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December 27, 2010

Austin environmentalists continue proud tradition of harming the environment

My most recent Austin Sierran arrived (guess what? M1EK is a life member!) and as I usually do, I read the minutes from the monthly meeting. In it, I learned that the board apparently opposes plans to build a bike/pedestrian bridge across Barton Creek (to fill a huge gap in the bicycle commuting infrastructure in that part of town - where the frontage roads end on either side of the creek). They oppose this bridge because the construction of the pilings would likely impact the creekfloor and a few other features - in a part of the watershed that's very close-in already (arguably not contributing to the springs at all) - a likely one-time disturbing-the-sediment impact akin to the kinds of floods we see ten times a year in a rainy year.

The geniuses behind this decision suggested more improvements to South Lamar, which is only a couple of miles, a couple of extra hills, and another freakin' expressway out of the way for cyclists trying to commute to the center-city from points far southwest and west. Yes, there are people who commute from this far out - not as many as we would like, of course, hence the issue.

Continue reading "Austin environmentalists continue proud tradition of harming the environment" »

April 13, 2010

Kill The Boulevard-less Bike Boulevard

Just fired this off to the UTC. All I can do given my commitments. Minor edits for grammar only.

Commissioners,

My name's Mike Dahmus, and I served on your commission from 2000-2005 (my only contemporary still with you would be Mr. Lockler). I'm writing today to urge you to reject the city staff proposal for the project formerly known as the Nueces Bike Boulevard.

While on the commission, I often served the role of an intermediary between bicyclists and motorists (and urban and suburban); since I was a frequent bicycle commuter but not car-free like some of my colleagues (I'd drive to work about half the time). Since then, a chronic illness has forced me to drive exclusively, but I still maintain an interest in bicycle facilities for the good of the city.

Along those lines, I hate to say it, but the city staff proposal for this 'downtown bike boulevard' is a complete waste of time. Worse, it will actively degrade conditions for cyclists on both these streets.

In a common error, the city has failed to consider the effect of their actions on the individuals using this corridor, and more importantly, on changes to their incentives and disincentives. Today, it's relatively painful for drivers to use Nueces (in particular) as a 'cut-through' or relief valve from congestion downtown, because of 4-way (and even some 2-way) stops. I know this because I drive through this part of downtown most days on my trip home from work.

While there's some wavering on this, it's pretty obvious that many stop signs will be removed (converted into traffic circles or traffic lights) in the city plan, as was the case in the LOBV plan - in order to attract bicyclists. So far, so good. But what happens to the incentives of motorists, if this change is made and nothing else is done?

Well, you replace those 4-way stops with lights and circles, and I (and thousands of others) will be thrilled to be able to drive on that street - to avoid backups on Lavaca from MLK and 15th, for instance. Without the originally proposed (at least by the LOBV) diverters and other disincentives, you're going to see an increase in motor vehicle use of these streets for cut-through (through, not local) traffic. Exactly the opposite of what you want in a 'bicycle boulevard'.

Please vote this thing dead. It's not only not ideal; it's worse than nothing - it promises to make things actually worse, not better, for cyclists in this corridor. (And on the subject of "any movement is progress", a recent post by yours truly: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000642.html )

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

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).

Nadia,

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
mike@dahmus.org

June 03, 2009

The Lance Armstrong Stopway Strikes Again

Was going to start a new series today ("Myths of the Red Line"), but this was too perfect.

This morning, I dropped off my stepson at Austin HIgh for his last day of school this year. Pulled in at the PAC, which is the entrance closest to that underpass of Cesar Chavez. As I was leaving, I saw a cyclist on the Stopway; waiting for a spot to clear (lots of people turning into the same entrance I used). I stopped short of the crosswalk and motioned him on, trying to be nice, but after several moments of people coming around the corner and turning, he gave up and motioned me to go instead.

Yay, Stopway!

April 10, 2009

Chris Riley for City Council

As Chris at the Austin Contrarian has already pointed out, Chris Riley is the urban candidate. I'm not going to address that end of the equation, since the other Chris pretty much nailed my feelings on the matter.

I'm going to talk about transportation.

