November 23, 2009

Red Line Death Watch Part 1

No, not like the GM Death Watch at my favorite car blog; this is a "how long before somebody's killed" series. Today, some pictures of the intersection I talked about on KUT last week.

First, the overheard. Imagine you're headed west on 51st across Airport because you just went to Home Depot and are headed back to Hyde Park or points south. (Hint: Red River starts just south of this image as a turn off of Clarkson; turning on Clarkson is thus by far the best way into or around Hyde Park by car).

Not a lot of room there to queue up for that left turn, huh. Let's zoom in with google's streetview:

Uh-oh. That don't look good. But surely Capital Metro has done something about this intersection since then, right?

Yep. They've flapped their gums about how stupid drivers are to stop on the tracks - but have done precisely nothing to address the conditions at this intersection that almost always require you to stop on or just past the tracks if you ever want to make this left turn.

Guess who just did that on Sunday? If you were following the twitter machine, you'd already know. And yes, I know better; but no, the trains weren't running, at least not yet. At the time I made this turn, traffic was moderate - too much to sit across Airport until clear on the other side; too little to be in serious danger on the other side (i.e. if the gate started going down I had an escape path ready).

There is just barely enough space before the gate for a small car to stop, if they don't mind sticking out past the beginning of the left-turn bay. There is not enough room past the gate for a left-turning car to stop without risking having the rear end of the car at or past the crossing gate. In other words, quite often there isn't enough space for even one vehicle to queue up for this left turn without being in violation of the crossing gate or the double yellow behind. Not even one. So what do you think drivers are going to do here, in the real world?

You don't open up a rail line that requires that people be willing to sit through multiple light cycles on the other side of Airport to make this turn safely (if you can even judge that far ahead - you usually can't; oncoming traffic comes too quickly). You redesign the intersection to eliminate the turn, or re-engineer it some other way to make it safe rather than just hoping your gum-flapping will convince motorists to do something which may prevent them from ever making their turn. That is, unless you sold this thing as a pig-in-a-poke by claiming it would be easy and cheap to run diesel trains on existing track.

More later, if time warrants. Yes, there's other problems just at this one intersection.

November 18, 2009

Two quick hits

Check out me on KUT yesterday about the intersection problems along Airport and notice that I'm not alone in failing to buy Capital Metro's BS about it just being a simple education problem. Good job, Mose, getting some key points across from a variety of interviewees.


While searching for something else, I stumbled on this old Chronicle article with this money quote, which backs up what I was saying for a long time about the failure of Capital Metro to seek federal funds despite it being promised in the run-up to the 2004 commuter rail election:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, supported by Cap Met's ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a "highly recommended" rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and -- even though it was on existing rail right of way -- only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a "not recommended" kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

Note, though, that this was back when they'd be talking about running new track in the Red Line corridor - not reusing the existing freight rail track (which, as it turns out, hasn't been as cheap or easy as advertised). The important point, though, is that the Feds (and Capital Metro) acknowledged that even with brand-new double-track, ridership on the Red Line as delivered today would never even approach the levels at which the FTA would have considered good enough to help pay for. And this wasn't the Bush FTA that hated rail - this was the Clinton FTA which paid for good light rail starts all over the country (although even Bush's FTA funded a couple, like Seattle's).

As per yesterday's crackplog, note that Capital Metro is still out there seeking funding, both federal and local, to double (or even triple) track the Red Line despite the fact that it won't make much difference for ridership - because as the Feds knew and CM used to admit, it doesn't go anywhere worth going and never will.

November 16, 2009

Why The Horse Isn't Dead

Extracted from a comments thread on facebook; name omitted to protect privacy in case they mind.

we can always count on our buddy Mike to leave no dead horse unbeaten! Certainly Urban Rail will be great (if we do it right) and we all need to support it, but calling the redline 'useless' is a bit much. Perhaps useless to you, Mike, but so are dozens of bus routes (and roads for that matter) you will never use - that doesn't make them useless to the folks who do (and will) use them.

And my response:

(done with the old rail timetables, not the new presumably slower ones which aren't up yet).

The Red Line is 'useless' because for most people, it will be a slower commute than the existing express bus service. We spent a lot of capital dollars, in other words, to get lower quality service than what we already had. (And operating costs are likely to be close to express bus with the shuttle-bus costs added in).

And it is most definitely not a dead horse - because your agency continues to seek to spend additional scarce rail dollars on the Red Line (repeating Tri-Rail's mistake of trying to polish a you-know-what instead of building something more useful somewhere else) and on other similarly useless commuter rail lines - meaning those dollars obviously can't be spent on the CoA project.

So tell me, readers, is the argument of the CM guy compelling at all? Before the rebuttal? After? I really mean what I say here - the horse isn't dead, because it keeps getting fed. Those rail dollars (federal and local) could in fact be saved for the City of Austin's urban rail program - but once they're spent on commuter rail they're gone for good, and we aren't exactly swimming in other money to make up the difference. We need to stop further 'investments' in commuter rail, in other words, if the urban rail line is to have a decent shot at getting built in our lifetimes.

November 13, 2009

PS: Still a bike crackpot

Recording this email for posterity, since I firmly believe this kind of discussion should be in the public eye - so it's possible for others to see whether the input was acted on or just ignored (as is commonly the case).


