supposedly diverted to ‘toll roads’ from ‘free’ways.
In this whole process, one might assume the losers are suburban motorists. Not so; the losers are central city Austin residents, both drivers and non-drivers, who have to continue the unfair process of paying for suburban commuters’ highways through both the gas tax subsidy and the property tax and sales tax subsidy. With toll roads, at least suburban commuters would have paid something closer to the cost of their choice to live out there. Now? Back to business-as-usual, meaning people who ride the bus in East Austin get to subsidize people driving in from Circle C. My environmentalist friends who think this means “no roads” are deluded – the phase II toll roads weren’t highways to nowhere like Southwest Parkway; there already exists sufficient commuting demand and more than enough political support to make these roads happen, whether ‘free’ or tolled.
Anyways, to our erstwhile Circle C Crackpot: don’t let the door hit you. And shame on you, reporters. It was raining the whole time, and you let people think there was an honest disagreement on the weather.
(The worst part? As I mentioned to a facebook friend, he actually made me feel a little bit sorry at one point for this guy. UNCLEAN).

You can guess how I feel about the #1 target from this comment I just left at this thread at gm-volt.com. Yes, herpes the same bunch of idiots who scoffed at me and others a few months back who said the Volt wouldn’t make it because GM was going Chap 11.
Hint: Ford might be worth throwing a life-jacket to. The others? (Outer blockquote is me).

It’s also important to remember that it wasn’t only the U.S. automakers who built these lumbering behemoth trucks and SUVs. Toyota, the auto maker with the fallen green halo is slowing down production of its Toyota Tundra monster truck plant here in San Antonio. They have also stated that they do not plan to build a plug-in hybrid and have talked down GM’s progress on the Chevy Volt.

More crap from denialists.
Honda and Toyota didn’t fight CAFE kicking and screaming and getting loopholes for awful SUVs and pickup trucks. Toyota sells trucks to those who want them, sure, but hasn’t tried to create the market from those who didn’t want them and never needed them.
As for talking down the Volt, they’ve sold a million Prii. Even if the Volt was an obvious success, talking down the Volt to sell the Prius isn’t damaging to the economy, the environment, or our national security the way it was when GM spent years talking down hybrids so they could continue to sell polluting inefficient SUVs.
GM needs to die in a fire. Yesterday.

I always forget to mention GM’s role in destroying urban rail. Yes, a lot of the stuff you hear is exaggerated if not myth, but they did play a large role in it nonetheless.
If GM was a person, I have a hard time believing we wouldn’t be charging him with treason for enabling our enemies (and disabling our ability to pressure our ‘friends’ the Saudis) and destroying our environment and our economy.

Some folks are getting excited about the “downtown” station being nearly complete on our asstastic commuter rail line. Maybe the pictures below will be of some help. Click on the pictures for explanations.
1. “Why is that bus labelled “DOWNTOWN” if this is the “downtown” station?

2. “What is that yellow line and why is it so far from all the big buildings?”

3. “Well, website like this are there any office buildings within a short walk of the ‘downtown’ station”?

On my next business trip, decease probably next week, I’ll try to take some time to get a better image of dots overlaid on a better map for “major downtown office buildings” built from actual data rather than from my own recollection. Expect it to look even less promising than that last image from 2004, though.
Bonus Update in case it’s lost: a comment I just made in response to the typical CM talking point (in comments to their own article about the ‘downtown’ station) that this is just a ‘start’ for a multi-modal transportation system that will make choice commuters somehow enjoy changing vehicles three times on the way to work:

Unfortunately, that’s a load of nonsense, Misty; there is no way this line can possibly serve as a first step anywhere worth going, because the vehicles (and technology) you chose is incompatible with truly urban rail – can’t navigate corners sharply enough to ever go anywhere closer to where the actual commuting demand is.
To the readers, the best hope for urban rail in Texas is to get the CAMPO TWG plan passed before people realize how awful this commuter rail start is, because while it connects to commuter rail and has a suboptimal route itself, it at least serves a few good sources and destinations directly without requiring transfers.
It’ll be decades, if ever, before we reach traffic levels which actually make transit trips with transfers anything but a poison pill for choice commuters. Any plan, like this commuter rail debacle, which relies on transfers for most of its ridership is thus doomed to failure.

Updated update
Nice photo from priller at the skyscraperpage forum. The pointy building in the distance is the closest offices of any signficance, and they’re right past the edge of the normal quarter-mile rule for how long the average person would be willing to walk to work to take transit on a regular basis.

Some folks are getting excited about the “downtown” station being nearly complete on our asstastic commuter rail line. Maybe the pictures below will be of some help. Click on the pictures for explanations.
1. “Why is that bus labelled “DOWNTOWN” if this is the “downtown” station?

2. “What is that yellow line and why is it so far from all the big buildings?”

3. “Well, website like this are there any office buildings within a short walk of the ‘downtown’ station”?

On my next business trip, decease probably next week, I’ll try to take some time to get a better image of dots overlaid on a better map for “major downtown office buildings” built from actual data rather than from my own recollection. Expect it to look even less promising than that last image from 2004, though.
Bonus Update in case it’s lost: a comment I just made in response to the typical CM talking point (in comments to their own article about the ‘downtown’ station) that this is just a ‘start’ for a multi-modal transportation system that will make choice commuters somehow enjoy changing vehicles three times on the way to work:

Unfortunately, that’s a load of nonsense, Misty; there is no way this line can possibly serve as a first step anywhere worth going, because the vehicles (and technology) you chose is incompatible with truly urban rail – can’t navigate corners sharply enough to ever go anywhere closer to where the actual commuting demand is.
To the readers, the best hope for urban rail in Texas is to get the CAMPO TWG plan passed before people realize how awful this commuter rail start is, because while it connects to commuter rail and has a suboptimal route itself, it at least serves a few good sources and destinations directly without requiring transfers.
It’ll be decades, if ever, before we reach traffic levels which actually make transit trips with transfers anything but a poison pill for choice commuters. Any plan, like this commuter rail debacle, which relies on transfers for most of its ridership is thus doomed to failure.

Updated update
Nice photo from priller at the skyscraperpage forum. The pointy building in the distance is the closest offices of any signficance, and they’re right past the edge of the normal quarter-mile rule for how long the average person would be willing to walk to work to take transit on a regular basis.

Finally got around to these, stuff
mostly today:
Urbanist sites (Austin):

Bike sites (Austin):

Occasional commenter: Snowed In

Recent blogroll addition the Austin Bike Blog points us to a study on cyclist behavior in bike lanes and wide curb lanes. Years ago, health pre-blog and pre-cycling-killing-arthritis, I wrote the following on passing behavior in both facilities which still has some relevance today. Dragging this into the blog so it can be archived and whatnot; original is here. Done with HTML tables, the way God intended! Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate so well inside the blog. Any HTML/Movable Type geniuses want to suggest a formatting fix for me here?

One of the most common arguments in bicycle transportation circles stems from the disagreement over whether bike lanes or wide outside lanes provide "better passing distance". Foresterites claim that wide outside lanes are better for a variety of reasons; bike lane advocates come back with the "dedicated space" argument; which Foresterites then attempt to rebut by saying passing distance is "better" in wide curb lanes.

I have direct experience in this matter: my commutes to work generally take me along Shoal Creek Boulevard in north central Austin; which had fairly wide (6′?) bike lanes for several years; and then very wide (19′) curb lanes for several more years. I found that a typical 10-pass scenario would go something like the table below. The "distance" given is from car’s mirror to where I was riding in approximate center of bike lane.

Passing distance on Shoal Creek Boulevard with Bike Lane Passing distance on Shoal Creek Boulevard with Wide Outside
Lane
1 3.5 ft With minor fluctuation, the typical pass
with the bike lane consisted of the driver giving about half a foot
of distance between their right mirror and the bike lane stripe; thus
providing approximately the same passing space every time. Why does
this happen? Motorists are conditioned in other traffic interactions
to respect lane stripes.
2 3.5 ft
3 3.5 ft
4 3.5 ft
5 3.5 ft
6 3.5 ft
7 3.5 ft
8 3.5 ft
9 3.5 ft
10 3.5 ft
1 5 ft Some motorists (perhaps even a majority)
provide better passing distance in the wide outside lane scenario
because they are thinking about how much space to give, rather than
letting the lane stripe decide for them.
2 5 ft
3 5 ft
4 5 ft
5 5 ft
6 5 ft
7 4 ft  
8 3 ft  
9 2 ft On the other hand, some other motorists provide considerably
less passing space without the lane stripe to guide them (some from
ignorance; others from antipathy towards cyclists riding in "their
lane").
10 1 ft
Average passing distance from centerline of my bike: 3.5 ft Average passing distance from centerline of my bike: 4.0 ft
10th percentile passing distance: 3.5 ft 10th percentile passing distance: 1 ft

In this dataset, the 30th percentile passing distance for wide outside lanes was worse than for bike lanes; meaning that 3 out of 10 times, the passing distance could be expected to be less for wide outside lanes than it was for bike lanes. (Or, to turn it around, 7 out of 10 times, the passing distance in wide outside lanes would be better than in bike lanes).
Despite the fact that this dataset shows a superior passing distance in 7 out of 10 cases for wide outside lanes, I would choose the bike lane over the wide outside lane in this scenario. I submit that the deciding factor for cyclists, if they are thinking rationally, should not be the average passing distance; since most motorists, whatever the facility, do a fairly good job of providing adequate passing distance. The deciding factor should be the likelihood that motorists who, because they either don’t know or don’t care, don’t provide adequate passing distance. Clearly, in my experience, although average passing distance can be higher in a wide outside lane scenario, the minimum passing distance can at the same time be a lot lower. In this dataset, for instance, I’d argue that the 2 ft and 1 ft passes were close enough to be dangerous (given my width).

I’m probably much more amused by myself than warranted. Judge for yourself:

Been itching to climb aboard a Capital Metro train? Understandable, store given that we’ve been talking about light rail/commuter rail around Austin since the mid-1980s.
Well, that first chance will come next week when Capital Metro and the Downtown Austin Alliance host a “hop ‘n shop” at Brush Square. Up to now Capital Metro has allowed only the media and few selected others to take an up-close gander at the red-and-silver-and white train cars.
[…]

and my response:

There should really be a requirement that people spend 15 minutes sitting on board a stationary shuttle bus before disembarking and boarding the stationary train, shouldn’t there?

Erica from Capital Metro, store in comments to this post, troche brings up the fact that the third image (originally from the city’s old OnTrack newsletter, urologist updated with green and yellow dots by yours truly), had an error in how the circles were drawn around prospective rail stations on the extension to Seaholm many people unsuccessfully lobbied for in 2004. The point of this image was to show the locations of the office buildings — not the circles (although that is not inherently obvious if the image is viewed in isolation), and the error wasn’t mine (somebody at the city drew a 1/4 mile diameter rather than radius) – but I’ve known about it for quite some time; using the image just to show the office locations since I have not yet created a new map with a better representation of offices. Typically when I discuss this issue on other forums, I prefer to use a google maps link like this one which shows a walk of 0.4 miles to 6th and Congress.
However, some folks at CM just produced the image below, which is about the best light you can put this ‘downtown’ station in, and which I will post even though it has its own problem: an attempt to fudge the issue by presenting both the legitimate 1/4 mile circle and a far less legitimate 1/2 mile catchment zone. Another discrepancy between the maps, not anybody’s fault, is that in 2004, the station location was projected a half block or so farther east.
Please see comments after the image.

Important things to note here:

  • Most major office buildings are outside the 1/4 mile zone. Most are also inside the 1/2 mile range. However, using the same principle as above, note that, for instance, the second-newest big office building downtown is more than a half-mile from the train station. Essentially all major office buildings downtown, including this one, would have been within 1/4 mile of the 2000 light rail route, whether on Congress or Colorado or even Guadalupe/Lavaca.
  • The 1/2 mile radius is used as a fallback ‘rule’ to declare that you can attract a few more choice commuters to excellent high-frequency rail service than the 1/4 mile rule would suggest. The problem here, of course, is that the service we are providing is neither high-quality (doesn’t go to UT or the Capitol or anywhere else worth going if your origin is ‘downtown’) nor high-frequency (runs only every 30 minutes and only during rush hours). In addition, the expanded catchment area is most suited to the residential end of the trip – i.e. you might walk farther from your home to pick up the train if it’s really good – but surely not to take the train if the walk FROM the train station TO your office was extra-long – this is borne out by New York’s transit agency’s project to spend billions to bring the LIRR a bit closer to employment centers (see also: non-trivial unwillingness of choice commuters to tolerate transfers even from ‘good rail’ to ‘good rail’, even in Manhattan).
  • We don’t have a large population of people who would be willing to walk 1/2 mile to work from the train station (and risk mistiming a 1/2 mile walk back to the train station in the afternoon only to maybe miss the once-every-half-hour train) who, and this is critically important here: aren’t already riding the bus. The same people who would give the train such an incredible time investment are already going to be riding the buses from all over the city that head straight to their offices downtown. I speak from experience here: a long walk to pick up transit from the office isn’t sustainable in the long-run even for transit-positive people like me. If I had to pay $10/day to park, I might think differently, but then I’d already be taking the bus, wouldn’t I?
  • And, most importantly, if Capital Metro really believed that the average choice commuter would consider this train station to be within a quick, comfortable, walk of their office, they wouldn’t be providing these three downtown shuttles, one of which runs right up Congress Avenue.

Erica from Capital Metro, store in comments to this post, troche brings up the fact that the third image (originally from the city’s old OnTrack newsletter, urologist updated with green and yellow dots by yours truly), had an error in how the circles were drawn around prospective rail stations on the extension to Seaholm many people unsuccessfully lobbied for in 2004. The point of this image was to show the locations of the office buildings — not the circles (although that is not inherently obvious if the image is viewed in isolation), and the error wasn’t mine (somebody at the city drew a 1/4 mile diameter rather than radius) – but I’ve known about it for quite some time; using the image just to show the office locations since I have not yet created a new map with a better representation of offices. Typically when I discuss this issue on other forums, I prefer to use a google maps link like this one which shows a walk of 0.4 miles to 6th and Congress.
However, some folks at CM just produced the image below, which is about the best light you can put this ‘downtown’ station in, and which I will post even though it has its own problem: an attempt to fudge the issue by presenting both the legitimate 1/4 mile circle and a far less legitimate 1/2 mile catchment zone. Another discrepancy between the maps, not anybody’s fault, is that in 2004, the station location was projected a half block or so farther east.
Please see comments after the image.

