January 31, 2006

"Build it and they'll come" is no way to run a city

So the end-result of the Parlor problem appears to be that the neighborhood isn't going to budge on the parking variance, which means that another local business is in danger of going under unless the notoriously neighborhood-friendly Board of Adjustment suddenly becomes more responsible.

The end of the thread on the hydeparkaustin mailing list occurred when a member of the "Circle C in downtown Austin" party commented that a plan (in the works now for a long time and seemingly not close to fruition) to arrange for parking at the State Hospital (across Guadalupe) to be used for employees of businesses on Guadalupe would be the only way out of this mess.

I replied that it was unlikely that any customer or employee of those businesses would find it attractive to park at the state hospital, walk out to Guadalupe, wait a long time for the light at 41st and Guadalupe to change, walk very quickly across the street, and then and only then arrive at their destination (as compared to parking on a side street or Avenue A).

The person replied (and was supported by the moderator, who then ended the discussion with the attached unpublished rebuttal in hand) that "the boss can make the employee park whereever they say". This may be true in an abstract sense, I replied, but it's unlikely that any such boss would want to spend the energy enforcing a rule which prevented employees from parking in PUBLIC spaces such as on Avenue A, even if they did want to keep employees out of their own private lot.

This goes back to thinking of a type which is unfortunately prevalent here in Austin and among many other progressive cities - that being that people will do things that are good, as long as we provide opportunities to do them. IE, build it and they will come. What you build, given this thinking, doesn't have to be attractive compared to the pre-existing or forthcoming alternatives; its mere existence will suffice.

For instance, in this circumstance, they think that simply providing available parking in an inconvenient and unpleasant location will get people to park there who would otherwise park on neighborhood streets. Likewise, Capital Metro thinks simply providing any rail will get people to use it, even if the individual incentives are pretty awful, given the shuttle bus transfers.

I have a whole blog category analyzing 'use cases' which I think is a far more useful way to look at the problem. In this case, for instance, put yourself in the shoes of that potential parking consumer a few paragraphs back and remember that your boss probably (a) isn't going to be able to stop you from parking on Avenue A, and (b) probably couldn't catch you even if he tried.

But like with the naive pro-transit suckers that bought the MikeKrusee ScrewAustin Express, it's unlikely that it's possible to get through to these people. And so, the consequence is that another local business which probably would have improved Guadalupe as a place we actually want to be is thwarted. Good work, geniuses.

This is not to say that we should never build transit or highways. What it does mean is that somebody ought to spend at least a few minutes figuring out whether the thing you're going to expect people to use is actually attractive enough for them to choose to use it. By that metric, light rail in 2000 was a slam dunk, despite the lies spread by Skaggs and Daugherty. But in this parking case and with this commuter rail line, nobody seems to have bothered to put themselves in the shoes of the prospective user.

my sadly now never-to-be-published response (remember, this is to somebody who said "But the Heart Hospital doesn't let their employees park in their lot!" follows.

Those cases have some clear and obvious differences to the one
we're talking about here -- one being that the employees are being prohibited from parking in a private lot (which is still difficult to enforce, but at least defensible). You're asking that these business' employees not only refrain from parking in the business' lot (private) but ALSO from the public spaces on Guadalupe and the street space on Avenue A. And nobody's 'requiring' those state employees to park in Siberia - if they could find an open metered space somewhere else, for instance, they're free to take it. Likewise, the Heart Hospital can't force its employees to mark at the MHMR pool.

So it's easy to prohibit people from parking in a given private lot. Unless you're going to turn Avenue A into RPPP as part of this, though, they'd still park there instead of across Guadalupe. And any boss who tried to force them otherwise would probably be experiencing the fun world of employee turnover.

January 30, 2006

Now that I can't bike (or walk)...

my career as an itinerant musician playing for children can begin. (picture is from La Tazza Fresca a week ago Saturday playing for the benefit of a pack of intermittently interested 2-year-olds and their hopefully-much-more-entertained parents). Ethan is wearing white; Jeanne is off to the left trying to get him to clap; and I'm second from left with trumpet (played a bit but mostly did horse noises and sung along with my much more able compatriots). Thanks to Mary Somers for the picture. Click for another shot with DANCERS!

This entry was posted in the following categories: Personal
Posted by m1ek at 05:30 PM

January 27, 2006

Are American Cars Really All That Bad?

The site responsible for a great deal of the anti-hybrid FUD that I respond to has a long and fairly deep comment thread about the recent JD Power results. Like most of my peers, I don't own an American car and haven't in quite some time (I did buy a Saturn SL2 in 1991 and the car treated me well).

To me, though, it's damn simple. All of us who travel on business know that you get to try out American cars every time you go to the car rental place. (Well, I got to rent a Hyundai Sonata last time I was in Virginia on business, but that was the first time I ever got a non-American-brand car for rent). The key here is that many of those who aren't considering purchasing them know what they're like. Fix the cars you dump on the rental agencies and you might have a prayer.

For instance, during our 2002 trip to Hawaii, I rented two cars - a Dodge Neon on Oahu, and a Ford Focus on Maui. The first just suuuuucked - despite being a tiny, tiny, tiny car, I couldn't get it to turn tightly enough to fit in half of the spaces at our timeshare. The Focus, on the other hand, was a pretty good car. When it came time to consider buying our next car, the Focus was at least rattling around in my head (maybe if Ford had made a hybrid version, we would have given it more serious thought; but had we had to back up to a normal gas engine car, it would have certainly been in the running) while the Neon, I'd have a hard time justifying buying for $5000 new.

Likewise, the following cars which I drove or rode in the last couple of years on rental also suuuuucked: Chevrolet Cobalt, Buick Rendezvous (I got 'upgraded' to an SUV since they didn't have our midsize car), Chevrolet Malibu Maxx (2 times!). And our family got to drive a Chevy Tahoe for a day as a loaner car when ours was in for service. It was a piece of junk too.

That Hyundai Sonata? Like a traditional Buick, in all the good ways. That's bad news for the 'real' Buick too.

So, no, getting 'close' is not good enough to win back customers. Hell, any business weasel ought to be able to tell you that. You either get BETTER, or you do what Hyundai did, and get 'as good' and then offer a warranty that shows you're sure of it.

Don't try to mislead me with non-representative bullcrap about how your cars get 30 mpg on the highway when I'm driving one that gets 50 overall. Don't try to tell me how great your trucks are when gas is 3 bucks a gallon. If you ever want to get a guy like me back in your showrooms, you need to make better cars and mean it. Because I'll be driving your cars every so often whether I want to or not; so it won't be possible to fool me with salesman crap.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Politics (Outside Austin)
Posted by m1ek at 08:29 AM | Comments (2)

January 25, 2006

This ought to be on the front page of every newspaper in the damn country

This entry was posted in the following categories: Politics (Outside Austin)
Posted by m1ek at 08:47 AM | Comments (4)

January 24, 2006

URL change

My charitable host has moved this site to a different domain within his web empire. Please use the following URL in the future:


This entry was posted in the following categories: metablog
Posted by m1ek at 02:52 PM | Comments (2)

Clearly I Am A Shrinking Violet

Both Austinist and Metroblogging Austin wrote articles about Cap Metro which talked about commuter rail and didn't link here to any one of the hundred or so articles in my vast Cap Metro commuter rail category archive. My feelings are hurt. More importantly: Baby Jebus is crying.

Update: Both have now added links to the category archive here, so that hopefully new readers can get a lot of backstory. Thanks, both of you.

