A sustainable transit plan for Austin – outline and introduction

If this is sufficiently well-received I may fill in more later.

This post is in response to a request from Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, an organization of which I am a member, for some transit talk leading up to a position / plan from them. My key elements follow, in outline form, with links to old writing where feasible. I expressed my concerns that this would be a waste of time due to the alliance of FAN with AURA and Evolve Austin but was assured this was not an issue, so here we go.

Above all else, be skeptical of Capital Metro

Cap Metro’s record for honesty is bad and not improving. Lately, they mislead people about Connections 2025 (selling it as a “ridership over coverage” redesign, but in reality, it’s cutting service to our densest areas and rebalancing towards more suburban service). Under this we have details like conflating Rapid Bus with local service; using 1/2 mile or larger catchment zones when 1/4 mile is the industry standard, etc. Project Connect 1.0 was an unmitigated disaster due to a lack of honesty about constraints and aims by the people leading it, and they have never been held to account for it. We will not make any real progress for transit in Austin until these agencies act with transparency and honesty. FAN should demand better governance of, and leadership at, Capital Metro. My basic recommendation would be that board members need to at least ride transit sometimes and have a deep fundamental understanding of what actually raises and lowers transit ridership; and top leadership must be honest and ethical. Neither of those standards is met today by any board members or anyone in top leadership of the agency.

Background:

Watch the diversion of service dollars to the suburbs

Even AURA is on board with the Red Line being a bad investment, and I-35 BRT being a horrible idea. But that’s not where it ends.

The service just introduced for Round Rock is a horrible deal. Cap Metro is being misleading about it being a “contracted service”. Round Rock doesn’t pay overhead that supports Cap Metro’s structure in general, and their passengers can continue onto mainline routes despite not having paid taxes to support them. They’re getting a sweetheart deal in return for not paying into the system. This is bad for Austin.

Likewise, park and rides placed near the edge of the city limits or the edge of the service area are obviously going to tend to attract patrons from jurisdictions that don’t pay to support the agency. While you might want to supply them with transit anyways, this is a zero-sum game or worse. Every $25 operating subsidy paid so somebody from Cedar Park can ride the train despite not paying taxes to support it results in 5-10 Austinites not getting to ride a bus that their city did pay taxes to support.

We should not be subsidizing the suburbs’ road network and also subsidizing their transit. If we don’t get to cut one, cutting the other is not only good but necessary. Again, in Austin, transit is a zero-sum game; we have no ability to increase operating funds, so every dollar we blow on somebody in Cedar Park is taken away from a prospective rider in Austin. Friends of Austin Neighborhoods should be about supporting Austin’s interests first against so-called predatory regionalism.

Background:

Specifically watch for land use claims that fall apart under scrutiny

In 2014, I made this warning about Rapid Bus: Rapid Bus Has Degraded Bus Service.

We were told continuously by people more credulous than I that Rapid Bus was a great deal. I went to a lot of trouble to show that its benefits accrue disproportionately to those who live the furthest out, while those who live close in suffered service degradation.

The Panglosses kept at it, assuring us that infill stops would be added any day now. It’s now looking like 2018 or later for two infill stops, and even with those infill stops, Hyde Park will still have worse service than it did in 2011. Connections 2025 will make it even worse than that!

Rapid Bus is also a suburban subsidy although it’s more of a subsidy to the worst land use INSIDE Austin (i.e. low-density sprawl inside far north and far south Austin gets better service now, by speed, than does Hyde Park). AURA hasn’t opposed Rapid Bus primarily because their president lives close to an 803 stop and saw personal benefit from the service change that screwed thousands of others. I think FAN needs to be more honest and transparent than that, and hope you agree.

Watch out for things that don’t pass the BS test

Don’t ask a transit rider if the grid redesign’s requirement to add transfers will increase or reduce ridership. They have no idea; they’re already riding. Ask somebody who has a long history of being right about service changes’ impact on ridership. Ask somebody who is transit-positive but has to drive to work.

