Reminder: It’s Not Light Rail

Comments Off on Reminder: It’s Not Light Rail

The ongoing brouhaha with Lyndon reminded me to start collecting these in one place. First in a series of at least three.
Advocates of light rail through central Austin (including myself, seek sanitary of course) were encouraged to vote for this commuter rail plan, pharm and get “light rail later”. Dave Dobbs took me to lunch and tried real hard to get me to fall into line on this, as a matter of fact. This strategy extended to electioneering by Capital Metro itself, who originally stated in Rapid Bus materials that the one proposed route was a “possible placeholder for light rail”. One example here. After getting the pro-transit forces to ease up (except me, of course), they dropped this language from their materials. Since then, Capital Metro has never mentioned running rail on the 2000 light rail route past such minor destinations as the center of downtown, the Capitol, the University of Texas, high-density residential development in West Campus and points north, and the Triangle.
From Jeff Wood’s thesis, the following:

Robin Rather, who also attended the meeting, asked the hard questions. “What is the best system and what does the Central City get out of all this?” She had a point. Bus Rapid Transit would not sit well with people who had voted overwhelmingly for light rail in 2000. “With the stroke of a pen, I could wipe out this whole proposal at the ballot box,” she said “So why should we support this if we are not getting anything out of it?”

Fast-forward to 2006. Capital Metro has eliminated any talk of reserved-guideway rail on the 2000 light rail route; and the “circulator” service being hashed out is leaning heavily towards buses (although still keeping streetcars on the list until the bitter end as is typical). Where’s it going to run? Through downtown and by the capitol; but then veering east past the south edge of UT and out to the old airport; avoiding all of the residential density which exists now or in the near future. In other words, this amazing “center-city circulator” which was supposed to make commuter rail provide some benefits to the people who pay essentially all of Capital Metro’s tax dollars has morphed into “The Bus People Living At Mueller Will Take To Get To Their Job If They’re Members Of The Small Group That Have To Pay A Lot To Park”. (Need a catchy slogan for this vehicle! Ideas gladly stolen^H^H^H^H^H^Haccepted!)
Feel good so far about falling for this snow-job, folks?

Sadly, help just as I was becoming comfortable with using Consumer Reports’ data to defend against hybrid FUD, find the most recent issue contains an article as bad as any of it out there.
Nearly every assumption they make in the article is flawed (not backed up by real-world data). Odograph has already covered the unfairness of comparing the Prius to the much smaller Corolla without at least mentioning the fact that unlike all of the other comparisons they did, web they aren’t really anything close to the same car. I noted in his comments that CR was also inconsistent about depreciation – their table charges a huge “extra depreciation” fee to the Prius, but their own statistics later in the issue show the Prius’ depreciation to be “much better than average” while the Corolla is merely “average”.
Additional points they got wrong are the infamous “battery life” scare tactic (hint: they will probably outlive your car). I’ve posted two tables below, comparing the Prius (more fairly) to the Corolla, as well as to the Camry (which is the car in the same size class as the Prius as well as its much more credible gas-only competitor), and showing their original comparison vs. the Corolla.
(scroll wayyyy down – I don’t know why Movable Type hates table tags so much, but it does; it’s down there eventually I promise).

Cost Item Prius vs. Corolla
CR’s version
Prius vs. Corolla
Fair version
Prius vs. Camry
Purchase-price premium $5700 $5700 $3001
Extra sales tax $400 $400 $201
Savings from hybrid tax credit $(3150) $(3150) $(3150)
Fuel savings $(2300) $(2300) $(3060)2
Extra insurance cost (or savings) $300 $3003 $03
Extra maintenance cost (or savings) $300 $04 $04
Extra depreciation cost $3200 $(1000)5 $(2000)5
Extra financing cost $5250 $5250 $2806
Total extra cost (savings) $5250 $750 $(7610)


  1. Purchase price estimated from midpoint of range published in CR.
  2. Using estimated combined MPG of 24 in CR’s tests. Don’t yet know figures for new Camry.
  3. This is probably correct, but has to do with the higher purchase price more than anything else. Estimated same insurance for Camry for that reason.
  4. Previous-gen Prius broke down less than Corolla and required less scheduled maintenance (brake pads and such). Higher cost of having to go to dealer instead of independent sometimes makes up for this.
  5. Prius has depreciated less than essentially any car out there – in fact we still get offers from our dealer to buy it back for about what we paid for it 2 years ago. I’m being conservative here in favor of the Corolla and Camry, believe it or not.
  6. Proportional adjustment from extra cost to Corolla – this is probably slightly off since it’s not quite that simple, but close enough for our purposes.

    Updating yesterday’s entry, cost CR has now admitted a methodology flaw in their hybrid comparison – (which, cough admittedly, click I even carried over into my own table – I assumed their error was in data rather than in methodology). They haven’t acknowledged the inconsistency in their depreciation figures (still claiming even in the revised article that the Prius depreciates worse than the Corolla; and simultaneously claiming in their data in the car tables later in the same issue that the Corolla depreciates much worse than the Prius), but they have noted that simply adding together purchase price difference plus depreciation difference plus financing is effectively double-counting depreciation.
    Their modified figures show the Prius winning by a small amount over the Corolla. Oh, and by the way, they also haven’t addressed the fact that the Prius is a lot bigger than the Corolla – not a fair head-to-head comparison without at least mentioning that the Prius is in between the Corolla and Camry in size.
    Of course, the damage is already done. The hybrid FUDders are gleefully cackling; and the American consumer now ‘knows’ that hybrids ‘don’t save any money’. Good job, CR.

    I’ve plugged my own, pills more consistent, drugs data into CR’s corrected formula and applied them below.
    Conclusions: With the full tax credit, the Prius beats the pants off even the Corolla. Without any of the tax credit (which will eventually happen this year, since it gradually expires as more Toyota hybrids are sold), the Prius doesn’t beat the smaller Corolla (if you use accurate data) but still beats the pants off the Camry.

