Statesman clueless about urban development

Watch this video. NOW.

Check out this tale of woe, treatment which is pretty much what I’d expect out of Capital Metro’s MetroRapid service here in Austin in a couple of years. Any transit service without reserved guideway is doomed to these kinds of performance and reliability problems – holding a light green for a few seconds doesn’t come close to cutting the mustard.
Remember that this ‘rapid’ bus service is all the urban core of Austin is ever going to get from Capital Metro, pharm thanks to the decision of other pro-light-rail folks to sign on to ASG.

A quick hit since he’s blocking comments, cystitis for me at least:
Kling’s argument (standard for those pushing HSAs) that health care in this country is broken because it’s covering too many ‘normal’ procedures is highly disingenuous. First, most expenses for health care are simply NOT of the type that maps to ‘oil changes’ in car insurance, and second, the mapping itself breaks down – car insurance, with its per-incident deductible, is actually far more like traditional HMO/PPO service (with copays; which are essentially also per-incident deductibles) than it is like the HSA plans Kling apparently favors (with large annual deductible).

Another quick hit:
So Elizabeth Christian has gone berserk defending her husband’s new proposal for a study of cyclists who end up at the hospital with injuries (correlating to helmet use). This is exactly how the original Thompson/Rivera study went wrong. Short summary:

  1. Voluntary helmet-wearers and non-wearers are quite different groups, sildenafil as it turns out. The helmeted cyclists were more likely to be yuppie recreational riders (like Ms. Christian’s husband) while the un-helmeted cyclists were more likely to be poor and/or just trying to get around (in which case a helmet is enough of a pain in the ass that most rational people leave it at home).
  2. Later analyses of the Seattle study showed that in addition to behavioral and locational differences, generic helmet-wearers were also far more likely to go to the hospital for a given injury than non-wearers (probably due to the above socioeconomic differences).
  3. This means that the doctor in the emergency room is only going to see a non-helmeted cyclist when the injury was very serious; but he in fact sees the helmeted cyclist for minor injuries.
  4. Surprise! Helmet use seems to correlate with less severe injuries!
  5. As it turned out, information pills though, you were also able to use the same data from this study to ‘prove’ that wearing a bicycle helmet reduced your likelihood of getting a leg injury by a similarly high percentage. Again, the guys with broken legs went to the hospital no matter what; but the non-helmeted guys with cuts and bruises just went home and sprayed Bactine while the helmet-wearers were more likely to go to the hospital; and the helmet-wearers were more likely to be leisurely riding through a park and suffer their falls in the grass rather than be hit by a motor vehicle on the roadway.

This is a clear study error. The “control” group in this case-control study is not similar enough to the “case” group to make these conclusions. Statistics 101; and don’t believe the typical bullshit response about lies, liars, and statistics – this example is pretty damn clear-cut. The study was flawed; and this new study will be equally flawed.
Of course, the Chronicle didn’t bother going into this level of detail, despite the fact that I’m sitting right here, and am no stranger to those guys. It’s as if they’re not even interested in trying anything more strenuous than reporting on press releases these days…
More on the Thompson/Rivera study from a slightly different angle.

Another quick hit:
As a refreshing change, stomach News 8 found somebody besides Las Manitas to use as the poster-child for the local nascent effort to protect ‘iconic businesses’.
Tambaleo might be great but it’s only been there because the definitely great Electric Lounge went away (where I was introduced to my favorite band). Who knows what the next great club might be – we might never find out if we obstruct downtown development that can provide additional spaces for and customers for those future ‘icons’.
Anyways, drugstore a truly iconic business would just go get a new lease (or buy their building). Las Manitas is the worst offender here – they own a building next door to where they are right now; they’re being offered a sweetheart deal in finding a new place if they don’t want to move into that spot; but they’re still complaining. It’s as if the landlord has no rights whatsoever here, abortion which is just abhorrent to me.
In 99% of local development politics, I think we’d be well-served to follow the rule “do whatever Dave Sullivan recommends”. But not here; it will be too difficult to decide which local businesses are icons and which aren’t; and the first one to get rejected will sue the city and win. At least Dave, to his credit, isn’t proposing the kind of heavy-handed tactics that the City Council recently put into play against Marriott – he’s instead calling for a mix of incentives to encourage preservation of such businesses.

I go to the downtown library every couple of weeks for books for myself and my toddler. It’s directly on some main-line bus routes; and no more than 2-3 blocks away from the remainder (filled green dot in image that follows). At certain times of the day, disorder most patrons arrive via transit – and many of those are clearly mobility-impaired. The space is underutilized, page despite what you hear – there’s apparent office space on upper floors; and the shelves on the ground floor are of a substandard height (the tops well below my eye level, stomatology and I’m not a tall man). There’s plenty of room for more books – if we got better shelves and made better use of the upper floors.

