(I had this ready to post to #atxfreedomurbanists, Austin’s only urbanist group that doesn’t suck, but facebook has been down all day and I’m tired of waiting).
In 2015, I wrote a series of posts about pushing for honesty in our transportation agencies. I promoted this effort in atxurbanists and internally at AURA, and was mocked and belittled by the leadership of AURA for my trouble. Today, it appears that Project Connect is now repeating history so convincingly that even Julio has had enough. Too bad he didn’t think so in 2015. Follow the two links for details.
From vast experience in this community, the engagement method you suggest (one-on-one private conversations) affords executive staff & policymakers unnacountable discretion. My – apparently ignored – request was for a public explanation of changes & formal public version control.— Julio Gonzalez Altamirano (@juliogatx) March 13, 2019
Tweet by Julio Gonzalez Altamirano, just earlier today
I work at a company that does a lot of things, many of which I don’t like and a few I do. One of the things that keeps me able to look at myself in the mirror every morning before going there is this new thing that some of my developers work on an e-commerce site for, that finally got close enough to the finish line to be publicized.
I’m supposed to get a test vehicle for this at some point, but it’s been delayed a long time already, so who knows. But I’m working back up my bike stamina for it assuming I’ll eventually get the thing. In order to do it justice, I’m supposed to use it 3 days a week; which for me means 3 commutes a week; and on this route to my office which has no showers1, that means electric’ing it in the morning and pedalling on the way home, which means my current bus-in bike-out plan is actually very good practice. And I just completed 3 workdays in a row of that (F, M, T) and my legs want to die. The enb.
In District 9, or any of the wealthier close-in districts such as 5, 7, and 10? (Districts 1, 2, 3, and 4 are a different calculus).
Should you appeal to students? It’s hard to get them registered here in Austin, and the ones that make it through that gauntlet don’t seem to show up. Riley tried and lost. Skidmore tried and lost.
Students don’t reliably vote.
Should you appeal to renters? It’s hard to get them registered here in Austin, and the ones that make it through that gauntlet don’t seem to show up. Riley tried and lost. Gauldin tried and lost. Skidmore tried and lost.
Renters don’t reliably vote.
Should you appeal to the LGBTQIA community? Skidmore hit that drum very hard. But there’s no point in focusing your appeal to people who don’t get to vote in your district (yes, their money might be useful, but in the end you need votes). I suspect that many of those most loudly applauding her campaign don’t actually live in D9.
People who don’t live in your district can’t vote for you.
You know who votes? Who turns out reliably, whether you like it or not?
People who own houses RELIABLY VOTE.
So rhetoric talking about desegregation that implies that single-family zoning is racist is not gonna work. Neither is appealing to other forms of identity politics. I don’t care what you hear in your echo chamber; the fact is that your electorate (the one you have to win with) doesn’t care for it.
There IS one way that could work; that nobody has yet tried.
A couple years ago, a guy who the Skidmore campaign knows well ran a referendum in Hyde Park in which a large majority of respondents agreed to loosen the restrictions on development that were preventing the construction of ADUs. This referendum was run through the Hyde Park Neighborhood Contact Team, a group tilted dramatically in favor of NIMBYs, and the respondents were disproportionately homeowners in one of Austin’s most restrictive neighborhoods. Yet he WON. He got the group to agree to an urbanist outcome.
How did this guy make this magic feat happen?
By framing urbanism in terms of expanding freedom, not constricting it.
Wouldn’t it be neat if you could build an ADU? Would you like us to change the rules to allow you to build one?
Don’t talk about the things your neighbor could or couldn’t build, in other words. Talk about how restrictive the current regulatory scheme is TO THEM, the heroic property owner. Why is the city telling them what they can and can’t do with their property; the property they worked so hard to afford; the property they pay substantial taxes on every year. Why is the city stopping them from putting a second floor on their house? Why is the city requiring them to add a parking place they don’t want?
Appealing to the better natures of the landed gentry might work with a few people (it works with me). But it clearly doesn’t work with most people. So try appealing to their desire to have more control over what they can build. MOST people don’t like the idea of being told they can’t build on their lot. Doesn’t matter whether they have the money now or ever; it matters that they aspirationally might some day.
This may not work in a city council election, but hell, the other approaches haven’t worked and this approach at least isn’t toxic to the people who are turning out to vote in your election. Why not try it?
What would we call such an approach? The best (not good) name I’ve come up with so far is freedom urbanism, and you’re not going to find it at AURA. Join me here instead if you want to talk about it.