Today, I think it's fair to say that every city council member is a driver. While a few of them indicated they may ride bikes for fun, none of them regularly ride for transportation; and only one regularly walks for transportation (Mayor Wynn, about to leave). None of the rest appear to be Capital Metro users either. While they usually say things that support those modes of transportation, their actions quite often don't live up to their words. I don't think all or even most of this discrepancy is the result of anything other than a lack of working familiarity with the issues those modes of transportation face - in other words, they may want to do the right thing, but often don't know what that is in a way that might be obvious to those of us with more experience.

Chris Riley is a cyclist and a pedestrian and a transit user. He doesn't own a car now, but helped found Austin CarShare. He rides his bike everywhere, but isn't against motorists; he just wants to make sure that we make things easier for those who don't want to (or even more importantly can't) drive. He understands the role of transportation in supporting sustainable land use in a way that some current city council members might claim to do, but has a commitment to the issue which far surpasses what I've seen from those folks. He co-founded the Alliance for Public Transportation; a group which is trying to push the rail conversation in the right direction.

Unlike some past city council candidates who have identified with bicyclists, Chris is realistic - he does not seek to eliminate cars, or punish drivers. He wants to make things better by moves that I think most motorists are even willing to accept. He's a guy who's been working in the private sector, so can speak to issues that regular citizens face every day, but has dedicated countless hours to the public to try to make things better for everybody.

I am not exaggerating when I say that on the issue of transportation, Chris is the strongest candidate for any city office, including mayor, that I have seen in the 13 years I've lived here in Austin.

I trust Chris implicitly to do as much as is realistically possible to improve transportation in our city in a sustainable forward-looking direction. I urge every reader of this blog to vote early for Chris, and tell your friends to do the same.

Chris Riley is the transportation candidate.

(PS: My readers are invited to meet Chris next Sunday. I don't know if we'll be able to make it due to ongoing pregnancy concerns, but I hope to be there).

Also see: Burnt Orange Report.

April 06, 2009

My disingenuous sense is tingling

Allow me to present the SNAustin.org mayoral forum, with these humdingers:

1. This video shows you successful VMU projects and how nice their open spaces are and then says we need rules to make sure VMU developments provide enough open space. Wouldn't it be smarter to show some that didn't provide enough open space, if any such existed? Maybe they couldn't find any, because I can't think of any that do that bad a job.

Huh. So the VMU developers are already doing a good job providing a lot more public open space than, let's say, the typical residential or commercial areas in this part of town have done (where 'open space' is comprised of surface parking lots, driveways, swales, and huge front setbacks of St. Augustine grass - precisely none of it 'public'). Is it possible, just possible, that these folks aren't really "advocates for new urbanism", like the almost-all-the-same-folks-but-really-quite-different-no-trust-us RG4N? You know, the same folks who claimed to want a VMU development at Northcross but now say they're thrilled with a single-story Wal-Mart surrounded by acres of surface parking,

2. From this posting for the forum:

The neighborhoods - Allandale, Brentwood, Crestview, Highland, North Shoal Creek, and Wooten - have identified three priorities for discussion at the forum: code enforcement, minimum public open space in mixed use districts, and transportation policy with an emphasis on pedestrian, bicycle and transit connectivity.

Oh, so NOW they're concerned with "bicycle connectivity"?. That's swell. Allow me to suggest it's difficult to take you seriously given your failure to even address obliquely what happened the last time a clear and compelling interest in bicycle transportation conflicted with the desire of a few old coots to park their overflow cars on their side of the street. Resulting in some real cool "bicycle connectivity". As in, one of these days a bicyclist is going to end up connected with an automobile because you guys couldn't walk across the street to get to your fourth and fifth cars.

Or do your old pal M1EK a favor and just go ahead and ask them about Shoal Creek at the forum. That ought to be some fun.

Update: How could I have forgotten their other priority?

3. Code enforcement. Yes, now, only now, do these folks want to make the city respect the integrity of the city code. You know, the same code that clearly stated that Lincoln and Wal-Mart had the legal authority to build exactly what they wanted to build at Northcross? The code that so clearly stated those development rights that not one but two judges sent RG4N and ANA home crying with their tails between their legs? The code that was so obvious that the judge nearly made ANA pay Lincoln's legal bills when ANA foolishly tried to appeal? That code, the one you made the city waste a million or more dollars defending?

