Somebody Finally Gets It

Spending my customary half-assed effort, gastritis sanitary I’ve redone my blogroll to better promote other blogs which cover similar subjects to this one, healing upon adding a new and promising entry: the Austin Contrarian. Chris, the author, started his own blog after participating frequently in comments on New Urban Prospect whose author apparently decided to stay in Vancouver. Not that anybody blames her…

NUPro’s frustration echoes with me, bronchi obviously. I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the problem here in Austin is that the “good guys” are serious about gathering public input, sales and the “bad guys” are very good at gathering public input about things that fundamentally don’t matter, sick and in the process getting exactly what they want.
Take Capital Metro’s worthless public meetings about commuter rail, for instance. (Before the election, I mean). The topics were basically “where should we put an extra station or two on this line we’ve already settled on”, and “hey, would you like any other bus lines turned into Rapid Bus?”. Capital Metro never really wanted public input on anything that mattered, like the actual routing of the line, but they successfully fooled a whole lot of people into going to these meetings and wasting their time. By doing this, Capital Metro satisfied the basic requirements the Feds would have put on them (if CM had kept their promise and actually applied for Federal funding, that is), and fooled a lot of naive people into giving them a free pass.
But please remember: Capital Metro’s All Systems Go plan isn’t the result of community input, folks. It’s a result of Mike Krusee’s command.
On the other hand, Envision Central Texas (the group which many Good Guys view as their platform for pushing positive change) is paralyzed by paroxysms of uselessness because they actually try to get public input about things more consequential than the color of the station platform’s roof. And, of course, if you ask these neighborhood groups for input, they’ll gladly fill your ear with mostly-ignorant mostly-useless stuff that the average bus-riding third-grader could have come up with on the way to school last week (about the recent streetcar meetings in which, again, the route is already decided; the technology is already decided; the sharing-lane-with cars is already decided; etc). Likewise, other urbanist politicians are too unwilling to say “this is what we need to do; now, I’m willing to accept input on these issues, but no others:…”. Envision Central Texas has, as a result, contributed absolutely nothing other than PR fluff. They’ve completely failed at pushing their agenda; the few wins the Good Guys have seen in the last few years have been the result of actions by politicians who would have acted the same way with or without the useless blessing of ECT.
If I could say anything to folks like that, it’s this: you never win by back-door compromise, and you never win by charette-driven consensus exercises. Mike Krusee won by making Capital Metro do what he wanted them to do. He didn’t negotiate with them. He didn’t gather their input. He told them what to do, and they did it, because the other side didn’t even try to stop him; because they were too busy holding meetings and wasting their time listening to a bunch of neighborhood nitwits.

This group is a perfect example of what I was talking about in my last crackplog: the survey is a complete waste of time; simply gathering support for all of Capital Metro’s long-range plans while never asking “hey, neuropathist shouldn’t we be telling Capital Metro to build some reserved-guideway transit for the densest parts of Austin”?
There’s a kickoff event happening in October for this group (or another one with the same name; hard to tell) in which the mayors of Austin and Leander will be participating. Note: Leander already got their reserved-guideway transit. The obviously much less important Central Austin got squat.
People will get co-opted by this group, doctor just like they did by the useless public meetings in which critical things like the canopy style for commuter rail stations were hashed out, link and as a result, there’s no counterbalance to Mike Krusee telling Capital Metro what to do.
If Mayor Wynn is truly serving the interests of Austin residents and taxpayers, he’ll end this now by using this group’s forum to push for what Austin needs – but I doubt very much that he will; otherwise he wouldn’t be falling prey to the false promise of regionalism here (the note just reeks of it). As pointed out by another blog I read and trust, regionalism is often the enemy of good public transportation. Leander has no real interest in making sure that Austin taxpayers get real rail transit; they already GOT theirs.

Please join me for the kickoff event to launch the Alliance for Public Transportation. The Alliance is the initiative of Mayors Will Wynn and John Cowman of Leander. Several months ago, they asked a group of people to come together and figure out whether we needed an entity that would consider transportation issues from a regional perspective and across the array of interest groups affected by public transportation and its potential in the Austin area. We said we do!
Please come to our kickoff celebration on October 19th at 6 pm at Nuevo Leon. An invitation is attached with all the details, along with another document that describes the Alliance. I’d also like to take this opportunity to invite you or your organization to become a member and be acknowledged at the event as a “groundbreaker”.
This is going to be an exciting event, with Mayors Wynn and Cowman present, as well as other elected officials and people who care about transportation and the community. I also think the creation of this organization will provide a valuable voice for neighborhoods as we consider public transportation in our region over the coming years.

