Short, cheaply done, endorsement against Prop 1

As a former proud member of the city’s Urban Transportation Commission, stuff I am disgusted with Cynthia Weatherby’s transparently obvious water-carrying for Mayor Adler in making clearly false statements about the CACDC rail plan. Shame on you.

Had my sponsor asked me to say anything that was this dishonest to the public, physiotherapy I would have immediately resigned my position in protest. It’s to his credit that he never did ask for anything like that when marketing a transportation issue, information pills unlike Mayor Adler (this is the second time it has become clear that Adler has sent his appointee to a commission with less than savory instructions).

Urban Transportation Commission talks rail, sidewalks, bond dismay

Please read CACDC’s comprehensive, detailed, response to her claims.
This has to be quick because I’m very busy today.

I had high hopes for the AURA organization as an honest, approved ethical, food freedom-oriented counterbalance to the ANC that could act as a “force-multiplier”, viagra 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.

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
All prop 1’s suck, weight loss at least lately.

Two facebook comments I have assembled into what will hopefully give you the general gist of my position:

Austin has a nearly perfect record of projects being sold as “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” when they are actually making things worse, and this bond is no exception. The amount of money dedicated to speeding suburban commutes for the mayor’s donor class (as well as “getting buses out of your way”) vastly dwarfs what little good will result from the crumbs thrown to bike and pedestrian projects. It makes things worse for transit by promoting bus pull-outs (which even when paired with queue jump signals can only make things worse for transit, not better). And it quite likely prevents rail transit from ever being built on our best transit corridor.

I recommend people vote no.

(and then, in response to a “so what would YOU do, M1EK” reply):

1. No suburban spending at all (no 360, no North Lamar, no 969). Spending general funds on state highways makes the gas tax subsidy to the suburbs even worse.

2. No beautification spending at all. While I like medians more than chicken lanes, the COC should pay for it.

3. No reserved transit lanes on the route the voters just rejected.

4. No transit-and-turn lanes on Guadalupe, which will preclude rail and not do much good for buses.

5. At the end of this, float a $200M bond for bike/ped projects only. That saves enough bond capacity for rail later.


  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 

A letter I just sent to City Council

Mayor and council members: I want to call your attention to the Planning Commission meeting this week – specifically the treatment given by some of the commissioners to Tyler Markham, more about a UT student and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. If you watch the video record of the meeting, read I believe you will see a young man who is highly professional trying to make a decent, pills objective, case for something he believes in. For his trouble, he’s treated aggressively and unprofessionally by several members of the Planning Commission. I myself served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000-2005, and would never have dreamed of treating a speaker in the way these commissioners have treated Mr. Markham. I urge you to reprimand your appointees and make it clear to them that their behavior was unacceptable.

The mayoral runoff

I’ve started this spreadsheet (read-only link; you can save and edit as you like) of mostly strong pro-rail boxes in 2000 (basically central Austin, hair until I hit the part of town where it started to lose – so a few non-yes precincts are included for geographic completeness). I didn’t go as far south as some people would; I consider central Austin to stop at Oltorf and go no further north than approximately Koenig. I did include some of lower East Austin.

Screenshot sample here:

20141115railspreadsheetpicture1

2014 results: http://traviselectionresults.com/enr/contest/display.do?criteria.electionId=20141104&contestId=71

2000 results: http://www.centralaustincdc.org/images/Rail_2000.pdf

So far, it looks like in extreme central Austin alone, a 2000 margin in the 2014 boxes would have yielded around a 5600 swing in votes (2800 nos changing to yeses, essentially). This is not yet sufficient to change the balance of the 2014 election (margin was about 27,000), but it is clearly a major portion of the swing.

Some key notes:

I have excluded Mueller because nobody lived there in 2000, so we can’t assign a reasonable value for their margin. The “mostly Mueller” precinct went for by 64% (1580/2470) – if I was forced to guess how they would have voted on the 2000 plan, I’d say 70%+. I also excluded one precinct on Auditorium Shores where 1 guy voted.

The 2000 report only has ranges for precinct margins. You can change the assigned value for each range in your copy of the spreadsheet if you want. I chose 75% for the “over 70%” boxes, 65% for the “60-70%” boxes, etc.

The precincts do not line up exactly. A few shifted boundaries, some were combined, numbers changed, etc. I have noted which precincts in 2000 I considered the most relevant for 2014. Again, you can save the spreadsheet yourself and change this if you wish. If more than one 2000 precinct was used for comparison, I averaged their assigned values first.

 
Why you should consider Martinez: He understands transit a lot for one of our city council, price which is admittedly a low bar. He has made some good urbanist choices in the past on the dais.

Also consider Martinez if: you believe he can, urticaria by himself, stop the (bad policy) 20% homestead exemption. Even though the impact of this is much smaller than most people would think (the city’s portion of your tax bill is relatively small; this doesn’t affect AISD or the county or ACC), it’s a move in the wrong direction.

Also consider Martinez if: you’re under the mistaken impression this is a strong mayor city. He makes good decisions sometimes and is not afraid to fight sometimes instead of compromise — which would be useful if our form of government had, let’s say, a mayoral veto. It doesn’t, though.

What should give you pause about Martinez: He hasn’t disavowed Project Connect at all. Despite being a ‘fighter’ he’s never fought any bad thing coming out of Capital Metro. He’s likely to produce bad transit plans in the future that don’t listen to anybody. He has made some really bad ads about Adler that verge on gaybaiting (the opera one) and incredibly misleading Koch-tying (the recent ones) and lying (the even more recent ones alleging Adler never did any public service, basically).

Why you should consider Adler: He seems to be a compromiser, and a facilitator, and likely to get along with everybody, which seems to be important given the clusterf**k the rest of the Council is looking like. In our system of government, remember, the mayor is just a council member with only a few non-ceremonial powers like running meetings. He seems interested in learning in areas where he is weak (which, sadly, transit is first and foremost). His ads promise to make it easier to redevelop your property, which implies a less than slavish adherence to the ANC (don’t tell them though). His ads have not been dirty and not been negative (and the one dumb thing his campaign did was from the campaign treasurer, see below). I have a hard time believing Adler would have been craven enough to behave as shamefully as all of our city council did with regards to Project Connect. He actually said he thought the PC process was bullshit, something which is fundamentally true. Some former city council members I respect have endorsed him.

Also consider Adler if: the 20% HEx is really important to you and you don’t care about renters or less affluent homeowners. It’s gonna be a big break over in Tarrytown, but not as big as people think.

What should give you pause about Adler: He’s said many dumb things about transit and transportation. Remember, anybody who puts “telecommuting” and “staggered work hours” and “traffic light synchronization” high on their list is either pandering or knows nothing about transportation. His campaign treasurer is a charity-industrial-complex socialite-type who has been nasty to me in the past and has also said dumb things about transit and transportation and unreservedly trusts people like JMVC. He supports the awful policy of the 20% homestead exemption. He doesn’t ever get specific on anything (I hate this). Even though he’s going to be 1 of 11 with some ceremonial extras, I still want to know specifics about what he would do and how he would vote (I expect this from any city council candidate and am often disappointed). Leffingwell endorsed him although this may be due to sour grapes.

Who should you vote for? Make your own choice. I lean Adler, for the top reasons of (council-wrangling) and (hasn’t been evil wrt Project Connect); and offered Adler’s campaign a possible endorsement if they wrote me back on a simple question, but they didn’t bother in time. So technically no endorsement here. Unlike some of my friends in AURA, I’m not going to say you’re crazy if you go the other way from me. I recognize that Adler’s lack of a record is an unfair advantage here, but Martinez’ campaign has made me grit my teeth, and frankly, I don’t think people should be able to get away with what they all did with Project Connect with no negative consequences.

Endorsements, if anybody cares

Dave Sullivan, generic
for months, ampoule on the CCAG, ampoule
at meetings like this one:

“Nobody will show me the data! Show me the data!”

AURA, yesterday, released the latest paper, with data on why Highland/ERC will cripple our transit system and prevent any future rail lines from being built.

20141020auracover

This is the same argument, with data, presented over the last few months by Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano. Dave Sullivan has been pointed to him on multiple occasions, by many people, including yours truly; with no response. Example:

20131204mikelettertodavesullivan

A contemperaneous po

Dave Sullivan, 10/13/2014:

20141013sullivancomment

Any questions?
Everybody except Mayor is here. I’ll write some thoughts on mayor next, vitamin but short of endorsement.

D1: DeWayne Lofton (served on UTC with me for a time if I remember correctly).

D3: Pio Renteria, order because Almanza is a disaster. Nothing to do with transit or land use; she’s just a disaster overall.

D4: Greg Casar. Interested in transportation and doesn’t have any dumb ideas. Pressley is an embarassment, as are those who endorsed her despite FLUORIDE.