Oh yeah, that code. Well, now that Wal-Mart scaled back due to economics, I guess we can return to insisting that it must be defended at all costs, right?

March 04, 2009

Why I'm Hard on Mueller

and note, I'm far from the only one.

Also please excuse the brevity - I'm doing this from a Wendy's in Huntsville during a short lunch break.

Breathless media coverage from the Statesman makes you think that Mueller is the wildest dreams of urbanites and environmentalists and sustainable-liviing fans all come to life. Meanwhile, every time I raise some (informed, compared to most) criticism of Mueller, I get personal attacks in return. At times like this, I like to remind myself (and hopefully others) of the substantive, objective, reasons why Mueller presents us with problems.

Continue reading "Why I'm Hard on Mueller" »

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.

December 01, 2008

Bike lanes versus wide curb lanes

Recent blogroll addition the Austin Bike Blog points us to a study on cyclist behavior in bike lanes and wide curb lanes. Years ago, pre-blog and pre-cycling-killing-arthritis, I wrote the following on passing behavior in both facilities which still has some relevance today. Dragging this into the blog so it can be archived and whatnot; original is here. Done with HTML tables, the way God intended! Unfortunately, that doesn't translate so well inside the blog. Any HTML/Movable Type geniuses want to suggest a formatting fix for me here?

One of the most common arguments in bicycle transportation circles stems from the disagreement over whether bike lanes or wide outside lanes provide "better passing distance". Foresterites claim that wide outside lanes are better for a variety of reasons; bike lane advocates come back with the "dedicated space" argument; which Foresterites then attempt to rebut by saying passing distance is "better" in wide curb lanes.

I have direct experience in this matter: my commutes to work generally take me along Shoal Creek Boulevard in north central Austin; which had fairly wide (6'?) bike lanes for several years; and then very wide (19') curb lanes for several more years. I found that a typical 10-pass scenario would go something like the table below. The "distance" given is from car's mirror to where I was riding in approximate center of bike lane.











Passing distance on Shoal Creek Boulevard with Bike Lane Passing distance on Shoal Creek Boulevard with Wide Outside Lane





































1 3.5 ft With minor fluctuation, the typical pass
with the bike lane consisted of the driver giving about half a foot
of distance between their right mirror and the bike lane stripe; thus
providing approximately the same passing space every time. Why does
this happen? Motorists are conditioned in other traffic interactions
to respect lane stripes.
2 3.5 ft
3 3.5 ft
4 3.5 ft
5 3.5 ft
6 3.5 ft
7 3.5 ft
8 3.5 ft
9 3.5 ft
10 3.5 ft







































1 5 ft Some motorists (perhaps even a majority)
provide better passing distance in the wide outside lane scenario
because they are thinking about how much space to give, rather than
letting the lane stripe decide for them.
2 5 ft
3 5 ft
4 5 ft
5 5 ft
6 5 ft
7 4 ft  
8 3 ft  
9 2 ft On the other hand, some other motorists provide considerably
less passing space without the lane stripe to guide them (some from
ignorance; others from antipathy towards cyclists riding in "their
lane").
10 1 ft
Average passing distance from centerline of my bike: 3.5 ft Average passing distance from centerline of my bike: 4.0 ft
10th percentile passing distance: 3.5 ft 10th percentile passing distance: 1 ft

In this dataset, the 30th percentile passing distance for wide outside lanes was worse than for bike lanes; meaning that 3 out of 10 times, the passing distance could be expected to be less for wide outside lanes than it was for bike lanes. (Or, to turn it around, 7 out of 10 times, the passing distance in wide outside lanes would be better than in bike lanes).

Despite the fact that this dataset shows a superior passing distance in 7 out of 10 cases for wide outside lanes, I would choose the bike lane over the wide outside lane in this scenario. I submit that the deciding factor for cyclists, if they are thinking rationally, should not be the average passing distance; since most motorists, whatever the facility, do a fairly good job of providing adequate passing distance. The deciding factor should be the likelihood that motorists who, because they either don't know or don't care, don't provide adequate passing distance. Clearly, in my experience, although average passing distance can be higher in a wide outside lane scenario, the minimum passing distance can at the same time be a lot lower. In this dataset, for instance, I'd argue that the 2 ft and 1 ft passes were close enough to be dangerous (given my width).

August 27, 2008

A tale of the edges of two campuses

Sorry for the long break. I've been on business trips to Jebusland for 3 of the last 7 weeks, and had a vacation in the middle, and very busy even when here. Although I'm still busy, I at least have a minute (not enough time to grab any good pictures; since my google-fu was too weak to get something quickly).

I took the family on a short vacation to visit family in State College, home of Penn State (where I went to school and spent the first 9 years of my life - my grandmother still lives in the same neighborhood as the Paternos). On this trip, since my wife is still recovering from Achilles surgery, we didn't spend much time walking through campus as we normally would - we instead spent our time driving around the edges of campus. This was an interesting contrast for me, since I spend quite a bit of time driving around the edge of another major university's campus right here in Austin. Let's compare.

Penn State:

There's a signed and marked bike route which starts on the north end of campus (which is bounded by the old residential neighborhood in which my grandmother lives). This bike route says "Campus and Downtown". It was added shortly before my college years but has been improved since then on each end and consists mainly of off-street paths (sharrows on the street in the neighborhood north of campus, although done poorly). Automobile traffic can still enter the campus from the north in several places, but is then shunted off to the corners - you can no longer go completely through campus from north to south by automobile. Pedestrian accomodations on this side of campus haven't changed for decades - a pleasant cool walk under tons and tons of trees.

On the south side of campus is the downtown area - the area most analogous to The Drag; fronting College Avenue, part of a one-way couplet which carries State Route 26 through the area (other half is two blocks away, called Beaver Avenue). College Avenue has two through lanes of traffic. Shops line the road at a pleasingly short pedestrian-oriented setback, except for a few places (one a church, one a surface parking lot). Pedestrians, counting both sides of the street, get a bit more space than do cars - and cars have to stop almost every block at a traffic light. The speed limit here is 25; you can rarely go that fast. There is plenty of on-street parking. Again, there's places where cars can penetrate campus a bit, but they can't go through campus this direction. Bicycle access from the south comes from a major bike route (with bike lanes that end short of campus) on Garner St. - which then allows bicyclists to continue while motorists have to exit by turning a corner towards the stadium. Two images of the corner of Allen and College from different angles:

College and Allen; shot by ehpien on flickr

From WikiMedia commons

East and west at Penn State aren't as important - the west side fronts US 322 Business (and a major automobile access point was closed; a classroom building now spans the whole old highway!). The east side is primarily for access to sports facilities and the agricultural areas. Ped access from the west is mediocre unless you feel like going through that classroom building, but not very important if you don't since there's not much other reason to be over there. Access from the east is the main future area for improvement - although it's still of a caliber that we would kill for here in Austin; with 2-lane roadways and 30-35 mph speed limits; traffic signals everywhere pedestrians go in reasonable numbers; etc.

Penn State and the town of State College have made it inviting to walk to and through campus, and have made it at pleasant as possible to bike there. Some students still drive, of course, but most cars are warehoused most of the time.

UTier2-West

On UT's west side, Guadalupe is a wide choking monstrosity (4 car lanes with 2 bike lanes - one of which functions pretty well and the other of which was a good attempt that fails in practice due to bad driver behavior). On-street parking exists but is rather difficult to use for its intended purpose; but the merchants will still defend it tooth and nail. Despite having even more students living across this road that need to walk to UT than the analogous group at Penn State, there are fewer pedestrian crossings and they are far less attractive; and there is no bicycle access from the west that indicates any desire at all to promoting this mode of transportation. Although you can't completely get through campus from west to east, you can get a lot farther in than you can at Penn State, and the pedestrian environment suffers for it. The city won't put any more traffic signals on Guadalupe even though there's thousands of pedestrians; and the built environment on Guadalupe is ghastly, with far too much surface parking and far too little in the way of street trees. This shot is about as good as it gets on Guadalupe:

taken by kerri on picasa

On the east side of campus, there's I-35. You'd think this would be much worse than the Guadalupe side for everybody, but at least bicyclists can use Manor Road, which is pretty civilized (better than anything on the west side). Pedestrians are pretty much screwed - noisy, stinky, and hot is no way to walk through life, son.

UT's north side is similarly ghastly. A road clearly designed for high-speed motor vehicle traffic and then gruesomely underposted at 30 mph; way too wide and lots of surface parking. For pedestrians, this edge of campus sucks - for cyclists, it's OK to penetrate, but then UT destroyed through access for cyclists by turning Speedway into UT's underwhelming idea of a pedestrian mall (hint: this is what one really looks like). I could write a whole post on that (and may someday), but the short version is that years ago, UT came to our commission (UTC) with a master plan that crowed about how much they were promoting cycling, yet the only actual change from current conditions was destroying the only good cycling route to and through campus. Yeah, they put up showers and lockers - but that's not going to help if the route TO the showers and lockers is awful enough, and it is. You'll get a lot of cyclists at almost any university just because a lot of students won't have cars and because parking isn't free and plentiful, but if you really want to take it to the next level, I'm pretty confident that eliminating your one good bike route isn't the way to go about it.

Since I went to Penn State (1989-1992), access for pedestrians and bicyclists has actually gradually improved, even though it already was much better than UT, and the campus has become more and more livable. More people walk and bike; fewer people drive; and it's a more enjoyable place than it was before. Since I moved to Austin (1996), the environment for pedestrians and bicyclists travelling to and through UT has actually gotten worse - they're still coasting on the fact that a lot of the area was developed before everybody had a car. Almost every decision they have made since then has been hostile to bicyclists and at least indifferent to pedestrians. As a result, a much larger proportion of students in the area have cars that they use much more often. (Just comparing near-campus-but-off-campus residents here). The recent long-overdue developments in West Campus are a start, but the built environment on the edge of campus has to dramatically change for UT to be anything more than laughable compared to other major college campuses' interfaces with business districts.

Bonus coverage: The area I was staying in in Huntsville, AL is right next to the 'campus' for Alabama-Huntsville. The least said about that, the better - the area in general is like US 183 before the freeway upgrades, except even uglier (if that's possible); and their campus has literally nowhere to walk to - my guess is that every student there has a car, even though the place is clearly not a commuter school.

August 06, 2008

In print again

Good Life magazine interviewed me (one of several) for a big piece on development and transportation, and we got a nice picture on Loop 360 last month. Now, it's finally out, and they mispelled my last name. Every single time. Argh. The content was well-done, though; one of the better representations of an interview I've had (except for the part about the new office being too far to bike; I'm not biking any more due to health reasons; this is actually a wonderful bike commute).

July 22, 2008

BCIHKAL #2: Central Austin to NW Austin (183 corridor)

The acronym is for "Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved".

I was impelled to get going again by witnessing a lady trying to keep her bike on about one inch of pavement on the uphill shoulderless windy part of Bee Caves this morning on my drive to work. Stay tuned for #3, brave soul; there's really no need for you to ride on that ungodly stretch.

Same format as before.

Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #2: Central Austin (Clarksville) to Northwest Austin (183 corridor) - four different offices in four years for S3.

Timeframe: June 1998- December 2001

Rough sketch of first half of route (the common part)

Common second part of routes to first, third, fourth offices (Bull Creek/Hancock to Mesa/Hyridge)

Second part of route to second, temporary, office (Spicewood Springs)

Final part of route to first office (Jollyville/Oak Knoll)

Final part of route to third office (Riata)

Final part of route to fourth office (Centaur)

Background: This is kind of a long one - S3 had one office when I started; were in negotiations to move to a nicer newer one but got stalled out by an acquisition which ended up pushing us into a temporary sublease for six months or so; and then when Via acquired S3, many of my coworkers left and I worked from home for a year, only to return to a temporary office in a building leased by Centaur (another of their companies) until S3 closed that office in December 2001, and I had to go find work in the middle of the dot-com bust (hooray!). All three share a common first third or so, and two are virtually identical, so they're all grouped together here. The Riata commute was the one I actually made into the slideshow you see pictures from throughout this and the previous article.

