TWITC: Here we go again

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).

The Austin Suburban Childrens’ Museum

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

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

Penn State:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed and Mark, grip
I heard your conversation with Lamar Smith while coming late to work today from the car dealer. While his figure of 20% for ANWR’s possible increase to US oil production is higher than anything I’ve ever seen anybody say, that’s not the most relevant thing: the more important point is that oil is priced on the world market (it’s ‘fungible’), so it doesn’t matter whether the US produces 1% or 99% as much oil as we consume; what matters is the world supply and demand (unless we were to nationalize our oil industry and force ‘our’ oil to be sold to us at a discount).
I wrote a short post on this a few weeks ago; finding it ironic that the party that has stood for supposed economic literacy and against nationalization is proposing a plan that can only work if you ignore one or both. Here’s the link: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000515.html
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

Quick hit: About to leave on a business trip to Yuma, sickness and have to hit a discount store on the drive from Phoenix to pick up some stuff. Guess what, rheumatologist RG4N? information pills +Phoenix,+AZ&daddr=7409+W+Virginia+Ave,+Phoenix,+AZ&hl=en&geocode=&mra=ls&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=33.901528,72.861328&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=12″>The Target I’m going to hit is NOT “on the freeway”; nor is the mall across the street.

Since I’m stuck driving 200 miles a day in the desert here in Yuma with no internet access except at hotel at evening, sildenafil please go over to Austin Contrarian’s take on Austin rail – to which I’ve commented a few times already.

As usual, help the Chronicle’s coverage of commuter rail, diagnosis this time the Elgin branch, website basically ignores(*) the most pressing issue of all, which is NOT “how will people get to the train station in Elgin” or “are there enough people out there”. It’s “do they work at the Convention Center, and if not, how will they get to their offices?
The residential end (Elgin or Leander) of these trips is obvious. People will drive to the train stations, which will have lots of parking. (The Leander station already does, as does the “Austin” station which will really be serving mostly Cedar Park, who of course don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes). (All the supposed transit-oriented development along the first line is really just transit-adjacent-development taking advantage of political cover to get the density that should already have been granted for locations that close into the city, of course – Leander’s TOD, by the way, is on hold due to bankruptcy proceedings for one of the developers and was never anything more than a joke as far as I’m concerned.)
So what about the office end of the trip? Are people going to walk to their office from the train station? NO. This is obvious for UT and the Capitol, but there are some naive folks who think that since they currently walk a long distance to ride a train, that everybody will. Not gonna happen here.
The key here, folks, is that these commuter rail lines are targetting “choice commuters” – and in the actual case of Leander and Elgin, they’re way down on the skeptic end of the “choice commuter” spectrum. What “choice commuter” means is that they have cars, and are using them right now – so they will have to be convinced to CHOOSE transit. In Leander’s case, excellent express bus service already exists which will take passengers straight to UT, the Capitol, and the parts of downtown in which office workers actually work – nice, comfortable, touring buses with internet connections; we’re not talking normal city buses here. In Elgin’s case, not as much. And what this also means is that they’re precisely the people who will NOT be willing to walk 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile from the train station to their office – these are exactly the people for whom the 1/4 mile rule was devised. People who are so in love with taking public transportation that they will take extra-long walks to do so are already riding the express bus, in other words.
So how, Chronicle writers, are the passengers on these 2 commuter rail lines going to get to work? Shuttlebuses. Yes, the same people who (in Leander’s case at least) can’t be convinced to take relatively luxurious express buses straight to their office today are somehow going to be convinced they enjoy getting on and off much more spartan, jerky, shuttlebuses each and every day to get from the train station to their final destination.

While the 2008 TWG proposal may improve things slightly, it’s still going to be a transfer, and, repeat with me: choice commuters hate transfers – you’re asking them to give up a 1-seat ride (their car) for a 3-seat ride (car, train, bus/streetcar). Even if the last 2 seats are reserved-guideway, you’re going to turn off a huge proportion of your potential audience with that transfer – it happens even in Manhattan, where an investment of over six billion dollars is being made to move the LIRR just a bit farther into the core to allow more LIRR passengers to walk to work instead of having to transfer. They’re not doing this just to make things nicer for existing riders, people; the Bush administration doesn’t play that game – they’re doing it based on recovering a bunch of choice commuters who are now driving. And, people, we’re not Manhattan, nor will we ever be – we will never have parking so expensive or traffic so difficult that many people will be willing to take the extra transfer if they can just drive.
Christof in Houston put this best quite a while back, emphasis mine::

Notice a pattern? Passengers don’t want to transfer to a circulator service to get to work, even a high-quality circulator like Denver’s. And serving suburban employment densities with rail transit is just about futile: 80% of Houston’s bus routes have higher ridership than Denver’s suburb to suburb rail line.
Trains aren’t vacuum cleaners. You don’t just put them next to a freeway and hope they suck people out of their cars. People will ride transit if it gets them where they want to go conveniently. If we want to maximize the number of people who will take transit (which should be the goal) we need to find places where transit will serve as many people as possible as conveniently as possible. That means serving density, particularly employment density, directly.

What’s the solution? Tear up commuter rail, right now, and go back to the 2000 light rail plan, which served all the same suburban northwest commuters in precisely the same locations as does commuter rail, but also hit the major residential density in Austin itself, and went straight to UT, the Capitol, and right down the heart of downtown. Until then, the best we can do is try to support the salvage effort in that 2008 CAMPO TWG plan which makes noise about distributing commuter rail passengers but unlike Capital Metro’s stupid proposal, can also serve as a modest start to an urban rail system that actually serves Austin residents without relying on the commuter rail line itself. And, of course, the 2000 and 2008 rail plans would actually serve more of the transit-positive population of the city that would be willing to take a longer walk just to ride transit, but that’s just a bonus.
* – there is brief mention of the TWG proposal in the final paragraph along with a mention that it will enable the commuter rail line to “really work” – I don’t believe this qualifies as serious consideration given the points above – the work end of the trip is by far the most important aspect of any rail start, and even reserved guideway streetcar won’t save commuter rail thanks to the fact that it’s, repeat along with me: still a transfer. If brand-new rail lines are to succeed in cities with mostly choice commuters, they have to serve a large proportion of their ridership with a one-seat ride; transfers can build ridership from there; but any city which is trying to start from nothing while relying 100% on transfers is dooming themselves to failure (see Tri-Rail, South Florida).

The Childrens’ Museum, ailment of which we are members, bronchitis announced today that they plan to move to Mueller after previously pulling out of a plan to occupy part of the ground floor of one of the major downtown high-rises now under construction (which would have, surgery like Mueller, given them a lot more room to work with). Many people wondered why they pulled out of what seemed like a sweetheart deal back then – and now we know: they intended to move out of downtown all along.
Obviously, I believe this is a horrible move. Today, it’s a lot easier to drive to Mueller than it is to drive downtown, and most families drive (even we usually do, although I have gone with my 4-year-old on the bus once or twice). But this isn’t a move for today – it’s a move for ten years from now; and ten years from now, Mueller will be, at best, a medium-density node of homes and a few shops with mediocre transit access; and downtown will still have everything it does today PLUS a ton more homes and retail (far more than Mueller adds), and vastly superior transit access. Additionally, if you think ten years from now the average family will still be driving everywhere, you are far more optimistic about fuel prices than the facts on the ground would seem to warrant.
The other main benefit of having the museum downtown is that it can be one among many attractions that can form a nice day-trip, even if you live out in the suburbs and even if you drive. In Mueller? It’ll be an easy drive – and given what they’ve built so far, there will probably be plenty of surface parking. But even if the streetcar line comes together and doesn’t suck, Mueller will still have relatively poor transit access compared to downtown (except from downtown itself) – and once you get there, there will be exactly one thing to do before you go home. In other words, everybody can get to the current location downtown and almost all of them can get there on one bus ride. Getting to Mueller, even ten years from now, is going to require two or three rides for most people (unless you live downtown!).
As with the library and with the courthouse, there will doubtlessly be plenty of apologists who claim that Capital Metro will be serving the new location with some bus routes – and that buses can always be moved. Newsflash: major long-haul bus routes aren’t moved miles out of the way for one new attraction in a medium-density area. Ten years from now, Mueller will have basically the same transit it does today – more frequent, likely; but no major new routes, except the aforementioned streetcar (maybe).
Folks, there’s a reason that everything tended to be located downtown back when driving was an expensive privilege afforded mainly to the rich: it simply works better to group major destinations together so they can be served by transit. Decentralizing at this point in history when the affordability of driving appears to be heading back that direction is just incomprehensibly stupid – yet that’s exactly what the ACM is doing here.
At the same time our own city shows signs of thinking ten years down the road (or re-learning lessons from a hundred years ago), the ACM is thinking ten or twenty years in the past. The new location will be a nice amenity for the many families that have moved into Mueller, but it might as well be Round Rock for the rest of the city.
Update: Other coverage of note at the muellercommunity.com forums where you can probably watch me get slammed mercilessly, and at skyscraperpage.com for a more downtown-friendly view.