In 2014, service to this stop was slashed to once every 30 minutes at peak.
This is what this stop looks like today, in 2018, when it still only sees a bus once every 30 minutes at peak:
Should you trust that Capital Metro will respond to land use changes with better transit service?
On Halloween 2018, this VMU development still sees bus service once every half an hour during peak times. The closest frequent service is at the Triangle and the other side of 2222; both outside the normal 1/4 mile walkshed appropriate for bus service. There are some medium-term plans to finally add a stop which keep getting delayed. But it’s now been five years since this complex was built; and more like ten years since it was rezoned to a more transit-supportive land use. During all that time, everybody that moved into this complex didn’t get useful bus service. Decisions were made by thousands of individuals relating to car purchases; decisions were made by the apartment management about how to market themselves; based on the fact that by 2014 they knew they’d have a bus once every half an hour. Those decisions have long-term impact that will last well beyond the date when the new ‘station’ finally arrives.
Again, should you trust that Capital Metro will respond to land use changes with better transit service? In 2011, they provided frequent service to a stop at a strip mall. When the city did their land use job and put a bunch of residents directly on top of a bus stop on a well-used route, Capital Metro cut their transit service to nearly useless levels and left it that way for five years and counting.
Don’t forget this. AURA will try to tell you it’s all about land use. Show them this example and get them to explain how it applies.
The housing bond is dumb when it doesn’t focus primarily on new supply.
In a city with 10 houses and 15 people that need houses, we start with 10 people in houses and 5 people homeless; and the 10 people with houses are the ones that had more money than the 5 homeless people.
Taking 2 of the houses off the market and reserving them for the 2 poorest people just makes people 6 and 7 suddenly homeless. It doesn’t house any new people; it actually spends money and we still end up with 10 people in houses and 5 people homeless. We are actually worse off overall, not better, and the people the most worse off are the poorest people who were able to afford housing before.
New supply doesn’t mean “build income-restricted apartments on a tract that was already zoned MF that the market would have gotten to soon anyways”. It doesn’t mean “take an existing apartment complex that has low rents and is in danger of being redeveloped off the market”. Neither one of those actually adds supply.
When the mayor cravenly surrendered on CodeNEXT, he made it even more clear that Proposition A would arguably make things worse. If your goal is to increase a regressive tax to pay to take the poorest N people currently served by the market and replace them with a different N of poorer people, then Proposition A is worth your support.
AURA, run by grifters and con-artists, bought in heavily to the grid redesign fairy dust theory. It didn’t hurt that their 2 chief transit gurus live on the northern part of the 5 route and hated the jog through Hyde Park and NUNA (that was responsible for a lot of riders, but not the 2 most important ones, obviously).
First few months look good. Single digit fixed ridership increases. Huge increases in rapid (but this is comparing to a year ago when frequency wasn’t good, especially weekend).
Now we’ve got our first comparison that matters: Sep 18 to Sep 17. UT is back in session; AISD kids are back in school and not able to joyride even though they’re still being offered free rides.
Fixed-route1 ridership is significantly down – even though one would expect the impact of Cap Remap in a flat ridership scenario to show more rides, because the redesign forces more people to take 2 rides instead of 1 to get to their destination.
And my “capmetroatx” column in tweetdeck suddenly became full of complaints about UT students being miserable for not having the RR and the 5 (both the 10 and the IF are now full to overcrowding, leaving many people at stops, and they’re pissed about it, in addition to the normal “where’s my supposedly frequent bus” complaint you’ll see represented to the right). This volume of complaints is huge compared to what I saw in spring of 18.
And a friend of the crackplog forwarded me this image showing how well one of the new frequent cross-town routes is doing:
Man, if only somebody had told Cap Metro ahead of time that this was a dumb idea.
So we have at the very least some very convincing circumstantial evidence that the lower ridership probably isn’t due to weather2; it’s probably due to the fact that they took some buses away from places that were using them very well (the 5 through HP and NUNA; the RR); and put them on routes where they are not being used very well (i.e. the 335).
I’ll fill in this post with more details later. But suffice to say – the Pollyannas were wrong again; not that they’ll ever learn.
normal buses, basically; remember that the Rapid changes weren’t part of the Remap – they preceded it ↩
For those curious, I’m holding off on endorsing city council district 9 or mayor until one of them moves off of the “be credulous towards Capital Metro’s recent Project Connect hijacking” plan. Laura Morrison is actually the closest in receiving an endorsement under said criteria, by the way. Yes, I’m totally serious. She would need to go a little further, but she’s the only one who moved in the right direction.
