Shoal Creek Attractive Nuisance Boulevard

(just posted to the austin transportational cycling list)
As I’ve tried to point out before but obviously not succeeded, dosage discount the danger for SCB is that it becomes an ‘attractive nuisance’ – i.e., if you stripe a ‘bike lane’ or a ‘shoulder’ or even a ‘shared use area’, you are making an implied recommendation that this is where cyclists should be riding. (Well-established in both legal and traffic engineering circles).

Thus, the facility to which you’re ‘attracting’ the cyclists to had better meet some basic, bare minimum, safety guidelines such as AASHTO. As many have pointed out, AASHTO standards for bike lanes next to parking are still not great – a good chunk of the bike lane would be in the door space, but the Gandy design would have had all of the bike lane within the door zone, and the ‘space’ shrinking to perhaps a foot when being passed by a motorist while you yourself were passing a parked truck – i.e., you would get brushed even if the parked vehicle never opened its door. The 10-foot shared space has this same exact problem; the absence of the stripe separating ‘bike lane’ from ‘parking lane’ makes no difference.

I get the sense that many people still haven’t looked at these pictures, which tell the story far better than my words possibly could.
Take a look. That’s not “normal bike lane bad” where the door would extend part of the way into the bike lane when it’s open. That’s “guaranteed collision bad” where the cyclist fundamentally doesn’t have enough space to travel even when the truck’s door is closed.
Some people (who must not have looked at that picture) drastically underestimate how bad a facility this is – thinking that they (good rider) would just get into the travel lane to pass the parked car. This forgets that:

  1. Most inexperienced riders don’t know to do this, and will thus ‘swerve’ at the last moment, or maybe not even go out into the lane at all,
  2. Experienced riders will take the lane well in advance of the parked car, and will (in my, and Lane’s experience at least) get honked at, or possibly someday worse.

A facility which encourages inexperienced cyclists to perform unsafe manuevers and which causes conflict with other road users when experienced cyclists do what they’re supposed to do has no place on our roadways. It doesn’t matter how the other roads in the city are designed – if this one fails some basic minimum safety standards, it’s a horrible, horrible design and needs to be rethought. If this means removing SCB from the city’s bicycle route system, so be it.

That’s the bottom line here – the city is basically signing up for a huge potential liability lawsuit, and if it ever happens, I’ll be glad to testify that they were warned early and often.

Fifty-Fifty Journalistic Balance Sucks

The past position of essentially all central-Austin neighborhoods (and, impotent stomach unfortunately, current position of many, including my current one and the last one) regarding high-density development was “none, never”.
Now, there appears to be, in some of the more enlightened neighborhoods, a position which they believe to be sufficient which is certainly BETTER than the old “none, never”, but still has some problems. I call it “stick ’em in high-rises downtown”, and it goes something like this:
“Preserve our single-family character by banning all apartments in and near our houses – instead, support more density downtown. Apartment dwellers want to be where the action is, anyway, don’t they?”
Unfortunately, in my response to a thread along these lines in one neighborhood’s yahoo group, I completely forgot the economic argument – namely that condos like my unit in Clarksville are affordable, but neither the high-rise downtown nor the single-family house in Rosedale ever will be.
Here’s what I wrote in that last response to that group. (I’ve paraphrased the quotes I responded to in parenthetical double-quotes below).

(“Central Austin is still desirable because most people want to live central in houses”)
I prefer to live on Congress Avenue in a mansion. There appears to
only be one way to do that, though, and as Tony Sanchez can tell you,
being rich doesn’t necessarily cut it.
There is a lot of unfilled demand to live central. When all other
things are equal, the majority of people would prefer to live in close
proximity to their job or other frequent non-home activity center.
When all other things are equal, the majority of people would prefer
to live in single-family housing on big lots. Where things get
interesting is where we are now, when those two forces come into
conflict (i.e., there is no possible way to satisfy both to their
fullest degree).
(“The multi-family building, not the tenants, being the problem” – part of this discussion centered on renters being bad neighbors, to which I responded with my theory about rental houses being much worse for neighbors than apartments or condos)
With all due respect, I do not think this is a strawman argument at
all, given how many people in this very discussion have complained
about the behavior of renters (usually packed into HOUSES). It’s
fairly obvious to me that if you restrict the development of
multifamily buildings in the central city, you will get more people
living together in rental houses, and that those tenants are more
difficult to control when they are renting from one landlord each
without the oversight of a HOA (as in a condo building). What about
this is difficult to agree with?
(“Center-city neighborhoods restrict multi-family housing; leads to downtown becoming like Vancouver; and I’m OK with that”, implication being that this satisfies the ‘problem’).
This leaves no room for moderate-density housing, which, for most of
US history, was the development style which the market provided for
most people. The fact that, before zoning restrictions and many of the
governmental economic activity that affects housing development today,
the market tended to provide mostly townhouses, rowhouses, etc. shows
to me that this style of moderate-density housing IS the sweet spot
where the demand for central living and the demand for space are best
compromised.
For instance, the condo unit I lived in for 6 years (and still own) is
one of 14 on Waterston Avenue (Clarksville) which takes up the space
of about 3 single-family houses. I slept with my windows open at
night. Can’t do that in one of those high-rises. On the other hand, I
can’t walk to the grocery store from my single-family house. Frankly,
if we had rowhouses here in Austin in a walkable neighborhood, that’s
where I’d be. We don’t have them, not because there’s no demand, but
because neighborhoods have forcibly kept them out.
To say that there’s no place for anything between (single-family
house) and (high-rise) seems to me to be not much better than saying
that everybody must live single-family.

If I forget, I’m counting on my three devoted readers to please remind me to expand on the rental house vs. apartment/condo issue in the future. OK THANKS BYE.

With the call to build it somewhere pretty or where they can build it bigger is:
The people who most need and use the library currently are quite likely to get there on the bus. Yes, viagra 40mg the bus you think nobody uses; although if you stand outside the current library and look at those buses go by, you’ll quickly be disabused of that particular brand of suburban idiocy.
The current library works well because it’s on one of the two most heavily bus-travelled corridors downtown (Guadalupe). A location on Cesar Chavez too far from Congress, on the other hand, won’t be an easy trip for many of the current patrons.
Look at the map (zoom in on the lower-right inset). Notice how many buses go right next to the thing. Most of the rest of the buses are three blocks away on Congress. So, a huge chunk of routes don’t require any walk at all, and most of the rest require a 3-block walk at most.
Now, consider the proposed new site at what’s now the water treatment plant. Going by current routes, two come fairly close, but the big conglomeration coming down Guadalupe/Lavaca will be about two blocks away; and the Congress routes about five blocks away.
This doesn’t sound like much to walk, and it wouldn’t be for most of us. However, as somebody who hasn’t been able to walk well for quite a while now and used to serve on a commission where we were often taking up issues important to those who are mobility-impaired, I have more appreciation than most for what a pain in the ass this is going to be. Oh, and don’t forget, unlike most of the people involved with this decision, I’ve been to this library many times – and I can tell you that at any given time, a huge number, possibly even the majority of the patrons arrived on the bus, and a large fraction of those are either elderly or in wheelchairs or both. For THOSE people, two more blocks is a lot to ask.
Don’t move somewhere which makes the library less accessible to those who need it most just for the sake of being pretty. Please say no to moving the central library off the main bus lines.
Update: Several commenters have commented along these lines (paraphrased, with my response):
“Isn’t commuter rail going to a transit hub at Seaholm anyways?” – please do yourself a favor and read this category archive and start with this post, OK? Short summary: It ain’t going to Seaholm for decades, if then. And Seaholm is still a couple-blocks’-walk from this site.
The buses will just be moved to go by the library – this isn’t going to happen either, folks. Long-haul bus routes don’t make two-block jogs just for the hell of it (people already complain about how supposedly indirect these things are). Each one of those bus routes might deliver a dozen passengers a day to the existing library – enough to make it a valuable part of the demand for the current route, but not enough to justify hauling a long, heavy, bus around a bunch of tight corners.

