It’s not the condo dwellers complaining about the music

A quick hit as I’m preparing for another trip to beautiful Huntsville.
While my wife and I were painting on Sunday, healing health my father-in-law took our 5-year-old to the Kite Festival. Or, rather, he tried. As he put it, when he got to the shuttle pickup (around 16th/Lavaca), a cop told him there was about an hour wait to board the shuttle and another hour to get to the park (this was at 2:00 in the afternoon or so). There were supposedly about 25 shuttles stuck in traffic on the way to the park.
Sound familiar?
Here’s another free clue: if you want people to take shuttles to a special event, make sure the shuttles aren’t stuck in the same traffic that their cars would be if they drove. This doesn’t have to be complicated; as I told my father-in-law: Barton Springs has two lanes. Cone off one for buses. Problem solved.
This is just another brick in the gigantic wall of ignorance about transit that prevents nearly everyone in government from making effective decisions: the ridership figures you see for any transit service are the result of a bunch of individual decisions whether to ride based on incentives (cost, time, etc). In this case, if the shuttlebuses are going to be as slow or slower than peoples’ cars, both the cars and the shuttlebuses will be stuck in traffic – and overall performance will be very poor. The folks making decisions for events like this think, as Christof once put it, that transit is like a big vaccuum cleaner – put it somewhere and it’ll magically suck up riders.
A lot of people were waiting in line for those shuttles, but the overall performance was likely very poor – considering that all 25 buses were out, stuck in traffic. (Cars do better in traffic than buses do, remember). A setup where the shuttles had their own lane on Barton Springs (and maybe S 1st if necessary) would easily have carried thousands more people – basically everybody that was stuck in line plus everybody that got turned away (and, after people saw buses actually performing well,. even more car drivers would switch to the shuttles the next time around; while after THIS disastrous performance, even fewer people will be willing to try the shuttles next time there’s an event down there).
Lessons can be drawn from this for future transit investment. Is anybody at the city (who can, if they choose to, rein in Capital Metro) seriously under the impression that transferring to shuttlebuses at the end of a rail trip won’t be a major disincentive for riders? I would have thought they got it by now, but the last two major shuttles-to-parks fiascoes have showed me that perhaps I was too optimistic.

Ben Wear fell for it, bulimics big-time. Capital Metro ran trains from two stations between which essentially nobody will ever travel (no circulator buses up that far; nothing within walking distance), story and completely failed to mention the shuttlebuses at all – despite the fact that they will be the most substantial disincentive for choice commuters to ride. He basically gave Cap Metro a nice commercial for the service based on a joke run up in the hinterlands (yes, viagra if you happened to have an office at one of those park-and-rides, it’d be a pretty nice trip!) by failing to mention how people will actually use, or more importantly, try and stop using this service. This was a great move by Capital Metro – make people think that the entire trip is like this, and maybe they’ll forget what they have to do when they get to their actual station long enough to sneak through some ill-advised throwing good-money-after-bad expansion schemes. It worked for Tri-Rail, after all – the agency got to live fat on double-tracking construction contracts for a decade after opening up, on the dubious contention that running trains every 20 rather than 40 minutes could somehow make up for the awful shuttle-bus rides (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
His commenters were even worse – split right down the middle between anti-rail troglodytes (“it’s subsidized!”, as if Leander and especially Cedar Park car commuters aren’t monstrously subsidized by Austin residents already); and the naive idiots who think it’s light rail who don’t realize that people who aren’t willing to take the clean, fast, comfortable, non-stop express buses straight to their office today are probably not going to be thrilled when they get off the train and find themselves staring at a shuttlebus instead of their office building.
FAIL.
Now I get to go look to see how the Chronicle covered this. My guess? Chirpy naive “it’ll just be expanded and improved” junior reporter type completely falls for it; same batch of idiot pro-and-cons completely missing the real point: rail is neither always good nor always bad. BAD rail is bad; and THIS line is awful – it not only will fail to give us momentum for more service; it ruins our chances at developing good urban rail here for a generation or more because it’s now squatting, semi-permanently, right on top of most of the right-of-way that the only true slam-dunk light-rail line possibility this city ever had or ever will have (the 2000 route).
The 2008 CAMPO TWG proposal might be a hundred times better than the commuter rail line, but the 2000 LRT proposal (running trains on Guadalupe right to UT’s front door, hitting the Triangle, and everything else) is a hundred times better than that. At some point, people are going to realize that rolling over for Mike Krusee was a huge mistake – we cannot and will not be able to recover from this impending debacle. You can’t build a system with the wrong starter line, especially when it ruins the only true backbone you ever had.

and note, symptoms I’m far from the only one.
Also please excuse the brevity – I’m doing this from a Wendy’s in Huntsville during a short lunch break.
Breathless media coverage from the Statesman makes you think that Mueller is the wildest dreams of urbanites and environmentalists and sustainable-liviing fans all come to life. Meanwhile, every time I raise some (informed, compared to most) criticism of Mueller, I get personal attacks in return. At times like this, I like to remind myself (and hopefully others) of the substantive, objective, reasons why Mueller presents us with problems.

Continue reading “It’s not the condo dwellers complaining about the music”

Why I’m Hard on Mueller

and note, I’m far from the only one.
Also please excuse the brevity – I’m doing this from a Wendy’s in Huntsville during a short lunch break.

Breathless media coverage from the Statesman makes you think that Mueller is the wildest dreams of urbanites and environmentalists and sustainable-liviing fans all come to life. Meanwhile, every time I raise some (informed, compared to most) criticism of Mueller, I get personal attacks in return. At times like this, I like to remind myself (and hopefully others) of the substantive, objective, reasons why Mueller presents us with problems.

Continue reading “Why I’m Hard on Mueller”

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?””

Push the rail back on track

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 “Push the rail back on track”

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”

Why we should subsidize more projects like The Domain

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?

BRT (or Rapid Bus) is NOT a stepping stone towards light rail

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.

Why the new library is in the wrong place

Thanks to the precedent set by the Shoal Creek debacle, doctor this web yet another neighborhood has agitated for, and won, parking in bike lanes. From the Chronicle’s piece:

The stated policy of the city’s bicycle program is to implement no-parking zones for bike lanes when streets are scheduled for maintenance and restriping – which is now the case between Westover and Windsor roads on Exposition. City staff’s recommendation, however, includes allowing parking in bike lanes overnight beginning at 7pm on certain segments, at all times except two three-hour commuting windows on others, and on Sundays on one stretch to accommodate church parking.

At least they expressed the view of the Leage of Bicycling Voters pretty well:

On Tuesday, LOBV President Rob D’Amico said, “The idea of a bike lane is to promote safe bicycle travel at all times … especially at night when riding is most dangerous.”

That is the only sensible view, people. We don’t park cars in (normal) traffic lanes (streets with on-street parking have either marked parking or unmarked lanes – the latter being the case on residential streets where most parking occurs). We shouldn’t park cars in bike lanes either. And as Rob D’Amico points out, nighttime is the time you need the bike lanes the most.
Exposition isn’t a residential street. It’s an arterial roadway – the road all those people go to from the residential streets (and collectors). Even though it has some residences on it, “residential street” has a very distinct meaning here, and Exposition is not one but TWO classifications higher on the food chain. If visitors to these churches or to the residences on Exposition are having trouble finding enough parking, there are options available a short walk away which don’t require that we risk cyclists’ lives.
I don’t envy city staff – who knows what the right thing is to do and yet has to defend this ridiculous policy decision anyways. Place your blame squarely at the foot of city council members who would rather pander to the selfish interests of neighborhood reactionaries than take a stand for public safety (or, even, a stand for parking – marked on-street parking spaces on Exposition without bike lanes would at least be a consistent and reasonable traffic marking).

You might have wondered why I haven’t written about the efforts by Capital Metro to claim their commuter rail service is “light rail” now that the FRA is giving them much more trouble than anticipated with their regulatory oversight. The answer is that I’ve been slammed by the worst bout of Austin allergies yet, page and have had to marshal my diminished concentration on the day job. Important excerpts, visit this site since the Statesman’ news site will probably age this off before too long:

After all, practitioner supporters of the plan said, it won’t be powered with electricity, like most light-rail systems, but rather with diesel engines like commuter rail. It will originate 32 miles away in the suburbs and haul in commuters. The stops would generally be far apart, especially those first few out northwest. This is not light rail, they said. I eventually bought into all this, becoming a bit of a prig about correcting people who called it light rail.

[…]

Turns out that dubbing it commuter rail meant, at least to Uncle Sam and in conjunction with the freight hauled on the same track, that regulation of the line falls under the auspices of the Federal Railroad Administration, not the Federal Transit Administration. And that first agency’s rules for running a passenger train on a line that also has freight trains — albeit at different times of the day or night under Capital Metro’s plan — have much tougher standards for the track control system and the construction of the cars. Capital Metro has been trying for more than two years to get the railroad agency to say yes to its plan, a final nod it has yet to secure.
Earlier this year, Capital Metro tried to change referees, petitioning to have the transit administration take over and waive certain requirements. In pursuit of that effort, Capital Metro chief Fred Gilliam wrote a letter May 22 to James Simpson, administrator of the transit agency.
“Our MetroRail project is clearly an urban rapid transit or light rail system,” he wrote. It was “initially” referred to as urban commuter rail, he said, “to avoid confusion with an earlier proposal that involved electric vehicles.” You know how confused voters can get

I’ve been too overwhelmed with that allergy attack to focus enough to write a good piece, but I couldn’t wait any longer, especially after they posted this on their blog. Here’s my response in their comment section:

This is a misleading article. Nearly nothing in traditional light rail lines would apply to starting DMU service on an existing freight line, and to say that 8 of the 9 stations are within Austin is also incredibly misleading as the two northernmost, the ones that actually have parking, are right on the edge of the city limits and expected to serve primarily non-residents. The remaining “Austin” stations are largely for drop-offs only, and have hardly any residential development within walking distance.
This is a sharp contrast to the 2000 light rail route – which served the same suburban constituencies but also served central Austin.
There’s really nothing urban OR light about this line. It’s standard commuter rail – buy trains and stick them on freight tracks. Period. Just because the FRA gives you trouble is no reason to join Lyndon Henry’s brigade of serial misinformation artists.

In a second comment, I add:

The other key difference, of course, is that a “light railway” could easily be brought straight to UT, the Capitol, and right down the heart of downtown – like that 2000 route does. Our commuter rail vehicles will never be able to do any of those things – they are designed to run on freight railways and cannot make turns that would be necessary to run on anything like a normal light rail route through a true urban area. As a result, essentially every single passenger that rides this thing will be forced to transfer to a shuttle-bus at the work end of their trip. You can’t get any farther away from the idea of light rail than that.

By the crappy arguments promoted by agents of misinformation like the aforementioned Lyndon Henry, if we bought a DMU and ran it in between freight traffic on the UP line that runs down Mopac, that would, too, magically turn into a “light railway”. Of course that’s complete and utter bullshit – everybody knows what ‘light rail’ is – it’s rail and vehicles that can be run through cities without having to demolish a bunch of buildings to make turns, and that doesn’t have to maintain compatibility with freight traffic.
You can expect more from me when I feel better – I need to focus my periods of concentration on my real job in the meantime, but don’t buy this nonsense – it’s NOT light rail – it’s a standard, stupid, shuttle-bus-dependent commuter rail service, even if they do what they’re claiming they might and add a bunch more stations because it will never be capable of running to UT, the Capitol, or even turning downtown to make it to Seaholm. It’s still fundamentally a freight rail line, and the trains we bought are designed to run on freight railways with long turns.
And, my email to our city council:

Please be aware that the decision by Capital Metro to attempt to rebrand (at this late date) their commuter rail service as “light rail” in a desperate attempt to avoid FRA oversight is not supportable by the facts. By their flimsy arguments, if we somehow got Amtrak to increase frequency a bit on the UP line, it would magically turn into a “light railway”.
What we’re building is standard-issue commuter rail (service started on the cheap that only runs on existing freight tracks – and uses vehicles incapable of navigating the turns it would have to take in central Austin to get anywhere worth going without transferring to shuttle buses).
I hope those of you who are board members will disabuse Capital Metro of the notion that simply calling it “light rail” makes it so. It’s still an awful commuter rail service that barely serves Austin at all and can never take passengers to any major destinations without a ridership-killing transfer at the work end of their journey. The city of Austin would be best served by continuing down the path undertaken by the CAMPO TWG which is an actual urban rail system that can and will serve Austin residents in a way commuter rail can never do.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus

Capital Metro has now gone to moderation on comments at their blog, visit this after posting this followup to yesterday’s trial balloon on the “it’s light rail because we say so” front. (Update: Erica says in comments here that they went to moderation because of a nasty personal attack – I have no reason to believe otherwise; they have posted everything I’ve written, viagra so far).
Here’s what I commented to that post:

LRT was actually projected to have ridership in the mid 30s with the minimal operable segment (in 2007); and that was before some major developments have come online (like the Triangle).
Adam, 2000 per day is pathetic. So is the RiverLine’s 9000 per day. And the RiverLine was only able to operate that ‘well’ with those DMUs because they condemned a bunch of corners in downtown Camden in order to run directly to their CBD rather than to one far edge, then relying on shuttle buses for the “last mile”.
We don’t have the ‘luxury’ of a downtown so blighted that it’s no big deal to take corners of blocks here and there to run a porky DMU instead of a true light rail vehicle – which is why our commuter rail line is such a dead end – it can never and will never go to UT, the Capitol, and most of downtown.

Update: They’re really getting desperate over there. Follow the link, and here’s my comment for posterity:

Essentially nobody else other than the agencies in question would consider New Jersey’s service to be “light rail” either. So that’s not really going to convince anybody. They called it “light rail” for the same reason Lyndon Henry’s been doing it – to try to capitalize on the favorable brand image of LRT with people who have had good experiences on true light rail in other cities.
If you were going to bold something, how about this paragraph:

In the meantime, the best strategy for any transit agency interested in developing a shared-use project is to follow FRA’s policy advice and meet with FRA as soon as possible. Ideally, this should be done during the project definition phase and no later than the beginning of preliminary engineering. Transit agencies should recognize the FRA’s broad regulatory authority over shared-use rail transit projects and focus more on obtaining a jurisdictional determination that is compatible with their project mission. The critical shared-use issue for transit agencies to be concerned with is not the FRA’s regulatory authority over shared-use operations. It is the FRA’s jurisdictional determination process and how it relates to defining your project as light rail or commuter rail.

(I’m making a full post about this because I’m tired of having to dig up the links from comments; this is primarily for background for future postings).
Pictures from Camden, healthful NJ, infection on the RiverLine, this site which is also inappropriately labelled “light rail” by the same people trying to mislead you about our starter line here in Austin:

Doesn’t look so bad. Just a bit of a corner, right? Keep going.
Further down the street to the south (down in the first image):

Further:

Try it yourself – click on any one of those images and then drag to navigate along the supposed “light” railway – and see how they managed to get it into the city core.
Any questions? This isn’t light rail – it’s a freight rail line bulldozed through a bunch of city blocks; which we don’t have the latitude to do here in Austin, since our downtown blocks actually have some economic value.

In all this talk about the bailout, tooth how many times have you heard anybody serious in political circles say that we ought to be paying the bill for this with a tax hike on high incomes? Zero? Less than zero? Wouldn’t a conversation about making sure those who benefitted the most from the runup and will benefit most from the bailout pay most of the bill happen in any adult country?
The guys who made all the money, then crashed the financial system, and will be getting bailed out are, actually, apparently set to get a tax break with the AMT and capital gains tax changes being proposed. That’s just seriously regressive no matter how you slice it – we’re apparently either going to pay for this via inflation or via general tax hikes on everybody.
My former cow-orker and I still trade predictions every week or two on whether we’ll be seeing deflation or inflation as a result of all this, but now the rest of you get to share in my brilliance. I’m probably the last crackplogger in America to talk about the financial collapse. Yay!

Or, capsule “M1EK is a downtown-hating car-loving sprawlmonger. Wait, approved what?”
Because I pointed out that most people won’t walk 7 blocks each way from a transit stop to get to their office, among other things, a commenter at the Statesman thinks I’m one of those folks who:

drive[s] around the parking lot at HEB for hours trying to find a good close-in spot. Maybe take a handicap spot if it’s REAL HOT…

and:

Your about to tell me that no one is going to move into those condos and they built too many. Maybe you should do a little looking into that statement before you bore us with it. Every condo built so far has been sold an there’s a waiting list big enough to fill 85% of the ones not done yet. I know because I looked into it, because obviously. I don’t mind walking around downtown.

