My opinion is that you should keep your skeptic hat on (see below for reasoning). But according to Caleb:
Just got a phone call from CEO Randy Clarke himself and I am pleased to report that things have been entirely patched up. He assured me the entire affair was a major misunderstanding and that whatever message the agency flak conveyed to me was not, by any means, his intent.
As for yours truly, yesterday I tweeted this:
I will give one US American dollar and an autographed commemorative photo snapshot of the transaction to anybody who can get @CapMetroCEO to actually read this entire post: https://t.co/tUlAnI7sWi
Here’s the problem. I am still blocked by @capmetroatx.
JMVC engineered this years ago; and they’ve kept it up despite claiming in person to desperately want feedback.
How seriously can you take this request to call them when they should have known that I wouldn’t even see it? (I wouldn’t, had it not been for a helpful cool dude). And how seriously can you take claims of transparency when they block their most pointed but knowledgeable critic?)
I wanted to believe that the “new way forward” meant taking transit seriously on technical grounds and not being beholden to the bad actors controlling the ANC-aligned “neighborhood associations”1. (which Martinez sometimes tacked towards and sometimes tacked against). I endorsed him, modestly, in his runoff. But that was all wishful thinking. Wishful thinking that he was aligned more to rich developers than rich landowners, basically. His ads about permitting fooled me, as did meetings he had in private with people whose judgement I trust.
As much of an unmitigated disaster as Mike Martinez was at Capital Metro, basically meaning that his governance strategy was going along with every stupid idea they ever came up with, Steve Adler is even worse – with the continued push for the homestead exemption, pandering to the aforementioned bad actors hiding behind the term “neighborhoods” worse than I ever imagined possible on every development issue2, hiring Capital Metro’s chief eel as his new chief of staff3, and most recently, an absurd traffic strategy which boils down to “every stupid thing your ignorant idiot suburban coworkers think will fix everything, a lot of which we were already doing, and none of which will do jack shit given that the grid is just fundamentally over capacity”. The traffic strategy shows he is a suburbanite, or just cravenly and ignorantly pandering to same, but either way, there is no way that ends well for the city.
I should have seen this coming, when he backed his campaign treasurer’s idiocy about the Guadalavaca bus lanes, but he fooled me (and others I trust). I also wanted to punish Martinez for his incredibly bad leadership of the transit agency and vote out anybody who voted for Prop 1, but as others pointed out at the time, it was possible to end up with somebody even worse by doing that. And it sure looks like we did.
Next in this series: I was wrong about AURA.
changed from ‘neighborhoods’ in first draft, see Roger’s comment ↩
his comment that he wanted to “let neighborhoods decide on loosening rules for ADUs” = nobody will ever build any more ADUs ↩
which some people at AURA actually thought was a good thing, which will lead into the next episode in the Mea Culpa series. There is no universe in which making that guy your chief of staff is a sign of anything but ignorance on transit and sliminess on everything else. ↩
“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.
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.
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
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.
That’s all the time I have for now. Look for edits as I get more.
I almost made this response on the twitter but thought it should be more permanent.
Trying to figure out where to put a rail line in a city where you have lots of unmet transit demand and an inadequate funding stream to do everything you want to do? IE, you live in the real world?
PUT YOUR RAIL LINE WHERE IT REQUIRES THE LEAST POSSIBLE OPERATING SUBSIDY.
It’s just that simple.
Don’t talk about disrupting traffic. Don’t talk about TOD. Don’t talk about bridges or tunnels.
If you put your rail line where it requires a very large operating subsidy, you end up having to cut bus service to make up the budgetary impact. This is what Capital Metro had to do during the early days of the Red Line. Both the best 98x buses and the 9 bus were cancelled to make up for operating subsidy overruns from the Red Line. Only today is the operating subsidy anywhere close to the original budget (and it’s still monstrously high – something like $20/ride). We’d have more buses running more routes today if the Red Line had never been built, in other words. The presence of the Red Line means that the people of Austin have less transit today than they otherwise would have. This is how you can tell it was a BAD RAIL LINE.
If you put your rail line where it requires a very small operating subsidy (ideally less than existing bus service1, you end up having MORE money to spend on more buses elsewhere, or on the next rail line. The best way to find that corridor is to find a corridor where a ton of people ride the bus, and where research indicates even more people would ride the train (because it’s more comfortable and reliable than the bus is today).
Anybody who wants to make it more complicated than that is trying to confuse you and get you to support a rail line that you should not support.
Hey, you ask. What about my second rail line?
Go back to the beginning of this post and repeat. The same, simple, formula works for every single rail line your city will ever build. Pick the corridor where the rail line will have the lowest possible operating subsidy. Rinse. Repeat.
Third rail line? Is it more complicated yet? NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THIS POST AGAIN.
NO. NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING. This simple process works for every rail line – it tells you which one you should do next.
This is how you build an actual network instead of a struggling disaster like we have in Austin. Again, anybody who tells you it’s not this simple is trying to fool you into supporting something that’s not in your best interest. They have ulterior motives, like, for instance, being on the board of a community college which took over a decaying mall2. Or, for instance, not wanting to be politically embarassed about previous bad decisions3. Or wanting to make a medical school look shinier.
By the way, if you follow this process, you don’t need to lie about your conversations with the Federal Transit Administration either. Hint.
Now I’m off to Germany. Where they actually use logic like the above. Which is why their rail networks actually, you know, work.
One way you can tell whether your city is ready for rail at all is whether you can find a corridor where rail would lower the operating subsidy compared to existing bus service. If you have no such corridor, you might not be a good candidate for rail, yet! ↩
My work situation is going to prevent me from making much effort on this today so please assume I endorse this product and/or service 100%.
No, and the Riley fig leaf last night changes nothing – it does not commit to a fair evaluation of the Lamar/Guadalupe ROUTE against whatever is shat out for Highlandmall or Highlandmueller; and it does not force a real answer about the FTA’s opinion about moving Rapid Bus in 2020 or 2022 or whenever (instead of John Langmore’s claims that made it pretty clear he implied to them he wanted an opinion on cancelling it today, bronchi in 2013). Its only tangible effect would be an attempt to delay opposition until it’s too late.
I’m continuing to urge all transit advocates to vote AGAINST the bond referendum in 2014.
if you parse Langmore’s comments it makes me think he was asking them about cancelling the project now (rather than moving the middle third in 8 years); and Project Connect staff were vocal and public at the beginning of the process that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and that we should not act as if rapid bus precluded urban rail there.
They either lied then or they’re lying now. Personally, apoplexy I believe they lied then in order to try to get more buy-in for this process (I myself believed Rapid Bus effectively precluded urban rail and was convinced to believe it might not by those staff members); but it could be now, too; the mixed messages last night about the FTA maybe considering Rapid Bus ‘permanent’ versus what the City Council eventually threw in as a fig leaf is just one obvious indicator.
The fact that the guy who ran the Rapid Bus project at Capital Metro came up and spoke in favor of Lamar and said he doesn’t buy the FTA argument should tell you something.
Lie #1 during Phase 1 of Project Connect was the justification of the collapsing of the West Campus and UT “subcorridors” (zones) into the Core subcorridor/zone “so we could ensure they would both be served by any initial alignment”.
Now, the final alignment through campus has been decided. Let’s see what we got. Click on most of these to make them bigger.
From Project Connect’s presentation to the CCAG on Friday February 21st:
Huh. Look at that. Not only do we not even see West Campus, but we can’t even see the western half OF campus. What a shock!
But it’s probably just a misleading image, right? There’s no way Project Connect would have told everybody they were going to serve West Campus and then not do so – West Campus must be just right underneath the words on the left, right?
Let’s see how far away a couple points on San Jacinto are from a location two blocks west of Guadalupe, using Google Earth. (The center of density in West Campus is not on Guadalupe – the best height entitlements are actually several blocks to the west. A ‘population center’ of West Campus in a few years will likely be 3 or 4 blocks west of Guadalupe; so me using 2 blocks is being generous to Project Connect).
Remember that the rule of thumb in transit planning for years has been that most people will not regularly walk more than a quarter of a mile from their home to their transit stop (or from their transit stop to their office). A few will do more, but the quarter-mile rule ensures you will get most of your possible transit market. Some people lately have tried to assert that good rail transit can do the same thing with a half-mile walking radius; in my opinion, this works in some cities where parking is quite difficult, but primarily on the home end of the trip, not the office end.
First, from 21st and San Jacinto to two blocks west of Guadalupe on 21st:
0.6 miles. The main density of West Campus is definitely not served by San Jacinto even by the most generous standard. Guadalupe itself is 0.48 miles away; served only barely by the most generous standard. In other words, the side of campus with the most activity is well outside the commonly accepted walking radius and just barely inside the most generous one.
Now let’s try 24th.
0.58 miles to where West Campus’ density starts. West Campus is not served at all by a stop here, either.
Finally, Dean Keeton and San Jacinto:
Nope. 0.54 miles to the start of West Campus’ density. To the start. Still outside even the most generous reading of “served”.
Project Connect, the claim of yours made back in November is still a lie.
Now it’s here, and again, everybody is surprised and dismayed.
The dismay is obvious. But why the surprise?
Honestly? It’s due, in major part, to the fact that one particular employee of Capital Metro has spent years convincing decision-makers and media-members that the author of this blog is a troll who has no idea what he’s talking about. Yes, I know this for a fact.
The last major exchange that Capital Metro employee and I had is still burned into my mind. It was on the same topic as the blog link featured further down this page, but I have yet to be able to get a twitter search tool to bring up the thread. Basically, I spent a couple of hours while on a layover in the DFW airport a couple of years ago making the fact-based case in that blog post below (about the #9 being cancelled without its planned replacement) in tweet form, calmly and rationally, only to be repeatedly told by that Capital Metro employee that I was wrong; and at the end, to be cut off again and labelled a troll. After that, I lost a considerable amount of access I previously had to some members of the media, city council and staff, and other decision-makers and thought leaders. I observed some activity myself where said Capital Metro employee was undermining yours truly with media members, and heard much more from others.
Today, that same Capital Metro employee was given an attaboy by somebody who I respect for supposedly dealing with constructive criticism well. This doesn’t make me feel happy about that person I respect, and it doesn’t make me happy about trusting the organization he leads. I hope this is just a momentary mistake.
Here’s the post which begins by showing how the Capital Metro employee in question really deals with constructive criticism, and my fact-based rebuttal to his dismissive aside to a third-party. Click the big words right after this.
I’ve been told by the leaders of the organization I mentioned above that I’m wrong for attacking said Capital Metro employee, even after that employee lied repeatedly during the Project Connect process. I’ve let leaders of the organization I mentioned above know that the Capital Metro employee in question made some clumsy threats against another supporter of said organization which were not consistent with the image of that Capital Metro employee that they continue to firmly grasp to. After all this, I find myself wondering what it takes to make those people angry. I know I’ve done so, by taking issue with their strategy and tactics both privately and publically, but apparently actually lying in order to steal political capital to support a hare-brained, mendacious, underhanded political process is just A-OK, as long as they see you a lot and you smile and shake their hand while stabbing them in the back. You’ll still be their chum, and still get lionized for your ability to handle constructive criticism.
Again, I hope I’m wrong. But like them, I’m reading some tea leaves.
to which I do not know how much energy I shall devote as it appears to be oriented towards an effort to get buy-in from the more general public who doesn’t even understand transit rather than correcting their horrible process so far. But consider this a cry for reinforcements, nd an argument against civility at the expense of policy. I don’t know if I’ll even be involved this time.
Tonight SHOULD be about the citizens of Austin telling the planners that you see through this bullshit exercise in expensive obfuscation that the machinery of the city1 and Capital Metro2 have collectively foisted on you to try to make previous plans look less stupid. It SHOULD be impossible for the ringleaders to successfully pull off a propaganda coup. But are enough of you going to be willing to fight; to be uncivil?
Me, right now, I’m rapidly becoming disillusioned about the prospects of anything improving life in Austin as even most of the people on ‘my side’ of the rail debate in Austin continue to be more interested in staying friends with the gladhanding jackasses who got us to this point than doing the right thing3 . Yes, there are still far too many people who think JMVC is their buddy; who trust the lying smile from the guy paid to mislead you more than the asshole who tells the truth, because the paid misleader shakes your hand once a week and is at all the right meetings and all the right events, while the asshole is just an unpaid hobbyist you mostly hear from on the internet who can’t devote significant time to the meetingocracy as he continues to fail to find a job downtown4 and must, therefore, ‘participate’ almost exclusively electronically from his desk near godawful Westlake High.5 There are still far too many people who won’t go out on a limb in public beyond modestly suggesting ‘this is slightly less than optimal’ while thanking the people who produced the misleading propaganda for their hard work; and then attack the manners of those like me who keep wanting to point out the Emperor’s bare ass. And there are still far too many theoretically pro-transit people who will line up behind an unquestionably bad policy decision because they think it’s good politics.
Why thank Project Connect for all their hard work when it was done in the service of a transparently obviously rigged process designed to subvert good planning and the will of the people? If you’re a Democrat, do you go thank George Bush’s staff for working so hard to help him achieve his goals, when you disagree with both the goal and the method? I’m struggling to find better analogies but I find this incomprehensible – lots of people do hard work for bad actors; do they really deserve our THANKS in the process? When they KNOW they’re doing bad work and misleading people? (This is not an opinion, people; there’s no other rational explanation for some of PC’s whoppers. When the reaction of people who watch transit planning all over the country is “#WhatASham” or “I’m going to use this as an example of bad transit planning forever”, does anybody honestly expect thanks?)
That being said, it brings up an interesting parallel – there were many people in Congress who worked to pass Obamacare knowing it was the politically wrong thing to do but it was the right thing for the country. Many of these people were warned it might serve as the end of their political career. It certainly burned up all of Obama’s political capital.
As I recall, though, more than one was uncharacteristically honest about it – “if not for this, then why are we here?” at least one said. Why bother to accumulate the political power if it only leads to attempting to maintain or enhance said power, instead of doing the things that you were sent to do? Doesn’t mean you die on every hill; but if you’re not willing to die on ANY hill, why are you even there?
The same is true here. What good is it to remain friends with the consultantocracy and the gladhanding jackasses if, at the end, the big payoff is a rail line to Highlandmueller with 8,000 boardings/day, and it’s 2040 before we can start to have another rail conversation?
If you’re falling in line because it’s good politics, in what world do you think we get to build a second urban rail line before those of us my age are dead, when the first line has 8,000 boardings a day? When we need somewhere in the low 20,000s to be considered a moderate success worth building off of?
Was the Red Line worth this very same compromise, which so many took in 2004 and urged me to take? I’d argue you’d be an idiot to think so today, but in fact, many still think so, despite the fact that it’s reached its ceiling at a whopping 2000 boardings/day; despite the fact that its monstrously high operating subsidies to mostly non-Austinites from mostly non-taxpaying cities have led to cuts in bus service for the people who pay >90% of Capital Metro’s bills. How was that a good policy decision, if it didn’t lead to another serious rail conversation until 2014; and if even then, we can’t have an honest POLICY decision about the next rail line – we still have to play idiot politics so certain people don’t look stupid about overselling the reality of Rapid Bus or Mueller? And how can those people think they made the right decision back in 2004? Hell if I know; I’m just a guy who can spend an hour every other week on this, but it sure seems obvious to me. Why is this so goddamn hard?
After I gave my short speech at the CCAG, I was actually lectured by a well-connected insider / former neighbor; and then later by a UT VP; that the fault for any lack of rail on Guadalupe/Lamar is mine, presumably for daring to continue to have contrary opinions on this and voicing them publically, which is Bad Form, instead of swallowing my objections and joining the meetingocracy.6 That it’s my fault that they have not been convinced – or in another sense, that the job in Westlake; raising three kids; trying to keep a company afloat and a couple of teams from being laid off; that these are all not valuable things to these people; and thus their inability to be convinced of what every transit professional from around the country finds inherently obvious is my fault because I haven’t quit those other responsibilities and spent months producing essentially the same research other allies already have only to have it ignored in favor of the continuous examples of ‘mistakes’, other faulty data and the rigged analysis produced by full-time people being paid to mislead the public.
I don’t have much more energy for this; and I’m not optimistic. At the end of this, I expect most of my putative allies on the G/L side to say “well, we tried” and go back to the consultantocracy, welcomed with open arms because they didn’t fight too hard.
Fuck that. Either fight hard or sell out; but don’t tell me you’re doing the first when you’re really doing the second. And you can’t fight at this point by staying friends with Project Connect; they are now the enemy. The place we have to win now is the City Council, because the CCAG has already made up their minds, and if we don’t get the City Council to FORCE them to change, it’s a done deal for Highlandmueller. This is going to require fighting to various degrees – Project Connect is a lost cause. If you could convince me of a rational path which includes “continuing to treat Project Connect like rational actors who are doing a good job and not trying to mislead people” and ends with victory, you’d have done so by now.
curiously, not city council itself, which has been to this point almost completely uninvolved in this process beyond the Mayor; see the end of the post for more ↩
somewhat likewise as with the city, although their leadership is a little more bought-in to this than the city’s is ↩
some will chide me that I give people like this guy way too much importance; that they aren’t decision-makers. True in a sense; but they are constantly in the ears of the decision-makers, and constantly in the ears of the media (except for one or two notable exceptions, and in one case, he’s actually convinced everybody on the pro-transit side that the media member was the problem to the point where I’m pretty sure I’m the only rail advocate who will even talk to the guy). Or they may say that nothing is served by fighting guys like that, but I firmly disagree; because NOT fighting guys like that gives him his power, which he then uses to co-opt you into providing legitimacy for this illegitimate process that will produce the predestined result. I say wait until this gladhanding jackass in question has convinced some members of the media and some council staff that you’re a troll before you judge me for caring about this too much. ↩
note: it would have been a lot easier to do this if we had GOOD rail heading downtown and it wasn’t so ridiculous for non-single-website heavier-duty software companies to locate there ↩
yes, this is part of the reason for the bile. God, I hate Westlake so much. ↩
these are people who actually believe, or profess to believe, that you get rail on Guadalupe right after you build a massive failure to Highlandmueller; and thus if you push too hard now you’ll not get rail on Guadalupe, which is ridiculous as rail on Highlandmueller, guaranteed failure that it is, assures we won’t see rail on Guadalupe/Lamar until I’m long dead ↩
Doing this quickly at the car dealer to get it out. Thus, store this is going to be a lot of screencaps ‘n’ paste action and poorly formatted. You are forewarned.
First, some background, via cheap and dirty screencaps of some twitter conversations; click to embiggen:
Notice how many people immediately saw the problem with this map (as soon as they looked).
Then, Project Connect finally issues an initial response; more than 24 hours later. Note that these four are in reverse order (oldest at the bottom).
Realizing right about now I should have done this in storify, but pressing onward. The first point to see here is that Project Connect is more than happy to send out updates on everything via twitter where everybody can see, but they don’t seem happy to engage with people giving feedback on that mechanism. While I understand at this point whomever’s behind the account (JMVC used to be, don’t know if he is now) is feeling a bit set upon, the fact of the matter is that if you ask for more feedback via email you’re not being transparent. People need to see both the question AND the answer for it to qualify as transparency and as Austin CDC noted earlier, previous feedback via email had been ignored.
Over the weekend and early the next week, the incredibly busy people at Project Connect who were treating this issue with the seriousness it deserved spent all their time fixing the data. Or did they?
No, they didn’t. They presented at, with the previous map book:
It was brought to the attention of the Project Connect Central Corridor team that there was a potential
issue with the Central Corridor Map Book. The team reviewed versions 1 through 4, confirmed an error
and has made the necessary corrections.
After further review of the Bus Ridership Map featured on page 36 of Map Book version 4, we
discovered that the map had been populated using the wrong data field (bus stop rankings instead of
stop boardings). The source data set posted to ProjectConnect.com was not incorrect or incomplete, but
the map in the Central Corridor Map Book displayed the wrong data field.
The project team will publish version 5 of the Map Book online in the Central Corridor Resources, on
Wednesday Oct. 23, 2013. It will include the corrected map with fall 2011 Ridership Data as well as a
new map with spring 2013 Ridership Data. Both data sets are populated using boardings (or “ons”) at
each stop; data by route is not specified on the map.
The Central Corridor Map Book is a working document that is subject to frequent updates. We
appreciate interested community members taking a vested interest in the project and providing
feedback. The Central Corridor team reviews every comment, critique and compliment received by
members of the public, regional leaders and interested parties as part of our inclusive, deliberative
process. The Project Connect Twitter and Facebook accounts continue to be great resources for
community input but if your feedback exceeds 140 characters, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The map was indeed released on Wednesday, five days after initial feedback was given. Many many people were misinformed by the previous map during that period; many more people missed the opportunity to be correctly informed by the actual data during that period; and Project Connect thinks this is no big deal.
Do you think it’s a big deal? Here’s the original map:
If you saw this map, your likely reaction (if you took it for the truth) might be: “Why are those Guadalupe/Lamar guys asking for rail when there’s so much existing transit demand out towards Mueller?”
Here’s the corrected map:
If you were a resident of Mueller and saw this map, you might even be honest and say “we don’t deserve rail over the obvious high-demand corridor here”. If you were on the Planning Commission, you’d definitely say so. But Project Connect robbed you of the opportunity to form that opinion with correct data.
Was it a simple accident? Well, it’s conceivable. But is that any better?
Let me make an analogy for you.
Suppose you’re a college student back in the day when we turned in physical papers instead of via email. You got an assignment to write a 500 word paper on why the Federal Transit Administration views existing bus ridership as the most key metric in determining the viability of rail service.
You write your paper. You print it out, and hand it in.
The professor returns it a day later with an F, indicating that you didn’t write enough words.
“I did,” you insist; “I remember writing for hours!”
The professor shows you the paper you turned in. It looks like this:
Your initial response is “that looks like my term paper, but I’ll look into it!”.
You take five days to look into it.
You finally come back to the professor and say “It looks like I only handed in the third page of my paper by accident. Here’s the next iteration of the paper” and hand the full 3 pages in.
Any professor worth their salt is going to say “Did this look like 500 words when you handed it to me? Did you even check? If this is how seriously you take my class, I’m going to explore whether I can issue a grade lower than F”.
Project Connect, if they cared at all about the data that’s theoretically informing opinions in this process, would never have let the old map go out. It was SO OBVIOUSLY WRONG that it was immediately spotted by everybody who knows anything about transit in Austin as soon as they looked at it. It’s the equivalent, for instance, of putting out a road map with Cedar Park labelled as Austin and vice-versa. There’s only two reasons this would have gone out that way – and again, the most positive one to PC is that they don’t care that peoples’ data is crap, because they don’t care about the opinions generated by those data, because they don’t intend to actually take those opinions into account.
Yeah, that’s the BETTER interpretation. The worse is that, like many other modifications to maps many of us have found, they’re messing with the data on purpose to try to get the public to actually support a lesser rail route.
Obviously I’m not among those who have, either as a political calculation, or otherwise, just politely thanked Project Connect for their corrections on this matter. As I noted above, this is not nearly enough. What would it have taken to get me not to open up on these guys?
1. An immediate and strongly worded apology last Friday for the obviously wrong map. There is no way that anybody who knows anything about transit in Austin would look at that map and say “looks fine to us!”, but that’s what they did.
2. A loud and large public relations campaign with the corrected map – show everybody who you misinformed with the old map the new map and explain the error and what it signified, instead of burying it in a PDF press release issued only from your web site. Remember, for instance, lots of people at the Mueller NA now actually think they have more bus riders going there than up Guadalupe! And they’re talking to their friends about it as we speak.
3. An immediate and serious commitment to handle all future issues of this type in a truly transparent fashion – for starters, show Austin CDC’s questions and provide answers in PUBLIC. Don’t let them go down the e-mail hole. If you feel like you can use twitter to advertise your meetings and maps, then reasonable people expect you to answer issues about them in the same forum in a timely fashion – indicating that you’d prefer such feedback via email is not acceptable.
My car’s almost done, so this is going to have to be it for now. Suffice to say these guys have not learned their lesson at ALL, and thus have not earned my trust, and they should not have earned yours either. Continue to take every thing these guys do with a hefty dose of skepticism.
Pretty much every urbanist/transitophile in Austin came out of the woodwork last night and contested JMVC’s spin on Project Connect, page for which I am eternally grateful as I was tied up learning how to be a BB-gun rangemaster and then trying to sleep off this cold before the campout this weekend.
In Fact Daily (subscription) published a story yesterday in which I square off against the mayor quote for quote.
I spoke in citizens’ communication yesterday to the CCAG. Gave up a half day to do so (had to be there to sign up at 1:15; limited slots; ended up getting there shortly after noon to make sure I got my spot). Found out as the meeting started that citizen communication is the LAST thing. Uh-oh.
My original speech was going to be about why Rapid Bus should not preclude rail in the Lamar ‘subcorridor’. Since I ended up giving my speech AFTER the ridiculous announcement that it’s going to be Highland ‘and ERC’; I ended up rewriting my speech into an indictment of the process, which has been gradually revealed to have been designed to generate the predestined conclusion that Mueller (i.e. Not Lamar) should be the initial route. (Note that Highland is, as I’m calling it, “Mueller in drag”; Kyle Keahy made sure to mention many times that it takes you right to the edge of Mueller).
Amazingly, Scott Gross had the gall to put up a slide showing an overwhelming citizen preference for Lamar over the next closest two alternatives; and then proceeded to argue it meant nothing; that their made-up or mangled data which led to misleading conclusions was somehow more valid than the opinion of the transiterati in this town. Well, he just implied that; they never went back and mentioned the overwhelming vote for Lamar again.
We all agree that ERC should be part of a fully built-out urban rail system. It is highly unlikely that it will be built first, though. The obstacles are just too high. Building another bridge over LBL is very tricky, and very expensive. Then they will have to lay a mile of track and get across I-35 just get to East Riverside’s western edge. Given that any initial starter line will (and should) connect downtown and UT, the next logical phase is to keep heading north. Heading across the lake and then down East Riverside for the first phase will require a really high initial bond amount, giving voters sticker shock.
If ERC isn’t a genuine first-phase option, then why was it named? I believe it is being dangled out there to prevent the Highland opponents from mobilizing for a fight. It will be pulled back as a true first-phase option at the last possible moment.
And we shouldn’t lose sight of this: Highland will be first. Going up to Highland Mall through UT’s eastern edge and Red River (or some route even further east) is a bad route. It’s a waste of money. And, yes, it will foreclose rail on Guadalupe/Lamar indefinitely. It will do so for a couple of reasons: (1) it will have relatively low ridership, which will dampen public support for further investments; and (2) although it is too far from Guad/Lamar to serve the dense neighborhoods on that route, it is too close to justify another investment on Guad/Lamar until other parts of town have been served.
I see their announcement of Highland/ERC as a cynical political strategy to dampen opposition until it’s too late. That deserves an “F,” not a B-.
If they put forward a plan to build ERC first, I’ll switch to B. But I don’t think that will happen.
WTB a new Cap Metro.
ERC is not going to be built in the first phase; this is the city staff being aware enough to group it with Highland so people will say “well, at least they hit SOME density (in ERC)”. It’s going to be Highland, which takes you right to the edge of Mueller, and then, oops, we’re right back to that predetermined conclusion that we should do exactly what the plan was in 2010.
The meeting will go up soon on the city channel 6 site. I’m told I was viewed as “intense”.
Tried to make my 3 minutes at 3:00 count, but there was no reaction from the CCAG; except that afterwards I was cornered by a UT VP and lectured for not having provided them much data. Sorry, ma’am, I got a job and a family; it ought to be the job of the people you PAY TO DO THIS to provide honest data. Oh, and Dave Sullivan got mad because I didn’t mention the GPS stuff in Rapid Bus as an improvement. Dave, it was in the earlier draft. Trust me.
The Rapid Bus post will have to wait. The time I was going to spend at this chess tournament writing it up turned out to be burned up by running around after my 4 year old, although I did get to talk to Councilmember Spelman for ten minutes before Sophie insisted that enough was enough.
How do I feel? Despite popular conception, I’m apparently not completely cynical as I was surprised at how embarassingly shameless this con-job ended up being. Thrown for enough of a loop that I ended up throwing bile all over twitter last night of a caliber that the world hasn’t seen in many years. Worrying-the-coworkers level, here.
I’m most upset, though, I think, at the fact that the AURA people were conned by people like friend-of-the-blog JMVC into thinking that Rapid Bus did not, in fact, preclude urban rail. Those folks then proceeded to invest a huge amount of their time in this process, when the fix had been in since the very beginning; and they ended up giving Project Connect relevance and respect it didn’t deserve in the process. Had people been honest from the beginning, we might have been able to have an adult conversation about “why aren’t we doing more for Guadalupe than this shitty bus service that makes things worse for most people north of the river anyways?”. Now we never will. I wasted a couple of days of vacation time. The AURA executive committee spent ten times as much, each.
As for where we go from here? I will see what the AURA guys end up doing. If they continue to be suckered into believing, or even just acting like JMVC and his pals driving Project Connect are their friends rather than the obstacles they really are, then we’ll be parting ways. I said at the beginning of this process that if a non-Guadalupe route was recommended through an honest process using legitimate data and reasonable assumptions that I’d support it. THAT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO WHAT WE GOT.
And I don’t agree with Julio that we’ve made incredible progress. ‘We’ forced Project Connect to come up with bad data, bad analysis, and bad conclusions to justify their predetermined route, sure; but the route is still bad – it’s the same goddamn route as before – with the same 0% chance of being full-enough-of-riders to lead to a full system of urban rail instead of another RedLine-esque generation-losing one-and-done.
I definitely won’t be voting for a Highland/”ERC but really no just Mueller” alignment the way things stand now, nor should you.
The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, gynecologist serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, supported by Cap Met’s ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a “highly recommended” rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a “not recommended” kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)
The key here is that from about 1997-1999, Capital Metro’s plan of record was to take the entire Red Line (what we use now for commuter rail), build two new tracks, put up electric wire, and run light rail trains on it all day long at high frequencies.
The Federal government said the ridership would be low, negligibly higher than what we’re seeing today, and hinted to Capital Metro that they would not fund that line. Capital Metro quickly switched to what became the 2000 light rail proposal – the “Red/Green” line, using the Red Line’s ROW only from Leander to Airport/Lamar, then going in the street from there.
You can use the 1997 proposal as, effectively, a ceiling for what can be accomplished with further investment in the Red Line we have today. Nothing has truly changed since then – Capital Metro anticipated infill then around the stations in the far northwest, and they anticipate it now, and it still turns out to be low-density crap if it ever gets built. No more jobs have moved to be close to the MLK station instead of at UT.
Folks, there isn’t that much more that can be accomplished with a train that doesn’t go very many places worth going. The real action is, as it always has been, around Congress Avenue downtown (not the Convention Center); at the University of Texas (preferably its front door on Guadalupe), and at the Capitol; and no, you aren’t going to convince suburbanites to transfer to a shuttle-bus(*) to get to those places (as we’ve finally, I hope, proven by now).
This is why further investment in the Red Line is best characterized as wasting money trying to disprove the sunk cost fallacy. There’s very little new ridership there, even if the train gets a little faster, or runs a few more hours on the weekend.
* – no, urban rail doesn’t help either. Suburbanites own cars. Two train trips in our commuting environment, even if the second one goes closer to where they want to go, is fundamentally uncompetitive. Believe me, or not, but remember: I’m the guy who predicted the Year 1 ridership correctly, and called that nobody would want to ride shuttlebuses when everybody else said they would.
Don’t bother clicking to embiggen. I had to make that in five seconds with PowerPoint.
Original for lower picture from StreetsBlog; I forget where I got the upper.
Yes, patient I know I never got to “the formula”. Things went to hell at work. But I can’t pass on the chance to pass along this link. Relevant quote first:
The takeaway here is that it’s better for transit to be reactionary – that is, cardiology serving travel demand that already exists – than it is for it to be anticipatory – that is, this web serving travel demand that may theoretically exist in the future.
Relevance to Austin is that the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor has travel demand that already exists today; AND an equal or greater amount of travel demand that may theoretically exist in the future than Mueller. Despite this, certain elements at the city and Capital Metro are, as we speak, stacking the deck in favor of a supposedly data-driven decision for Mueller over Lamar/Guadalupe (the latest effort to do so involves eliminating “West Campus” as a separate subcorridor and instead lumping it in with “Core”, which basically allows a Mueller route to pretend to serve West Campus by touching somewhere in the (now very very large) “Core” box – as if somebody living a few blocks west of Guadalupe would ever walk all the way to San Jacinto just to ride a train two miles or so back to downtown – the trip would be quicker if they just walked straight there). But I digress.
(For non-Texas readers who may have wandered in from Jeff’s excellent transit portal, hospital almost all limited-access highways in this state are built from pre-existing major arterial roadways – where property access is maintained via the construction of new “frontage roads” which unlike perimeter roads often used for that purpose in other states, also serve as on-and-off-ramps. The incredibly wide road footprint that results makes it far more expensive to build new or maintain existing crossings over or under the highway).
Both images from google transit; click through for full details. This is basically the “how do I get from the drop-off for the express bus at the park-and-ride on the west side of the road to the entrance to all the office parks on the east side of the road”. Note that the address for the park-and-ride you sometimes get (12400 Research) doesn’t match the actual location, which is on Pavilion Boulevard back towards Jollyville.
First, the transit directions, which look pretty good at first:
Then, the driving directions, which look like this:
Huh. Wait a minute. If I can just jump across the road, why do the driving directions have me go down a mile and back? Let’s look at the satellite image:
Oh. Now I see. Note that the bus stop images you see on the other side of the road are for a poorly performing cross-town route which suffers from the same basic problem – if you need to leave an office on that side of the street and go southbound on 183 back home, you get to walk to the next crossing – which on a normal street wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but crossings of frontage roads are few and far between. Farther to the northwest, crossings are even less frequent – you face a walk of close to 3 miles in spots to make this trip across the freeway. Taking that cross-town route would be even worse than taking the express plus the incredibly long walk, because it would require a long slow trip down the frontage road and then a transfer to a second bus, and because the service on the frontage road is inevitably low-demand, it doesn’t run very often either.
Keep in mind that this is just to cross the freeway. If you work at the Riata office park, you then face another walk of a half-mile or so inside the complex. I used to do this commute on my bike, with bus boost in the morning at times and am very familiar with the area – ironically, proximity to the Pavilion transit center was supposedly touted as a positive for this development when it was originally proposed. I was always pretty sure Pavilion used to connect with what is now called Riata Trace Parkway when 183 was just a six-lane divided arterial but have never been able to find a clear enough old satellite image to confirm, but our Tennessee correspondent has already confirmed in comments that it did cross.
For reference, my last job before this one was also on US 183, but between Balcones Woods and Braker Lane, which was much more accessible by transit – and yes, I did sometimes take the bus even on days where I wasn’t biking. I tried the bus commute once to Riata and never did it again – that walk, in addition to being far too long even for a nice comfortable express bus, is just dreadful, even compared to conditions down by Braker.
And, yes, there’s a personal reason this is coming up now too. All I can say now is dammit, dammit.