A pseudonymous trogolyde in this well-commented thread on Metroblogging Austin has just invoked the second component the “Austin no-growther duo”, viagra approved the first being “It’s all the Californian’s fault”.

M1EK if you are so in love with density. And the idea of quaint neighborhoods with small houses is too much to take move the fuck out of Austin. Move to fucking Houston. Developers have less restrictions. You can tear down houses and build condos and no bats an eye.

The charm, viagra 60mg it just oozes off the screen.
It’s probably a good time to repoint readers to this article on Houston in which the author alleges a similar, perhaps even greater, interference by the government there in the processes which would otherwise create density, despite the oft-celebrated lack of zoning. One example, in case you don’t want to wade through the PDF,

Until 1998, [FN37] Houston’s city code provided that the minimum lot size for detached [FN38]
single-family dwellings was 5000 square feet. [FN39] And until 1998, [FN40] Houston’s
government made it virtually impossible for developers to build large numbers of non-detached
single-family homes such as townhouses, [FN41] by requiring townhouses to sit on at least 2250
square feet of land. [FN42] As Siegan admits, this law “tend(ed) to preclude the erection of
lower cost townhouses” [FN43] and thus effectively meant that townhouses “cannot be built for
the lower and lower middle income groups.” [FN44] Houston’s townhouse regulations, unlike its
regulations governing detached houses, [FN45] were significantly more restrictive than those of
other North American cities. For example, town houses may be as small as 647 square feet of
land in Dallas, [FN46] 560 square feet in Phoenix, [FN47] and 390 square feet in Toronto,
Canada. [FN48]
Houston’s anti-townhouse policy, combined with its minimum lot size requirement for detached
houses, effectively meant that almost all single-family development in Houston had to be on a lot
of at least 5000 square feet [FN49] (which means that single-family areas in Houston could have
no more than 8.7 houses per acre).

There’s a lot more. Again, I highly recommend you read this if you’ve ever heard that “Houston has no zoning”.

A pseudonymous trogolyde in this well-commented thread on Metroblogging Austin has just invoked the second component the “Austin no-growther duo”, viagra approved the first being “It’s all the Californian’s fault”.

M1EK if you are so in love with density. And the idea of quaint neighborhoods with small houses is too much to take move the fuck out of Austin. Move to fucking Houston. Developers have less restrictions. You can tear down houses and build condos and no bats an eye.

The charm, viagra 60mg it just oozes off the screen.
It’s probably a good time to repoint readers to this article on Houston in which the author alleges a similar, perhaps even greater, interference by the government there in the processes which would otherwise create density, despite the oft-celebrated lack of zoning. One example, in case you don’t want to wade through the PDF,

Until 1998, [FN37] Houston’s city code provided that the minimum lot size for detached [FN38]
single-family dwellings was 5000 square feet. [FN39] And until 1998, [FN40] Houston’s
government made it virtually impossible for developers to build large numbers of non-detached
single-family homes such as townhouses, [FN41] by requiring townhouses to sit on at least 2250
square feet of land. [FN42] As Siegan admits, this law “tend(ed) to preclude the erection of
lower cost townhouses” [FN43] and thus effectively meant that townhouses “cannot be built for
the lower and lower middle income groups.” [FN44] Houston’s townhouse regulations, unlike its
regulations governing detached houses, [FN45] were significantly more restrictive than those of
other North American cities. For example, town houses may be as small as 647 square feet of
land in Dallas, [FN46] 560 square feet in Phoenix, [FN47] and 390 square feet in Toronto,
Canada. [FN48]
Houston’s anti-townhouse policy, combined with its minimum lot size requirement for detached
houses, effectively meant that almost all single-family development in Houston had to be on a lot
of at least 5000 square feet [FN49] (which means that single-family areas in Houston could have
no more than 8.7 houses per acre).

There’s a lot more. Again, I highly recommend you read this if you’ve ever heard that “Houston has no zoning”.

This Shoal Creek decision is a shameful abrogation of the responsiblity to ensure safe and reliable travel for all road users. When the TTI reported to the subcommitte that other cities unanimously recommended against variants of “Option III”, drugs
that should have relegated it to the scrap heap, here
even if the neighborhood were unanimously in favor of it.
As it stood, all the Council had to do was stand with a large minority of neighborhood residents and do the right thing.
I have never been more ashamed of our city than I am today. I hope you can live with yourselves when a kid riding his bike to Northwest Park gets run over when he “swerves into traffic” to get around a parked car.
Disgustedly yours,
Michael E. Dahmus
mdahmus@io.com

Whether it’s in science (usually global warming or evolution) or local politics, contagion journalists addicted to “he-said she-said” should turn in their press pass. If that’s all we needed, pestilence simple links to a couple of ideological websites would suffice.

With global warming, you effectively have an overwhelming scientific consensus and a couple of skeptics – bought and paid for by oil companies (and, of course, a college dropout Bush appointee trying to censor one of this country’s most experienced climatologists). The media usually covers this as “he-said, she-said”, which is OK when there truly IS no consensus, but we passed that point ten years ago.

In the Shoal Creek debacle instance, the Chronicle didn’t bother to tell you that the TTI, hired by the City Council in an obvious attempt to provide at least some political cover for choosing “Option 3”, reported back to them that the peer cities fairly unanimously recommended “Option 2”, and that all of them recommended very strongly against “Option 3”. Paraphrased, the response was, essentially, “why don’t you idiots just restrict parking on one side of the street?”.

Did the Chronicle mention this, either at the time or now that the council subcommittee ignored everybody who knows diddly-squat about traffic safety and ordered Option 3? Of course not. It’s “car-free bike lane guys say X. On the other hand, neighborhood people say Y”. No mention of which position might be more credible. No mention of the fact that the experts the city hired to consult were firmly on one of the two sides.

Fifty-fifty balance sucks. A chimp could collate two press releases together and turn them into an article. Chronicle, have another banana.

The thing people aren’t getting about the library

The past position of essentially all central-Austin neighborhoods (and, impotent stomach unfortunately, current position of many, including my current one and the last one) regarding high-density development was “none, never”.
Now, there appears to be, in some of the more enlightened neighborhoods, a position which they believe to be sufficient which is certainly BETTER than the old “none, never”, but still has some problems. I call it “stick ’em in high-rises downtown”, and it goes something like this:
“Preserve our single-family character by banning all apartments in and near our houses – instead, support more density downtown. Apartment dwellers want to be where the action is, anyway, don’t they?”
Unfortunately, in my response to a thread along these lines in one neighborhood’s yahoo group, I completely forgot the economic argument – namely that condos like my unit in Clarksville are affordable, but neither the high-rise downtown nor the single-family house in Rosedale ever will be.
Here’s what I wrote in that last response to that group. (I’ve paraphrased the quotes I responded to in parenthetical double-quotes below).

(“Central Austin is still desirable because most people want to live central in houses”)
I prefer to live on Congress Avenue in a mansion. There appears to
only be one way to do that, though, and as Tony Sanchez can tell you,
being rich doesn’t necessarily cut it.
There is a lot of unfilled demand to live central. When all other
things are equal, the majority of people would prefer to live in close
proximity to their job or other frequent non-home activity center.
When all other things are equal, the majority of people would prefer
to live in single-family housing on big lots. Where things get
interesting is where we are now, when those two forces come into
conflict (i.e., there is no possible way to satisfy both to their
fullest degree).
(“The multi-family building, not the tenants, being the problem” – part of this discussion centered on renters being bad neighbors, to which I responded with my theory about rental houses being much worse for neighbors than apartments or condos)
With all due respect, I do not think this is a strawman argument at
all, given how many people in this very discussion have complained
about the behavior of renters (usually packed into HOUSES). It’s
fairly obvious to me that if you restrict the development of
multifamily buildings in the central city, you will get more people
living together in rental houses, and that those tenants are more
difficult to control when they are renting from one landlord each
without the oversight of a HOA (as in a condo building). What about
this is difficult to agree with?
(“Center-city neighborhoods restrict multi-family housing; leads to downtown becoming like Vancouver; and I’m OK with that”, implication being that this satisfies the ‘problem’).
This leaves no room for moderate-density housing, which, for most of
US history, was the development style which the market provided for
most people. The fact that, before zoning restrictions and many of the
governmental economic activity that affects housing development today,
the market tended to provide mostly townhouses, rowhouses, etc. shows
to me that this style of moderate-density housing IS the sweet spot
where the demand for central living and the demand for space are best
compromised.
For instance, the condo unit I lived in for 6 years (and still own) is
one of 14 on Waterston Avenue (Clarksville) which takes up the space
of about 3 single-family houses. I slept with my windows open at
night. Can’t do that in one of those high-rises. On the other hand, I
can’t walk to the grocery store from my single-family house. Frankly,
if we had rowhouses here in Austin in a walkable neighborhood, that’s
where I’d be. We don’t have them, not because there’s no demand, but
because neighborhoods have forcibly kept them out.
To say that there’s no place for anything between (single-family
house) and (high-rise) seems to me to be not much better than saying
that everybody must live single-family.

If I forget, I’m counting on my three devoted readers to please remind me to expand on the rental house vs. apartment/condo issue in the future. OK THANKS BYE.

With the call to build it somewhere pretty or where they can build it bigger is:
The people who most need and use the library currently are quite likely to get there on the bus. Yes, viagra 40mg the bus you think nobody uses; although if you stand outside the current library and look at those buses go by, you’ll quickly be disabused of that particular brand of suburban idiocy.
The current library works well because it’s on one of the two most heavily bus-travelled corridors downtown (Guadalupe). A location on Cesar Chavez too far from Congress, on the other hand, won’t be an easy trip for many of the current patrons.
Look at the map (zoom in on the lower-right inset). Notice how many buses go right next to the thing. Most of the rest of the buses are three blocks away on Congress. So, a huge chunk of routes don’t require any walk at all, and most of the rest require a 3-block walk at most.
Now, consider the proposed new site at what’s now the water treatment plant. Going by current routes, two come fairly close, but the big conglomeration coming down Guadalupe/Lavaca will be about two blocks away; and the Congress routes about five blocks away.
This doesn’t sound like much to walk, and it wouldn’t be for most of us. However, as somebody who hasn’t been able to walk well for quite a while now and used to serve on a commission where we were often taking up issues important to those who are mobility-impaired, I have more appreciation than most for what a pain in the ass this is going to be. Oh, and don’t forget, unlike most of the people involved with this decision, I’ve been to this library many times – and I can tell you that at any given time, a huge number, possibly even the majority of the patrons arrived on the bus, and a large fraction of those are either elderly or in wheelchairs or both. For THOSE people, two more blocks is a lot to ask.
Don’t move somewhere which makes the library less accessible to those who need it most just for the sake of being pretty. Please say no to moving the central library off the main bus lines.
Update: Several commenters have commented along these lines (paraphrased, with my response):
“Isn’t commuter rail going to a transit hub at Seaholm anyways?” – please do yourself a favor and read this category archive and start with this post, OK? Short summary: It ain’t going to Seaholm for decades, if then. And Seaholm is still a couple-blocks’-walk from this site.
The buses will just be moved to go by the library – this isn’t going to happen either, folks. Long-haul bus routes don’t make two-block jogs just for the hell of it (people already complain about how supposedly indirect these things are). Each one of those bus routes might deliver a dozen passengers a day to the existing library – enough to make it a valuable part of the demand for the current route, but not enough to justify hauling a long, heavy, bus around a bunch of tight corners.

The Capital Metro Finances

Ben Wear finally checked in this morning about the “commuter rail finances causing pressure for cost reductions causing union strife issue” which I covered here, buy purchase although I disagree completely with his conclusion that light rail would have left us in the same mess.

  1. The commuter rail plan would NOT have received any substantial Federal funding. Wear glosses over this for more commentary about how difficult the New Starts process is. Rail lines with such paltry projected ridership have not done well at the FTA in recent years.
  2. The light rail plan, on the other hand, would easily have received the 50% Federal funding. We already know the Feds rated it highly even though they weren’t allowed to include the impact of TOD and other future development such as the Triangle (which is now, in 2006, online).
  3. The commuter rail plan was sold to the voters of Austin on the premise that it was so cheap (with the Federal money that Capital Metro is now NOT seeking) that it would not necessitate touching the 1/4 cent “rebate” or the Build Greater Austin funds.
  4. The light rail plan counted on using both. Wear glosses over this to some degree, but at least mentions it.
  5. The operating costs of commuter rail are likely to be high – Wear mentions this, but doesn’t mention why they’re disproportionately high compared to light rail – again, it runs back to low ridership. Operating cost per passenger, in fact, is likely to be much higher with commuter rail than with light rail. The physical cost of moving each train is quite likely to be higher with diesel than it was with electricity, and many of the ancillary operating costs such as maintenance actually rise at a lower rate than the number of vehicles do thanks to economies of scale. Then, when you divide that cost by a much smaller number of commuter rail passengers, you’re in bad news city. It’s going to be a feeding frenzy for the local suburban Republicans masquerading as libertarians when the “we’re paying a $15 subsidy for each rail passenger’s daily ride” stories start coming out.

Summarizing: the 2000 light rail plan would have gotten a bunch of money from the Feds, would have had access to the 1/4 cent ‘rebate’ and Build Greater Austin funds, would have had greater income from fares, would have had proportionally lower operating costs, and would have opened up more TOD income than will this commuter rail plan. Since it would have gone “right down the gut”, i.e., right next to all the neighborhoods which actually want to use transit, and directly in front of UT, the Capitol, and the parts of downtown where people actually work, it would have become the success story that we’ve seen in Minneapolis, Portland, Dallas, etc. IE: a credible alternative which encourages even those who drive to work every day to support future expansions and even (shudder!) tax increases.
Instead, based on what we have now, it’s unlikely that, if it’s ever built out, the complete commuter rail + streetcars plan being pushed today will end up being any cheaper anyways, which really puts the lie to the idea that cost was the reason for picking it. It was about screwing the center-city in favor of Krusee’s suburbanites all along. If you are one of the few who ride it, this is how you’re gonna get to work. And our “success story” that we’re attempting to emulate is South Florida: Shuttle buses for those who were going to take the bus anyways, and branded as a big fat failure by everybody else.

“Build it and they’ll come” is no way to run a city

So the end-result of the Parlor problem appears to be that the neighborhood isn’t going to budge on the parking variance, cardiologist check which means that another local business is in danger of going under unless the notoriously neighborhood-friendly Board of Adjustment suddenly becomes more responsible.
The end of the thread on the hydeparkaustin mailing list occurred when a member of the “Circle C in downtown Austin” party commented that a plan (in the works now for a long time and seemingly not close to fruition) to arrange for parking at the State Hospital (across Guadalupe) to be used for employees of businesses on Guadalupe would be the only way out of this mess.
I replied that it was unlikely that any customer or employee of those businesses would find it attractive to park at the state hospital, thumb rx walk out to Guadalupe, psychiatrist wait a long time for the light at 41st and Guadalupe to change, walk very quickly across the street, and then and only then arrive at their destination (as compared to parking on a side street or Avenue A).
The person replied (and was supported by the moderator, who then ended the discussion with the attached unpublished rebuttal in hand) that “the boss can make the employee park whereever they say”. This may be true in an abstract sense, I replied, but it’s unlikely that any such boss would want to spend the energy enforcing a rule which prevented employees from parking in PUBLIC spaces such as on Avenue A, even if they did want to keep employees out of their own private lot.
This goes back to thinking of a type which is unfortunately prevalent here in Austin and among many other progressive cities – that being that people will do things that are good, as long as we provide opportunities to do them. IE, build it and they will come. What you build, given this thinking, doesn’t have to be attractive compared to the pre-existing or forthcoming alternatives; its mere existence will suffice.
For instance, in this circumstance, they think that simply providing available parking in an inconvenient and unpleasant location will get people to park there who would otherwise park on neighborhood streets. Likewise, Capital Metro thinks simply providing any rail will get people to use it, even if the individual incentives are pretty awful, given the shuttle bus transfers.
I have a whole blog category analyzing ‘use cases’ which I think is a far more useful way to look at the problem. In this case, for instance, put yourself in the shoes of that potential parking consumer a few paragraphs back and remember that your boss probably (a) isn’t going to be able to stop you from parking on Avenue A, and (b) probably couldn’t catch you even if he tried.
But like with the naive pro-transit suckers that bought the MikeKrusee ScrewAustin Express, it’s unlikely that it’s possible to get through to these people. And so, the consequence is that another local business which probably would have improved Guadalupe as a place we actually want to be is thwarted. Good work, geniuses.
This is not to say that we should never build transit or highways. What it does mean is that somebody ought to spend at least a few minutes figuring out whether the thing you’re going to expect people to use is actually attractive enough for them to choose to use it. By that metric, light rail in 2000 was a slam dunk, despite the lies spread by Skaggs and Daugherty. But in this parking case and with this commuter rail line, nobody seems to have bothered to put themselves in the shoes of the prospective user.
my sadly now never-to-be-published response (remember, this is to somebody who said “But the Heart Hospital doesn’t let their employees park in their lot!” follows.

Those cases have some clear and obvious differences to the one
we’re talking about here — one being that the employees are being prohibited from parking in a private lot (which is still difficult to enforce, but at least defensible). You’re asking that these business’ employees not only refrain from parking in the business’ lot (private) but ALSO from the public spaces on Guadalupe and the street space on Avenue A. And nobody’s ‘requiring’ those state employees to park in Siberia – if they could find an open metered space somewhere else, for instance, they’re free to take it. Likewise, the Heart Hospital can’t force its employees to mark at the MHMR pool.
So it’s easy to prohibit people from parking in a given private lot. Unless you’re going to turn Avenue A into RPPP as part of this, though, they’d still park there instead of across Guadalupe. And any boss who tried to force them otherwise would probably be experiencing the fun world of employee turnover.

Clearly I Am A Shrinking Violet

These guys have nothing to say about this. Pushing claims of false controversy is obviously the game being played by the current crop of right-wingers (ticking off even moderate Republicans like the ones who used to run the show), diagnosis cure but it’s been very disappointing to me how much of that has rubbed off on the supposedly non-partisan libertarians.
Hint: Science doesn’t care if you don’t like the news – and it definitely doesn’t care if you don’t want to admit climate change is anthropogenic and dangerous just because the only effective solutions require some involvement from the evil State.

Chris Mooney has moved here (a much more palatable host) and I’ve added Tim Lambert.
Both often cover the distortion of science perpetrated by the current sorry crop of right-wingers. And don’t fall for bogus claims of balance by shysters trying to convince you both sides are equally bad. They’re just not. This is almost entirely a Republican problem, cheap and it’s not going anywhere. The mostly non-religious but very-rabid right-wingers at my last job were, illness despite being a highly educated and self-described moderate bunch, information pills falling for most of the denial science pushed for profit by the GOP’s pseudoscience shills. If those people are unwilling to use their critical thinking skills when their political party tells them not to, I fear for our future. I ain’t kidding.
For instance: There isn’t really any lack of consensus on global warming, people. The scientists who study climate are overwhelmingly speaking in one voice. The few skeptics who remain are largely shills funded by the oil companies. Yes, for real.
I note in passing that my buddies at Hit and Run are still curiously silent on the global warming news of the day.

I’m still not over the current flare-up of my stupid arthritis (now six months and counting since I was able to do, ophthalmologist essentially, sickness anything) so even though price -97.726307&sspn=0.016302,0.042229&q=restaurant&near=4280+Duval+Street,+Austin,+TX&btnG=Search&latlng=30304463,-97726197,18228028895964040687″>Julio’s is within a good walk, we drove to lunch. My wife wanted to pick up some vegetables at Fresh Plus too. Here’s what we had to do:

  1. Drive by Julio’s. All spaces taken. Oops.
  2. Drive by the lot at Fresh Plus. Note that it’s 2/3 empty, unlike the other big lot in the area. Sign says you will be towed if you leave the premises. Oops.
  3. Drive by the other big lot. Full. (Not really allowed for Julio’s either; probably towable).
  4. Park on street amidst many people doing the same.
  5. Walk past Fresh Plus and that other lot over to Julio’s.
  6. Eat lunch
  7. Walk back to Fresh Plus and buy vegetables
  8. Walk past 2/3 empty lot back to car

The even-more-suburban version of this would have entailed us parking at a lot for Julio’s, then having to move the car to the Fresh Plus lot, then driving home. Some folks would prefer that business customers don’t park on the street even in Hyde Park so that’s not that far off. In fact, a local small business opening was/is being held up over such concerns. (if you can’t read the hyde park group and you’re really interested in the details, email me).

This shopping center was used before by Karen McGraw as an example of a good solution to the parking-versus-neighborhood-streets ‘problem’ when another business on Guadalupe was trying to get a variance to open with far less than suburban-norm parking. Didn’t seem that good to me – pretty damn inefficient to have 2/3 of Fresh Plus’ lot sitting there empty (and the big lot shared by Hyde Park Bar & Grill and other businesses is often underutilized as well, although not today).

We’re not that unusual – when people do drive to this commercial node (many walk or bike), it’s quite often to hit several places at once. Most either do what we do and park on the street (thus pissing off the neighbors) or risk getting towed because they ‘left the premises’.

Does this strike anybody else as good? What the hell’s wrong with just abolishing these stupid parking requirements anyways – businesses that absolutely can’t live without dedicated off-street parking would continue to build it; but we wouldn’t be left with these wide expanses of mandated, but empty, parking. And if there was a huge demand for off-street parking, somebody could build (shudder) a pay lot instead of forcing businesses to subsidize drivers at the expense of cyclists and pedestrians.

Folks, if you want to live in a real city, you have to get to that place where you realize that forcing every business to have its own parking lot is just stupid, stupid, stupid. You end up with blight (like on Guadalupe) because you just can’t pound that square suburban peg into the circular urban hole.

Both Austinist and Metroblogging Austin wrote articles about Cap Metro which talked about commuter rail and didn’t link here to any one of the hundred or so articles in my vast Cap Metro commuter rail category archive. My feelings are hurt. More importantly: Baby Jebus is crying.

Update: Both have now added links to the category archive here, this site so that hopefully new readers can get a lot of backstory. Thanks, implant both of you.

A summary:

  • Capital Metro did not seek Federal money because they knew they’d not get much. The FTA was unlikely to rate this commuter rail plan very highly – even Cap Metro’s own figures show a very small number of people riding, because this piece-of-crap Krusee debacle doesn’t actually go anywhere people want to go, like UT, the Capitol, or Congress Avenue, and their bogus stuck-in-traffic ‘circulator’ is only going to circulate bums and other carless transit-dependent folks because of the extra time and discomfort involved in a three-seat ride. Oh, and it also doesn’t go near any of the center-city neighborhoods that actually like to use transit.
  • The 2000 light rail plan, on the other hand, was rated pretty highly by the FTA and would have clearly obtained a good chunk of federal funding, as would a scaled-back version of same, due to much higher projected ridership (compared to the Krusee craptrain above).
  • The union, whether you like them or not, would be committing suicide if they consented to a two-tier wage structure. Any position by Cap Metro which includes that change is, therefore, evidence that they don’t want to negotiate, but rather, that their desire is to kill the union.