In today’s story about the new effort to align CAMPO dollars to Envision Central Texas goals, youth health not once, this in the entire story, clinic was this fact mentioned:
The three biggest “nodes”, now and in the future, by orders of magnitude, are UT, the Capitol, and downtown; none of which are served by commuter rail, and not well by streetcar. If you live at Mueller and work at the Capitol, you can take the streetcar to work, but it’ll be as slow as the bus is today, and that’s the only use case that makes sense. All existing residential density in the city continues to be provided with nothing but slow, stuck-in-traffic, buses (mislabelled as “Rapid” though they may be).
Summary: Until the elephant in the tent is addressed (those three nodes), all of this is just useless ego-stroking wastes of time.

A quick hit – since I missed this story due to scaling back to weekend-only service, diet I never got to comment on this piece:

So the budget released last Monday for the 2007 budget year, no rx which begins Oct. 1, generic eliminated the $6.6 million Austin portion (and a tiny amount that would have gone to Leander).
Left undisturbed, at the request of Capital Metro board member Fred Harless, was $1.1 million for the suburban communities in Capital Metro’s service area that won’t have rail stops.
Austin City Council Member Jennifer Kim has been agitating for Capital Metro to keep giving Austin $2.4 million of the $6.6 million. The city says it’s been falling behind on routine street maintenance and Kim’s request would fill that gap.

Councilmember Kim is exactly right, albeit for the wrong reasons. If it’s justifiable to leave the suburban money in there, Austin should keep a big chunk of its money too, since this commuter rail project barely serves Austin at all compared to Leander. It doesn’t go anywhere near central Austin residential areas, nor to UT, the Capitol, or downtown, so the only practical beneficiaries of this line are Leander residents who don’t mind riding shuttle buses.
In short, the people who pay Capital Metro’s bills (i.e. central Austinites) aren’t getting rail stations – and, therefore, should probably be keeping this BGA money; or at least, most of it. And thanks to the fact that Austin gets screwed by having to maintain a much, much larger percentage of major roads than do our suburban friends, we already have less money to spare on things like sidewalks, which is why the BGA money was so darn useful.
I’ll try to get around to writing a new, updated, version of “M1EK’S SUPER-POSITIVE HAPPY FUN PLAN” in response to comments on the last posting sometime this week.

This comes up from time to time, diagnosis usually in other forums where people aren’t familiar with the long history of rail in Austin:
Why don’t you tell us what your (positive) plan is for improving rail in Austin?
Well, the only one that would work is to immediately stop the commuter rail project; cancel contracts for the rail vehicles; and build a light rail starter segment following most of the 2000 proposed route. Not real likely, folks.
Then there’s the shorten rail transit’s dark ages plan. Not real attractive, but I’m sad to say, the only one likely to have any impact. And it’s what I’ve done so far, of course. During the Dark Ages, those monastaries that saved a bunch of literature and preserved some knowledge from the Greeks and Romans weren’t helping anybody for quite a while, remember, they just made the Renaissance start a bit sooner / be a bit more effective, depending on who you ask.
During the past several years, many other people have come up with some other ‘positive’ plans, which I’ll briefly describe below:

  1. Run light rail on a completely different route. (i.e. run up from downtown, by the Capitol and UT, but then shift over to Burnet Road, or stay on Lamar the whole way up to 183). Not gonna happen, folks – the reason the ’00 route was favorable to the Feds is that it did what most successful rail starts do: run in exclusive right-of-way out in the suburbs and then transitioning to (slower) in-street running for only the last N miles where necessary. Running in-street all the way is a recipe for low ridership (slow trains). Plus, the residential catchment areas on North Lamar and Burnet Road are just awful.
  2. Improve streetcar – folks originally got suckered by Capital Metro into thinking we’d be delivering streetcar to central Austin residential areas as part of Future Connections. Of course, we’re not, but it doesn’t matter; streetcar is really no better than the bus for daily commuters. And, topic for future post, you can’t turn streetcar into light rail later on – light rail runs in the middle of the street in its own lane; streetcar will run in the right lane, shared with cars & buses. You can’t run a reserved-guideway mode on the right side of a street.
  3. Run light rail on commuter rail tracks, then branch off and go down the ’00 route at Lamar. Pushed by a subset of the next group, mostly disingenuously – having a rail branch off at Lamar/Airport would basically shut down this intersection for cars, and the technologies are incompatible – the commuter rail vehicles we bought cannot feasibly run in the street for long distances (due mostly to station height).
  4. The most odious of all – Lyndon Henry and his cadre of misleaders – telling us that once we start running trains more often (and add more stops), the commuter rail line will magically become light rail. It still doesn’t go anywhere worth going; Airport Boulevard is never going to turn into Guadalupe; and running trains more often to your shuttle bus transfer won’t help ridership one lousy bit.

So, those who want to see more positive discussion – use this as a launching point. Let me know what you think. Come up with some positive direction that’s not in the list above, or tell me why one of the above WILL work.
Some Selected Background (chronological, oldest at top):

  • ccosart

    Interesting. Even though Rapid Bus would actually improve my commute (I think), much/most of that comes from fewer stops and more frequent service. I won’t shed any tears if this is shelved…

  • Are you willing to retract your statement from your 9/29/05 post saying “You don’t get TOD with commuter rail”, since you can see very large TOD development occuring today in Leander and the 620/183 area?

  • ccosart

    What’s happening in Leander? I know they have a good long term plan, I wasn’t aware of anything actually being built yet.
    (Genuine question, not an argumentative one…)

  • No; what’s happening in Leander isn’t TOD by any stretch of the imagination; it’s low-density crap. I know they’re calling it TOD, but it isn’t.

  • Here’s a good primer on TOD; which may help to dispel the baloney around the Leander development:
    http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm45.htm
    The primary skepticism for me is on two fronts: 1) what Leander has proposed isn’t TOD by even a fairly loose reading of these standards (it’s density which the city of Austin would have allowed without a rail station, for instance); and 2) a dozen or more plans like this in South Florida died on the vine between proposal and actual finish-out.
    You only get true TOD (very high-density, transit-first car-second development) when you have high-quality transit service.
    I should say that calling the TOD “low-density crap” was hyperbolic. The pictures of what they WANT to build are actually decent, for instance:
    http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?p=1663268&postcount=323
    I just doubt very much whether anything like that will end up on the ground; and the parts that ARE likely to be built are big-box retail centers and the like.

  • J Wood

    This I think is a step in the right direction. Too bad Ben Wear can’t get another source aside from Lippencot, Skaggs or Daugherty. Also, they are disseminating lies AGAIN. The redistribution of tax base is from suburban to urban creating a situation where the city has to pay less for infrastructure, services as well as road upkeep in terms of TOD. In Arlington County the Metrorail corridor is on 7% of the land but pays for 32% of the taxbase. Arlington County also has the lowest tax rate in virginia…hmmm…so Skaggs is advocating for higher taxes.
    It also reduces gasoline consumption through vehicle miles traveled. A portland study showed that daily household VMT was 9 miles per day in mixed use districts with good transit access versus 22 miles per day in suburban areas without transit.
    We are starting to get a hold of how to quantify this so that Skaggs and company will get egg on thier face for promoting global warming through the use of fossil fuels.
    I think this argument against the anti-railistas needs to be reframed so that we make them look aweful for not supporting fixed guideway rail. We need to somehow Karl Rove them.
    I think we should start coming up with good catch phrases and slogans that will trump the coming costs too much does too little if this light rail movement holds true. I hope it does….
    Jeff

  • AC

    Hasn’t Cap Metro already signed contracts for the commuter rail cars?

  • AC,
    Yup, they have.

  • AC

    Then it’s too late no matter what McCracken and Leffingwell do. We’re screwed.

  • ccosart

    Too late to replace commuter rail, yes, but maybe not too late to replace the Lamar/Guadalupe/Congress/SoCo rapid bus with dedicated lane rail. Though you’d still need a transfer from the burbs at Crestview station, and as M1ek says it’s problematic to go further north there. Not holding my breath though…

  • Chris,
    There’s a ton of problems with the “just run light rail up Lamar/Guadalupe” pipe dream – it requires that the Airport/Lamar intersection be shut down for unacceptably high amounts of time, for one thing. (Either the ’00 rail plan or the ’04 rail plan would just be slicing across in one direction; but rail crossing or even branching here requires a whole lot more stoppage of vehicles than that).