Austin Contrarian on Austin Rail

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

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

Penn State:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed and Mark, grip
I heard your conversation with Lamar Smith while coming late to work today from the car dealer. While his figure of 20% for ANWR’s possible increase to US oil production is higher than anything I’ve ever seen anybody say, that’s not the most relevant thing: the more important point is that oil is priced on the world market (it’s ‘fungible’), so it doesn’t matter whether the US produces 1% or 99% as much oil as we consume; what matters is the world supply and demand (unless we were to nationalize our oil industry and force ‘our’ oil to be sold to us at a discount).
I wrote a short post on this a few weeks ago; finding it ironic that the party that has stood for supposed economic literacy and against nationalization is proposing a plan that can only work if you ignore one or both. Here’s the link: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000515.html
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

Quick hit: About to leave on a business trip to Yuma, sickness and have to hit a discount store on the drive from Phoenix to pick up some stuff. Guess what, rheumatologist RG4N? information pills +Phoenix,+AZ&daddr=7409+W+Virginia+Ave,+Phoenix,+AZ&hl=en&geocode=&mra=ls&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=33.901528,72.861328&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=12″>The Target I’m going to hit is NOT “on the freeway”; nor is the mall across the street.

Since I’m stuck driving 200 miles a day in the desert here in Yuma with no internet access except at hotel at evening, sildenafil please go over to Austin Contrarian’s take on Austin rail – to which I’ve commented a few times already.

A tale of the edges of two campuses

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

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

Penn State:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In print again

The acronym is for “Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved”.
I was impelled to get going again by witnessing a lady trying to keep her bike on about one inch of pavement on the uphill shoulderless windy part of Bee Caves this morning on my drive to work. Stay tuned for #3, advice help brave soul; there’s really no need for you to ride on that ungodly stretch.
Same format as before.
Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #2: Central Austin (Clarksville) to Northwest Austin (183 corridor) – four different offices in four years for S3.
Timeframe: June 1998- December 2001
Rough sketch of first half of route (the common part)
Common second part of routes to first, third, fourth offices (Bull Creek/Hancock to Mesa/Hyridge)
Second part of route to second, temporary, office (Spicewood Springs)
Final part of route to first office (Jollyville/Oak Knoll)
Final part of route to third office (Riata)
Final part of route to fourth office (Centaur)
Background: This is kind of a long one – S3 had one office when I started; were in negotiations to move to a nicer newer one but got stalled out by an acquisition which ended up pushing us into a temporary sublease for six months or so; and then when Via acquired S3, many of my coworkers left and I worked from home for a year, only to return to a temporary office in a building leased by Centaur (another of their companies) until S3 closed that office in December 2001, and I had to go find work in the middle of the dot-com bust (hooray!). All three share a common first third or so, and two are virtually identical, so they’re all grouped together here. The Riata commute was the one I actually made into the slideshow you see pictures from throughout this and the previous article.
Bike used: Mostly my old touring bike (since stolen) that I acquired for $200 used from austin.forsale.
Distance/Time: 10-15 miles each way; much longer in the morning due to hills – on days I biked all the way in on the longer versions, about 90-100 minutes. Trip home was 45 minutes or so.
Showers: Only the Riata office. For the mornings, I did the bus boost sometimes, and other times relied on cooler weather and the bathroom washcloth trick.
Route and comments:
By this point, I was becoming more comfortable asserting my position on the road, which is good since Jollyville didn’t yet have bike lanes.
First segments: To Bull Creek/Hancock: See first commute.
Second segment: Either up Shoal Creek or cross Mopac: The trick on all these commutes is where you shift from one good corridor (Bull Creek / Shoal Creek) to another (Mesa). There’s four crossings of Mopac which are accessible from here; I’ll briefly touch on them and talk about where I used them.

  1. Hancock: No on-ramps, which is nice, but a lot of debris, and requires a lot more hills if you are going particularly far north on the Mesa corridor. I used this crossing for the 2nd commute, at our temporary sublease on Spicewood Springs west of Mesa.
  2. Far West: A lot of novice cyclists take this one because the crossing TO Mopac is on a bike/ped bridge over the railroad, but then you’re dumped right into on-ramp traffic. I didn’t like this one as either a novice or an experienced cyclist.
  3. Spicewood Springs: Great downhill, but awful uphill – big hill, lots of traffic, ramps. Not recommended outbound. I used this one on the way home almost all the time.
  4. Steck: Best choice for uphill – least hill; most shade; least traffic (still have onramps to deal with, but they’re less busy than the other two choices). Downhill not so great – lose momentum at a 4-way stop.
  • Segment #3: (commute #2 only): I rode up Balcones (ignore the map where it says it’s part of Mopac; I picked the wrong segment on the map) – you can actually ride up high on a nice shoulder looking down at the traffic below; nice in the mornings. Then you get to go up a pretty bad but short hill on North Hills (where northbound traffic on Balcones ends), then follow North Hills parallel to Far West all the way up to Mesa. Commute #2 is basically done here – just head up Mesa in the hilly bumpy bike lanes, hop on Spicewood and head west.
    Segment #3: Shoal Creek to Steck (other 3 commutes): see last chapter.
    Segment #4: Shoal Creek to Mesa via Steck: Steck looks scary the first time but is actually very civilized – you can keep up with traffic on the downhill heading west, and by the time you slow down on the uphill, the light’s almost always red anyways. Crossing the bridge is the most stressful part – pump hard until you get to the other side to let the cars by, and then enjoy the shade on the short sharp uphill as the right lane turns into a bike lane. Then relax and go slow for a while and catch your breath. It’s a niice ride all the way up to Mesa – shade opportunities, little traffic, bike lane.
    Segment #5: Up Mesa. Mesa has bike lanes up here, still. Fought various battles with high school over cars parked in the bike lane for years – probably still happening now. Look for Hyridge (my last commute just went straight to the end of Mesa). Left on Hyridge.
    Segment #6: Across Loop 360. Two choices here; be a pedestrian and avoid a big hill, or be a cyclist and be tough. The pedestrian route takes you all the way to Old Jollyville, then left, then walk your bike across Loop 360 into the Arboretum. The less said the better (although if I got to this point and had no energy left, I did it once in a while). The bike route goes like this: Down Hyridge, split off at Mountain Ridge, BIG downhill, short uphill, and out to 360. Ride on shoulder for about 100 feet, then cut across traffic into the left turn lane for Arboretum Blvd (the cutout with no traffic light). Take your time here – no rush! Huge hill coming up. Turn across the southbound lanes onto Arboretum Blvd and then get ready for my least favorite hill – all the way up to the thing that looks like a roundabout but really isn’t at the Jollyville entrance to the Arboretum. I occasionally had to walk up this hill in the early days. The trip home is a bit different: Go through the uphill (183 side) of the Arboretum, hop on the 183 frontage for about 100 feet to get through the 360 light, then off on Old Jollyville. This is stressful at first but once you get used to it is no big deal, and you avoid some big hills.
    Segment #7: Up Jollyville: When I did these commutes, there were no bike lanes on Jollyville – but I was experienced enough not to need them (although I liked them when they showed up later). Nice flat (in comparison) ride – pick up some speed here and get a breeze going. Brutal the other way in the afternoon against the inevitable summer headwind out of the south. Very little traffic in the mornings by the late end of rush hour. On the Riata commute, I’d turn at Duval and head over to the 183 frontage; for the first office I’d head straight on to almost Oak Knoll and be done. (note my comment about high gas prices – zoom into the picture).
    Segment #8: Riata – luckily by this point I was pretty fearless as most people shy away from the frontage road. Not much traffic on this part – just quick hop from Duval to Riata Trace Parkway.
    Modifications for trip home: On all of these commutes, I’d cross Mopac on Spicewood Springs – a nice downhill from Mesa to Mopac with no stops; could easily keep up with the cars going 35. The light at Mopac was the only stressful bit; just pump hard to get over the railroad tracks and down the hill to Shoal Creek and then rejoin the outbound route.
    Bus boost possibility: Very high. The 183-corridor express buses drop off at Jollyville across from Riata (Riata actually got credit for being close to this park-and-ride, even though the road connecting Riata to it was cut in half by the freeway, requiring far too long a walk for anybody to really use the bus from there except as a cyclist). These buses are fast enough that you lose very little time compared to the drive, if you time your arrival correctly. (This applied to the two commutes out here; the other two had bus boost possibilities on the #19 in both cases and the #3 in the Centaur case – but those are slow in comparison). I used this express bus boost quite often – especially on days where I wanted to bike some but couldn’t afford to spend an extra 2 hours on it.
    Ratings:

      Rating Notes
    Physical difficulty 5 Big hills in spots in the morning. Afternoon is mostly easy except for the headwind stretch on Jollyville heading south
    Scary factor 7 Steck and 360 crossings scary – but there are less scary (although more hilly) alternatives.
    Exercise efficiency 9 out of 10 Large time investment required in morning but very strenuous exercise; afternoon commute took about 45 minutes compared to 35-40 in car.
    Enjoyment 5 out of 10 Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
    Services/Safety 9 out of 10 Plenty of opportunities to hop on a bus with a flat tire, which I had to do many times on these commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

    Overall conclusion: A good medium commute – a novice would be advised to consider the pedestrian approach at 360 for a bit at the start or use the bus boost to avoid that altogether.

    I often make fun of commuter rail for not going where it needs to go – but in this case I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum. Here’s a comment/letter I just sent the Chronicle in response to coverage of a recent UT meeting about streetcar:

    It would be really swell if every time this issue came up, visit people writing articles would be really clear about what’s being proposed by various folks, esophagitis especially on the issue of dedicated runningway (shared lane vs. reserved lane).
    For instance, viagra a streetcar on Speedway sounds a lot better to me too; and Guadalupe sounds better still, since Guadalupe is where all the current and most of the future residential density and other activity is. But are Black and Gadbois and whomever else suggesting reserved lanes on their routes (as in 2000’s light rail plan on Guadalupe), or that it would be sharing a lane with buses/cars (as in Cap Metro’s original, execrable, Future Connections proposal on San Jacinto)? This makes a HUGE difference – a streetcar without its own lane is actually even WORSE than a bus in speed and reliability – and is thus a complete waste of time and money.
    While we probably can’t now justify taking a lane on Guadalupe without the suburban ridership the 2000 route would have brought in, at least the McCracken/Wynn TWG proposal (streetcar running in dedicated lanes, albeit on San Jacinto) is capable of being expanded that direction later on; while commuter rail is a complete dead-end.

    The problem here is that a streetcar on the “right route” (Guadalupe) that doesn’t have its own lane will be even worse than the existing bus service there. Commuter rail has its own lane, in a sense, but doesn’t go anywhere you actually want to go – and your transfer is going to be to a crappy shuttle-bus stuck in traffic (without its own lane). I guess I slot San Jacinto somewhere in the middle between the poles of “where most people want to go” (Guadalupe) and “nobody wants to go” (Airport Blvd). But the biggest difference is that streetcar that runs on San Jacinto in its own lane might someday be able to be branched over to Guadalupe while commuter rail can never be brought anywhere you actually want to go.

    on 590 KLBJ. A fortuitous series of coincidences – I was unable to sleep this morning so was heading in very early; in the car; listening to the morning show and I called in, neurologist and actually got the screener right away – and they held me for a full segment at about 7:20. The format is difficult – I think I hit all the major points but of course didn’t make too much headway with those guys, read more but would be interested to hear from anybody who was listening.
    Points I hit:

    • More commuter (heavy) rail service isn’t helpful (response to Ed); can’t get close enough to walk to where you want to go, and no, people won’t transfer to buses from trains if they won’t take much better express buses straight to their destination today.
    • This system will likely have its own lane on much of its route – meaning it won’t be ‘competing’ with cars in the sense most people understand it.
    • Taxes: Yes, there will likely be some tax-increment-financing (one of the more likely financing buckets floated by Councilmember McCracken). No, it’s not reasonable to complain that this only benefits central Austin – first, it benefits commuter rail passengers, and second, central Austin generates most of Capital Metro’s tax revenues.
    • A couple trains can carry as many people as a traffic lane on one of these streets can carry in a whole hour. So if you run more than a couple per hour, you’re increasing commuting capacity into downtown.
    • I’d prefer the 2000 light rail plan, which is basically what everybody else did that has succeeded.

    Chime in if you were up early enough to hear, please. I’m always nervous that I talk too fast / stutter in events like this.

    This is going to be a bit disjoint – I’m typing this at 6:25 at a Pizza Hut in Huntsville, malady AL (no buffet; waiting for my personal pan pizza; do they still do this?) after having gotten up at 4AM to fly to Nashville and then drive 2 hours down here, then working all day with the other companies on a project for my day job.
    After the original unveiling of the streetcar plan promised complete dedicated guideway, ROMA has begun the inevitable backing away process – now saying that dedicated guideway is unlikely on Manor and Congress. Neither one makes sense, but ROMA is likely a believer in the “magic streetcar fairy dust” (note to readers: remind me to write an article on this phenomenon; in short: the theory that streetcars are so great that people won’t mind being stuck in traffic). Let’s look at Manor in particular.
    At the original public unveiling of the plan, yours truly stood up and asked why Manor couldn’t be singletracked instead of condemning right-of-way to build dedicated doubletrack. An anonymous jackass on the skyscraperpage forum (who I believe to be either Lyndon Henry or Dave Dobbs) scoffed at the idea, but it’s time to consider it again, since ROMA has apparently decided that expanding the right-of-way of Manor is now off the table.
    The problem: Manor doesn’t have enough width for a car lane each way and one “train lane” each way. (Current configuration is 2 bike lanes, 2 through lanes, and a center-turn lane). There’s ALMOST enough width to run reserved-guideway rail and keep one through lane each way if you lose the bike lanes, but not quite. The old configuration of Manor prior to the installation of bike lanes was 4 through lanes, but they were probably too narrow to support car next to train operation (at least, that’s what I’m assuming).
    ROMA’s solution: Run the streetcar in with regular traffic. Sounds fine, right? There’s not much traffic on Manor today by any reasonable standard.
    Why ROMA’s solution stinks: If there’s going to be enough traffic headed downtown to fill streetcars in 5 years when a lot more people live at Mueller, there’s also going to be a lot more people driving on Manor (which is the smartest driving route to UT, and probably right up there for the Capitol and downtown). So the conditions today that make it look like cars would never slow down the train (much) are misleading – most of the cars that will be there in 5 years aren’t there now.
    M1EK’s solution: Single-track reserved guideway. This stretch is very short (took about two minutes to drive down in the cab on the way to the airport at 4:45 this morning). Initial frequency is set for “every 10 minutes”. You ought to be able to keep this as single-track and maintain that schedule with no problems – but if that’s too close for comfort, bulb out at a station right in the middle – voila, two shorter single-track segments, and you only need to condemn a sliver of land around that station rather than along the whole stretch.
    Why M1EK’s solution stinks: Trains will still compete with each other; schedules will suffer.
    Why ROMA’s solution stinks more: Trains will lose a lot more schedule time stuck behind cars than they will waiting for an oncoming train to clear the single-track section, on average.
    Why magical streetcar fairy dust partisans will still dislike M1EK’s solution: “You can’t expand your solution into dedicated double-track”. One track right in the middle of what used to be the center turn lane is right in the middle of where two tracks would need to be – you can’t reuse that track.
    Why it’s not any worse than ROMA’s solution on that metric: The rails on which the shared-lane streetcar will run are also going to be in the wrong place – you can’t magically change those into reserved guideway either (unless you completely close Manor off to cars). In fact, M1EK’s solution allows for a more incremental approach – where you can gradually acquire more right-of-way and shift the double-to-single-track transitions further out away from the station(s).
    Does anybody else ever do this? Yes, Baltimore had single-track on their light rail line for quite a while (maybe still do; I haven’t kept up to speed on their system).
    Congress Avenue is a much easier case, by the way; it’s largely an aesthetic objection (reserved guideway should run in the middle of the street, but some people with absolutely no grounding in history are upset about the caternary wires in front of the view of the Capitol – forgetting that for 50 years or more, that’s exactly what we had).

    A quick hit from Orphan Road in Seattle; excerpts:

    BRT is neither cheaper nor faster to build. No matter what you might say about a mixed system or buses needed as feeders or matching the traffic requirements with the market, order at the end of the day, healing BRT is most likely to be a fraud.
    I’ll let other people be “reasonable” and concede that, if you grant a lot of things that never will happen, BRT “might” work. When I look around at all these existing BRT implementations and find delay, financial ruin, and angry riders, I’ve had enough. BRT is a fraud.

