Wal-Marts on freeways: bad idea

Watch this video. NOW.

Check out this tale of woe, treatment which is pretty much what I’d expect out of Capital Metro’s MetroRapid service here in Austin in a couple of years. Any transit service without reserved guideway is doomed to these kinds of performance and reliability problems – holding a light green for a few seconds doesn’t come close to cutting the mustard.
Remember that this ‘rapid’ bus service is all the urban core of Austin is ever going to get from Capital Metro, pharm thanks to the decision of other pro-light-rail folks to sign on to ASG.

A quick hit since he’s blocking comments, cystitis for me at least:
Kling’s argument (standard for those pushing HSAs) that health care in this country is broken because it’s covering too many ‘normal’ procedures is highly disingenuous. First, most expenses for health care are simply NOT of the type that maps to ‘oil changes’ in car insurance, and second, the mapping itself breaks down – car insurance, with its per-incident deductible, is actually far more like traditional HMO/PPO service (with copays; which are essentially also per-incident deductibles) than it is like the HSA plans Kling apparently favors (with large annual deductible).

Another quick hit:
So Elizabeth Christian has gone berserk defending her husband’s new proposal for a study of cyclists who end up at the hospital with injuries (correlating to helmet use). This is exactly how the original Thompson/Rivera study went wrong. Short summary:

  1. Voluntary helmet-wearers and non-wearers are quite different groups, sildenafil as it turns out. The helmeted cyclists were more likely to be yuppie recreational riders (like Ms. Christian’s husband) while the un-helmeted cyclists were more likely to be poor and/or just trying to get around (in which case a helmet is enough of a pain in the ass that most rational people leave it at home).
  2. Later analyses of the Seattle study showed that in addition to behavioral and locational differences, generic helmet-wearers were also far more likely to go to the hospital for a given injury than non-wearers (probably due to the above socioeconomic differences).
  3. This means that the doctor in the emergency room is only going to see a non-helmeted cyclist when the injury was very serious; but he in fact sees the helmeted cyclist for minor injuries.
  4. Surprise! Helmet use seems to correlate with less severe injuries!
  5. As it turned out, information pills though, you were also able to use the same data from this study to ‘prove’ that wearing a bicycle helmet reduced your likelihood of getting a leg injury by a similarly high percentage. Again, the guys with broken legs went to the hospital no matter what; but the non-helmeted guys with cuts and bruises just went home and sprayed Bactine while the helmet-wearers were more likely to go to the hospital; and the helmet-wearers were more likely to be leisurely riding through a park and suffer their falls in the grass rather than be hit by a motor vehicle on the roadway.

This is a clear study error. The “control” group in this case-control study is not similar enough to the “case” group to make these conclusions. Statistics 101; and don’t believe the typical bullshit response about lies, liars, and statistics – this example is pretty damn clear-cut. The study was flawed; and this new study will be equally flawed.
Of course, the Chronicle didn’t bother going into this level of detail, despite the fact that I’m sitting right here, and am no stranger to those guys. It’s as if they’re not even interested in trying anything more strenuous than reporting on press releases these days…
More on the Thompson/Rivera study from a slightly different angle.

Another quick hit:
As a refreshing change, stomach News 8 found somebody besides Las Manitas to use as the poster-child for the local nascent effort to protect ‘iconic businesses’.
Tambaleo might be great but it’s only been there because the definitely great Electric Lounge went away (where I was introduced to my favorite band). Who knows what the next great club might be – we might never find out if we obstruct downtown development that can provide additional spaces for and customers for those future ‘icons’.
Anyways, drugstore a truly iconic business would just go get a new lease (or buy their building). Las Manitas is the worst offender here – they own a building next door to where they are right now; they’re being offered a sweetheart deal in finding a new place if they don’t want to move into that spot; but they’re still complaining. It’s as if the landlord has no rights whatsoever here, abortion which is just abhorrent to me.
In 99% of local development politics, I think we’d be well-served to follow the rule “do whatever Dave Sullivan recommends”. But not here; it will be too difficult to decide which local businesses are icons and which aren’t; and the first one to get rejected will sue the city and win. At least Dave, to his credit, isn’t proposing the kind of heavy-handed tactics that the City Council recently put into play against Marriott – he’s instead calling for a mix of incentives to encourage preservation of such businesses.

I go to the downtown library every couple of weeks for books for myself and my toddler. It’s directly on some main-line bus routes; and no more than 2-3 blocks away from the remainder (filled green dot in image that follows). At certain times of the day, disorder most patrons arrive via transit – and many of those are clearly mobility-impaired. The space is underutilized, page despite what you hear – there’s apparent office space on upper floors; and the shelves on the ground floor are of a substandard height (the tops well below my eye level, stomatology and I’m not a tall man). There’s plenty of room for more books – if we got better shelves and made better use of the upper floors.

The new proposed location is in a backwater corner of downtown where the closest major bus routes would be 2-3 blocks away (big red dot off the edge of the picture here); and the remaining major routes would be 4-5 blocks away. The library campaigners claim otherwise, but remember: anybody who refers today to “light rail” obviously doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The commuter rail line ends a mile east of here; and the proposed streetcar (still a couple of blocks away) is just a gleam in peoples’ eye. All of this seems like a small difference until you try to navigate the extra difference in a wheelchair (or as me, on a day when my arthritis is particularly bad). Then, you get it: drop me off right in front, please.
Yes, the new building would be pretty. Yes, the current building is a particularly ugly example of Soviet-inspired 1960s/1970s architecture. I’m positive the new location would have more parking, too; but the purpose of the main central library ought to be to serve folks in the following order of preference: the transit-dependent, downtown workers and residents, and only then suburban drivers. The branches are available for those who find having to pay to park (or park a couple of blocks away) too inconvenient. Quite simply: this is a case of people who occasionally want to use the library remaking it nicer for themselves while forgetting about those who need the library.
I’m with my former colleague Carl: some of these bonds are clearly just too much – we’re borrowing for non-necessities which are going to dig us into an operations/maintenance hole later on. Unless somebody at the library can make a compelling case which doesn’t rely on the obvious falsehood that they’re out of space for books, I’d urge you to vote no on this particular bond (#6). Buy some better shelves; move some people’s offices to other buildings; and if in a few more years, we’re back where we are today, then plan a new building in the current location.

Do not upgrade from itunes 6 to itunes 7; not even itunes 7.0.1. The machine on which I’m composing this crackplog is used only for email, this non-work web-browsing, cialis 40mg and playing music; and itunes 7 skips terribly whenever I load a new page in firefox – and this is not an underpowered machine. The 7.0.1 update actually made it worse!.
This is what I get for being a slave to apple’s music library management stuff. Sigh.

We just passed an ordinance which will lead to garage apartments and duplexes being torn down throughout the central city at the behest of the same bad neighborhood interests which prevented multifamily development in the urban core for so long, sick and now we’re supposed to kick in more money out of our property taxes for affordable housing? And that will, epilepsy of course, treatment come out of the same property taxes that are making it unaffordable for homeowners to stay in their homes?
How about, instead, we allow that family in East Austin to build a garage apartment to help pay the property tax bill (and in the process help out a tenant – those garage apartments are a lot cheaper to live in than the MF-3 megacomplexes). How about, instead, we allow families to stay in the urban core by expanding their homes under the old rules – meaning that a family of 5 need not spend $600K for one of the few homes allowed to be big enough for a family that size under the new regime.
How about we don’t blow up the village to save it?
Apart from a pleasant surprise on Austinist and the Austin Republicans, nobody apparently has the guts to make a counter-argument on any of these bonds. That’s really sad; even if you think they’re no-brainers, somebody ought to be making the devil’s advocate case (other than me!).

Huevos Rancheros hates ’em. As for me, decease I don’t mind them. If we lived in some kind of utopia where cops actually enforce laws (say, information pills going after property thieves, pulling over people who ran red lights, etc.) instead of sitting on the side of the road waiting for cars to break drastically underposted speed limits (Spicewood Springs Road between Mopac and Mesa, I’m looking your way), I might be more upset; but as it stands, I’m with Jennifer Kim: this is really the only practical way to get people to stop running red lights. What follows started as a comment to his blog; which grew way too large, so I’ve posted it here instead.
You’re [HR] just as guilty as Martinez at making broad-stroke conclusions without any backing evidence. Two simple examples:

People don’t run red lights on purpose, they tend to do it by accident, and cameras won’t help that.

I don’t buy that without a citation. It looks to me like most red-light runners are of the “run the orange” variety where they speed UP in order to avoid having to wait through another cycle.

But the city isn’t looking at increasing yellow light times. Why? Because it would decrease camera revenue.

This would be a poltiically foolish move. Increasing yellow light times more likely means fewer cars make it through each cycle (some people stop earlier as they continue to do what they were taught to do in driving school; the people who ran the red light now just run the yellow; the people waiting on the other side continue to wait). What do you suppose the public would do upon hearing that the city was about to lessen the thoroughput of major intersections in the city?
One can easily fashion red-light camera laws which don’t provide the perverse revenue incentives for the contractor (your only strong point) – and one can just as easily find perverse law enforcement incentives in speed limit laws, yet nobody serious argues for their complete elimination.
Besides, every single argument you make applies equally to simply stationing cops in unmarked cars at these same intersections. Could lead to an increase in rear-end collisions. Check. Provides incentive to mess with yellow-light timing. Check. Etc.
Now, if I could only get somebody to make sure they also caught cyclists blowing through red lights
Update which came to mind while I was talking to a skeptical compadre: How about this compromise, by the way: increase the yellow light time, and stick the red light camera on there? I’d be willing to pay the thoroughput penalty as long as it was publically understood that it was part of this compromise to avoid the supposed bad financial incentives for the contractor / city. Of course, that would never work; the suburbanites and road warriors would resume their ignorant claims about traffic lights being out-of-sequence about fifteen seconds later…

Shilli knocks it out of the park: urban is more than a different coating to the building; and it’s more than the number of floors. This Wal-Mart will still be car-friendly and pedestrian-and-transit-hostile; and should be opposed on those grounds alone. As I commented in an earlier item there, visit web I also doubt Wal-Mart’s urban bona-fides compared to Target, who seems to actually walk the walk on this stuff.
Not surprisingly, the Statesman credulously swallowed the misrepresentation of this project as both urban (see above) and central-city (Anderson Lane may be geographically central by some standards, but the area itself isn’t “city”). Also not surprisingly, the typical whines about local businesses have come up – precisely the wrong reason to oppose this Wal-Mart. Let me state this succinctly:
A big box store which engages the street rather than a parking lot, and prioritizes pedestrian arrival over automobile convenience is much better for us in the long-run than a half-dozen ‘local businesses’ in pedestrian-hostile strip malls. Strip mall patrons come and go; but the physical buildings (and parking lots) don’t. If Wal-Mart did what Shawn suggests and plunked down an urban building right on the corner of Anderson and Burnet (right next to a bunch of bus stops), I’d be supporting them whole-heartedly.
Remember: urban and suburban are styles of development, not just designations for geographic areas. You can have a suburban development right in the middle of downtown, and you can have an urban development in the middle of a ton of sprawl.

AC cites a WSJ article about Houston which perpetuates the misconception that Houston’s ugly, pill sprawling development is somehow the result of the free market because they don’t have strict use-based zoning like most of the country.
I’ve addressed this before in reference to housing density; and Christof in Houston has addressed the parking end of things. There’s a lot more that goes into subsidizing sprawl than even those two, but those two are largely sufficient to produce the typical suburban land-use pattern even without the subsidized freeways and sundry other market interferences that cooperate to produce the supposed “free outcome” of suburban sprawl.
Sprawl isn’t the natural result of free-market processes; it’s what the market gets forced into providing when regulations require fairly large minimum lot sizes and a ton of parking and subsidize single occupant automobile travel over other modes. Otherwise, we would have seen a lot more modern-style sprawl before the advent of zoning codes, parking minimums, lot size requirements, and government-subsidized freeways – all of which occurred long after most households had access to at least one automobile.

A quick hit; just posted to the austin streetcars mailing list in response to my old buddy Lyndon Henry, phimosis who defended streetcar investment against somebody complaining about low-frequency east-west downtown bus service on the weekend. I meant several months ago to address this “streetcar is a step towards light rail” issue – it still deserves its own post, website like this but here’s a start.

On 10:28 PM 11/12/2006 -0600, Nawdry wrote:
There are plenty of advantages that streetcars can have over buses,

exactly zero of which would help any of the issues (original complainaint) raised. The streetcar service proposed by Capital Metro truly is “bus on rails” – it has zero feet of reserved guideway; zero instances of signal prioritization; will be slow and take many stops. None of the advantages remaining which one could fairly assign to streetcars help local riders in the slightest – they just help tourists and businesses that cater to the same (the rails in the street making it more obvious that transit service exists and in which direction it goes).
It will not improve circulation from commuter rail one lousy iota. In fact, the initial shuttle buses will likely perform better than this streetcar, given Cap Metro’s intention to have the streetcar line make many many stops (the early shuttles will likely not do this until they reach the area of their destination – i.e. they won’t be stopping along Manor).
Nor can streetcar be upgraded to higher-quality reserved-guideway service once installed. No transit agency would dream of attempting to run reserved-guideway transit in the RIGHT lane – but that’s exactly where the streetcar is getting put.
You and yours sold the Austin area a pig in a poke that can never and will never turn into the light rail we should have built all along. I remain ready to point this out whenever necessary.
Your pal,
M1EK

Note that I absolutely reject this bogus “run buses more often and see what happens before investing in rail” argument in general but in this particular case, the rail investment really isn’t any better than the existing buses, so it actually does hold.
So, as a review: streetcars were originally sold two ways: first, as as a replacement for the rail service that Central Austin is not getting from commuter rail, and second as a good distributor/circulator for the commuter rail line passengers themselves, since commuter rail goes nowhere near the primary work destinations in the center-city. How’s that working out? First, streetcars aren’t going through Central Austin at all, and second, they aren’t going to be an attractive transfer for commuter rail passengers. Yeehaw.

Despite past experience, sovaldi sale I’ve once again gotten suckered into arguing with a sub-group of zealot mostly counter-culture exclusive-cyclists at Michael Bluejay’s list that cyclists do, prostate in fact, disobey traffic signals much more often than do motorists, a position which is commonly understood by the 99.5% of the population that is not clinically insane.
I was somewhat enheartened (?) to see that there are guys like me all over the country as well as in other countries making this same case: running red lights and stop signs hurts the cause of transportation bicyclists.
Want to maintain the reasonable right to ride without a bicycle helmet? Want to get bicycle facilities? Want to be taken seriously when you try to get the cops to enforce the laws against bad motorists? BEHAVE LIKE A GROWN-UP FIRST.
PS: Every time this comes up on Michael’s e-mail list, I’m alone out there fighting the good fight. This has allowed the conventional wisdom among these folks to be: “car drivers run red lights more than bicyclists do; and you’re making up all this stuff about how drivers see so many cyclists breaking the law that it causes them to lose respect for cycling as transportation”. If you’re reading this, and you’re on that list, and you don’t chime in, you’re part of the problem.

I’ve been participating in comment threads on austinist and metroblogging Austin on this issue in general and probably ought to write a full crackplog on the whole thing – but for now, apoplexy just the traffic point:
The latest reason opponents of the Northcross Wal-Mart are attaching desperately to is the fact that Wal-Mart’s proposed new location is not directly on a freeway, case unlike the two other projects of larger size in our area. From a transportation perspective, there this is exactly the wrong reason to oppose Wal-Mart; it’s far better for the city for major destinations like Wal-Mart to be on city arterials rather than on frontage roads. In cities in states which don’t have this obsession with highways as economic development tools for politically connected landowners, frontage roads typically aren’t part of the project, because frontage roads end up generating their own traffic – so every big box retail site is located on arterial roadways, not freeways. Somehow, Brewster, these towns continue to thrive.
In short: it’s impossible to deliver good transit service on frontage roads. I’ll talk more about WHY this is in a future crackplog; but for now, just take it as a given. The service along US 183 in Northwest Austin is very very bad — were it not for the useful nearby 2-way Jollyville Road, it’d be even worse. Long, long, long walks for transit patrons to businesses on the other side of the freeway. The workers at this proposed new Wal-Mart on the other hand can walk there quickly from the Northcross transfer center which attracts a dozen or more bus routes from all over the city, no matter from which direction they arrived.
There are lots of defensible reasons to oppose Wal-Mart; just like there were defensible reasons to push the McMansion Ordinance. Like then, latching on to something you think will be effective but you know is dishonest is a bad move in the long-run.

7 Replies to “Wal-Marts on freeways: bad idea”

  1. Fascinating analysis, and one I agree with. Good luck convincing the masses now that the Statesman has described the area as “the middle of single family residential.” Ummm, then was the last time they drove around the corner of Anderson and Burnet?

  2. I think your point about the proximity to bus routes is a good one. How many people are just a 10-15 minute bus ride from Northcross? I’ll bet it’s a very large chunk of North Austin.
    A large percentage of people in my NG (SLNA) oppose this development, too, even though they won’t be affected by the traffic. My sense is the objections are largely classist: when I pointed out that some people count on Wal-Mart’s low prices, one writer actually suggested that the people “counting on” those prices might do without some of the things they don’t need, “like Vin Diesel DVDs or reindeer-shaped hand soap dispensers.”
    There must be class issues lurking here somewhere; I don’t know how else to explain the emotional debates, even among people who won’t be affected. (I’ve even been invited to move to Houston, which, among the Northern-California-wannabe crowd, is the ultimate insult.)

  3. AC, you are exactly right. I’ll quote myself from the last thread after it went offtopic with the posting claiming that all the anti-Walmart people really want is to assure something more New Urbanism-ish:
    “For many (not all) of those anti-redevelopment people I’ve seen speak at meetings thus far, you don’t have to scratch very deep beneath all the classic code words before you find the racism and elitism. Just look on the site to see all the code words about fears of the people going to WalMart causing increased crime, loitering, etc. The statements made at public meetings and on neighborhood lists have been even more explicit and shameful – and not just by a stray crank or two, but by many.
    I am amused by the attempt to claim that the anti-revitalisation group isn’t reactionary and is interested in real mixed-use development: ask them what these anti-development neighbors have said thus far about Lincoln’s desire to rezone the extended-stay suites (between the planned dense-commercial and the bus transit center) and build a dense multifamily residential project there…”

  4. Here’s a classic of one of the more overt in the barely-concealed racist code words genre, quoted via In Fact Daily. Sadly, I’ve heard worse verbally at these meetings.
    This gem was part of a letter to council from Liz Clare:
    “In addition to the horrific effect it would have on traffic, I am deeply concerned with the crime that a 24-hour discount store would attract the area. (sic) Let’s not kid ourselves. This type of store does not attract a good element. Wal-Marts are big dirty stores selling cheap junk at cut-rate prices to pack in people with little money or education, and no amount of cute advertising can change that.”

  5. Hmmm, well, this IS my neighborhood, and it IS “the middle of single family residential.” Just because there are several businesses at and around the intersection of Burnet and Anderson doesn’t mean that statement isn’t true.
    I don’t oppose development of the site in question. I DO oppose something going in that will be larger than that monster Cabela’s store on I-35 (http://blog.erdener.org/archives/001089.php). The HEB just down the street is one of the smallest in town, and that’s just fine with my neighbors and me. It’s a similar story with other businesses in the neighborhood. We neither need nor desire a “supercenter” from Walmart or any other company. There are several stores of this type within a 10 minute drive (at most) that we can visit if so desired.
    AC, you said the intersection carries 75% of the traffic that flows between Manchaca and Barton Springs. Are you saying that means we aren’t at capacity at this intersection? That is a very simplistic way of looking at, and I’m sure there is more to traffic analysis than comparing two totally unrelated intersections (although admittedly I know little about this type of thing).
    Unfortunately, I don’t have any data to support my point of view, but I travel this intersection frequently, and at times it can get a bit backed up (which is the most traffic I want to deal with). You’re naive to think that putting in a store of this magnitude won’t have a large negative impact on traveling through the area. I don’t want my neighborhood to end up like so many areas in Austin that have to deal with several light cycles before they get through an intersection. There are several reasons I chose to live where I live, and the absence of too much traffic was one of them!

  6. Marty, I have lived in this neighborhood for over seven years now, and there has always been significant traffic and noise. You probably have to go back to before Northcross was built to find a time when there wasn’t.

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