I believe we cannot currently trust Capital Metro to serve better land use with better transit (since they still refuse to fix the 2014 error with rapid bus that drastically cut transit service to our city’s most transit-supportive land uses). Building light rail on Guadalamar is a no-brainer and would support existing transit-supportive land uses while easily drawing in tens of thousands of currently marginal non-riders and providing a long-term signal to support incremental improvements to land use in the future. It definitely would have more of an effect on transit sustainability (and hence climate change) than would loosening land use and then having Cap Metro bumble around with horrible stupid unforced errors like rapid bus and Cap Remap.
I believe that the mayor’s craven surrender on CodeNEXT meant we will end up with Laura Morrison’s preferred land use plan anyways, except the mayor ensured that $9M was wasted on consultants. I’d have preferred to spend that $9M on libraries and pools. If we re-elect Mayor Adler and he tries again on CodeNEXT, he has shown that he will not fight hard for whatever it is that he believes in; so we’re pretty much back where we started.
I believe that Cap Metro’s recent shift towards ART in Project Connect is the same sort of dishonest bullshit they pulled on us in 2013-2014; and must not be rewarded with credulous support. Tovo, Skidmore, and Adler are in that bucket right now. Morrison at least has expressed a little skepticism but has not come out strongly against the change of direction yet.
That’s why you haven’t seen any endorsements from me yet (and maybe not at all). But the above should make it clear what it’ll take.
The pictures in this post come from the commute home on Wednesday October 8th (and I went back and filled some images in the first section as well, taken on this same day).
Now for the next bit. Heading from north to south; you basically need to get from Walnut Creek across Braker Lane and your endpoint should be Georgian at Rundberg (Georgian, give or take, is the start of the long bike route that turns into the two lane part of Guadalupe).
Here’s what Google recommends as the route for the whole section.
The northern part of this route matches Google’s recommendations. Whitewing is a nice slow uphill with plenty of shade and interesting houses to look at. Must have been a nice place at some point before the I-35 noise got to where it is now. Then, you end up having to take a sharp left, pedal a short deathly uphill (I’m a wimp for hills), to get to the final bit of Polyanna that takes you to Braker. Here’s some shots along the way…
Crossing Braker is not a joyful experience. You need to get to the other side and start on Middle Fiskville Road, which is 100 feet or so west of the I-35 frontage road. You have two options here; either go to the frontage road and cross there (if you decide to cross there, do it as a pedestrian and then you have to do some sidewalk riding to get back west), or wait for a break in traffic and cut across to the median opening, then wait until the rush hour traffic completely stops and wind through the cars to the bike lane and use it for about 50 feet east. This actually worked out better than the frontage road option as it didn’t require any sidewalk riding but YMMV. Without the rush hour stoppage of the cars I think the pedestrian option is better.
Then you get a brief fast run down Middle Fiskville Road, parallel and close to I-35. Wave at me as you drive. This is OK except on most days you’re gonna lose most of your velocity to a headwind and have to go to granny gear to finish the uphill (again I’m a baby on hills). Right turn on Grady Dr, left turn on Brownie Dr, usually cars in the way that prevent an easy transition here.
Brownie is a downhill through areas that are the ANC’s stereotypical density nightmare (car-dependent fourplexes that have gone to pot). Still better than riding up north though. Frustratingly, you lose the ability to coast on a downhill due to a dumbass 4-way stop (this happens a lot more later). No pictures here.
Then, Google fails you. The recommended route has you going through “Brownie Neighborhood Park” which doesn’t really exist. Instead there’s a road which heads to a closed and locked gate for the charter school that took over the old Showplace Lanes bowling alley. No way through here; backtrack and ask how much you paid for these directions.
Instead, you have to continue and turn on Oriole, and I was prepared to run THIS route based on pre-exploring the route in my company car previously:
Oddly enough, when on the bike, you instead get recommended Route 370 in the city bike network, which requires a short stub of sidewalk + grass into Walnut Creek Elementary. (I have no idea why the desktop directions don’t let you do this; I’ve helpfully drawn the difference; but I will eventually try the Google route as honestly the Rundberg traffic heading west in the afternoon isn’t too bad to scare me away from a right turn and a quick move to the left turn lane, just haven’t tried it yet).