    Cost Item Prius vs. Corolla
    CR’s version
    Prius vs. Corolla
    Fair version
    Prius vs. Camry
    Purchase-price premium $5700 $5700 $3001
    Extra sales tax $400 $400 $201
    Extra financing cost $792 $792 $426
    Savings from hybrid tax credit $(3150) $(3150) $(3150)
    Fuel savings $(2300) $(2300) $(3060)2
    Extra insurance cost (or savings) $300 $3003 $03
    Extra maintenance cost (or savings) $300 $04 $04
    5-year resale price differential7 $(2494) $(4000)5,8 $(1000)5,8
    Total extra cost (savings) with/without tax credit $(406)


    1. Purchase price estimated from midpoint of range published in CR.
    2. Using estimated combined MPG of 24 in CR’s tests. Don’t yet know figures for new Camry.
    3. This is probably correct, but has to do with the higher purchase price more than anything else. Estimated same insurance for Camry for that reason.
    4. Previous-gen Prius broke down less than Corolla and required less scheduled maintenance (brake pads and such). Higher cost of having to go to dealer instead of independent sometimes makes up for this.
    5. Prius has depreciated less than essentially any car out there – in fact we still get offers from our dealer to buy it back for about what we paid for it 2 years ago. I’m being conservative here in favor of the Corolla and Camry, believe it or not.
    6. Proportional adjustment from extra cost to Corolla – this is probably slightly off since it’s not quite that simple, but close enough for our purposes.
    7. This is how they fixed their methodology. Negative numbers (in parentheses) indicate higher resale value for Prius.
    8. I’ve estimated higher sales price after 5 years for Prius vs. Corolla and Prius vs. Camry based on CR’s own depreciation ratings from later in the issue (see note 5).

    Disappointing one of my three loyal readers who has been bugging me for Part II of Capital Metro’s Broken Promises, approved I thought I should call attention to the bulletin board being used to hash out permanent version(s) of the McMansion Ordinance.
    Specifically, pilule I noticed that on the Task Force, the three representatives closest to my area have one guy with whom I don’t have much problem with in general, but also two people who I most certainly have: one from Hyde Park and one from NUNA.
    I did a little sleuthing on, since I can’t yet walk as far as Hyde Park thanks to the still-mostly-unresponsive-to-treatment-arthritis. The representative from Hyde Park’s home is friggin’ huge compared to its neighbors and the typical Hyde Park bungalow.
    I did make it by the representative’s house in NUNA, which, despite not being as huge, was arguably even more incompatible with its neighbors, having the cardinal sin of “looming over its neighbor’s backyards” which is an oft-heard complaint against McMansions.
    I’d also like to call attention to an excellent thread started by Chris Cosart, who has commented here in the past.
    I’ll close with those quote from another thread on that very board:

    As I’ve pointed out with the two examples from the task force, though, this boils down to “I got mine; now you can’t have yours”. Both 111 Laurel and 4315 Avenue C are incompatible with their neighbors. Why should they be allowed to tell me how compatible I must be with mine?

    (Bet you thought I was going to address the debt issue, youth health since the Statesman wrote a scathing editorial today. That’s Part Two, prostate but it’s coming later.)
    Following up on Part One, Capital Metro has put up a survey trying to narrow down road choices for the infamous “circulator service” which represents the sum total of the ‘additions’ which were promised to transit-loving central Austinites who observed that All Systems Go doesn’t go anywhere people want to go; nor does it go near people who might want to ride.

    Notice from the picture: it doesn’t go through residential central Austin in any way, shape, or form. This service, when implemented, is just a bus (maybe a streetcar) from Mueller to UT or downtown; it does NOT do anything to make up for the slap in the face to central Austin.
    Note where it doesn’t go. It doesn’t go up Guadalupe, where tens of thousands of people live within a short walk of the 2000 light rail route. It doesn’t go next to the Triangle, a transit-oriented development which is actually BUILT, not just a twinkle in somebody’s eye. It doesn’t go by high-density residential development presently under construction in West Campus. It doesn’t reward the central Austinites who pay essentially all of Capital Metro’s bills with any transit improvements at all (and no, Rapid Bus isn’t worth shit).
    And also remember that Capital Metro has already ruled out reserved-guideway-transit for this route. This means, essentially, that whether the vehicle has rubber tires (bus) or steel wheels (streetcar), it’s still going to be stuck behind other peoples’ cars in traffic.
    Still feel good about falling for this snowjob, folks?

    Michael Bluejay made an outstanding presentation (Quicktime slides with audio) which everybody needs to read. (He presented this before the City Council right before they approved the cyclist-endangering Option III).

    Again, cialis 40mg I can’t recommend this video enough. It’s the best quick summary of this issue, with pictures, that I’ve ever seen. Watch it now.

    Inspired by a survey pushed by Tarrytown neighborhood activists, physician I’ve re-entered the fray on McMansions. Read the survey, buy information pills and note that if those regulations were enforced, essentially none of the best streets for pedestrians and residents in central Austin would be remotely legal (as opposed to current suburban-oriented zoning code, under which they’re only MOSTLY illegal).
    My latest contribution on the residential regulations discussion board relating to the McMansion debate follows. Please sign up and comment in the thread if you have an interest in this stuff. The perception that most homeowners believe that this stuff is OK is what gives these people the disproportionate power that they have today.
    In other words, right now it looks like eeevil developers are the only people who would oppose these additional restrictions, since most of the responsible adults in Austin have stayed silent. It’s my belief that the City Council will cave and essentially do whatever the task force comes up with, if it looks like their regulations have the support of a sufficiently large majority of people who expressed some interest in the process, just like another recent cowardly pandering dodge of their responsiblity as city leaders.
    This builds on a thread by Chris Cosart.

