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Response to McCracken

Brewster McCracken posted a response (seemingly authentic) to this austinist thread, attempting to rebut many of my points about Northcross and Wal-Mart. Here's what I said in response.

Brewster,

Obviously I disagree with much of what you posted. I'll just pick the one I know the most about, though; this peculiar idea that it's better to put large retail destinations on "highways" rather than at the intersection of two city arterial roadways, next to a major transit center. Only in Texas (where frontage roads are viewed as the normal state of affairs rather than an occasional last-ditch tool to provide access when all else fails) would we even be having this conversation; note that the new Wal-Mart in Atlanta being compared to this one is _NOT_, I repeat, _NOT_ "on the highway".

I refer readers again to my (artlessly drawn but hopefully at least readable) diagram linked to if you click on "M1EK" at the end of this posting. It's simply impossible to deliver high-quality transit service on highway frontage roads -- but it's very easy to do so on arterial roadways. All you need to do is take a look at those #3 buses going up and down Burnet Road vs. the #383 buses going up and down Research Blvd. if you don't believe me - both are operating in relatively the same density development; but one is a success and one is a failure.

Frontage roads also destroy the ability to travel by foot (for nearby pedestrians) and severely hamper travel by bicycle; but in this case, transit is probably the most important mode to worry about. Remember, though, that when dealing with frontage road development, we also have to somehow convince TXDOT to build sidewalks along the frontage road in the best-case scenario (and, of course, they've designed some 'highways' in ways that make even the provision of such sidewalks by the City of Austin impossible - US 183 near Braker Lane, for instance; in this photo-essay: http://www.io.com/~mdahmus/183sidewalks/183sidewalks.html

Pushing all our big boxes (and other employers/destinations) to frontage roads simply means the people travelling there can't do so by any means other than the private automobile. This doesn't hurt high-tech office workers on US 183 as much as it does the potential employees of Wal-Mart, of course.

As for the remaining points - I'm happy the neighborhoods have learned to not make the strategic error that NUNA did vis-a-vis The Villas On Guadalupe. That's a far cry from evidence that they now support urban mixed-use development "like the Triangle". A Triangle-style development, expanded to cover the footprint of Northcross Mall, would be bringing in not only roughly the same amount of retail as this proposal, but thousands of units of multi-family; and the nearby neighborhoods have opposed previous efforts to increase multi-family in the area quite recently (hotel conversion at south edge of property).

Regards,
Mike Dahmus (M1EK's Bake-Sale of Bile)
Urban Transportation Commission 2001-2005

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , Republicans Hate Poor People , Republicans Hate Public Transportation , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design , Walking in Austin (Pedestrian Issues) , When Neighborhoods Go Bad

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Comments

I commented too. (It seemed like an authentic post. I assume Brewster will speak up if that wasn't really him.)

M1EK said:

"It's simply impossible to deliver high-quality transit service on highway frontage roads -- but it's very easy to do so on arterial roadways. All you need to do is take a look at those #3 buses going up and down Burnet Road vs. the #383 buses going up and down Research Blvd. if you don't believe me - both are operating in relatively the same density development; but one is a success and one is a failure."

M1EK's analysis is correct. It's an important practical point that will be obvious to anyone who actually tries to use the 383 route to get anywhere.

I thought the placement of the Wal-Mart on a highway or not on a highway was somewhat incidental to Brewster's post. My reading was that he didn't like this development because they weren't complying with the design regs and they had misrepresented the number of car trips (which was the justification he was using to try to get the city another crack at approving/not approving the project). I'm not sure why he references "highway-style" development, but I don't get the impression that his position would be any different if this project was located a half mile to the west (on MoPac). I think by "highway-style" he just means what I would mean if I said "suburban-style."

That said, I don't disagree with your points about public transit being incompatible with highways, but I think urban life is generally incompatible with highways. Past differences (Shoal Creek) aside, I think you and Brewster are pretty close to being on the same page, and I think that he's doing a lot better for us than most of the other council members. As a politician, he is obviously more populist and less contrarian, but I think he is generally moving things in the right direction.

Shawn,

Brewster has come out specifically against this location, making the Cabela's comparison, if I'm not mistaken. That implies "on a highway" vs. "highway-style" being the point of contention.

I like his design initiatives too, but I bet he'd find a way to be against a more urban Wal-Mart (of similar size) at this location - because he's preparing for the year-long panderathon necessary to run for mayor in these parts.

So how do you explain the success and placement of the Target off I35. This is bull shit!

So how do you explain the success and placement of the Target off I35. Frontage road entrance and exit. This is bull shit!

So how do you explain the success and placement of the Target off I35. Frontage road entrance and exit.

Did that really require three posts?

The Target site is right between the frontage road and a parallel city arterial with good bus service (Cameron Road). The bus service on the I-35 frontage itself is very poor - again, it's impossible to deliver high-quality transit on highway frontage roads.

I posted near the end of that thing too.

Brewster lives in a world where you do something on paper, puff your chest out and refer to it again when you run for office. That's the side of things where his interests lie. But there is a world of incentives, supply, demand, difficult parameters and consequences that exists out there which he pays no mind to. Austin is DESPERATE for housing and that carries over to retail. Brewster has thrown a huge wrench into these two realms at the most basic levels.

I'll address the Mcmansion side of things. Residential code now requires random structural offsets, promotes basements, and has square footage penalties for covered garages. Good products that were feasible aren't any longer. And the dirty truth is that the people hurt the most are in the working class parts of town. Duplexes that were improving certain parts of town (St. Johns & East Austin) are no longer feasible. Working people were getting a new, safe, and affordable housing option in areas where any improvement was a huge advancement. That model is extremely difficult now.

The builders/developers that do decide to go for it and jump through the hoops only come out on the other end with a more expensive product. The carrying cost increases stemming from a more difficult design and review process, the reduced square footage, and the fact many builders won't even touch certain lots anymore (therefore less supply) make any remaining homes being built after this travesty more expensive.

The same thing will happen with retail and it will ripple through our local economy.

Brewster likes politics. He is pretty good at what he does although he bends the truth too much. But he is leaving Austin with a legacy of higher cost of living that we will be dealing with far into the future. For those posters that like him, I warn you not to follow his feel good political pandering lightly. He has no respect for real world implications as long as he gets to look good.

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