    Also of note from the BRT example city of Curitiba are these scalability problems courtesy of The Overhead Wire:

    During peak hours, buses on the main routes are already arriving at almost 30-second intervals; any more buses, and they would back up. While acknowledging his iconoclasm in questioning the sufficiency of Curitiba’s trademark bus network, Schmidt nevertheless says a light-rail system is needed to complement it.

    All of this (and more) applies to Rapid Bus. The investment is high – and the payoff is nearly zero; you’re still stuck with an awful vehicle that can’t get through traffic congestion like light rail does all over the country. No wonder the highway guys push for BRT (and its dumber sibling, Rapid Bus) so much – it’s not a threat to them. The Feds are pushing it now because the Bush guys have finally wrecked the FTA – but that doesn’t make it a good idea; it makes it something to pretend to consider until saner hands take the till.
    Capital Metro needs to cut this out right now and put this money into something that works – like the light rail proposal which, unlike Rapid Bus, is at least something that has worked in other cities and can insulate us from diesel costs in the future.

    So follow me on this one:

    1. Self-identified Republicans like to claim to have a far superior understanding of economics than those they call Democrats.
    2. Same batch of folks are now calling for off-shore drilling on the theory that it would have a non-trivial impact on US oil prices.
    3. We know, medicine of course, this that oil is fungible, cardiology so the impact of any production here is spread across the entire world market for oil, not just the US market.
    4. Those self-identified Republicans must know that too, because of the superior understanding of economics mentioned in #1.
    5. Shirley those Republicans aren’t putting forward all this fuss over a pennies-sized drop in the world price of oil which is what would happen if we drilled the hell out of ourselves (including not only offshore but ANWR as well).
    6. Therefore, those Republicans must have some other means in mind by which US prices will fall more than the prices paid by the rest of the world’s oil consumers.
    7. There’s only one way I can think of, though: forcing oil companies to sell us “our oil” at a discount (compared to the world price, which would only drop a little bit with the amount of production we can bring to bear). In other words, separating the US price from the world price – like our friends in Saudi Arabia do.
    8. What’s another word for that? Nationalization. Or socialization, if you prefer. Either one will do.

    I wonder if we know anybody who’s an expert at that kind of thing. Perhaps even in our own hemisphere?
    hey, how you doin'?
    I think we found McCain’s running-mate. If you’re tired of paying too much to fill up your SUV, it’s time to push your party leaders towards the McCain/Chavez ticket in ’08. THIS IDEA NOT FOR STEALING.

    Good Life magazine interviewed me (one of several) for a big piece on development and transportation, misbirth and we got a nice picture on Loop 360 last month. Now, diagnosis it’s finally out, and they mispelled my last name. Every single time. Argh. The content was well-done, though; one of the better representations of an interview I’ve had (except for the part about the new office being too far to bike; I’m not biking any more due to health reasons; this is actually a wonderful bike commute).

  • The trouble with Manor to Mueller

    The acronym is for “Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved”.
    I was impelled to get going again by witnessing a lady trying to keep her bike on about one inch of pavement on the uphill shoulderless windy part of Bee Caves this morning on my drive to work. Stay tuned for #3, advice help brave soul; there’s really no need for you to ride on that ungodly stretch.
    Same format as before.
    Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #2: Central Austin (Clarksville) to Northwest Austin (183 corridor) – four different offices in four years for S3.
    Timeframe: June 1998- December 2001
    Rough sketch of first half of route (the common part)
    Common second part of routes to first, third, fourth offices (Bull Creek/Hancock to Mesa/Hyridge)
    Second part of route to second, temporary, office (Spicewood Springs)
    Final part of route to first office (Jollyville/Oak Knoll)
    Final part of route to third office (Riata)
    Final part of route to fourth office (Centaur)
    Background: This is kind of a long one – S3 had one office when I started; were in negotiations to move to a nicer newer one but got stalled out by an acquisition which ended up pushing us into a temporary sublease for six months or so; and then when Via acquired S3, many of my coworkers left and I worked from home for a year, only to return to a temporary office in a building leased by Centaur (another of their companies) until S3 closed that office in December 2001, and I had to go find work in the middle of the dot-com bust (hooray!). All three share a common first third or so, and two are virtually identical, so they’re all grouped together here. The Riata commute was the one I actually made into the slideshow you see pictures from throughout this and the previous article.
    Bike used: Mostly my old touring bike (since stolen) that I acquired for $200 used from austin.forsale.
    Distance/Time: 10-15 miles each way; much longer in the morning due to hills – on days I biked all the way in on the longer versions, about 90-100 minutes. Trip home was 45 minutes or so.
    Showers: Only the Riata office. For the mornings, I did the bus boost sometimes, and other times relied on cooler weather and the bathroom washcloth trick.
    Route and comments:
    By this point, I was becoming more comfortable asserting my position on the road, which is good since Jollyville didn’t yet have bike lanes.
    First segments: To Bull Creek/Hancock: See first commute.
    Second segment: Either up Shoal Creek or cross Mopac: The trick on all these commutes is where you shift from one good corridor (Bull Creek / Shoal Creek) to another (Mesa). There’s four crossings of Mopac which are accessible from here; I’ll briefly touch on them and talk about where I used them.

    1. Hancock: No on-ramps, which is nice, but a lot of debris, and requires a lot more hills if you are going particularly far north on the Mesa corridor. I used this crossing for the 2nd commute, at our temporary sublease on Spicewood Springs west of Mesa.
    2. Far West: A lot of novice cyclists take this one because the crossing TO Mopac is on a bike/ped bridge over the railroad, but then you’re dumped right into on-ramp traffic. I didn’t like this one as either a novice or an experienced cyclist.
    3. Spicewood Springs: Great downhill, but awful uphill – big hill, lots of traffic, ramps. Not recommended outbound. I used this one on the way home almost all the time.
    4. Steck: Best choice for uphill – least hill; most shade; least traffic (still have onramps to deal with, but they’re less busy than the other two choices). Downhill not so great – lose momentum at a 4-way stop.
  • Segment #3: (commute #2 only): I rode up Balcones (ignore the map where it says it’s part of Mopac; I picked the wrong segment on the map) – you can actually ride up high on a nice shoulder looking down at the traffic below; nice in the mornings. Then you get to go up a pretty bad but short hill on North Hills (where northbound traffic on Balcones ends), then follow North Hills parallel to Far West all the way up to Mesa. Commute #2 is basically done here – just head up Mesa in the hilly bumpy bike lanes, hop on Spicewood and head west.
    Segment #3: Shoal Creek to Steck (other 3 commutes): see last chapter.
    Segment #4: Shoal Creek to Mesa via Steck: Steck looks scary the first time but is actually very civilized – you can keep up with traffic on the downhill heading west, and by the time you slow down on the uphill, the light’s almost always red anyways. Crossing the bridge is the most stressful part – pump hard until you get to the other side to let the cars by, and then enjoy the shade on the short sharp uphill as the right lane turns into a bike lane. Then relax and go slow for a while and catch your breath. It’s a niice ride all the way up to Mesa – shade opportunities, little traffic, bike lane.
    Segment #5: Up Mesa. Mesa has bike lanes up here, still. Fought various battles with high school over cars parked in the bike lane for years – probably still happening now. Look for Hyridge (my last commute just went straight to the end of Mesa). Left on Hyridge.
    Segment #6: Across Loop 360. Two choices here; be a pedestrian and avoid a big hill, or be a cyclist and be tough. The pedestrian route takes you all the way to Old Jollyville, then left, then walk your bike across Loop 360 into the Arboretum. The less said the better (although if I got to this point and had no energy left, I did it once in a while). The bike route goes like this: Down Hyridge, split off at Mountain Ridge, BIG downhill, short uphill, and out to 360. Ride on shoulder for about 100 feet, then cut across traffic into the left turn lane for Arboretum Blvd (the cutout with no traffic light). Take your time here – no rush! Huge hill coming up. Turn across the southbound lanes onto Arboretum Blvd and then get ready for my least favorite hill – all the way up to the thing that looks like a roundabout but really isn’t at the Jollyville entrance to the Arboretum. I occasionally had to walk up this hill in the early days. The trip home is a bit different: Go through the uphill (183 side) of the Arboretum, hop on the 183 frontage for about 100 feet to get through the 360 light, then off on Old Jollyville. This is stressful at first but once you get used to it is no big deal, and you avoid some big hills.
    Segment #7: Up Jollyville: When I did these commutes, there were no bike lanes on Jollyville – but I was experienced enough not to need them (although I liked them when they showed up later). Nice flat (in comparison) ride – pick up some speed here and get a breeze going. Brutal the other way in the afternoon against the inevitable summer headwind out of the south. Very little traffic in the mornings by the late end of rush hour. On the Riata commute, I’d turn at Duval and head over to the 183 frontage; for the first office I’d head straight on to almost Oak Knoll and be done. (note my comment about high gas prices – zoom into the picture).
    Segment #8: Riata – luckily by this point I was pretty fearless as most people shy away from the frontage road. Not much traffic on this part – just quick hop from Duval to Riata Trace Parkway.
    Modifications for trip home: On all of these commutes, I’d cross Mopac on Spicewood Springs – a nice downhill from Mesa to Mopac with no stops; could easily keep up with the cars going 35. The light at Mopac was the only stressful bit; just pump hard to get over the railroad tracks and down the hill to Shoal Creek and then rejoin the outbound route.
    Bus boost possibility: Very high. The 183-corridor express buses drop off at Jollyville across from Riata (Riata actually got credit for being close to this park-and-ride, even though the road connecting Riata to it was cut in half by the freeway, requiring far too long a walk for anybody to really use the bus from there except as a cyclist). These buses are fast enough that you lose very little time compared to the drive, if you time your arrival correctly. (This applied to the two commutes out here; the other two had bus boost possibilities on the #19 in both cases and the #3 in the Centaur case – but those are slow in comparison). I used this express bus boost quite often – especially on days where I wanted to bike some but couldn’t afford to spend an extra 2 hours on it.
    Ratings:

      Rating Notes
    Physical difficulty 5 Big hills in spots in the morning. Afternoon is mostly easy except for the headwind stretch on Jollyville heading south
    Scary factor 7 Steck and 360 crossings scary – but there are less scary (although more hilly) alternatives.
    Exercise efficiency 9 out of 10 Large time investment required in morning but very strenuous exercise; afternoon commute took about 45 minutes compared to 35-40 in car.
    Enjoyment 5 out of 10 Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
    Services/Safety 9 out of 10 Plenty of opportunities to hop on a bus with a flat tire, which I had to do many times on these commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

    Overall conclusion: A good medium commute – a novice would be advised to consider the pedestrian approach at 360 for a bit at the start or use the bus boost to avoid that altogether.

    I often make fun of commuter rail for not going where it needs to go – but in this case I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum. Here’s a comment/letter I just sent the Chronicle in response to coverage of a recent UT meeting about streetcar:

    It would be really swell if every time this issue came up, visit people writing articles would be really clear about what’s being proposed by various folks, esophagitis especially on the issue of dedicated runningway (shared lane vs. reserved lane).
    For instance, viagra a streetcar on Speedway sounds a lot better to me too; and Guadalupe sounds better still, since Guadalupe is where all the current and most of the future residential density and other activity is. But are Black and Gadbois and whomever else suggesting reserved lanes on their routes (as in 2000’s light rail plan on Guadalupe), or that it would be sharing a lane with buses/cars (as in Cap Metro’s original, execrable, Future Connections proposal on San Jacinto)? This makes a HUGE difference – a streetcar without its own lane is actually even WORSE than a bus in speed and reliability – and is thus a complete waste of time and money.
    While we probably can’t now justify taking a lane on Guadalupe without the suburban ridership the 2000 route would have brought in, at least the McCracken/Wynn TWG proposal (streetcar running in dedicated lanes, albeit on San Jacinto) is capable of being expanded that direction later on; while commuter rail is a complete dead-end.

    The problem here is that a streetcar on the “right route” (Guadalupe) that doesn’t have its own lane will be even worse than the existing bus service there. Commuter rail has its own lane, in a sense, but doesn’t go anywhere you actually want to go – and your transfer is going to be to a crappy shuttle-bus stuck in traffic (without its own lane). I guess I slot San Jacinto somewhere in the middle between the poles of “where most people want to go” (Guadalupe) and “nobody wants to go” (Airport Blvd). But the biggest difference is that streetcar that runs on San Jacinto in its own lane might someday be able to be branched over to Guadalupe while commuter rail can never be brought anywhere you actually want to go.

    on 590 KLBJ. A fortuitous series of coincidences – I was unable to sleep this morning so was heading in very early; in the car; listening to the morning show and I called in, neurologist and actually got the screener right away – and they held me for a full segment at about 7:20. The format is difficult – I think I hit all the major points but of course didn’t make too much headway with those guys, read more but would be interested to hear from anybody who was listening.
    Points I hit:

    • More commuter (heavy) rail service isn’t helpful (response to Ed); can’t get close enough to walk to where you want to go, and no, people won’t transfer to buses from trains if they won’t take much better express buses straight to their destination today.
    • This system will likely have its own lane on much of its route – meaning it won’t be ‘competing’ with cars in the sense most people understand it.
    • Taxes: Yes, there will likely be some tax-increment-financing (one of the more likely financing buckets floated by Councilmember McCracken). No, it’s not reasonable to complain that this only benefits central Austin – first, it benefits commuter rail passengers, and second, central Austin generates most of Capital Metro’s tax revenues.
    • A couple trains can carry as many people as a traffic lane on one of these streets can carry in a whole hour. So if you run more than a couple per hour, you’re increasing commuting capacity into downtown.
    • I’d prefer the 2000 light rail plan, which is basically what everybody else did that has succeeded.

    Chime in if you were up early enough to hear, please. I’m always nervous that I talk too fast / stutter in events like this.

    This is going to be a bit disjoint – I’m typing this at 6:25 at a Pizza Hut in Huntsville, malady AL (no buffet; waiting for my personal pan pizza; do they still do this?) after having gotten up at 4AM to fly to Nashville and then drive 2 hours down here, then working all day with the other companies on a project for my day job.
    After the original unveiling of the streetcar plan promised complete dedicated guideway, ROMA has begun the inevitable backing away process – now saying that dedicated guideway is unlikely on Manor and Congress. Neither one makes sense, but ROMA is likely a believer in the “magic streetcar fairy dust” (note to readers: remind me to write an article on this phenomenon; in short: the theory that streetcars are so great that people won’t mind being stuck in traffic). Let’s look at Manor in particular.
    At the original public unveiling of the plan, yours truly stood up and asked why Manor couldn’t be singletracked instead of condemning right-of-way to build dedicated doubletrack. An anonymous jackass on the skyscraperpage forum (who I believe to be either Lyndon Henry or Dave Dobbs) scoffed at the idea, but it’s time to consider it again, since ROMA has apparently decided that expanding the right-of-way of Manor is now off the table.
    The problem: Manor doesn’t have enough width for a car lane each way and one “train lane” each way. (Current configuration is 2 bike lanes, 2 through lanes, and a center-turn lane). There’s ALMOST enough width to run reserved-guideway rail and keep one through lane each way if you lose the bike lanes, but not quite. The old configuration of Manor prior to the installation of bike lanes was 4 through lanes, but they were probably too narrow to support car next to train operation (at least, that’s what I’m assuming).
    ROMA’s solution: Run the streetcar in with regular traffic. Sounds fine, right? There’s not much traffic on Manor today by any reasonable standard.
    Why ROMA’s solution stinks: If there’s going to be enough traffic headed downtown to fill streetcars in 5 years when a lot more people live at Mueller, there’s also going to be a lot more people driving on Manor (which is the smartest driving route to UT, and probably right up there for the Capitol and downtown). So the conditions today that make it look like cars would never slow down the train (much) are misleading – most of the cars that will be there in 5 years aren’t there now.
    M1EK’s solution: Single-track reserved guideway. This stretch is very short (took about two minutes to drive down in the cab on the way to the airport at 4:45 this morning). Initial frequency is set for “every 10 minutes”. You ought to be able to keep this as single-track and maintain that schedule with no problems – but if that’s too close for comfort, bulb out at a station right in the middle – voila, two shorter single-track segments, and you only need to condemn a sliver of land around that station rather than along the whole stretch.
    Why M1EK’s solution stinks: Trains will still compete with each other; schedules will suffer.
    Why ROMA’s solution stinks more: Trains will lose a lot more schedule time stuck behind cars than they will waiting for an oncoming train to clear the single-track section, on average.
    Why magical streetcar fairy dust partisans will still dislike M1EK’s solution: “You can’t expand your solution into dedicated double-track”. One track right in the middle of what used to be the center turn lane is right in the middle of where two tracks would need to be – you can’t reuse that track.
    Why it’s not any worse than ROMA’s solution on that metric: The rails on which the shared-lane streetcar will run are also going to be in the wrong place – you can’t magically change those into reserved guideway either (unless you completely close Manor off to cars). In fact, M1EK’s solution allows for a more incremental approach – where you can gradually acquire more right-of-way and shift the double-to-single-track transitions further out away from the station(s).
    Does anybody else ever do this? Yes, Baltimore had single-track on their light rail line for quite a while (maybe still do; I haven’t kept up to speed on their system).
    Congress Avenue is a much easier case, by the way; it’s largely an aesthetic objection (reserved guideway should run in the middle of the street, but some people with absolutely no grounding in history are upset about the caternary wires in front of the view of the Capitol – forgetting that for 50 years or more, that’s exactly what we had).

