February 26, 2010

M1EK in comments: Why waste your time giving input?

Really sorry I don't have more time to spend on this blog - day job; family; etc. But this comment needed to be saved somewhere other than CM's blog so I could point to it. I've been meaning to write a long post on "staying friends versus getting something done", but this will have to suffice for now.

Commented to this post:

SR, it's really simple: Mike Krusee was willing to fight for his interests (kill light rail, allow commuter rail), and our city council members were not (nor was anybody else in Austin, except yours truly, as evidenced by this sad bit of history).

Talking, having charettes, staying connected, keeping in contact, maintaining relationships, giving input - none of this matters if the guy on the other side is willing to exercise his power to get what he wants and you aren't. (This, by the way, is why I don't bother showing up and giving 'input' at things like the 2020 service plan meetings - despite nice invitations and hurt feelings when not taken up on; I'm better off with speaking to hundreds of readers and having a 1% chance of slightly modifying the opinion of somebody with real power than I am giving my one input and having it roundly ignored).

In reality, the message really isn't "don't waste your time by giving input", but rather, it's make sure you're giving your input to people who are willing to listen and are willing to exercise their power to help get what you want. An awful lot of people in the political ecosphere are very, very, very skilled at using the input-gathering process to defuse opposition to things they've already decided they're going to do. Don't allow yourself to be effectively neutered in this fashion - make sure you're only spending your time with people who aren't just listening politely to keep you from talking to somebody else about it.

February 18, 2010

Capital Metro's Service 2020 plan: Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

I only have five minutes, but am officially out of time to crackplog this, so here goes.

Three special areas of stupidity in the Capital Metro 2020 plan:

Luckily for me, two others already hit two of my three major points. (No, Wells, it wasn't due to secret meetings of the echo chamber; note Shilli wasn't even involved).

1. Covered by Austin Contrarian: Moving major (i.e. the #1) bus routes off Congress, which is walkable and dense, to Guadalupe/Lavaca, which are infested with low density garbage for blocks in certain parts and farther away from the core of downtown, is stupid. Yes, the buses will move quicker. No, this isn't better; the reason the buses will move quicker is that they will be far away from the places people actually want to go downtown. (No, the residential density developing west of Congress isn't relevant here; every one possible reverse transmit commuter from one of those condo buildings is matched by a hundred or more existing work commuters trying to get to an office building - and the office building center of mass is on Congress).

2. Covered by a commenter on Capital MetroBlog; moving certain local routes like the #5 off the Drag is stupid. Most people going to UT are closer to Guadalupe than San Jacinto; this seems like a poorly justified way to pretend like Guadalupe isn't where the action is, to forestall complaints by people like yours truly when the Red Line finally opens.

"Robert"'s comment:

This would be a disaster. Quite a lot of the #5’s ridership–myself included–consists of UT students and staff who are destined for the engineering complex, the communications buildings, the west mall, or the six-pack–all very dense clusters on campus. The proposed changes would drop them off a good deal farther away from their destination, and at the bottom of a hill–not at all pedestrian-friendly. This seems, like the proposed switch from Congress to Guadalupe/Lavaca downtown–to be the general principle: move the bus routes away from the places people need to go, and into areas that are less congested. That is not a plan for increased ridership.

(pre-emptive comeback to inevitable complant from CM insiders: Guadalupe near UT is the best place for UT trips. Guadalupe near downtown is NOT the best place for downtown trips).

3. Covered by nobody else, so it falls to me: Eliminating West Austin routes like the #21/#22 (which my stepson uses) is stupid. Yes, I said eliminate; if you believe that the proposed 'flexible' service being provided in its place will (a) work and (b) last, you're more credulous than Capital Metro deserves at this point in history.

Look, ridership on some of those routes out west IS low. But here's a little hint: Capital Metro isn't at risk for having their sales tax cut because too few people ride the bus in Tarrytown; they're at risk for having their sales tax cut if enough people listen to that Neanderthal pantload Jim Skaggs and VOTE to cut their sales tax. Guess what? Voter turnout in the parts of town served by the #21/#22 is extraordinarily high. Guess what tends to happen to voter support for transit in areas with no visible transit service when you have elections on sustaining taxes to support transit service?