More on hybrids beating diesel

Tried to post this as a comment to this entry at gritsforbreakfast but blogspot’s comment server crashed. Reproducing here for posterity.

I agree completely with steamboat lion, discount capsule and also find it very disingenuous to claim that all people who want red light cameras have a financial motivation. (I, obviously, don’t, for instance).
Those who oppose red light cameras should be banging the drum to get more cops out on the street enforcing the law. How much effort have you put into this? I certainly doubt very much whether it’s feasible – it appears too easy to contest these types of tickets in court by shady means, but I’d like to hear your suggestion as well, since the idea that because red light cameras are often abused that we should just continue to do what we do now – basically allow red-light running with no consequences – is ridiculously inappropriate.

This guy on livejournal posted the results of a real-world test in Canada involving some cars we’re all familiar with. As with CR’s results, sale in a real-world test, pestilence the small diesel car didn’t even come close to the mileage of the bigger (midsize) Prius.

Diesel vs. Hybrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just posted this to the allandale yahoo group but it bears repeating to a more general audience.

--- In allandale@yahoogroups.com, purchase  "kayn7"  wrote:
>
> Some of the neighbors in HPWBANA tried the nice approach and working
> with them - the students were - to say the least - not responsive and
> some were abusive. The neighbors on Hartford call the police and
> Varisty Properties owners on a regular basis because of parking on
> lawns, ask  loud late night parties, beer cans thrown in yards.

This entire process (and I live next door to a duplex full of UT Wranglers who occasionally cause similar problems) is an unintended consequence of something which your neighborhood and mine probably supports – that being restrictions on multifamily development.
Most of these kids (not all, but most) don’t have any particular interest in living in a house instead of a condo or apartment – but the artificially low-density development around UT for decades has forced them to either live out in Far West or Riverside and take a slow poky shuttle to school, or get together with a bunch of buddies and rent a house (and be able to carpool to school or take a much quicker and shorter bus ride, or bike or walk). I’d probably pick the same thing if I were in their shoes – I’ve seen how long it takes to bus in from those areas; my next-door neighbors can walk the 10 blocks to campus in half the time it takes those other schlubs to bus there.
(I know from my experience in college that when the market provides enough near-campus apartments, far fewer kids end up in rental houses – this was at Penn State, in case anybody cares).
So you can thank the decades of foolhardy opposition to density (height restrictions and moronic suburban parking requirements) in West Campus for a lot of this. Unfortunately, the recent rezonings are too little too late for most of us – it will be another decade or two before the number of new apartments there can begin to stem the tide.

Summary: for decades, inner-city neighborhoods pushed the city to keep building heights low, require way too much parking, and otherwise restrict high-density development near UT despite the fact that students living in this area WALK to class. UT doesn’t provide even half as many dorms as the students would seem to need; the near-campus market doesn’t have enough tall buildings to make up the difference (not even as many as Penn State has, despite having an oversupply of dorms); so students end up in rental houses, even though they have no interest in yardwork and get hassled a lot more by the neighbors (like me) than they would in an apartment in West Campus. Be careful of what you ask for.

Finally somebody in the mainstream press gets it. From the Atlanta Journal Constitution, glands 12/5/2005:

There are two kinds of people: Us and them. And where the line falls between the two depends entirely on context.
Sometimes us and them is a matter of gender — “Men Are From Mars, discount Women Are From Venus, capsule ” as the book title goes. Or, as columnist Maureen Dowd asks in her new book, “Are Men Necessary?”
At other times, we define us and them by racial or political differences, or even by something as frivolous as the sports team we follow. In fact, a lot of the appeal of sports is the opportunity to root hard for our side against their side; as a lifelong New York Yankee hater, I can personally attest to the pleasures that can bring.
Then there’s the line we draw depending on how and where we live. To suburban dwellers, the city is often viewed as a corrupt heart of darkness, in more ways than one. To city dwellers, the suburbs are perceived as rather soulless and pale, again in more ways than one.
Those tensions play out in a lot of ways, even coloring discussions about how booming areas such as Atlanta ought to develop. Too often, what ought to be a straightforward, even technical discussion of various land-use approaches can devolve into just another battleground in the ongoing culture wars, just another example of us against them.
For example, one of the Atlanta region’s biggest challenges is controlling sprawl, a development pattern that consumes tax dollars and open land and greatly complicates transportation planning and environmental problems. One of the options available to mitigate sprawl and its impact is an approach called “smart growth” — areas of higher-density development that mix residential, commercial and business uses.
Unfortunately, though, some suburban dwellers hear criticism of sprawl as some sort of a value-laden condemnation of suburban life. They respond by launching a defense of sprawl that can be paraphrased with the following:
“What others deride as sprawl is actually just the free market at work, the result of millions of Americans choosing the lifestyle they prefer. And any effort to control or limit ‘sprawl’ is a misuse of government power promoted by elitists who want to instruct us common folk how to live.”
Well, I’ve covered enough county commission and zoning board meetings to know that’s just romantic mythology.
First of all, the free market, left to its own devices, produces dense development, not sprawl. Developers want to put as many units as possible on their property, because that’s how they make the most profit; you don’t see them going to court demanding the right to build fewer homes per acre.
Sprawl is possible only through intense government regulation. It is an artificial growth pattern achieved by laws that frustrate the free market’s tendency toward density. The free market, left to its own devices, would never produce five-acre minimum lot sizes, or 2,500-square-foot minimum house sizes, or bans and moratoriums on apartments. The free market, left to its own devices, would produce growth patterns more like “smart-growth” policies.
In fact, smart-growth alternatives impose fewer restrictions on developers than does sprawl-inducing zoning, and infringe less dramatically on developers’ property rights. Philosophically speaking, it ought to be a conservative’s dream.
The claim that critics of sprawl are elitist is equally hard to swallow, given that one of the hallmarks of sprawl is economic segregation. Go to a county commission meeting and you’ll see owners of $500,000 homes on five-acre lots protesting the construction of $250,000, one-acre homes nearby, and owners of $250,000 homes fighting against apartments and town houses.
Sprawl is not a rejection of elitism; it is the expression of elitism. It is people using the power of government to protect “us” against the incursion of “them.”
That is not, however, an argument in favor of trying to eliminate suburban growth patterns or the suburban lifestyle. Such things are ingrained in metro Atlanta, and are a large part of the region’s success. Here in Georgia, only the most zealous of smart-growth advocates want to ban large-lot zoning and other sprawl-inducing mechanisms. Instead, they ask only that zoning laws be relaxed enough to allow smart-growth developments to compete for customers, so that people can be given a real choice.
Given the success of smart-growth projects around metro Atlanta, when people are given that choice, they jump at it.
• Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.

One thing which has been a minor irritant to me for a long time is this:
If TXDOT truly abandoned plans for the “Outer Loop” around Austin (environmental and economic catastrophe for Austin proper that it would have clearly been), symptoms why have they retained the same route number for SH 45 “S” and SH 45 “N”?
It’s an article of faith around these parts that the Outer Loop won’t be built, yet nobody seems to point out that TXDOT keeps calling the roads which would have formed the northern and southern parts of this loop by the same number. Why does nobody but me find this fishy?
My guess: TXDOT is still keeping the flame of the “Outer Loop” lit against the hated hippies of Central Austin. I can’t come up with any other logical reason why they wouldn’t want to give the two roads different numbers. Any other ideas?