Important things to note here:

  • Most major office buildings are outside the 1/4 mile zone. Most are also inside the 1/2 mile range. However, using the same principle as above, note that, for instance, the second-newest big office building downtown is more than a half-mile from the train station. Essentially all major office buildings downtown, including this one, would have been within 1/4 mile of the 2000 light rail route, whether on Congress or Colorado or even Guadalupe/Lavaca.
  • The 1/2 mile radius is used as a fallback ‘rule’ to declare that you can attract a few more choice commuters to excellent high-frequency rail service than the 1/4 mile rule would suggest. The problem here, of course, is that the service we are providing is neither high-quality (doesn’t go to UT or the Capitol or anywhere else worth going if your origin is ‘downtown’) nor high-frequency (runs only every 30 minutes and only during rush hours). In addition, the expanded catchment area is most suited to the residential end of the trip – i.e. you might walk farther from your home to pick up the train if it’s really good – but surely not to take the train if the walk FROM the train station TO your office was extra-long – this is borne out by New York’s transit agency’s project to spend billions to bring the LIRR a bit closer to employment centers (see also: non-trivial unwillingness of choice commuters to tolerate transfers even from ‘good rail’ to ‘good rail’, even in Manhattan).
  • We don’t have a large population of people who would be willing to walk 1/2 mile to work from the train station (and risk mistiming a 1/2 mile walk back to the train station in the afternoon only to maybe miss the once-every-half-hour train) who, and this is critically important here: aren’t already riding the bus. The same people who would give the train such an incredible time investment are already going to be riding the buses from all over the city that head straight to their offices downtown. I speak from experience here: a long walk to pick up transit from the office isn’t sustainable in the long-run even for transit-positive people like me. If I had to pay $10/day to park, I might think differently, but then I’d already be taking the bus, wouldn’t I?
  • And, most importantly, if Capital Metro really believed that the average choice commuter would consider this train station to be within a quick, comfortable, walk of their office, they wouldn’t be providing these three downtown shuttles, one of which runs right up Congress Avenue.

The first of a series of images I created on the plane to JFK on Sunday night:

Red dots are 10+ story office buildings, check obtained from skyscraperpage. Click for larger image.

Continue reading “Two quick hits”

A tale of the edges of two campuses

Sorry for the long break. I’ve been on business trips to Jebusland for 3 of the last 7 weeks, malady about it and had a vacation in the middle, angina and very busy even when here. Although I’m still busy, order I at least have a minute (not enough time to grab any good pictures; since my google-fu was too weak to get something quickly).

I took the family on a short vacation to visit family in State College, home of Penn State (where I went to school and spent the first 9 years of my life – my grandmother still lives in the same neighborhood as the Paternos). On this trip, since my wife is still recovering from Achilles surgery, we didn’t spend much time walking through campus as we normally would – we instead spent our time driving around the edges of campus. This was an interesting contrast for me, since I spend quite a bit of time driving around the edge of another major university’s campus right here in Austin. Let’s compare.

Penn State:

There’s a signed and marked bike route which starts on the north end of campus (which is bounded by the old residential neighborhood in which my grandmother lives). This bike route says “Campus and Downtown”. It was added shortly before my college years but has been improved since then on each end and consists mainly of off-street paths (sharrows on the street in the neighborhood north of campus, although done poorly). Automobile traffic can still enter the campus from the north in several places, but is then shunted off to the corners – you can no longer go completely through campus from north to south by automobile. Pedestrian accomodations on this side of campus haven’t changed for decades – a pleasant cool walk under tons and tons of trees.

On the south side of campus is the downtown area – the area most analogous to The Drag; fronting College Avenue, part of a one-way couplet which carries State Route 26 through the area (other half is two blocks away, called Beaver Avenue). College Avenue has two through lanes of traffic. Shops line the road at a pleasingly short pedestrian-oriented setback, except for a few places (one a church, one a surface parking lot). Pedestrians, counting both sides of the street, get a bit more space than do cars – and cars have to stop almost every block at a traffic light. The speed limit here is 25; you can rarely go that fast. There is plenty of on-street parking. Again, there’s places where cars can penetrate campus a bit, but they can’t go through campus this direction. Bicycle access from the south comes from a major bike route (with bike lanes that end short of campus) on Garner St. – which then allows bicyclists to continue while motorists have to exit by turning a corner towards the stadium. Two images of the corner of Allen and College from different angles:
College and Allen; shot by ehpien on flickr
From WikiMedia commons

East and west at Penn State aren’t as important – the west side fronts US 322 Business (and a major automobile access point was closed; a classroom building now spans the whole old highway!). The east side is primarily for access to sports facilities and the agricultural areas. Ped access from the west is mediocre unless you feel like going through that classroom building, but not very important if you don’t since there’s not much other reason to be over there. Access from the east is the main future area for improvement – although it’s still of a caliber that we would kill for here in Austin; with 2-lane roadways and 30-35 mph speed limits; traffic signals everywhere pedestrians go in reasonable numbers; etc.
Penn State and the town of State College have made it inviting to walk to and through campus, and have made it at pleasant as possible to bike there. Some students still drive, of course, but most cars are warehoused most of the time.

UTier2-West
On UT’s west side, Guadalupe is a wide choking monstrosity (4 car lanes with 2 bike lanes – one of which functions pretty well and the other of which was a good attempt that fails in practice due to bad driver behavior). On-street parking exists but is rather difficult to use for its intended purpose; but the merchants will still defend it tooth and nail. Despite having even more students living across this road that need to walk to UT than the analogous group at Penn State, there are fewer pedestrian crossings and they are far less attractive; and there is no bicycle access from the west that indicates any desire at all to promoting this mode of transportation. Although you can’t completely get through campus from west to east, you can get a lot farther in than you can at Penn State, and the pedestrian environment suffers for it. The city won’t put any more traffic signals on Guadalupe even though there’s thousands of pedestrians; and the built environment on Guadalupe is ghastly, with far too much surface parking and far too little in the way of street trees. This shot is about as good as it gets on Guadalupe:

(note: reformatted in 2015 and noticed the shot from 2008 is no longer available. Try this streetview for a representative sample).

On the east side of campus, there’s I-35. You’d think this would be much worse than the Guadalupe side for everybody, but at least bicyclists can use Manor Road, which is pretty civilized (better than anything on the west side). Pedestrians are pretty much screwed – noisy, stinky, and hot is no way to walk through life, son.

UT’s north side is similarly ghastly. A road clearly designed for high-speed motor vehicle traffic and then gruesomely underposted at 30 mph; way too wide and lots of surface parking. For pedestrians, this edge of campus sucks – for cyclists, it’s OK to penetrate, but then UT destroyed through access for cyclists by turning Speedway into UT’s underwhelming idea of a pedestrian mall (hint: this is what one really looks like). I could write a whole post on that (and may someday), but the short version is that years ago, UT came to our commission (UTC) with a master plan that crowed about how much they were promoting cycling, yet the only actual change from current conditions was destroying the only good cycling route to and through campus. Yeah, they put up showers and lockers – but that’s not going to help if the route TO the showers and lockers is awful enough, and it is. You’ll get a lot of cyclists at almost any university just because a lot of students won’t have cars and because parking isn’t free and plentiful, but if you really want to take it to the next level, I’m pretty confident that eliminating your one good bike route isn’t the way to go about it.

Since I went to Penn State (1989-1992), access for pedestrians and bicyclists has actually gradually improved, even though it already was much better than UT, and the campus has become more and more livable. More people walk and bike; fewer people drive; and it’s a more enjoyable place than it was before. Since I moved to Austin (1996), the environment for pedestrians and bicyclists travelling to and through UT has actually gotten worse – they’re still coasting on the fact that a lot of the area was developed before everybody had a car. Almost every decision they have made since then has been hostile to bicyclists and at least indifferent to pedestrians. As a result, a much larger proportion of students in the area have cars that they use much more often. (Just comparing near-campus-but-off-campus residents here). The recent long-overdue developments in West Campus are a start, but the built environment on the edge of campus has to dramatically change for UT to be anything more than laughable compared to other major college campuses’ interfaces with business districts.

Bonus coverage: The area I was staying in in Huntsville, AL is right next to the ‘campus’ for Alabama-Huntsville. The least said about that, the better – the area in general is like US 183 before the freeway upgrades, except even uglier (if that’s possible); and their campus has literally nowhere to walk to – my guess is that every student there has a car, even though the place is clearly not a commuter school.

Last Best Chance For Urban Rail In Austin Is Here

My neighborhood‘s latest newsletter contains some thrilling sour grapes about VMU:

In June 2007, more about abortion at the request of the City without any help the City staff, NUNA and the rest of the Neighborhood Planning area (CANPAC, the official planning team for the whole area) which includes Eastwoods, Hancock, Heritage, NUNA, Shoal Crest Caswell Heights, and UAP (University Area Partners) submitted the mandated application for VMU (Vertical Mixed Use). Vertical Mixed Use is applied to commercial zoning (CS) only; it must have a commercial and residential component on the ground floor and subsequent floors, respectively. Vertical MIxed Use does NOT affect height or height limits imposed on a neighborhood/area. VMU was based on the UNO overlay in the West Campus area, except it seems to be a watered down version of this overlay. In a sense, our planning area, CANPAC, was ahead of the “curve” here. VMU is something which not all areas of the City had, so this concept/zoning tool was intended to be applied widespread. The VMU ordinance was conceived by Council Member Brewster McCracken.

The determining factor for VMU was the location of properties primarily along major, transportation corridors. VMU is a fine concept which would help eliminate urban sprawl and make neighborhoods more “user friendly” with amenities such as restaurants and shops within walking distance of a neighborhood. VMU combines two uses on a property- retail or office usually on the ground floor and a residential component on the other floors. There are other benefits for VMU such as a percentage of affordable housing units, a reduction in parking requirements, setbacks, FAR and site area requirements. In NUNA, Guadalupe Street was the only major transportation corridor (determined by bus routes).

The NUNA Planning Team, which is separate from the officially recognized planning team for our area, CANPAC, carefully reviewed the maps and properties foisted on us by the City for VMU consideration. Then, the CANPAC Planning Team held many subcommittee meetings and submitted a completed application for the whole planning area to the City by the mandatory, designated deadline in June 2007.

Fortunately, NUNA has an NCCD (Neighborhood Conservation Combining District) which is a zoning ordinance that has more flexible tools for redevelopment and is more compatible to this older (unofficially historic) area of town. The other benefit of the NCCD, in the particular case concerning VMU, is that the zoning tools in an NCCD (which are more detailed than an regular neighborhood plan) trump any VMU. NUNA’s NCCD will protect the careful planning we did during the neighborhood planning process in 2004. Nonetheless, we were required by the City to submit a VMU application.

The question arose within our planning area (CANPAC) and also with Hyde Park, our adjoining neighbor, which also has an NCCD, how does one determine fairly what might constitute VMU? The NUNA Planning Team along with the Heritage Neighborhood, our neighbor across Guadalupe, figured out that no property which abuts a residential use (single family or multifamily) would be considered from VMU. Also, NUNA decided that none of the bonuses such as a reduction in parking requirements, etc. would be granted to any property which we would designate for VMU. We were also advised by ANC and the City that we must opt in some properties in our application, otherwise we would be punished and forced to have properties considered for VMU. With that kind of threat looming over our planning team’s shoulder, we very carefully included some properties for VMU status in our application.

NUNA already had on the ground ( already built) some VMU projects. For example, the “controversial” Villas of Guadalupe have a commercial component- Blockbuster Video on the ground floor, and then have a residential component on the other floors. The Venue at 2815 Guadalupe has a similar makeup with commercial uses on the bottom floor and residential suites/condos above. The best part about the Venue is the underground parking arrangement which includes a parking spot per bed- more parking than the City requirement!

NUNA was requested by the City to file an application to opt in or out properties primarily along Guadalupe Street for VMU status which could also grant additional dimensional standards, reduction in parking requirements, and additional ground floor uses in office districts. NUNA opted in properties from 27th to the north side of 30th Street along the east side of Guadalupe since these properties for the most part were built as “VMU” – a commercial use on the ground floor and a residential component on the upper floors, but we did not opt for the additional bonuses such as reduction in parking requirements, etc. for any properties. Our application will be considered in a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission February 12 along with the other neighborhoods in CANPAC (Eastwoods, Hancock, Heritage, NUNA, Shoal Crest, Caswell Heights, and UAP-University Area Partners). There will be no staff recommendation for this application.

In accordance with Hyde Park, another NCCD, we decided that we would prefer to consider individual, commercial project proposals on a case by case basis. In short, NUNA has given nothing away to the City in our application for VMU; we would like first to evaluate each project to see if it is compliant and compatible with our NCCD regulations.

Here’s the response I sent to the neighborhood list; which is currently stuck in moderation:

I see in the most recent newsletter a fair amount of sour grapes about VMU which may lead people to become misinformed. For instance:

“Also, NUNA decided that none of the bonuses such as a reduction in parking requirements, etc. would be granted to any property which we would designate for VMU.”

The entire point of VMU is to put density where the highest frequency transit service already exists, so that it might attract residents without cars; households with fewer cars than typical; shoppers who take the bus; etc.

“We were also advised by ANC and the City that we must opt in some properties in our application, otherwise we would be punished and forced to have properties considered for VMU. With that kind of threat looming over our planning team’s shoulder, we very carefully included some properties for VMU status in our application.”

The purpose of “opt-out” and “opt-in” is being misrepresented here as well. The operating assumption was that because you folks got McMansion, which will result in less density on the interior (fewer housing units, since it so severely penalizes duplexes and garage apartments), that you would support more density on the transit corridors. This wasn’t you being FORCED to accept this density – it was part of the bargain you accepted in return for lowering density on the interior, and now you (and Hyde Park) are trying to back out of your end of the deal.

There is no transit corridor in the city more heavily used than Guadalupe on the edge of our neighborhood. There is no place in the city better suited for VMU than this one. It’s irresponsible to continue to pretend that the city’s asking for something unreasonable here, since you got what you wanted on McMansion.

And, by the way, there was a guy here on this list telling you that the VMU application you were submitting was a big mistake quite some time ago. Ahem.

– MD

And my follow-up:

Argh. As is often the case, I see when reading my own post that I left out something important; I said that the point of opt-in and opt-out was either missed or misrepresented, but I never said what the point was supposed to be.
Opt-out was supposed to be for extraordinary circumstances that the neighborhood was aware of that the city might not be – not generalized “opt out everywhere because we think we’ve already done enough”. For one instance, a difficult alley access (like behind Chango’s) might be something that would justify an opt-out.
If you opt out more than a few properties, you’re doing it wrong.
Opt-in was supposed to be for additional properties outside the main corridor – NOT for “here’s the only places we’ll let you do VMU”. IE, my old neighborhood of OWANA might decide to opt-in for VMU on West Lynn at 12th, even though it’s not a major transit corridor (the bus only runs once an hour there).
If you think “opt-in” is for the few places you pick to allow VMU on the major transit corridor, you’re doing it wrong.
Regards,
MD

Dear libertarian ideologues: If you mainly see buses on the ends of their routes in the godforsaken burbs, stomach and they’re NOT empty, sildenafil Capital Metro would be doing something wrong. Morons.
The right place to measure ridership is along the whole route – but if you have to pick just one spot, order pick somewhere in the middle and you will invariably find a very different story than the typical suburban idiot narrative of “the buses are always empty”. Try standing-room-only, at least in the morning rush. (I took the 2-bus trip to my awful new office twice in a row in late March and on both mornings, I had to stand on the #5; I never wrote up the TFT because I was too busy, but maybe I ought to).
And, dear disabled friends, media coverage of our very low FRR ratio thanks in large part to your gold-plated taxi-limo service is eventually going to kill the rest of the system – which will also kill your golden goose. Think long and hard about what you do next.
Also, dear bus-riding friends, if you keep opposing modest, long-overdue fare increases, sooner or later the majority of voters (who, sad to say, don’t ride the bus) will cut the sales tax support, one way or another. You may think people like you are the majority – but there’s 5 people who drive and never take the bus, not even once a year, for every one of you. Seriously.

I swear there’s no conspiracy regarding the lateness of this posting – my gracious host happened to perform an apache upgrade which messed with Movable Type. Here’s what I wrote this morning, prostate Made With Notepad!

