August 31, 2005

CAFE versus gas taxes - which works?

Kevin Drum likes CAFE. He believes that gas taxes are highly regressive. He's wrong. But which one 'works' better? His argument rests on the last 5 years of generally rising fuel prices versus vehicle sales.

The problem is that the rise in fuel prices recently has been seen by most Americans as the result of gouging, or the result of storms, or hippie environmentalists or <insert other crazy reason>. Key here is that all of those things are temporary. Now, if you're one of the few people who follows the real oil situation you know that we're probably in for a period of ever-higher spikes and plateaus (with intervening drops due to recessions, perhaps), but most people don't know this stuff.

If you think the last couple of years are an anomaly, it doesn't make sense to invest in a fuel-efficient car. Therefore, using that period as an example of how higher fuel prices don't affect vehicle choice as much as CAFE did is foolish. Better to look at Europe, where CAFE-like standards don't really exist; but at the time of vehicle purchase, it is understood that gas taxes are very high and likely to stay that way.

Anyways, CAFE doesn't work half as well as a high baseline for gas prices does. The real reason? Once you buy your car, if gas prices/taxes are low, there's no real incentive to leave it in the driveway on any given day. With higher gas prices/taxes, however, there is an incentive to leave it at home and take the bus, or carpool, or whatever.

Addressed as a quickie since so many people around the interweb keep repeating this canard.

August 27, 2005

Blandburbs and 'choice'

Continuing my recent theme of pointing to other works that explain my thinking, here's a quite good explanation of why suburban sprawl isn't natural; isn't the result of consumer 'choice'; and isn't healthy. Highly recommended. The only thing I'd add is the role of irresponsible inner city neighborhoods in preventing cities from doing responsible things to promote infill.

The idea that suburban sprawl is just a natural 'choice' ignores the reality that without the massive subsidies and regulatory restrictions which prevent anything ELSE from being built, a large minority of current suburbanites would actually live in neighborhoods like mine. All you need to do is see how cities developed before WWII, i.e., before the advent of both zoning and automobile subsidies (when there were plenty of cars, just not massive subsidies for their use by suburbanites).

I promise I'll get to my Pfluger Bridge stuff next week.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Funding of Transportation , I Told You So , Politics (Outside Austin) , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad , metablog
Posted by m1ek at 03:52 PM

The Casbjorksen Has Landed

Steve Casburn is finally online in Portland and is telling a familiar story - the bad bicyclist tale of woe. What I hear on the libertarian sites that I spend an unhealthy amount of time on is that Portland is a hellhole on the verge of collapse. Hopefully Steve, (who somehow got deluded by the liberal media into moving there without even having a job in advance) will survive the post-apocalyptic urban-planning wasteland. At least there's fewer fat people there.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Personal , Politics (Outside Austin) , Urban Design , metablog
Posted by m1ek at 11:35 AM

False balance

I can't stress the point of this editorial enough. In issues from global climate change to evolution education, the Republicans are abusing the "report both sides" mentality of the media to present crackpot crap on an equal footing with real science, and it needs to stop. Now.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Politics (Outside Austin) , Republicans Hate Public Transportation , Republicans Hate The Environment
Posted by m1ek at 10:48 AM

August 22, 2005

Why I never voted for Clinton

Even though he turned out to be the best possible president for that period in time (he and the Congress restrained each others' worst impulses): drug law hypocrisy.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Politics (Outside Austin)
Posted by m1ek at 08:57 AM | Comments (2)

August 19, 2005

Pastafarians unite!

I've never talked about religion on this blog, and haven't said much about personal matters in general. Today, however, I am filled with the holy impulse to tell you about the real story behind the creation of the Earth. Please share and make sure that this correct version of our origin is discussed in schools alongside the so-called "Intelligent Design".

Other links:

This entry was posted in the following categories: PS: I am not a crackpot , Personal , Politics (Outside Austin)
Posted by m1ek at 03:09 PM | Comments (2)

August 17, 2005

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Shuttle Buses

Here's what those of us who live or work in Central Austin are getting out of commuter rail. Stations in far east Austin and the Convention Center, with a handy transfer to a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle-bus to get you to where you might actually want to go. Image below is from one of two new documents up at the Future Connections Study site:

Capital Metro is starting rail service here in Austin in a couple of years NOT by doing what success stories like Portland and Dallas did (light rail straight through and to the densest parts of town) but what South Florida did (commuter rail where tracks already exist, requiring transfers to shuttle buses to actually get anywhere). Fifteen years later, Tri-Rail in South Florida is an unmitigated disaster: no choice commuters despite heavy promotion by an enthusiastic community, no transit-oriented development despite heavy subsidization (below-market attempts at land sales around stations and the like). Unlike in Dallas and Portland (and Minneapolis and Houston and Denver and Salt Lake...), drivers in South Florida aren't trying Tri-Rail because they know that transferring to shuttle buses every day for your commute overwhelms any speed advantage the train might have bought you up to that point.

In short, commuter rail as your starter line just plain doesn't work. And the picture ought to make it clear why - even the nominally downtown station is too far from the 6th/Congress intersection for most people to walk, and all other major activity centers in our area will require people to say hey, I'll drive to the park-and-ride, board a train, get off the train, get on a bus, wait in traffic with all the other cars, get off the bus, and walk to my office. Even promotional images used in the pro-commuter-rail campaign show that they expect downtown workers to have to transfer to shuttle buses, as seen below.

Notice in the handouts that they're still pretending that all options are on the table. But believe me, there is zero chance that light rail will end up as the circulator, and near-zero chance that streetcars will make it, not that streetcars would work anyways. It's going to be shuttle-buses in mixed-traffic. Mark my words.

August 16, 2005

The Wrong Direction

I can't believe anybody, including the current batch of Republicans, honestly thinks this is a good idea, but my standard for surprise keeps getting reset.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Funding of Transportation , I Told You So , Politics (Outside Austin) , Republicans Hate The Environment
Posted by m1ek at 09:26 AM | Comments (2)

August 13, 2005

Commuting To Riata

I had a nice conversation with Jonathan from Another Pointless Dotcom while doing some work last night, and it came to light that he works in the same complex I did for about a year and a half. This reminded me to share with him my old slideshow of that commute, which I've probably never mentioned on the blog. I also then chatted about it this morning with my current cow orker who has a lot of experience in the area. Since this might be of general interest to people who work in the area, I'll initiate this new Bicycle Commuting category with this oldie-but-goodie.

Riata is a cautionary tale of any number of my hot buttons, including the problems that frontage roads cause transit and pedestrians, neighborhoods being irresponsible, developers getting to claim credit for being 'near' transit when it's not feasible to actually use, high tech offices and apartment complexes metastasizing along sprawl corridors rather than being downtown where they ought to be, etc. There's at least a few thousand employees of various companies in there now - probably still down from the pre-bust peak.

The key things to remember about commuting to Riata, which is halfway between Duval and Oak Knoll on the north/east side of US 183 are:

  1. Use Jollyville. Now with bike lanes!
  2. When transitioning to Riata Trace Parkway, your choices are to go all the way up to Oak Knoll and come in the back way, or go over on Duval to the 183 frontage, and go in that way. In the morning, the northbound 183 frontage is very civilized and not a problem.
  3. When going home in the afternoon, you'll want to use the TI/Oak Knoll back way. Don't mess with 183 then.
  4. Think about using the bus for a boost uphill in some mornings, if you're like the (old) me and commuting from central Austin.
  5. Decide whether you want to cross Mopac on Spicewood or Steck. My current cow orker prefers Steck all the time; I prefer Steck uphill and Spicewood downhill. Depends on your tolerance for the stress of the crossing at Mopac/Spicewood versus the speed you'll give up at the 4-way stop on Steck.

(Technical details: I wrote the crappy slideshow script which reads pseudo-XML a long time ago and have never touched it since; it BARELY works; don't look at it cross-eyed or you might break the internet).

August 04, 2005

Future Connections Has Started

Capital Metro's Future Connections Group is now, finally, up on the web. This group was tasked with figuring out how to get people from the commuter rail stops, which are far away from where people actually want to go, to the places they, those wacky commuters, actually want to go. Like, say, their office. Or the University. Or the Warehouse District.

This is basically going to be a waste of time, since those of us who operate in the reality-based community all know Capital Metro's going to end up delivering shuttle buses in mixed traffic. The streetcar guys like Jeff are holding out hope, but I don't see Capital Metro going that way, and even if they did, streetcars are only marginally better than mixed-traffic buses for those choice commuters. Streetcars might help make downtown redevelopment even more palatable, in other words, but they aren't going to fix the speed and reliability problems of the All Systems Go route for people who live outside downtown.

Terminology lesson: In most cases, "streetcars" means "vehicle on rails in a traffic lane which shares its lane with cars, or is otherwise 'sharing traffic' with other vehicles and stops at a lot of red lights". "light rail" in this case bumps you up to "has its own lane; always gets a green light". So a streetcar is basically a Dillo on an embedded rail - it still is stuck in traffic just like your car or other buses are.

History lesson: The 2000 light rail plan, or any one of ten easily passable scaled-back versions thereof, would have delivered passengers (in ONE train trip) from their dense center-city residential neighborhoods or from their suburban park-and-rides, directly TO the University of Texas, the Capitol Complex, and downtown, without requiring a transfer to anything else, bus or streetcar in a reasonably fast and very reliable amount of time. Capital Metro didn't even try to bring something like this back before the voters, and most of the pro-transit people here in Austin didn't have the guts to tell them otherwise.

August 03, 2005

First Trip To Middle School

This post marks the beginning of a new category called "Empty Buses".

My family walked to the bus stop at 34th and Guadalupe to take my stepson to his middle-school orientation (he'll be taking the bus there every day when school starts, so today was a good practice opportunity). We picked up the #22 bus at 8:00 AM (on time), and rode it to Exposition and Lake Austin in about 15 minutes, perhaps 2 more minutes than the drive would have taken. With the 3 of us (plus baby who didn't pay a fare), there were 7 people on that bus. Several got off in Tarrytown; I think there was only one left on the bus when we disembarked at the middle school.

On the way back, we took the #21 bus, also on time. With the 2 of us (plus baby), there were 15 people on the bus at that stop. A few got off on the way to our stop, but a few got on; so the count stayed around 15 the whole way. Many of the people on the bus were evidently headed towards UT (where the bus goes after our stop).

(Answering Kim, my stepson takes this city bus because he's going to be going to a middle school in whose attendance area we don't reside - this is part of the track from his elementary school, which he stayed in after we moved a couple of years ago).

August 01, 2005

Toll Roads Help Central Austin, Part IV

The city is talking about amending the agreements with TXDOT about right-of-way participation for some local highways which are now, obviously, being rebranded as toll roads. This applies only to US 183 (east of I-35), US 290W, and SH 71 (east of I-35).

Note carefully the following facts:

  1. The city of Austin was on the hook for tens of millions of dollars for these roads, if they were to be built as freeways. The chance that this money would be extracted from Austin is 100%.
  2. The money for these contributions from the city to the state was authorized by the City Council in past cost-sharing agreements with TXDOT, which would require that bonds be floated like these examples in which voters authorized the city to borrow money for other recent highways.
  3. That borrowed money must be repaid by taxpayers in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, and other sources of revenue (mainly utility kickbacks). There is no contribution from gas taxes to the City of Austin budget. None.

What this means, in effect, is that the people in Central Austin who are disproportionately taxed on their properties (due to higher land values, not necessarily higher incomes) are paying these bills, and those are the people who drive the LEAST. Residents of the more sprawling parts of Austin are somewhere in the middle (pay less than Central Austin, get some benefit), and the real winners are people living in Dripping Springs, Bastrop, etc who pay nearly nothing and get most of the benefit of these particular roadways.

Now that the roads are being re-floated as tollways, the city is free (pending this agreement) to use this money (again, property and sales tax and utility dollars, NOT gas taxes) within the city limits of Austin for the needs of actual Austin taxpayers. And the people who most benefit from the roadways will actually have to pay for them.

What a communist idea.

Summary: toll roads are a winner for residents of Austin.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Driving in Austin , Funding of Transportation , I Told You So , Texas Republicans Hate Cities
Posted by m1ek at 02:14 PM | Comments (2)

Help for Rick Perry

I know this is late, but the conversation below did really just happen this morning.

(08:27:57) (me): ok I'm going to check this mofo in
(08:28:05) (cow orker): ok
(08:28:06) (me): speak now or forever hold your peas
(08:28:26) (cow orker): if I don't like it, I'll just take it out later, saying "adios, mofo"
(08:28:34) (me): adieu, mofo
(08:28:47) (me): aloha, mofo!
(08:29:01) (cow orker): perhaps the gov can add those to his list
(08:29:22) (me): the aloha is best, obviously, because you can also use it to say HELLO to your friendly neighborhood mofo.

Oh, and I was in DC from Sunday to Thursday last week. My wife got to ride the Metro. I was stuck in far suburban Virginia. Sigh.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Personal , Politics (Outside Austin)
Posted by m1ek at 08:33 AM