  • Yes, that was me you heard this morning

    The acronym is for “Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved”.
    I was impelled to get going again by witnessing a lady trying to keep her bike on about one inch of pavement on the uphill shoulderless windy part of Bee Caves this morning on my drive to work. Stay tuned for #3, advice help brave soul; there’s really no need for you to ride on that ungodly stretch.
    Same format as before.
    Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #2: Central Austin (Clarksville) to Northwest Austin (183 corridor) – four different offices in four years for S3.
    Timeframe: June 1998- December 2001
    Rough sketch of first half of route (the common part)
    Common second part of routes to first, third, fourth offices (Bull Creek/Hancock to Mesa/Hyridge)
    Second part of route to second, temporary, office (Spicewood Springs)
    Final part of route to first office (Jollyville/Oak Knoll)
    Final part of route to third office (Riata)
    Final part of route to fourth office (Centaur)
    Background: This is kind of a long one – S3 had one office when I started; were in negotiations to move to a nicer newer one but got stalled out by an acquisition which ended up pushing us into a temporary sublease for six months or so; and then when Via acquired S3, many of my coworkers left and I worked from home for a year, only to return to a temporary office in a building leased by Centaur (another of their companies) until S3 closed that office in December 2001, and I had to go find work in the middle of the dot-com bust (hooray!). All three share a common first third or so, and two are virtually identical, so they’re all grouped together here. The Riata commute was the one I actually made into the slideshow you see pictures from throughout this and the previous article.
    Bike used: Mostly my old touring bike (since stolen) that I acquired for $200 used from austin.forsale.
    Distance/Time: 10-15 miles each way; much longer in the morning due to hills – on days I biked all the way in on the longer versions, about 90-100 minutes. Trip home was 45 minutes or so.
    Showers: Only the Riata office. For the mornings, I did the bus boost sometimes, and other times relied on cooler weather and the bathroom washcloth trick.
    Route and comments:
    By this point, I was becoming more comfortable asserting my position on the road, which is good since Jollyville didn’t yet have bike lanes.
    First segments: To Bull Creek/Hancock: See first commute.
    Second segment: Either up Shoal Creek or cross Mopac: The trick on all these commutes is where you shift from one good corridor (Bull Creek / Shoal Creek) to another (Mesa). There’s four crossings of Mopac which are accessible from here; I’ll briefly touch on them and talk about where I used them.

    1. Hancock: No on-ramps, which is nice, but a lot of debris, and requires a lot more hills if you are going particularly far north on the Mesa corridor. I used this crossing for the 2nd commute, at our temporary sublease on Spicewood Springs west of Mesa.
    2. Far West: A lot of novice cyclists take this one because the crossing TO Mopac is on a bike/ped bridge over the railroad, but then you’re dumped right into on-ramp traffic. I didn’t like this one as either a novice or an experienced cyclist.
    3. Spicewood Springs: Great downhill, but awful uphill – big hill, lots of traffic, ramps. Not recommended outbound. I used this one on the way home almost all the time.
    4. Steck: Best choice for uphill – least hill; most shade; least traffic (still have onramps to deal with, but they’re less busy than the other two choices). Downhill not so great – lose momentum at a 4-way stop.
  • Segment #3: (commute #2 only): I rode up Balcones (ignore the map where it says it’s part of Mopac; I picked the wrong segment on the map) – you can actually ride up high on a nice shoulder looking down at the traffic below; nice in the mornings. Then you get to go up a pretty bad but short hill on North Hills (where northbound traffic on Balcones ends), then follow North Hills parallel to Far West all the way up to Mesa. Commute #2 is basically done here – just head up Mesa in the hilly bumpy bike lanes, hop on Spicewood and head west.
    Segment #3: Shoal Creek to Steck (other 3 commutes): see last chapter.
    Segment #4: Shoal Creek to Mesa via Steck: Steck looks scary the first time but is actually very civilized – you can keep up with traffic on the downhill heading west, and by the time you slow down on the uphill, the light’s almost always red anyways. Crossing the bridge is the most stressful part – pump hard until you get to the other side to let the cars by, and then enjoy the shade on the short sharp uphill as the right lane turns into a bike lane. Then relax and go slow for a while and catch your breath. It’s a niice ride all the way up to Mesa – shade opportunities, little traffic, bike lane.
    Segment #5: Up Mesa. Mesa has bike lanes up here, still. Fought various battles with high school over cars parked in the bike lane for years – probably still happening now. Look for Hyridge (my last commute just went straight to the end of Mesa). Left on Hyridge.
    Segment #6: Across Loop 360. Two choices here; be a pedestrian and avoid a big hill, or be a cyclist and be tough. The pedestrian route takes you all the way to Old Jollyville, then left, then walk your bike across Loop 360 into the Arboretum. The less said the better (although if I got to this point and had no energy left, I did it once in a while). The bike route goes like this: Down Hyridge, split off at Mountain Ridge, BIG downhill, short uphill, and out to 360. Ride on shoulder for about 100 feet, then cut across traffic into the left turn lane for Arboretum Blvd (the cutout with no traffic light). Take your time here – no rush! Huge hill coming up. Turn across the southbound lanes onto Arboretum Blvd and then get ready for my least favorite hill – all the way up to the thing that looks like a roundabout but really isn’t at the Jollyville entrance to the Arboretum. I occasionally had to walk up this hill in the early days. The trip home is a bit different: Go through the uphill (183 side) of the Arboretum, hop on the 183 frontage for about 100 feet to get through the 360 light, then off on Old Jollyville. This is stressful at first but once you get used to it is no big deal, and you avoid some big hills.
    Segment #7: Up Jollyville: When I did these commutes, there were no bike lanes on Jollyville – but I was experienced enough not to need them (although I liked them when they showed up later). Nice flat (in comparison) ride – pick up some speed here and get a breeze going. Brutal the other way in the afternoon against the inevitable summer headwind out of the south. Very little traffic in the mornings by the late end of rush hour. On the Riata commute, I’d turn at Duval and head over to the 183 frontage; for the first office I’d head straight on to almost Oak Knoll and be done. (note my comment about high gas prices – zoom into the picture).
    Segment #8: Riata – luckily by this point I was pretty fearless as most people shy away from the frontage road. Not much traffic on this part – just quick hop from Duval to Riata Trace Parkway.
    Modifications for trip home: On all of these commutes, I’d cross Mopac on Spicewood Springs – a nice downhill from Mesa to Mopac with no stops; could easily keep up with the cars going 35. The light at Mopac was the only stressful bit; just pump hard to get over the railroad tracks and down the hill to Shoal Creek and then rejoin the outbound route.
    Bus boost possibility: Very high. The 183-corridor express buses drop off at Jollyville across from Riata (Riata actually got credit for being close to this park-and-ride, even though the road connecting Riata to it was cut in half by the freeway, requiring far too long a walk for anybody to really use the bus from there except as a cyclist). These buses are fast enough that you lose very little time compared to the drive, if you time your arrival correctly. (This applied to the two commutes out here; the other two had bus boost possibilities on the #19 in both cases and the #3 in the Centaur case – but those are slow in comparison). I used this express bus boost quite often – especially on days where I wanted to bike some but couldn’t afford to spend an extra 2 hours on it.
    Ratings:

      Rating Notes
    Physical difficulty 5 Big hills in spots in the morning. Afternoon is mostly easy except for the headwind stretch on Jollyville heading south
    Scary factor 7 Steck and 360 crossings scary – but there are less scary (although more hilly) alternatives.
    Exercise efficiency 9 out of 10 Large time investment required in morning but very strenuous exercise; afternoon commute took about 45 minutes compared to 35-40 in car.
    Enjoyment 5 out of 10 Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
    Services/Safety 9 out of 10 Plenty of opportunities to hop on a bus with a flat tire, which I had to do many times on these commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

    Overall conclusion: A good medium commute – a novice would be advised to consider the pedestrian approach at 360 for a bit at the start or use the bus boost to avoid that altogether.