At 4:30 PM yesterday, medstore I left my thumb +austin,+tx&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=30.268266,59.0625&ie=UTF8&ll=30.276284,-97.817674&spn=0.008042,0.01442&z=16&iwloc=addr&om=1″>lovely suburban office and walked through lovely suburban Westlake to the awful bus stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle. After broiling in the hot sun for a few minutes, I decided to walk up to the next stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle; where there was also no shade. This did not bode well; but things got better.

The bus arrived on time (5:08ish) and was thankfully very well air conditioned. I read a book until I was dropped off quite a long walk from Texas Center (I should have taken the earlier stop). Went inside; saw Jonathan Horak and Kedron Touvell; introduced myself to both (how creepy is it that I knew what they looked like even though we’d never met; but they didn’t recognize me? Pretty creepy, I think). Just on time.

Will Wynn gave a speech which emphasized how much he wants rail downtown. He got in the weeds a bit, first talking about how we were growing faster than everybody else in the world, then talking about how this decade’s growth is actually slower than all previous decades back to the 1880s (huh?), but then eventually came back on track and handed the reins over to Brewster McCracken.
McCracken introduced ROMA; ROMA gave a nice presentation which I’ll summarize in bullet points below. No surprises, really, if you read Ben Wear or the print article beforehand. My quick comments in italics. I will go into more depth on many of these in the upcoming several weeks.

  • Terminology: The system is going to be called “ultra-light rail”. ROMA mentions that streetcars usually run in shared lanes (where I got the sinking feeling ROMA believes a bit much in the magic fairy dust theory of streetcars).
  • Technology: As mentioned, most likely streetcar vehicles. Possibility of more of a standard light rail vehicle if a decision point goes a certain way (see: Routes: doubling-back-to-the-east).
  • Runningway: Usually the center of the street; almost always dedicated lanes. This is a big win over Capital Metro’s previous plans, and everybody who cares about rail transit should be grateful that McCracken and Wynn understand how critical this is to success.
  • Routes: Defined as three or four subroutes even though the service may not operate that way. They didn’t actually say “downtown to” on all of these; some were Seaholm or something else; but realistically they’d all converge on Congress.
    1. Downtown to airport: Using Congress, East Riverside; reserved guideway (dedicated lanes, center of road). Alternative presented is a very unlikely extension of commuter rail to the airport. I’m very pleased we didn’t try to run on the right side of Riverside. Big win here for business travellers to the airport, and we can pull in a lot of residential out there to hopefully fill trains.
    2. Downtown to Mueller: using Congress (possibility of San Jac or Brazos as fallback), 9th/10th/11th transition to San Jacinto, north to/through UT, Dean Keeton/Manor out to Mueller. Slight possibility of still going out there via MLK. It’s not Guadalupe, and we probably won’t get reserved guideway through UT without a lot of arm-twisting, but I think Guadalupe’s a lost cause for right now. With this technology and route, though, we can eventually get there; whereas commuter rail is a complete dead end. The Manor vs. MLK issue is, I feel, largely settled for Manor unless UT makes going through campus prohibitively difficult – the only pro to MLK is the commuter rail TOD, which I obviously don’t believe in anyways; and cons are many – have to deal with TXDOT; don’t get even the half-assed acccess to UT that San Jac provides; etc.
    3. Downtown to Long Center and Zilker area: less likely at first, using West Riverside past Lamar, cutting over to Toomey after that. Alternative using Barton Springs would get you all the way to Zilker but no reserved lanes. I think these are unlikely to make it for the first cut anyways but it would be nice to be able to tell tourists they could take the train to Barton Springs Pool, wouldn’t it?
  • Financing – ROMA didn’t talk about this but McCracken did – combination of TIFs and some other mechanisms (including requiring that some portion of Cap Metro’s budget be under the control of the city or CAMPO for capital spending, which I heartily endorse
  • Future – wide arrows going north and south. Again, this system can be expanded – although it’ll never become anything as good as 2000’s LRT line; it at least can grow into something better – whereas commuter rail is a dead end.
  • Bone-throwing – Elgin commuter rail spur thrown in to try to get some suburban votes (even though we really ought to be doing better for the urban folks who provide most of Capital Metro’s funds and essentially all of their support; we apparently still need to pander to the burbs – disappointing).

That’s all for right now. Expect expanded analysis of all of the above coming soon. But here’s the kicker:

You MUST support this plan if you ever want any urban rail in Austin. Unlike how 2004’s commuter rail election was incorrectly framed, this truly is our last best chance for rail so although I obviously would prefer rail running up Guadalupe, I’m going to be supporting this plan whole-heartedly and urge every reader of this post to do the same.

Humorous snippets: I introduced myself to Ben Wear, and even though he wrote an article with my name in it a year or two ago, and I’ve emailed back/forth with him 5 or 6 times, I don’t think he had any idea who the hell I was. Also, Jeff Jack (future Worst Person In Austin nominee? told me I should cut out the blogging until I know what I’m talking about.

TFT: Suburban wasteland

Councilmember McCracken wrote back to my email referenced in the last post and said some things which made me more optimistic again, help more about which I will cover in my next crackplog, overweight but probably not until Monday. In the meantime, read here’s something I wrote up today on the #27 bus (transit field trip time!)
Short one today – my company was having a rare physical meeting at Ventana del Soul, a non-profit with some meeting rooms. (Well, actually, only three of the five locals, and one non-local; most of the company is still in Virginia). Took the #7 down in order to leave the car with my wife. Google Transit trip indicates 35 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by car in traffic (highly optimistic; more like 30).
I waited about ten minutes for the #7 at or about 8:30 AM; just missed one apparently. When my bus arrived, every seat was full, and there were 10-15 people standing. We picked up one more person before entering the UT area, in which the bus rapidly disgorged – I was able to get a seat when we crossed Dean Keaton, and by the time we hit MLK, nobody was standing and about half the seats were full. Continued on through downtown, people getting on and off (more on than off), and then as the #27 down Riverside through near-in southeast Austin. A few more people got on, but the bus was never completely full; when I disembarked at my stop, there were about 15-20 riders remaining.
So, summary, from 37th to UT, every seat full; 10-15 straphangers. Dropped off about 2/3 of those people at UT, but more got on downtown, and through Riverside about 3/4 of seats were full.
On the way home, I waited about three minutes for the #27 at Burton and Riverside while I was talking with a billing rep at a medical office. The bus actually came while I was still on the phone – and I accidentally tried to board with a soda (oops). Almost every seat was full – I estimate 20 to 25 passengers; but several got off at the next stop and I was able to move to the back next to the window. Picked up a lot more people along East Riverside. Summary: From my stop on Oltorf to downtown, average 3/4 to all seats full; dropped off about half downtown; then about half full to my stop at 33rd.
Hard to believe, but this bus was actually more full than most of my rides on the #3 back when I reverse-commuted in the mornings once or twice a week to Netbotz.

Not sure if it’s a typo, epidemic but Robin Cravey, help who I could support with reservations (given Zilker activities), misbirth and Laura Morrison, who I absolutely could not, given her destruction of the political capital of OWANA that the previous leadership worked so hard to build, and of course, years of ANC shenanigans culminating in the McMansion and VMU opt-out spasm, have apparently both just announced for Place 4, and are both using Threadgills for their petition kickoffs, albeit on adjoining days.
Please, every reader of this blog, if it turns out they’re running against each other, remember: we can’t afford to have a neighborhood-pandering obstructionist sitting at the Council.
I don’t have a site for Morrison’s campaign (email didn’t have a link), but oddly enough, the current ANC president (Danette Chimenti, who like Morrison is a McMansion activist with a big honkin’ expensive house) used these words to endorse her:

Laura did so much for ANC in her two years as President; by reaching out to neighborhoods and leaders all over Austin, and providing unifying, informed leadership she is responsible for ANC achieving the high level of respectability and credibility it has today.

which is amazing, given the ANC’s recent record of striking out on essentially everything except McMansion and CWS. The current city council, at least, clearly has far less respect for the ANC than they did even a couple of years ago. I don’t know if Chimenti actually expects us to believe this, but it’s laughable.

I’m now upgrading my position to cautious pessimism (from complete horror) after a nice exchange of email with Councilmember McCracken. As I said in my initial post a week or two ago, what is ed the early media coverage made it sound like the project would just be an extension of Capital Metro’s awful circulator route (which avoids most places people want to go, information pills and services, urticaria albeit poorly, commuter rail passengers to the exclusion of the central Austinites for whom it was originally promised).
McCracken wrote back late last week, saying he had missed the email originally. Since my email only talked about reserved guideway, that’s all he addressed at first – and he indicated he’d be pushing strongly for reserved guideway whereever possible, agreeing with my opinion that Capital Metro is underplaying the liabilities of running in shared lanes. So far so good. I wrote him back asking about my route questions raised by my second run through the media coverage, and he also indicated he favors a Guadalupe route up to the Triangle, pointing out that the #1/#101 are the most ridden buses we’ve got, proving a strong demand for transit in the corridor even today, even with bad bus service as the only option.
Sounds good, right? Well, to be realistic, it was going to be hard to get reserved guideway on Guadalupe past UT even with true light rail and with the Feds paying half to 80% of the bill. If we’re funding most to all of this system ourselves, as I suspect we are, I think it will be difficult to get an exclusive lane near UT, which, unfortunately, is the place where it would be most needed. Also, the talk about running in reserved guideway alongside Riverside seems unworkable – I paid close attention during Friday’s transit field trip, and didn’t see enough space to get this done, unless there’s something else I’m missing, like narrowing existing lanes.
So, mark me as guardedly pessimistic. I’ll be rooting that McCracken can pull this off – I have not heard similarly educated stuff from any other council member, so he’s the only hope here. I think Wynn believes in the streetcar fairy dust (the idea that streetcar running in shared lane will attract a lot more daily commuters than bus). Keep your eye on the ball.

As reported at the Chronicle’s blog:

The argument made by Responsible Growth For Northcross (RG4N) this morning is that the city’s approval of Lincoln Property’s site plan violated the note, generic which mandates that “Rainfall runoff shall be held to the amount existing at undeveloped status by use of ponding or other approved methods.” The city – with testimony from city engineers Benny Ho and Jose Guerrero – countered that “undeveloped status” means status at the time the application is filed, not a reversion to the status of when the property was a green pasture. Attorney Casey Dobson, representing the city, said “To use a legal term, that [would be] silly.” Guerrero further testified that the law only requires that a project not make flooding worse, and that Lincoln’s site plan will actually reduce impervious cover and presumable send less floodwater off-site.

In other words, the Wal-Mart plan is demonstrably better for drainage than current conditions but RG4N claims code should be interpreted as if a project must (not just can, but MUST) be rejected by city staff if it adds more runoff than the completely undeveloped state would have. Also keep in mind that the RG4N ‘vision’ would also be an improvement over current conditions, but most definitely not over the undeveloped prairie that was there seventy years ago.
If you ever needed proof that RG4N’s legal strategy was the old “throw excrement on the wall and see what sticks” method, here it is. And if there were any justice in the world, the judge would call RG4N forward and issue this speech.
As my cow orker DSK pointed out a moment ago, though, it would almost be worth yielding on this point if the judge put similar conditions on the homeowners of Allandale and Crestview.

Michael King writes that we should support RG4N even though their case is utterly without merit as even their news staff is beginning to discover, ampoule months too late. Here’s a comment I just placed there:

Michael, this is ridiculous. Zoning means something – in this case, it means that Lincoln bought the property knowing what they should be allowed to develop (and what they should not be allowed to develop). If they were up there asking for variances or even a change in zoning, RG4N and the rest of you guys would have a point, but they’re not, and you don’t.
When it comes to cases where developers seek upzoning, many of these same people are very quick to tell you that the prospective developer should have known what they were getting when they bought the tract. Interesting how this doesn’t apply here. Also interesting how none of the RG4N homeowners are volunteering to let Lincoln have veto power over their own development projects within current zoning. Democracy for me, not thee.
As for the comparison to the Triangle – the bulk of RG4N’s supporters are using the group as ‘useful idiots’ here – they have shown through their actions on other projects (including very recently) that they have no interest at all in dense urban development – they want to preserve low-density stuff they already have.
A critical eye once in a while, even at your fellow travellers, would seem to me to be a basic responsibility for a journalist.

One point I should have added but forgot: this lawsuit, in which the city has to defend its legal responsibility to approve site plans that comply with city code, is costing Austin taxpayers a half-million or so at last count. Still think RG4N is so noble?
A second point I just remembered: the Triangle development was such a big fight because the state (leasing the land to the developer) is exempt from Austin zoning codes.

As DSK notes, implant this isn’t incredibly clear on first reading, so here’s a new lead-in:
I forgot to crackplog about this when it happened: a “remodel” of a property with a duplex on it on 34th was the subject of a lawsuit filed by some of the leadership of my neighborhood association which went down in flames, since the property owner clearly satisfied the legal requirements in the zoning code (although those requirements were indeed very vague and very generous). News 8 has given the complaining neighbor some pity press (was in first link but not obvious), and I was reminded to talk about it. Here we go!
This new kind of awful seems to be cropping up a lot lately – the tendency for people who ought to know better to insist that the legal system is broken if it doesn’t give them outcomes they like – in other words, since we care enough to shine our rainbows on the problem (Julian Sanchez), that ought to be enough to solve it. But the legal system doesn’t operate in the world of democracy; it operates in the world where the law means something, and in this case, my idiot neighbors wasted a bunch of money on a lawsuit that was clearly doomed to failure.

In other words, even though I, personally, think that these new duplexes are actually a lot nicer for the neighborhood than the old ones (described by a more moderate person than I as “red shacks from Somalia”), and that my neighbors are just plain bad people for wanting to keep out slightly-more-affordable housing than the single-family-classic-mansions that infest that side of Speedway (34th being the dividing line on that side between historically rich mansion stuff and more modest development), it’s irrelevant: in this case, the law is clear, and what’s more, was clear before they bothered to file the suit. If some neighbor was building a garage apartment on a 6000 square foot lot, an action which is consistent with my preferences but against the city code since our neighborhood plan prohibits it, I’d likewise think anybody who filed a suit to do it was stupid. Still left undetermined is how much of this frivolous lawsuit’s cost my neighborhood association will ultimately bear – since the leadership is overwhelmingly from that side of Speedway and on the wrong side of so many other development issues, I expect them to eventually donate some funds. Ha ha, DSK, I never joined, so it won’t be my money, at least!
Are you listening, Chronicle?

“CAMPO wresting rail planning from Capital Metro” is the headline. Sounds good to me – Wynn and Watson in charge means smarter rail than Capital Metro’s stupid useless stuck-in-traffic streetcar plan. Right?
But who else is going to be in charge here? Let’s see:

The 14-member group will be led by Austin Mayor Will Wynn and will include among others McCracken, more about Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson (who had a whole lot to do with creating the group after Wynn called for something similar last month), global burden of disease Williamson County state Rep. Mike Krusee, Travis County Commissioner and Capital Metro critic emeritus Gerald Daugherty, and representatives of the University of Texas and road and rail advocacy groups.

