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.

Know how you can tell they’re not honest?

Capital Metro edition

Yes, it’s been a while1.

In a recent twitter thread, Karl-Thomas Musselman posted the tweet below. I am making this blog post to capture it so that this well-made point is not lost in the twitter memory hole.

The graphic comes from Capital Metro’s 2016 approved budget on page 48. The full graphic is after this paragraph. What do you think this kind of choice in axis scaling suggests about Capital Metro’s honesty on rail subsidies?

Page 48, Capital Metro 2016 Approved Budget
Page 48, Capital Metro 2016 Approved Budget

  1. Note: I have not blogged much this year because the actions of Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano and others, especially linked with AURA, have made my investment in public affairs significantly less effective. This lack of content is likely to continue as long as the urbanist community decides his approach and style are preferable.  

2015 Honesty Agenda on Transportation: What is honesty?

Made With Notepad because paying for wifi for an hour of personal use seemed unwise. So here we go.

Refer back to Part 1 of the Honesty Agenda on Austin transportation for the introduction.

What do I mean when I say honesty?

Honesty is more than simply “technically telling the truth”. A good place to start, but just to start, is the oath people take when testifying in court. So let’s at least look at those three parts:

The truth


Don’t say something which is obviously false. This is the easiest thing in the world to do, yet Capital Metro has gotten this wrong in the past (ref Todd Hemingson’s claim about the projection he made and then tried to claim he didn’t make, about first year Red Line ridership). The simplest attention by the media ought to catch our transit agency and city in this one, yet they rarely do (KUT being one very rare exception here).

The whole truth


Don’t say something which, while true, leads people to think they now know what’s going on, when you’ve actually kept a portion of the ‘whole truth’ behind so that they come to the conclusion you want them to. For instance, Capital Metro claims we’re going to have a new, exciting, frequent transit network (buses arriving at least every 15 minutes). If Capital Metro knows we used to have that, at least on the #1 route, and they don’t say so, they haven’t told the whole truth. Or, let’s say, if Capital Metro says ridership on MetroRapid is growing! (comparing 801 ridership six months ago to 801 ridership today), but overall ridership on the corridor is significantly below what it was before MetroRapid launched and staying stagnant since the initial drop, have they told the whole truth? Put another way:

Would “the 801 is doing better” be enough information without “but the overall 1/801 ridership is going nowhere and significantly below the old 1/101 ridership” for our elected leaders to make smart decisions?

Those aren’t even the most important examples though. During transit planning, this is far more critical. When the 801 was proposed, Capital Metro talked about how much faster it was going to be than the 1, while hiding the fact that it wasn’t going to be much, if any, faster than the existing limited-stop 101. It’s technically true that the 801 is faster than the 1. But it’s not the whole truth. It’s not useful in making decisions; the far more useful fact is the difference compared to the 101’s speed when it ran (and it turns out, there’s no difference except for that attributable to the downtown transit lane, which made the 1 faster and would have made the 101 faster too).

Nothing but the truth


Don’t add things that might (misleadingly) shade people away from the truth. Don’t talk about highway subsidies to try to mislead people away from a serious discussion on transit operating subsidies (the subsidy on a given highway might be higher than the Red Line, but it is irrelevant to a discussion of whether we can afford the Red Line subsidy as it currently exists).

A Higher Standard


But that’s not enough for me. Public agencies, funded by tax dollars, should meet a higher standard even than the above (which, after all, is just the oath people take when in an often adversarial relationship in court, to which the punishment for noncompliance is charges of perjury). Public agencies should educate taxpayers – in a way which does not lead taxpayers to a given conclusion, but allows them to make their own educated judgements. By this I do NOT mean the opinion pieces often approving cited, referenced, or retweeted by Capital Metro employees which are actually in direct conflict with their own actions without ever noting the problem. That’s fundamentally DIShonest.

Don’t Obfuscate


I also don’t mean Project Connect’s “data theater” exercises. “Showing your work” via PDF files, with ‘zones’ chosen and then changed, arbitrarily, by the people running the project in ways transparently obviously designed to make some projects rise to the top and others, uh, not; is not honest. Project Connect should have functioned as an open data source by which decision-makers (and the public) could make educated choices, but none of us who participated in that effort would describe it as anything except the exact opposite. In most other cities, Project Connect would have been a straight-up comparison between a few corridors (not this ‘subcorridors which are really zones which were purposefully drawn to make the route they knew they had to compete against look bad’ nonsense). Then, once a corridor was chosen, phase 2 would have been a straight-up comparison of ROUTES.

