What a great favor done for me by the heroic journalist

The story

Cap Metro Hangs Hopes on “Connections 2025”

The quote, with the emphasis added by me

Mike Dahmus, a transit blogger who is known for getting into heated online spats with fellow urbanists, argues that the plan tries to do too much for those outside the core. He highlights a reduction in service to Hyde Park, one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, as well as the already implemented extension of the 801 rapid route to Slaughter Lane, as flawed attempts to address the suburbanization of poverty, a phenomenon he says is “largely a myth used by suburbanites to gain access to services they aren’t paying taxes for.” The most obvious example, he says, is MetroRail. The money Cap Metro spends to bring commuters into town from as far away as Leander dwarfs the revenue it brings in through fares.

Note the emphasis.

Not “Former member of the Urban Transportation Commission known for making controversial but correct calls on transit”.

It maps to “Crazy Person”.

What merited such a description? It must have been the e-mail conversation. Let’s go to the tape!

The background (the unpaid labor):

(Stick with me as I reformat this):

First email


Jack,

Sorry for short disjointed email. All I have time for today is dictation and some phone clean up.

Of the changes going in in the first round soon, the ones that are the most problematic for me are the elimination of the Hyde Park section of the five, and the 21/22 changes. If capital metro were using the more standard quarter mile walking distance, it would leave large sections of Hyde Park with no frequent service whatsoever. However, in a very dishonest attempt to make things look better, they use a half mile walking radius for rapid bus stations, even though that's not an excepted practice in the industry. The original connections 2025 proposal actually called for eliminating all of the one and three runs that remain, which right now is about every half hour.

So, capital metro is out there selling this plan as if it's a ridership over coverage redesign, which tends to put an image in peoples mind that walkable places with density like Hyde Park should be gaining service, when the reality in our case is that we're losing service. The people gaining service in this plan are actually in more suburban areas, especially those on the far reaches of the rapid bus routes, where are the benefits of the fewer stops approach actually outweighs the longer walks.

The 21/22 are a slightly different story. Those areas are definitely walkable and urban, but medium ridership. Low by the standard of our more successful bus routes, to be sure, but also have lower subsidies than the redline, for instance. There's a major political and equity problem with those routes. They tend to have two types of riders disproportionately: number one is students transferring into the West Austin elementary middle and high schools, and number two, people living east taking the bus west to work at places like Randalls or Tarrytown pharmacy. It's true that the residence in Tarrytown really use the services, but that's not the only metric that should matter in a case like this.

So on equity grounds, the plan fails. That would be OK if it was a pure ridership play, but you can see from the Hyde Park example that it doesn't meet that metric either. A true ridership over coverage play would have restoring all of the locals on Lamar and Guadalupe to the way they used to be as the number one priority, given the demonstrated high demand for ridership and walkable focus of those neighborhoods.

Let me know if any questions. And again I apologize for the poor formatting, I was dictating this outside my son's Boy Scout meeting.

Thanks,
Mike

The second e-mail


That was supposed to be Tarrytown residents RARELY use the services. Sorry.

The first response


Thanks Mike!

What are examples of suburban areas gaining service? Are you referring to one of the rapid routes going down to Slaughter etc? Anything else?

Also, most of the complaints I've heard have been the opposite...that low income people on the outskirts (where they've been forced to live as Austin prices go up) are getting shafted. Do you see any evidence of that?

Also, what is your theory for why Metro's ridership has dropped in recent years amidst record population growth?

The third e-mail


Main example of suburban areas gaining service is additional frequency on the 80x routes and Red Line.

And why Cap Metro lost ridership is the same reasons - Red Line requires huge op subsidies which led to cuts in local urban bus service. Rapid cut locals on corridor by half and ridership still hasn't recovered.