Yes, that’s the same Mike Krusee that got us into this mess in the first place – the asshat who screwed Austin out of a good starter rail line like Houston and Dallas and everybody else built. That Mike Krusee. The guy who derailed efforts to build good rail for Austin so his constituents (most of whom don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes) could get more transit investments than the residents of central Austin who pay most of the bills.
Shit. We’re screwed.
Note that even if Krusee wasn’t involved, the implementation of commuter rail has now precluded anything like 2000’s light rail line from being built and that’s about the only light rail line worth trying around here. In other words, the damage has already been done – we can’t recover the 2000 route now. But still – having him (and even Daugherty) involved is the death knell for even a mediocre effort at urban transit – as neither one is likely to support investing enough money in reserved guideway transit in the city core. To them, every dollar spent on the dirty hippies in Central Austin is a wasted dollar that should instead be spent ferrying some SUV-driving soccer mom from one strip mall to another.
If Krusee had just kept his mouth shut in 2000, we’d have had a light rail election in May of 2001, and it likely would have passed. By now, you’d be seeing trains running in their own lane down Guadalupe right in front of UT, and down Congress Avenue right in front of all those big office buildings. Instead, we’re seeing test runs of a useless commuter line running out by Airport Boulevard that nobody will actually ride. That’s what he got us last time. Imagine what he can do for an encore!

This story is kind of sad, this site but also a bit of an I-told-you-so moment. I’ve expressed in other forums (comments, mostly) that local businesses around here have sadly not been prepared to adapt to a more urban environment – ref among others the locally-owned businesses around Northcross in pedestrian-hostile parking-loving strip centers protesting against a slightly-more-urban and slightly-less-hostile-to-pedestrians Northcross redesign, and don’t forget Karen McGraw’s shenanigans in Hyde Park. And now, from 2nd street:

Speaking confidentially, other tenants are concerned that there’s no interest in keeping them in business and that the lack of parking in the area makes life as a retailer virtually impossible.

(Of course, an anonymous commenter has already said that they think shopowners/employees were hogging the few curbside spaces that existed – hard to verify, but wouldn’t surprise me). The idea that you can’t have retail without free nearby parking is a suburban mindset – which is the most clear indication that these people weren’t prepared for urban retail.

Here’s a clue: Don’t move downtown if you can’t figure out a way to attract customers who arrive by any means other than the private automobile parked right in front of your store. Sadly, there are a lot of national retailers who DO know how to do this – and we’re probably better off with a pedestrian-oriented national business than a local business that doesn’t know how to play in an urban center. That’s going to result in a lot of backlash from the paleoliberals, and I won’t be thrilled either, but I don’t see any other way forward.

This might get worse before it gets better – transit ACCESS downtown is good, but competitiveness is poor, unless you have to pay to park. People who have free parking at their offices in the suburbs aren’t going to enjoy paying to park to shop – so again, these businesses need to not rely on that type of customer to survive, but the other type of customer – the local (urban) resident – may not exist in large enough numbers (yet) to make up for a retailer that doesn’t have a lot of experience marketing to those urbanites.

A fairly good article this time about Krusee seeing the light on new urbanism and stepping down. I’m honestly not sure how much I believe, viagra 100mg which is a huge step up for me on this guy, cheap actually. Here’s some interesting quotes:

“It’s an article of faith for Democrats that the sales tax is regressive. The gas tax is much, food much more regressive. The gas tax is, literally, a transfer of wealth from the poor to the middle class – to the upper-middle class.”
That’s not some blogging transit activist or Green Partier speaking on the inequitable burdens of highway costs. It’s District 52 state Rep. Mike Krusee, who’s currently best known – for better and worse – as the legislative face of Texas toll roads.

Gosh, I wonder if anybody else has been talking about that for years now. Couldn’t be, huh? I presume the “transit blogger” might be me, given that every other blogger in the universe has swallowed Costello’s tripe “TOLLS BAD. HURRRR.”
As for the rail issue:

There are those who say his successful advocacy of suburban commuter rail instead of the light-rail lines initially proposed clumsily destroyed the possibility of effective Downtown mass transit for another decade – and that instead, we’ll be trying to retrofit a system conceived for the very suburban sprawl it’s supposed to replace. But as Mike Clark-Madison wrote here, about a year after Krusee was having his New Urbanism epiphany, “It’s also pretty obvious that the only way Austin will ever have rail transit is if we start with a commuter system serving western suburbanites” (“Austin @ Large,” April 9, 2004).

It’s too late, Mike. The first quote is right – we’re screwed; but Michael King is as wrong now as Mike Clark-Madison was then; there is literally no way to start with this commuter rail line and end up with a system which both suburbanites and urbanites can ride and get some benefit from. Even a transfer from “good rail” to “good rail” (both running in their own right-of-way) is enough to turn off essentially all suburban commuters not currently taking the bus, unless we reach Manhattan levels of density and parking costs (which we never will). And that presumes that we’re somehow able to surpass tremendous obstacles and get a light rail stub built down Lamar and Guadalupe, which I doubt very much that we can (now that we wasted all our money on “urban” commuter rail that serves the suburbs poorly and the urban area not at all).
My comments posted there (some repetition of the above):

I can’t believe Krusee gets it about inner-city drivers. That makes precisely ONE politician that does.
Of course, that doesn’t make the gas tax regressive by itself – it’s the fact that we pay for so many of our roads (even parts of our state highways) with even more regressive taxes (property and sales) which do the trick.
As for the rail thing – Krusee has destroyed it here, forever. You can’t start with commuter rail and end up with something good – suburban passengers won’t transfer from one train to another train (even if by some miracle we GOT a second train running down Guadalupe in its own lane) to get to work until we’re reaching Manhattan levels of density. He doomed us to the point where we have to abandon transit to the suburbs, even though we spent all of our money building it. Good show.

One of the many pieces of excrement flung against the wall by RG4N in the desperate hope something would stick was an ITE Journal article in which the author asserted a disproportionate (to square footage) traffic impact for “free-standing discount superstores” over 200, look 000 square feet. The conclusion, dentist in other words, seek was that 199,999 square feet stores should have a trip generation figure of X per square foot; while 200,000 square foot stores should have a trip generation figure of Y, where Y is much larger than X.
This is counter-intuitive to say the least. One could argue that the increased size results in more trips overall – which would be the result of continuing to apply X trips per square feet (X times 200,000 is obviously more than X times 100,000). One could even argue that the increased size results in fewer trips than the same number of square feet in _two_ stores (“one-stop shopping”). But the theory that a bigger store results in, and I emphasize units here, more trips per square foot has always seemed ludicrous to me.
Anyways, as it turns out, Wal-Mart went with a slightly smaller store – which the army of anonymous RG4N trolls have used for quite a while as conspiracy fodder – claiming that they snuck it in under the threshold to avoid these supposedly more valid rules (which, again, as far as I can tell, the ITE still hasn’t seriously considered adopting).
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in my skepticism. In addition to several disagreements about methodology, the respondent (another traffic engineer) points out that the study was too small to be statistically rigorous; the stores were too different to draw any firm conclusions; and that the author’s supposed intuitive conclusion isn’t. Some excerpts follow, since I’m not sure how long this article stays up for free. I’ll leave out the most esoteric stuff.

DEAR EDITOR:
As a transportation consultant who is involved in both the performance and the review of traffic studies, my colleagues and I at McMahon Associates, Inc. are extremely concerned that the August 2006ITE Journal article entitled “Trip Generation Characteristics of FreeStanding Discount Superstores” lacks the rigorous scientific analysis and thoroughness that we have come to expect in ITE Journal articles.
As such, although ITE Journal states: “Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not reflect official ITE or magazine policy unless so stated,” the article may be utilized by transportation professionals and others as “gospel” even though its analysis is flawed, in our opinion, in many respects.

2. Additionally, the square footage of a gas station is not a good choice for independent variable, as compared to the number of fueling positions, when determining its estimated trip generation; i.e., a 225-square-foot building could serve four fueling positions or 14 fueling positions.

5. We also question whether the author confirmed, in her comparison to the ITE Land Use Code 813 rates, that the latter (ITE) square footage baselines are the same as she assumed, especially with regard to the garden center, which typically has significant (15,000 to 20,000 square feet) square footage. While we agree that the rates should be applied to “total” square footage, inclusive of a garden center, it is our understanding that the ITE samples were largely (or totally) based on building foundation square footage, not inclusive of outside garden centers. Our observations about baselines and “with and without gas pumps” are intended to reinforce our opinion that the author’s analysis appears to be an “apples to oranges” comparison rather than “apples to apples.”

7. There is also a fairly large discrepancy between the number of vehicle trips collected between different days at some of the supercenter locations. Site 3 shows an increase of almost 17 percent in site traffic between the day 1 and day 2 counts. The increases in site traffic between the day 1 and day 2 counts at site 1 and site 5 are both about 10 percent. The fluctuation in these counts suggests that there could be flaws in the data or that other factors may have been involved in the traffic generation of the site on one or both days of the counts. These discrepancies may reflect seasonal variations, as the article indicates that the first weekday count was taken in July while the second count was taken in October.


and here’s the one that I think is the most important to laypeople:

9. We also take issue with the author’s statement that “free-standing discount superstores intuitively should have a higher trip generation rate than free-standing discount stores, which by definition do not contain a full-service grocery store but have most of the other amenities of the superstore.” Are not shopping centers evidence that larger stores, with presumably more services or products in one location, result in documented lower trip rates, because customers shop longer and their shopping needs can be accommodated in fewer trips due to greater availability of goods and services? In fact, the author’s argument is shown not to be the case in Table 1 of the article, where the author’s own comparisons show that, as retail store sizes become larger and more services/products are offered, trip generation rates decrease. We also note that the number of samples for ITE free-standing discount store (47) and ITE shopping center (407) is large enough so as to make these land uses’ rates statistically more reliable than ITE’s rates for free-standing discount superstore (10 samples) or the author’s study (five samples).

In conclusion, while the author’s study and article adds to the body of knowledge on trip generation characteristics of superstores in excess of 200,000 square feet, its data and analysis of that data, we submit, are not rigorous or conclusive enough to support the article’s recommendation that the rates derived from the author’s analysis should be used as the future norm for 200,000 square-feet-plus superstores. Until such time that more samples are collected (we would recommend at least 20); preferably from various locations in the country, as she also recommends, to test geographic differences, if any; and are computed on common baselines first (separately, without, or with gas pumps) before combined (i.e., if not statistically different), we suggest that the jury is still out on the validity of this article’s rates, conclusions and future use.

Macy’s in Manhattan

Macy’s also has flagship (very large) stores in San Francisco and Chicago – and their Chicago store is pursuing adding a grocery store in the basement.
Harrod’s in London

Wal-Mart doesn’t have their cachet, hospital it’s true, for sale but Allandale also doesn’t have the cachet of central Austin. Nevertheless, diagnosis the contention that big boxes belong out on the highway (which, in Texas, inevitably means on the frontage road where pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users mostly can’t get to them), is absolutely false – the normal pattern, before suburban sprawl took over, was that the biggest stores were downtown, not out in the boonies.
As for the inevitable claims of “bbbbbut if it was in YOUR neighborhood, you’d feel differently”, there was an Urban Target slated for 6th and Lamar (much closer to true central Austin – not just center of population) when I lived in Clarksville and I was thrilled to death at the prospect. Don’t remember square footage, but it was supposed to be 2 floors with some kind of neat cart escalator and whatnot.

Now that RG4N has struck out, pulmonologist it’s time to assess the damage. RG4N is interpreting the judge’s decision not to comment on three of their four complaints as evidence that they were valid which is spectacularly delusional. Good show, visit folks. Thanks to the Chronicle for, even now, supporting RG4N’s desperate attempt to spin this as something other than a complete truth-slap. Hint: it’s not “curious” she didn’t address the “other claims”; it was predicted by a real lawyer quite some time ago.
I’m going to cover this in two or more parts; today’s is just a conservative estimate of the direct and immediate costs and what we might have otherwise done with that time and money.
The city’s legal costs are oft-quoted at $424,000. This is at least the contract with Casey Dobson. I’m going to be extremely conservative and round up the city’s direct costs to $600,000, including other legal costs, the time and money spent responding repeatedly to RG4N’s complaints (and to city council members who were desperately trying to find an angle to work).
Other direct and short-term costs I could have considered, but didn’t:
Lost sales taxes: I’ll be completely conservative and assume that every single dollar of sales tax we don’t get from six months or so of delayed opening would have just been shifted from other Wal-Marts or other stores in the city. I don’t believe this to be the case; if it were that simple, Wal-Mart wouldn’t be so eager to build the store. More likely would be a shifting of the natural coverage area of each store – with stores on the edge of Austin becoming less crowded and hence more attractive to shoppers further out, but this is hypothetical and impossible to measure. Easier to believe but still harder to measure would be the lost tax revenue from other businesses in the center which don’t have easily subsitutable competition – for instance, a delay in the move of the ice rink.
Lost property taxes – despite what you hear from RG4N trolls on the Chronicle’s blog, there is a property tax impact to this development – the land value may increase, or it may not, but I guarantee the structure value will increase dramatically – and the city gets to tax that building value (as does the school district, county, etc.). Impossible to estimate now precisely what that will be, but common sense would tell you that it will be substantial enough to consider as a major benefit of the redevelopment given that the structure value of the existing ghost-mall is measured at just south of 16 million.
Lost bus fares: I’m 1000% positive that the opening of this store will result in a major bump in ridership to and through the Northcross transfer center, which gives Capital Metro more fare revenue with zero extra cost (since they probably wouldn’t increase service until the buses were overflowing, given their past history). But again, hypothetical and impossible to estimate.
So let’s leave the direct and short-term cost at a mere $600,000 (the cost to the taxpayers; RG4N and the careening-towards-bankruptcy Allandale Neighborhood Association have their own set of costs, of course).
What could we have done with that money? Well, me, I’m a transportation guy. So I’ll give you two simple transportation options, and another one dear to my heart. Y’all are welcome to chime in as well.
12,000 linear feet of sidewalk at $50/linear foot. (Estimate obtained from a wide range of sources on the web; corrections welcome). That’s two and a quarter miles of sidewalk, folks, enough to cover a big chunk of the sidewalk gap in the densest parts of Central Austin (where the pedestrians actually are).
Restriping Shoal Creek Boulevard into the safe, sane design that every other city would have done – and in fact, recommended to us. Just read those archives. And the same people who cost us the $600K this time are the ones who cost us the million on SCB in the first place, don’t forget. Parking on both sides instead of just one was just that much more important than cyclist safety.
Operate a branch library for a year. Every time we go through a hiccup in the budget, we have to close libraries or delay their opening. I can’t get a breakdown precisely from the city budget after ten minutes of scrutiny, but I’m betting one of the branches could run for a year on that much money (operating expenses).
So there’s three. Anybody else have any suggestions? Of course, none of these were as important as catering to the tantrum of a bunch of people who just really really really REALLY don’t like Wal-Mart, and want us to engage the Care Bear Stare against the legal system.
Next up: the indirect and long-term costs (such as foregone opportunities to improve the site plan with the supercenter intact).

Another casualty of Responsible Growth For Northcross’ year-long tantrum has been the truth. Yes, erectile you heard me. People all over the city now believe varying combinations of the following absolutely incorrect, but truthy, narratives.