Go there for the full experience. Anybody who knows me will have diet coke coke shooting out their nose. (Although, for one thing, I can go straight to the handicapped space at HEB, thanks, for the same reason I don’t ride my bike anymore).
Good lord. This is almost, but not quite, as funny as the Tahoe-haver label I got from another cyclist back in the day. Yee-haw!

Best Urban Development Echo Chamber with Chris Bradford, advice the Austin Contrarian, and Shawn Shillington from the Austinist (they pulled off the hat trick).
Thanks, Wells. And it was nice to meet you and Richard and the Austinist crew in person. Also congrats to Jason Abels, who I wish I’d have talked to more later, but never had a chance.
And as always, thanks to Baba for hosting this thing, which started after the ISP (I was actually paying!) turned out to not be backing up their mysql database.

I urge you to vote against Prop II for all the reasons elucidated in many other forums. But I find it interesting that some people who believed so strongly in the RG4N case have come down on (what I think is) the right side this time. Let’s play a little game. See if you can identify which group is which; one being RG4N and the other being “Stop Domain Subsidies”. Prize? Acclamation!

Group A Group B
Co-opting supposed grass roots to fight against decision of city council they didn’t like Co-opting supposed grass roots to fight against decision of city council they didn’t like
Angry that city hired outside legal counsel to advise and defend previous city actions / ordinances Angry that city hired outside legal counsel to advise and defend previous city actions / ordinances
Defending traditional strip retail against a marginally better project Defending traditional strip retail against a marginally better project
Painting themselves as the ‘citizens’ in a ‘citizens versus corporations’ battle Painting themselves as the ‘citizens’ in a ‘citizens versus corporations’ battle
Asserting that city staff is somehow bought off or otherwise subrogated because they published professional opinion which hurt Group A’s case Asserting that city staff is somehow bought off or otherwise subrogated because they published professional opinion which hurt Group B’s case
Blithely asserting that the city staff and outside lawyers are wrong, therapy while the citizen group with no actual experience in land use or law must be right Blithely asserting that the city staff and outside lawyers are wrong, click while the citizen group with no actual experience in land use or law must be right
Pushing for change that, if they won, would get city sued, and beaten Pushing for change that, if they won, would get city sued, and beaten
Claiming to be progressive, yet primary obvious goal is to prevent change Claiming to be progressive, yet primary obvious goal is to prevent change

I’m sure there’s more, but with this many key differences, I’m sure somebody can pick out which group is Responsible Growth for Northcross and which one is Stop Domain Subsidies. Good luck!
By the way, kudos to the Chronicle for posting their endorsement background. It’s actually good stuff – I wish we had more dialogues of that quality.

Penn State isn’t Ohio State. Or Michigan, pathopsychology for that matter.
Colors in honor of current #1 and #2. Take that, thumb Aggees!

SEASON BOWL RESULT
2007 Alamo Penn State 24, phthisiatrician Texas A&M 17
2006 Outback Penn State 20, Tennessee 10
2005 Orange Penn State 26, Florida State 23 (3 OT)
2002 Capital One Auburn 13, Penn State 9
1999 Alamo Penn State 24, Texas A&M 0
1998 Outback Penn State 26, Kentucky 14
1997 Citrus Florida 21, Penn State 6(*)
1996 Fiesta Penn State 38, Texas 15
1995 Outback Penn State 43, Auburn 14
1994 Rose Penn State 38, Oregon 20
1993 Citrus Penn State 31, Tennessee 13
1992 Blockbuster Stanford 24, Penn State 3
1991 Fiesta Penn State 42, Tennessee 17
1990 Blockbuster Florida State 24, Penn State 17
1989 Holiday Penn State 50, BYU 39

Bowl record over last 20 years versus SEC: 5-2
Bowl record over last 20 years versus Big XII: 3-0
(* – starting running back and wide receiver suspended for idiotic reasons).

Since this has come up again recently, nurse I thought I’d put together a better background piece than this old one. I’ve co-opted an image from one of the proposals for the new central library for this and added some lines. The thick green line is the major transit corridor of Congress Avenue. The thinner cyan lines are substantial transit corridors on Guadalupe/Lavaca and 5th/6th that carry at least a handful of bus routes (basically, side effects the 5th/6th corridor carries the Dillo, oncology the #21/#22 that circulates all over central and east Austin, the #4, and a flyer; the Guadalupe/Lavaca corridor carries all the 183 express buses and a couple of flyers, and Colorado carries a few mainline routes). This image does the best job so far of showing the problem with the new library’s location – the secondary transit corridors are now several blocks away, and the one that carries 90% of the bus routes in the city is arguably too far away to walk, at least for those not in good physical condition (it’d be a bit far for me at this point).

No, there aren’t many buses on Cesar Chavez, especially not over by the new library location – it’s pretty much just the #3, which runs through north central and south Austin.
And, no, for the fifteenth time, there aren’t going to be a lot of shifts in transit routes to come over to the new library. See the body of water to the south? See the lack of bridges farther west than the Guadalupe/Lavaca couplet? Get it?
So what about streetcar, if it ever happens? Problem is that the streetcar line is equivalent to one bus route – the light blue lines on this map are corridors which carry several bus routes that go several different places. If you happen to be among the small part of residential Austin initially served by the streetcar proposal, great, but otherwise you’re looking at a two-leg transit ride to get to the library at best. The yellow line shows the streetcar proposal, if it ever happens, and if it ever makes it across Shoal Creek, the latter question being far more doubtful than the former.

RG4TD?

Thanks to the precedent set by the Shoal Creek debacle, doctor this web yet another neighborhood has agitated for, and won, parking in bike lanes. From the Chronicle’s piece:

The stated policy of the city’s bicycle program is to implement no-parking zones for bike lanes when streets are scheduled for maintenance and restriping – which is now the case between Westover and Windsor roads on Exposition. City staff’s recommendation, however, includes allowing parking in bike lanes overnight beginning at 7pm on certain segments, at all times except two three-hour commuting windows on others, and on Sundays on one stretch to accommodate church parking.