A summary:

  • Capital Metro did not seek Federal money because they knew they'd not get much. The FTA was unlikely to rate this commuter rail plan very highly - even Cap Metro's own figures show a very small number of people riding, because this piece-of-crap Krusee debacle doesn't actually go anywhere people want to go, like UT, the Capitol, or Congress Avenue, and their bogus stuck-in-traffic 'circulator' is only going to circulate bums and other carless transit-dependent folks because of the extra time and discomfort involved in a three-seat ride. Oh, and it also doesn't go near any of the center-city neighborhoods that actually like to use transit.
  • The 2000 light rail plan, on the other hand, was rated pretty highly by the FTA and would have clearly obtained a good chunk of federal funding, as would a scaled-back version of same, due to much higher projected ridership (compared to the Krusee craptrain above).
  • The union, whether you like them or not, would be committing suicide if they consented to a two-tier wage structure. Any position by Cap Metro which includes that change is, therefore, evidence that they don't want to negotiate, but rather, that their desire is to kill the union.

January 20, 2006

Our lunch, and parking

I'm still not over the current flare-up of my stupid arthritis (now six months and counting since I was able to do, essentially, anything) so even though Julio's is within a good walk, we drove to lunch. My wife wanted to pick up some vegetables at Fresh Plus too. Here's what we had to do:

  1. Drive by Julio's. All spaces taken. Oops.
  2. Drive by the lot at Fresh Plus. Note that it's 2/3 empty, unlike the other big lot in the area. Sign says you will be towed if you leave the premises. Oops.
  3. Drive by the other big lot. Full. (Not really allowed for Julio's either; probably towable).
  4. Park on street amidst many people doing the same.
  5. Walk past Fresh Plus and that other lot over to Julio's.
  6. Eat lunch
  7. Walk back to Fresh Plus and buy vegetables
  8. Walk past 2/3 empty lot back to car

The even-more-suburban version of this would have entailed us parking at a lot for Julio's, then having to move the car to the Fresh Plus lot, then driving home. Some folks would prefer that business customers don't park on the street even in Hyde Park so that's not that far off. In fact, a local small business opening was/is being held up over such concerns. (if you can't read the hyde park group and you're really interested in the details, email me).

This shopping center was used before by Karen McGraw as an example of a good solution to the parking-versus-neighborhood-streets 'problem' when another business on Guadalupe was trying to get a variance to open with far less than suburban-norm parking. Didn't seem that good to me - pretty damn inefficient to have 2/3 of Fresh Plus' lot sitting there empty (and the big lot shared by Hyde Park Bar & Grill and other businesses is often underutilized as well, although not today).

We're not that unusual - when people do drive to this commercial node (many walk or bike), it's quite often to hit several places at once. Most either do what we do and park on the street (thus pissing off the neighbors) or risk getting towed because they 'left the premises'.

Does this strike anybody else as good? What the hell's wrong with just abolishing these stupid parking requirements anyways - businesses that absolutely can't live without dedicated off-street parking would continue to build it; but we wouldn't be left with these wide expanses of mandated, but empty, parking. And if there was a huge demand for off-street parking, somebody could build (shudder) a pay lot instead of forcing businesses to subsidize drivers at the expense of cyclists and pedestrians.

Folks, if you want to live in a real city, you have to get to that place where you realize that forcing every business to have its own parking lot is just stupid, stupid, stupid. You end up with blight (like on Guadalupe) because you just can't pound that square suburban peg into the circular urban hole.

January 19, 2006

New links

Chris Mooney has moved here (a much more palatable host) and I've added Tim Lambert.

Both often cover the distortion of science perpetrated by the current sorry crop of right-wingers. And don't fall for bogus claims of balance by shysters trying to convince you both sides are equally bad. They're just not. This is almost entirely a Republican problem, and it's not going anywhere. The mostly non-religious but very-rabid right-wingers at my last job were, despite being a highly educated and self-described moderate bunch, falling for most of the denial science pushed for profit by the GOP's pseudoscience shills. If those people are unwilling to use their critical thinking skills when their political party tells them not to, I fear for our future. I ain't kidding.

For instance: There isn't really any lack of consensus on global warming, people. The scientists who study climate are overwhelmingly speaking in one voice. The few skeptics who remain are largely shills funded by the oil companies. Yes, for real.

I note in passing that my buddies at Hit and Run are still curiously silent on the global warming news of the day.