To say nothing of the PR impact of removing one of the primary ways transfer students from less affluent neighborhoods get to schools like O Henry and Austin High (yes, my stepson is among them; but there's kids a lot poorer on the same buses doing the same thing). No, the flexible service, even if it lasts, won't be any help here; nor will service being proposed to replace UT shuttles. And this may even impact students from the west who want to, say, go to the Kealing magnet school.

I've said for years that I give Capital Metro credit for doing the best job possible in the political environment in which they operate at the job of running a city bus service through a built environment that doesn't naturally sustain much choice commuter interest. I've spent a lot of time on the internets defending them against charges of "empty buses" and the like.

But you know what? If CM is stupid enough to commit this kind of suicide, after screwing the city of Austin for a generation on the rail front? I'm not so sure I'm in their corner any more - even on the city bus issue.

References:

This entry was posted in the following categories: High Grade Bile , Transit in Austin
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February 03, 2010

Rapid Bus ain't BRT

A collection of comments made elsewhere.

First, on KUT today, you can hear yours truly with the following supporting arguments left out due to time, but brought over here from skyscraperpage:

1. Travel time savings quoted are versus the local (#1), not the existing express (#101). They're still only 20%; pretty lame.

2. The signal-holding doodad won't be much help in the most congested part of the corridor - anybody who spends any time between, say, south of 15th and 30th going northbound on an afternoon knows that the backup you're in is from the next 10 lights, not just the one in front of you that the bus could modify.

Things commonly considered part of BRT which are missing completely from this plan: reserved lanes, queue-jumping lanes, off-board payment. Were it not for the signal-holding doodad (which won't work anyways in most of this corridor), this would just be like normal bus service with new vehicles (they have articulated buses running normal and express routes in cities all over the country; the difference is that we apparently fooled the Feds into buying us new rolling stock on the justification this would be a BRT route instead of just a really marginal case of 'better bus').

Second, on Capital Metro's self-congratulatory post:

Very misleading. The 20% travel time reduction is compared to the existing LOCAL service (#1), not to the existing express service (#101).

Y'all may have fooled the Feds into buying you new rolling stock under the guise of BRT, but some of us aren't buying it. The signal-holding device won't be worth anything in the afternoon congestion on Guadalupe (it's not the light in front of the bus holding it up; it's the light six blocks down and the cars in front).

About all this service WILL do is finally put a nail in the coffin of rail on Guadalupe - where, in any sane city, rail would be delivered first, as it's where all the jobs and all the other activity centers are - not anywhere near the Red Line; not, even, over on San Jacinto.

Third, my letter to our city councilmembers who serve on Cap Metro's board:

Councilmembers,

I hope you two will have the courage to once again forcibly steer Capital Metro off the path of Rapid Bus on Guadalupe, as your predecessors on the board did a few years back. Implementing Rapid Bus on the corridor that most needs rail transit in our city will be a decision we will be paying for 50 years from now, if not longer; and it will be politically impossible to move those buses off that high-density corridor once they've started running. In other words, even though we don't have the political will right now to run trains on this corridor (even though everybody knows it's the best place for them), we don't want to preclude the option to do so later on; but Rapid Bus will, in fact, make it effectively impossible to do that later on.

Nothing in the plan has changed since the first time we decided we didn't want to preclude rail on our highest density jobs/attractor corridor; there are no new proposals for anything more 'rapid'; it's still just going to be the Feds paying for most of a bunch of new rolling stock, with some signal-holding devices that won't be able to provide any speed or reliability improvements in the most congested part of the corridor (since the vehicles today are usually stuck in backups from traffic lights many intersections ahead - not just the one directly in front). Capital Metro is misrepresenting this service as a 20% speed improvement - comparing to the #1 instead of to the existing #101; and any speed or reliability improvements over the #101 are likely to be so minimal that they won't get a single person to leave their car at home and ride the bus instead.

Short link here: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000629.html

Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you in this matter. We can't afford to get this wrong.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission 2000-2005

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , Rapid Bus Ain't Rapid , Transit in Austin , Transportation
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