A lot of folks, thumb including an attempted commenter from earlier today whose comment got rejected for some reason I have yet to determine, look think I’m a liberal. Those folks is wrong most of the time.
For instance, this story bugs me, especially this part:

One 70-year-old Maine LIHEAP recipient, who asked not to be named, says that she gets through the winter by keeping her thermostat at 62 degrees.

I keep our thermostat at 60 at night; 65 during the day; and make sure to open blinds to get as much solar heating as possible when the sun is up. If I lived up north, I’d go colder. 62? Give me a break. How about putting on another sweater? For most of human history, people in cold climates would have thought 62 was heavenly warm.

This is pretty much how I feel about what Microsoft’s done to the computer software industry. Unfortunately, bronchitis the site for which Julian writes pretty much takes Microsoft at their word and buys the “statists envious of successful corporation” version of the story.
It’s even remarkably timely.
So please imagine a world in which:

  • Meaningful commercial operating system competition existed, thus pushing Windows to actually satisfy customer needs rather than those of its business partners’. IE, what we had from the 80s through the early 90s.
  • Non-trivial commercial office suite competition existed, meaning that Word, Excel, and the lot would have to be GOOD, not just good enough.
  • Commercial browser competition had existed for the last 5 years, meaning IE wouldn’t have been able to take half a decade off after Netscape died.

And, no, open source can’t save us, with the trivial exception of browsers (which just aren’t all that complicated compared to the other things above). I’ve been using linux, on server and desktop, at my last three jobs. I even prefer it for work. That doesn’t make it a competitor serious enough to do much good, even though Microsoft has to say it does so they look good for the media. (In 2005, I couldn’t get sound working on a friggin’ mass-market HP-Compaq box running Red Hat Linux (and later, same problem with Debian) – and I was far from the only one).
The third-grade libertarians out there replied at the time: “the market will save us” – pointing to the transition to the internet, which would supposedly make operating system monopolies a non-issue. Problem is – Microsoft knew that was a threat and fairly effectively (and obnoxiously) killed it.

Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro taxes. They decided a long time ago that they didn’t want to be part of the system. Great. I wish we Austinites could similarly exempt ourselves from paying taxes which build their roads for them, search but here we are.
So where does Krusee and rail come into this, prothesis then?
CAMPO is about to approve using Federal money to build an “intermodal transit center” in downtown Round Rock, which will include a new bus line which connects to a Capital Metro Park-n-Ride in far North Austin.
Let me repeat again: Citizens of Austin subsidize bus rides on Capital Metro by paying a 1% sales tax. Citizens of Round Rock pay nothing to Capital Metro.
These park and rides (and the express buses which stop there) are fairly attractive today for a small subset of commuters who have to pay money to park at their office (mainly UT employees; a few folks downtown). So some people, even when not in the Cap Metro service area, drive to the park and ride and then hop the bus (paying the same low fare as an Austin resident would). Until recently, the main places this ‘freeloading rider’ problem occurred were Pflugerville (which voted themselves out of the system – Cap Metro responded by moving their park and ride what seemed like 500 feet further down the road towards Austin) and Cedar Park (who can freeload on either Leander or Austin).
Now we’ve just opened one of these at the far north fringe of the service area (near Howard Lane).
I have asked Cap Metro in the past (when I was on the UTC) whether they realized that building more park-and-rides at the far fringes of their service area would lead to this ‘freeloading rider’ problem; and they said, yes, it would, and no, they didn’t intend to do anything about it.
So now, to add insult to injury, we’re using area-wide tax revenue to build a project which will make it easier for Round Rock residents to ride Capital Metro, where they will be heavily subsidized (far more than Austin riders) by Austin taxpayers. This will further drive down Cap Metro’s fairly abyssmal “farebox recovery ratio”. And Cap Metro is enthusiastic about this.
Is Round Rock going to institute a 1% sales tax to pay for Capital Metro service? Hell no. They can’t, even if they wanted to; they’re maxed out. Is Cap Metro going to demand that passengers provide proof of residence inside the service area before getting the heavily discounted fare? Hell no. They won’t, even if they wanted to.
But could Capital Metro build light rail for urban Austin where most of their tax revenue comes from? No, that was ‘too expensive’. If you’re appropriately slavish in your praise, Kaiser Krusee might deign to bless you with some streetcars which are stuck in traffic behind his constituents’ cars. Just don’t point out that by the time we’ve built a bunch of worthless commuter rail lines and a streetcar loop, we might as well have just built the 2000 light rail plan – it would have been no more expensive and far more effective.
Anybody see anything wrong with this picture?
More to come.

For the crackplreaders (need a better name!) who were buggin’ me about the lack of updates, orthopedist note this is the THIRD THIRD THIRD! POST POST POST! OF THE DAY DAY DAY!
Don’t know why, but this guy/band really stuck in my head – I got one of their songs in the giant SXSW 2005 torrent and was impressed enough to go grab the other three free tunes off their site. My in-laws gave me a Waterloo gift certificate for Xmas, so I can buy some music for the first time since, uh, last Xmas, but I don’t think I can this there. Oh well.
Check it out. If your brane is wired anything like mine, you’ll like it.
Also check out that torrent. A ton of songs which various bands thought was their best chance at making it – so 99% of them are very good to excellent.

Finally almost caught up on the albums for 2005:

Most SUV drivers, check sad to say, visit web were perfectly happy to drive them when SUVs appeared to be a zero-sum game, seek i.e., if you drove an SUV, sure you killed more people in cars, but your own passengers were safer at about the same proportion. Because, after all, protecting your own family is the only thing that matters – so it doesn’t matter if it happens by making it much more likely that others will die.
And, of course, most people who bother to study the issue always knew they got special treatment allowing them to enjoy more lenient fuel economy, pollution, tax, and safety regulations (pre-1999).
But recently we’ve found out that they’re also more dangerous for pedestrians and finally, the conventional wisdom among those who study the vehicles that they really aren’t safer for their own occupants than would be a sedan has been borne out in a recent study involving kids. Yes, the same kids you claim you bought the SUV for.
I guess you still have that high riding position to hang your hat on. Oh, and the donating of all that excess money to Middle Eastern regimes we’re all big fans of. Way to go, guys.

From today’s Chronicle, sale in reference to last week’s 37th street lights / student housing complaint:

More Apartments Near UT

Dear Editor, medicine

Mary-Gay Maxwell’s complaints about houses rented out to too many students strike home for a lot of us [“Are Partiers Dimming the 37th Street Lights?, pilule ” News, Dec. 30]. I live in her neighborhood, next to a duplex full of undergrads who are occasionally a problem despite a landlord who’s more responsible than most.

But let’s be clear: Most college kids don’t particularly want to live in a house. It’s more work than an apartment, you don’t get a pool or an entertainment room, you have more worries about parking and roommates, etc.

So why are so many UT students living in rental houses, compared to cities with other large colleges (such as Penn State)? Well, for one, UT doesn’t have many dorms. Not much we can do about that out here in the community. But there’s another contributing factor here: This area doesn’t have anywhere near enough near-campus apartments to satisfy demand. Some students would doubtlessly still live in rental houses, but a large majority would switch back to apartments, as they do at other big universities. It’s ludicrous that there’s so much low-density development (single-story even) along Guadalupe close to campus.

Living off Far West or Riverside (in low-density apartment sprawl) is a poor substitute to being able to walk (or ride your bike) to class – a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle bus isn’t going to win the battle against close-in rental houses. So it’s clear we need more near-campus high-density apartment development – and the recent rezoning of West Campus is a good start, but not nearly enough. The problem today, though, is that we’re still dealing with the effects of the last 20-30 years of ill-advised obstruction tactics by near-campus neighborhoods to any and all apartment development. Villas on Guadalupe, anyone?

Unfortunately, this lack of near-campus high-density apartment housing was, in fact, created by neighbors like Maxwell through their irresponsible opposition to essential projects like the Villas. Too bad that people like me (living a few blocks from those 37th lights) have to suffer the consequences with her.