D6: Jimmy Flanigan. Exactly the same as above except substitute Zimmerman for Pressley and SUE EVERYBODY for FLUORIDE.

D7: Pool. Yes, I know Jeb is an urbanist. Supposedly. But he’s also been aggressively an asshole on Proposition 1, and has been unrepentant in it. It’s just amazing to me that AURA falls all over themselves to endorse a guy who called them whiny foot-stomping babies. Why would you trust a guy who played along with the liars to do what he says he’s going to do later anyways?

Oh, and he hired a guy from the Prop 1 disaster to be his campaign manager. I almost want to move to District 7 just to vote in this one.

D8: Scruggs. I still think a Circle C environmentalist is an oxymoron, but it’s better than a Hays County type.

D10: Dealey, reluctantly. She’s an ANC tool but not as much as Tovo will be, but that’s still better than the candidate endorsed by Austin’s awful old sprawl-subsidizin’ CoC mayors like Cooke and Todd.

Mayor later – with some back and forth.

How pro-Proposition-1 establishment figures try to get away with it

Dave Sullivan, for months, on the CCAG, at meetings like this one:

“Nobody will show me the data! Show me the data!”

AURA, yesterday, released the latest paper, with data on why Highland/ERC will cripple our transit system and prevent any future rail lines from being built.

20141020auracover

This is the same argument, with data, presented over the last few months by Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano. Dave Sullivan has been pointed to him on multiple occasions, by many people, including yours truly; with no response. Example:

20131204mikelettertodavesullivan

A contemperaneous post by Julio that I was hoping Dave would read: “Highland Score”, November 2013.

Did he ever stop saying “show me the data! Why won’t anybody show me the data?”?

No, he didn’t. Now we move forward to last week.

Dave Sullivan, 10/13/2014:

20141013sullivancomment

Any questions?

What now for VMU?

In yesterday’s post, steroids seek I showed that transit service along our best VMU corridor (Lamar/Guadalupe) has been significantly degraded by the introduction of Rapid Bus. Along this corridor, bronchi you used to be able to count on “show up and go” local service, but now you absolutely cannot.

The vast majority of tracts directly abutting the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor are eligible for VMU development like the one I used as an example in yesterdays post, based on an ordinance passed back in 2008.1 The arguments in favor of VMU on core transit corridors, made by people including yours truly, rested on the premise that because there was frequent, useful, transit there, we should allow denser development and reduce parking requirements for that development. Since we could assume that a larger percentage of tenants of those buildings would be willing to use transit than for the city as a norm, in other words, we would not listen to the complaints of the nearby neighborhoods that they’d all be driving on Lamar and Guadalupe every day making their lives more miserable.

Now it’s 2014, and this statement:

On this VMU corridor, transit is frequent and useful

is NO LONGER TRUE.

If we were debating the set of attempts by neighborhoods along Guadalupe and Lamar to opt-out of the VMU ordinance today, in other words, it would not be honest to make the statement above.

So what, you say? Well, remember, the VMU ordinance and the approval/rejection of the opt-in and opt-outs were not unanimously done by committed urbanists. The council at the time had one committed urbanist, one urbanist with some checkered history, one anti-urbanist, and four moderates.

Four. Moderates.

Do you know what sold those four on VMU? Over the objections of neighborhood associations that tried to opt out of almost everything? After all, Hyde Park’s neighborhood association attempted to opt out of essentially all of Guadalupe!

So what worked with those four moderates? It was this:

On this VMU corridor, transit is frequent and useful

Note that we do not need to count how many people in apartments on Lamar/Guadalupe use transit to understand this point. Politically speaking, the presence of useful frequent transit allowed those moderates to make what we urbanists consider the “right decision” and not only pass this ordinance but expend political capital to reject attempts by Hyde Park and other neighborhood associations to wiggle out of it.

So now that the useful, frequent, service is gone, what happens? Most VMU projects along Lamar/Guadalupe are still very attractvie, of course; developers will pretty much build to the maximum entitlements on these corridors today given the vast demand for rental housing. But when neighborhoods find pretextual objections (and they will; nothing is ever cut and dry), future councils will be more likely to side with the neighborhoods than the urbanists, because, once again, transit service on Lamar and Guadalupe is no longer ‘frequent and useful’.