The fourth e-mail


Finally, the "suburbanization of poverty" theme is largely a myth used
by suburbanites to gain service they're not paying taxes for. A few
poor people move out, sure, but the median income in Pflugerville is
higher than East Austin. Most of the poor people who were in Austin
ten years ago are still in Austin today, paying taxes to support Cap
Metro but losing rides to pay for rides at the edges of the service
area for nontaxpayers. (Note location of park and rides obviously
tends to attract people from outside the service area - majority of
Red Line riders don't pay Cap Metro taxes, for instance).

The fifth e-mail


I had a contest last week trying to get people to identify a stop
losing service (I was dumb and included enough detail for it to be
easy). Laundrette, Holly & Robt E Martinez, is slated to completely
lose service.

Here's a zoom-in of the new world if CM gets their way - 1/4 of a mile
at least to the closest LINE, much more than 1/4 of a mile to the
actual stops. This is in an urban medium-density area with a good grid
which still has very high transit usage.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1QWIxCZeZPRRN15GkB0z8QcRQXn0&ll=30.254114230537375%2C-97.72539144874577&z=16

(in the new plan, #22 is being shortened and now runs mainly N/S along
Chicon; #17 runs CC, nothing runs on Holly or REM).

CM's overall strategy on the plan seems to align with good practice
from other regions about reducing winding routes and increasing
frequency at the expense of transfers. But when you zoom in to areas
of concern, you see that something's not quite right - even the areas
that you would expect to get better service or at least keep it,
pretty much aren't. (CM hides this by moving to "1/4 mile from LINE,
not STOP" or even "1/2 mile from stop" metrics which are bullshit).

Hope this is enough,
MD

The second response


Here's another question:

John Laycock tells me that the plan will double the number of households with access to frequent transit and increase by 75% the number of households in poverty w/access to frequent transit. Do you believe that is true?

The sixth e-mail


No, I do not. They are using sketchy metrics like "distance to the
LINE instead of to the STOP", and using 1/2 mile instead of 1/4 mile,
just like I pointed out Cap Metro was doing earlier. They're also
using "people within X distance of rapid bus lines have access to
frequent transit" which is even worse - many households whose closest
'frequent' transit is rapid bus face an even longer walk to the bus
stop from their home (and sometimes on the destination end) than 1/2
mile.

The seventh and final e-mail


And I know you can't use this in your story, but bear in mind that
both Laycock and Crossley are public-sector folks who appear to (in
the medium-term) be angling for contracts that might come from Capital
Metro. Their independence is highly questionable given that their
financial prospects may depend on not angering those folks.

I have a day job at a horrible corporate cube farm and don't use
transit regularly now - every dumb opinion I give you is legitimately
my own with no possibility of personal gain ;+)

- MD

Shoal Creek Update – May 17, 2005

I biked home from work on Tuesday (Too bad it’s Bike To Work Week, Not Bike From Work Week!) and went down Shoal Creek from Anderson to 41st. Report at the end.

The Chronicle has covered the recent brou-ha-ha, and kudos on the title. I have submitted a crackpot letter (check in a couple of days) which attempts to correct the misinterpretation of Lane’s excellent soundbite (the obstructions he refers to are the parked cars, not the curb extensions).

The ride home was pretty good, actually. About five passing manuevers were necessary, and on two of them I had a motorist stuck behind me; and neither one showed evidence that they were perturbed. Definitely above par for the new striping. I wish I could believe that the motorists are getting the message about the necessity to take the lane to get around parked cars, but the comments from the neighbors at that meeting lead me to believe that I was just lucky to get a couple of reasonable motorists this time.

Letter in Chronicle

Letter from me in today’s Chronicle. Text at the end of this dispatch.
and today’s Statesman takes up the same subject (Transit Oriented Development – commonly abbreviated as TOD) again – using East Hillsboro Oregon (suburb of Portland) as their model. When are the cheerleaders going to get it – you get TOD IF AND ONLY IF your rail line has demonstrated a year or three of high ridership from people who CHOSE to ride rail, not from people who HAD to ride public transit?
For the I Told You So watch:

A fight is looming: The neighborhood plans that already exist for Plaza Saltillo and the areas around the Lamar and MLK stops don’t call for the kind of intense density city leaders want around rail stations.

As I pointed out several times during the run-up to the election, one of the many problems with the routing of this commuter rail line is that it runs through neighborhoods that don’t want any additional development, rather than down Lamar/Guadalupe where additional development is regarded as inevitable (although my own wildly irresponsible neighborhood does their best to counteract city-wide sanity on this regard).

(Chronicle Letter):

Cold Water on TOD
Dear Editor,
I hate to throw cold water on the frenzy over TOD (transit-oriented development) [“Here Comes the Train,” News, Jan. 28], but it’s worth remembering that no commuter rail start in the U.S. in recent memory has generated any transit-oriented development worth noting. In fact, all of the TOD that has occurred in the U.S. in most of our lifetimes has been around light rail starts which had to first demonstrate a high level of ridership from new transit customers (i.e., not just those who used to take the bus, but new customers to transit).

This is how Dallas, Denver, Portland, Salt Lake, and Minneapolis have gotten and are continuing to get great new urban buildings around their light-rail lines.

The key here is that thanks to Mike Krusee and naive pro-transit people in Austin, we’re not getting a rail line like those cities got (which goes where people actually want to go from day one); we’re getting one like South Florida got (which requires shuttle buses to get anywhere worth going). South Florida’s commuter line has yet (after 15 years) to generate one lousy square-foot of TOD.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission

The Chronicle gets Shoal Creek badly wrong

This week’s Chronicle badly misremembers the history of the Shoal Creek Blvd. Debacle of ’00; casting city staff as villains and Jackie Goodman and the neighborhood as heroes. Here’s a short (correct) timeline, along with what they got wrong:

  1. Prior to 2000, SCB allows parking in bike lanes. This is something which nobody would do today; these bike lanes predate modern bicycle traffic engineering practice.
  2. SCB’s turn comes in the “let’s ban parking in existing bike lanes” carousel. The past couple of years saw the no-parking signs go up on about a half-dozen streets with old bike lanes such as Mesa Dr.
  3. City staff from bike/ped program decides to be nice and come up with a plan which allows on-street parking on one side of the street (see this picture). Chronicle writer misconstrues this as a bike lane “on one side of the street”.
  4. Neighborhood freaks. Jackie Goodman sides with them, of course.
  5. Staff and neighborhood come up with an “alternating sides” strategy where there’s still only parking on one side, but it winds back and forth every so often.
  6. The “alternating sides” strategy is tested and fails.
  7. Charles Gandy comes in and convinces the neighborhood and a couple of well-meaning but naive cyclists that this plan can work.
  8. City engineers reject that plan for liability reasons (damn straight – look at the pictures again if you have to).
  9. Fallback plan of maintaining slightly modified original layout with some bulb-outs. IE, instead of 12-13 ft travel lanes with 7-8 ft “bike lane with parking”, we get 10-ft travel lanes with 10-ft “bike lane with parking”. Chronicle writer misrepresents city engineers’ opposition as against this fallback plan rather than to Gandy’s 10-4-6 disaster.

And of course the conclusion to the article comes from Paul Nagy. As one person on Michael Bluejay’s page put it:

Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process — however slight — was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his “solution” would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don’t feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others — except Dahmus — were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it’s clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an “expert,” and clearly he is not.
At the point where the original design — which was agreed upon by the original consensus committee as final — was tossed back, Nagy and Gandy jumped on the opportunity to assume the helm without any input from anyone else. There is NO cycling voice in the process AT ALL now.

Pure hatchet-job. Where are you, Lauri Apple and Mike Clark-Madison?

Here’s the letter. Let’s see if it makes it in.

In reference to this week’s column by Daniel Mottola, allow me to suggest that in the future a columnist who picks up a long-running issue for the first time be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the history of the issue before writing a wrap-up. For one thing, the city staff proposal originally presented by a long-serving and dedicated employee of the bike/ped program had bike lanes on both sides of the street, with on-street parking allowed only on one side. No proposal with a bike lane on one side of the street only was ever proposed.

