On Misrepresentation (Willful, that is)

So The Triangle is almost open, and in a thread on the Hyde Park mailing list, I called a Hyde Park resident on the “students are going to drive to UT from there” canard which was so abhorrently misused by NUNA during the Villas on Guadalupe fight. It’s obvious to anybody with half a brain that students aren’t going to drive from 45th/Guadalupe to UT, considering the parking situation at UT — in fact, it is quite likely that their car, in the garage at the Triangle, is already as close as it could get to the campus without spending way too much time circling. (Many student drivers drive to the IM fields, and take a shuttle-bus the rest of the way in – the Triangle is already no further away than that, and there’s a BETTER bus right outside their door). Yeah, a couple of them might do it once in a while because they need to run an errand right after class, but they’ll just displace a student who’s currently parking down there at a pay lot, since the supply of near-UT parking is COMPLETELY taken up by the current demand for same.

Now the guy who I responded to is pissed, having sent me a curt response demanding an apology, and I replied with a fairly inflammatory note back asking if he’d prefer I assume he’s stupid and apologize, or assume he’s smart and not do so. Like most center-city neighborhood partisans, I think he’s willing to bend what he knows to be true about traffic in order to win points at City Council, i.e. “the ends justify the means”. But is my response to such the right way to handle things? Is it better to remain respectful, courteous, and get played for a sucker; or is it better to not take any crap and call it what it is?

I see too many people being played for fools by bad actors who make statements they know to be false – like certain posters on the new Shoal Creek Boulevard group. Is it better to pretend that these bad actors are genuine and risk giving them credibility they don’t deserve? Is it better to call them what they are? Is it better to do what I typically do and attempt both, and depending on who you ask, fail at both? I figure there’s enough people out there who pretend like bad actors are genuine; the world doesn’t need another one. Am I wrong here?

Ironically, my original post to the hydeparkaustin group got rejected by the moderator for being too inflammatory – the one which has got the original poster up in arms was the nicer version that got approved.

(For the record, I’m not this mad at my old neighborhood over Spring; it is conceivable that somebody could honestly believe it would make traffic worse — but for me to believe that somebody who lives and apparently works in central Austin would be unaware of the parking situation around UT requires an unsustainable suspension of disbelief).

Update: Got a bounce from him – apparently my response got sent to his spamtrap. So I guess we’ll see.

Claims about Spring don’t Spring

I don’t have time for a full write-up on my old neighborhood’s irresponsible opposition to the Spring project but one thing I talked about with my coworker yesterday merits a quick jotting down so I don’t forget.

The neighborhood (and my coworker) assert that you shouldn’t build this project because it would make traffic much worse at the 5th/6th/Lamar intersection, which already fails during rush hour. This seems like a reasonable proposition, but I assert otherwise. Consider a simplified model of the Spring residents – there are two residents, both of whom work downtown. Wendy Walker and Dave Driver.

Dave Driver is going to get in his car and drive east. This won’t make the intersections at Lamar any worse, since he’s already east of Lamar. Oops. (Note: during my conversation with my cow orker, both of us forgot the fact that Spring is east, not west, of Lamar – if it makes this more worthwhile, you can pretend that we’re now talking about the intersection of 5th and Guadalupe, or that Spring is west of Lamar for the hypothetical).

Wendy Walker is going to walk to her job downtown. This can’t make things any worse either.

Now, consider what happens if the project isn’t built. Wendy and Dave still have their downtown jobs, but now they must drive there. Both will now go through the intersection at 5th and Lamar in the mornings and through 6th and Lamar in the evenings. Oops.

Like most opposition to densification, OWANA settled on the traffic argument since it’s an easy one to win, even if it lacks merit. In this case it’s clear – many (possibly most) of the people moving into these downtown complexes aren’t going to bother driving to work, and even if they do, they’re either ‘reverse commuting’ (driving OUT of downtown in the morning, where there’s plenty of spare capacity) or they can’t be making things any worse, since otherwise they’d be driving downtown from further out.

Still Yes For Office Towers On Lamar

Another note I sent to the OWANA mailing list is below, recorded here for posterity and crackpottery.