The new proposed location is in a backwater corner of downtown where the closest major bus routes would be 2-3 blocks away (big red dot off the edge of the picture here); and the remaining major routes would be 4-5 blocks away. The library campaigners claim otherwise, but remember: anybody who refers today to “light rail” obviously doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The commuter rail line ends a mile east of here; and the proposed streetcar (still a couple of blocks away) is just a gleam in peoples’ eye. All of this seems like a small difference until you try to navigate the extra difference in a wheelchair (or as me, on a day when my arthritis is particularly bad). Then, you get it: drop me off right in front, please.
Yes, the new building would be pretty. Yes, the current building is a particularly ugly example of Soviet-inspired 1960s/1970s architecture. I’m positive the new location would have more parking, too; but the purpose of the main central library ought to be to serve folks in the following order of preference: the transit-dependent, downtown workers and residents, and only then suburban drivers. The branches are available for those who find having to pay to park (or park a couple of blocks away) too inconvenient. Quite simply: this is a case of people who occasionally want to use the library remaking it nicer for themselves while forgetting about those who need the library.
I’m with my former colleague Carl: some of these bonds are clearly just too much – we’re borrowing for non-necessities which are going to dig us into an operations/maintenance hole later on. Unless somebody at the library can make a compelling case which doesn’t rely on the obvious falsehood that they’re out of space for books, I’d urge you to vote no on this particular bond (#6). Buy some better shelves; move some people’s offices to other buildings; and if in a few more years, we’re back where we are today, then plan a new building in the current location.

Do not upgrade from itunes 6 to itunes 7; not even itunes 7.0.1. The machine on which I’m composing this crackplog is used only for email, this non-work web-browsing, cialis 40mg and playing music; and itunes 7 skips terribly whenever I load a new page in firefox – and this is not an underpowered machine. The 7.0.1 update actually made it worse!.
This is what I get for being a slave to apple’s music library management stuff. Sigh.

We just passed an ordinance which will lead to garage apartments and duplexes being torn down throughout the central city at the behest of the same bad neighborhood interests which prevented multifamily development in the urban core for so long, sick and now we’re supposed to kick in more money out of our property taxes for affordable housing? And that will, epilepsy of course, treatment come out of the same property taxes that are making it unaffordable for homeowners to stay in their homes?
How about, instead, we allow that family in East Austin to build a garage apartment to help pay the property tax bill (and in the process help out a tenant – those garage apartments are a lot cheaper to live in than the MF-3 megacomplexes). How about, instead, we allow families to stay in the urban core by expanding their homes under the old rules – meaning that a family of 5 need not spend $600K for one of the few homes allowed to be big enough for a family that size under the new regime.
How about we don’t blow up the village to save it?
Apart from a pleasant surprise on Austinist and the Austin Republicans, nobody apparently has the guts to make a counter-argument on any of these bonds. That’s really sad; even if you think they’re no-brainers, somebody ought to be making the devil’s advocate case (other than me!).

Huevos Rancheros hates ’em. As for me, decease I don’t mind them. If we lived in some kind of utopia where cops actually enforce laws (say, information pills going after property thieves, pulling over people who ran red lights, etc.) instead of sitting on the side of the road waiting for cars to break drastically underposted speed limits (Spicewood Springs Road between Mopac and Mesa, I’m looking your way), I might be more upset; but as it stands, I’m with Jennifer Kim: this is really the only practical way to get people to stop running red lights. What follows started as a comment to his blog; which grew way too large, so I’ve posted it here instead.
You’re [HR] just as guilty as Martinez at making broad-stroke conclusions without any backing evidence. Two simple examples:

People don’t run red lights on purpose, they tend to do it by accident, and cameras won’t help that.

I don’t buy that without a citation. It looks to me like most red-light runners are of the “run the orange” variety where they speed UP in order to avoid having to wait through another cycle.

But the city isn’t looking at increasing yellow light times. Why? Because it would decrease camera revenue.

This would be a poltiically foolish move. Increasing yellow light times more likely means fewer cars make it through each cycle (some people stop earlier as they continue to do what they were taught to do in driving school; the people who ran the red light now just run the yellow; the people waiting on the other side continue to wait). What do you suppose the public would do upon hearing that the city was about to lessen the thoroughput of major intersections in the city?
One can easily fashion red-light camera laws which don’t provide the perverse revenue incentives for the contractor (your only strong point) – and one can just as easily find perverse law enforcement incentives in speed limit laws, yet nobody serious argues for their complete elimination.
Besides, every single argument you make applies equally to simply stationing cops in unmarked cars at these same intersections. Could lead to an increase in rear-end collisions. Check. Provides incentive to mess with yellow-light timing. Check. Etc.
Now, if I could only get somebody to make sure they also caught cyclists blowing through red lights
Update which came to mind while I was talking to a skeptical compadre: How about this compromise, by the way: increase the yellow light time, and stick the red light camera on there? I’d be willing to pay the thoroughput penalty as long as it was publically understood that it was part of this compromise to avoid the supposed bad financial incentives for the contractor / city. Of course, that would never work; the suburbanites and road warriors would resume their ignorant claims about traffic lights being out-of-sequence about fifteen seconds later…

