Bill Spelman was a bully.

The week before last, when I ripped one on the radio, I took about six hours off from work and family to go downtown to give a speech before the City Council in what was supposed to finally be the one and only chance to give meaningful public input on the Project Connect plan.

I had this outline ready to speak to – planned at a minimum of 3-6 minutes but expandable to the full 15 minutes that I apparently had to use thanks to others’ donations.

As you probably know, at the last second, council voted 5-2 (at Mayor Leffingwell and Mike Martinez’ seeming direction, with Councilmember Bill Spelman’s vote in favor) to limit testimony. Roughly 2 hours of anti-plan testimony had been signed up by then and roughly 30 minutes of pro-plan testimony. Each side was given 30 minutes; and the anti-plan side ended up with more like 20 due to interference by Leffingwell.

As I was walking back from the podium after my abbreviated speech, Spelman called out from the dais something like “I don’t remember seeing Mr. Dahmus or Mr. Morris at any CCAG meetings”.

This was bullying, people. We already have a significant and obvious (and appropriate) power imbalance. But to make it worse by trying to color perception of my short speech by calling my credibility into question was beyond the pale.

As a matter of fact, I gave a speech at the November CCAG (again having to take hours off of work and family obligations) – and Spelman didn’t hear that speech because he arrived late. And I know Scott Morris did so on at least one occasion as well. But this is also not the only time we’ve talked on this. His kid and my kid were in the same chess tournament last fall – and both Mr. Morris and myself talked with him at length on that occasion about our concerns.

After Spelman made that comment, I attempted to answer from the back of the room “I spoke in November” but was cut off by the mayor with “No speaking from the gallery”. Mr. Spelman did not ask me a question; he just let the perception stand that I had shown up at the last second and had no idea what I was talking about when I said there were no true opportunities to shape the plan.

I gave Mr. Spelman more than a week to communicate with me (I emailed him, attached below). He has not done so. The only conclusion I can come to now is that despite his public image as the affable wonk, Bill Spelman is every bit the bully as the mayor has already proven himself to be.

Sent on June 27th, to no response:

This message is from Mike Dahmus. [ mike@dahmus.org ]
Mr. Spelman, Regarding last night’s council meeting, I’m not sure you heard my response as the mayor immediately cut me off. I didn’t find your comment appropriate but am not sure you even heard the answer either. In fact, I gave a speech at the November CCAG (to which you arrived late). Like most of the people in the true grassroots, I have to take time off from work to speak to you in virtually any venue. Despite this, I also participated 4 or 5 times in Project Connect events. Kyle Keahy and Scott Gross have spent enough time talking to me that they know me well by now. My comments about public involvement are from experience. I’d like to give you a short window to respond and correct this misunderstanding before I open up. I’m quite angry still about last night, and I want to make sure you’re not included if you don’t deserve to be. Please let me know soon. Thanks, Mike Dahmus mike@dahmus.org

It’s July 9th. Nothing came back. I’ve waited long enough for an apology. Bill, you used to be one of my most admired Austin politicians, but at the end you were a bully. Austin deserved better than this.

spelman

Update on McMansion Ordinance

Tonight the City Council considers it. I spoke before the Planning Commission on Tuesday night (very late) and was covered by Fox 7 (including screen time I missed seeing, although my cow orker says I did pretty well) and the Statesman. Oddly, KVUE spent the most time with me but didn’t even run a story on the meeting (admittedly it went so late everybody had to cover it on Thursday instead of Wednesday). Maybe once they figured out I was ‘the crackpot’ they abandoned the story.

The Chronicle’s fluff coverage of this issue makes me sad. I alerted them to this impending fight a couple of weeks ago, but all they’ve done is this analysis-free notice-like blurb.

Planning Commission gave a thoughtfully skeptical endorsement – raising the FAR for lots with duplexes or garage apartments to 0.5 (which completely lets us of the hook and is a great help to our neighbors, as well as reducing MOST of the city-wide affordable housing disincentives in the original ordinance).

It’s being fought vigorously by the Task Force, who, frankly, doesn’t like secondary housing units in general (as well as multifamily development in the urban core. And McDorms. And superduplexes. Keep pluggin’ them loopholes!).
Meanwhile, the one city council member who bothered to respond to me is apparently using boilerplate about how this ordinance is a supposed “compromise”. (Not the PC version, but the original 0.4 FAR version). How, exactly, is this a compromise? I give up the right to develop my property and in return I get to live among people who already developed their property in the way I’m now not allowed to do?

The rhetorical gymnastics people will go through to avoid simply opposing bad neighborhood actors are just amazing.
No further crackplogging for a while – parents are in town.

Shoal Creek Meeting Is Done

Largely as expected – council members want to remove the islands, and then we’re going to talk some more about what to do. Some indications that they’re either not willing to admit or not capable of understanding that a compromise solution is impossible for this roadway. Neighborhood people largely against the curb extensions but still adamant that parking on both sides must be preserved — which means that we’re back to bike lanes with parking in them, hich pretty much the entire rest of the world views as an oxymoron.

