Yesterday’s robot bus reveal

should have been no surprise. If you follow me on twitter, and why wouldn’t you,1 you’ve been hearing about this ever since my meeting with Clarke at the end of May. If you missed the news, try Caleb’s run-down.

The angle nobody is covering so far is that while a bond election is probably required to pay for the infrastructure bills involved, no technical “rail referendum” is necessary. So Cap Metro buys themselves a lot of wiggle room here – asking the city to hold a bond election in a low turnout time if they choose to, for instance.

As for the rest of it: it’s over. AURA, FAN, #atxrail – they were all warned; and they all stayed silent in a stupid naive attempt to fix things with the back-channel communications that never meant anything, and as a result, we’re never getting light rail in Austin.

Today’s “worst person in Austin” award goes to Randy Clarke, who is just a more effective liar than the old leadership. Nobody in the community asked for robot buses as a fig leaf for BRT, but that’s what he’s claiming the community wants and needs. That’s enough for ten awards, but one will have to suffice. But honorable mention “worst person in Austin” awards go to the credulous nitwits in those groups above, who were all warned back when there was time to make enough fuss to possibly change this2, and chose yet again to disregard my warnings.

It’s too late now. You were warned.


  1. did you not notice I hardly ever blog? 

  2. before the political class got behind it; i.e. before Watson and the city council were firmly on board 

AURA hagiography makes M1EK surface to post comment

No further news.

In case AURA succeeds in eliminating the comment; here it is for posterity:

Article: https://nextcity.org/features/view/austin-yimby-movement-city-hall

Comment:

Very disappointing to read this hagiography of AURA, which has diverged from its original principles and become nothing but a platform for vainglorious semi-employed dishonest people to seek public spotlight so they can get seats on commissions that end up producing no tangible movement towards urbanist goals.

AURA has tried to grow towards tenants-rights groups and as a result has become anti-landlord; anti-property-rights; and effectively anti-urbanism. General story here: http://m1ek.dahmus.org/de-endorsement-of-aura/

They started out as a “cut the BS” transit advocacy group and have pivoted towards credulous support of Capital Metro initiatives that cut local bus service on our most productive transit corridors and support future plans that eliminate the rest (supporting suburbanism over urbanism; not coincidentally due to the fact that the AURA president lives at the end of one of these ‘rapid’ bus lines). They now fully buy into a line from Capital Metro that transit ridership has dropped due to poor land use despite the facts on the ground being entirely the opposite (transit service was slashed on the corridors with the most supportive land use). More on that here: https://restoreourlocals.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/how-urbanists-talk-about-transit/

Please don’t buy into this rewriting of history. AURA is nothing more than a vanity group led mostly by people working (if you can call it that) in the public sector. This is not the urbanism Austin needs.

Andy Cantú and the Austin Chamber of Commerce are dishonest, ignorant, or both.

Chamber says land reform is top transportation priority

That interest in return on investment opens the chamber up to critics who drubbed the 2014 light rail proposal as a suboptimal choice of projects. Its huge price tag and relatively low ridership projections – due in part to a route that bypassed some of the city’s densest neighborhoods – could have drastically cut into the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s operating budget, which could in turn have hurt the agency’s bus service, those critics argued.

“I don’t think I would characterize the 2014 bond proposal as a bad plan or a bad investment,” Cantú said in the chamber’s defense. “It might not have been the perfect plan. And I think a lot of people and groups in Austin are looking for perfection, and perfection is the enemy of good enough.”

He either doesn’t know the concept “worse than nothing” or knows it and doesn’t care. Ignorant or dishonest. You pick.

And, yes, this is important. The Chamber essentially picked that disastrous route for us, because the Mayor didn’t know anything about transportation and listened to their (bad) advice.