Folks, store the deck is being stacked against rail on Lamar/Guadalupe – as I alliuded to yesterday – the data-driven process is being co-opted by the people who want and need it to go to Mueller for political reasons. leading to a set of ridiculous assertions in the map book, and then a set of ridiculous changes TO the map book when the map book wasn’t ridiculous enough the first time.
The only thing that you can do right now to help right this is to sign this petition. Please do so as soon as possible. Stay tuned for further actions.
So I spent about three hours around lunch yesterday for a 1.75 hour meeting moderated by AURA where we could ask questions of Project Connect staff. One of my questions was following up Lyndon Henry by complaining that the size of the subcorridors (or in Lyndon’s better term, discount “sectors”) was ludicrous and pushing us away from a more sensible decision-making process.
At one point later on, pulmonologist a very good pal of mine who is working on the program answered John Lawler (UT student government)’s question about why that decision was made to suddenly include UT and West Campus with the Core with a blistering diatribe about how inappropriate and offensive it was to be so cynical about the motives behind said change, while occasionally looking right at yours truly. Message received, loud and clear. (Not just by me; others asked me if I thought you were speaking to John or to me when you went there).
Before I link to my brand new slide deck you just motivated me to write this morning, know this: Before this meeting, I only mentioned this change in an aside in a couple of places. I never talked to the University Area Partners or Mr. Lawler; they didn’t get their complaints from me. If anything, I may actually have heard about it from them, indirectly. I was like the tenth person in the scene to even notice the change.
But by incorrectly assuming that just because it was a complaint, it must have been only from me, or by trying to score points by making an attack about it by tying it to me, whom you presumed was held in low regard by the room, you just brought me into it. Congratulations, now I’m all-in.
If your (paid to do this) feelings were hurt by the implication that the motivation for the change might have been less than aboveboard, consider the converse: I took vacation time to spend my lunch hour only to get attacked by you (who, again, unlike me, is getting paid to do this).
Click the little expanders in the lower right to embiggen.
The last gif is animated in my version but not on slideshare. Imagine Colbert sarcastically clapping, or don’t.
Project Connect Map Book version of ‘bus ridership 2011’, page courtesy Jace Deloney
In the last several weeks, rx many people, cialis 40mg most notably Central Austin CDC, case have pointed out a series of errors in the “Map Book” presented as data in various public meetings by Project Connect. I myself found and commented on several at a public meeting downtown, which seemed designed to make the Mueller route look far more attractive than the facts would merit.
But the most egregious ‘error’, by far, though, was apparently discovered a day or so ago by Jace Deloney and then confirmed by the CACDC. It has to do with the “here’s how many people currently board the bus at various locations” map, which is a key baseline for anticipated rail ridership (which is, quite frankly, the most important map of all).
First, let’s see the Project Connect version.
If you were a novice to civic affairs trying to make up your mind, or a city staffer or council member who doesn’t ride the bus and trusts the information they’re receiving, this map makes it look like bus ridership in the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor is of roughly the same magnitude as currently exists in the corridors heading out to Mueller. But if you read this blog, or spend time on the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor, you would tend to think that can’t possibly be right, could it?
Well, it’s not. They left out the ridership from the #1L, the #1M, and the #101; three little routes that between them comprise the most heavily used lines in the entire Capital Metro system at 17,000 boardings/day. 8.5 times the boardings achieved by the Red Line, by the way. Oops.
With an error this egregious, one might expect an IMMEDIATE response like “this is unacceptable. We’re going to pull the maps and do them all over again.” If, that is, you cared about giving the correct data to support an actual data-driven decision-making process, and it had been an actual error; rather than, oh, I don’t know, a willful continuation of past transparent attempts to mislead people into thinking Lamar/Guadalupe isn’t worlds ahead of Mueller in terms of existing and potential ridership.
The only actual response from people at Project Connect, so far, at the time this post was written 24 hours later, has been this one response in two tweets immediately after being confronted for the second time yesterday:
Friend-of-the-blog JMVC was asked on twitter and just said he’d look into it. 24 hours later, and nothing’s been heard from either party.
Yes, you heard right. It’s just a minor issue of the 2011 ridership being “less complete”. Yes, leaving out the top line(s) in the city on this map, but somehow leaving in the lesser ones, was just a minor blip.
If you want to do something about this – tell your city council member that you see what’s going on, and you don’t approve of the wool being pulled over your eyes by people who are supposed to be giving us the data to make an educated decision about what to pursue. Or sign yesterday’s petition. Or both. I’m going to SeaWorld.
Update – let me frame this more clearly: Either:
1. This is a ‘mistake’ and the people at Project Connect and Capital Metro think it of so little importance that they view it as just ‘incomplete data’, which calls into question their judgement, their commitment to the process, and, frankly, their intelligence; OR
2. This is not a ‘mistake’ but a ‘plausible deniability’ kind of scenario, and the fix is in (as I’ve thought with some of the other map issues I’ve brought up with them).
Note that others’ feedback about the map issues they’ve found has resulted in zero information back (not even confirmation) over the past few weeks from Connect Central Texas. Zero. This, in what’s supposed to be a transparent, open, public, data-driven, process. So it’s not just mean old M1EK with his crazy crackpot ways getting this treatment. Bear that in mind.