This entry was posted in the following categories: I Told You So , Politics (Outside Austin) , Republicans Hate The Environment , Technology , metablog
Posted by m1ek at 06:21 PM | Comments (2)

Big surprise

These guys have nothing to say about this. Pushing claims of false controversy is obviously the game being played by the current crop of right-wingers (ticking off even moderate Republicans like the ones who used to run the show), but it's been very disappointing to me how much of that has rubbed off on the supposedly non-partisan libertarians.

Hint: Science doesn't care if you don't like the news - and it definitely doesn't care if you don't want to admit climate change is anthropogenic and dangerous just because the only effective solutions require some involvement from the evil State.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Economics , I Told You So , Politics (Outside Austin) , Republicans Hate The Environment
Posted by m1ek at 10:02 AM

January 13, 2006

More on hybrids beating diesel

This guy on livejournal posted the results of a real-world test in Canada involving some cars we're all familiar with. As with CR's results, in a real-world test, the small diesel car didn't even come close to the mileage of the bigger (midsize) Prius.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Transportation
Posted by m1ek at 02:32 PM | Comments (1)

January 11, 2006

Red Light Cameras

Tried to post this as a comment to this entry at gritsforbreakfast but blogspot's comment server crashed. Reproducing here for posterity.

I agree completely with steamboat lion, and also find it very disingenuous to claim that all people who want red light cameras have a financial motivation. (I, obviously, don't, for instance).

Those who oppose red light cameras should be banging the drum to get more cops out on the street enforcing the law. How much effort have you put into this? I certainly doubt very much whether it's feasible - it appears too easy to contest these types of tickets in court by shady means, but I'd like to hear your suggestion as well, since the idea that because red light cameras are often abused that we should just continue to do what we do now - basically allow red-light running with no consequences - is ridiculously inappropriate.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Driving in Austin
Posted by m1ek at 01:28 PM | Comments (2)

Diesel vs. Hybrid

Many folks who are pretty clearly disingenuously rooting for hybrid automobiles to go away because they don't like their implications for US automakers like to harp on the supposed superiority of diesel cars. Coincidentally, I just got an issue of Consumer Reports in the mail where the new Jetta TDI goes up against the new Civic Hybrid. Some stats from the article:

CarCityHwy0-60 time
Jetta TDI24 mpg46 mpg12.2 seconds
Civic Hybrid26 mpg47 mpg11.7 seconds
Prius35 mpg50 mpg11.3 seconds

And of course, the Civic Hybrid pollutes a hell of a lot less than does the Jetta, even with the forthcoming cleaner diesel fuel. The Prius is the cleanest of the lot and considerably larger than the Civic or Jetta. (I don't remember the 0-60 time for the Prius).

So, folks, the next time somebody tells you that hybrids are a joke compared to diesels, be aware they're selling you a load of bunk. Even in highway driving where diesels were supposed to be better, it turns out hybrids are winning in the real world.

(acceleration figures are from the magazine for Jetta and Civic Hybrid; attempted to get CR's figure for Prius via google, but may be unreliable; other sites have its 0-60 all over the map from sub-10 seconds to more like 12).

This entry was posted in the following categories: I Told You So , Transportation
Posted by m1ek at 11:19 AM | Comments (36)

January 09, 2006

More on 37th, NUNA, and bad neighbors

I just posted the following in the comments of this post on Austin's metroblog (which, somehow, despite my focus on Austin politics, mostly ignores this blog's existence). Adam Rice also posted a good article on his theories on why the lights are going away which is much more informative and doubtlessly much more correct than my own.

Since the comment appears to have been held for moderation, I reproduce it here (this is in response to both Ray, who lives a bit to my east, and the other guy, who is a member of the Suck It Up You Knew What You Were Buying Into contingent):

To present a third pole to the geography of this discussion, I, personally, blame the folks running the center-city neighborhood organizations for the last couple of decades who basically shut down all apartment development near UT for most of that time (finally starting to have their grip on the City Council loosened about the time the Villas on Guadalupe made it through despite their vicious and obnoxious opposition).

If, as would have happened in a city run by responsible adults rather than pander-to-neighborhood-lunatics-at-all-costs-types like Jackie Goodman, we had built BIG BIG BIG buildings along Guadalupe and points further west (within walking distance of campus) when demand was indicated, instead of playing catch-up only TODAY, we wouldn't have nearly as many kids in rental houses - because, frankly, most college kids could give a crap if they have a yard - they'd probably rather have a pool and a workout room. But they sure as hell might rather live in a house within a bike ride of campus than in a crappy apartment on Far West or Riverside where they get a long, unreliable, and jerky shuttle-bus ride to school every day...

(I live nextdoor to a duplex full of UT Wranglers who have been problematic at times despite having a very responsible landlord - the guy who sold me the house and moved near Far West to be closer to Anderson High. Even with a good landlord, I feel bad about calling as much as I do - this is Not Fun Stuff).

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad
Posted by m1ek at 02:21 PM

January 05, 2006

Crackpot Letter, Part XXIV

From today's Chronicle, in reference to last week's 37th street lights / student housing complaint:

More Apartments Near UT Dear Editor,

Mary-Gay Maxwell's complaints about houses rented out to too many students strike home for a lot of us ["Are Partiers Dimming the 37th Street Lights?," News, Dec. 30]. I live in her neighborhood, next to a duplex full of undergrads who are occasionally a problem despite a landlord who's more responsible than most.

But let's be clear: Most college kids don't particularly want to live in a house. It's more work than an apartment, you don't get a pool or an entertainment room, you have more worries about parking and roommates, etc.

So why are so many UT students living in rental houses, compared to cities with other large colleges (such as Penn State)? Well, for one, UT doesn't have many dorms. Not much we can do about that out here in the community. But there's another contributing factor here: This area doesn't have anywhere near enough near-campus apartments to satisfy demand. Some students would doubtlessly still live in rental houses, but a large majority would switch back to apartments, as they do at other big universities. It's ludicrous that there's so much low-density development (single-story even) along Guadalupe close to campus.

Living off Far West or Riverside (in low-density apartment sprawl) is a poor substitute to being able to walk (or ride your bike) to class - a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle bus isn't going to win the battle against close-in rental houses. So it's clear we need more near-campus high-density apartment development - and the recent rezoning of West Campus is a good start, but not nearly enough. The problem today, though, is that we're still dealing with the effects of the last 20-30 years of ill-advised obstruction tactics by near-campus neighborhoods to any and all apartment development. Villas on Guadalupe, anyone?

Unfortunately, this lack of near-campus high-density apartment housing was, in fact, created by neighbors like Maxwell through their irresponsible opposition to essential projects like the Villas. Too bad that people like me (living a few blocks from those 37th lights) have to suffer the consequences with her.

Mike Dahmus

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad
Posted by m1ek at 08:34 AM

January 03, 2006

SUVs are a negative sum game

Most SUV drivers, sad to say, were perfectly happy to drive them when SUVs appeared to be a zero-sum game, i.e., if you drove an SUV, sure you killed more people in cars, but your own passengers were safer at about the same proportion. Because, after all, protecting your own family is the only thing that matters - so it doesn't matter if it happens by making it much more likely that others will die.

And, of course, most people who bother to study the issue always knew they got special treatment allowing them to enjoy more lenient fuel economy, pollution, tax, and safety regulations (pre-1999).

But recently we've found out that they're also more dangerous for pedestrians and finally, the conventional wisdom among those who study the vehicles that they really aren't safer for their own occupants than would be a sedan has been borne out in a recent study involving kids. Yes, the same kids you claim you bought the SUV for.

I guess you still have that high riding position to hang your hat on. Oh, and the donating of all that excess money to Middle Eastern regimes we're all big fans of. Way to go, guys.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Economics , I Told You So , Politics (Outside Austin) , Republicans Hate The Environment , Transportation
Posted by m1ek at 08:48 AM

January 02, 2006

Big catch-up on pictures

Finally almost caught up on the albums for 2005:

This entry was posted in the following categories: Personal
Posted by m1ek at 01:41 PM