A sustainable transit plan for Austin – outline and introduction

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

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

Above all else, be skeptical of Capital Metro

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

Background:

Watch the diversion of service dollars to the suburbs

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

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

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

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

Background:

Specifically watch for land use claims that fall apart under scrutiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Cantú and the Austin Chamber of Commerce are dishonest, ignorant, or both.

Chamber says land reform is top transportation priority

That interest in return on investment opens the chamber up to critics who drubbed the 2014 light rail proposal as a suboptimal choice of projects. Its huge price tag and relatively low ridership projections – due in part to a route that bypassed some of the city’s densest neighborhoods – could have drastically cut into the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s operating budget, which could in turn have hurt the agency’s bus service, those critics argued.

“I don’t think I would characterize the 2014 bond proposal as a bad plan or a bad investment,” Cantú said in the chamber’s defense. “It might not have been the perfect plan. And I think a lot of people and groups in Austin are looking for perfection, and perfection is the enemy of good enough.”

He either doesn’t know the concept “worse than nothing” or knows it and doesn’t care. Ignorant or dishonest. You pick.

And, yes, this is important. The Chamber essentially picked that disastrous route for us, because the Mayor didn’t know anything about transportation and listened to their (bad) advice.

If the Chamber’s ‘new approach’ that identifies sprawl as bad does not include radical honesty about how bad the 2014 light rail plan was (instead extolling I-35 ‘improvements’ and more state highway ‘investment’), then they have learned nothing; we are all dumber for having listened to them. I award them no points; and may god have mercy on their souls.

billymadison_nopoints

Shame on Commissioner Weatherby and Mayor Adler

As a former proud member of the city’s Urban Transportation Commission, 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, 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, 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.

Checking in

I don’t post very much, as the state of urbanist and transit advocacy in Austin has depressed it out of me, but as a reminder, I’m still alive, if barely, and you can get a lot of updates on facebook in #atxfreedomurbanists or on twitter.

Two important facebook comments in a thread fighting against a member of the establishment I thought it worth copying here and cleaning up before I go. Blockquotes (italics in most themes) are my words; things in quotes are the guy I was responding to).

The first:

I have my honesty and my integrity, which are worth a lot. It means that in the future, when I say something, people don’t have to think “does he really mean that?”. Or “is he exaggerating for the benefit of somebody or something else and doesn’t really know what he’s talking about?”

And the second (most of it):

“At least you have ideological purity in snaky Facebook posts, that is even better than a seat at the table for sure.”

Playing along with the bad guys is what the Alliance for Public Transportation did. They got nothing out of it. I fought them. I won. I beat a bad project which would have made things worse. And the people who were dishonest and disingenuous in service of Proposition 1 have to live with that. People should take what they say in the future with many grains of salt, as they were willing to be dishonest in the service of power. I’m not.

Show me why it’s worth my while to change. Show me an example of somebody like me who played along and was able to change the power structure instead of getting subsumed by it (or just having nothing good happen). Then I might listen, if the example is good enough and compelling enough. Until then, you’re wasting your time and everyone else’s.

“but no one in a position of power or authority gives a rats ass about what you say, because of how you present your opinion and maintain your relationships. ”

is a personal attack, by the way, and it’s also dishonest. The people who say substantively the same things but in a nicer way also get nowhere. The people who modify their message enough to get heard in this political environment are modifying it to the point where it is no longer substantively *true*. IE, the A4PT may have gotten listened to, but they did by basically lying to the public and to themselves. What good did that do anybody?

And of course remember again that the A4PT got listened to by lying to the public and to themselves, and then LOST. Don’t forget. Never forget.

#atxrail classic courtesy of Central Austin CDC

The insiders who messed up Proposition 1 still haven’t come to terms with what they did, so I’m not going to let it sit either. Here’s something not to forget; when certain political actors try to pretend there was some kind of consensus behind the choice that got spanked at the polls instead of the one that was never allowed to be studied:

https://twitter.com/cdcatx/status/585817756165021696/

atxrail1

Being too nice is how the liars will win.

Well, plague I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.

The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

So the family and I went to Hawaii in May. Here’s the first of three detailed posts about the experience as it relates to urban design and transportation. I’ve tried to get at least one done in the originally promised week but had to finish this quickly, prostate so no pictures (maybe later).
I’m a contrarian about Hawaii, click compared to most tourists, viagra 40mg and often residents. The complaint is often given that O’ahu is urban and crowded, and the other islands are natural, peaceful, bucolic, paradises. Of course, this complaint comes largely from the same people who can’t possibly conceive of a vacation in which you wouldn’t drive everywhere to everything, while to me, a good vacation day is one where I never drive. I visited twice as a kid, staying with my family at my grandparents’ condo about a mile from Waikiki for 3 weeks at a time; and a bunch of times since then in hotels. I also know a few people who have lived there for many years – although not all of them would agree with me by any means. So, given that perspective, let’s look at the islands in detail:

O’ahu is the only island which could be classified as anything but “suburban”. A lot of people think the other islands (Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii) are “rural” or “natural”, but if you actually spend any time on those islands, you spend so much time stuck in (100% car) traffic that it’s highly inaccurate, although sadly typical, to call them anything but “suburban”. In particular, all three islands (Maui being the worst) are infested with standard suburban subdivisions, strip malls, big boxes, and the like. So the other islands aren’t different because they don’t have suburban sprawl – they’re different because that’s ALL they have.

The three commonly visited “neighbor islands” listed above largely follow the same pattern: one (mostly two-lane) road winding around most to all of the island, with a trans-island route or two on Maui and Hawaii. Sprawling development, both tourist and local, has followed all of those roads – and zoning has strictly prohibited anything remotely urban in form. If your idea of a vacation is being stuck for an hour in traffic, visiting Wal-Mart, then driving back to your hotel, then driving from your hotel to a strip mall for lunch, then being stuck for half an hour in traffic again, then driving back to your hotel, then maybe hiting the pool: I’ve got great news for you – the Neighbor Islands are PERFECT!

O’ahu is different. It’s got BOTH suburban sprawl AND a high-density urban center (and arguably a few decent old small towns which are also urban in nature). Largely due to history – O’ahu was developed so much more than the other islands back before the whole country went insane and outlawed everything but suburban sprawl, and inertia from that development has even led to a slightly smarter urban policy (in places, anyways). Waikiki (which people who never visit, or spend half a day on a cruise visiting like to slag) is a gorgeous beach with a fairly nice urban environment (could be better, but is far nicer than most urban areas in most US cities). The influx of Japanese tourists in the 1980s and thereafter helped preserve and expand the urban nature of this development – as such tourists rarely rent cars (often travelling in big tour groups on big tour buses). Downtown Honolulu has some good pockets of density as well – and as I mentioned above, some of the small towns have chunks of nice Old Urban. There’s also, as previously mentioned, plenty of suburban crap on O’ahu too.

Waikiki Beach – often slagged by residents and many tourists as being crowded, noisy, dirty, and just full of Japanese – is actually a great place to spend a week or more. I highly recommend you ignore the slagging as typically uninformed know-nothing suburbanality. There’s lots to do; there’s lots of good (both cheap and expensive) restaurants; and it’s safer and cleaner than most of the other places you’ll see in Hawai’i. The contention that it’s only for Japanese people is also a load of crap – at its highest point, perhaps a small majority of tourists in the area were Japanese, but now it’s perhaps a third at most. On this most recent trip, a lot of families were in evidence, as well as the obligatory retirees, Australians, etc. The beach itself in Waikiki is gorgeous and remember, I’m a beachophile. The water is cool (but not cold); the air is usually warm enough to provide good contrast; and the scenery in all respects is beautiful. And if, while you’re at the beach, you decide you want a soda (or my favorite – guava nectar in a can), you walk right across the street, get one, and walk back to your towel. There are a few beaches that I’d call nicer if you don’t mind having to drive, but not much nicer, and even those are still on O’ahu.
During the long years of suburban-zoning-code idiocy between roughly the 1950s and today, Waikiki barely hung on to its existing urban design – building too much parking (but not enough to make it free or even cheap), but additional development in the 1990s and later has thankfully hidden the parking, if it’s provided at all, and returned to the good practice of focusing on pedestrians rather than motorists. As a result, Waikiki is almost as good a place to walk and shop as is Manhattan. Buildings, apart from a few built during the Dark Ages, generally have pedestrian-oriented uses on the ground floor which encourage activity at sidewalk level. Traffic policy is another thing entirely – too much pavement and priority, by far, is effectively given to private motorists at the expense of buses (more on this in the Current Transit Conditions post to come).
As mentioned before, apart from shopping and eating, there’s also plenty to do within comfortable walking distance in Waikiki (and a lot more if you hop the bus, as we did to Hanauma Bay). There’s an aquarium, a zoo, a bunch of excellent beach segments (with surfing lessons from the best teachers out there – the beach boys near the Outrigger), a bunch of neat public gardens/water features/statues, etc. And there’s just plenty of good urban life to watch – one night as my wife and I walked back to the timeshare from a steak dinner, we saw a large group of people playing cards, chess, and some other games in pavillions right on the beach. You don’t get that in the suburbs.
Even the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where we spent two days after the week in central Waikiki, has some good urban aspects – although it’s separated a bit from the rest of Waikiki. Pedestrian traffic is highly prioritized over motorists – and even though most tourists here actually seem to have cars, they park in a garage out of sight, many days not moving their car.
As for the rest of O’ahu – the small towns which have a bit of good urban fabric are Haleiwa and Kailua. I haven’t spent any time in Kaneohe or Waimanalo (two other big windward towns) but see no evidence I’ve missed anything good. Kailua in particular, though, has so much suburban crap around that tiny old town that you’ll miss the good stuff if you blink.
The biggest mistake made on O’ahu in the last 50 years, though, is Kapolei, designed as a so-called “second city”, implemented as a highly dense form of typical mainland suburban sprawl. You’ll have a much smaller yard than you would in Round Rock, and a lot more of the dwelling units are townhouses, condos, etc.; but the design is still car-dependent suburbia as perfected in soul-killing suburban garbage towns like Round George Rocktown, Rolling west woodlake hills, and Leacedarparknder. As a result, traffic on the highways linking Kapolei and Honolulu is a disaster of epic proportions – and there’s no solution in sight (even the ‘express lane’ which would have been part of the BRT idiocy doesn’t help much – again, see next post in series). The naive hope was that building this crap on the west side of the island would actually HELP traffic, amazingly enough; but as anybody who bothers to study development knows, suburban sprawl doesn’t scale – and peoples’ jobs don’t always stay in the same place. For instance, employment centers do exist in Kapolei, but the number of Honolulu residents commuting out to Kapolei to work there plus the number of Kapolei residents commuting into Honolulu dwarfs the Kapolei-to-Kapolei commute by about a million times, and over time that’ll only get worse.
The JW Marriott Ihilani, where we spent our honeymoon and the last two days of this trip, is just past Kapolei on the beginning of the leeward side of the island. There’s some very nice manmade lagoons with excellent beaches out there – but the captive audience and suburban design of the area means that the experience of vacationing there is more like the Neighbor Islands than Waikiki. And even though it would have cost us $10/day to park a rental car in the garage at that resort, I still should have rented a car for those two days – because the only transportation option from Waikiki out here and then from there to the airport was a car service – 80 bucks each way (ouch).

Lots of people on ‘my side’ of the Prop1 debate believe you can’t call lies lies and can’t call liars liars.

Folks, sildenafil that’s how they win. Have you never observed politics before? To the uninformed voter, somnology they just see both sides arguing and will go with the one with the loudest megaphone or tallest podium (most credibility, site even if completely unearned).

One recent example here. I have highlighted the parts that demonstrate a willingness to lie:

cecilcomments

The person who made this comment knows that those of us on the other side from him firmly believe that Highland saps all possible finances for any extensions anywhere. Yet he still makes this argument as if we are only upset because Guadalamar (or other route) isn’t going first.

This is a lie, people.

What more is it gonna take? Do you want to be nice, and lose, again, as in 2004? (Yes, I was nicer than this in 2004, but others were far nicer still; making lots of reasoned counterarguments, and what they got in return for their forebearance from being mean and calling people liars was the Red Line, bus cuts, and 10 years without any rail planning of note).

If you’re not willing to identify lies as lies, and you continue to treat liars as if they are arguing in good faith, you will lose. There is no way around this – I’ve been around long enough to know better. This does not mean that every argument on the pro Prop1 side is a lie, although a lot of them are; it means you should identify those that are lies and those that are not, and identify those who are willing to lie and those who do not; and treat them differently. You don’t engage in good faith with somebody who isn’t doing so in good faith themselves.

Where did the Highland alignment come from?

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?

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:

20131212ftalettertocapmetro

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.

pantsonfire-animated

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 

Keep It Simple, Stupid

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.

kiss

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.

Fourth? Fifth?

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.

parksandrec_micdrop


  1. 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! 

  2. Hello Highland Mall! 

  3. The real reason for no G/L is this embarassment. Future blog post will show comments about the Federal Transit Administration are misleading at best; lies at worst