Here’s the letter I just sent to the three council members on the subcommittee:

Councilmembers:
I watched most of the meeting today while working at my desk, and had a couple of comments:

1. 2-way on-street bike lanes are not accepted in traffic engineering circles and have not for quite some time. They will not be an option for Shoal Creek Boulevard unless you want to override your staff.

2. Bike lanes down the median – same story.

3. A reminder: We already know there is no way to reconcile “parking on both sides” with “car-free bike lanes” on this street. There is insufficient width. Either one or more bike lanes must be abandoned, or one or more sides of parking must be abandoned.

Comments that you made in regards to #3 were especially disappointing – the failure of the previous council was in attempting to avoid this painful choice, which MUST be made. EITHER car-free bike lanes OR parking on both sides – you cannot have both. I would argue that the correct choice is to preserve on-street parking on ONE side of Shoal Creek Boulevard – this is not an unreasonable imposition on residents (my own neighborhood has highly restricted on-street parking; many streets allow it on one side and a few not at all).

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
(old email address removed)

Update from 2017: Yes, some people are actually pushing for 2-way one-side bike lanes on this roadway now, incredibly, the “bike lanes as stupid glorified sidewalks that are actually more dangerous even if they don’t feel more dangerous” fad is back!.

Letter to Council on Shoal Creek Debacle

A subcommittee of the City Council is getting some kind of an update on the Shoal Creek Debacle. I just sent this email to them.


Dear Mayor and councilmembers:
My name is Mike Dahmus, and I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000 through 2005. I cast the lone vote in opposition to the plan which (with modifications) ended up being constructed on Shoal Creek Boulevard. During my terms on the UTC, I served as the lone member who utilized both an automobile and a bicycle to commute to work — i.e., I’m not a pure cyclist, and I’m not a pure driver. I used Shoal Creek Boulevard as part of my bicycle commute for years and occasionally drove it as well.

I understand you’re going to address this issue in a subcommittee meeting this week, and I thought I should comment.
For those of you who don’t bicycle; Shoal Creek Boulevard is, without hyperbole, the most important route in the city for bicycle commuters. (It has a lot of recreational traffic as well, of course). It forms the spine of the route between northwest Austin and central Austin – alternate routes either are far too hilly for normal use (to the west) or do not connect with routes which can get cyclists across the Mopac/183/360 barrier.

Years back, Shoal Creek’s turn came up in the “let’s do what every other city does and put up no-parking signs in our bike lanes” process. Since the bike program staff at the time knew that Shoal Creek had long blocks and (some) short driveways, they offered a compromise plan which would have allowed parking on one side of the road, with smaller-than-typical bike lanes on both sides. This plan was opposed by the neighborhoods, for whom on-street parking was the priority over through cyclist travel.

Years ago, thanks to neighborhood pressure, Shoal Creek Boulevard was reclassified from a minor arterial to a residential collector (an inappropriately low classification by engineering standards). This allowed the neighborhood to then push back against that eminently reasonable plan to allow parking only on one side of the street (neighborhood partisans could declare that SCB was a ‘residential street’ and that therefore parking was more important than through traffic). The bike program plan was rejected thanks to a few neighbors who valued both-sides on-street parking more than cyclist safety.

At this point, as I’m sure many of you remember, the neighborhoods got Councilmember Goodman’s approval to start a planning process which ended with the absurd plan by Charles Gandy which none of your engineers would sign their name to, and which made Austin a laughingstock in other cities around the country. The modified version of that plan (removing the stripe between the ‘bike lane’ and the parking area) is nearly as ludicrous, but since it’s not marked as a ‘bike lane’ is nominally acceptable to engineers, I suppose.

The Shoal Creek Boulevard plan as implemented is a liability problem for the city of Austin (although not as bad as the original Gandy “10-4-6” plan would have been, since city engineers were smart enough to remove the “bike lane” designation). Sufficient space does not exist for a cyclist to safely pass parked cars and remain in the bike lane, yet drivers in the through traffic lane expect them to do so. This is a textbook example of bad traffic engineering (when one street user performs a safe and legal manuever, another street user should not be caught by surprise).

This isn’t about the curb islands, by the way. The safety obstacle for cyclists is parked cars. The curb islands must be passed in a fairly narrow space, but there’s zero chance that one of them is going to open their door while you’re passing it.

But what the curb islands and striping HAVE done is encourage more people to park on the street; increasing the frequency of the street user conflict which will eventually result in a serious injury – a car passing a cyclist while the cyclist is passing a parked car.

This entire process was nothing more than an abrogation of responsibility by the City Council. Your job is to make decisions, not to encourage a make-believe consensus when none can be found. There simply is no way to reconcile both-sides on-street parking with car-free bike lanes (and, by the way, the rest of the world views parking in bike lanes as an oxymoron). A decision either way would have been better than the mess you left us with — and cyclists are getting hurt already as a result.

I urge you to learn from this horrible mistake, and remember that your job is to make the tough decisions. Shoal Creek Boulevard has already been ruined for bicycling commuters – please don’t take this precedent anywhere else.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus