January 25, 2009

What a shock

Courtesy of the Statesman: For Laura Morrison and Brian Rodgers, backroom deals are fine. The irony? This is a backroom deal to define exactly how much openness we'll require in the future.

Morrison said that, broadly speaking, she wanted to make the process more open and add opportunities for public input. But she declined last week in a phone interview to release the draft. The reason, she said, was because she and Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Randi Shade had to meet with more stakeholders before making it public, and that releasing it would give the public an inaccurate view of how it could eventually look.

Morrison had shared her draft with at least one member of the public, Brian Rodgers. That made the draft public, according to open-records attorney Joel White. He added that open-records laws require information requested to be disclosed as soon as possible, and that the 10-day response period is an “outer deadline.”

[...]

We’re still waiting, even though the city is required to release it as soon as possible and Morrison could do so by simply opening her inbox and hitting “send.”

Anybody who believed all that nonsense probably feels as foolish now as I may be feeling soon about the "Meeker = McCracken's tool" stuff. The entire momentum behind Morrison's campaign and behind Rodgers' initiative was to make sure only the right people got input because, technically, we ALL got public input when we elected our city councilpeople. Of course, people with real jobs can't be at city council during the day and people with family responsibilities can't spent their days, nights, and evenings as 'stakeholders', but, again, that's the way the 'granola mafia' likes it: government by those with the most time on their hands.

January 22, 2009

Gee, thanks

Austin Bike Blog author Elliott talks about a big meeting with a bunch of folks I usually like and then paraphrases in part 2 from his conversation with the guest of honor:

I also asked him what we could be doing to make Austin better for its citizens. He suggested dedicated bus lanes and bikeways on our busiest transit corridors would do a lot to get people out of their cars (We discuss the route of Capital Metro’s #1 bus which passes within walking distance of 40% of Austin’s employers.)

Gee, I wonder if there was anybody making the point, say, in 2003-2004, that passing this idiotic commuter rail plan dooms us to basically never getting reserved-guideway transit service on the #1 route along which essentially all the dense employment centers are located? How many of the notables at this meeting (*) spoke up then?

None. M1EK had to do it all his lonesome, even giving up his position on the UTC to do it while everybody else who knew this was the wrong plan shamelessly kept their mouth shut to preserve their access to decision-makers.

Thanks, guys. Thanks a hell of a lot.

(* - like most of these meetings, I, of course, since I have a real job in a real office, couldn't attend).

Our options going forward are extremely limited. We can't politically or even pragmatically justify taking lanes on Lamar and Guadalupe now, since we can't continue northwest with frequent-enough LRT service to get enough people on the trains to make up for the lost car/bus capacity. The CAMPO TWG plan is foundering, but may, twenty years from now, eventually lead to a conversation about rail on Guadalupe, where it belongs now, always has, and always will.

In the meantime, pay attention: those who advocate going along with suburban or other non-Austin interests in the hopes that they'll take care of us later have a long record of failure to overcome. Everybody knows the #1 corridor is where most transit activity is now and will be in the future. What are we doing about it? Jack Squat.

Update: Elliott's response was a flavor of the common "why are you such a downer?", to which I just let fly this analogy-ridden response:

Using my favorite roadtrip analogy:

1. You don’t get the car to New York by insisting that, although we’re heading west on I-10 and approaching the outskirts of El Paso, that everything’s fine and we’re on target for New York - although we may need to go even farther west to get there.

2. You also don’t get the car to New York by letting the guy who read the map wrong the first time continue to think that he read it correctly and should therefore continue to navigate. You give the map to the guy who said you’re supposed to be going northeast rather than west.

3. You also don’t get that car to your destination by downplaying how far off course you went, or you might end up out of gas before you even get back to square one (Austin).

4. Finally, you don’t get your goal by telling the people you’re meeting in New York that you’re still on schedule, even though you’re now, at best, going to be two days late.

(1 = more investment in the Red Line, 2 = not identifying that commuter rail is the problem rather than the solution, 3 = not identifying that commuter rail prevents the 2000 LRT plan from being built, 4 = downplaying obstacles to getting rail on Guadalupe in the real world now that it can’t continue northwest along 2000 alignment).

PS: Crappy formatting care of the fact that I still haven't bothered to learn CSS. You're lucky I didn't do all this with tables, so quit yer yappin'.

January 20, 2009

Wherein M1EK defends teenagers

Even though I'm 96 years old, I found myself defending teenagers twice recently - as per the following comment on this post on Steve Crossland's local real estate blog (which I'm also adding a long-overdue link to today). Steve was arguing that the quality of contractors he uses as a property manager is declining dramatically (as a landlord of one unit myself, I can definitely agree with his point), but then placed the blame mostly on today's kids not wanting to work hard. My response:

I had this same conversation with my dad over Xmas, or at least one very much like it, and I ended up defending teenagers.

Why is it that when we talk about ourSELVES, and our work choices, we think we're being rational economic actors when we decide to pursue work that offers us the greatest compensation for our effort (whether that be strictly financial or some other compensation), but we expect teenagers to work crappy jobs for low pay just because we had to do it?

Frankly, the importation of so much illegal labor has made it a suckers' game for teenagers to do a lot of that hard work. My dad was complaining more about fast-food workers all being illegals because the kids didn't 'want' to do that work (I had to point out to him that when I was in high school, the local McDonald's briefly raised wages to $5.00/hour in the $3.35 minimum days and then had no problem whatsoever getting local kids to work there).

If economics is a good reason for you and I to pick certain jobs, it's a good reason for them, too. So if you want better tradesmen, you're going to have to get the contractors to give up on the illegals first, and then invest a bit more in wages to attract locals (no, there's no such thing as a "job Americans won't do", but there damn well are jobs they won't do for a specified wage - as is true with any occupation).

And like with my field, if you allow outside-of-the-market competition to take all the entry-level jobs (or, if you prefer, discourage Americans from pursuing those jobs), you're going to see an eventual erosion of the more advanced jobs, too, because you don't become an experienced senior guy at trade X without spending a number of years working as the junior guy. You touched on this briefly with regards to your favorite handyman, but misidentified the cause.

Insisting that teenagers give up more attractive or more lucrative options just to suffer so we can feel better, uh, ain't gonna happen.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Economics , PS: I am not a crackpot , metablog
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January 14, 2009

Red lights. They aren't that hard.

I am not surprised, although still disappointed, to see this kind of logic defending not only the decision to run a red light but fight it in court.

Was riding from the gym to work one fine November morning down Congress Ave. Got pulled over by a motorcycle cop and another cop in a patrol car. They gave me a ticket for running a red light. I tried explaining how it wasn't dangerous since I stopped at the light, looked for oncoming traffic and pedestrians, then proceeded. Nevertheless, I got a moving violation and a $275 ticket, just like if I was driving a Chevy Silverado at speed.

I sent in my ticket pleading not guilty and waving pre-trial hearing.

I got a court date.

I went to court.

The case was dismissed. Not sure if it was because the officer didn't show up or what. My online case summary says "Dismissed Insufficient Evidence"

Overall, I'd say my in-court experience was very good. The whole procedure took less than 30 minutes. I would recommend anyone who received similar tickets to do the same. I was tempted to just pay the fine and move on with life, but glad that I didn't. Traffic laws shouldn't be black and white/ bikes are cars.

Grow up, kids. There is no moral justification for you running that red light that doesn't apply to any of us when we drive, yet I'm sure that most of you, save one idiosyncratic former colleague of mine, don't want cars doing it. And every time you shoot back with some moronic drivel about how "bikes aren't cars", you make it harder to protect the rights of bikes to be on the roadway. "They aren't cars; you admitted it," they'll say, "so get the hell on the sidewalk".

(by PabloBM on flickr)

I spent years fighting for bicycle facilities and accomodations and basic rights on the Urban Transportation Commission. Many times, we lost a battle we should have won, because idiots like you made it easy for neighborhoods to argue their reactionary case (i.e. Shoal Creek). Whether you're a racer in bright plumage who doesn't want to get out of your clipless pedals or a budding young anarchist who thinks the law doesn't apply to you, it was often your fault when stuff like the Shoal Creek debacle happened. Neighborhood nitwits would make the case that we shouldn't prioritize bicycle treatments over on-street parking, for instance, because 'those cyclists don't care about other road users' anyways. And it worked, because they were right: you idiots don't care about other road users.

Don't feed me the crap about how you can't hurt anybody with your bike. It's not true; I almost wrecked a car ten years ago trying to avoid killing an idiot just like you who ran a light across 24th.

(Yes, in case you're wondering, it was being ganged up on by the Juvenile Anarchist Brigade in a discussion just like this one that finally chased me off the austin-bikes list after years and years of contributing there - after not being allowed to fight fire with fire. Thanks, Mike Librik).

So you, unnamed wanker on the austin-bikes list, are the second recipient of my Worst Person in Austin award. Congratulations. And ATXBS.com comes in a close second for backing him up on this one.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Bicycle Commuting , Bicycling in Austin , Worst Person In Austin
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January 12, 2009

Tri-Rail, The Red Line, and "Is It TOD?"

This was originally going to be a comment in response to a comment Erica from Capital Metro made to Two Quick Hits. I've reproduced her comment in full here.

Four comments on your two quick hits!

1. I'm new to all of this, so fact check it, but I think Polikov's involvement dealt with the Crystal Falls development, which is not in the Leander TOD district and is not part of the TOD being developed around Capital Metro's Leander Station. Leander is not on hold or abandoned, it is on track. http://www.capmetroblog.blogspot.com

2. Crestview: the developers have told us that the presence of MetroRail there made the opportunity attractive and desirable...doesn't mean that it wouldn't have been developed on its own, without the rail line there, but maybe not as quickly.

3. Tri-Rail ridership has doubled since 2005. Last year ridership was over 4m, so the "nobody rides it" argument is wearing thin. Anyhow, one of our TOD staff tells me that Tri-Rail has 2 TOD projects underway: Deerfield Beach Station and Boca Raton Station.

4. Development takes time; Mueller planning started in 1997. Groundbreaking for the big box stuff on the frontage road happened in 2006, Dell & the first housing in 2007. It's a tad early to declare that the Red Line TOD is a failure.

Erica, I can't agree with any of those points. In order:

  1. Under no circumstance ought you declare this a TOD - not a single spade of dirt has been turned. A lesson which should have been learned from Tri-Rail, which declared a dozen or more TODs that never materialized.

    The Leander plans are rather underwhelming, too. A development that requires that its residents cross at an unprotected crosswalk across a busy highway to get to the transit service is NOT "oriented towards transit".

    Update: In comments on CM's blog entry about the TOD, it becomes clear that the blog author was throwing in the crosswalk as an afterthought; it doesn't appear to be related to this particular supposed TOD project at all. However, the thinking that a 'crosswalk' is somehow a bicycle/pedestrian feature which we ought to be impressed by is kind of illustrative here.

  2. Yes, Crestview would have developed just fine - the developers may have gotten a bit of a pass through the neighborhood gauntlet because of the transit, but that's exactly what I said.

  3. Tri-Rail: Yes, it doubled, when gas went to $4.00 a gallon. Your own ridership figures skyrocketed too. More trains are also running now. The TOD projects that are 'underway' are, uh, NOT. "Boca Raton station" is a strip mall of retail that fronts the major arterial roadway and a bunch of parking; the train station is off and to the back. I saw absolutely nothing in Deerfield to indicate that anything's being built.

  4. Mueller is a special case. The Triangle got done much more quickly; we'd see spades of dirt being turned by now on TODs on the Red Line if, indeed, it were capable of generating any TOD.

Some requirements to call something a TOD, from the VTPI; full list here:

  • The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.

  • A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs."

  • Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.

  • Roadway space is allocated and traffic signals timed primarily for the convenience of walkers and cyclists.

Note that the Red Line, even if it operates every 15 minutes, is only part of their trip. The shuttle service on the downtown/UT end of the trip will never be fast, comfortable, or reliable. We can already tell, in other words, that the development in Leander won't be real TOD - it's already on track to fail at least four of the metrics even if they do everything right with their buildings.

Tri-Rail has been running for almost 20 years now. There's still precisely zero square feet of TOD. Not surprising when you read what you need to answer the question "Is it really TOD?". Light rail can do it. Heavy urban rail can do it. Commuter rail can't and never will. They may use TOD as an excuse to upzone to what the market was already clamoring for, as demonstrated by Crestview (vs. the Triangle), or they may actually be trying to get it done, but it ain't gonna happen - people aren't going to pay a financial premium to live next to a train that doesn't go anywhere worth going without transfers.

(In case you're wondering, the CAMPO TWG streetcar/light-rail plan could produce TOD, especially on East Riverside, by the way, because people would be able to board a train operating at high frequencies in reserved guideway that would go straight downtown, to the Capitol, or to UT, without requiring transfers. People will pay more than they would otherwise be willing to pay if they're provided with a reliable time-certain trip straight to work or school, i.e., that doesn't ask them to get off a train and onto a bus, or even off a train and onto another train)

January 08, 2009

Push the rail back on track

A letter I just wrote to the three councilmembers on the CAMPO TWG (I think Mike Martinez is among them, at least):

Councilmembers and Mayor,

After returning from a long vacation, I finally read the report from city staff to the CAMPO TWG about the rail proposal and am alarmed at some apparent backsliding on the issue of reserved guideway, and some indications that previous understanding of how important this would be has diminished. For instance, it now appears that the city will not seek reserved guideway on Congress in addition to the Manor segment.

Comments by city staff in this report make two seemingly contradictory claims:

1. That the downtown 'core' segment is critical, and must support frequent headways
2. That this same segment will be operating in 'circulator' mode (as opposed to some 'express' mode label for the Riverside segment), so reserved guideway is less important because stops will be more frequent.

Allow me to vigorously disagree. Reserved guideway is actually most critical on Congress. If you spend any significant time on buses running through downtown in this corridor (#1 or #5, say), you will see that simple signal pre-emption as proposed would be nearly useless during periods of heavy congestion - holding the light green doesn't help you when traffic is backed up from the next 5 intersections ahead. In other words, I would trade reserved guideway on Riverside for Congress in a heartbeat - the signal-holding device would actually do some good on Riverside.

This smacks a bit of the same kind of pennywise/poundfoolish thinking that brought us the impending underwhelming disaster of the Red Line (just because we own this track means we should keep the train running on it the whole way instead of running to where people actually want to go). While I understand the logic behind running in shared space on Manor, the bullet must be bit on Congress if this plan is to succeed (and it is nearly impossible to switch from shared-running to reserved-guideway later on, by the way).

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

Page 14:

The Urban Rail project is proposed to include both independent rail right-of-way, and mixed flow operations. Streetcar vehicles would operate in mixed traffic (with automobiles) in areas where it is essentially serving as a circulator mode (collecting and distributing passengers frequently). In the northern part of the corridors (University of Texas and Manor Road corridor) there are limited locations where the system could operate in a dedicated right-of-way (see description of alignment in following section). In the Riverside Corridor, where street rights-of-way are typically wider, there is generally sufficient room to create a dedicated right-of-way by widening the overall street to the outside to provide new auto capacity and then converting inside lanes for transit use. In the central downtown and Capitol Complex, options exist for providing either a dedicated right-of-way or shared use track way. The preferred method for operation in these two latter districts requires detailed planning and engineering that will be completed during the early design phase of the program.

This, folks, is dangerous - it's basically hedging previous claims that the service would be mostly reserved guideway, and now, effectively, saying "well, we'll give it a shot". And "circulator mode" is the most important part of the route. The transit spine, if you will. You don't run your transit spine in "mixed flow".

Note that the report later says "Options are also being examined for providing dedicated running ways for
the rail along Congress Avenue and other Downtown streets." (page 45). However, the groundwork is clearly being laid for shared running on Congress, with the nonsense about "circulator mode" and other silliness in section 2D-2 (hint: the streetcar needs to be delivering people to work, not worrying about how they get to lunch; and if you give them a shared-lane running streetcar that's bogged down on Congress just like the buses are, you're not going to get many converts. City staff must have been instructed to come up with some real fancy footwork to explain how "time-certain" wasn't torpedoed by shared-lane operations here; I can't believe they really believe this stuff about how circling for parking at lunch makes shared-lane operations sufficiently time-certain).

Additional support for this position would be really helpful from my readers, assuming you agree.

This entry was posted in the following categories: 2008 Light Rail , Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design
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Two quick hits

Still catching up at work, but there's two things I didn't want to forget to comment on.

First, before leaving for Florida, I went with the boys and my father-in-law to the Palmer center during one of the last evenings of their Xmas shopping event. Luckily, we planned on parking at One Texas Center and walking, because traffic was backed up all the way across the 1st street bridge for the Trail of Lights. Right in the middle of all those cars not moving, what could you see? The shuttlebuses that the city wanted everybody to ride.

Easy lesson for the day: If you want people to leave their cars in a remote lot and ride shuttlebuses, ensure that the shuttlebuses aren't stuck in traffic for an hour with the cars of everybody who didn't take your advice. It's amazing that in this day and age, people still don't get this - somehow we're supposed to enjoy being stuck in traffic more because we're on a jerky uncomfortable bus instead of in our own vehicle (which, although almost as annoying to be stuck in traffic in, at least allows for more comfort)? There's a trivially easy solution which requires only a small amount of political spine: make one lane of Barton Springs for shuttle-buses only. Cost? A few cops who had to be there anyways, and some orange cones. After all, you already closed Barton Springs down by the restaurants anyways, right?

Second item: There is still precisely zero square feet of evident transit-oriented development along Tri-Rail in South Florida (caveat: I only observed between the Fort Lauderdale airport and the Dreher Park Zoo, in West Palm Beach, but that's about 50 miles worth). The relevance, for those who may be coming to this late, is that Tri-Rail is almost exactly like what we're opening here in March: a commuter rail line which runs infrequently compared to light rail, and requires transfers to shuttle buses on the destination end of essentially all trips to get where you really want to go. Despite more than a decade now of effort to subsidize, encourage, rezone, whatever, there is no, zero, KAPUT TOD on the ground there, and none under construction, and every single prospective project along those lines floated mostly by governmental entities has failed. Every. Single. One.

And here in Austin? The supposed (mislabelled) TOD along Capital Metro's line falls exclusively into three categories: Abandoned/on hold (far suburban projects); TOD-as-excuse-for-sorely-needed-upzoning (Crestview Station); and way-too-low-density-to-be-called-TOD (Chestnut, for instance). In the second category, Crestview Station is no more dense (probably less when complete) than the Triangle, so clearly the rail transit available to Crestview has provided precisely zero additional support for density in the project (it could have been just as dense without the rail).

More later as I slowly get up to speed.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , I Told You So , Transit Field Trips , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Tri-Rail , Urban Design
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January 07, 2009

I have returned

from Florida and am swamped - expect no new activity for a while longer. In the meantime, enjoy this picture (which I was afraid my prone-to-exaggeration memory had misrememberated).

This entry was posted in the following categories: Personal , Sports , metablog
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