    I suppose you could sum up my “responsible urbanism” position this way:
    Neighborhoods which have vigorously fought all density and infill over the years which could have helped the city achieve its overall goals should not receive extra protection from the market forces they have distorted in the process.
    Specifically: if your neighborhood’s plan doesn’t allow for additional multifamily development not only on the fringes but on the inside of your neighborhood, in some non-trivial way, you shouldn’t expect the support of the city to defend you against incompatible development. Period.
    Living in a city entails responsibilities as well as rights. Too often, central neighborhoods such as Hyde Park and especially NUNA, have irresponsibly fought density which would have helped the city as a whole (the Villas on Guadalupe, for instance). Now, those same people who fought responsible multi-family development in places where it was drastically needed (even far away from their homes), and who, by the way, live in homes which are already big and/or incompatible with their neighbors, want additional city protection from the market distortions they themselves helped create through decades of obstructionism.
    What we need is additional multifamily infill EVERYWHERE – not just on the big roads like Guadalupe and Lamar (where you’ve fought it), but also in garage apartments, even on small lots (where you’ve fought it); in duplexes (where you’ve fought it); two and four-plexes and rowhouses even on the inside of neighborhoods (where you’ve fought it). All that fighting only resulted in gross distorting loopholes like Super-Twos and Super-Duplexes, when a more rational response to the market would have resulted in quality multi-family infill. Who knows what will result from this latest attempt to stick another finger in the dike – but I can guarantee it won’t be nice, and it won’t be what you expect.
    You won’t get my support. I hope you won’t get the City Council’s support either.

    Well, viagra 60mg I was planning on writing Part Two about finances – specifically, cost the debt issue. But, I just got the following across the wire on the austin-bikes email list (originally written by somebody else on the ACA list). Remember that one of the many levers used to try to pry the center-city away from my position of “rail which doesn’t run anywhere near central Austin isn’t worth voting for” was the promise of “rails with trails”, pushed most heartily by folks like Jeb Boyt, David Foster, and Dave Dobbs. I never fell for it, of course; it was obvious that double-tracking needed to happen in enough spots to make trails of any serious length impractical bordering on impossible, and the political (performance-oriented) hurdles seemed insurmountable. I said so, frequently (see bottom; unfortunately, I didn’t write any blog posts about this angle; I know, what are the odds).
    But, as usual, I was alone.
    Now, indications are that Capital Metro is wiggling out of yet another commitment made to central Austin in order to get the thing passed (see Part One and followup). Responses on the ACA list basically hem and haw about multi-organization planning efforts and the necessity to keep pushing and go get some money, ignoring the fact that Capital Metro and its defenders basically said this trail would get built and be useful for central Austinites; not that “if you pay your own money we might let you build one in a decade out by Leander where there’s enough room, but then again we might not”.
    The Austin-screwing Krusee-train rides again. Yee-haw!
    Here’s the quote from the ACA list:

    I was in a planning meeting with Lucy Galbraith from Capital Metro last week, and she said the words I’ve been dreading. She said there is no plan — nor has there ever been a plan — to build bike and pedestrian trails along the planned rail commuter lines.
    I had been told repeatedly by several sources in Capital Metro that they were committed to building a connected trail for bicycles and pedestrians next to every rail line to allow people to safely walk or ride to or from the nearest station. I said, on this list, I couldn’t wait for that day. It sounded swell to me.
    And I voted for the commuter rail in part because I thought it would help us get this bike trail.
    Now Ms. Galbraith is saying that Capital Metro never had any such plan. (More specifically, she said the language related to bike/pedestrian trails was ambiguous and vague.) She said there was an idea proposed for bike and pedestrian trails, but there were no funds ever allocated. She also said that Capital Metro intends to build parallel tracks in their right-of-way, so in many places there will not be room for a bike/pedestrian trail.
    So, to sum up… There never was a plan, just an idea proposed. There are no funds. And there is no room. And I, for one, feel somewhat fooled.

    Here are some excerpts from the austin-bikes list archive both from me and those who scoffed.
    One of my first on the topic:

    And I want to remind all of you that, while these bike facilities are an unquestionably good thing, it is very unlikely that Capital Metro will build them unless the performance of the starter line is fairly good, and by that I mean it has to be good enough to convince voters to continue to build the system drawn in the long-range plan. The rails-with-trails trail is not going to be part of the starter route; it’s going to be built afterwards IF AND ONLY IF the long-range plan continues to be implemented.
    Whether or not this starter line is good enough to get us on the path of implementing that long-range plan (which I think is still awful) is a matter of opinion. I think by now you all know I believe the chance that this starter line will match the extremely poor performance of Tri-Rail in South Florida, which it closely resembles in all important aspects, is quite good).
    So please vote simply based on whether you think this starter line is going to work. Voting yes in the hopes of getting bike trails is foolish if the plan itself is never going to get to that point. You might in fact be impeding the development of mass transit in our area and not get the bike trails anyways.

    The first real doozy, from David Foster. A nice guy who is probably feeling pretty down right now.

    Bike Friends,
    I have been out of town for a few days and am catching up on lots of
    email on commuter rail and rails-with-trails. Rather than responding
    to al of them, I just want to point out a few reasons why RwT is
    more likely to happen with than without commuter rail. I will be out
    of town again starting tomorrow and not back till Wednesday but I
    look forward to the post-election analysis on this forum, and I hope
    discussion of how to make rails-with-trails work should the
    referendum pass, as I hope it will
    1). Cap Metro will have more money if the referendum passes, and may
    well not be able to withstand the attack to roll back its sales tax
    and put the money into roads if it loses. This means we could lose
    funding for RwT and the All Systems Go improvements to the bus
    system as well, and cripple the agency’s chance to do any kind of
    rail system. This is of course what Skaggs and Levy want.
    2) Cap Metro will have an incentive to do RwT if the referendum
    passes, namely to increase ridership by providing an easier and
    safer way for cyclists to access the stations and trains. Cap Metro
    has also agreed to providing bike access on the trains and lockers
    and/or bike racks at the stations, which will serve the same purpose
    of increasing ridership. A cyclist will be able to ride to the
    station, leave the bike there or take it along and ride to his/her
    final destination.
    3) I do not believe that Cap Metro would commit the political
    blunder of backing out on this promise. Many of us worked to get Cap
    Metro to agree to RwT, including the bicycle advocacy organizations
    who issued the joint press release supporting the referendum (ACA,
    AMTG, TBC, and now too Trans Texas Alliance). Cap Metro gives every
    indication of wanting to go forward, including helping bring Mia
    Birk of Alta Planning in from Portland Oregon to give a presentation
    on Rails with Trails while back.

    My response to David:

    My statement that “you won’t get rails-with-trails if commuter rail
    fails to deliver passengers” is based on political pragmatism, not what
    Capital Metro happens to be saying right now.
    1. There is no legal requirement that they provide RwT if the election
    passes. I don’t think David disputes this. Nothing but the initial
    commuter line is really up for a vote here. I believe Capital Metro
    intends to build RwT. I also believe that if the commuter rail line
    meets my expectations (performs similar to South Florida’s Tri-Rail
    line, the only other new start of the last 20-30 years which relies on
    shuttle buses for distribution), the political pressure to give back 1/4
    cent (at least) of Capital Metro’s money will be as strong as it ever
    has been. So I don’t buy the argument that the money’s only going back
    if the election fails. I think the money’s also going back if the
    election succeeds but the starter line fails.
    2. I don’t think RwT provides much boost to ridership. This isn’t going
    to be providing cycling access to stations, for the most part; it will
    be providing cycling routes ALONG the rail line, not TO the rail line.
    The neighborhoods in Leander will continue to have no bicycling access
    to stations whatsoever – RwT will not change this. Nor will RwT improve
    access for central Austinites since the part of the line they call
    “central Austin” (really north Austin – Crestview/Wooten) is the least
    likely to have space for the trail due to narrower RoW. Also, cycling
    access to stations in this part of Austin is already pretty good –
    roughly ten million times better than in Leander or far northwest Austin.
    3. If Capital Metro wants to keep running the commuter rail line after
    this point (attempting to fix it with streetcars or by going to
    Seaholm), they’re going to need to fight a POLITICAL battle to keep that
    money. Guess what the likely casualty would be in that case? In other
    words, the “political blunder of backing out” may end up being one
    necessary part of Capital Metro’s strategy to make the rail service
    survive long enough for an attempted rescue by streetcars (or Seaholm).
    In conclusion: I respect David and, unlike many on the
    pro-commuter-rail-side, he has been an honorable and informed opponent.
    I think he’s kept that standard up here. I don’t disagree that
    rails-with-trails would be really nice if they happen; and my prediction
    that they will not occur is based on my informed guess of what will
    happen politically when the rail line fails to deliver passenger load. I
    think he honestly believes the line will deliver enough passengers to
    survive long enough for RwT to happen; and obviously I don’t.

    And a response from Eric Anderson…

    Certainly, construction of Rails-with-Trails will accelerate with voter buy-in and continued build-out of Cap Metro’s long range transit plan.
    There is however simply no evidence that any/all bike facilities associated with the Austin-Leander commuter rail line must jump through some performance hoop.
    In fact, Cap Metro spokesperson Sam Archer indicated to those present at Austin Cycling Association meeting on Oct. 11th, that immediately following an affirmative Nov. 2nd vote, Cap Metro would begin master-planning efforts for such Rails-with-Trails facilities in tandem with commuter rail planning efforts.

    STILL feel good about falling for this snow-job instead of fighting for light rail for central Austin?

    Contrary to this week’s South Park episode, mycoplasmosis I believe I’ve found the real source of “smug”: bicycle helmets.
    I happened to be browsing the archives of the Austin Cycling Association list (looking for comments about Shoal Creek) and came upon a thread about (mostly) bicycle facilities versus Foresterism. Good stuff; I usually like reading those. Then I came across a contribution which included the following:

    Unhelmeted cyclists involved in falls, decease even at moderate speeds have
    sustained irreversible head injuries and death and even helmeted
    cyclists have sustained things like broken necks in non-collision
    falls. An example of the latter happened in Austin not too long ago
    when a doctor commuting home down Guadalupe hit one of those steel
    plates covering street excavations. He fell and he died. He was a
    regular bike commuter and wore a helmet, but it did not save him. On
    the other hand, past mayor Bruce Todd apparently took a fall with no
    indication that a collision with another vehicle was involved. He
    wore a helmet and in the opinion of doctors and others, it saved his
    life by mitigating injury to his head. While not statistically
    significant in and of themselves, these incidents are not that
    uncommon overall.

    Does anybody else see the problem here? Two examples used of “why you have to wear a helmet or you’re stupid”, and in one of them, the guy died anyway; while in the other one, the guy got so badly hurt he nearly died and is still suffering brain damage even today.
    And yet, people follow up with the likes of this:

    “I’ve seen no motor vehicle/bicycle accidents, but I’ve seen a lot of
    cyclists without helmets and quite a few at night without lights.”
    As have I–always want to stop them and give them a gentle
    lecture–what I call my “as a mom” speech.

    Equating riding at night without lights (which has been clearly shown to be dangerous, in the real world data) to riding without helmets (which hasn’t). Argh.
    Folks, these things don’t work. Whatever they’re doing for your minor scrapes and scratches, there’s just no evidence in the real world that they’re doing jack squat for major injuries or deaths.

    — In, about it “Aria K. McIntosh” wrote:
    > As a
    > builder and investor, diagnosis I understand how profits can be made, advice but there is a
    > place for everything and would like to see concentrations of students
    > elsewhere such as south of 38th rather that students between families where
    > sleeping babies are next door to rowdy houses. How many cars does the
    > average family have? 2?
    I live a block south of 38th, and have a family with a sleeping baby (2; my other child is 12). My next-door neighbors are about to have their third child, all under 6.
    That being said, the problem here is, as usual, the lack of multifamily housing in the area due to obstructionist tactics over the last few decades, which, sad to say, Hyde Park fully contributed to. A landlord who owns one or two rental houses has no incentive to crack down on badly-behaved tenants; while a landlord who owns an apartment building or even as few as one condominium unit clearly does (the former because he’ll get less money from his other tenants; the latter due to HOA rules).
    The apartment building on the alley behind us is responsible for far less noise than the average rental house on our street. That’s not a coincidence.

    An Austin branch of “Rock and Romp” is in startup planning. If you’re like me – with child and still wanting to see shows sometimes, physician please sign up for the mailing list post-haste.

    Sal Costello continues to post a shrill screed or three almost every single day to Austin Bloggers trying to get people to vote against incumbents who approved some or all of various toll road plans around these parts. Most irritating of all is that the Austin Libertarians (whose politics would logically tend to support tolls, view even on existing roads, if they were being remotely consistent about user fees) have signed on with this pantload, which shows that they’re just a bunch of suburban Republicans who don’t want to be identified with the religious right.
    If you have any interest in making sure that suburbanites pay their fair share, though, you need to vote the exact opposite way from Sal’s recommendations. These toll roads finally start to reverse the decades-long subsidization of neighborhoods like Circle C by central Austinites who have to contribute property and sales tax money to TXDOT to build ‘free’ways. At the same time, TXDOT spends most of their money in the suburbs and hardly anything remotely close to central Austin since most major roads there aren’t part of the state highway system.
    Tolls in any form are good. Tolls which changed by the time of day would be even better. Tolls which were frequently changed to ensure free-flowing traffic would be best. But any tolls are better than going back to the bad old days where Sal’s driving is subsidized by people in Hyde Park who might not even own a car.
    The truly amazing thing is that he’s managed to sucker environmentalists into opposing these toll roads. Rather than imposing tolls on roads to stop subsidizing sprawl over the aquifer, groups like SOS actually think they have the power to prevent those roads from being built at all, and have made common cause with folks who would expand 290 to 100 lanes before caring one whit about Barton Springs.
    Just say no to Sal. Tolls are a responsible way to make sure the people causing the demand actually pay the price.

    Stories like this one are becoming more prevalent, discount thanks to Consumer Reports’ hatchet-job on hybrids and their failure to fully correct their inconsistencies1 and misrepresentations2. It’s now conventional wisdom that people won’t save much, pfizer even on a Prius, here because of CR’s baloney – comparing the Prius to the Corolla as if anybody who was interested in the much larger Prius will instead cram their family into the Corolla rather than seriously considering the Camry.
    Even more irritating is the new conventional wisdom among idiot pundits that the Prius comparatively high sales is due to nothing more than the “halo effect”, when the data clearly show that the Prius is, frankly, a far better _car_ than the other hybrid cars. The Civic Hybrid still won’t even let you fold the seat down, for instance, and is a much smaller vehicle; and the Accord Hybrid doesn’t deliver much in the way of fuel economy. (I expect the Camry Hybrid, on the other hand, to do very well; Toyota’s hybrid system, again, is clearly technologically superior to that of Honda).
    The truth is that you’ll save a ton of money compared to the Camry, and a decent amount even compared to the Corolla if you buy and drive a Prius.
    You’ve set us back years, guys. Nice work.
    (1: In their own data, they show the Prius’ depreciation as “much better than average” and the Corolla as merely “average”, yet their hybrid economic comparison shows greater depreciation for the Prius. Additionally, they claim greater spending on maintenance for the Prius, which is, again, contradicted by their own data. In fact, maintenance spending on the Prius is likely to lower, if anything, due to less brake wear).
    (2: They compare the Prius only to the Corolla, a comparison only valid if you would fit your family into the Corolla absent the Prius. In fact, many, possibly even most, Prius drivers compare to midsize cars like the Camry, since the Prius is actually between the two cars in size – closer to the Camry especially in rear-seat legroom).

    I obviously haven’t written much lately – I’ve been getting progressively worse news about my arthritis (we’ve run off the end of where the infusion treatments should have worked, information pills and they haven’t – I’m not able to walk far at the present time either – much less ride my bike) so I’ve been spectacularly unmotivated to do much but occasionally snipe on the austin-bikes email list. It’s hard to justify spending much effort crackplogging about bicycling, for instance, when it doesn’t look good for me ever getting back on the bike.
    Finally, I’m now far enough out of the loop that I don’t know that I add much value even when crackplogging about Capital Metro, except in the obviously and purposefully annoying “I told you so” updates. But I still feel like I ought to be updating on their progress, since nobody else in the world ever talks about them other than Ben Wear, who vacillates between simply reinterpreting press releases and being a skeptic in the Skaggs mold.
    My cow orker keeps reminding me how neglected the crackplog has become, so I’ll try to at least do a monthly Cap Metro update. And the upcoming possible resurgence of the late unlameted all-ages helmet law (thanks to inaugural M1EK’s Worst Person In Austin Winner Bruce Todd – subject of a future crackplog if I ever get motivated) should result in a few.
    So this serves as notice that I’m alive, I guess. That’s all.

    Located blogs (mostly non-crackpot) of two friends from way back, apoplexy Laurie and Bernie Thompson from Seattle. Co-oped with both in college; might have gone to a class or three with Bernie; worked with them at IBM and later at S3. At various times, medical almost pursued both to Microsoft too, although I Was Not Stalking Them.
    Bernie created a neat startup company a while back which actually got bought; and now appears to be taking another shot. Laurie’s been published frequently in magazines since I last checked in, according to her blog.
    Bernie, actually, is indirectly responsible for me starting up the crackplog. Way back in the day, he chatted with me for a while about Seattle’s light rail proposal and had the idea that we should do a point/counterpoint blog on it (with iconography of the two of us with skinny little bodies and big giant heads). That never happened; but it gave me the idea to inflict my transportation crap on the rest of the world. So, it’s His Fault.
    (I’ve also updated the link to Kim and Anthony’s blog to reflect their move from Taiwan to Beijing).