I would take issue with the following characterizations made by charles:
charles price wrote:
>
> I am very much in favor of downtown densification, but very against
> allowing a zoning change here.
To most of Austin, including many people living in OWANA, downtown
begins at Lamar Blvd.
> Bear in mind that office is the highest dollar return on investment,
> the movie industry is in a slump, and there are two Alamo Drafthouse
> Cinemas within one mile.
You can’t walk to one of those two Alamos from OWANA or from downtown
lofts, and the other one is likely not going to be at its current
location much longer.
> The Nokonah got the neighborhood’s agreement to not oppose a variance
> when the developers promised retail and restaurants on the lower
> floors on Lamar. After it was built they rented it as office space to
> a realty. The Hartland bank Building got a height variance after we
> didn’t oppose when they promised forty percent residential usage. The
> residential didn’t happen. The AISD building got a density variance
> after they promised a significant residential component, which never
> happened. I don’t think we should let the city relinquish control
> unless it is tied to a specific proposal. And we need to not pay much
> attention to the promises until they are made in writing with an way
> to enforce them.
Agreed 100%. Any agreement the developer promises should be backed up
with a deed restriction, CO, or other such arrangement.
> The site is zoned to allow commercial and office development already.
> They want the zoning change so they can build a significantly larger
> office component and a large parking garage.
The site is currently zoned to allow typical low-density retail strips
and small-scale office. Not an appropriate scale for Lamar Blvd.
> A large parking garage doesn’t seem compatible with the types of
> arguments being presented here regarding creating an incentive for
> mass transit.
As a matter of fact, getting buildings built with parking garages is far
superior to keeping current buildings with surface parking. Yes,
ideally, they’ll provide less parking than suburban alternatives. Some
do, many don’t. But at least the streetscape is vastly improved, as is
the possibility that the parking won’t be free.
> If we want to encourage mass transit, which I do, we want new office
> projects to be built downtown, not on the perimeter in an area
> surrounded by quality residential fabric.
The east side of Lamar _IS_ downtown.
> Leave the zoning as it is and they can build a reasonable amount
> of retail and offices including their movie house, but they can’t
> build a ten-story office tower which would be very bad at this site.
A ten-story office tower ANYWHERE in downtown is EXACTLY what this city
needs, and quickly. Developing more offices in the suburbs, given the
oil situation we face, is criminally irresponsible.
>
> It is clear that offices increase traffic at peak traffic hours. More
> offices = more traffic. Downtown offices as an encouragement for mass
> transportation sounds good, but most office traffic will always be
> single occupancy vehicles.
1. When parking isn’t free (as it isn’t at many downtown garages),
there’s an incentive to carpool or use transit which most of us don’t
enjoy at our suburban jobs.
2. You can feasibly build HOV lanes (or managed lanes) which go
downtown, but you can’t feasibly build them out to sprawl-land. (You can
BUILD them, but they’ll never be used to capacity – this is why places
like Silicon Valley have poor performance from HOV while places like DC
do really well with them).
> Downtown densification is better if it includes residences, shops, and
> restaurants which encourage living downtown so that a significant
> component of the people do not need transportation because they’re
> already there.
Agreed. How many of the people living downtown currently work in the
suburbs? Shouldn’t we bring more office development to them? (I’d kill
to work downtown, but there simply aren’t enough technology firms down
there to make it possible for more than a privileged few – luckily I
just took a job that allows me to work from home, so I can finally end
my trip out to the 128, I mean 101, I mean 183 corridor).
> We need people living downtown, not finding new ways to get to
> downtown from their suburban sprawl.
We need both, unless you’re going to empty the suburbs entirely. People
commuting downtown from their suburban home is far better, overall, than
people commuting from one suburban location to another.
> I won’t repeat at length the arguments concerning fairness or justice
> regarding changing a zoning that was in place when neighbors bought
> their properties understanding what could and could not be built
> across the street.
None of the people complaining live on Lamar Blvd, so characterizing
this as “across the street” is disingenuous.
> Obviously, no one wants an atrocity to be built next to their house or
> condo. Can you imagine buying a beautiful fifth floor condo in the
> Nokonah with floor to ceiling windows and then find the city is
> changing the neighboring zoning to allow a parking garage at the same
> height forty feet away!
Yes, I can. It’s called “living downtown”.
> We need to work together as a neighborhood to oppose this type of
> sprawling, profiteering commercialism,
This is the worst misrepresentation in your note – this project is the
antithesis of “sprawling” by any reasonable definition of the term. Good
or bad is an opinion, but it’s NOT “sprawling”.
> even when it doesn’t directly negatively impact you as an individual.
> If we don’t all fight against negative developments all around our
> neighborhood, we will become like the area across Lamar from us or
> like West Campus.
Ironically, had West Campus allowed tall buildings, they’d be a lot
better off today. The poor investment in old low-density multifamily
student properties is a direct unintended consequence of ridiculously
STRICT zoning codes imposed on an area which should have been allowed to
grow UP, and never was.