Shilli knocks it out of the park: urban is more than a different coating to the building; and it’s more than the number of floors. This Wal-Mart will still be car-friendly and pedestrian-and-transit-hostile; and should be opposed on those grounds alone. As I commented in an earlier item there, visit web I also doubt Wal-Mart’s urban bona-fides compared to Target, who seems to actually walk the walk on this stuff.
Not surprisingly, the Statesman credulously swallowed the misrepresentation of this project as both urban (see above) and central-city (Anderson Lane may be geographically central by some standards, but the area itself isn’t “city”). Also not surprisingly, the typical whines about local businesses have come up – precisely the wrong reason to oppose this Wal-Mart. Let me state this succinctly:
A big box store which engages the street rather than a parking lot, and prioritizes pedestrian arrival over automobile convenience is much better for us in the long-run than a half-dozen ‘local businesses’ in pedestrian-hostile strip malls. Strip mall patrons come and go; but the physical buildings (and parking lots) don’t. If Wal-Mart did what Shawn suggests and plunked down an urban building right on the corner of Anderson and Burnet (right next to a bunch of bus stops), I’d be supporting them whole-heartedly.
Remember: urban and suburban are styles of development, not just designations for geographic areas. You can have a suburban development right in the middle of downtown, and you can have an urban development in the middle of a ton of sprawl.

7 Replies to “Statesman clueless about urban development”

  1. Urban/suburban distinction aside (not that I disagree), this seems like a pretty awful placement from a traffic standpoint as well. Anderson Lane between Mopac and Burnet is ill-equipped to handle this kind of traffic; shuttling some off to the smaller streets south of Anderson (which border residential areas as well) hardly seems like a good solution.
    Northcross Mall is an eyesore and a waste of space, and is in dire need of renewal. I’m no huge fan of Wal-Mart, not for ideological reasons, but just because I find it a particularly unpleasant place to shop. I find it hard to support this redevelopment plan not because it’s a Wal-Mart, but because it’s poorly thought out — where they want to place the building on the lot seems like it’s the worst possible location of the entire site. Not just because of traffic, but because of light and noise pollution as well.
    Hopefully Wal-Mart and the developers will be as receptive to the community’s feelings here as they were with their proposed Supercenter at Mopac and Slaughter in South Austin. Seems like a lot of the same issues are at play here: the need to make significant changes to the company’s typical development MO to fit the neighborhood in which they want to build. This isn’t to say that Wal-Mart, or any other retailer, isn’t welcome in the space, but that they need to be very conscientious of the area surrounding their development.
    Perhaps not coincidentally, using a more “urban” design, as you’ve suggested, would seem to answer many of the concerns.

  2. Carlo,
    Anderson Lane is fine most of the time – Wal-Mart traffic spikes at different times than most of the existing traffic on Anderson (rush hour dispersal from Mopac; and shopping at a bunch of lame strip malls). So I don’t buy the gnashing of teeth from the neighbors who, it’s safe to say, will find any reason possible to oppose the dreaded thing, no matter how far-fetched.
    I do believe, as you seem to have guessed, that a more urban siting would make this better – better access for cars from Burnet Road; better access for transit patrons (if we’re going to build a Wal-Mart to help low-income folks, we ought to pay some thought to where the buses actually run).

  3. How do you know Wal-Mart will build at Anderson and Burnet? How do you know that _anyone_ will agree to build an urban project at Anderson and Burnet? The properties at the corner of Burnet and Anderson are separately platted — are they even owned by Lincoln and, if not, how do you know their owners will sell?
    I think it’d be great for Wal-Mart or someone else to do an urban project there. But someone has to agree to do it. Otherwise, Northcross will remain a patch of suburban-style blight. Given a choice between this derelict and a suburban-style mall with new stores, I’d take the latter any day of the week.
    I don’t know why Wal-Mart doesn’t want to build near the bus stops. Surely it knows it draws a lot of low-income customers. But it also knows its business better than I do.
    At least we agree on the local business angle. Even if this were an appropriate consideration, I imagine this development will be good for the area. I’d guess that 90% of the surrounding businesses are furniture stores, rug galleries, restaurants/fast food joints, and convenience stores. They’d all love the traffic a Wal-Mart would bring.

  4. Most of AC’s comments are spot on.
    Another thing to add, here’s a comment from the allandale discussion today:
    “This is without mentioning the criminal element Walmart’s bring. Go drive by ANY of the Walmarts and look whose hanging around”
    I’m not a WalMart shopper, I hope they move in soon – if for no other reason just to spite people like the guy I quoted.

  5. If the proposed WalMart has groceries and is designed to draw its customers from the immediately surrounding neighborhoods, the 3-mile radius around Northcross will become almost perfectly suitable for carfree and car-lite living. (Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for some.)
    I’m hoping we’d see a rationalized bike and pedestrian plan for that area, and also a plan for improving Cap Metro’s Northcross Transit Center. I’d love to see bike lanes on West Anderson/Spicewood Springs, but it would be enough if they preserved bikeability on the nearby lower traffic streets such as Rockwood, Shoal Creek, Foster Lane and Northcross/St. Joseph.

  6. AC,
    Of course siting is a huge speculation. Nobody (not even Shawn from Austinist) was implying they just chose the one site over the other – it was more of a “here’s what ‘urban’ really looks like, because you idiots are calling their suburban 2-story design ‘urban'”.

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