The elementary school is likely locked up most of the school day, so this is not an option unless you are going home about when I did both times so far (about 4:45 by this point). Short section where you are like “thanks for routing me in the mud and grass and hope I didn’t take a road bike, google and the City of Austin bike route map”, and then you end up on the road that turns into Georgian. Aaaah.
Short explainer: Yes, you have to go on I-35 here. The other ‘options’ are: Go north to Parmer and then navigate the I-35 and Lamar intersections and then ride all the way to like Metric, and then go down Metric a long ways. This portion of Parmer is ugly and hugely congested and will kill you (and the portion of Parmer east of I-35 is even worse than those pictures above).
(Alternative exists which sort of combines those two – go on Lamar for a shorter time, then cut through Walnut Creek Park to eventually get to Metric. I’ll do this some day just to see what it’s like but I suspect it adds about 30 minutes to the trip).
Now I have a history of being up for almost anything to avoid riding on a sidewalk. Hell, I rode a portion of the 183 frontage road to work and another portion home from work on various commutes for years. But this portion of I-35 is what finally broke me. The recommendation above from El Googs aside, I rode the sidewalk from the corner of Tech Ridge/Yager to a parking lot I could bail through, and then again for a short stretch, only to go out of my way on Park-35 Circle, then again on the sidewalk to cross Walnut Creek, and then, THEN, FINALLY, off the frontage and into an oddly disconnected but sort of nice neighborhood. So basically those stretches above that show the route on the I-35 frontage are about 1/2 parking lot (most of the first bit) and 1/2 sidewalk (all of the part after Park-35 circle and a little bit before it).
All of that done against a sticky sweaty headwind (at least the 2nd day).
If this was the beginning of YOUR bike commute and you didn’t have a history of being aggressively stubborn, you’d probably have quit. But then you hit the corner of Wren and the next street and you get the feeling that things can only go up from here…
Day 2 is in the bag. I’ll still have to explain later why I’m doing this and why now and whatnot. But the 2nd day of riding is in the books. This will serve as an overview and intro, and yes, I’m aware how self-indulgent this sounds even for me. But then I remember that I still get an email once a year or so about directions I wrote for a bike commute to IBM twenty years ago and I resolve to power through. Some images added on a later commute (October 8th).
I work at a horrible suburban cube factory on McCallen Pass north of Parmer and east of I-35. Basically, a mile east of I-35 and a mile north of Parmer, give or take. This is, spoiler alert, not a great place to start.
The trip up to the office is pretty easy though. Go out to Guadalupe and pick up the frequent 1 which comes every 10 minutes go a few blocks further south to the frequent 801 and ride it all the way to directly in front of my office a horrible suburban park-and-ride one mile from my office. Since my horrible suburban cube factory doesn’t have showers, in the morning I must do this so as to not destroy my image of being a respectable manager with my cow orkers. Pause for laughter.
The morning trip is easy. Takes a lot longer than driving the company car, but I can fart around on the phone. No big whoop.
Here’s what the trip all the way home in the afternoon looks like (this is, give or take, the route). I actually had to have the map up both times1 so far because there’s a hell of a lot of non-obvious squiggling back and forth north of Rundberg… Also note that alternates include going WAY THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY to my old friend Shoal Creek Boulevard, amazingly.
Spoiler alert: On my first day riding this trip it took me 75 minutes, and that was with a tailwind. Today it took about 68 minutes with a gross headwind, so I guess I’m quickly improving or possibly failing to count correctly. This is the longest ride I have done since 2006 or so.
This commute has one huge problem and then some unattractive parts after that. The huge problem is getting across I-35 and Walnut Creek. The hike and bike trail promised in about 1749 for Walnut Creek is still just a dotted line in this part of town, so no help there. The parallel routes to I-35 are, uh, problematic. North Lamar is a horrible stroad with no shoulders or sidewalks. The closest long-running parallel on the east side is Dessau, which is even worse, and too far out of the way. So the first third of this commute is where the exciting parts are, and in my next post I’ll zoom into that section identified in the inset below as “the part where you wish you had given up”. Notice the alternates above basically require one to go up to Parmer, which is not a fun prospect in this part of town (I did ride Parmer from Mopac out past 620 in a prior life but never from Mopac to I-35 for damn good reason).
Here’s the overview again, this time annotated in a way that today’s youth will understand and doubtlessly flock to blogging in response to how tuned in your author is to their ways.