    I often make fun of commuter rail for not going where it needs to go – but in this case I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum. Here’s a comment/letter I just sent the Chronicle in response to coverage of a recent UT meeting about streetcar:

    It would be really swell if every time this issue came up, visit people writing articles would be really clear about what’s being proposed by various folks, esophagitis especially on the issue of dedicated runningway (shared lane vs. reserved lane).
    For instance, viagra a streetcar on Speedway sounds a lot better to me too; and Guadalupe sounds better still, since Guadalupe is where all the current and most of the future residential density and other activity is. But are Black and Gadbois and whomever else suggesting reserved lanes on their routes (as in 2000’s light rail plan on Guadalupe), or that it would be sharing a lane with buses/cars (as in Cap Metro’s original, execrable, Future Connections proposal on San Jacinto)? This makes a HUGE difference – a streetcar without its own lane is actually even WORSE than a bus in speed and reliability – and is thus a complete waste of time and money.
    While we probably can’t now justify taking a lane on Guadalupe without the suburban ridership the 2000 route would have brought in, at least the McCracken/Wynn TWG proposal (streetcar running in dedicated lanes, albeit on San Jacinto) is capable of being expanded that direction later on; while commuter rail is a complete dead-end.

    The problem here is that a streetcar on the “right route” (Guadalupe) that doesn’t have its own lane will be even worse than the existing bus service there. Commuter rail has its own lane, in a sense, but doesn’t go anywhere you actually want to go – and your transfer is going to be to a crappy shuttle-bus stuck in traffic (without its own lane). I guess I slot San Jacinto somewhere in the middle between the poles of “where most people want to go” (Guadalupe) and “nobody wants to go” (Airport Blvd). But the biggest difference is that streetcar that runs on San Jacinto in its own lane might someday be able to be branched over to Guadalupe while commuter rail can never be brought anywhere you actually want to go.

    on 590 KLBJ. A fortuitous series of coincidences – I was unable to sleep this morning so was heading in very early; in the car; listening to the morning show and I called in, neurologist and actually got the screener right away – and they held me for a full segment at about 7:20. The format is difficult – I think I hit all the major points but of course didn’t make too much headway with those guys, read more but would be interested to hear from anybody who was listening.
    Points I hit:

    • More commuter (heavy) rail service isn’t helpful (response to Ed); can’t get close enough to walk to where you want to go, and no, people won’t transfer to buses from trains if they won’t take much better express buses straight to their destination today.
    • This system will likely have its own lane on much of its route – meaning it won’t be ‘competing’ with cars in the sense most people understand it.
    • Taxes: Yes, there will likely be some tax-increment-financing (one of the more likely financing buckets floated by Councilmember McCracken). No, it’s not reasonable to complain that this only benefits central Austin – first, it benefits commuter rail passengers, and second, central Austin generates most of Capital Metro’s tax revenues.
    • A couple trains can carry as many people as a traffic lane on one of these streets can carry in a whole hour. So if you run more than a couple per hour, you’re increasing commuting capacity into downtown.
    • I’d prefer the 2000 light rail plan, which is basically what everybody else did that has succeeded.

    Chime in if you were up early enough to hear, please. I’m always nervous that I talk too fast / stutter in events like this.

  • Why progressives, transit-supporters, environmentalists, and urbanites need to vote for Galindo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    – MD

    And my follow-up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Humorous snippets: I introduced myself to Ben Wear, and even though he wrote an article with my name in it a year or two ago, and I’ve emailed back/forth with him 5 or 6 times, I don’t think he had any idea who the hell I was. Also, Jeff Jack (future Worst Person In Austin nominee? told me I should cut out the blogging until I know what I’m talking about.
    For my curious reader, abortion my wife tore her Achilles tendon and had surgery on Thursday; I’ve been swamped just taking care of the home front (stir-crazy 4 year old included) and trying to keep up with work (and failing). No crackploggery from me for quite some time; sorry.
    City elections: Vote for Leffingwell (too willing to roll over for reactionaries, but far superior to that idiot Meeker); Shade (Kim is making it very obvious lately why she lost her original group of supporters, and it had nothing to do with policy); and either Galindo or Cravey (the top 2 candidates in all 3 races). If you vote for Laura Morrison, I’m afraid we can’t be friends – she’s a disaster in the making.

    Since the last entry, population health a bunch of windows got blown out on the side of our house from the fukkenhail; a tree limb smashed the loaner car (old Prius was at body shop having last round of hail damage fixed; new Prius was at dealer getting some upholstery fixed); and my 4-year-old got strep (contagious, pulmonologist can’t leave house for another day or so). And I’m trying to work full-time or a bit more while still taking care of the family while the clerking factory wonders what the hell I’m doing and why I’m not in the office yet. And the in-laws just went out of town for 3 weeks. THINGS IS GOIN’ GREAT!

    Whichever one of you has the friggin’ M1EK voodoo doll, prescription STOP IT. Just got a knock on the door to ask me if I wanted to move a car; I head out and find out that despite earlier materials to the contrary, healing the city is indeed digging up my yard, generic sidewalk, and swale to put in a new sewer connection. Of course, since the last stuff I got said they weren’t going to be doing this for our house, I didn’t dig up and pot the plants on the corner of the driveway. The ones that just got dug up for me. Probably all dead after this despite my attempts to rescue them from various piles – even including the Pride of Barbados I had to nurture for the last 4 years through a couple of hard freezes that nearly killed it. Said plant, while still in the ground, is probably a goner with how close it is to the cut.
    FIUHENOWIFOBEWIFPOEINWPDOINEOWIUGBPOFBIUEPWOVCNPWEOMIPDEWOINDPOEIPRO#IPROINPFWDOINPFOEWI

    Quick commentary since I’m still drowning with all the recent troubles.
    This is stupid. Most jaywalking occurs in high-pedestrian-traffic areas where crossings aren’t sufficiently present (like South Congress or west 6th) or where pedestrian traffic is just overwhelming compared to car traffic (like South Congress or 6th anywhere downtown). However, anabolics most of the injuries and deaths occur in other places so the enforcement here isn’t doing anything other than PR for the department among motorists. Strictly bush-league nonsense.
    The only burgs that have the right to prosecute jaywalking to this degree, remedy in M1EK’s informed opinion, are those like New York, where you don’t have to go many blocks to get to a crosswalk.
    How do we fix this? The City Council has to direct transportation staff to create additional protected crossings on Congress and 6th and a few other spots. My first attempt on the UTC to do something, way back in 2001, was to get more traffic signals put up on blocks downtown which had 2-way or 4-way stops on the theory that we know the pedestrian traffic is there; the streets are in a grid pattern anyways; and it’s probably more efficient to just have lights on every block instead of a gap of 2 or 3 blocks on W 6th which forced many N/S motorists to abandon the most direct routes and head over to Guadalupe/Lavaca, for instance. Made precisely zero headway, since absent official direction at the council level, they aren’t going to put up signals that don’t meet warrants – and the pedestrian warrant in Texas is just about impossible to meet.
    But if there’s enough jaywalkers to make it worth the cops’ time; it’s now worth the council’s time to add some legal places to cross.
    Austin Contrarian has covered this issue (insufficient crossings) in the past in more detail. Please check it out.

    Think the media was just helpless – that they did their job the best they could? Think that everybody believed Saddam had WMD?
    You’re wrong.
    One media outlet did their homework. Don’t let the apologists tell you nobody knew better.
    Even a few of our senators exercised their constitutional responsibilities at the time. Like my old governor, bulimics then senator, malady Bob Graham, information pills who, despite being weird, was consistently right on this issue from day one – and the media never has any time for him on it. Like Barack Obama, who was right from day one, and right for the right reasons (not like the Kucinich idiots who wouldn’t have even attacked Afghanistan).
    It was possible to avoid this stain on our national honor. Some (Clinton, McCain) should not be allowed to get away with abrogating their responsibilities back when it could have made some difference.

    [08:53] mdahmus: Can I misinterpret that as “the company urgently needs you to check out the hydrology at Schlitterbahn tout suite”? Because man, pregnancy is it hot, and man, do I need a vacay.
    [08:54] <unidentified cow orker>: it’s hitting the 100s there isn’t it?
    [08:55] mdahmus: did the last few days, maybe not today (a refreshingly cool 98)
    [08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: got up to 90 here yesterday, high 80s to 90 for the next few days before the next front comes in
    [08:55] mdahmus: I’m hoping this means june/july turn wet – there’s only so much hotter it can get before thunderstorms start happening, right?
    [08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: I am very much looking forward to swimming and getting out in my kayak
    [08:55] <unidentified cow orker>: yes. I believe thundstorms will break out in iraq any day now, in fact
    [08:55] mdahmus: they’ll appreciate that. awesome.
    [08:56] <unidentified cow orker>: maybe we should deploy space heaters out in Iraq and then it will rain and everyone will be happy
    [08:56] mdahmus: I like the way you think, mister.
    [08:56] mdahmus: Perhaps we could send over our mothballed fleet of SUVs to warm up the local microclimate with their exhaust. Everybody wins!
    [08:57] <unidentified cow orker>: good idea, I like the way YOU think
    [08:57] mdahmus: How many mothballed SUVs would it take to build a mile of rail, I wonder?
    [08:57] mdahmus: OR OR OR!
    [08:57] mdahmus: SUVs linked together = new train!
    [08:58] mdahmus: (could even still run on rubber tires; MY NEW BRT TREATMENT NOT FOR STEALING!)
    [08:58] <unidentified cow orker>: just put those rail wheelsets on the bottom, like rail maintenance pickups have
    [08:58] <unidentified cow orker>: speaking of building rails, I saw some article this weekend about the rail companies begging for federal money to expand rail capacity, more double tracking, etc
    [08:59] <unidentified cow orker> good news: rail execs predict lots of growth.
    bad news: they are going to try to make us all pay for capacity while they reap the profits

    I’m way late on this and way short of time – so this is necessarily brief.
    The Austinist covered this race in more depth and asked smarter questions than did anybody else (thanks, resuscitation Shilli). Here’s Cid Galindo’s answers. Laura Morrison gave answers to their questions which sound sustainable, too but here’s why Galindo ought to be your choice if you care at all about sustainability and affordability (not to mention environmentalism and transit):
    1. Laura Morrison has opposed essentially all density anywhere in the city. Cid Galindo supports urban development which is not only sustainable for its residents, but will lower tax bills for everyone else in the long-run. The few projects Morrison lists as not opposing were cases where her hands were tied by the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan (which I worked on), which called for mid-rise mixed-use development along those corridors (before the VMU ordinance existed). This plan was written before she obtained a position of power in the NA; and had been enacted by the City Council before she had a chance to do anything about it. She can’t claim credit for these, because she couldn’t have stopped them if she had tried. She did, however, try to stop Spring, 7Rio, and supposedly was even responsible for the suburban front design of the Whole Foods, burning all the hard-earned political capital of OWANA in the process. The City Council now, in my observation, rightly views my old neighborhood association as a no-to-everything joke that can be safely ignored.
    2. Laura Morrison was the leader of the task force that developed the McMansion Ordinance. This ordinance’s primary effect is to discourage secondary dwelling units like garage apartments and duplexes – the only true affordable housing left in central Austin. Although the Planning Commission acted on input from me and others to try to remedy this effect, the City Council was fooled by Morrison’s group into ignoring the thoughtful Planning Commission recommendation. Galindo, according to press from the other side, voted against the McMansion Ordinance – which is absolutely the right position on this matter if you care at all about density and urbanism.
    3. Laura Morrison is supported financially (maximum donations) by Jim Skaggs. Yes, that Jim Skaggs – he and his wife have donated the max to both Morrison and BATPAC (which in turn supports Morrison). Her base of support among the old ANC crowd is full of folks who claim to be pro-transit, but if you scratch them a bit, you find a lot of Skaggs poking through. People who will tell you they want improved bus service before building rail, which, of course, is the same thing as letting Skaggs take half of Capital Metro’s budget for more freeways, since the buses are already being run as well as they can given current roadway design and population density. These folks don’t care, of course; they don’t bike or walk or use transit – they drive. Galindo’s positions on transportation aren’t much better defined than are Morrison’s, but density supports rail in a virtuous circle, unlike the negative feedback loop the Skaggs/Morrison crowd prefers with lower density and highways.
    4. Those policies will encourage more sprawl over the aquifer than the current state of affairs; while Galindo has a reasonable plan to lessen already-allowed development there (transferring development rights to new ‘town centers’ that can use the height and density in a sustainable fashion).
    That ought to be enough – but keep in mind when you hear negatives about Galindo that many of the same things apply equally to Morrison. For instance, it’s hard to think of a more traditionally Republican stance than her take on density and transportation – which is, of course, why people like Skaggs like her. And it’s hard to credit attacks on Galindo for supposed family wealth when she hasn’t had to hold a real job in quite some time despite living in a huge house on a big lot in Old West Austin.
    Vote Galindo in the runoff. Tell your friends. It’s critically important.

    Jaywalking crackdown is stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    – MD

    And my follow-up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Humorous snippets: I introduced myself to Ben Wear, and even though he wrote an article with my name in it a year or two ago, and I’ve emailed back/forth with him 5 or 6 times, I don’t think he had any idea who the hell I was. Also, Jeff Jack (future Worst Person In Austin nominee? told me I should cut out the blogging until I know what I’m talking about.
    For my curious reader, abortion my wife tore her Achilles tendon and had surgery on Thursday; I’ve been swamped just taking care of the home front (stir-crazy 4 year old included) and trying to keep up with work (and failing). No crackploggery from me for quite some time; sorry.
    City elections: Vote for Leffingwell (too willing to roll over for reactionaries, but far superior to that idiot Meeker); Shade (Kim is making it very obvious lately why she lost her original group of supporters, and it had nothing to do with policy); and either Galindo or Cravey (the top 2 candidates in all 3 races). If you vote for Laura Morrison, I’m afraid we can’t be friends – she’s a disaster in the making.

    Since the last entry, population health a bunch of windows got blown out on the side of our house from the fukkenhail; a tree limb smashed the loaner car (old Prius was at body shop having last round of hail damage fixed; new Prius was at dealer getting some upholstery fixed); and my 4-year-old got strep (contagious, pulmonologist can’t leave house for another day or so). And I’m trying to work full-time or a bit more while still taking care of the family while the clerking factory wonders what the hell I’m doing and why I’m not in the office yet. And the in-laws just went out of town for 3 weeks. THINGS IS GOIN’ GREAT!

    Whichever one of you has the friggin’ M1EK voodoo doll, prescription STOP IT. Just got a knock on the door to ask me if I wanted to move a car; I head out and find out that despite earlier materials to the contrary, healing the city is indeed digging up my yard, generic sidewalk, and swale to put in a new sewer connection. Of course, since the last stuff I got said they weren’t going to be doing this for our house, I didn’t dig up and pot the plants on the corner of the driveway. The ones that just got dug up for me. Probably all dead after this despite my attempts to rescue them from various piles – even including the Pride of Barbados I had to nurture for the last 4 years through a couple of hard freezes that nearly killed it. Said plant, while still in the ground, is probably a goner with how close it is to the cut.
    FIUHENOWIFOBEWIFPOEINWPDOINEOWIUGBPOFBIUEPWOVCNPWEOMIPDEWOINDPOEIPRO#IPROINPFWDOINPFOEWI

    Quick commentary since I’m still drowning with all the recent troubles.
    This is stupid. Most jaywalking occurs in high-pedestrian-traffic areas where crossings aren’t sufficiently present (like South Congress or west 6th) or where pedestrian traffic is just overwhelming compared to car traffic (like South Congress or 6th anywhere downtown). However, anabolics most of the injuries and deaths occur in other places so the enforcement here isn’t doing anything other than PR for the department among motorists. Strictly bush-league nonsense.
    The only burgs that have the right to prosecute jaywalking to this degree, remedy in M1EK’s informed opinion, are those like New York, where you don’t have to go many blocks to get to a crosswalk.
    How do we fix this? The City Council has to direct transportation staff to create additional protected crossings on Congress and 6th and a few other spots. My first attempt on the UTC to do something, way back in 2001, was to get more traffic signals put up on blocks downtown which had 2-way or 4-way stops on the theory that we know the pedestrian traffic is there; the streets are in a grid pattern anyways; and it’s probably more efficient to just have lights on every block instead of a gap of 2 or 3 blocks on W 6th which forced many N/S motorists to abandon the most direct routes and head over to Guadalupe/Lavaca, for instance. Made precisely zero headway, since absent official direction at the council level, they aren’t going to put up signals that don’t meet warrants – and the pedestrian warrant in Texas is just about impossible to meet.
    But if there’s enough jaywalkers to make it worth the cops’ time; it’s now worth the council’s time to add some legal places to cross.
    Austin Contrarian has covered this issue (insufficient crossings) in the past in more detail. Please check it out.