    Since I thought I had been dumped back into moderation for the horrible sin of providing more than two (actual content-filled) postings to austin-bikes on some day in the last week (turned out to just be a delay, oncologist apparently), steroids this particular response to our good friend Roger Baker risked being unposted, and thus, I posted it here for posterity. Post-haste.

    On 09:18 AM 5/3/2006 -0500, Roger Baker wrote:

    I bet some of you thought that there wouldn’t be any bike lanes along
    SH 130 didn’t you? (hey, as an Austin taxpayer, you’re paying for
    part of it).
    …Darcie Schipull of TxDOT advised that they have hired Wilbur Smith
    Associates to develop a master plan for bike and pedestrian trails
    along SH 130. They will work with jurisdictions to develop the plans
    and to encourage them to use the plan for applying for enhancement

    So if the City of Austin can magically come up with a few million dollars to match against another few million dollars of Federal money, we might get hike/bike trails built along parts of this road, and along parts of the Capital Metro rail line, by the time our grandkids are riding bikes, assuming they still exist by then. Note that the road was absolutely not designed for bike trails to begin with; the only concession to them is essentially the maintenance of enough right-of-way to fit them in spots. (No design allowances made for interactions cross-streets, for instance).
    Does the fact that TXDOT responded in exactly the same way as did Capital Metro penetrate the cocoons of credulity of any of y’all yet? Graciously allowing another governmental entity to build a bike trail on your unused land as long as it’s not too much trouble and as long as they pay the entire bill was always possible, and here’s the important part: EVEN WITH TXDOT.
    The only right-of-way owner the city ever had any trouble with in this regard was Union Pacific. TXDOT was always willing to let us build trails with our own money in their right-of-way. It’s not a particularly notable concession; and it does not signal support for bicycling.
    Nothing new here. Someday, maybe, y’all will get a little less credulous about what exactly you’re being promised and how much you’re willing to give away for it.

    I’m experiencing a bit of schadenfreude as the folks pushing hardest for restrictions on Austin Energy (AE)’s trimming plans in the neighborhoods with the most power outages due to tree limbs (and entire trees) falling down are forced to defend themselves against the quite accurate charges that a more vigorous pruning regime would have resulted in less problems overall. One example:

    Last week’s storms and some gratuitous vilification of
    those of us trying to preserve as much of our shade
    canopy as possible present something of a difficult
    environment for saving the trees in our alleys and
    especially along our numbered strees where lines
    cross, order so if you want to support our work, I hope you
    wll attend.

    It doesn’t help that these same people form much of the nucleus of the abominable “let’s further restrict residential development in the Center City while claiming to be against suburban sprawl” contingent.
    However, I also don’t want to see beautiful trees hacked to pieces, and, frankly, AE will do it if they’re not reined in.
    So, here’s my proposal:
    Each AE customer gets to choose between the following:
    1. AE gets to do whatever they want.
    2. AE can’t trim anything, but residents at this address will be assessed a (fairly large) monthly charge designed to build up funds for putting electric lines underground (where, in more civilized parts of the country, they generally would be). This doesn’t include wires from the street to your house; just the wires along the street. AE pays 50% of the cost of any such projects; the remaining 50% comes from the local residents’ contributions and must be spent within the local neighborhood planning district (i.e. maybe not on your individual street but not too far from it).
    Problem solved. Those who want to preserve their trees at the possible risk of cutting off their neighbors’ electricity must pay for the privilege, and the money must go into a much better long-term solution than trimming.
    (I’d choose #2 myself, by the way, depending on the charge. I don’t want my trees hacked up either; but I don’t assert the right to cut off power to my entire neighborhood).
    Next up: M1EK solves the “Drainage Emergency”.

    I just realized what’s been itching at my brain about Daryl Slusher’s letter urging people to vote against Props 1 and 2. Personally, prostate I find his arguments fairly compelling, prescription but am viscerally compelled to vote for the propositions anyways thanks to the co-opting of the evil “Costs Too Much” iconography from Skaggs and Daugherty’s execrable anti-light rail campaign of 2000.
    Here’s the important part:

    – If the amendments lose, for sale with united environmental support in favor, then the environmental movement will be seen as losing strength and will further lose influence.
    – What may well be worse for the environment and environmental movement is if the amendments pass. Then every resulting unintended, and some intended, consequence will be blamed on the environmental movement — with considerable justification if environmentalists are largely united in supporting the amendments.

    This is exactly why I thought it important for pro-transit people to vote against the 2004 Capital Metro commuter rail proposal. Here’s one relevant excerpt from one of my many crackplogs on the subject:

    In fact, it will be difficult to defend Capital Metro’s money if this election doesn’t pass. However, it will be even MORE difficult to defend Capital Metro’s money if this election does pass, and the rail service meets my expectations (matching the performance of South Florida’s Tri-Rail, the only other new start rail plan relying exclusively on shuttle buses for passenger distribution). At that point, we will have SHOWN that “rail doesn’t work in Austin”, and the long-term justification for at least 1/4 cent of Capital Metro’s money will be gone.

    There are many other cases where I made the point that, yes, if Capital Metro lost the ’04 election, it would be bad; but it’d be even worse if they won with unanimous transit-supporter support (er, yeah). The “But we did what you wanted and it sucked” argument is pretty hard to overcome the next time around.
    Yet Slusher was so royally pissed by my opposition to that plan that he wouldn’t return emails from that day forward.
    Ironic, huh?