If the Chamber’s ‘new approach’ that identifies sprawl as bad does not include radical honesty about how bad the 2014 light rail plan was (instead extolling I-35 ‘improvements’ and more state highway ‘investment’), then they have learned nothing; we are all dumber for having listened to them. I award them no points; and may god have mercy on their souls.

billymadison_nopoints

Short-circuiting the Uber/lyft/cab debate

I don’t like long circular arguments. I like looking for short-circuits to avoid them. So my response to Dan Keshet’s blog post (which doesn’t allow comments, grrr) is this post.

I served on the UTC from 2000-2005 and dealt with the cab companies in the policy arena many times. It was by far the least attractive part of serving the city. The cab company leadership were, pure and simple, jerks. When ADAPT came in to our meetings and behaved abominably, at least they had a good motive behind it and some justification for their frustration. The cab company representatives (sometimes up to and including their owners) were simply exploitative and entitled jackasses.

Uber is also horrible. They have bullied journalists. They have engaged in tactics that might be as bad as what the cab companies did back in my day. Lyft is a lot better.

But fundamentally speaking, I want to know whether cab companies are any better today (did the threat of competition make them improve their attitude?), because the choice in the election in May is between rules written by the cab companies and rules written by a working group that both cabs and uber/lyft participated in. So let’s look at how that went down. Here’s how the citizen representative on that working group described it (click on picture to expand):

workinggrouponcabsandtncs

That makes it simple for me – short-circuit the endless debate: we get to choose between rules written by the cab companies and rules written by a group that actually tried to compromise, and in that group the cab companies were by far the worst actors. So the threat of competition didn’t make cab companies try to behave better; it made them behave even worse.

So I’m voting in favor of Proposition 1 and urge you to do the same.

Checking in

I don’t post very much, as the state of urbanist and transit advocacy in Austin has depressed it out of me, but as a reminder, I’m still alive, if barely, and you can get a lot of updates on facebook in #atxfreedomurbanists or on twitter.

Two important facebook comments in a thread fighting against a member of the establishment I thought it worth copying here and cleaning up before I go. Blockquotes (italics in most themes) are my words; things in quotes are the guy I was responding to).

The first:

I have my honesty and my integrity, which are worth a lot. It means that in the future, when I say something, people don’t have to think “does he really mean that?”. Or “is he exaggerating for the benefit of somebody or something else and doesn’t really know what he’s talking about?”

And the second (most of it):

“At least you have ideological purity in snaky Facebook posts, that is even better than a seat at the table for sure.”

Playing along with the bad guys is what the Alliance for Public Transportation did. They got nothing out of it. I fought them. I won. I beat a bad project which would have made things worse. And the people who were dishonest and disingenuous in service of Proposition 1 have to live with that. People should take what they say in the future with many grains of salt, as they were willing to be dishonest in the service of power. I’m not.

Show me why it’s worth my while to change. Show me an example of somebody like me who played along and was able to change the power structure instead of getting subsumed by it (or just having nothing good happen). Then I might listen, if the example is good enough and compelling enough. Until then, you’re wasting your time and everyone else’s.

“but no one in a position of power or authority gives a rats ass about what you say, because of how you present your opinion and maintain your relationships. ”

is a personal attack, by the way, and it’s also dishonest. The people who say substantively the same things but in a nicer way also get nowhere. The people who modify their message enough to get heard in this political environment are modifying it to the point where it is no longer substantively *true*. IE, the A4PT may have gotten listened to, but they did by basically lying to the public and to themselves. What good did that do anybody?

And of course remember again that the A4PT got listened to by lying to the public and to themselves, and then LOST. Don’t forget. Never forget.

One more thing

A month or two ago I pruned a few folks from my friends list1 on another platform. The reason? They’re friends with this guy.

This blog and this author will never forget what that guy did to Austin and our transit system. He single-handedly destroyed Austin’s chance at a sustainable transit system with his craven, evil, actions; has never apologized; never admitted fault; and has been welcomed into the new urbanist community despite all that.

That’s a big part of the reason why I don’t trust the Congress for the New Urbanism and those associated with it, and neither should you. One thing you can count on from this blog and this author is honesty. And honestly, if your judgement is so bad or your sense of morality and ethics so warped that you think you should remain friends with that guy without calling him to account2 , you’re no friend of the blog or this author.

Merry Christmas.


  1. exception given for those in the media or government who must stay in touch with those they need to cover, and also for a guy who added me after this cull and whose request I accepted without remembering to check the connection; I’ll make my mind up on him later  

  2. no, I don’t want to hear your bullshit argument about how you need to keep lines of communication open. If you don’t draw a line with a guy like this, you literally have no lines  

What bad guys can accomplish

Over the last few years, I’ve written many times on this blog that Capital Metro was eliminating half of the local service on the route 1 corridor when the route 801 (MetroRapid, or so-called “Rapid Bus”) started service. Many, many times. Here’s one example from last June. Here’s another from October, 2011.

Recently, hundreds of people have expressed surprise and dismay when the events I’ve been telling you about for years actually came to pass. Richard Whitaker came out of the woodwork and talked to me while I was practically dying of the flu on a business trip in Atlanta, shocked that the locals were being eliminated. Nobody on reddit saw it coming. Nobody in the local TV media saw it coming.

Now it’s here, and again, everybody is surprised and dismayed.

The dismay is obvious. But why the surprise?

Honestly? It’s due, in major part, to the fact that one particular employee of Capital Metro has spent years convincing decision-makers and media-members that the author of this blog is a troll who has no idea what he’s talking about. Yes, I know this for a fact.

The last major exchange that Capital Metro employee and I had is still burned into my mind. It was on the same topic as the blog link featured further down this page, but I have yet to be able to get a twitter search tool to bring up the thread. Basically, I spent a couple of hours while on a layover in the DFW airport a couple of years ago making the fact-based case in that blog post below (about the #9 being cancelled without its planned replacement) in tweet form, calmly and rationally, only to be repeatedly told by that Capital Metro employee that I was wrong; and at the end, to be cut off again and labelled a troll. After that, I lost a considerable amount of access I previously had to some members of the media, city council and staff, and other decision-makers and thought leaders. I observed some activity myself where said Capital Metro employee was undermining yours truly with media members, and heard much more from others.

Today, that same Capital Metro employee was given an attaboy by somebody who I respect for supposedly dealing with constructive criticism well. This doesn’t make me feel happy about that person I respect, and it doesn’t make me happy about trusting the organization he leads. I hope this is just a momentary mistake.

Here’s the post which begins by showing how the Capital Metro employee in question really deals with constructive criticism, and my fact-based rebuttal to his dismissive aside to a third-party. Click the big words right after this.

Whole Shakers Of Salt, from 2010

I’ve been told by the leaders of the organization I mentioned above that I’m wrong for attacking said Capital Metro employee, even after that employee lied repeatedly during the Project Connect process. I’ve let leaders of the organization I mentioned above know that the Capital Metro employee in question made some clumsy threats against another supporter of said organization which were not consistent with the image of that Capital Metro employee that they continue to firmly grasp to. After all this, I find myself wondering what it takes to make those people angry. I know I’ve done so, by taking issue with their strategy and tactics both privately and publically, but apparently actually lying in order to steal political capital to support a hare-brained, mendacious, underhanded political process is just A-OK, as long as they see you a lot and you smile and shake their hand while stabbing them in the back. You’ll still be their chum, and still get lionized for your ability to handle constructive criticism.

Again, I hope I’m wrong. But like them, I’m reading some tea leaves.

Great responses to John Langmore

My work situation is going to prevent me from making much effort on this today so please assume I endorse this product and/or service 100%.
No, and the Riley fig leaf last night changes nothing – it does not commit to a fair evaluation of the Lamar/Guadalupe ROUTE against whatever is shat out for Highlandmall or Highlandmueller; and it does not force a real answer about the FTA’s opinion about moving Rapid Bus in 2020 or 2022 or whenever (instead of John Langmore’s claims that made it pretty clear he implied to them he wanted an opinion on cancelling it today, bronchi in 2013). Its only tangible effect would be an attempt to delay opposition until it’s too late.

I’m continuing to urge all transit advocates to vote AGAINST the bond referendum in 2014.
if you parse Langmore’s comments it makes me think he was asking them about cancelling the project now (rather than moving the middle third in 8 years); and Project Connect staff were vocal and public at the beginning of the process that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and that we should not act as if rapid bus precluded urban rail there.

They either lied then or they’re lying now. Personally, apoplexy I believe they lied then in order to try to get more buy-in for this process (I myself believed Rapid Bus effectively precluded urban rail and was convinced to believe it might not by those staff members); but it could be now, too; the mixed messages last night about the FTA maybe considering Rapid Bus ‘permanent’ versus what the City Council eventually threw in as a fig leaf is just one obvious indicator.

The fact that the guy who ran the Rapid Bus project at Capital Metro came up and spoke in favor of Lamar and said he doesn’t buy the FTA argument should tell you something.
Lie #1 during Phase 1 of Project Connect was the justification of the collapsing of the West Campus and UT “subcorridors” (zones) into the Core subcorridor/zone “so we could ensure they would both be served by any initial alignment”.

At the time, cheapest on November 1st, see I made this post, which asserted that there was no way this decision was being made to ‘serve’ West Campus; that, in fact, it was being made to avoid having to serve West Campus (which would obviously imply a route on Guadalupe).

Now, the final alignment through campus has been decided. Let’s see what we got. Click on most of these to make them bigger.

From Project Connect’s presentation to the CCAG on Friday February 21st:

20140221_PC_Campus_Area

Huh. Look at that. Not only do we not even see West Campus, but we can’t even see the western half OF campus. What a shock!

But it’s probably just a misleading image, right? There’s no way Project Connect would have told everybody they were going to serve West Campus and then not do so – West Campus must be just right underneath the words on the left, right?

Let’s see how far away a couple points on San Jacinto are from a location two blocks west of Guadalupe, using Google Earth. (The center of density in West Campus is not on Guadalupe – the best height entitlements are actually several blocks to the west. A ‘population center’ of West Campus in a few years will likely be 3 or 4 blocks west of Guadalupe; so me using 2 blocks is being generous to Project Connect).

Remember that the rule of thumb in transit planning for years has been that most people will not regularly walk more than a quarter of a mile from their home to their transit stop (or from their transit stop to their office). A few will do more, but the quarter-mile rule ensures you will get most of your possible transit market. Some people lately have tried to assert that good rail transit can do the same thing with a half-mile walking radius; in my opinion, this works in some cities where parking is quite difficult, but primarily on the home end of the trip, not the office end.

First, from 21st and San Jacinto to two blocks west of Guadalupe on 21st:

20140221_21SJ_TO_WC

 

0.6 miles. The main density of West Campus is definitely not served by San Jacinto even by the most generous standard. Guadalupe itself is 0.48 miles away; served only barely by the most generous standard. In other words, the side of campus with the most activity is well outside the commonly accepted walking radius and just barely inside the most generous one.

Now let’s try 24th.

20140221_24SJ_TO_WC

 

0.58 miles to where West Campus’ density starts. West Campus is not served at all by a stop here, either.

Finally, Dean Keeton and San Jacinto:

20140221_DKSJ_TO_WC

 

 

 

Nope. 0.54 miles to the start of West Campus’ density. To the start. Still outside even the most generous reading of “served”.

Project Connect, the claim of yours made back in November is still a lie.

Lie-stamp
On days like this where I have no time it’s so nice that others have picked up the slack. I’m just going to republish their comments to Langmore’s disingenuous and mendacious letter to the Chronicle. It is just horrible that a guy like Langmore, tadalafil a rail consultant responsible for many horrible projects that have set back transit for years due to low ridership and huge operating subsidies, read more has this kind of soapbox and power.

First, from Chris Lazaro:

One of my biggest problems with Mr. Langmore’s letter is not that he misinterpreted our call to consider Lamar/Guadalupe as a call to pull the plug on MetroRapid (which is not true, by the way). Rather, my biggest issue here is this data that he and others are so quick to trust, despite warnings from trustworthy professionals in the transportation field that the data is both flawed and incomplete.

I can tell you that, as a transportation planner myself, garbage in absolutely equals garbage out–and that is precisely what is happening here. Frankly, some of the metrics used by the Project Connect team to evaluate the transit sub-corridors is laughable and, at the least, should not have been given nearly as much weight as they were. The team can pretend that they altered weights and still identified Highland as the #2 route, but when some of the appropriate datasets are ignored altogether, how can we trust that we have been given the complete picture?

And, beside all of that, Langmore and other Council members have spent all this time defending the Highland sub-corridor that East Riverside (a corridor that we all agree makes sense) is quickly falling by the wayside. It is becoming evident that the Mayor wanted Highland to move into the Phase 2 study, regardless of what else was going on.

At the very least, Langmore, Leffingwell, and the rest of City Council needs to come clean about their intentions for Austin’s next transit investment. If it is to serve the interests of ACC and the Seton Medical Center, then they need to admit that. Hiding behind threats of lost funding and lost support from the FTA will not suffice.

Last, but not least, cities across this country sell Bus Rapid Transit to its residents as an interim solution until rail is affordable along a particular corridor. In other words, cities invest in BRT because they believe it is viable for fixed rail (streetcar, light rail, etc.) and that the system can later be upgraded. If Austin instead wants to argue that its pseudo-BRT system actually precludes future rail investment, then we MUST stop using this upgradability as a selling feature. Period.

It’s time that Langmore, the Mayor, the rest of Council and the Project Connect team be honest about what is happening.

Second, from Cory Brown:

t’s not the least bit unreasonable to question the institutional support of organizations that brought us MetroRail, and its expensive rider subsidies.

It’s also not unreasonable to question the claims of Mr. Langmore, who has chosen to publicly ignore the truth. The next person Mr. Langmore can name as suggesting we “pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens” will be the first.

If Mr. Langmore & CapMetro can’t be truthful regarding advocates who merely disagree with one facet of their proposal, how can we trust them when it comes to operational costs & ridership estimates?

Third, from Niran Babaloa:

John Langmore’s willingness to misrepresent the arguments of the folks he disagrees with is insulting. Who said we should “pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens”? The message he has heard from the citizens who disagree with him is clear: do not build a rail line to Highland before putting rail on Lamar. Either start with a line on Lamar and move MetroRapid when the rail line opens a decade from now, or start with East Riverside so Lamar can come second.

As an exercise for the reader, how often do you find yourself needing to head to places on Guadalupe and Lamar? How often for Red River? If you’re like most of the Austinites that are forced to waste their time stuck in traffic on the Drag each day, it’s clear that there are tons of people who want to go places along the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor. We should put rail there.

The question before us is timing. Ideally, we’d start with Lamar, which has the jobs and housing that make it the highest transit ridership already. A good plan B would be starting with East Riverside, where ridership is high, and the zoning allows for enough density for the ridership to be even higher. Highland, however, doesn’t have the density of people or jobs to make for a blockbuster first line, which endangers our chances of building a second and a third.

The biggest issue with Highland is that there is no way voters will approve rail down Lamar once there’s a line to Highland. A second line through Hyde Park before the rest of the city has seen any rail won’t seem fair to most people, and I don’t blame them. Rail to Highland means rail on our best transit corridor won’t happen until the middle of the century. If the places that people want to go can only be reached by buses stuck in traffic, people will stay in their cars, traffic will stay terrible, and we won’t become a city where it’s normal to take transit for decades.

This is the future that the citizens who have been paying attention are trying to avoid. We’re not trying to “pull the plug” on MetroRapid. We’re trying to avoid making the mistake of allowing the backbone of our transit system to remain slow for decades. Join us, and tell city council that if they put a rail line to Highland on the ballot, you’ll vote against it.

Finally, Mark Cathcart expresses his concerns in a separate post

Oh, and I’m giving John a rare Worst Person In Austin award. Well done.