  1. “Anderson Lane is some kind of pedestrian utopia which Wal-Mart will make worse”. This just came up yesterday, which is why it’s at the top of my list. BAD FORM, TERRA TOYS. You know damn well that your location on South Congress was ped-friendly, but your strip mall on Anderson Lane? Even a standard-model suburban Wal-Mart would be no worse for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users than the awful strip malls lining both sides of Burnet Road and Anderson Lane.
  2. “Northcross Mall is in the middle of a neighborhood!” – talk about defining down to irrelevance. Notice from the map at the link that neighborhoods are actually buffered from Northcross by those aforementioned awful strip malls in most directions. The Wal-Mart in my hometown (Boca Raton, FL) directly abuts single-family homes, for comparison’s sake. Which leads us into:
  3. “Big boxes belong on frontage roads!” This one had some legs – even our city council fell for it. Sadly, xenophobia in Texas prevents people from seeing how ridiculous this is – in other states, frontage roads don’t exist, but it’s also not true to then fall back to “well, they must be right next to the highway exits, then”. I spent an hour of my life I’ll never get back proving otherwise to some willfully deluded souls in Allandale, but again, refer to the two Wal-Marts closest to Boca Raton – neither one of which is remotely near a highway off-ramp (Delray Beach example); and the one in State College, PA; on a road very very similar to Burnet Road (four lane with center-turn lane; quite far from off-ramp of the real highway). And they SHOULDN’T be on frontage roads, either – you’re dooming their workers and customers to perpetual car-dependence if you put them out there where they don’t belong.
  4. “All we were doing was trying to get a public process, man!” (read with Tommy Chong voice for extra effect). The whole point of the zoning code is to establish a set of permissible actions which don’t have to go through the public process – and don’t forget the cry of this same bunch whenever a developer requests upzoning or a variance: “you knew what the zoning was when you bought the property”. Well, Lincoln knew what the zoning was when they bought the property, and it unquestionably allowed for exactly this kind of development. Nobody in these neighborhoods cared to do anything about it for years and years when Wal-Mart wasn’t the prospective tenant, of course. Which leads us to:
  5. “We just wanted urban VMU development!” – if you bought this, you’re dumber than a bag full of hammers. The motivating force behind RG4N was primarily the anti-density brigade – the people who opposed VMU everywhere else in Allandale when asked nicely; the people who fought apartments for years and years and years; the people who pushed McMansion so hard. So now we’re to believe that, just coincidentally, they changed their stripes and are now urbanists precisely at the time Wal-Mart came knocking? If so, they’d know that new urbanists would welcome big boxes – as long as they’re built pedestrian-friendly – no matter HOW big. Like Harrod’s in London or Macy’s in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Granted, Wal-Mart doesn’t have their cachet, but neither does Allandale.
  6. The city council wanted Wal-Mart all along. Uh, NO. City council members were trying desperately to find an angle to give you (RG4N) what you wanted – and ran straight into the brick wall of fact: the development had to be allowed, period.

That’s an incomplete list. Suggestions welcome, and I’ll update in later postings.
Your pal,
M1EK

Whenever I hear this guy talk about how bad the Domain is, patient I wonder which ones of the strip centers filled with locally-owned businesses he owns. Because I haven’t seen one strip mall with local businesses in it that isn’t a pedestrian-hostile disaster.
Sign me up for MORE DOMAIN SUBSIDIES if it means that we encourage pedestrian use, disease even if it’s only inside the project. Too many of these awful strip malls inhabited by the local businesses who are fighting this fight are like the ones on Anderson Lane where even a confirmed car-hater like me is tempted to start the car and move it farther down the road rather than walk a quarter-mile. It’s just that awful.
When locally owned businesses do things that hurt us, healing they don’t deserve a pass. When Terra Toys reacts to higher rent by leaving a good urban environment and moving somewhere where nobody will walk to, and very few will walk around in, why on earth am I supposed to support them against Wal-Mart or the Domain, when those guys are at least trying to make things a little better?
Also, for extra credit, remember City Comforts’ primary rule of urbanism: it starts with the location of the parking lot.

versus

Any questions?

Very quick hit today; not even any links, pilule although I may fill them in later if I get a minute.
My family took the #5 down to Town Lake yesterday for the First Night festivities (the parade was outstanding – best one I’ve ever seen). One simple thing we experienced shows why streetcars in shared lanes are completely useless.
We’re travelling southbound in the right lane of Congress (where shared-lane low-budget streetcar would inevitably operate as well). Oops, a car has stopped and is unloading a bunch of stuff with their flashers on. The bus driver quickly changes to the center lane to get around them and then moves back right.
A block later, somebody starts to pull out of one of the angle-parking spaces and stops. I was never able to figure out why – they may have been spooked by traffic. Again, the bus driver changes lanes and moves around the obstruction.
Anybody see the problem with shared-lane streetcar yet?
You get enough little blockages like that and the performance and reliability of the streetcar gets so bad that even the mystical streetcar fairy dust that supposedly makes commuters forget how to read their watch won’t help.
True light rail, with reserved guideway (“running in its own lane”) is a slam-dunk win for Austin. But shared-lane streetcar is a complete waste of time that actually performs worse for passengers than does the city bus that most of them won’t even take today.
Unfortunately, I have my suspicions that the Wynn/McCracken rail plan will end up having to rely on mixed-traffic streetcar service for a good chunk of its proposed route (and that’s only one of the two impending problems; the other being that the route absolutely must go up Congress and then Guadalupe, rather than over the east side of UT and then out to Mueller as in the useless Capital Metro proposal). So, once again, we’re scrod by our pal Mike Krusee – because of his push in 2000 to destroy Capital Metro, and then his push in 2004 to force commuter rail instead of light rail, urban Austin will probably end up with no rail at all, or, at best, rail which is actually less useful than city buses.

Yesterday, generic I posted a quick hit about our bus ride down to First Night which noted several times where a bus was actually more useful than a streetcar would have been. It’s actually fairer to say “less awful”, tablets of course, since anybody who knows me knows I don’t find bus transit remotely acceptable on a corridor like this either – it needs true light rail like Austin voters approved in 2000.
Now, I see that things aren’t going so great in Seattle with their stuck-in-traffic streetcar either:

On Sunday, the southbound streetcar was out of service at Westlake Avenue and Lenora Street because a car was parked in the way.
“In spite of the fact we have clearly marked areas, and despite signs we have, for some reason a driver parked their car so it caused a problem for the streetcar,” Sheridan said.
He did not know how long the streetcar was out of service, but one witness said he saw the streetcar still stopped at 8:30 p.m.

Quick recommendation: My readers who are tempted to fall for the monorail siren song, neuropathologist as well as those who have been misled by neanderthal clap-trap about “choo-choo” trains being too old a technology should check out this excellent piece by Christof in Houston.
As I’ve commented in his forums, resuscitator though, also be aware that these solutions are often pushed disingenuously by people who really want nothing to get done, because they don’t want the status quo to be threatened. In other words, whenever you read about monorail and especially PRT, be aware that a lot of the guys pushing this are doing so not because they actually want or expect it to ever get built, but precisely because they know it WON’T ever get built so they can protect transit funds which can later be diverted for suburban highways instead.

This has come up frequently in the past in regards to the idiocy of claiming that major retail belongs out on the frontage road (where I have claimed in the past that it’s impossible to practically provide good transit service). Here’s a much better version than my previous one, clinic and as a bonus, melanoma MS Paint was still tangentially involved!

(For non-Texas readers who may have wandered in from Jeff’s excellent transit portal, stomach almost all limited-access highways in this state are built from pre-existing major arterial roadways – where property access is maintained via the construction of new “frontage roads” which unlike perimeter roads often used for that purpose in other states, also serve as on-and-off-ramps. The incredibly wide road footprint that results makes it far more expensive to build new or maintain existing crossings over or under the highway).

Both images from google transit; click through for full details. This is basically the “how do I get from the drop-off for the express bus at the park-and-ride on the west side of the road to the entrance to all the office parks on the east side of the road”. Note that the address for the park-and-ride you sometimes get (12400 Research) doesn’t match the actual location, which is on Pavilion Boulevard back towards Jollyville.

First, the transit directions, which look pretty good at first:


Then, the driving directions, which look like this:


Huh. Wait a minute. If I can just jump across the road, why do the driving directions have me go down a mile and back? Let’s look at the satellite image (click to embiggen):


(Get more current satellite view here)

Oh. Now I see. Note that the bus stop images you see on the other side of the road are for a poorly performing cross-town route which suffers from the same basic problem – if you need to leave an office on that side of the street and go southbound on 183 back home, you get to walk to the next crossing – which on a normal street wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but crossings of frontage roads are few and far between. Farther to the northwest, crossings are even less frequent – you face a walk of close to 3 miles in spots to make this trip across the freeway. Taking that cross-town route would be even worse than taking the express plus the incredibly long walk, because it would require a long slow trip down the frontage road and then a transfer to a second bus, and because the service on the frontage road is inevitably low-demand, it doesn’t run very often either.

Keep in mind that this is just to cross the freeway. If you work at the Riata office park, you then face another walk of a half-mile or so inside the complex. I used to do this commute on my bike, with bus boost in the morning at times and am very familiar with the area – ironically, proximity to the Pavilion transit center was supposedly touted as a positive for this development when it was originally proposed. I was always pretty sure Pavilion used to connect with what is now called Riata Trace Parkway when 183 was just a six-lane divided arterial but have never been able to find a clear enough old satellite image to confirm, but our Tennessee correspondent has already confirmed in comments that it did cross.

For reference, my last job before this one was also on US 183, but between Balcones Woods and Braker Lane, which was much more accessible by transit – and yes, I did sometimes take the bus even on days where I wasn’t biking. I tried the bus commute once to Riata and never did it again – that walk, in addition to being far too long even for a nice comfortable express bus, is just dreadful, even compared to conditions down by Braker.

And, yes, there’s a personal reason this is coming up now too. All I can say now is dammit, dammit.
Coverage by the Chronicle and Austinist, viagra approved but I’ll focus on two very narrow areas here where they are dead wrong. Note: I don’t have the time to spend all day Saturday at the Convention Center to tell these guys stuff they already know deep-down, symptoms thanks.
The long PDF is here. Here’s the two things I’m going to address (I agree with most, but not all, of the remainder of the thing, but nothing else is as remarkably wrong as these):
#1: Two-way streets are NOT better for pedestrians and cyclists. The only thing you have to do to throw out this ridiculous piece of conventional wisdom that we need to convert all our one-ways to two-ways is imagine being a driver who is sitting waiting to make a left turn from a 2-way 4-lane undivided roadway downtown into a driveway or cross street. Hey, there’s a little break in traffic!, you think, GUN IT!. How’s that going to work out for the pedestrian crossing on the flashing Walk signal? You know, the one you couldn’t see until a split second before you hit him, because your view was obstructed by the oncoming traffic before the gap?
With one-way streets, you always get one cycle where pedestrians have a fully protected (solid-white walk signal) crossing (bar left-turn-on-red; which requires enough motorist vigilance to be very safe for pedestrians anyways). Crossing one-way streets as a pedestrian is comparatively much safer and much saner and much more pleasant than crossing a similarly sized two-way street.
The primary reason this 2-way nonsense keeps coming up is because people compare a narrow 2-lane 2-way street like 2nd street to a wide 1-way street with 4 or 5 lanes; and, of course, because they’re completely car-centric to boot. The greatest pedestrian cities in the world have tons of one-way streets. Throw out this piece of ‘wisdom’ that 2-way is better; it’s just not true.
(I plan on eventually writing a backgrounder on this one – suffice to say for now that you need to know that the primary motivating force behind this stuff are urban-but-suburban-minded business owners who want you to see their shop no matter which direction you’re driving; not people who honestly want to build a downtown people like to walk around in).
#2: The streetcar line proposed by Capital Metro will provide more people-moving capacity downtown – ABSOLUTELY FALSE. Compare/contrast with light rail, which certainly would have; and McCracken/Wynn’s rail proposal, which COULD, but if and only if they get significant chunks of reserved guideway and don’t follow Cap Metro’s stupid up-the-rear-end-of-UT-and-out-Manor-Road route. The existing AND FUTURE density in central Austin is on Guadalupe, not on San Jacinto and Manor Road (neighborhood plans out there don’t allow for enough future density to make running them a streetcar remotely worth the cost; and Guadalupe already has significant enough density to justify it).
If the streetcar runs in shared traffic, as it will according to Capital Metro’s proposal, it will not be able to attract many more people than do the buses that currently run around downtown. This is important, because building new transit that doesn’t actually get USED more doesn’t actually help with the person-moving capacity of the corridor.
In addition, the streetcar line as proposed by Capital Metro will not be a significantly better way to distribute commuter rail passengers than will the buses that will do it on day one. Read my recent comments about streetcar versus bus for starters – Capital Metro’s proposal runs entirely in ‘shared lanes’, meaning that the streetcars will be even slower and even less reliable than the buses these commuters won’t set foot on today. So it’s not going to be the ‘dessert’ which makes more people want to eat the ‘meal’. Once again, no improvement in people-moving capacity.
These use cases basically show you what a passenger on the commuter rail line will face. Imagine that the last segment is on a streetcar, stuck in traffic behind their coworkers’ cars, instead of on a bus. Does it make much difference?
I have a strong suspicion that the people working on the downtown plan know all of this, by the way, but there is a political risk to being too much against Capital Metro’s transit plan and the 2-way-street conventional wisdom. Nonetheless, it would have been very helpful for some caveats to be included at a bare minimum, like they did with the commuter rail line itself (their quote below).

In its first phase, the Leander-to-
Austin Commuter Rail Line will terminate in the extreme east/southeast quadrant of Downtown,
at Brush Square. This peripheral location is not ideal, being about a 30-minute walk to the
Capitol Complex, 10 minutes to Sixth and Congress (2.5 MPH) and 15 minutes to City Hall (2.5
MPH). While transfers to waiting buses are planned from the MLK Rail Station to UT and to the
Capitol, as well as from Brush Square to Downtown destinations, it is unclear how desirable these
bus transfers will be to the transit user.

Note the skillful caveats here. This particular page is well-done – it addresses the problem, while still being optimistic enough to satisfy people who think we can actually get more things done through consensus rather than forceful advocacy of our needs.
The rule of thumb for transit users is roughly a 5-minute walk, by the way, in case you were still wondering why I keep talking about what a disaster this thing is going to be. Light rail would have run to within a 5-minute walk of essentially all the major employment destinations in central Austin.

From “Dataholic” on this story. I still owe you guys at least one more installment of “What RG4N cost the city” which will be focused on lost opportunities to do the site better, cure but in the meantime, patient please read this:

Two judges have ruled that the City followed its own laws when it came to approving the Lincoln site plan. When there are laws, all sides have to abide by them, including Lincoln, including the City, including the neighborhoods. If the City capitulated to RG4N’s demands, it would be breaking its own laws, thus opening itself to being sued by Lincoln (and losing since the laws were followed –per 2 judges). This would be even costlier for the City (all of us), and would achieve nothing (in terms of getting rid of Wal-Mart). Even RG4N founders stated, very early on, that no public process was required to build a supercenter on that site.
Regardless of what you think of Wal-Mart, regardless of how much more preferable a different (or no) development might be, Lincoln owns the property and Lincoln followed the law.
If the laws need changing, then change them — but RG4N demanding the City break its own laws is divisive, expensive, and only a ploy to further the political careers of its leaders at the expense of the neighborhoods.

I couldn’t put that any better myself. And, no, I don’t post under anybody other than “m1ek”. RG4N needs to man up and admit they lost this, big-time, and the Chronicle needs to stop carrying their water just because they happen to be highly connected. Enough is enough. You’re making a mockery of yourselves and you’re hurting the city.