The Shoal Creek Debacle Keeps Rolling On

There was a public meeting on Wednesday night about the Shoal Creek Debacle in which many previously uninformed local residents complained about curb extensions and cyclists riding too close to the line (forced to do so, by the way, by the fact that there are CARS PARKED IN WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A BIKE LANE).

I just posted the following to the allandale yahoo group, and thought it might have some general interest:

— In allandale@yahoogroups.com, Barbara Frock wrote:
>I, like Rhonda, wonder about those who
> don’t live here who have come out swinging. Is it the cyclists who really
> wanted a “veloway” through our neighborhood from 38th to Foster?
That’s one way to put it.
Another way to put it is that Shoal Creek Boulevard is the most important route for bicycle commuting in the city. It forms the spine of the main route from points northwest (disproportionately recent residential growth) to the center-city and vice-versa; and serves as the bicyclist equivalent to at least Burnet Road, if not Mopac.

Yes, a bunch of people also ride this road for fun. And I’m as frustrated as you are (probably more) when the brightly-plumaged folks out for a training ride treat stop signs as matador capes.

But every day during rush hour you’ll also see dozens of cyclists clearly heading to or from work. This isn’t because they want to turn your neighborhood into a “veloway”; it’s because SCB is the recommended route for people who, in their cars, would be using Burnet or Mopac. And this is the way it’s SUPPOSED to work – you’re not supposed to turn your major arterials into cycling routes, you’re supposed to find a lower-traffic parallel road which can feasibly serve the same purpose.

Without SCB functioning as a major “cyclist artery”, you’d be complaining about these same cyclists slowing you down on Burnet Road.

The city’s legitimate interest in promoting bicycling as transportation requires that some routes like SCB be “major bicycling routes”, which implies that the interests of cyclists should AT A BARE MINIUM be considered above both-sides on-street parking. The city council failed miserably in this case in understanding that those two interests could not be served by a compromise solution; and the neighborhood has failed miserably in understanding that the parking-on-one-side solution already represented a signficant compromise for the bicycling interests, since it still required riding slightly in the “door zone” on the parking-allowed side of the street.

And, by the way, “through our neighborhood” smacks of an ‘ownership’ of SCB which isn’t supported by the facts. Even when misclassified as a residential collector, it’s still “owned” by the city, and the street MUST serve the interests of people who don’t live on that street (or even in that neighborhood). Even if SCB was misclassified all the way down to “residential street”, no automatic right to park in front of your house is conveyed – I have to pay for a permit to park on my street; and some residential streets in my area have large sections where parking is only allowed on one side.
– MD

Neighborhood Plans: Threat or Menace?

I just sent the following to the City Council. Not much time to blog lately; but this is some relevant content at least.


Mayor and councilmembers:
My name is Mike Dahmus and I currently serve on the Urban Transportation Commission. I was also the chairman of the transportation committee for the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan.

The story in Sunday's statesman about Envision Central Texas finally compelled me to write about a subject which has been bothering me for quite a while: neighborhood planning. When we worked on the OWANA plan, ed pilule we were operating under the assumption that we were supposed to be telling the city _where_ we wanted additional density to _go_, NOT _whether_ we wanted it at all. The Statesman and ECT have noticed what I've also seen: that other neighborhoods have not been held to this responsible position.
My current residence is in the North University neighborhood. I've witnessed weeks of self-congratulatory hype over the fact that building height limits will be loosened in West Campus, and that in return, no additional density (in fact, less than currently exists) will be required in NUNA.

However, when I explain to other people that West Campus building heights will be allowed to go as high as 175 feet or so under the new amazing plan, the typical response is not, "wow, they're being very responsible"; rather, it is, "I can't believe they weren't allowed to do that already".

In other words, the best that the current batch of neighborhood plans are able to come up with is restoring West Campus to what it always should have been while allowing nearby roads like Duval and Speedway to maintain a purely single-family pattern, which is ludicrously restrictive.

I've not become involved in this neighborhood plan because I only moved to the area a year ago, and then my wife had a baby; so my time is limited. In my limited interactions with the planning team, it is clear to me that my input would not have been welcome anyways; for this team (and most recent neighborhoods) have clearly been using the planning process as a club to drive out redevelopment (as you have noticed them doing with inappropriate uses of historic zoning).

I urge you to view this plan with a skeptical eye; and please hold this and future neighborhoods more accountable in the future. We will not get where we need to go if we codify restrictive single-family-only-zoning even on major transit routes like Duval and Speedway.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus