Project Connect 2.0: Now More Than Ever

So I went to a Project Connect 2.0 presentation on Tuesday night, organized by Friends of Hyde Park. As is my wont, I also asked some pointed questions. You can get the original notes and detailed tweetstorm in yesterday’s post. Today’s is about the general things I noticed. “Javier” is Javier Arguello, “Jackie” is Jackie Nirenberg. So, here we go:

Their top ‘lesson learned’ from 2014 was: “we didn’t have long enough to convince people that the Highland/EastRiverside line was good”. 

Image by Marcus Denton
Image by Marcus Denton

(My paraphrase). I did pointedly and directly ask this question and was unsatisfied with the response. A member of the CAG has confirmed to me in private that they keep asking this question and keep getting this deeply unsatisfying response, so it is clear to me that Capital Metro will admit to no wrongdoing in Project Connect 1.0 despite the vast majority of transit activists eventually agreeing that their process was corrupt and, in the end, publicly opposing their proposal. (I interrupted at one point and reminded them how unprecedented that was – I’m not aware of any other case in the entire country where a major transit proposal was so publically opposed by such a large group of transit activists from that city).

They keep claiming nothing is decided, but it’s clearly decided in some ways.

The framework for discussion has been set in a way that heavily disfavors Guadalupe/Lamar rail. There are three ‘segments’ of travel they put up on the screen; as well as a slide which shows “previous HCT studies”. Guadalupe/Lamar is not in the top slide (most important service), nor is it listed in “previous HCT studies”. It is instead consigned to the second group, called “connector corridors”, implying that Capital Metro has already decided that it cannot be the spine of the transit network. The images they chose to prove that they are ‘mode-neutral’ are, in order, a bad modern streetcar stuck in traffic, a bad BRT system that has proved far less than advertised (Cleveland), and a bad freeway BRT proposal (Minneapolis). I directly asked Javier why they chose these images, and he claimed it was just random chance. Sure it was.

They keep claiming they’re not going to waste a ton of time on more planning, because “the plans are already on the shelves”

yet they are ignoring the 2000 light rail plan, as shown above. In fact, later in the night, Javier tried to claim we didn’t know what people would or wouldn’t support, so I asked him directly “what corridor got the most support in Project Connect 1.0”, and to his credit, he finally answered directly: “Guadalupe/Lamar”.

They really want to triple down on the Red Line.

Javier claimed at one point that reputable people believe they can get 32,000 boardings per day by making more investments in that corridor. Not actual extensions of the line, mind you. He claims that they believe they can get as many riders as a below-average light rail line by simply adding more double-tracked segments and buying more train cars. This is, of course, complete bullshit.

now-more-than-ever-posters

They really want to play up investment in freeway transit.

Bus stop on I-35. Not our I-35, Minneapolis'.
Bus stop on I-35. Not our I-35, Minneapolis’.

Javier talked up Mopac express lanes on numerous occasions, which are sort-of OK in my book (many riders of express buses actually pay taxes to Capital Metro, unlike the median Red Line rider). But they’re not actual transformative transit in the land use perspective, for sure. I-35 BRT is a different animal. They envision stations in the freeway corridor – and then, see the next point, they envision circulating passengers off that presumed spine with another bus trip, ignoring the fact that people with actual choices don’t typically take 2-bus rides to work every day.

They have learned that “last-mile problem” is a get out of jail free card for bad transit.

spinejellyfish

I blame every other transit advocate in Austin for continuing to enable this excuse. As I often say, if your transit provider spends a lot of time talking about their last mile problem, you have a bad transit system. No, not every location can be served without lots of transfers. But when the majority of your passengers on your theoretical ‘spine’ have to transfer, YOU HAVE A BAD SPINE, DAWG. Spines need to go down the middle and get to the good stuff. And especially on the ‘work end’ of the trip (not the ‘home end’): if a large percentage of your riders have to transfer off the spine, you’ve chosen poorly.

As Christof Spieler put it a while back:

For Houston, the strategy meant building a light rail through the city’s primary urban corridor, where lots of people already live and work.

Cities often shy away from that approach because it’s more expensive and disruptive to lay tracks in such populated locations. But the factors that make it difficult to build light rail there were exactly the things that made it the right place to have light rail.

“Often, light rail is driven by people saying, ‘we need light rail somewhere,’ and the political process will tend to put it where it doesn’t upset anyone, where it isn’t in the way of anything,” said Spieler, who is also the head of planning for Houston-based architecture firm Morris. “That is generally not a high ridership corridor. The congested places are the places people are trying to go.”

And since transit riders are almost always pedestrians on each end of their trip, you can only expect riders to walk to destinations within a quarter mile of a station. That makes it especially important to have stations right in the center of the action, not just near it.

“If you propose transit and no one is against it, it’s a bad project,” Spieler said. “Do you build it where it’s needed, or where it’s easy? That’s the central tension in U.S. cities, and too often they make decisions based on what’s easy.”

They have also learned that “we have to fix land use” is another get out of jail free card for bad transit.

The #1, after headways were cut to 30 minutes on the best land use corridor in the city
The #1, after headways were cut to 30 minutes on the best land use corridor in the city

Unfortunately, by the point they deployed this chestnut, a lot of people had already left, and I had monopolized too much of the Q&A period. I did get in a “hey, you guys remember what happened to the bus service at that VMU on North Loop and Lamar”, but it was too late to force a response. Suffice to say, this gets filed under “THANKS, JULIO!”

 

They are still treating public input as a charade.

Both Javier and Jackie asked me to keep participating and keep giving input, and Javier expressed frustration at how many times he has heard versions of “you guys lied during Project Connect 1.0, why should we trust you now”. There was also one unsubtle dig during the Q&A period. The most fun part of the night for me was when Javier tried to turn around my “so what did you learn from the 2014 election loss” question at me and asked me why the 2000 rail plan lost. I think people around me saw my eyes turn to saucers and drool start to drip from my mouth at that spicy meatball, which I of course answered with a 60-second version of this old post1.

Oh, and also: I didn’t have the presence of mind to remind them of a pretty important part of the public involvement process that one of their predecessors accomplished…

blockedbycm

See also:


  1. and special thanks to Roger Cauvin who chimed in with a “and by the way it passed in the city limits” exclamation point which I forgot to say 

First look at Project Connect 2.0

Thanks to the Friends of Hyde Park, I got presented at last night by Project Connect (2.0, now more than ever, etc etc). Here are my notes from the event, followed by a storify of the livetweets. Next post will be a next-day summary.


Soft launch

Trying to downplay urban rail component and talk up regional plan

New "focus area" 183 mopac BW

CBD defined 15 BS/R Lamar 35

3 examples of HCT are KC streetcar, Cleve BRT, shitty Minn 35 BRT

"Tired of planning", want our input from the beginning

Phased approach:

1.big ideas bold starts - Tier 1 feasibility analysis 6-9m

2.real solutions for real problems - tier 2 tech eval 14-18m

3. Path to implementation - Lpa selection 4-6m

Bragging about talking to COA, TXDOT, CTRMA

MENTIONING GL but hedging with references to city having to give ROW and "people still want to drive" clearly shaping expectations away from there already.

Phase 1 notes mention "not doing corridor planning", taking things done in the past. One input shown as "recommendations from previous plans".

Output is draft list of projects and transit corridors

Vetted with public and stakeholders

Draft tier 1 screening criteria (also claim vetted with public and stakehold)

CMTA Financial Capability Analysis

Looking over next 25 years at just cap metro financial capacity but assume some help on top

Mentions park and rides are a bad investment

Takes a long convoluted way to explain "need to move more people in less space"

Claims Red Line isn't finished. Only 4 cars, corridor can support 14!

Claims Red Line would have 32000 trips per day if they got enough infrastructure. And op subsidy would go down from $22 to 7.

Their map of corridors studied for hCT in the past does not include GL. GL at same level as RR now in 2nd class map of "connector corridors"...

Also mentions obliquely Elgin Line (other rail lines they own).

Last mile connections. Drink!

New slide draft enhancement projects - where they talk up MR and RL.

Downtown entryways talks up priority treatments at i35 and river crossings and then C2025

Bunch of bullshit about mobility hubs

Map asking for priority lanes on SL, SC. North of river focus on a new RL station, and some useless MR crap.

Public involvement process schedule shows they're already 3/4 done with "listen and inform" phase but "haven't done anything" meaning no decisions. Major event on Feb 4. Public launch Jan to feb through mar 2017.

Now Annick jumps in to talk strategic mobility plan on whiteboard

Compact and connected. Drink!

Response to my comment asking specifically for 2014 failure was that they didn't have enough time to 'compare' to Guadalupe and Lamar. Then some bullshit about lack of regional.

And the storify of the tweets:

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

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.

Lost Cause Theory

Hey you remember when the North decided to be way too nice to the South and the result was that generations of kids down here grew up being taught that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, here that slaves were better off for being slaves, drugs that Robert E Lee didn’t want slaves / chose to set them free / was a big ole softy? But that the truth was he inherited some from his father-in-law, neuropathist delayed setting them free, and ordered that their wounds from being whipped be bathed in brine?