Don’t Be Disingenuous


disingenuous

This is a big one. It happens all the time. Most of the time you know your audience and you know what they know, so don’t pretend they’re talking about something they really aren’t (don’t oversimplify or misrepresent their argument).

For instance: “There are winners and losers with any change” is not an honest answer to a detailed explanation that points out that the frequency of the combined 1/801 is no higher than the frequency of the 1/101 was – which if honestly addressed, leads to the conclusion that every single local bus rider on the MetroRapid corridor is much worse off now that the new service came along, and the old express riders are for all intents and purposes paying a little more for a little more frequency, the same speed, and the same reliability (i.e. best case = no better off). The person making that statement about ‘winners and losers’ knows it’s not honest; but they know it’s technically true also – it’s just that the ‘winners’ were Capital Metro themselves, and the losers were, uh, all the riders. The public who pays your salary deserves better than being purposefully misled. Likewise, when Project Connect published ‘data’ from a ridiculous model that was essentially predicting almost three million daily transit riders in East Riverside alone and then tried to pretend it didn’t matter because it was just sort of a starting point, that’s disingenuous. If it didn’t really matter, throw that model out of the equation completely and use something that everybody agrees on (common basis). Because when it was left in, it provided significant confirmation for the theory among participants in the process that the data were being cherry-picked and/or made up to support a predetermined plan.

Offer All Sorts Of Data Without Prejudicial Conclusions

Why doesn’t Capital Metro publish their ridership numbers – and on the rare occasions when they do, why never in a form that can be processed by the public? The MTA in New York does.

Why don’t they publish their operating subsidies by mode (or even by line)? They haven’t done this at all since September of 2013, and if you think it’s because the Red Line subsidy figures would have damaged the public case for Proposition 1, you’re probably right! Yes, there’s arguments over methodology that would come into play in either case – but those arguments could be had in the open light of day. Instead, we assume that Capital Metro hides behind the firewall of freedom-of-information requests because they have something to hide (in many cases they do – for instance, recent word on the fare recovery ratio of MetroRapid is pretty awful). While I appreciate Ben Wear’s efforts in seeking this information (most media outlets don’t even try), it should be published every month on Capital Metro’s website so guys like me can analyze it. No excuses. If the data tells a bad story, then have a conversation about it with people who understand how transit works instead of hiding behind meaningless platitudes that prevent any transit project from ever being declared ‘bad’.

In future chapters I will explain in more detail, with many more specific examples, where we have fallen short on these metrics; and then what an honest Project Connect would have looked like. What an honest Capital Metro would look like. And what an honest City of Austin would look like. Because if we’re ever going to see real progress, that’s what we all need.

My speech from last night

I ripped up one of the copies I had and gave a short excoriation of the lack of meaningful public input, as this KUT story indicates. Here’s the outline of the speech I was going to give (4 people had donated me time; I’m not sure I could have fleshed this out to 15 minutes if I tried).

Unlike some people who spoke with most or all of their time, I thought it more important to indicate that we didn’t agree with the decision to limit testimony (at the only real public hearing this thing was ever going to get).

1. Background
a. Member of AURA (founding member of the new version; supporter of the old)
b. UTC 2000-2005
i. Mention PG, modern UTC opposition in JD, MDG
c. Writing on transportation since 2003
d. On corner in 2000 supporting LRT with Eric Anderson (LAB)
e. Opposed Red Line in 2004 due to high operating subsidy and low benefit to Austinites
i. (mention this has borne out – operating subsidy ‘down’ from 35 to 18 after cancelling buses; census from rider at Lakeline showing 80% Cedar Park)
2. PC Process
a. In it since beginning.
b. Assured LG on table. No obstacles. (Also assured of this years ago when Rapid Bus was pushed).
c. Process clearly designed with thumb on scales
i. Subcorridors instead of routes
ii. West Campus into Core
iii. I35 ridership into Highland but neither I35 nor 183 ridership into Lamar
iv. Various ‘errors’ all of which hurt GL
v. Bad flier – canvassed at my house with flier designed to fool old people into dropping opposition to plan. No real plans for rail on Guadalupe!
d. At end, people still didn’t know what was best for them!
i. Repeated, strong, unbending preference for Lamar ‘subcorridor’
e. So we brought up the FTA out of the blue
i. Disputed by the guy in charge of Rapid Bus!
ii. Either lying now or lying at beginning.
iii. Getting mixed messages – we’ll do LG right after election but LG can’t ever be done because of traffic but we’ll do it next anyways.
f. Nobody in Austin should trust the output of a process this corrupt. You’re being fed a line about transparency that doesn’t hold up. None of our local transit activists who aren’t connected to the machine believe this.
i. National commentators:
1. Christof Spieler: "It's amazing: Austin, the self-proclaimed progressive city, could have had the best rail system in Texas but has the dumbest."
2. Steven Smith: "Austin light rail is becoming more of a joke by the minute. Textbook example of politics getting in the way of good transit planning."
3. Jeff Wood, Reconnecting America: "I'm going to use this as a bad transit planning example forever"
4. Others at the time ranging from “What A Sham” to “What A Shame”.
5. Honestly have not seen a single national transit person approve this plan.
3. The output
a. High operating subsidies even WITH assumed out of reality growth at Highland Mall
b. No way to tell whether new residents around Highland will work along rail line
i. Mention Mueller – people work all over the city
ii. Birds in hand on a good bus line are worth more than ten birds in bush (working all over city)
c. Theory pushed by Chamber of Commerce that people will hop off I-35, go to park and ride, look for space, walk to station platform, wait for train, ride slow meandering train downtown instead of riding
i. Park and rides DO work but only at far end of quicker, straighter, lines.
ii. Or like in Houston where parking is very very expensive.
d. Urban rail should be urban.
i. Walk to stations from dense residential areas, not apartments in a sea of parking
ii. Entire Airport Blvd segment a waste – only one side can ever be developed; no good crossings to other side and low-density over there
iii. Hancock area – residential only, not as walkable as we need; no opportunity for redevelopment more urban.
e. Respond to density instead of create it
i. Christof Spieler – density wants to be near other density (fill in gaps rather than greenfield)
ii. Most of our supposed TODs underperform compared to background conditions
iii. Remember the TOD up in Leander that was going to help the Red Line?
iv. Crestview Station <<< The Triangle v. Not going to get high quality development in the planning straitjacket around Highland Mall (also remember birds in hand argument) f. Even with their bogus assumptions i. 18,000 boardings/day would be a bad light rail line. BAD. ii. Houston around 35,000/day. Phoenix above 40,000. g. Precludes expansions ANYWHERE else if line isn’t packed i. Operating subsidy argument ii. Horrible spine – slow, windy makes bad backbone. h. Precludes expansions on GL forever even if line is good i. We don’t trust you now after Project Connect Phase 1 ii. FTA reluctant to fund two early lines in ‘same’ area iii. Local politics makes funding 3rd line apparently in NCentralAustin a nonstarter iv. Are they promising Guadalupe or “Lamar subcorridor”? 1. Ridiculous longrange map proposes Guadalupe served after MLK but we suspect grade too high on MLK; doesn’t go south into core of downtown. Why not just stay on Guadalupe/Lavaca? 2. We don’t believe you anyways. 4. Conclusion a. Bad rail line can end system rather than start it b. Don’t mischaracterize our arguments. Highland is not just not our favorite line; it is a BAD line. Never get a chance to build system if you use up all your capital on a second high-operating-subsidy line.

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 

A quick thought for tonight’s exercise

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?

Tin-Foil-Cat-Hat-1

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.

thanks

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?

mr_smith_goes_to_washington_61073-1920x1200
“But what if people are embarassed? Never mind; I’d better just sit down and play along.”

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?

Waiting for urban rail on the corridor that makes sense
Waiting for urban rail on the corridor that makes sense

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.

Pictured: Project Connect
Pictured: Project Connect

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.

Your pal,
M1EK


  1. 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 

  2. somewhat likewise as with the city, although their leadership is a little more bought-in to this than the city’s is 

  3. 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. 

  4. 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 

  5. yes, this is part of the reason for the bile. God, I hate Westlake so much. 

  6. 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 

The ceiling for the Red Line

Later this week, physiotherapist stay tuned for a new formula which takes into account service quality (measured by miles per hour), traumatologist frequency, and, and this is the new part, end-user payment (fare).

Hint: MetroRapid’s going to cost $1.75 each way. Today’s #1 service costs $1 and today’s #101 service costs $1.50. Next year, the #1 will be cut in half and go up to $1.25; while MetroRapid will replace the #101, add frequency to the few stops it serves, and cost $1.75.
is very low.

I keep having to drag up this old Chronicle article so much I finally thought I’d better link to it AND excerpt the relevant parts in case it ever disappears down the memory hole.

February 25, illness 2000 in the Chronicle:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, pharm serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, website like this 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).

lowceiling

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.

It’s time to talk about Rapid Bus again.

In response to this site and calls to support it. Some links added as I find them. The post to which I replied, erectile misbirth paraphrased, this site pilule is something like “We believe in urban density but not these boarding houses / dorm duplexes”. Don’t want to quote without permission, cheap but that was the gist.

My response was:

So I too believe in urban density, and these buildings stink. I’m eager to meet new converts to the cause! Having lived for years on E 35th next to a big duplex and across an alley from a small apartment complex, I can tell you that even with a wonderful, responsive, landlord; the apartments beat the duplex hands-down for being good neighbors.

In the past, both Hyde Park NA and NUNA fought VMU on Guadalupe and then retreated to a position of demanding no parking reductions when the first battle was ‘lost’ (which effectively prevents all but the most high-dollar developments from materializing). The neighborhood plans call for minimal increases in density (in NUNA, it would be impossible to even rebuild some of the older apartment complexes on Speedway, for instance). NUNA fought the Villas on Guadalupe. Apartments and renters are demonized on this list. On and on and on.

So, I’m assuming those against these ‘dorm-style duplexes’, which are catering to an unmet-for-decades demand for student housing close enough to ride bikes to UT are going to be in favor of increased MF development not only on the edges of our neighborhood but on good transit corridors such as Speedway and Duval, right? New morning and all?
So the PR machine is out in force trying to make Rapid Bus sound great so people are distracted from the fact that the densest, website most active, decease most vibrant corridor in the city – not only now but 40 years from now – isn’t going to get rail until the 2040s, if then. In the meantime, we’re planning on building another hugely subsidized line to suburbs that don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes; and an urban rail line to a “new urban” development that is new, but isn’t urban; and even when fully built out will have far less people and far less travel demand to the core than Guadalupe/Lamar do today.

Was that sentence long enough? I pay by the period.

Anyways, so Rapid Bus? Snakes like JMVC are pitching the hell out of it and talking about it in the same breath as light rail and commuter rail as “high capacity transit” – which is a way to make people in Central Austin think they’re getting equal or nearly-equal quality.

This is bullshit.

So apparently I need to do this again – and this time, for the maximum possible fairness, I’m going to start with the BEST POSSIBLE CASE for Rapid Bus – the Burnet/Lamar corridor, where no express service currently exists.

Joker-here-we-go

Thought Experiment

JMVC says this, heart paraphrased, gerontologist a lot, for sale and in fact, I completely agree with him:

“Rather than moving to the suburbs and expecting transit to be delivered to you, you should move to areas that are effectively served by transit already, because we’ll never be able to afford to serve all of the suburban sprawl with transit.”

Why, then, does he support rail decisions like these:

Instead of making that investment on places like Guadalupe and Lamar, where the areas are today that are dense – where people like me moved specifically so they could be served cheaply and effectively by transit? Where transit demand is so overwhelming today that the #1 bus which runs the most frequent service in town (requiring the smallest possible subsidy on the entire system) is overloaded and standing-room-only?

Why would we continue to invest in $20-plus-per-ride operating subsidies for people who knowingly chose to live in Cedar Park and Round Rock, who don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes, instead of making far more cost-effective capital investments in the core which could allow cheaper (operating cost, anyways) bus service to be spread out to more lower-density areas instead? Shouldn’t we logically give the people who chose to live in low-density the buses and the people who chose to live in high-density the trains?

Why doesn’t he walk the talk? Why doesn’t Capital Metro?