More importantly, both Michael Bluejay (http://bicycleaustin.info/roadways/shoalcreek.html) and myself (http://www.io.com/~mdahmus/trans/shoalcreek.html) have long had summaries of the issue with diagrams. I highly encourage people to look at the picture of Charles Gandy’s original proposal at http://www.dahmus.org/iofiles/trans/consultplan.html (showing a cyclist narrowly avoiding getting disembowled as they attempt to travel between a SUV and a parked truck) before coming to conclusions that Jackie Goodman’s “give the neighborhood whatever they want no matter what” position was the right one.

The city engineers deserve medals, not ridicule, for standing up for the safety of cyclists and against the bogus 4-foot-bike-lane next to substandard-parking-lane design supported by Gandy and the neighborhood. The “shared multipurpose lanes” were a REACTION to their threat not to sign off on Gandy’s plan, another thing your columnist gets wrong.

In short: the Shoal Creek debacle showed that even on the most important route in the city for commuting cyclists, the city doesn’t have the guts to put safe travel for cyclists ahead of on-street parking (even when on-street parking is preserved on one side of the street). The multipurpose lanes are essentially what was on the street to begin with – a solution that no traffic engineer or bicycle coordinator would today approve — bicycle lanes which cars can park in at will.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commissioner
and Only No Vote on Great Shoal Creek Debacle of ’00

If “not going far enough” was the only problem…

I wouldn’t be campaigning against this thing.
This entry is good for people seeking back-story; the linked articles form a “best of” collection from this blog explaining various supporting arguments for the Pro-Transit But No vote on Capital Metro this time around.

Today kicks off with another Chronicle mention in which they say:

Opponents like Mike Dahmus, a member of the city Urban Transportation Commission, say the current commuter rail plan does not go far enough.

The real problem here, as I’ve covered again and again and again, is that this line (unlike light rail) will require shuttle-buses for all commuters every single day and will thus fail miserably at attracting passengers from the suburban (non-bus-riding) population. Since this line, unlike light rail in 2000, doesn’t run anywhere near the areas of central Austin where transit enjoys high use and overwhelming popularity, it can’t make up the difference with progressives either.

Simply not going “far enough” could be fixed with some hard work. But this plan not only goes the wrong way, it precludes light rail from being built to “fix” it. Additionally, it’s SO INCREDIBLY CRAPPY that it’s going to “show” pretty conclusively that Austinites “don’t want rail”. Which, I think, is what Mike Krusee and Fred Gilliam had in mind the whole time….

Chronicle mention

Today’s Chronicle has a piece by Mike Clark-Madison which to its credit remembers that there are people (well, A person anyways) willingly to publically oppose the ASG plan on the grounds that it’s a crappy rail system, rather than the Neanderthal view pushed by Skaggs & Company that we need to build more freeways instead.

Unfortunately, the tone of the article basically matches the endorsement at the front, that being that you Must Vote Yes Or Capital Metro Will Die.

This ties into my yet-as-unwritten piece which explains why this very real fear should not make you vote Yes this time around – because the fear that an implemented starter line which doesn’t pull in any new transit customers will be even worse for the long-term future of rail transit in this city.

I’ve not had any trouble making this case in public – with the exception of Scott Polikov, I think the pro-ASG guys treat it with respect and not with the disdain showed in the endorsement section today. Unfortunately, that’s not making enough headway to win the day. The approach currently proposed by the pro-ASG-but-we-know-it-sucks crowd is to pass it and then work to fix it. That falls short in two ways:

  1. As I keep saying, this commuter rail line precludes light rail in the urban Lamar/Guadalupe corridor so the only “fix” you could do would be streetcars, which aren’t enough of a fix to make any difference
  2. Since this plan has been sold as an isolated step, after which all expansions involving rails must come up for additional votes, the poor performance of the initial line (unless I’m wrong and suburbanites fall in love with shuttle buses) will make it impossible to even get #1 off the ground.

The end.