November 29, 2007

TWITC: Sad confirmation on local retailers and parking

This story is kind of sad, but also a bit of an I-told-you-so moment. I've expressed in other forums (comments, mostly) that local businesses around here have sadly not been prepared to adapt to a more urban environment - ref among others the locally-owned businesses around Northcross in pedestrian-hostile parking-loving strip centers protesting against a slightly-more-urban and slightly-less-hostile-to-pedestrians Northcross redesign, and don't forget Karen McGraw's shenanigans in Hyde Park. And now, from 2nd street:

Speaking confidentially, other tenants are concerned that there's no interest in keeping them in business and that the lack of parking in the area makes life as a retailer virtually impossible.

(Of course, an anonymous commenter has already said that they think shopowners/employees were hogging the few curbside spaces that existed - hard to verify, but wouldn't surprise me). The idea that you can't have retail without free nearby parking is a suburban mindset - which is the most clear indication that these people weren't prepared for urban retail.

Here's a clue: Don't move downtown if you can't figure out a way to attract customers who arrive by any means other than the private automobile parked right in front of your store. Sadly, there are a lot of national retailers who DO know how to do this - and we're probably better off with a pedestrian-oriented national business than a local business that doesn't know how to play in an urban center. That's going to result in a lot of backlash from the paleoliberals, and I won't be thrilled either, but I don't see any other way forward.

This might get worse before it gets better - transit ACCESS downtown is good, but competitiveness is poor, unless you have to pay to park. People who have free parking at their offices in the suburbs aren't going to enjoy paying to park to shop - so again, these businesses need to not rely on that type of customer to survive, but the other type of customer - the local (urban) resident - may not exist in large enough numbers (yet) to make up for a retailer that doesn't have a lot of experience marketing to those urbanites.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , I Told You So , This Week In The Chronicle , Urban Design
Posted by m1ek at 11:01 AM | Comments (7)

November 26, 2007

Good News, Bad News

"CAMPO wresting rail planning from Capital Metro" is the headline. Sounds good to me - Wynn and Watson in charge means smarter rail than Capital Metro's stupid useless stuck-in-traffic streetcar plan. Right?

But who else is going to be in charge here? Let's see:

The 14-member group will be led by Austin Mayor Will Wynn and will include among others McCracken, Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson (who had a whole lot to do with creating the group after Wynn called for something similar last month), Williamson County state Rep. Mike Krusee, Travis County Commissioner and Capital Metro critic emeritus Gerald Daugherty, and representatives of the University of Texas and road and rail advocacy groups.

Yes, that's the same Mike Krusee that got us into this mess in the first place - the asshat who screwed Austin out of a good starter rail line like Houston and Dallas and everybody else built. That Mike Krusee. The guy who derailed efforts to build good rail for Austin so his constituents (most of whom don't even pay Capital Metro taxes) could get more transit investments than the residents of central Austin who pay most of the bills.

Shit. We're screwed.

Note that even if Krusee wasn't involved, the implementation of commuter rail has now precluded anything like 2000's light rail line from being built and that's about the only light rail line worth trying around here. In other words, the damage has already been done - we can't recover the 2000 route now. But still - having him (and even Daugherty) involved is the death knell for even a mediocre effort at urban transit - as neither one is likely to support investing enough money in reserved guideway transit in the city core. To them, every dollar spent on the dirty hippies in Central Austin is a wasted dollar that should instead be spent ferrying some SUV-driving soccer mom from one strip mall to another.

If Krusee had just kept his mouth shut in 2000, we'd have had a light rail election in May of 2001, and it likely would have passed. By now, you'd be seeing trains running in their own lane down Guadalupe right in front of UT, and down Congress Avenue right in front of all those big office buildings. Instead, we're seeing test runs of a useless commuter line running out by Airport Boulevard that nobody will actually ride. That's what he got us last time. Imagine what he can do for an encore!

November 23, 2007

The legal system should not be subject to the Care Bear Stare

As DSK notes, this isn't incredibly clear on first reading, so here's a new lead-in:

I forgot to crackplog about this when it happened: a "remodel" of a property with a duplex on it on 34th was the subject of a lawsuit filed by some of the leadership of my neighborhood association which went down in flames, since the property owner clearly satisfied the legal requirements in the zoning code (although those requirements were indeed very vague and very generous). News 8 has given the complaining neighbor some pity press (was in first link but not obvious), and I was reminded to talk about it. Here we go!

This new kind of awful seems to be cropping up a lot lately - the tendency for people who ought to know better to insist that the legal system is broken if it doesn't give them outcomes they like - in other words, since we care enough to shine our rainbows on the problem (Julian Sanchez), that ought to be enough to solve it. But the legal system doesn't operate in the world of democracy; it operates in the world where the law means something, and in this case, my idiot neighbors wasted a bunch of money on a lawsuit that was clearly doomed to failure.

In other words, even though I, personally, think that these new duplexes are actually a lot nicer for the neighborhood than the old ones (described by a more moderate person than I as "red shacks from Somalia"), and that my neighbors are just plain bad people for wanting to keep out slightly-more-affordable housing than the single-family-classic-mansions that infest that side of Speedway (34th being the dividing line on that side between historically rich mansion stuff and more modest development), it's irrelevant: in this case, the law is clear, and what's more, was clear before they bothered to file the suit. If some neighbor was building a garage apartment on a 6000 square foot lot, an action which is consistent with my preferences but against the city code since our neighborhood plan prohibits it, I'd likewise think anybody who filed a suit to do it was stupid. Still left undetermined is how much of this frivolous lawsuit's cost my neighborhood association will ultimately bear - since the leadership is overwhelmingly from that side of Speedway and on the wrong side of so many other development issues, I expect them to eventually donate some funds. Ha ha, DSK, I never joined, so it won't be my money, at least!

Are you listening, Chronicle?

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , I Told You So , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad
Posted by m1ek at 10:55 AM | Comments (18)

November 15, 2007

TWITC: RG4N are our heroes!

Michael King writes that we should support RG4N even though their case is utterly without merit as even their news staff is beginning to discover, months too late. Here's a comment I just placed there:

Michael, this is ridiculous. Zoning means something - in this case, it means that Lincoln bought the property knowing what they should be allowed to develop (and what they should not be allowed to develop). If they were up there asking for variances or even a change in zoning, RG4N and the rest of you guys would have a point, but they're not, and you don't.

When it comes to cases where developers seek upzoning, many of these same people are very quick to tell you that the prospective developer should have known what they were getting when they bought the tract. Interesting how this doesn't apply here. Also interesting how none of the RG4N homeowners are volunteering to let Lincoln have veto power over their own development projects within current zoning. Democracy for me, not thee.

As for the comparison to the Triangle - the bulk of RG4N's supporters are using the group as 'useful idiots' here - they have shown through their actions on other projects (including very recently) that they have no interest at all in dense urban development - they want to preserve low-density stuff they already have.

A critical eye once in a while, even at your fellow travellers, would seem to me to be a basic responsibility for a journalist.

One point I should have added but forgot: this lawsuit, in which the city has to defend its legal responsibility to approve site plans that comply with city code, is costing Austin taxpayers a half-million or so at last count. Still think RG4N is so noble?

A second point I just remembered: the Triangle development was such a big fight because the state (leasing the land to the developer) is exempt from Austin zoning codes.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , This Week In The Chronicle , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad
Posted by m1ek at 08:07 AM | Comments (9)

November 14, 2007

RG4N drainage argument: ridiculous

As reported at the Chronicle's blog:

The argument made by Responsible Growth For Northcross (RG4N) this morning is that the city's approval of Lincoln Property's site plan violated the note, which mandates that "Rainfall runoff shall be held to the amount existing at undeveloped status by use of ponding or other approved methods." The city – with testimony from city engineers Benny Ho and Jose Guerrero – countered that "undeveloped status" means status at the time the application is filed, not a reversion to the status of when the property was a green pasture. Attorney Casey Dobson, representing the city, said "To use a legal term, that [would be] silly." Guerrero further testified that the law only requires that a project not make flooding worse, and that Lincoln's site plan will actually reduce impervious cover and presumable send less floodwater off-site.

In other words, the Wal-Mart plan is demonstrably better for drainage than current conditions but RG4N claims code should be interpreted as if a project must (not just can, but MUST) be rejected by city staff if it adds more runoff than the completely undeveloped state would have. Also keep in mind that the RG4N 'vision' would also be an improvement over current conditions, but most definitely not over the undeveloped prairie that was there seventy years ago.

If you ever needed proof that RG4N's legal strategy was the old "throw excrement on the wall and see what sticks" method, here it is. And if there were any justice in the world, the judge would call RG4N forward and issue this speech.

As my cow orker DSK pointed out a moment ago, though, it would almost be worth yielding on this point if the judge put similar conditions on the homeowners of Allandale and Crestview.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , I Told You So , When Neighborhoods Go Bad
Posted by m1ek at 01:18 PM | Comments (6)

November 12, 2007

Rail update

I'm now upgrading my position to cautious pessimism (from complete horror) after a nice exchange of email with Councilmember McCracken. As I said in my initial post a week or two ago, the early media coverage made it sound like the project would just be an extension of Capital Metro's awful circulator route (which avoids most places people want to go, and services, albeit poorly, commuter rail passengers to the exclusion of the central Austinites for whom it was originally promised).

McCracken wrote back late last week, saying he had missed the email originally. Since my email only talked about reserved guideway, that's all he addressed at first - and he indicated he'd be pushing strongly for reserved guideway whereever possible, agreeing with my opinion that Capital Metro is underplaying the liabilities of running in shared lanes. So far so good. I wrote him back asking about my route questions raised by my second run through the media coverage, and he also indicated he favors a Guadalupe route up to the Triangle, pointing out that the #1/#101 are the most ridden buses we've got, proving a strong demand for transit in the corridor even today, even with bad bus service as the only option.

Sounds good, right? Well, to be realistic, it was going to be hard to get reserved guideway on Guadalupe past UT even with true light rail and with the Feds paying half to 80% of the bill. If we're funding most to all of this system ourselves, as I suspect we are, I think it will be difficult to get an exclusive lane near UT, which, unfortunately, is the place where it would be most needed. Also, the talk about running in reserved guideway alongside Riverside seems unworkable - I paid close attention during Friday's transit field trip, and didn't see enough space to get this done, unless there's something else I'm missing, like narrowing existing lanes.

So, mark me as guardedly pessimistic. I'll be rooting that McCracken can pull this off - I have not heard similarly educated stuff from any other council member, so he's the only hope here. I think Wynn believes in the streetcar fairy dust (the idea that streetcar running in shared lane will attract a lot more daily commuters than bus). Keep your eye on the ball.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design , metablog
Posted by m1ek at 09:02 AM | Comments (5)

Council announcements

Not sure if it's a typo, but Robin Cravey, who I could support with reservations (given Zilker activities), and Laura Morrison, who I absolutely could not, given her destruction of the political capital of OWANA that the previous leadership worked so hard to build, and of course, years of ANC shenanigans culminating in the McMansion and VMU opt-out spasm, have apparently both just announced for Place 4, and are both using Threadgills for their petition kickoffs, albeit on adjoining days.

Please, every reader of this blog, if it turns out they're running against each other, remember: we can't afford to have a neighborhood-pandering obstructionist sitting at the Council.

I don't have a site for Morrison's campaign (email didn't have a link), but oddly enough, the current ANC president (Danette Chimenti, who like Morrison is a McMansion activist with a big honkin' expensive house) used these words to endorse her:

Laura did so much for ANC in her two years as President; by reaching out to neighborhoods and leaders all over Austin, and providing unifying, informed leadership she is responsible for ANC achieving the high level of respectability and credibility it has today.

which is amazing, given the ANC's recent record of striking out on essentially everything except McMansion and CWS. The current city council, at least, clearly has far less respect for the ANC than they did even a couple of years ago. I don't know if Chimenti actually expects us to believe this, but it's laughable.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , When Neighborhoods Go Bad
Posted by m1ek at 08:46 AM | Comments (5)

November 09, 2007

TFT: Southeast Austin

Councilmember McCracken wrote back to my email referenced in the last post and said some things which made me more optimistic again, which I will cover in my next crackplog, but probably not until Monday. In the meantime, here's something I wrote up today on the #27 bus (transit field trip time!)

Short one today - my company was having a rare physical meeting at Ventana del Soul, a non-profit with some meeting rooms. (Well, actually, only three of the five locals, and one non-local; most of the company is still in Virginia). Took the #7 down in order to leave the car with my wife. Google Transit trip indicates 35 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by car in traffic (highly optimistic; more like 30).

I waited about ten minutes for the #7 at or about 8:30 AM; just missed one apparently. When my bus arrived, every seat was full, and there were 10-15 people standing. We picked up one more person before entering the UT area, in which the bus rapidly disgorged - I was able to get a seat when we crossed Dean Keaton, and by the time we hit MLK, nobody was standing and about half the seats were full. Continued on through downtown, people getting on and off (more on than off), and then as the #27 down Riverside through near-in southeast Austin. A few more people got on, but the bus was never completely full; when I disembarked at my stop, there were about 15-20 riders remaining.

So, summary, from 37th to UT, every seat full; 10-15 straphangers. Dropped off about 2/3 of those people at UT, but more got on downtown, and through Riverside about 3/4 of seats were full.

On the way home, I waited about three minutes for the #27 at Burton and Riverside while I was talking with a billing rep at a medical office. The bus actually came while I was still on the phone - and I accidentally tried to board with a soda (oops). Almost every seat was full - I estimate 20 to 25 passengers; but several got off at the next stop and I was able to move to the back next to the window. Picked up a lot more people along East Riverside. Summary: From my stop on Oltorf to downtown, average 3/4 to all seats full; dropped off about half downtown; then about half full to my stop at 33rd.

Hard to believe, but this bus was actually more full than most of my rides on the #3 back when I reverse-commuted in the mornings once or twice a week to Netbotz.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Empty Buses , I Told You So , Transit Field Trips , Transit in Austin , Transportation , metablog
Posted by m1ek at 03:53 PM | Comments (4)