The fact is that the Connections 2025 redesign cuts local service even further for the areas of Austin with some of the highest modeshare, and yet, Evolve Austin and AURA have bought into the Big Lie from Capital Metro. I shouldn’t have to keep explaining this, but in 2011, you could pick up a #1 on Guadalupe in Hyde Park every 10-12 minutes during peak and a #101 every 20 minutes or so. Now there is a local every 30 minutes, and the distance to walk to ‘rapid’ (fancy 101) is too long to make up for the increased frequency. Actual riders are worse off today; and yet Connections 2025 proposed making that even worse under the guise of improving things. (Eliminating local service on Speedway, and originally proposing eliminating the remaining locals on Guadalupe too!)

Friends of Austin Neighborhoods generally promotes urbanist ideals. Having a transit agency which cuts service to the areas that buy into urbanism inevitably leads to pushback in the future for land-use changes as people become justifiably skeptical that new residents of infill developments will use transit at non-trivial levels.

If you say you want ridership over coverage, be serious about it

Ridership, ridership, ridership. This is a public investment; we need our transit dollar to go as far as it possibly can.

That’s all the time I can spend now. Let’s see if FAN was serious about taking this seriously before I invest any more.

Evolve Austin continues AURA line of horseshit about transit and density


Dear mayor and council members:

My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000-2005, and have written a bit on the topic of transportation (mostly transit) ever since.

You've received some correspondence recently on and on behalf of Evolve Austin that continues to claim that Capital Metro is reorienting its services to better support land use that provides the density and walkability to make transit service more feasible and sustainable at a lower cost.

This is false. Cap Metro has not changed one iota; the recent service changes continue a pattern of reorienting service to unproductive suburban areas and away from the areas that produce the highest transit ridership (and have the highest potential for additional ridership).

This presentation, from 2015, explains why the Rapid Bus shift was a degradation of transit service. Connections 2025 doubles down on this shift, removing even more local walkable transit service from the core neighborhoods where it is most heavily used.

https://www.slideshare.net/mikedahmus/20150211-transitvslanduse

I'm eager to communicate via email if any of you have any questions.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

AURA hagiography makes M1EK surface to post comment

No further news.

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

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

Comment:

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

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

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

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

Austin Bus Service

It’s super neat that people are suggesting doing the right thing. In 2017.

It’s also super neat that the guy who claimed to be supporting this for years was on the UTC. In 2004. When I made the motion below. Which died for lack of a second.

WHEREAS the City of Austin does not receive adequate mobility benefits from the currently proposed Long Range Transit Plan due to its reliance on “rapid bus” transit without separate right-of-way

and

WHEREAS a “rapid bus” line does not and cannot provide the necessary permanent infrastructure to encourage mixed-use pedestrian-oriented densification along its corridor

and

WHEREAS the vast majority of Capital Metro funds come from residents of the City of Austin

and

WHEREAS the commuter rail plan proposed as the centerpiece of this plan delivers most of its benefits to residents of areas which are not within the Capital Metro service area while ignoring the urban core which provides most Capital Metro monies

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Urban Transportation Commission recommends that the City Council immediately reject Capital Metro’s Long-Range Transit Plan and begin working towards a plan which:

A. delivers more reliable and high-performance transit into and through the urban core, including but not limited to the University of Texas, Capitol Complex, and downtown
B. requires additional user fees from passengers using Capital Metro rail services who reside in areas which are not part of the Capital Metro service area
C. provides permanent infrastructure to provide impetus for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use redevelopment of the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
IF CAPITAL METRO will not work with the City of Austin on all items above, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the UTC advises the City Council to begin preparations to withdraw from the Capital Metro service area and provide its own transit system in order to provide true mobility benefits to the taxpayers of Austin.

No-transit field trip: Dropping off the car

About two weeks ago, I had business about two miles north of my house1, at “Happy Hybrid”2, to pick up our old car3. I came home from work early, left my company car parked at the house, and thought about how I would get to the auto shop to pick up the old car and bring it home.