As alluded to at the end of this crackplog, health my company just opened a physical office in a patient +austin,+tx&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=30.268266,59.0625&ie=UTF8&ll=30.276284,-97.817674&spn=0.008042,0.01442&z=16&iwloc=addr&om=1″>truly awful part of the suburban wasteland. Today was the test case for “how bad is the trip home on the bus”, after getting rides to/from work with my wife and a travelling coworker all of last week (not so bad in the morning; but awful in the afternoon, especially for my wife, who had to invest 30-40 minutes getting to the office to pick me up to then spend 30-40 minutes going home). Ironically, this would be a great bike commute, if I could still ride my bike any non-trivial amount.
I’m still not sure how often I’m going to need to come in, but there’s a sliding scale here – at some point it’d require us to get a second car, which I don’t want to do for many reasons, not least among them financial (we couldn’t have taken our trip to Hawaii if we’d had a second car payment, after all). There’s a certain number of days per month on which we could tolerate a both-ways drive (very little); a larger number where we could tolerate a drop-off in the morning and a bus ride home (determining that right now); a larger number which might be achievable on something like a scooter, if I can get past some emotional barriers; and anything else requires that second car. At which point I also have to consider other options, because if I have to lay out the money and time for two cars, might as well look for somewhere that can make up the gap (or maybe downtown, or at least in a less awful suburban part of Austin where you can actually take the bus).
I am writing this on the bus – filling in links later. It’s a crackplivebusblog!
Google transit called this trip a 10-minute walk, a 26-minute bus ride, a transfer, and another 20ish minute ride from there, the last leg being one on which I can take about six different routes home, so no worries there. I was highly dubious of google’s estimation of the walk, having ridden this route many times on my bike, back when I still could, so I gave myself 25 minutes to walk and 5 minutes to wait (buses can and sometimes do arrive early).
Update on the next day: Now google is accurately saying 19 minutes for the walk. Huh.
Walking trip: Got to the elevator at 4:03 (after having to run back in and use office phone to call home, since cell phone battery had died). Started on the long, not so scenic, walk through suburban Westlake. Guh. No sidewalks, of course, on Allen (behind the Westlake High tennis courts and other fields). Pretty decent sidewalks after that on Pinnacle, which I took the rest of the way down. Walked past some middle schoolers who will doubtlessly be telling their friends they saw a Real Adult Walking – must have been a bum or a predator. Got to the bus stop at 4:20. Whoops – although google was way too optimistic, I was a bit on the pessimistic side. Would budget 20 minutes for the walk next time, if it happens, plus the 5 minute wait.
First bus leg:

  1. 8 people were on the #30 bus as it pulled up (exactly on time at 4:33). I made 9.
  2. 5 more people got on at Walsh Tarlton and Bee Caves. Total on bus counting me now 14.
  3. 1 more guy got on in the weird office park at the end of Bee Caves. 15 people on the bus now. Bus goes through a road at this complex and then turns up Spyglass to make a short loop in the wrong direction, at least for me.
  4. 1 more got on somewhere along Spyglass at one of the apartment complexes. 16 people now!
  5. #17 got on at Spyglass / Barton Skyway.
  6. At Spyglass, near north intersection with Mopac, one got on and one got off. Still 17.
  7. Turned back onto southbound Mopac at 4:44. Guess that loop was worth it after all. Stopped for a couple minutes at the Bee Caves light, and then another 3 got on! We’re essentially at standing room now – one standing, although there are a couple of seats left. 20 passengers.
  8. At 4:48, we turn into a bus bay to pick up a guy with a bike. That makes 21 passengers.
  9. We cruise through Zilker Park without stopping and arrive at Robert E Lee at 4:51. Not a good day to be hitting the park anyways – but someday remind me to write a crackplog about how the city needs to jack up the parking prices there in the summer quite a bit higher. Still 21 passengers. A Barton Hills bus (#29) turns off Lee with about ten people on board that I can see (maybe more).
  10. Amazingly, they’re still working on that Villas of Lost Canyon project. We arrive at the backup for the Lamar light at 4:53 and almost hit a bicyclist stopped in the right lane for no apparent reason. We’re back in civilization, as I see real adult people with apparent jobs walking about like actual pedestrians. Hooray! Stuck for a bit behind our friends on the #29 as they load a bike. Boo. Driver may not make my promised 4:59 drop-off if he keeps this up.
  11. 4:54: Somebody finally pulls the chain to be let off in front of the Armstrong Music School. Down to a mere 20. The bus is practically empty! The suburbanites are right!
  12. 4:55: Lady gets off at the corner of S 1st. Down to 19 people! I think I see a tumbleweed.
  13. 4:58: D’oh. Somebody signals they need off just past Riverside. Going to be hard to make my best transfer at this rate. Time to hibernate the laptop now, though; the rest of first leg is from memory. About 10 people got off at that stop! Holy cow. Down to 7 passengers now. All of those passengers walked over to S Congress to hop on one of the many buses that pick up on the other corner, by the way.

Transcribed later on from here on out.
The wait: Had my bus been just a minute earlier, I could have immediately jumped on the 4:59 #7 bus which was a few minutes late. Rats. As it turns out, my #5 bus was quite a bit more late.
Second bus leg (transcribed today from yellow legal pad – since the ride was way too jerky and crowded to crack open the laptop):

  1. 5:10: Bus arrives; I board. About 15 people on the bus.
  2. 5:11: 14 people still on at 7th/Congress.
  3. 5:13: 3 more get on at 9th/Congress.
  4. 5:14: One got off at 10th/Congress
  5. 5:16: 3 got on as we turned in front of the Capitol at the bus stop that our asshat governor is forcing to move. There were about 30 people there at that time. Up to here, ‘rapid bus’ on this corridor would have saved about 30 seconds of the 4 minutes it took to traverse Congress which is actually a bit better than I would have guessed. Not that the #5 would get that treatment anyways, but it was something to look at while we were stuck in traffic with the #1/#101, which would be the rapid service. Streetcar would have been no better than the bus I was on in this part of the route – but at least no worse.
  6. Note for comparison’s sake that light rail on this route ala 2000 would have probably taken about 2 minutes. About two stops; no being stuck behind cars or other buses. Moving on…
  7. 5:17: Lavaca at 12th and 13th, one got on at each. Ride is getting even jerkier and crappier. Good thing I didn’t take out the laptop.
  8. 5:18: One more gets on at 16th.
  9. 5:18-5:24: We’re stuck in a very long backup from the light at MLK/Lavaca. This is where LRT would really have helped. As it turns out, streetcar would have been even worse because we saved a minute or two at the end by prematurely jumping into the center lane (bypassing a stop on the right where nobody was waiting). The streetcar, stuck on the tracks in the road, can’t make that decision. This helped a bit because the primary backup from this light was traffic heading to I-35 – the tailback in the right lane was about a block longer than the one in the center lane and moving much more slowly too.
  10. 5:24: Driver guns it to try to make up some time, as by this point we’re really really late. Note: this is why people who say you shouldn’t have rail until you can run the buses on time are idiots – the driver did everything in his power, but all the cars and a few other buses made it impossible for him to meet his schedule.
  11. 5:26: We slowly approach light at 21st/Guadalupe, having been stuck through several light cycles. Now we see why “Rapid Bus” won’t work at all – and the same thing would apply to “Rapid Streetcar”. The entire corridor is congested – we can rarely make the first green light we see all the way past UT, and quite often don’t even make the second one. At this point, a whole ton of people get on, and the bus is now standing room only, with 3 people standing and every seat full.
  12. 5:29: Stuck short of 24th. Once again, rapid bus shows its uselessness – as we could have held that light green till the cows came home, but the traffic from 26th through 29th would have still stopped us dead. At this point we’re probably more than 10 minutes behind schedule.
  13. 5:32: Finally made it to near the Dean Keeton / Guadalupe intersection; finally about to leave the “rapid bus” route (and also the light rail route). Note that light rail as planned in 2000 would have breezed through this stuff – making a couple of stops, but never getting stuck in traffic. The driver really goes fast on Dean Keeton – feels like 45, although it’s very hard to tell.
  14. 5:34: We pull over near the ped bridge over Dean Keeton and pick up a few more people. About 5 people standing now.
  15. 5:36: Finally on the way home. No more delays/obstructions.
  16. 5:38: Three people, including yours truly, disembark. Some of the remaining standees find seats. Bus has improved to only 9 minutes late, thanks to some speeding and ‘flexibility’.

Things learned:

  • Don’t trust the pedestrian part of google transit’s directions. I kind of suspected this before, but they clearly assume you can take a bees’-line. It would be a much better idea if they were to assume you had to take the same route as your car – they’d be erring in the conservative direction if at all – which is definitely the better way to err when walking to a bus stop!
  • They might be able to run the #30 a bit more often, if this is any indication. At least a bit more frequent during rush hours, as the people on the bus were (mostly) clearly headed home from work.
  • As another commenter alluded to on his blog, this is the kind of thing Ben Wear should be doing from time to time.
  • Rapid Bus is shelved, of course but today’s experience yet again confirms how useless it would be. Likewise, streetcar on this corridor in a shared lane would be an absolute disaster – even worse than the bus. Broken record time: Light rail as conceived in 2000 would have greatly helped this corridor – giving people a transit alternative which would be superior to the private automobile and FAR superior to slow, unreliable, jerky buses or streetcars.

Why Streetcars Suck: Simple Example

Councilmember McCracken wrote back to my email referenced in the last post and said some things which made me more optimistic again, help more about which I will cover in my next crackplog, overweight but probably not until Monday. In the meantime, read here’s something I wrote up today on the #27 bus (transit field trip time!)
Short one today – my company was having a rare physical meeting at Ventana del Soul, a non-profit with some meeting rooms. (Well, actually, only three of the five locals, and one non-local; most of the company is still in Virginia). Took the #7 down in order to leave the car with my wife. Google Transit trip indicates 35 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by car in traffic (highly optimistic; more like 30).
I waited about ten minutes for the #7 at or about 8:30 AM; just missed one apparently. When my bus arrived, every seat was full, and there were 10-15 people standing. We picked up one more person before entering the UT area, in which the bus rapidly disgorged – I was able to get a seat when we crossed Dean Keaton, and by the time we hit MLK, nobody was standing and about half the seats were full. Continued on through downtown, people getting on and off (more on than off), and then as the #27 down Riverside through near-in southeast Austin. A few more people got on, but the bus was never completely full; when I disembarked at my stop, there were about 15-20 riders remaining.
So, summary, from 37th to UT, every seat full; 10-15 straphangers. Dropped off about 2/3 of those people at UT, but more got on downtown, and through Riverside about 3/4 of seats were full.
On the way home, I waited about three minutes for the #27 at Burton and Riverside while I was talking with a billing rep at a medical office. The bus actually came while I was still on the phone – and I accidentally tried to board with a soda (oops). Almost every seat was full – I estimate 20 to 25 passengers; but several got off at the next stop and I was able to move to the back next to the window. Picked up a lot more people along East Riverside. Summary: From my stop on Oltorf to downtown, average 3/4 to all seats full; dropped off about half downtown; then about half full to my stop at 33rd.
Hard to believe, but this bus was actually more full than most of my rides on the #3 back when I reverse-commuted in the mornings once or twice a week to Netbotz.

Not sure if it’s a typo, epidemic but Robin Cravey, help who I could support with reservations (given Zilker activities), misbirth and Laura Morrison, who I absolutely could not, given her destruction of the political capital of OWANA that the previous leadership worked so hard to build, and of course, years of ANC shenanigans culminating in the McMansion and VMU opt-out spasm, have apparently both just announced for Place 4, and are both using Threadgills for their petition kickoffs, albeit on adjoining days.
Please, every reader of this blog, if it turns out they’re running against each other, remember: we can’t afford to have a neighborhood-pandering obstructionist sitting at the Council.
I don’t have a site for Morrison’s campaign (email didn’t have a link), but oddly enough, the current ANC president (Danette Chimenti, who like Morrison is a McMansion activist with a big honkin’ expensive house) used these words to endorse her:

Laura did so much for ANC in her two years as President; by reaching out to neighborhoods and leaders all over Austin, and providing unifying, informed leadership she is responsible for ANC achieving the high level of respectability and credibility it has today.

which is amazing, given the ANC’s recent record of striking out on essentially everything except McMansion and CWS. The current city council, at least, clearly has far less respect for the ANC than they did even a couple of years ago. I don’t know if Chimenti actually expects us to believe this, but it’s laughable.

I’m now upgrading my position to cautious pessimism (from complete horror) after a nice exchange of email with Councilmember McCracken. As I said in my initial post a week or two ago, what is ed the early media coverage made it sound like the project would just be an extension of Capital Metro’s awful circulator route (which avoids most places people want to go, information pills and services, urticaria albeit poorly, commuter rail passengers to the exclusion of the central Austinites for whom it was originally promised).
McCracken wrote back late last week, saying he had missed the email originally. Since my email only talked about reserved guideway, that’s all he addressed at first – and he indicated he’d be pushing strongly for reserved guideway whereever possible, agreeing with my opinion that Capital Metro is underplaying the liabilities of running in shared lanes. So far so good. I wrote him back asking about my route questions raised by my second run through the media coverage, and he also indicated he favors a Guadalupe route up to the Triangle, pointing out that the #1/#101 are the most ridden buses we’ve got, proving a strong demand for transit in the corridor even today, even with bad bus service as the only option.
Sounds good, right? Well, to be realistic, it was going to be hard to get reserved guideway on Guadalupe past UT even with true light rail and with the Feds paying half to 80% of the bill. If we’re funding most to all of this system ourselves, as I suspect we are, I think it will be difficult to get an exclusive lane near UT, which, unfortunately, is the place where it would be most needed. Also, the talk about running in reserved guideway alongside Riverside seems unworkable – I paid close attention during Friday’s transit field trip, and didn’t see enough space to get this done, unless there’s something else I’m missing, like narrowing existing lanes.
So, mark me as guardedly pessimistic. I’ll be rooting that McCracken can pull this off – I have not heard similarly educated stuff from any other council member, so he’s the only hope here. I think Wynn believes in the streetcar fairy dust (the idea that streetcar running in shared lane will attract a lot more daily commuters than bus). Keep your eye on the ball.

As reported at the Chronicle’s blog:

The argument made by Responsible Growth For Northcross (RG4N) this morning is that the city’s approval of Lincoln Property’s site plan violated the note, generic which mandates that “Rainfall runoff shall be held to the amount existing at undeveloped status by use of ponding or other approved methods.” The city – with testimony from city engineers Benny Ho and Jose Guerrero – countered that “undeveloped status” means status at the time the application is filed, not a reversion to the status of when the property was a green pasture. Attorney Casey Dobson, representing the city, said “To use a legal term, that [would be] silly.” Guerrero further testified that the law only requires that a project not make flooding worse, and that Lincoln’s site plan will actually reduce impervious cover and presumable send less floodwater off-site.

In other words, the Wal-Mart plan is demonstrably better for drainage than current conditions but RG4N claims code should be interpreted as if a project must (not just can, but MUST) be rejected by city staff if it adds more runoff than the completely undeveloped state would have. Also keep in mind that the RG4N ‘vision’ would also be an improvement over current conditions, but most definitely not over the undeveloped prairie that was there seventy years ago.
If you ever needed proof that RG4N’s legal strategy was the old “throw excrement on the wall and see what sticks” method, here it is. And if there were any justice in the world, the judge would call RG4N forward and issue this speech.
As my cow orker DSK pointed out a moment ago, though, it would almost be worth yielding on this point if the judge put similar conditions on the homeowners of Allandale and Crestview.