At least they expressed the view of the Leage of Bicycling Voters pretty well:

On Tuesday, LOBV President Rob D’Amico said, “The idea of a bike lane is to promote safe bicycle travel at all times … especially at night when riding is most dangerous.”

That is the only sensible view, people. We don’t park cars in (normal) traffic lanes (streets with on-street parking have either marked parking or unmarked lanes – the latter being the case on residential streets where most parking occurs). We shouldn’t park cars in bike lanes either. And as Rob D’Amico points out, nighttime is the time you need the bike lanes the most.
Exposition isn’t a residential street. It’s an arterial roadway – the road all those people go to from the residential streets (and collectors). Even though it has some residences on it, “residential street” has a very distinct meaning here, and Exposition is not one but TWO classifications higher on the food chain. If visitors to these churches or to the residences on Exposition are having trouble finding enough parking, there are options available a short walk away which don’t require that we risk cyclists’ lives.
I don’t envy city staff – who knows what the right thing is to do and yet has to defend this ridiculous policy decision anyways. Place your blame squarely at the foot of city council members who would rather pander to the selfish interests of neighborhood reactionaries than take a stand for public safety (or, even, a stand for parking – marked on-street parking spaces on Exposition without bike lanes would at least be a consistent and reasonable traffic marking).

You might have wondered why I haven’t written about the efforts by Capital Metro to claim their commuter rail service is “light rail” now that the FRA is giving them much more trouble than anticipated with their regulatory oversight. The answer is that I’ve been slammed by the worst bout of Austin allergies yet, page and have had to marshal my diminished concentration on the day job. Important excerpts, visit this site since the Statesman’ news site will probably age this off before too long:

After all, practitioner supporters of the plan said, it won’t be powered with electricity, like most light-rail systems, but rather with diesel engines like commuter rail. It will originate 32 miles away in the suburbs and haul in commuters. The stops would generally be far apart, especially those first few out northwest. This is not light rail, they said. I eventually bought into all this, becoming a bit of a prig about correcting people who called it light rail.

[…]

Turns out that dubbing it commuter rail meant, at least to Uncle Sam and in conjunction with the freight hauled on the same track, that regulation of the line falls under the auspices of the Federal Railroad Administration, not the Federal Transit Administration. And that first agency’s rules for running a passenger train on a line that also has freight trains — albeit at different times of the day or night under Capital Metro’s plan — have much tougher standards for the track control system and the construction of the cars. Capital Metro has been trying for more than two years to get the railroad agency to say yes to its plan, a final nod it has yet to secure.
Earlier this year, Capital Metro tried to change referees, petitioning to have the transit administration take over and waive certain requirements. In pursuit of that effort, Capital Metro chief Fred Gilliam wrote a letter May 22 to James Simpson, administrator of the transit agency.
“Our MetroRail project is clearly an urban rapid transit or light rail system,” he wrote. It was “initially” referred to as urban commuter rail, he said, “to avoid confusion with an earlier proposal that involved electric vehicles.” You know how confused voters can get

I’ve been too overwhelmed with that allergy attack to focus enough to write a good piece, but I couldn’t wait any longer, especially after they posted this on their blog. Here’s my response in their comment section:

This is a misleading article. Nearly nothing in traditional light rail lines would apply to starting DMU service on an existing freight line, and to say that 8 of the 9 stations are within Austin is also incredibly misleading as the two northernmost, the ones that actually have parking, are right on the edge of the city limits and expected to serve primarily non-residents. The remaining “Austin” stations are largely for drop-offs only, and have hardly any residential development within walking distance.
This is a sharp contrast to the 2000 light rail route – which served the same suburban constituencies but also served central Austin.
There’s really nothing urban OR light about this line. It’s standard commuter rail – buy trains and stick them on freight tracks. Period. Just because the FRA gives you trouble is no reason to join Lyndon Henry’s brigade of serial misinformation artists.

In a second comment, I add:

The other key difference, of course, is that a “light railway” could easily be brought straight to UT, the Capitol, and right down the heart of downtown – like that 2000 route does. Our commuter rail vehicles will never be able to do any of those things – they are designed to run on freight railways and cannot make turns that would be necessary to run on anything like a normal light rail route through a true urban area. As a result, essentially every single passenger that rides this thing will be forced to transfer to a shuttle-bus at the work end of their trip. You can’t get any farther away from the idea of light rail than that.

By the crappy arguments promoted by agents of misinformation like the aforementioned Lyndon Henry, if we bought a DMU and ran it in between freight traffic on the UP line that runs down Mopac, that would, too, magically turn into a “light railway”. Of course that’s complete and utter bullshit – everybody knows what ‘light rail’ is – it’s rail and vehicles that can be run through cities without having to demolish a bunch of buildings to make turns, and that doesn’t have to maintain compatibility with freight traffic.
You can expect more from me when I feel better – I need to focus my periods of concentration on my real job in the meantime, but don’t buy this nonsense – it’s NOT light rail – it’s a standard, stupid, shuttle-bus-dependent commuter rail service, even if they do what they’re claiming they might and add a bunch more stations because it will never be capable of running to UT, the Capitol, or even turning downtown to make it to Seaholm. It’s still fundamentally a freight rail line, and the trains we bought are designed to run on freight railways with long turns.
And, my email to our city council:

