May 13, 2011

Rapid Bus Ain't Rapid, 2011 Confirmation

Click for larger version.

Note for emphasis versus existing Route 101. As I said way back in 2005 and several other times since, Rapid Bus is just a way for Cap Metro to get the Feds to pay for new rolling stock - it provides practically zero time savings over existing limited-stop #101 service. It's not rapid; it's not anything like what light rail would have been. The cars of all the people stuck from the next light up will still be in your way even if you can hold the light directly in front of the bus green a bit longer.

Cap Metro is attempting to market their way around this by posting two much less relevant trips around the one that really matters - the vast majority of #101 ridership comes from the north, not the south, i.e. trip #1 is not that big a deal, and trip #3 is ESPECIALLY not a big deal as nearly zero people ride the length of the route - almost everybody gets off at downtown or UT in the morning, in other words. Trip #2 is the one that matters, and what you see here is that Cap Metro expects 0 time savings compared to the existing 101 bus.

Rapid [sic] Bus. Still sic, five years later. And remember, thanks to those who voted for the Red Line, this steaming pile of crap is all the best rail corridor in the city will ever have for transportation options.

May 12, 2011


Following up on a short twitter conversation (not really; just more of the same from the usual suspects) last night. From folks who have been attending the JMVC school of leading questions, disappointingly. Here you go.

The city's urban rail plan will never be built out without some participation from Capital Metro, and by participation, I mean money. We need some of their local dollars to get this done, in other words. McCracken knew this back in 2008. Don't know why the city's pretending it's not true now, but you can see they don't really believe it, given the undertones in Ben Wear's latest Statesman article where the plan has basically retreated into a Red Line circulator (awesome - circulate the same 1500 boardings/day we have now - hooray - the same people who, remember, have turned up their noses at transfers so much that Capital Metro is cancelling almost all of their rail shuttles).

How much "urban rail" can you buy for $200 million ?

Not very much, according to City of Austin figures, and certainly not enough to make a success of what might be the area's sophomore foray into rail transit. With that and other considerations in mind, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and city transportation officials now say substantial federal transit funding almost surely will be needed for urban rail's first segment.

That would be a change from what city officials had said over the past couple of years: Austin would probably build a first piece of rail with roughly $200 million from voter-approved bonds and whatever else it could raise through other local means, and then use primarily federal funds years later for outlying sections of the proposed 16.5-mile , double-tracked system. But local money alone would pay for little more than a downtown circuit comparable to the Dillo bus lines that stopped running two years ago for lack of riders.


"Of course, it would be helpful if it went some place initially, but we may not have the money to do that," Leffingwell said. "That someplace may be where the Red Line is going right now."

So it's clear the city doesn't REALLY believe they have enough money to get this done. And if they think the Feds are going to kick in the rest, we are presented with the next problem: Capital Metro is also going to seek Federal funding to buy more cars and/or double-track more sections of the Red Line.

The chance the Feds would fund two major rail projects in an area with our characteristics (population, transit patronage, ridership potential)?


So in direct response to this question from @jacedeloney:

@mdahmus @MPTMike @downtownatx Do you have information that shows that Urban Rail funding depends on current MetroRail dollars?

Yes. The fact is that the city doesn't have enough money; Capital Metro is the only other possible local source; and they're already spending more on the Red Line than originally planned (first, on higher operating subsidies, then on even higher operating costs to run all-day service; note that even this weekend's spectacular performance was still a net money-loser for the agency!). So some of their 'current' spending is absolutely essential. I don't know how far back we can pare the Red Line from what it is right now, but it clearly would have to be pared back some if CM was to contribute ANYTHING to urban rail.

So there you have it, tweeters. No, it's not 'data'. It's just the opinion of the only guy who was willing to go out on a limb way back in 2004 and has been right all along up to this point. Take it or leave it, but no more homework assignments, please.

May 09, 2011

The Austin Neighborhoods Chronicle

Not a big surprise to me, but Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro donated money to Kathie Tovo. Note that their endorsement article did not point out the conflict of interest (although the news coverage, to their credit, did; that conflict being that Kathie Tovo in particular and the ANC in general are very closely tied to Barbaro and especially his wife, no-growther, i.e., defend-the-landed-gentry-at-the-expense-of-sustainability-er Susan Moffatt).

Hence, Chron guys, horribly biased. As I said on twitter, I may be biased, and I'm not even media by the most generous definition, but even I would disclose a conflict of interest of this nature - and not buried in the accompanying news article, but right at the front of the endorsement. And I wouldn't feel comfortable writing about a race in which I donated money to one of the candidates.

It so happens I don't need to worry about it because I have never met (or even received e-mail from) two of the three candidates I endorsed (I have corresponded with Chris Riley a few times and have met him in person a couple of times over the years).

At least the subsequent news coverage was thankfully fact-based and fair. It is left to the reader to decide whether the editorial board, which split in favor of Tovo, is more disingenuous or naive.

This entry was posted in the following categories: I Told You So , When Neighborhoods Go Bad
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May 05, 2011

My endorsements

In case anybody cares.

Chris Riley is still the best choice in Place One. I have been disappointed in Chris' unwillingness to push harder on many issues we share a similar position on but his votes are almost always what I would prefer for the urbanist/pro-transit agenda. (My disappointments also stem from him being unwilling to stop the Red Line from its inexorable process down the "kill the urban rail line in its cradle" track). His challengers are so unworthy of consideration that I don't even think it's worth discussing this race, and won't.