What are we likely to see instead, assuming the neighbors win more of those battles, and since we’ve decided to destroy local bus service on Lamar/Guadalupe in favor of more expensive but less useful express service? Hello, Steven Zettner’s vision of density ONLY near the major intersections (where the rapid bus stops happen to be located). No longer will we see 4 or 5 story VMU buildings along the entire corridor; instead, we’ll see 4 or 5 story buildings near the Rapid stops, and decaying single-story strip malls in the rest.2 The ‘moderates’ in the future city council will vote the neighborhood association’s way when in doubt, because, again, useful and frequent transit is no longer part of the equation.

Core Transit Corridors map from 2007 Austin Chronicle
Core Transit Corridors map from 2007 Austin Chronicle

To the right is the “Core Transit Corridors” map used to kick off VMU planning back in 2007. Note the complete absence of Highland, by the way. Honestly, only the two Rapid Bus corridors have seen any significant VMU development (East Riverside is starting to show some signs, with major flaws).

Thus, this affects not only Lamar/Guadalupe, but also South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar (which were the other corridors that got nearly completely zoned VMU mostly over neighbors’ objections).

Does that sound important to you yet? Well, we’re getting there. Next up: Urban rail.


  1. I was hoping to have found a map of properties along this corridor eligible for VMU, but they may have aged off, and I’m not particular good with the city’s GIS. If somebody feels like doing some work, let me know. 

  2. Don’t be foolish enough to think we can upzone near the rapid stops to make up for the decline of the whole corridor, in other words; we’re not going to get 20 story buildings around the stops there to make up for 1 story elsewhere; we’ll be lucky if we can get 4 or 5 

Update on FTA and Lamar

I don’t claim to know Leffingwell’s motivation, what is ed but everything else in this short post from Dave Dobbs via twitlonger is accurate:

“Austin’s Proposition One is a poison pill for democracy and the new 10-1 council.

My view is that when Mayor Leffingwell found himself on the losing end of the 10-1 vote, page he decided to make his prediction that such a council so constituted couldn’t function by saddling that future council with enormous debt and a totally non sequitur urban rail plan that doesn’t go where most people go, symptoms doesn’t address congestion, has far too few riders for far too much cost, will see too little fare box return and that will negatively impact bus service. Additionally, the convoluted rail ballot language politically encumbers the new council with certificates of obligation (CO) for $400 million in roads that will do nothing for Austinites, while at the same time authorizing bonds for a rail proposal that the FTA is not likely to put high on the list. And because Austin changed the original destination from Mueller to Highland ACC, another three years of federal planning (and more money) will be necessary to even get on the list for federal funding.

The bottom line here is that if Austin’s Proposition 1 passes, a new council, awash with voter mandated debt, will have it’s hands tied; subject to the charge that it’s not carrying out the voter’s wishes if it doesn’t spend the money. In short, passage of the rail bonds and the problematic road CO’s associated with those bonds is going to create endless static in council chambers for years. How can anything productive come out of that?”

Dave Dobbs,
Texas Association for Public Transportation

A short interlude from the “urbanists, search seriously, the rail election is important” thread:

As somebody who was involved in the Project Connect Phase 1 process, I can tell you that the inclusion of Highland as a high-scoring choice for the final projects to move forward into Phase 1 was a complete surprise to all of us. Highland is an awful segment of the route. It only works if you ignore every bit of good advice about how to build urban rail – it assumes park-and-rides on the highway for suburbanites are how we fill trains for an urban service. Nobody who was involved in Project Connect Phase 1 liked Highland.

Except, apparently, the Chamber of Commerce.

I’ve made the case lately that the Highland alignment was flat-out chosen for us BY the Chamber of Commerce, based on circumstantial evidence (what other reason could there be?) – and please don’t quote me Project Connect statistics; that entire process was a complete joke. It’s certainly not a good choice on transit grounds (see “urban rail should be urban” series underway at another great blog – CarFree Austin). But when I’ve suggested that the Chamber picked this line, I’ve been attacked by people at the Chamber and told it’s nonsense.

Huh.

Then I got an anonymous tip.

I wonder if you guys would like to see a video.

This is an excerpt from Citizens Communications from 6/13/2014 at the CCAG meeting. The speaker is Beth Ann Ray from the Chamber of Commerce. The full video of the meeting is here at the City, I suggest you click on “Item 5” on the right and then advance to about 15:30.

Transcript of this section, by me:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Let’s look at that transcript again, with some added emphasis:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Hmmm. I suppose it’s just a coincidence that nobody except the Chamber liked Highland, and Highland ended up being picked, right?

A comment by Roger Cauvin, epidemic originally on facebook and then made to this post about Lamar/Guadalupe and the FTA which deserves promotion, immediately following:

In the debate around the proposed urban #rail plan in #Austin, one of many areas where I see unfortunate speculation pertains to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding. Some advocates of the current plan contend that the already-approved FTA funding of #MetroRapid on the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor precludes such funding for #rail on the same corridor.

A Capital Metro memo (see attached image of memo obtained through an open records request by the Central Austin Community Development Corporation) attempts to summarize its correspondence with the FTA on the issue. Unfortunately, people have different interpretations of the memo and perhaps no knowledge of the actual contents of the correspondence.

Yet this memo was used as a sort of “trump card” to put to rest further consideration of the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor for the initial rail investment.

Fast forward to August 25, when I attended a press conference covering the #MetroRapid 803 launch. Bob Patrick, the regional administrator for our region, as well as Gail Lyssy, the deputy regional administrator, attended the event.

It occurred to me that, if so much speculation is swirling around the issue of FTA funding, why not just ask these FTA administrators directly, and in person? So I did. Would existing MetroRapid funding by the FTA preclude funding Austin’s first light #rail investment on the same corridor?

Bob’s response (paraphrasing): “As far as I know, one wouldn’t preclude the other, but I’d need to check with Washington.” But he then referred me to Gail Lyssy as someone who could give me a more definitive answer.

Gail’s verbatim reply, after I asked her the same question: “Absolutely not. We’d work it out.”

Now, I don’t think these informal exchanges, by themselves, put to rest speculation about FTA funding. But they do suggest the issue merits further exploration through direct contact with the FTA instead of continued speculation.

Project Connect Phase 1 Lie Number 2

“We can’t ask the Federal government to fund urban rail on Lamar/Guadalupe because they already paid for Rapid Bus, and they told us they wouldn’t pay for it, and would instead demand all the BRT money back” or variations of same.

This one has legs. I even believed it myself to an extent, once. It’s a little complicated, because nobody at the FTA is truly going to go on the record, but there’s a couple of angles here that are clearly about Project Connect misleading the public (i.e. misinforming; even lying).

In 2004, though, the project was originally marketed to voters as a “possible placeholder for future urban rail”. Unfortunately, this was before I learned I needed to save images of anything put up by Capital Metro, so you’re going to have to trust my memory on this one. Suffice to say I didn’t find it compelling back then as I believed this was an attempt to get central Austin voters to support the plan but that Capital Metro had no interest in actually following through with the “first rapid bus, then rail” angle. They took down that language right after the election, by the way.

Fast forward, then, to Project Connect in 2012.

The first angle – was it ever on the table?

At the beginning of the Project Connect process, we were told that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and would be fairly evaluated. We were also told for years, in no uncertain terms, that Rapid Bus should not be stopped because it was not an obstacle to urban rail there. Now, granted, I didn’t always believe this myself – note that in this very blog, back in 2006, I approvingly linked to a Statesman article about Leffingwell and McCracken halting (for a time!) Rapid Bus because they correctly determined that wasting our best rail corridor on buses no better than current #101 service was incredibly stupid.

Capital Metro and Project Connect employees went to great pains to tell people (in person) that Lamar/Guadalupe was not precluded from the urban rail corridor selection process by the presence of Rapid Bus. This is the only reason I bothered to get involved with the process! People like Jace Deloney were told by people like John-Michael Vincent Cortez that there was no obstacle to Guadalupe getting trains on it. Cortez spent the better part of an hour dissembling at an Urban Transportation Commission meeting to Deloney’s questions about Rapid Bus – saying variants of “well, we could put urban rail there, but why would you ever want to, because Rapid Bus is going to be so great”.

Put a pin in this – we’ll get back to this later.

Project Connect Phase 1 went through their ridiculous, contrived, process which was obviously designed to produce justification for the predetermined rail route to Hancock. I think most of us have finally settled on that characterization by now. But one of the most irritating things, at least to Project Connect, about this process was their failure to convince the public to abandon the Guadalupe corridor as their #1, by far, choice. Despite the flawed (on purpose) design of the study; despite all the shenanigans, people still preferred Guadalupe by large margins to either of the corridors Project Connect wanted them to prefer. People still weren’t choosing the corridors Project Connect had been designed to get them to prefer! Those ungrateful wretches!

So at the very end of the phase, Project Connect and their lapdogs  went on a full-court press to explain to people why, despite massive continuing public preference, we would not be studying Lamar/Guadalupe in Phase 2. The claim was made that they had back-channel correspondence with the FTA that indicated they would not look kindly on ripping out MetroRapid right as it was starting just to put in urban rail. Which is where we get to the next angle. But first:

This is where I really got pissed off.

A lot of people spent a lot of time on the premise that our best rail corridor was, in fact, on the table. I took time away from my job and my family to do so. Many others took much more time away from their jobs and their personal lives. So it’s incumbent on Project Connect to tell us why they lied at the beginning, or why they’re lying now, because it has to be one or the other. Either Guadalupe was on the table, in which case they lied at the end; or it was never on the table, in which case they lied at the beginning. We are owed an explanation for this. I explained that last bit in a note I sent over my Thanksgiving holiday, for god’s sake, and nobody ever even attempted to resolve this at Project Connect or at the CCAG.

The second angle – did they even ask the FTA the right question?

Any urban rail project won’t be tearing up streets right away, even if it passes in November of 2014. The first time you’d see jackhammers and bulldozers would be at least 3 or 4 years further down the road – so let’s say 2017. Additionally, as pointed out by numerous people on both sides of the issue, the proposed alternative urban rail alignment (starter) for Lamar/Guadalupe only overlaps the middle quarter or third of the Rapid Bus alignment. Finally, nobody proposed eliminating Rapid Bus immediately, although I think we can all agree that running buses like that through a construction zone on the Drag would really suck. Slightly worse than running them through normal Drag traffic!

So did they ask the FTA “What would you do if we started upgrading the middle part of the Rapid Bus corridor to urban rail in 2017 or 2018?”

Nope. According to their public statements, they asked the FTA “How about if we immediately stop Rapid Bus1 and start working on urban rail here. How would you guys feel about that?”

Of COURSE the FTA said “you’d have to pay us back our Rapid Bus money”. To that question, why would you expect anything else? But even if we had to pay back the Rapid Bus money, it’s still peanuts compared to how much money we’re going to spend on Urban Rail, both Federal and local.

To equate “Can we just immediately stop Rapid Bus right now” with “Would you mind if we started upgrading the middle part of the corridor 3 or 4 years after service begins, probably continuing to run Rapid Bus as-is on the north and south ends of the corridor” is disingenuous. Misleading. Dishonest. Some might even say – a lie. To say nothing of the fact that during this phase of planning, we’re supposed to be talking about ‘corridors’, not ‘streets’; and some people like “OurRail” are proposing running urban rail a block off the Drag anyways, further reducing the area of supposed conflict to just a mile or two.

Finally, we heard from the guy at Capital Metro who planned the whole Rapid Bus project. Surely he’d set all of the Lamar/Guadalupe partisans right. Surely he’d line up with the fine leaders of the political machine on this one. Right?

The third angle: The guy in charge of Rapid Bus planning

I watched a CCAG meeting where Surinder Marwah spoke, and have been on a lot of email threads where he was CC’ed. He responded in onethread to a question by me of whether John Langmore had ever been forced to explain why the Rapid Bus project manager would support rail on Guadalupe (this is an edit from early versions of this post – I missed it the first time around). His response had a bunch of good technical detail about the FTA, useful life of bus projects, the definition of “permanence”, etc. which I’d have to go seek permission to repost.

However, Lyndon Henry has already done the legwork on this one. From an article in Railway Age:

Indeed, Surinder Marwah — the Capital Metro planner who originally designed the MetroRapid project and helped secure FTA Small Starts funding — corroborates MetroRapid’s role as a precursor to urban rail, and disputes that the project was ever intended to block rail in the G-L corridor. Marwah ranks as a strong and knowledgeable advocate of urban rail in the corridor.

Oops. Well, surely the FTA itself can be trusted to back up the leaders of our local political machine?

The fourth angle: The FTA’s Actual Public Response

Posted by the Central Austin CDC and others, this is the actual content of the response from the FTA to requests for information about this issue:

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What the FTA says here is that they would consider funding urban rail in this corridor as if it was any other corridor; but they might want some of the BRT money back (because, of course, they were asked the wrong question – listed above).

Even when asked a leading question implying a complete abandonment of the “BRT” investment, the FTA said they’d still be willing to fund urban rail in this corridor. They didn’t promise they would; but for the leaders of our political machine to characterize this, as they have, as “the FTA won’t pay for urban rail there because they already paid for Rapid Bus there” is a LIE.

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That’s all the time I have for now. Look for edits as I get more.

 Further reading


  1. two months BEFORE the buses were to start running