Please be aware that the decision by Capital Metro to attempt to rebrand (at this late date) their commuter rail service as “light rail” in a desperate attempt to avoid FRA oversight is not supportable by the facts. By their flimsy arguments, if we somehow got Amtrak to increase frequency a bit on the UP line, it would magically turn into a “light railway”.
What we’re building is standard-issue commuter rail (service started on the cheap that only runs on existing freight tracks – and uses vehicles incapable of navigating the turns it would have to take in central Austin to get anywhere worth going without transferring to shuttle buses).
I hope those of you who are board members will disabuse Capital Metro of the notion that simply calling it “light rail” makes it so. It’s still an awful commuter rail service that barely serves Austin at all and can never take passengers to any major destinations without a ridership-killing transfer at the work end of their journey. The city of Austin would be best served by continuing down the path undertaken by the CAMPO TWG which is an actual urban rail system that can and will serve Austin residents in a way commuter rail can never do.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus

Capital Metro has now gone to moderation on comments at their blog, visit this after posting this followup to yesterday’s trial balloon on the “it’s light rail because we say so” front. (Update: Erica says in comments here that they went to moderation because of a nasty personal attack – I have no reason to believe otherwise; they have posted everything I’ve written, viagra so far).
Here’s what I commented to that post:

LRT was actually projected to have ridership in the mid 30s with the minimal operable segment (in 2007); and that was before some major developments have come online (like the Triangle).
Adam, 2000 per day is pathetic. So is the RiverLine’s 9000 per day. And the RiverLine was only able to operate that ‘well’ with those DMUs because they condemned a bunch of corners in downtown Camden in order to run directly to their CBD rather than to one far edge, then relying on shuttle buses for the “last mile”.
We don’t have the ‘luxury’ of a downtown so blighted that it’s no big deal to take corners of blocks here and there to run a porky DMU instead of a true light rail vehicle – which is why our commuter rail line is such a dead end – it can never and will never go to UT, the Capitol, and most of downtown.

Update: They’re really getting desperate over there. Follow the link, and here’s my comment for posterity:

Essentially nobody else other than the agencies in question would consider New Jersey’s service to be “light rail” either. So that’s not really going to convince anybody. They called it “light rail” for the same reason Lyndon Henry’s been doing it – to try to capitalize on the favorable brand image of LRT with people who have had good experiences on true light rail in other cities.
If you were going to bold something, how about this paragraph:

In the meantime, the best strategy for any transit agency interested in developing a shared-use project is to follow FRA’s policy advice and meet with FRA as soon as possible. Ideally, this should be done during the project definition phase and no later than the beginning of preliminary engineering. Transit agencies should recognize the FRA’s broad regulatory authority over shared-use rail transit projects and focus more on obtaining a jurisdictional determination that is compatible with their project mission. The critical shared-use issue for transit agencies to be concerned with is not the FRA’s regulatory authority over shared-use operations. It is the FRA’s jurisdictional determination process and how it relates to defining your project as light rail or commuter rail.

(I’m making a full post about this because I’m tired of having to dig up the links from comments; this is primarily for background for future postings).
Pictures from Camden, healthful NJ, infection on the RiverLine, this site which is also inappropriately labelled “light rail” by the same people trying to mislead you about our starter line here in Austin:

Doesn’t look so bad. Just a bit of a corner, right? Keep going.
Further down the street to the south (down in the first image):

Further:

Try it yourself – click on any one of those images and then drag to navigate along the supposed “light” railway – and see how they managed to get it into the city core.
Any questions? This isn’t light rail – it’s a freight rail line bulldozed through a bunch of city blocks; which we don’t have the latitude to do here in Austin, since our downtown blocks actually have some economic value.

In all this talk about the bailout, tooth how many times have you heard anybody serious in political circles say that we ought to be paying the bill for this with a tax hike on high incomes? Zero? Less than zero? Wouldn’t a conversation about making sure those who benefitted the most from the runup and will benefit most from the bailout pay most of the bill happen in any adult country?
The guys who made all the money, then crashed the financial system, and will be getting bailed out are, actually, apparently set to get a tax break with the AMT and capital gains tax changes being proposed. That’s just seriously regressive no matter how you slice it – we’re apparently either going to pay for this via inflation or via general tax hikes on everybody.
My former cow-orker and I still trade predictions every week or two on whether we’ll be seeing deflation or inflation as a result of all this, but now the rest of you get to share in my brilliance. I’m probably the last crackplogger in America to talk about the financial collapse. Yay!

Or, capsule “M1EK is a downtown-hating car-loving sprawlmonger. Wait, approved what?”
Because I pointed out that most people won’t walk 7 blocks each way from a transit stop to get to their office, among other things, a commenter at the Statesman thinks I’m one of those folks who:

drive[s] around the parking lot at HEB for hours trying to find a good close-in spot. Maybe take a handicap spot if it’s REAL HOT…

and:

Your about to tell me that no one is going to move into those condos and they built too many. Maybe you should do a little looking into that statement before you bore us with it. Every condo built so far has been sold an there’s a waiting list big enough to fill 85% of the ones not done yet. I know because I looked into it, because obviously. I don’t mind walking around downtown.

Go there for the full experience. Anybody who knows me will have diet coke coke shooting out their nose. (Although, for one thing, I can go straight to the handicapped space at HEB, thanks, for the same reason I don’t ride my bike anymore).
Good lord. This is almost, but not quite, as funny as the Tahoe-haver label I got from another cyclist back in the day. Yee-haw!

Best Urban Development Echo Chamber with Chris Bradford, advice the Austin Contrarian, and Shawn Shillington from the Austinist (they pulled off the hat trick).
Thanks, Wells. And it was nice to meet you and Richard and the Austinist crew in person. Also congrats to Jason Abels, who I wish I’d have talked to more later, but never had a chance.
And as always, thanks to Baba for hosting this thing, which started after the ISP (I was actually paying!) turned out to not be backing up their mysql database.

I urge you to vote against Prop II for all the reasons elucidated in many other forums. But I find it interesting that some people who believed so strongly in the RG4N case have come down on (what I think is) the right side this time. Let’s play a little game. See if you can identify which group is which; one being RG4N and the other being “Stop Domain Subsidies”. Prize? Acclamation!

Group A Group B
Co-opting supposed grass roots to fight against decision of city council they didn’t like Co-opting supposed grass roots to fight against decision of city council they didn’t like
Angry that city hired outside legal counsel to advise and defend previous city actions / ordinances Angry that city hired outside legal counsel to advise and defend previous city actions / ordinances
Defending traditional strip retail against a marginally better project Defending traditional strip retail against a marginally better project
Painting themselves as the ‘citizens’ in a ‘citizens versus corporations’ battle Painting themselves as the ‘citizens’ in a ‘citizens versus corporations’ battle
Asserting that city staff is somehow bought off or otherwise subrogated because they published professional opinion which hurt Group A’s case Asserting that city staff is somehow bought off or otherwise subrogated because they published professional opinion which hurt Group B’s case
Blithely asserting that the city staff and outside lawyers are wrong, therapy while the citizen group with no actual experience in land use or law must be right Blithely asserting that the city staff and outside lawyers are wrong, click while the citizen group with no actual experience in land use or law must be right
Pushing for change that, if they won, would get city sued, and beaten Pushing for change that, if they won, would get city sued, and beaten
Claiming to be progressive, yet primary obvious goal is to prevent change Claiming to be progressive, yet primary obvious goal is to prevent change

I’m sure there’s more, but with this many key differences, I’m sure somebody can pick out which group is Responsible Growth for Northcross and which one is Stop Domain Subsidies. Good luck!
By the way, kudos to the Chronicle for posting their endorsement background. It’s actually good stuff – I wish we had more dialogues of that quality.

How can you tell DMUs aren’t made for running in the city?

Thanks to the precedent set by the Shoal Creek debacle, doctor this web yet another neighborhood has agitated for, and won, parking in bike lanes. From the Chronicle’s piece:

The stated policy of the city’s bicycle program is to implement no-parking zones for bike lanes when streets are scheduled for maintenance and restriping – which is now the case between Westover and Windsor roads on Exposition. City staff’s recommendation, however, includes allowing parking in bike lanes overnight beginning at 7pm on certain segments, at all times except two three-hour commuting windows on others, and on Sundays on one stretch to accommodate church parking.

At least they expressed the view of the Leage of Bicycling Voters pretty well:

On Tuesday, LOBV President Rob D’Amico said, “The idea of a bike lane is to promote safe bicycle travel at all times … especially at night when riding is most dangerous.”

That is the only sensible view, people. We don’t park cars in (normal) traffic lanes (streets with on-street parking have either marked parking or unmarked lanes – the latter being the case on residential streets where most parking occurs). We shouldn’t park cars in bike lanes either. And as Rob D’Amico points out, nighttime is the time you need the bike lanes the most.
Exposition isn’t a residential street. It’s an arterial roadway – the road all those people go to from the residential streets (and collectors). Even though it has some residences on it, “residential street” has a very distinct meaning here, and Exposition is not one but TWO classifications higher on the food chain. If visitors to these churches or to the residences on Exposition are having trouble finding enough parking, there are options available a short walk away which don’t require that we risk cyclists’ lives.
I don’t envy city staff – who knows what the right thing is to do and yet has to defend this ridiculous policy decision anyways. Place your blame squarely at the foot of city council members who would rather pander to the selfish interests of neighborhood reactionaries than take a stand for public safety (or, even, a stand for parking – marked on-street parking spaces on Exposition without bike lanes would at least be a consistent and reasonable traffic marking).

You might have wondered why I haven’t written about the efforts by Capital Metro to claim their commuter rail service is “light rail” now that the FRA is giving them much more trouble than anticipated with their regulatory oversight. The answer is that I’ve been slammed by the worst bout of Austin allergies yet, page and have had to marshal my diminished concentration on the day job. Important excerpts, visit this site since the Statesman’ news site will probably age this off before too long:

After all, practitioner supporters of the plan said, it won’t be powered with electricity, like most light-rail systems, but rather with diesel engines like commuter rail. It will originate 32 miles away in the suburbs and haul in commuters. The stops would generally be far apart, especially those first few out northwest. This is not light rail, they said. I eventually bought into all this, becoming a bit of a prig about correcting people who called it light rail.

[…]

Turns out that dubbing it commuter rail meant, at least to Uncle Sam and in conjunction with the freight hauled on the same track, that regulation of the line falls under the auspices of the Federal Railroad Administration, not the Federal Transit Administration. And that first agency’s rules for running a passenger train on a line that also has freight trains — albeit at different times of the day or night under Capital Metro’s plan — have much tougher standards for the track control system and the construction of the cars. Capital Metro has been trying for more than two years to get the railroad agency to say yes to its plan, a final nod it has yet to secure.
Earlier this year, Capital Metro tried to change referees, petitioning to have the transit administration take over and waive certain requirements. In pursuit of that effort, Capital Metro chief Fred Gilliam wrote a letter May 22 to James Simpson, administrator of the transit agency.
“Our MetroRail project is clearly an urban rapid transit or light rail system,” he wrote. It was “initially” referred to as urban commuter rail, he said, “to avoid confusion with an earlier proposal that involved electric vehicles.” You know how confused voters can get

I’ve been too overwhelmed with that allergy attack to focus enough to write a good piece, but I couldn’t wait any longer, especially after they posted this on their blog. Here’s my response in their comment section:

This is a misleading article. Nearly nothing in traditional light rail lines would apply to starting DMU service on an existing freight line, and to say that 8 of the 9 stations are within Austin is also incredibly misleading as the two northernmost, the ones that actually have parking, are right on the edge of the city limits and expected to serve primarily non-residents. The remaining “Austin” stations are largely for drop-offs only, and have hardly any residential development within walking distance.
This is a sharp contrast to the 2000 light rail route – which served the same suburban constituencies but also served central Austin.
There’s really nothing urban OR light about this line. It’s standard commuter rail – buy trains and stick them on freight tracks. Period. Just because the FRA gives you trouble is no reason to join Lyndon Henry’s brigade of serial misinformation artists.

In a second comment, I add:

The other key difference, of course, is that a “light railway” could easily be brought straight to UT, the Capitol, and right down the heart of downtown – like that 2000 route does. Our commuter rail vehicles will never be able to do any of those things – they are designed to run on freight railways and cannot make turns that would be necessary to run on anything like a normal light rail route through a true urban area. As a result, essentially every single passenger that rides this thing will be forced to transfer to a shuttle-bus at the work end of their trip. You can’t get any farther away from the idea of light rail than that.

By the crappy arguments promoted by agents of misinformation like the aforementioned Lyndon Henry, if we bought a DMU and ran it in between freight traffic on the UP line that runs down Mopac, that would, too, magically turn into a “light railway”. Of course that’s complete and utter bullshit – everybody knows what ‘light rail’ is – it’s rail and vehicles that can be run through cities without having to demolish a bunch of buildings to make turns, and that doesn’t have to maintain compatibility with freight traffic.
You can expect more from me when I feel better – I need to focus my periods of concentration on my real job in the meantime, but don’t buy this nonsense – it’s NOT light rail – it’s a standard, stupid, shuttle-bus-dependent commuter rail service, even if they do what they’re claiming they might and add a bunch more stations because it will never be capable of running to UT, the Capitol, or even turning downtown to make it to Seaholm. It’s still fundamentally a freight rail line, and the trains we bought are designed to run on freight railways with long turns.
And, my email to our city council:

Please be aware that the decision by Capital Metro to attempt to rebrand (at this late date) their commuter rail service as “light rail” in a desperate attempt to avoid FRA oversight is not supportable by the facts. By their flimsy arguments, if we somehow got Amtrak to increase frequency a bit on the UP line, it would magically turn into a “light railway”.
What we’re building is standard-issue commuter rail (service started on the cheap that only runs on existing freight tracks – and uses vehicles incapable of navigating the turns it would have to take in central Austin to get anywhere worth going without transferring to shuttle buses).
I hope those of you who are board members will disabuse Capital Metro of the notion that simply calling it “light rail” makes it so. It’s still an awful commuter rail service that barely serves Austin at all and can never take passengers to any major destinations without a ridership-killing transfer at the work end of their journey. The city of Austin would be best served by continuing down the path undertaken by the CAMPO TWG which is an actual urban rail system that can and will serve Austin residents in a way commuter rail can never do.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus

Capital Metro has now gone to moderation on comments at their blog, visit this after posting this followup to yesterday’s trial balloon on the “it’s light rail because we say so” front. (Update: Erica says in comments here that they went to moderation because of a nasty personal attack – I have no reason to believe otherwise; they have posted everything I’ve written, viagra so far).
Here’s what I commented to that post:

LRT was actually projected to have ridership in the mid 30s with the minimal operable segment (in 2007); and that was before some major developments have come online (like the Triangle).
Adam, 2000 per day is pathetic. So is the RiverLine’s 9000 per day. And the RiverLine was only able to operate that ‘well’ with those DMUs because they condemned a bunch of corners in downtown Camden in order to run directly to their CBD rather than to one far edge, then relying on shuttle buses for the “last mile”.
We don’t have the ‘luxury’ of a downtown so blighted that it’s no big deal to take corners of blocks here and there to run a porky DMU instead of a true light rail vehicle – which is why our commuter rail line is such a dead end – it can never and will never go to UT, the Capitol, and most of downtown.

Update: They’re really getting desperate over there. Follow the link, and here’s my comment for posterity:

Essentially nobody else other than the agencies in question would consider New Jersey’s service to be “light rail” either. So that’s not really going to convince anybody. They called it “light rail” for the same reason Lyndon Henry’s been doing it – to try to capitalize on the favorable brand image of LRT with people who have had good experiences on true light rail in other cities.
If you were going to bold something, how about this paragraph:

In the meantime, the best strategy for any transit agency interested in developing a shared-use project is to follow FRA’s policy advice and meet with FRA as soon as possible. Ideally, this should be done during the project definition phase and no later than the beginning of preliminary engineering. Transit agencies should recognize the FRA’s broad regulatory authority over shared-use rail transit projects and focus more on obtaining a jurisdictional determination that is compatible with their project mission. The critical shared-use issue for transit agencies to be concerned with is not the FRA’s regulatory authority over shared-use operations. It is the FRA’s jurisdictional determination process and how it relates to defining your project as light rail or commuter rail.

(I’m making a full post about this because I’m tired of having to dig up the links from comments; this is primarily for background for future postings).
Pictures from Camden, healthful NJ, infection on the RiverLine, this site which is also inappropriately labelled “light rail” by the same people trying to mislead you about our starter line here in Austin:

Doesn’t look so bad. Just a bit of a corner, right? Keep going.
Further down the street to the south (down in the first image):

Further:

Try it yourself – click on any one of those images and then drag to navigate along the supposed “light” railway – and see how they managed to get it into the city core.
Any questions? This isn’t light rail – it’s a freight rail line bulldozed through a bunch of city blocks; which we don’t have the latitude to do here in Austin, since our downtown blocks actually have some economic value.