Mike Dahmus

I just posted the following in the comments of this post on Austin’s metroblog (which, rubella somehow, despite my focus on Austin politics, mostly ignores this blog’s existence). Adam Rice also posted a good article on his theories on why the lights are going away which is much more informative and doubtlessly much more correct than my own.
Since the comment appears to have been held for moderation, I reproduce it here (this is in response to both Ray, who lives a bit to my east, and the other guy, who is a member of the Suck It Up You Knew What You Were Buying Into contingent):

To present a third pole to the geography of this discussion, I, personally, blame the folks running the center-city neighborhood organizations for the last couple of decades who basically shut down all apartment development near UT for most of that time (finally starting to have their grip on the City Council loosened about the time the Villas on Guadalupe made it through despite their vicious and obnoxious opposition).
If, as would have happened in a city run by responsible adults rather than pander-to-neighborhood-lunatics-at-all-costs-types like Jackie Goodman, we had built BIG BIG BIG buildings along Guadalupe and points further west (within walking distance of campus) when demand was indicated, instead of playing catch-up only TODAY, we wouldn’t have nearly as many kids in rental houses – because, frankly, most college kids could give a crap if they have a yard – they’d probably rather have a pool and a workout room. But they sure as hell might rather live in a house within a bike ride of campus than in a crappy apartment on Far West or Riverside where they get a long, unreliable, and jerky shuttle-bus ride to school every day…
(I live nextdoor to a duplex full of UT Wranglers who have been problematic at times despite having a very responsible landlord – the guy who sold me the house and moved near Far West to be closer to Anderson High. Even with a good landlord, I feel bad about calling as much as I do – this is Not Fun Stuff).

Many folks who are pretty clearly disingenuously rooting for hybrid automobiles to go away because they don’t like their implications for US automakers like to harp on the supposed superiority of diesel cars. Coincidentally, salve I just got an issue of Consumer Reports in the mail where the new Jetta TDI goes up against the new Civic Hybrid. Some stats from the article:

Car City Hwy 0-60 time
Jetta TDI 24 mpg 46 mpg 12.2 seconds
Civic Hybrid 26 mpg 47 mpg 11.7 seconds
Prius 35 mpg 50 mpg 11.3 seconds

And of course, about it the Civic Hybrid pollutes a hell of a lot less than does the Jetta, even with the forthcoming cleaner diesel fuel. The Prius is the cleanest of the lot and considerably larger than the Civic or Jetta. (I don’t remember the 0-60 time for the Prius).
So, folks, the next time somebody tells you that hybrids are a joke compared to diesels, be aware they’re selling you a load of bunk. Even in highway driving where diesels were supposed to be better, it turns out hybrids are winning in the real world.
(acceleration figures are from the magazine for Jetta and Civic Hybrid; attempted to get CR’s figure for Prius via google, but may be unreliable; other sites have its 0-60 all over the map from sub-10 seconds to more like 12).

SUVs are a negative sum game

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just posted this to the allandale yahoo group but it bears repeating to a more general audience.

--- In allandale@yahoogroups.com, purchase  "kayn7"  wrote:
>
> Some of the neighbors in HPWBANA tried the nice approach and working
> with them - the students were - to say the least - not responsive and
> some were abusive. The neighbors on Hartford call the police and
> Varisty Properties owners on a regular basis because of parking on
> lawns, ask  loud late night parties, beer cans thrown in yards.

This entire process (and I live next door to a duplex full of UT Wranglers who occasionally cause similar problems) is an unintended consequence of something which your neighborhood and mine probably supports – that being restrictions on multifamily development.
Most of these kids (not all, but most) don’t have any particular interest in living in a house instead of a condo or apartment – but the artificially low-density development around UT for decades has forced them to either live out in Far West or Riverside and take a slow poky shuttle to school, or get together with a bunch of buddies and rent a house (and be able to carpool to school or take a much quicker and shorter bus ride, or bike or walk). I’d probably pick the same thing if I were in their shoes – I’ve seen how long it takes to bus in from those areas; my next-door neighbors can walk the 10 blocks to campus in half the time it takes those other schlubs to bus there.
(I know from my experience in college that when the market provides enough near-campus apartments, far fewer kids end up in rental houses – this was at Penn State, in case anybody cares).
So you can thank the decades of foolhardy opposition to density (height restrictions and moronic suburban parking requirements) in West Campus for a lot of this. Unfortunately, the recent rezonings are too little too late for most of us – it will be another decade or two before the number of new apartments there can begin to stem the tide.

Summary: for decades, inner-city neighborhoods pushed the city to keep building heights low, require way too much parking, and otherwise restrict high-density development near UT despite the fact that students living in this area WALK to class. UT doesn’t provide even half as many dorms as the students would seem to need; the near-campus market doesn’t have enough tall buildings to make up the difference (not even as many as Penn State has, despite having an oversupply of dorms); so students end up in rental houses, even though they have no interest in yardwork and get hassled a lot more by the neighbors (like me) than they would in an apartment in West Campus. Be careful of what you ask for.

Finally somebody in the mainstream press gets it. From the Atlanta Journal Constitution, glands 12/5/2005:

There are two kinds of people: Us and them. And where the line falls between the two depends entirely on context.
Sometimes us and them is a matter of gender — “Men Are From Mars, discount Women Are From Venus, capsule ” as the book title goes. Or, as columnist Maureen Dowd asks in her new book, “Are Men Necessary?”
At other times, we define us and them by racial or political differences, or even by something as frivolous as the sports team we follow. In fact, a lot of the appeal of sports is the opportunity to root hard for our side against their side; as a lifelong New York Yankee hater, I can personally attest to the pleasures that can bring.
Then there’s the line we draw depending on how and where we live. To suburban dwellers, the city is often viewed as a corrupt heart of darkness, in more ways than one. To city dwellers, the suburbs are perceived as rather soulless and pale, again in more ways than one.
Those tensions play out in a lot of ways, even coloring discussions about how booming areas such as Atlanta ought to develop. Too often, what ought to be a straightforward, even technical discussion of various land-use approaches can devolve into just another battleground in the ongoing culture wars, just another example of us against them.
For example, one of the Atlanta region’s biggest challenges is controlling sprawl, a development pattern that consumes tax dollars and open land and greatly complicates transportation planning and environmental problems. One of the options available to mitigate sprawl and its impact is an approach called “smart growth” — areas of higher-density development that mix residential, commercial and business uses.
Unfortunately, though, some suburban dwellers hear criticism of sprawl as some sort of a value-laden condemnation of suburban life. They respond by launching a defense of sprawl that can be paraphrased with the following:
“What others deride as sprawl is actually just the free market at work, the result of millions of Americans choosing the lifestyle they prefer. And any effort to control or limit ‘sprawl’ is a misuse of government power promoted by elitists who want to instruct us common folk how to live.”
Well, I’ve covered enough county commission and zoning board meetings to know that’s just romantic mythology.
First of all, the free market, left to its own devices, produces dense development, not sprawl. Developers want to put as many units as possible on their property, because that’s how they make the most profit; you don’t see them going to court demanding the right to build fewer homes per acre.
Sprawl is possible only through intense government regulation. It is an artificial growth pattern achieved by laws that frustrate the free market’s tendency toward density. The free market, left to its own devices, would never produce five-acre minimum lot sizes, or 2,500-square-foot minimum house sizes, or bans and moratoriums on apartments. The free market, left to its own devices, would produce growth patterns more like “smart-growth” policies.
In fact, smart-growth alternatives impose fewer restrictions on developers than does sprawl-inducing zoning, and infringe less dramatically on developers’ property rights. Philosophically speaking, it ought to be a conservative’s dream.
The claim that critics of sprawl are elitist is equally hard to swallow, given that one of the hallmarks of sprawl is economic segregation. Go to a county commission meeting and you’ll see owners of $500,000 homes on five-acre lots protesting the construction of $250,000, one-acre homes nearby, and owners of $250,000 homes fighting against apartments and town houses.
Sprawl is not a rejection of elitism; it is the expression of elitism. It is people using the power of government to protect “us” against the incursion of “them.”
That is not, however, an argument in favor of trying to eliminate suburban growth patterns or the suburban lifestyle. Such things are ingrained in metro Atlanta, and are a large part of the region’s success. Here in Georgia, only the most zealous of smart-growth advocates want to ban large-lot zoning and other sprawl-inducing mechanisms. Instead, they ask only that zoning laws be relaxed enough to allow smart-growth developments to compete for customers, so that people can be given a real choice.
Given the success of smart-growth projects around metro Atlanta, when people are given that choice, they jump at it.
• Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.

One thing which has been a minor irritant to me for a long time is this:
If TXDOT truly abandoned plans for the “Outer Loop” around Austin (environmental and economic catastrophe for Austin proper that it would have clearly been), symptoms why have they retained the same route number for SH 45 “S” and SH 45 “N”?
It’s an article of faith around these parts that the Outer Loop won’t be built, yet nobody seems to point out that TXDOT keeps calling the roads which would have formed the northern and southern parts of this loop by the same number. Why does nobody but me find this fishy?
My guess: TXDOT is still keeping the flame of the “Outer Loop” lit against the hated hippies of Central Austin. I can’t come up with any other logical reason why they wouldn’t want to give the two roads different numbers. Any other ideas?

A lot of folks, thumb including an attempted commenter from earlier today whose comment got rejected for some reason I have yet to determine, look think I’m a liberal. Those folks is wrong most of the time.
For instance, this story bugs me, especially this part:

One 70-year-old Maine LIHEAP recipient, who asked not to be named, says that she gets through the winter by keeping her thermostat at 62 degrees.

I keep our thermostat at 60 at night; 65 during the day; and make sure to open blinds to get as much solar heating as possible when the sun is up. If I lived up north, I’d go colder. 62? Give me a break. How about putting on another sweater? For most of human history, people in cold climates would have thought 62 was heavenly warm.

This is pretty much how I feel about what Microsoft’s done to the computer software industry. Unfortunately, bronchitis the site for which Julian writes pretty much takes Microsoft at their word and buys the “statists envious of successful corporation” version of the story.
It’s even remarkably timely.
So please imagine a world in which:

  • Meaningful commercial operating system competition existed, thus pushing Windows to actually satisfy customer needs rather than those of its business partners’. IE, what we had from the 80s through the early 90s.
  • Non-trivial commercial office suite competition existed, meaning that Word, Excel, and the lot would have to be GOOD, not just good enough.
  • Commercial browser competition had existed for the last 5 years, meaning IE wouldn’t have been able to take half a decade off after Netscape died.

And, no, open source can’t save us, with the trivial exception of browsers (which just aren’t all that complicated compared to the other things above). I’ve been using linux, on server and desktop, at my last three jobs. I even prefer it for work. That doesn’t make it a competitor serious enough to do much good, even though Microsoft has to say it does so they look good for the media. (In 2005, I couldn’t get sound working on a friggin’ mass-market HP-Compaq box running Red Hat Linux (and later, same problem with Debian) – and I was far from the only one).
The third-grade libertarians out there replied at the time: “the market will save us” – pointing to the transition to the internet, which would supposedly make operating system monopolies a non-issue. Problem is – Microsoft knew that was a threat and fairly effectively (and obnoxiously) killed it.

Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro taxes. They decided a long time ago that they didn’t want to be part of the system. Great. I wish we Austinites could similarly exempt ourselves from paying taxes which build their roads for them, search but here we are.
So where does Krusee and rail come into this, prothesis then?
CAMPO is about to approve using Federal money to build an “intermodal transit center” in downtown Round Rock, which will include a new bus line which connects to a Capital Metro Park-n-Ride in far North Austin.
Let me repeat again: Citizens of Austin subsidize bus rides on Capital Metro by paying a 1% sales tax. Citizens of Round Rock pay nothing to Capital Metro.
These park and rides (and the express buses which stop there) are fairly attractive today for a small subset of commuters who have to pay money to park at their office (mainly UT employees; a few folks downtown). So some people, even when not in the Cap Metro service area, drive to the park and ride and then hop the bus (paying the same low fare as an Austin resident would). Until recently, the main places this ‘freeloading rider’ problem occurred were Pflugerville (which voted themselves out of the system – Cap Metro responded by moving their park and ride what seemed like 500 feet further down the road towards Austin) and Cedar Park (who can freeload on either Leander or Austin).
Now we’ve just opened one of these at the far north fringe of the service area (near Howard Lane).
I have asked Cap Metro in the past (when I was on the UTC) whether they realized that building more park-and-rides at the far fringes of their service area would lead to this ‘freeloading rider’ problem; and they said, yes, it would, and no, they didn’t intend to do anything about it.
So now, to add insult to injury, we’re using area-wide tax revenue to build a project which will make it easier for Round Rock residents to ride Capital Metro, where they will be heavily subsidized (far more than Austin riders) by Austin taxpayers. This will further drive down Cap Metro’s fairly abyssmal “farebox recovery ratio”. And Cap Metro is enthusiastic about this.
Is Round Rock going to institute a 1% sales tax to pay for Capital Metro service? Hell no. They can’t, even if they wanted to; they’re maxed out. Is Cap Metro going to demand that passengers provide proof of residence inside the service area before getting the heavily discounted fare? Hell no. They won’t, even if they wanted to.
But could Capital Metro build light rail for urban Austin where most of their tax revenue comes from? No, that was ‘too expensive’. If you’re appropriately slavish in your praise, Kaiser Krusee might deign to bless you with some streetcars which are stuck in traffic behind his constituents’ cars. Just don’t point out that by the time we’ve built a bunch of worthless commuter rail lines and a streetcar loop, we might as well have just built the 2000 light rail plan – it would have been no more expensive and far more effective.
Anybody see anything wrong with this picture?
More to come.

For the crackplreaders (need a better name!) who were buggin’ me about the lack of updates, orthopedist note this is the THIRD THIRD THIRD! POST POST POST! OF THE DAY DAY DAY!
Don’t know why, but this guy/band really stuck in my head – I got one of their songs in the giant SXSW 2005 torrent and was impressed enough to go grab the other three free tunes off their site. My in-laws gave me a Waterloo gift certificate for Xmas, so I can buy some music for the first time since, uh, last Xmas, but I don’t think I can this there. Oh well.
Check it out. If your brane is wired anything like mine, you’ll like it.
Also check out that torrent. A ton of songs which various bands thought was their best chance at making it – so 99% of them are very good to excellent.

Finally almost caught up on the albums for 2005:

Most SUV drivers, check sad to say, visit web were perfectly happy to drive them when SUVs appeared to be a zero-sum game, seek i.e., if you drove an SUV, sure you killed more people in cars, but your own passengers were safer at about the same proportion. Because, after all, protecting your own family is the only thing that matters – so it doesn’t matter if it happens by making it much more likely that others will die.
And, of course, most people who bother to study the issue always knew they got special treatment allowing them to enjoy more lenient fuel economy, pollution, tax, and safety regulations (pre-1999).
But recently we’ve found out that they’re also more dangerous for pedestrians and finally, the conventional wisdom among those who study the vehicles that they really aren’t safer for their own occupants than would be a sedan has been borne out in a recent study involving kids. Yes, the same kids you claim you bought the SUV for.
I guess you still have that high riding position to hang your hat on. Oh, and the donating of all that excess money to Middle Eastern regimes we’re all big fans of. Way to go, guys.