In the old days, before MetroRapid, this would definitely have been a bus trip. Here’s what that trip would have looked like, in the “show up and go” model where the wait time is assumed to be “half the headway”…

Walk 4 minutes a block south and two blocks west to the #1 stop. Wait there for a 13-minute headway frequent local. Get on. Ride to Happy Hybrid. Get off. (0 minute walk there).

The 801, though, is a different story. My house and the destination are both (each) about halfway between two MetroRapid stops! So the 801 trip looks like this: Walk 7 minutes west and south to the Hyde Park station. Wait 10 minutes (runs every 20 minutes midday). Ride 10 minutes to the station north of Happy Hybrid. Walk 6 minutes back south. (Yes, this is what Google Maps recommended; so the alternative stations must be slightly longer walks, even!). Total time: 33 minutes.

The current 1 is the same as the old 1, except it runs half as often (26 minute headways mid-day). So I didn’t bother. What did I do instead?

Walked the whole fucking way there on my athritic toes, and paid severely for it for the next few days.

Here’s what the decision looked like:

This is what AURA did for urbanism – they supported a rapid bus plan that made the most logical option for somebody who had to travel 2 miles on our best transit corridor to the auto shop to WALK THE WHOLE GODDAMN WAY THERE4. (No, changing the fare back to parity doesn’t affect this. Only restoring true local service on this corridor does). And I, on this trip, showed that the service Cap Metro is now providing on this corridor has degraded drastically – to the point where it’s unreliable and unusable except for those who have no other possible option.

Find better urbanists, Austin. AURA sold you out.


  1. two blocks off Guadalupe in Hyde Park 

  2. directly on North Lamar between North Loop and Koenig 

  3. which was there to get a problem looked at in preparation for hopefully selling it 

  4. really, though, what I did was start walking and keep looking for the local coming up behind me, which it never did 

Cap Metro Is Lying To You About Successful HCT

Last fall, I made this post in which I attended a Friends Of Hyde Park briefing on Project Connect in which I took major issue with Javier Arguello defending a supposed I-35 BRT project in Minneapolis as a successful high-capacity-transit investment (it wasn’t and still isn’t actually running yet, and will suck if it ever gets built), and then using a bad sort-ofBRT project and a bad mixed-traffic streetcar project as the other two pictures, cooking the books against people considering light-rail transit in the center of an arterial roadway. Hey, here’s a picture of what I wrote last fall!

A friend of the crackplog reports that the picture below was just used yesterday, May 3, 2017, to brief City Council about the progress, showing examples of successful high-capacity transit investments.

That’s OK, though. Let’s check with our local urbanist org, Austinites For Urban Rail Action:

Oh good, they’re on the MCAG and have been since last fall! Let’s check to see how they have reacted. I’m sure there’s lots of stuff they’ve written since last fall, using this board seat to good ends. I’m sure they have spoken truth to power; afflicted the comfortable; etc etc. Here, I’ve loaded up everything they have said in public about Project Connect 2.0 for your persual:

Cap Metro Is Lying To You About Guadalupe

In Project Connect 2.0 meetings, they are still saying that “nothing is decided” and that the horseshit decision to put Lamar and Guadalupe in the second class grouping of corridors for study doesn’t mean anything.

In an article in today’s Austin Monitor, the inimitable Caleb Pritchard reports that the plan to resurface the right lane in concrete is Moving Right Along. This plan is part and parcel of this other plan which has won the support of the curiously named Austinites for Urban Rail Action. Image follows.

I’m shocked, amazed, truculent, etc that it falls to me, and only me, yet again to call Capital Metro on their bullshit. Clearly they have long since decided that whatever Project Connect 2.0 spits out, it will not include rail running in the center of Guadalupe (and thus obviously Lamar as well). Otherwise, their partners at the city1 wouldn’t be doing what they are doing right now.

Where is Austinites for Urban Rail Action throughout all this?

Oh yeah. They sold you out for a seat on the MCAG, with which they apparently intend to make sure they don’t do anything to stop this.