Randi Shade is the clear choice in Place 3, for a variety of reasons - she's fundamentally serious, as you can tell in her answers to Austinist questions (compare her one credible challenger here) and she's pro-density for the most part. I wrote this piece on the questionable way this race has been framed yesterday. Don't fall for the typical ANC tripe that they represent the average citizen. The average citizen is exactly who the landed gentry are keeping out of central Austin by fighting density.

I'd vote for anybody short of Jim Skaggs over Laura Morrison in Place 4. I've settled on K. Toby Ryan Hill largely because I suspect he has the best, although slim, chance. He's dead wrong on parking, though - but I'll yield on this issue to get the automatic ANC rubber-stamp off the Council if that's what it takes.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , When Neighborhoods Go Bad
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May 03, 2011

Poor Little Rich Girl

So if you had two candidates for city office in a city where campaign laws limit donations to a fairly modest sum to prevent undue influence by the rich, and you saw a story like this one:

(Candidate B) appears to be gaining ground. She raised $44,885 in the past few weeks, loaned her campaign another $40,000[...] (Candidate A) has raised nearly $170,000 since the fall — nearly $100,000 of it from early January to early April, the period reflected in Thursday’s finance reports.

which one of those candidates do you think the media could, responsibly and rationally, call the "little guy" or the "establishment candidate"? Which one do you think would be painted as the rich one in bed with the old money in Austin, and which one do you think would be painted as the voice of the masses?

Well, you'd be wrong.

Randi Shade has gotten more people to donate money to her - and Kathie Tovo, the supposed 'voice of the neighborhoods', is loaning herself money that most of us couldn't afford to get to a run-off. Shade has deeper and broader support among the population as a whole, obviously, while Tovo is relying on the fact that the Austin Neighborhoods Council, the most conservative political entity in the city representing purely the interests of the wealthiest central homeowners, is a turnout machine especially in the lowest-turnout elections (run-offs).

Statesman story

Wait a minute, I hear you saying, the Austin Neighborhoods Council? Conservative? Rich?

It's a dirty little secret, occasionally alluded to even in the horribly biased Austin Chronicle, that the Austin Neighborhoods Council is really representing what one of their writers called the landed gentry. For instance, as I wrote back in the days of the McMansion Ordinance in this post:

Laura Morrison chaired this task force - and lives in a home which, according to TravisCAD, is worth $1.4 million and has 8,537 square feet. Pretty big, but I had previously assumed it fit well within the 0.4 FAR required by McMansion. Yes, this is a big old historic house, but that's not the metric of the ordinance (it doesn't say "big houses are OK if they are stunners", after all). Also pretty expensive for somebody whose negative campaign ads try to paint Galindo as the rich candidate.

Yes, this is not the first time - and it worked before. It's incumbent on all of us to make sure it doesn't work again - a candidate who can loan herself $40K and can rely on the landed gentry for support is NOT what most people think of when they say "progressive" or "listens to you" or "for the little guy".

To own property at all in central Austin, you have to be disproportionately wealthy - of course. To own a single-family house in such a neighborhood, you have to be wealthier still. (Neighborhood associations discourage participation from multi-family residents, even multi-family owners, for the most part). To own such a property and have time to participate in the minutae of a neighborhood association's governance (i.e. government by those with the most time on their hands)? Richer still. In other words, you don't see people with full-time day jobs running these associations - it's the idle rich for the most part, with a smattering of people in less-than-full-time jobs and/or marginal employment, and Tovo clearly fits that bill. So did Laura Morrison.

What Tovo will do is precisely what Morrison does - listen to a few rich homeowners in the richest central Austin neighborhoods whose only interest in city government is to make sure nothing changes - nobody new gets to move in; no new businesses get to open up; no improvements are ever made. Our area will sprawl far more than it otherwise would; our major arterial roadways will remain deserts of surface parking and strip malls rather than walkable urban development; and our air and water will get worse and worse and worse.

If that sounds good to you, Tovo is your candidate. Her completely content-free answers to questions indicate she'll be Laura Morrison Lite - a rubber stamp for the ANC - while Shade set the bar highest - blowing Tovo out of the water.

Now, what about the money issue above? You know, the candidate who loaned herself so much money because comparatively few people were willing to donate (and remember, again, there's a very low cap for donations in Austin)?

Turns out that if Tovo can make the runoff, she will get up to $60K in free money from the "Fair Campaign Fund" because she signed the pledge to limit spending in the first round of the election - a pledge that is meaningless because Shade had already indicated she'd spend more than the limit in that ordinance (meaning Tovo is not bound by it either). In other words, the rich candidate - again, that's Tovo if you're not paying attention, is going to get public funding because she entered the race late enough that the other major candidate had already raised and spent too much from a larger base of supporters.

In past elections, "neighborhood candidates" Margot Clarke and Laura Morrison signed this pledge much earlier on, and were actually bound by it for a fair amount of time (before their opponents either didn't take the pledge or the filing deadline had passed). Not this time around; Tovo entered late - and could make a completely meaningless pledge that basically buys her $60K of public money in the runoff, if it happens.

And in that runoff, the ANC, that represents the interests of the tiniest fraction of richest people in the richest neighborhoods in central Austin, is responsible for a disproportionate share of voter turnout.

So it's incumbent on everybody who cares about our future to make sure that runoff doesn't happen. Get out and vote for Randi Shade, and get everybody you know to do the same.

This entry was posted in the following categories: When Neighborhoods Go Bad
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