This is expanded feedback from the forum - as you may know I was on the UTC for 5 years and used to be a serious bicycle commuter and still maintain a healthy interest, and I live about 500 feet from the intersection in question.

First issue is the fact that the bike lanes 'downstream' of the intersection were recently restriped all the way back to the intersection. This removes much of the supposed reason for bike boxes (in the old design where the bike lanes didn't start for 100 feet or so past the intersection, the bike boxes would have allowed cyclists to be at the front of through traffic so they could get 'up and over' rather than having to wait behind motorists - now there is literally no reason to even get in the bike box.

The second problem is one of signage and paint - without a "Stop HERE on Red" sign, motorists don't typically stop that far back from the intersection - even when white lines exist on the pavement. Coloring the bike box would help but would, I think, not be sufficient.

Please forward my email to the CTR people and invite them to contact me if they would like. I'd be very happy to share continued observations as I go through this intersection an average of 2 times per day, usually in the rush hours.

Regards, Mike Dahmus

This entry was posted in the following categories: Bicycle Commuting , Bicycling in Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot
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November 11, 2009

Board of Adjustment versus Urbanism

Short and not-so-sweet; still no time for this.

Those who didn't think it was a big deal when the ANC crowd were appointed en-masse to several critical boards and commissions should be ashamed of themselves.

Go to this video. If it doesn't advance automatically, go to C11.

What's here? Well, it's just ANC guys Bryan King and Jeff Jack pressuring a property owner on a downtown block to tear down a deck so he can add more off-street parking. Note that not a single time in this entire conversation does anybody, to be fair, including the applicant, even mention the fact that some people patronizing this small business or living in the apartment might not drive every single trip. Only once does anybody bring up the fact that ample on-street parking exists (of course, gasp!, people would have to pay!)

This is downtown, people. This isn't the suburbs. For those who think the government influence on development is mainly to force density, this ought to be (but probably isn't) a wake-up call: the primary influence of the government is to force car-dependent development patterns to continue even downtown.

And those who think the ANC crowd and their patron Laura Morrison are going to leave downtown alone and just focus on keeping the neighborhoods suburban should think again, too. Nowhere is safe from these people; right before this video I watched the Planning Commission fail to come to a recommendation on a hotel at 5th/Colorado because the ANC contingent wanted to force another couple hundred grand in concessions for affordable housing (used as a convenient crutch in this case; none of those people actually have any interest in affordable housing or they'd support more multi-family development in their neighborhoods).

Sickening. You were warned; but most of you didn't listen.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , I Told You So , Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad , Worst Person In Austin
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November 05, 2009

Football: Myth destruction

Sports post; political/transportation readers feel free to skip.

Once again, all over the stupider parts of the PSU sports internet, apologists are claiming that the Big Ten schedule is still stronger than what we'd have ended up with had we stayed the course with our old eastern independent pals plus intersectional games, or that Pitt is equivalent to Temple and should thus not warrant a 1-1 long-term deal, or whatnot. A particularly odious thread at BWI included an attempt to talk about the old schedules as "playing Temple and Syracuse every year". This is a really useful way to look at it, as it turns out! Thanks, homer!

Below, you find a table (old school HTML is all I know) comparing the current Sagarin rankings (using his combined rating of the brain-dead BCS formula and the far better predictor) for the teams contained within our 1982 MNC schedule (regarded as quite strong in retrospect), our 1986 MNC schedule (regarded as quite weak at the time and in retrospect), and our current year schedule. Sorted by Sagarin rank, so you can see strength against strength.

What this shows you, in a way, is what this year would have looked like if, instead of being in the Big Ten, we had played the same teams we did in 1982 and 1986.

Rank1982 opponent (rank)1986 opponent (rank)2009 opponent (rank)
1Alabama (3)Alabama (3)Iowa (8)
2Pittsburgh (17)Cincinatti (7)Ohio State (19)
3Notre Dame (22)Pittsburgh (17)Michigan State (51)
4Boston College (28)Notre Dame (22)Minnesota (56)
5West Virginia (40)Boston College (28)Temple (61)
6Nebraska (43)West Virginia (40)Michigan (67)
7Rutgers (55)Rutgers (55)Northwestern (93)
8Temple (61)Temple (61)Syracuse (94)
9NC State (80)East Carolina (71)Indiana (95)
10Syracuse (94)Syracuse (94)Illinois (102)
11Maryland (103)Maryland (103)Eastern Illinois (124**)
12  Akron (146)
Top 10111
Top 30442
Top 50662

** - 1-AA team (FCS); ranking likely inflated due to problems with the algorithm on non-1A teams.

Observe what I'm going to call the Temple/Syracuse line. In the 1982 schedule (with current rankings), 3 of the other 10 opponents have ratings this year worse than Temple's (and remember, 2009 has been a very strong year for Temple!). In the 1986 schedule, also, 3 of the 10 other teams are worse than Temple; 7 are better. In the 2009 schedule, however, 7 of the remaining 11 teams are worse than Temple.

With Syracuse, it's even worse. 1982 schedule? One team worse than SU. 1986 schedule? Ditto; only one team worse than the Orange. In the 2009 schedule, however, 4 teams are worse than SU, and one is only one spot better.

And those who would bitch about putting Pitt back on the schedule? Pittsburgh would be the second strongest team on the 2009 schedule.

Hey, you're welcome.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Sports
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