Key things to remember in case you’re tempted to Well This Ain’t So Bad me on this:

  • No city has ever converted bus lanes to LRT and retained any of the original infrastructure. One city I’m aware of has sort-of converted BRT to LRT by tearing the entire thing up and starting over.
  • No city with half a brain would run LRT on the right side of a two-way street with lots of right turns. So this isn’t an approach to put rails in the bus lanes later anyways.
  • Cap Metro plans to increase ‘stations’ on the 80x this year anyways – which will be further obstacles, legitimate or merely political, for LRT on this corridor.

There is no path which ends with light rail on Guadalupe within the next couple of decades which starts with what you see above, with what AURA is supporting today. Do not be fooled.


  1. they can’t wait three seconds without telling us how joined-at-the-hip they are these days, after all 

De-endorsement of AURA

I had high hopes for the AURA organization as an honest, ethical, freedom-oriented counterbalance to the ANC that could act as a “force-multiplier”, in which I could asynchronously and remotely debate policy and grow the group’s numbers so we could decide what to do together and then take turns showing up in person to do it. The idea was that unlike the ANC, most urbanists have jobs (and some even have families), so we shouldn’t strive to each attend meetings individually over and over again to hope to effect change; we should instead focus on our strengths – honest debate, open transparent communication, and then, as I said, take turns showing up and expressing the will of the group. Didn’t turn out that way, obviously. As my few remaining readers may know, I left the AURA organization quite some time ago due to disagreements about process (namely: they turned into the meetingocracy I had hoped they would be an antidote for1 ).

Ever since then, we have existed in a state of mostly alliance. Mostly. I assisted on several efforts after I was no longer an official member of the group. Some day I’ll tell you about them. But several recent shifts and failures to act by the group are incompatible with my firmly held beliefs about urbanism and ethics and freedom – things like abandoning the lower income riders of Capital Metro’s old local bus routes; or attaching burdensome regulations on landlords that will inevitably inhibit housing supply. Many of these decisions were clearly made to attempt to curry favor with the establishment politicians and hangers-on here in Austin.

As, unfortunately, was a change to the #atxurbanists facebook group, which is currently the only feasible place to talk about urbanism in Austin. At the request of the people who brought you the Project Connect 2014 Lie Festival, the board members of AURA who also serve as moderators of that group instituted a new set of rules which seemed explicitly designed to prevent those establishment folks from being held accountable for their words and their actions. The rules were promoted to those people in an attempt to curry favor, by promising to make it more comfortable for them to peddle dishonesty in the group.

At the time those rules were changed, I directly warned the moderators what I would do if the rules did what I was fairly certain they were designed to do2.

That day has come. Yesterday, three board members of AURA exercised those powers in a capricious, malicious, and damaging fashion, against yours truly, in a way that was a direct assault on my credibility and integrity; and I thus have no reasonable choice but to follow through with my promises. I did, as I often do, allow them time to reconsider their actions3. They have chosen not to.

But as is often the case with me, I probably should have done this a while ago. The recent entanglements with CNU (a hopelessly corrupt local organization) and failure to even slightly hold Capital Metro accountable (as well as failing to assist in efforts to do rail instead of a highway bond for 2016) should have been the things that made me write this post. However, it usually takes getting angry to motivate me to prioritize what often seems like a pointless exercise. Well, now I’m angry, and I’m doing it.

If you believe as I do – that behavior matters, but also, that policy matters; that freedom matters; that giving people more freedom in cities leads to better outcomes, rather than getting entangled with identity politics and SJW nonsense, then I urge you to reconsider your own membership and/or support of this group. Because they haven’t been the AURA I hoped they would be for a long time now.

Your pal,
M1EK


  1. this is due to a combination of factors: because they started relying more on in-person meetings, with the backup being synchronous (live) online meetings, and because they decided open and robust debate on their e-mail list was no longer welcome. My only realistic ways of participating, in other words, were marginalized over time. 

  2. eliminate any semblance of tough but honest ideological attacks against Austin’s political establishment through pretense of maintaining ‘civility’ 

  3. as I first did to the person who eventually prompted my retaliatory, but completely proportional, comment in reponse to a personal attack