Michael King writes that we should support RG4N even though their case is utterly without merit as even their news staff is beginning to discover, ampoule months too late. Here’s a comment I just placed there:

Michael, this is ridiculous. Zoning means something – in this case, it means that Lincoln bought the property knowing what they should be allowed to develop (and what they should not be allowed to develop). If they were up there asking for variances or even a change in zoning, RG4N and the rest of you guys would have a point, but they’re not, and you don’t.
When it comes to cases where developers seek upzoning, many of these same people are very quick to tell you that the prospective developer should have known what they were getting when they bought the tract. Interesting how this doesn’t apply here. Also interesting how none of the RG4N homeowners are volunteering to let Lincoln have veto power over their own development projects within current zoning. Democracy for me, not thee.
As for the comparison to the Triangle – the bulk of RG4N’s supporters are using the group as ‘useful idiots’ here – they have shown through their actions on other projects (including very recently) that they have no interest at all in dense urban development – they want to preserve low-density stuff they already have.
A critical eye once in a while, even at your fellow travellers, would seem to me to be a basic responsibility for a journalist.

One point I should have added but forgot: this lawsuit, in which the city has to defend its legal responsibility to approve site plans that comply with city code, is costing Austin taxpayers a half-million or so at last count. Still think RG4N is so noble?
A second point I just remembered: the Triangle development was such a big fight because the state (leasing the land to the developer) is exempt from Austin zoning codes.

As DSK notes, implant this isn’t incredibly clear on first reading, so here’s a new lead-in:
I forgot to crackplog about this when it happened: a “remodel” of a property with a duplex on it on 34th was the subject of a lawsuit filed by some of the leadership of my neighborhood association which went down in flames, since the property owner clearly satisfied the legal requirements in the zoning code (although those requirements were indeed very vague and very generous). News 8 has given the complaining neighbor some pity press (was in first link but not obvious), and I was reminded to talk about it. Here we go!
This new kind of awful seems to be cropping up a lot lately – the tendency for people who ought to know better to insist that the legal system is broken if it doesn’t give them outcomes they like – in other words, since we care enough to shine our rainbows on the problem (Julian Sanchez), that ought to be enough to solve it. But the legal system doesn’t operate in the world of democracy; it operates in the world where the law means something, and in this case, my idiot neighbors wasted a bunch of money on a lawsuit that was clearly doomed to failure.

In other words, even though I, personally, think that these new duplexes are actually a lot nicer for the neighborhood than the old ones (described by a more moderate person than I as “red shacks from Somalia”), and that my neighbors are just plain bad people for wanting to keep out slightly-more-affordable housing than the single-family-classic-mansions that infest that side of Speedway (34th being the dividing line on that side between historically rich mansion stuff and more modest development), it’s irrelevant: in this case, the law is clear, and what’s more, was clear before they bothered to file the suit. If some neighbor was building a garage apartment on a 6000 square foot lot, an action which is consistent with my preferences but against the city code since our neighborhood plan prohibits it, I’d likewise think anybody who filed a suit to do it was stupid. Still left undetermined is how much of this frivolous lawsuit’s cost my neighborhood association will ultimately bear – since the leadership is overwhelmingly from that side of Speedway and on the wrong side of so many other development issues, I expect them to eventually donate some funds. Ha ha, DSK, I never joined, so it won’t be my money, at least!
Are you listening, Chronicle?

“CAMPO wresting rail planning from Capital Metro” is the headline. Sounds good to me – Wynn and Watson in charge means smarter rail than Capital Metro’s stupid useless stuck-in-traffic streetcar plan. Right?
But who else is going to be in charge here? Let’s see:

The 14-member group will be led by Austin Mayor Will Wynn and will include among others McCracken, more about Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson (who had a whole lot to do with creating the group after Wynn called for something similar last month), global burden of disease Williamson County state Rep. Mike Krusee, Travis County Commissioner and Capital Metro critic emeritus Gerald Daugherty, and representatives of the University of Texas and road and rail advocacy groups.

Yes, that’s the same Mike Krusee that got us into this mess in the first place – the asshat who screwed Austin out of a good starter rail line like Houston and Dallas and everybody else built. That Mike Krusee. The guy who derailed efforts to build good rail for Austin so his constituents (most of whom don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes) could get more transit investments than the residents of central Austin who pay most of the bills.
Shit. We’re screwed.
Note that even if Krusee wasn’t involved, the implementation of commuter rail has now precluded anything like 2000’s light rail line from being built and that’s about the only light rail line worth trying around here. In other words, the damage has already been done – we can’t recover the 2000 route now. But still – having him (and even Daugherty) involved is the death knell for even a mediocre effort at urban transit – as neither one is likely to support investing enough money in reserved guideway transit in the city core. To them, every dollar spent on the dirty hippies in Central Austin is a wasted dollar that should instead be spent ferrying some SUV-driving soccer mom from one strip mall to another.
If Krusee had just kept his mouth shut in 2000, we’d have had a light rail election in May of 2001, and it likely would have passed. By now, you’d be seeing trains running in their own lane down Guadalupe right in front of UT, and down Congress Avenue right in front of all those big office buildings. Instead, we’re seeing test runs of a useless commuter line running out by Airport Boulevard that nobody will actually ride. That’s what he got us last time. Imagine what he can do for an encore!

This story is kind of sad, this site but also a bit of an I-told-you-so moment. I’ve expressed in other forums (comments, mostly) that local businesses around here have sadly not been prepared to adapt to a more urban environment – ref among others the locally-owned businesses around Northcross in pedestrian-hostile parking-loving strip centers protesting against a slightly-more-urban and slightly-less-hostile-to-pedestrians Northcross redesign, and don’t forget Karen McGraw’s shenanigans in Hyde Park. And now, from 2nd street:

Speaking confidentially, other tenants are concerned that there’s no interest in keeping them in business and that the lack of parking in the area makes life as a retailer virtually impossible.

(Of course, an anonymous commenter has already said that they think shopowners/employees were hogging the few curbside spaces that existed – hard to verify, but wouldn’t surprise me). The idea that you can’t have retail without free nearby parking is a suburban mindset – which is the most clear indication that these people weren’t prepared for urban retail.

Here’s a clue: Don’t move downtown if you can’t figure out a way to attract customers who arrive by any means other than the private automobile parked right in front of your store. Sadly, there are a lot of national retailers who DO know how to do this – and we’re probably better off with a pedestrian-oriented national business than a local business that doesn’t know how to play in an urban center. That’s going to result in a lot of backlash from the paleoliberals, and I won’t be thrilled either, but I don’t see any other way forward.

This might get worse before it gets better – transit ACCESS downtown is good, but competitiveness is poor, unless you have to pay to park. People who have free parking at their offices in the suburbs aren’t going to enjoy paying to park to shop – so again, these businesses need to not rely on that type of customer to survive, but the other type of customer – the local (urban) resident – may not exist in large enough numbers (yet) to make up for a retailer that doesn’t have a lot of experience marketing to those urbanites.

A fairly good article this time about Krusee seeing the light on new urbanism and stepping down. I’m honestly not sure how much I believe, viagra 100mg which is a huge step up for me on this guy, cheap actually. Here’s some interesting quotes:

“It’s an article of faith for Democrats that the sales tax is regressive. The gas tax is much, food much more regressive. The gas tax is, literally, a transfer of wealth from the poor to the middle class – to the upper-middle class.”
That’s not some blogging transit activist or Green Partier speaking on the inequitable burdens of highway costs. It’s District 52 state Rep. Mike Krusee, who’s currently best known – for better and worse – as the legislative face of Texas toll roads.

Gosh, I wonder if anybody else has been talking about that for years now. Couldn’t be, huh? I presume the “transit blogger” might be me, given that every other blogger in the universe has swallowed Costello’s tripe “TOLLS BAD. HURRRR.”
As for the rail issue:

There are those who say his successful advocacy of suburban commuter rail instead of the light-rail lines initially proposed clumsily destroyed the possibility of effective Downtown mass transit for another decade – and that instead, we’ll be trying to retrofit a system conceived for the very suburban sprawl it’s supposed to replace. But as Mike Clark-Madison wrote here, about a year after Krusee was having his New Urbanism epiphany, “It’s also pretty obvious that the only way Austin will ever have rail transit is if we start with a commuter system serving western suburbanites” (“Austin @ Large,” April 9, 2004).

It’s too late, Mike. The first quote is right – we’re screwed; but Michael King is as wrong now as Mike Clark-Madison was then; there is literally no way to start with this commuter rail line and end up with a system which both suburbanites and urbanites can ride and get some benefit from. Even a transfer from “good rail” to “good rail” (both running in their own right-of-way) is enough to turn off essentially all suburban commuters not currently taking the bus, unless we reach Manhattan levels of density and parking costs (which we never will). And that presumes that we’re somehow able to surpass tremendous obstacles and get a light rail stub built down Lamar and Guadalupe, which I doubt very much that we can (now that we wasted all our money on “urban” commuter rail that serves the suburbs poorly and the urban area not at all).
My comments posted there (some repetition of the above):

I can’t believe Krusee gets it about inner-city drivers. That makes precisely ONE politician that does.
Of course, that doesn’t make the gas tax regressive by itself – it’s the fact that we pay for so many of our roads (even parts of our state highways) with even more regressive taxes (property and sales) which do the trick.
As for the rail thing – Krusee has destroyed it here, forever. You can’t start with commuter rail and end up with something good – suburban passengers won’t transfer from one train to another train (even if by some miracle we GOT a second train running down Guadalupe in its own lane) to get to work until we’re reaching Manhattan levels of density. He doomed us to the point where we have to abandon transit to the suburbs, even though we spent all of our money building it. Good show.

One of the many pieces of excrement flung against the wall by RG4N in the desperate hope something would stick was an ITE Journal article in which the author asserted a disproportionate (to square footage) traffic impact for “free-standing discount superstores” over 200, look 000 square feet. The conclusion, dentist in other words, seek was that 199,999 square feet stores should have a trip generation figure of X per square foot; while 200,000 square foot stores should have a trip generation figure of Y, where Y is much larger than X.
This is counter-intuitive to say the least. One could argue that the increased size results in more trips overall – which would be the result of continuing to apply X trips per square feet (X times 200,000 is obviously more than X times 100,000). One could even argue that the increased size results in fewer trips than the same number of square feet in _two_ stores (“one-stop shopping”). But the theory that a bigger store results in, and I emphasize units here, more trips per square foot has always seemed ludicrous to me.
Anyways, as it turns out, Wal-Mart went with a slightly smaller store – which the army of anonymous RG4N trolls have used for quite a while as conspiracy fodder – claiming that they snuck it in under the threshold to avoid these supposedly more valid rules (which, again, as far as I can tell, the ITE still hasn’t seriously considered adopting).
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in my skepticism. In addition to several disagreements about methodology, the respondent (another traffic engineer) points out that the study was too small to be statistically rigorous; the stores were too different to draw any firm conclusions; and that the author’s supposed intuitive conclusion isn’t. Some excerpts follow, since I’m not sure how long this article stays up for free. I’ll leave out the most esoteric stuff.

DEAR EDITOR:
As a transportation consultant who is involved in both the performance and the review of traffic studies, my colleagues and I at McMahon Associates, Inc. are extremely concerned that the August 2006ITE Journal article entitled “Trip Generation Characteristics of FreeStanding Discount Superstores” lacks the rigorous scientific analysis and thoroughness that we have come to expect in ITE Journal articles.
As such, although ITE Journal states: “Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not reflect official ITE or magazine policy unless so stated,” the article may be utilized by transportation professionals and others as “gospel” even though its analysis is flawed, in our opinion, in many respects.

2. Additionally, the square footage of a gas station is not a good choice for independent variable, as compared to the number of fueling positions, when determining its estimated trip generation; i.e., a 225-square-foot building could serve four fueling positions or 14 fueling positions.

5. We also question whether the author confirmed, in her comparison to the ITE Land Use Code 813 rates, that the latter (ITE) square footage baselines are the same as she assumed, especially with regard to the garden center, which typically has significant (15,000 to 20,000 square feet) square footage. While we agree that the rates should be applied to “total” square footage, inclusive of a garden center, it is our understanding that the ITE samples were largely (or totally) based on building foundation square footage, not inclusive of outside garden centers. Our observations about baselines and “with and without gas pumps” are intended to reinforce our opinion that the author’s analysis appears to be an “apples to oranges” comparison rather than “apples to apples.”

7. There is also a fairly large discrepancy between the number of vehicle trips collected between different days at some of the supercenter locations. Site 3 shows an increase of almost 17 percent in site traffic between the day 1 and day 2 counts. The increases in site traffic between the day 1 and day 2 counts at site 1 and site 5 are both about 10 percent. The fluctuation in these counts suggests that there could be flaws in the data or that other factors may have been involved in the traffic generation of the site on one or both days of the counts. These discrepancies may reflect seasonal variations, as the article indicates that the first weekday count was taken in July while the second count was taken in October.


and here’s the one that I think is the most important to laypeople:

9. We also take issue with the author’s statement that “free-standing discount superstores intuitively should have a higher trip generation rate than free-standing discount stores, which by definition do not contain a full-service grocery store but have most of the other amenities of the superstore.” Are not shopping centers evidence that larger stores, with presumably more services or products in one location, result in documented lower trip rates, because customers shop longer and their shopping needs can be accommodated in fewer trips due to greater availability of goods and services? In fact, the author’s argument is shown not to be the case in Table 1 of the article, where the author’s own comparisons show that, as retail store sizes become larger and more services/products are offered, trip generation rates decrease. We also note that the number of samples for ITE free-standing discount store (47) and ITE shopping center (407) is large enough so as to make these land uses’ rates statistically more reliable than ITE’s rates for free-standing discount superstore (10 samples) or the author’s study (five samples).

In conclusion, while the author’s study and article adds to the body of knowledge on trip generation characteristics of superstores in excess of 200,000 square feet, its data and analysis of that data, we submit, are not rigorous or conclusive enough to support the article’s recommendation that the rates derived from the author’s analysis should be used as the future norm for 200,000 square-feet-plus superstores. Until such time that more samples are collected (we would recommend at least 20); preferably from various locations in the country, as she also recommends, to test geographic differences, if any; and are computed on common baselines first (separately, without, or with gas pumps) before combined (i.e., if not statistically different), we suggest that the jury is still out on the validity of this article’s rates, conclusions and future use.

Macy’s in Manhattan

Macy’s also has flagship (very large) stores in San Francisco and Chicago – and their Chicago store is pursuing adding a grocery store in the basement.
Harrod’s in London

Wal-Mart doesn’t have their cachet, hospital it’s true, for sale but Allandale also doesn’t have the cachet of central Austin. Nevertheless, diagnosis the contention that big boxes belong out on the highway (which, in Texas, inevitably means on the frontage road where pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users mostly can’t get to them), is absolutely false – the normal pattern, before suburban sprawl took over, was that the biggest stores were downtown, not out in the boonies.
As for the inevitable claims of “bbbbbut if it was in YOUR neighborhood, you’d feel differently”, there was an Urban Target slated for 6th and Lamar (much closer to true central Austin – not just center of population) when I lived in Clarksville and I was thrilled to death at the prospect. Don’t remember square footage, but it was supposed to be 2 floors with some kind of neat cart escalator and whatnot.

Now that RG4N has struck out, pulmonologist it’s time to assess the damage. RG4N is interpreting the judge’s decision not to comment on three of their four complaints as evidence that they were valid which is spectacularly delusional. Good show, visit folks. Thanks to the Chronicle for, even now, supporting RG4N’s desperate attempt to spin this as something other than a complete truth-slap. Hint: it’s not “curious” she didn’t address the “other claims”; it was predicted by a real lawyer quite some time ago.
I’m going to cover this in two or more parts; today’s is just a conservative estimate of the direct and immediate costs and what we might have otherwise done with that time and money.
The city’s legal costs are oft-quoted at $424,000. This is at least the contract with Casey Dobson. I’m going to be extremely conservative and round up the city’s direct costs to $600,000, including other legal costs, the time and money spent responding repeatedly to RG4N’s complaints (and to city council members who were desperately trying to find an angle to work).
Other direct and short-term costs I could have considered, but didn’t:
Lost sales taxes: I’ll be completely conservative and assume that every single dollar of sales tax we don’t get from six months or so of delayed opening would have just been shifted from other Wal-Marts or other stores in the city. I don’t believe this to be the case; if it were that simple, Wal-Mart wouldn’t be so eager to build the store. More likely would be a shifting of the natural coverage area of each store – with stores on the edge of Austin becoming less crowded and hence more attractive to shoppers further out, but this is hypothetical and impossible to measure. Easier to believe but still harder to measure would be the lost tax revenue from other businesses in the center which don’t have easily subsitutable competition – for instance, a delay in the move of the ice rink.
Lost property taxes – despite what you hear from RG4N trolls on the Chronicle’s blog, there is a property tax impact to this development – the land value may increase, or it may not, but I guarantee the structure value will increase dramatically – and the city gets to tax that building value (as does the school district, county, etc.). Impossible to estimate now precisely what that will be, but common sense would tell you that it will be substantial enough to consider as a major benefit of the redevelopment given that the structure value of the existing ghost-mall is measured at just south of 16 million.
Lost bus fares: I’m 1000% positive that the opening of this store will result in a major bump in ridership to and through the Northcross transfer center, which gives Capital Metro more fare revenue with zero extra cost (since they probably wouldn’t increase service until the buses were overflowing, given their past history). But again, hypothetical and impossible to estimate.
So let’s leave the direct and short-term cost at a mere $600,000 (the cost to the taxpayers; RG4N and the careening-towards-bankruptcy Allandale Neighborhood Association have their own set of costs, of course).
What could we have done with that money? Well, me, I’m a transportation guy. So I’ll give you two simple transportation options, and another one dear to my heart. Y’all are welcome to chime in as well.
12,000 linear feet of sidewalk at $50/linear foot. (Estimate obtained from a wide range of sources on the web; corrections welcome). That’s two and a quarter miles of sidewalk, folks, enough to cover a big chunk of the sidewalk gap in the densest parts of Central Austin (where the pedestrians actually are).
Restriping Shoal Creek Boulevard into the safe, sane design that every other city would have done – and in fact, recommended to us. Just read those archives. And the same people who cost us the $600K this time are the ones who cost us the million on SCB in the first place, don’t forget. Parking on both sides instead of just one was just that much more important than cyclist safety.
Operate a branch library for a year. Every time we go through a hiccup in the budget, we have to close libraries or delay their opening. I can’t get a breakdown precisely from the city budget after ten minutes of scrutiny, but I’m betting one of the branches could run for a year on that much money (operating expenses).
So there’s three. Anybody else have any suggestions? Of course, none of these were as important as catering to the tantrum of a bunch of people who just really really really REALLY don’t like Wal-Mart, and want us to engage the Care Bear Stare against the legal system.
Next up: the indirect and long-term costs (such as foregone opportunities to improve the site plan with the supercenter intact).

Another casualty of Responsible Growth For Northcross’ year-long tantrum has been the truth. Yes, erectile you heard me. People all over the city now believe varying combinations of the following absolutely incorrect, but truthy, narratives.

  1. “Anderson Lane is some kind of pedestrian utopia which Wal-Mart will make worse”. This just came up yesterday, which is why it’s at the top of my list. BAD FORM, TERRA TOYS. You know damn well that your location on South Congress was ped-friendly, but your strip mall on Anderson Lane? Even a standard-model suburban Wal-Mart would be no worse for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users than the awful strip malls lining both sides of Burnet Road and Anderson Lane.
  2. “Northcross Mall is in the middle of a neighborhood!” – talk about defining down to irrelevance. Notice from the map at the link that neighborhoods are actually buffered from Northcross by those aforementioned awful strip malls in most directions. The Wal-Mart in my hometown (Boca Raton, FL) directly abuts single-family homes, for comparison’s sake. Which leads us into:
  3. “Big boxes belong on frontage roads!” This one had some legs – even our city council fell for it. Sadly, xenophobia in Texas prevents people from seeing how ridiculous this is – in other states, frontage roads don’t exist, but it’s also not true to then fall back to “well, they must be right next to the highway exits, then”. I spent an hour of my life I’ll never get back proving otherwise to some willfully deluded souls in Allandale, but again, refer to the two Wal-Marts closest to Boca Raton – neither one of which is remotely near a highway off-ramp (Delray Beach example); and the one in State College, PA; on a road very very similar to Burnet Road (four lane with center-turn lane; quite far from off-ramp of the real highway). And they SHOULDN’T be on frontage roads, either – you’re dooming their workers and customers to perpetual car-dependence if you put them out there where they don’t belong.
  4. “All we were doing was trying to get a public process, man!” (read with Tommy Chong voice for extra effect). The whole point of the zoning code is to establish a set of permissible actions which don’t have to go through the public process – and don’t forget the cry of this same bunch whenever a developer requests upzoning or a variance: “you knew what the zoning was when you bought the property”. Well, Lincoln knew what the zoning was when they bought the property, and it unquestionably allowed for exactly this kind of development. Nobody in these neighborhoods cared to do anything about it for years and years when Wal-Mart wasn’t the prospective tenant, of course. Which leads us to:
  5. “We just wanted urban VMU development!” – if you bought this, you’re dumber than a bag full of hammers. The motivating force behind RG4N was primarily the anti-density brigade – the people who opposed VMU everywhere else in Allandale when asked nicely; the people who fought apartments for years and years and years; the people who pushed McMansion so hard. So now we’re to believe that, just coincidentally, they changed their stripes and are now urbanists precisely at the time Wal-Mart came knocking? If so, they’d know that new urbanists would welcome big boxes – as long as they’re built pedestrian-friendly – no matter HOW big. Like Harrod’s in London or Macy’s in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Granted, Wal-Mart doesn’t have their cachet, but neither does Allandale.
  6. The city council wanted Wal-Mart all along. Uh, NO. City council members were trying desperately to find an angle to give you (RG4N) what you wanted – and ran straight into the brick wall of fact: the development had to be allowed, period.

That’s an incomplete list. Suggestions welcome, and I’ll update in later postings.
Your pal,
M1EK

Whenever I hear this guy talk about how bad the Domain is, patient I wonder which ones of the strip centers filled with locally-owned businesses he owns. Because I haven’t seen one strip mall with local businesses in it that isn’t a pedestrian-hostile disaster.
Sign me up for MORE DOMAIN SUBSIDIES if it means that we encourage pedestrian use, disease even if it’s only inside the project. Too many of these awful strip malls inhabited by the local businesses who are fighting this fight are like the ones on Anderson Lane where even a confirmed car-hater like me is tempted to start the car and move it farther down the road rather than walk a quarter-mile. It’s just that awful.
When locally owned businesses do things that hurt us, healing they don’t deserve a pass. When Terra Toys reacts to higher rent by leaving a good urban environment and moving somewhere where nobody will walk to, and very few will walk around in, why on earth am I supposed to support them against Wal-Mart or the Domain, when those guys are at least trying to make things a little better?
Also, for extra credit, remember City Comforts’ primary rule of urbanism: it starts with the location of the parking lot.

versus

Any questions?

Very quick hit today; not even any links, pilule although I may fill them in later if I get a minute.
My family took the #5 down to Town Lake yesterday for the First Night festivities (the parade was outstanding – best one I’ve ever seen). One simple thing we experienced shows why streetcars in shared lanes are completely useless.
We’re travelling southbound in the right lane of Congress (where shared-lane low-budget streetcar would inevitably operate as well). Oops, a car has stopped and is unloading a bunch of stuff with their flashers on. The bus driver quickly changes to the center lane to get around them and then moves back right.
A block later, somebody starts to pull out of one of the angle-parking spaces and stops. I was never able to figure out why – they may have been spooked by traffic. Again, the bus driver changes lanes and moves around the obstruction.
Anybody see the problem with shared-lane streetcar yet?
You get enough little blockages like that and the performance and reliability of the streetcar gets so bad that even the mystical streetcar fairy dust that supposedly makes commuters forget how to read their watch won’t help.
True light rail, with reserved guideway (“running in its own lane”) is a slam-dunk win for Austin. But shared-lane streetcar is a complete waste of time that actually performs worse for passengers than does the city bus that most of them won’t even take today.
Unfortunately, I have my suspicions that the Wynn/McCracken rail plan will end up having to rely on mixed-traffic streetcar service for a good chunk of its proposed route (and that’s only one of the two impending problems; the other being that the route absolutely must go up Congress and then Guadalupe, rather than over the east side of UT and then out to Mueller as in the useless Capital Metro proposal). So, once again, we’re scrod by our pal Mike Krusee – because of his push in 2000 to destroy Capital Metro, and then his push in 2004 to force commuter rail instead of light rail, urban Austin will probably end up with no rail at all, or, at best, rail which is actually less useful than city buses.

TFT: Southeast Austin

Councilmember McCracken wrote back to my email referenced in the last post and said some things which made me more optimistic again, help more about which I will cover in my next crackplog, overweight but probably not until Monday. In the meantime, read here’s something I wrote up today on the #27 bus (transit field trip time!)
Short one today – my company was having a rare physical meeting at Ventana del Soul, a non-profit with some meeting rooms. (Well, actually, only three of the five locals, and one non-local; most of the company is still in Virginia). Took the #7 down in order to leave the car with my wife. Google Transit trip indicates 35 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by car in traffic (highly optimistic; more like 30).
I waited about ten minutes for the #7 at or about 8:30 AM; just missed one apparently. When my bus arrived, every seat was full, and there were 10-15 people standing. We picked up one more person before entering the UT area, in which the bus rapidly disgorged – I was able to get a seat when we crossed Dean Keaton, and by the time we hit MLK, nobody was standing and about half the seats were full. Continued on through downtown, people getting on and off (more on than off), and then as the #27 down Riverside through near-in southeast Austin. A few more people got on, but the bus was never completely full; when I disembarked at my stop, there were about 15-20 riders remaining.
So, summary, from 37th to UT, every seat full; 10-15 straphangers. Dropped off about 2/3 of those people at UT, but more got on downtown, and through Riverside about 3/4 of seats were full.
On the way home, I waited about three minutes for the #27 at Burton and Riverside while I was talking with a billing rep at a medical office. The bus actually came while I was still on the phone – and I accidentally tried to board with a soda (oops). Almost every seat was full – I estimate 20 to 25 passengers; but several got off at the next stop and I was able to move to the back next to the window. Picked up a lot more people along East Riverside. Summary: From my stop on Oltorf to downtown, average 3/4 to all seats full; dropped off about half downtown; then about half full to my stop at 33rd.
Hard to believe, but this bus was actually more full than most of my rides on the #3 back when I reverse-commuted in the mornings once or twice a week to Netbotz.

TFT Honolulu: Part Two – Current Conditions

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom so it’s reposted here for your pleasure. The 2nd Hawaii report coming as soon as work calms down a bit.

Commuters will only switch to transit if they are delivered to their final destination – within a couple of blocks. Failing to provide that “last mile” transport can doom an entire regional rail system. If far-flung suburbanites hate the bus, rx and their offices are too far to walk from the last rail or rapid-bus stop, then they’ll just keep driving, however long their commutes.

The part which was left out, in what’s becoming a disturbing trend of analysis-free journalism at the Chronicle, is that choice commuters will also NOT accept transfers as part of their daily commute, unless we’re talking about the Manhattan end of the scale where the transit alternative has the benefit of competing against 50-dollar parking.
Transfers from commuter rail to streetcar will not be any more attractive to daily commuters than transfers from commuter rail to shuttlebus – and choice commuters, as shown in South Florida with Tri-Rail, simply will not do the latter. Once you ride every day, the fact that the streetcar isn’t any faster or more reliable than the bus was becomes very obvious.
It’s time to remind people yet again: we did NOT decide to build what worked in Dallas, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake, Houston, and Minneapolis (light rail, or, what we would have built in 2000 and should have tried again in 2004). What we’re building instead was what failed in South Florida – a transit alternative which is utterly non-competitive with the car and will continue to serve only the transit-dependent at an incredibly high cost, while derailing transit momentum for decades.
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate I’ve never put it all in one place before. But I’m also short on time, so I’ll reuse most of a post I made today to the excellent SkyScraperPage forums and just expand a bit.
The immediate relevance is a somewhat petulant response from Michael King to my letter to the editor in the Chronicle next week. I suppose this means I’ll be published, at least. The money quote:

we don’t find it particularly useful to hold our breaths on transit questions until we turn blue (or bile green), nor particularly helpful to respond to every interim proposal with cheerless variations on “it’s pointless and it won’t work.”

So, here it is: why it’s important to keep bringing up that this thing won’t work and WHY it won’t work, and what WOULD have worked instead:
South Florida built almost exactly what we’re going to build: a commuter rail line on existing tracks which is too far away from destinations people actually want to go to – so they have to transfer to shuttle buses for the final leg of their journey to work in the morning (and back from work in the evening). It has proved a miserable failure at attracting so-called “choice commuters”, i.e., those who own a car but are considering leaving it at home today to take the train to work.
Here’s how the experience has gone in the area:

  1. Start with a largely transit-friendly population (retirees from New York, for instance)
  2. In the mid-to-late 1980s, commuter rail gets built (requiring shuttle transfers).
  3. Everybody who says anything says “this is going to work; rail ALWAYS works!”
  4. Nobody but the transit-dependent rides it. (“we tried it and it didn’t work”).
  5. Ten years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, “we tried rail and it didn’t work here”.
  6. In the meantime, a huge amount of money is spent double-tracking the corridor and increasing service; but still, essentially nobody who can choose to drive will ride the thing, because the three-seat ride (car, train, shuttle-bus) makes it so uncompetitive. (Remember that, like our rail line, it doesn’t run through any dense residential areas where people might be tempted to walk to the station – all passengers arrive either by car or by bus).
  7. Fifteen years later, when people still don’t ride, somebody reads about TOD and thinks “maybe that will help”. Millions are spent trying to encourage developers to build residential density around the train stations to no avail (a bit unlike Austin in that here, all we need to do is allow more density and it will crop up by itself due to pent-up demand for living in that part of town). Nothing comes of this – because people don’t want to pay extra to live next to a train station where they can hop a train to… a shuttle-bus.
  8. Twenty years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, “we tried rail and it didn’t work here” is still the primary response – but finally some people are starting to say “well, we built the wrong thing last time”.

If there had been more people pointing out before, during, and after the system opened that a rail line which didn’t go where the people wanted to go would be a failure, it might not have taken twenty years just to restart the rail conversation there.
I don’t want it to take twenty years to restart the conversation here in Austin.
Don’t believe it will happen? Remember: the pro-commuter-rail forces, before the election, were saying let’s ride and then decide. People in South Florida rode. They decided. It didn’t work. It has taken twenty years to even start seriously talking about building rail in the right places (along the FEC corridor, or light-rail in Fort Lauderdale). We can’t afford twenty years here.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.