So yeah. The losers got to write the history, in that case.

In 2014 and 2015, I had a major disagreement on tactics with AURA about how we should engage with the people on the pro side of Project Connect, especially those who engaged in dishonesty during said campaign. I obviously was in the minority. Overwhelmingly. This recent storify explains how I think we should handle it now, and basically, how we should have handled it back then. AURA’s position, though, was kumbaya. (Note: I have emails saved about all of this).

Fast-forward to January and February 2016. Two of the last three days, posts like the one pictured below have shown up on pages of people I sort-of follow, who are semi-respected and big parts of the ecosystem locally. Anybody see any parallels? Hint: “The FTA wouldn’t fund rail on Guadalupe/Lamar1” is the equivalent to “IT WAS ABOUT STATES’ RIGHTS!!!!1”

20160204mackinnon

The ‘winners’ once again let the losers write the history. And when that happens, we all lose.

For extra credit, also see this storify for another angle on Why We Shouldn’t Have Been So Nice, which repeats the Big Lie that we were only against Project Connect because our preferred route wasn’t FIRST.

AURA vanished the post I made to #atxurbanists on facebook about this, so here we are, kids. The split widens.

By the way, if you’re wondering – could the failure to hold bad people accountable for the bad things they did in Project Connect be resulting in us failing to make progress more quickly on the next rail plan / study – the one that Capital Metro insists can’t even be studied in a way that completes in time for an election before 2020?

duh-duh


  1. The original facebook post tagged Roger Cauvin and gave him credit for doing a bunch of legwork to get public statements from the FTA that directly contradict the claims made in 2014 by many people associated with the project. Suffice to say, the claim about the Feds in the picture is as best dishonest, and at worst a bald-faced lie 

#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

A short addition to the Honesty Agenda

Saturday while at my son’s chess tournament and writing this article, I also stumbled across an old exchange (pre-election) between some folks in AURA (obviously not myself as I just found this discussion a couple of days ago) and one of the people in the Prop 1 campaign. The Prop 1 person indicated they “don’t do facebook battles” and wanted to set up a face to face meeting (this same person offered once to do the same thing with me).

20141031responsetolangmore

This happened to me other times too. During the Prop 1 issue, I got 5 or 6 offers to meet privately – usually on twitter – from people who would not communicate on the issue publically. I took one person up on it (mine said they didn’t do ‘twitter battles’) and had a lunch at Zocalo, in which no minds were changed. I also saw no serious public response; not even once; to the legitimate concerns raised by myself and other members of AURA. Basically, these folks want to be able to say their piece, and then never answer for it – and they think that if they can only get you one-on-one, they’ll be able to convince you to change your mind1. It’s a fundamentally insulting, and, quite frankly, dishonest worldview – akin to believing that they are the rational adults and you are just a willful child; and if they can isolate you from your peer group, you will bend to their will. Or, another common belief is that people on our side could not possibly believe what we were saying – so maybe face to face we could be convinced to see reason. Perhaps, the goal was to claim to persuadable folks in the middle that “we tried to meet with them and discuss their concerns but they said no”, as if it’s reasonable to expect that a guy with a suburban office job and young kids can get downtown every day of the week for individual meetings.

It’s not only the hangers-on that did this. I’ve seen the same thing from actual Capital Metro employees. And it has to stop. To me, if it’s not said in public where everybody can see, it doesn’t count. And if you lack the courage of your convictions enough to answer your critics, that says that you are not truly being honest. And no, John Langmore, a broadside a day before the election repeating the same talking points you used the whole time does not count.

As it turns out, a local executive tried desperately to fix things at the last minute by getting Leffingwell, Spelman, and a few others together with representatives from AURA and OurRail in which the willful children were asked, finally, by the mediator, what it would take to get them to vote for the plan. The changes offered by the ‘adults’ were meaningless, of course, because even immediately before getting pantsed at the polls, the bubble they put themselves in prevented them from believing that the pro-transit criticism of the plan was legitimate.

And by then it was far too late – the plan could not be changed in any meaningful way; the failure by the self-proclaimed adults to listen to and/or publically address those many legitimate arguments had doomed the proposition to a significant defeat at the polls (which is, granted, better for transit than if the bad plan had actually passed, but nowhere near as good as if the bad plan had been scuttled before being placed on the ballot).

Austin deserves better. Demand better.


  1. I had a typo in here for a long time; thanks, actually, to JD Gins, for inadvertently pointing it out in March 2015