    Just had to deal with the typical problem we’ve been facing with our “consumer-driven health plan” (i.e. HSA with high-deductible ‘insurance’) – this is perhaps the fifth or sixth time this has happened.
    1. We get bill for $X.
    2. I make sure there is $X in our Health Savings Account.
    3. I call the place and pay over the phone, medicine using some combination of the HSA “credit” card1 and our normal credit card.
    4. They wait too long to post the charge (see #8)
    5. In the meantime, online we pay for something else.
    6. We get a letter in the mail saying that our “credit card was refused”.
    7. I call them and ask which credit card failed (I usually have to split charges due to #2 above).
    8. They can’t tell me, but do say that it would have posted within 7 to 10 days of the call. Aha.
    This thing causes so much extra work compared to the old FSA, it’s just not funny.
    Of course, if you don’t actually USE medical care, the HSA is a great deal, as long as you’re wealthy enough to be paying high marginal income tax rates. But for people who actually have to use medical care, and believe me, our family qualifies, it suuuuuuuuucks.
    1: Of course, it’s really a debit card, as the rejection shows. But the fact that they run it as a credit card encourages them to wait to post the charges rather than figuring out immediately if there’s enough money in there. Big mistake.

    Just sent the following to the Planning Commission, epidemic which is the most likely place for a rebuke to the ridiculous McMansion people. (My bet is that the City Council will be more afraid of angering center-city neighborhood associations).

    Dear Planning Commissioners:
    My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the city’s Urban Transportation Commission for about 5 years, and I live and own property in two central city neighborhoods. As a resident of OWANA, I chaired the transportation subcommittee for our neighborhood plan, and remain to this day very proud of the work we all (especially Dave Sullivan, who chaired the zoning subcommittee) did in making sure our neighborhood answered the question “where do you want your additional density” with a more responsible answer than “NO”.
    Since then, many other central neighborhoods have failed in their responsibility to identify appropriate infill and have instead attempted to stand athwart the market and yell “stop”, as the saying (sort-of) goes. Today, you find yourselves considering yet another attempt to artificially retard the market from solving our housing problems for us — all under the guise of a so-called “drainage emergency”. The same neighborhoods that prevented and delayed multi-family housing from being built anywhere in or near their neighborhoods for so long (resulting in a plague of superduplexes and other rental housing as the unstoppable demand for close-in living by students could not be denied) now want you to further restrict residential development at precisely the time when we should, in fact, be allowing more density and more infill. And, of course, these same groups claim to be against sprawl.
    Consider our case – I have a family of four living in a 1250 square-foot house on a 6000 square-foot lot in NUNA. My next-door neighbor is about to have a new addition, raising their family to 5, in a house about 1050 square feet. We’re both presumably the kind of people who you’d rather have in center-city neighborhoods than party houses full of rowdy undergraduates; but we’re precisely the ones who will be most hurt by these overreaching regulations. In fact, both of us bought our houses assuming that we would eventually build up; and yes, even the supposed compromise engineered by the working group will drastically affect both of us – likely making it financially impossible to expand our homes. We both have detached garages (his with an apartment overtop) and we both have narrow lots. The task force’s “solution” to cases like ours is to build a basement, or seek a variance. Fat chance.
    My family will probably stay, although our rights to develop will be unfairly eliminated. My neighbor, on the other hand, probably won’t. Neither of us would seek to build a McMansion, but we (especially they) need more space to be comfortable – even my grandparents’ family of 12 had more square feet per person than my neighbors will without building up.
    The beauty of this is that I already live next to a duplex – built “straight up from the 5 foot setback line” on the other side of my home.
    The drainage emergency itself is a joke – yes, there are real drainage problems, but notice that the only item in the regulations which could possibly have a direct effect on drainage is OPTIONAL (impervious cover changes). And, of course, regulations which only apply to new homes can’t be said to be a fair response to a drainage problem which older homes of course contribute to. I’ve mentioned several times on the group’s discussion board that there’s a trivially simple way to address drainage problems – simply change the utility’s drainage billing to a formula based on the square feet of impervious cover. That way, old houses which cover too much of their lot will have to pay more to solve the problem, and so will new houses.
    Finally, the task force itself is a joke – it’s staffed by people who mainly fall into two groups – 1: those who already have big homes which violate the spirit, if technically not the letter, of the new regulations, see footnote below; and 2: those who have small families, i.e., childless couples.
    The only correct answer to this group is “NO”. Instead of further restricting center-city development, we need to be allowing more small-scale multifamily infill to relieve the demand for close-in living. We need to make it easier, not harder, for families to stay in the city for the sake of center-city schools. And we need to make it clear that those who have been irresponsible in the past by obstructing worthwhile projects ought not be rewarded now for their bad works.
    I chose not to become engaged with this group despite Chris Allen’s invitation because I firmly believe that you do not negotiate over how MUCH to drag your city in precisely the wrong direction – you simply say “NO. That’s the wrong way”. I hope you’ll join me in opposing this plan on those grounds.
    Thank you for your time.
    Mike Dahmus
    1: (member), NUNA, on Laurel Lane – lives in a home with an ‘incompatible’ front setback, and her second story ‘towers over the backyards of her neighbors’. (member), Hyde Park, lives in a huge house which dwarfs its neighbors. Several other task force members live in huge houses, albeit on bigger lots than the two mentioned specifically, and I haven’t seen them personally.

    Some answers to questions raised by my letter to the Planning Commission and today’s Statesman article. Updates will be made here as I think of them and/or receive comments or emails.

    1. I believe the greatest effect of this ordinance is going to be to make small-lot bungalow homes less attractive to buy than they are today which will probably lead to more deteriorating rental stock rather than an owner-occupied renaissance. McMansions themselves are hurt less by these rules than are traditionally styled two-story residences which are quite common on the narrow lots of Hyde Park.
    2. Despite being a response to a “drainage emergency”, more about the sum effect of the regulations being proposed is that it will become even more proportionally expensive to build “up” rather than “back”. Consequence: more impervious cover; worse drainage.
    3. Garage apartments appear to count towards the FAR total. Consequence: fewer housing units in the central city. Existing garage apartments would be more likely to be demolished so that the owner could put a more practical second story on the “front house”.
    4. Detached and attached garages count, find over a certain square footage. More credit is given to detached than attached garages, which is good from an aesthetic perspective but stupid from a drainage perspective.
    5. Yes, one of the proposed solutions for those who want more space than the new regulations would allow is to just build a basement. Yes, apparently they were serious. After all, if you live in central Austin, what’s another hundred grand or so worth of cost, right?
    6. I don’t yet know where the “height” measurement is taken from (average elevation of lot or front elevation or minimum or maximum). This affects the practicality of a second story dramatically in our cases.

    More to come as I get comments / emails.

    A link from Houston I just stumbled upon today which explains why rail transit works so much better in Washington, refractionist DC than in San Francisco, malady and shows quite well the problem the commuter rail line will have in Austin. (San Francisco still has a ton of rail passengers, salve of course, but the argument is that they have far fewer than they _should_).
    Check it out here.
    Relevant excerpts (summaries – read the whole article for depth):

    • BART saves money by using existing rights of way; Metrorail maximizes ridership by puting lines where the transit demand is
    • BART serves the suburbs. Metrorail serves the suburbs and the urban core.
    • BART stations are where the cars are; Metrorail stations are where the people are.

    It strikes me that you could almost substitute “Austin’s 2004 commuter rail proposal” for BART and “Austin’s 2000 light rail proposal” for Metrorail and essentially the whole thing would stand just as well as it does now.
    And the whole thing exposes how much of a snow job Lyndon Henry and Capital Metro are pulling by calling “All Systems Go” a “light urban railway”.
    I highly recommend a full read. I’m also adding this blog to my links.

    My cow orker‘s IM just reminded me to crackplog in short about this quote in this puff piece about the McMansion ordinance:

    People, visit web like Karen McGraw, mind who live in smaller homes, say bigger homes mean more residents — and more cars. They also worry about drainage and trees. McGraw is also a member of the Hyde Park Planning Association.

    MCGRAW LIVES IN 3600 SQUARE FEET IN HYDE PARK, DAMMIT. That’s HUGE compared to her neighbors. In the meantime, my neighbor will likely face the ‘choice’ between demolishing the garage apartment in his backyard or foregoing the second floor on his house (current size: 1010 square feet; family about to grow to 5).
    Also, this, again from McGraw:

    “Trees are actually retention devices and help to retain a lot of water that otherwise might run off. So, we’re very concerned with losing tree cover,” said McGraw.

    The most likely effect of FAR regulations on my family’s eventual expansion plans is that we will build back rather than up. Hence, MORE IMPERVIOUS COVER. LESS TREES.

    My cow orker threatened to do nasty things, web partially to himself, valeologist if I didn’t crackplog before he left on his trip. I’m in the middle of yet another attempt to stop Lyndon Henry from rewriting history on the lightrail_now yahoo group; and went looking for Tri-Rail news and found this letter which explains why Tri-Rail is still, for sale 20 years later, a complete and utter failure at attracting ‘choice commuters’ in South Florida.
    Read carefully. Does any of this sound familiar?

    Take the Delray Beach Tri-Rail station, for instance. It’s located way west of downtown, languishing between Linton Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue. Now, where can one walk from that location? The whole point of public transit is to create an alternative to driving. Yet, the thriving popular downtown area of Delray Beach is far removed from the poorly planned station location. Thus, you still have a downtown clogged with cars, because the Tri-Rail station is beyond walking distance.

    Remember this discussion?
    Then, there’s this gem:

    I have ridden on Metrorail, on the other hand, and it is a joy compared to the mess that Tri-Rail is. Metrorail actually goes places, near neighborhoods, and other places people actually go, and it doesn’t share its tracks with 8,000 mile-long freight trains. That’s why it works.

    Tri-Rail is viewed as a failure in South Florida because nearly nobody who has the choice between driving and taking it will leave their car at home. We’re headed down the same path here in Austin, because people like Lyndon Henry didn’t stand up and fight for Austin’s interests against those of Mike Krusee.
    For shame.
    Those who continue to nicely but naively ask us to ‘work together to fix it’ don’t get it: there ISN’T ANY WAY TO FIX THIS DEBACLE. More stations won’t help. Nice streetcar circulators won’t help. You can’t recover from deciding to run your trains on existing tracks instead of where the people are who might like to ride and where the places are they definitely want to go.
    We’re turning dirt on a rail line which will ‘prove’ to most on-the-fence Austinites that ‘passenger rail doesn’t work’ – the same thing that happened in South Florida with Tri-Rail. Only now, 20 years after the thing was planned, have many people started to change their tune from “rail doesn’t work” to “maybe we screwed up in how we built it”. Can Austin wait that long?
    Continuing to misrepresent this thing as urban ‘light’ rail only makes it worse – at some point a decade from now, we’re going to have to pick up the pieces from this disaster and try to sell rail again to the public. And part of that is clearly identifying what went wrong, and who led us down the wrong path. I ain’t gonna stop anytime soon.

    From a response I just made to Lyndon (first sentence below is his):

    > I disagree. The “commuter” light railway (and that’s what it is)
    There you go again.
    It’s nothing like “light” rail. It’s certainly not “urban”. It’s not
    electrified; it’s going to run at half-hour frequencies during rush
    hours only (with one midday trip); it’s sharing track with freight
    rail; its stations are located quite far apart and none are within
    walking distance of any credible destinations.
    If this thing is a “light railway”, online then ANYTHING qualifies as a
    “light railway”.
    If you keep trying to paint this sack of garbage as “light rail”,
    don’t be surprised when I keep popping back up to tell you otherwise.