Bike used: Mostly my old touring bike (since stolen) that I acquired for $200 used from austin.forsale.

Distance/Time: 10-15 miles each way; much longer in the morning due to hills - on days I biked all the way in on the longer versions, about 90-100 minutes. Trip home was 45 minutes or so.

Showers: Only the Riata office. For the mornings, I did the bus boost sometimes, and other times relied on cooler weather and the bathroom washcloth trick.

Route and comments:

By this point, I was becoming more comfortable asserting my position on the road, which is good since Jollyville didn't yet have bike lanes.

First segments: To Bull Creek/Hancock: See first commute.

Second segment: Either up Shoal Creek or cross Mopac: The trick on all these commutes is where you shift from one good corridor (Bull Creek / Shoal Creek) to another (Mesa). There's four crossings of Mopac which are accessible from here; I'll briefly touch on them and talk about where I used them.

  1. Hancock: No on-ramps, which is nice, but a lot of debris, and requires a lot more hills if you are going particularly far north on the Mesa corridor. I used this crossing for the 2nd commute, at our temporary sublease on Spicewood Springs west of Mesa.

  2. Far West: A lot of novice cyclists take this one because the crossing TO Mopac is on a bike/ped bridge over the railroad, but then you're dumped right into on-ramp traffic. I didn't like this one as either a novice or an experienced cyclist.

  3. Spicewood Springs: Great downhill, but awful uphill - big hill, lots of traffic, ramps. Not recommended outbound. I used this one on the way home almost all the time.

  4. Steck: Best choice for uphill - least hill; most shade; least traffic (still have onramps to deal with, but they're less busy than the other two choices). Downhill not so great - lose momentum at a 4-way stop.

  • Segment #3: (commute #2 only): I rode up Balcones (ignore the map where it says it's part of Mopac; I picked the wrong segment on the map) - you can actually ride up high on a nice shoulder looking down at the traffic below; nice in the mornings. Then you get to go up a pretty bad but short hill on North Hills (where northbound traffic on Balcones ends), then follow North Hills parallel to Far West all the way up to Mesa. Commute #2 is basically done here - just head up Mesa in the hilly bumpy bike lanes, hop on Spicewood and head west.

    Segment #3: Shoal Creek to Steck (other 3 commutes): see last chapter.

    Segment #4: Shoal Creek to Mesa via Steck: Steck looks scary the first time but is actually very civilized - you can keep up with traffic on the downhill heading west, and by the time you slow down on the uphill, the light's almost always red anyways. Crossing the bridge is the most stressful part - pump hard until you get to the other side to let the cars by, and then enjoy the shade on the short sharp uphill as the right lane turns into a bike lane. Then relax and go slow for a while and catch your breath. It's a niice ride all the way up to Mesa - shade opportunities, little traffic, bike lane.

    Segment #5: Up Mesa. Mesa has bike lanes up here, still. Fought various battles with high school over cars parked in the bike lane for years - probably still happening now. Look for Hyridge (my last commute just went straight to the end of Mesa). Left on Hyridge.

    Segment #6: Across Loop 360. Two choices here; be a pedestrian and avoid a big hill, or be a cyclist and be tough. The pedestrian route takes you all the way to Old Jollyville, then left, then walk your bike across Loop 360 into the Arboretum. The less said the better (although if I got to this point and had no energy left, I did it once in a while). The bike route goes like this: Down Hyridge, split off at Mountain Ridge, BIG downhill, short uphill, and out to 360. Ride on shoulder for about 100 feet, then cut across traffic into the left turn lane for Arboretum Blvd (the cutout with no traffic light). Take your time here - no rush! Huge hill coming up. Turn across the southbound lanes onto Arboretum Blvd and then get ready for my least favorite hill - all the way up to the thing that looks like a roundabout but really isn't at the Jollyville entrance to the Arboretum. I occasionally had to walk up this hill in the early days. The trip home is a bit different: Go through the uphill (183 side) of the Arboretum, hop on the 183 frontage for about 100 feet to get through the 360 light, then off on Old Jollyville. This is stressful at first but once you get used to it is no big deal, and you avoid some big hills.

    Segment #7: Up Jollyville: When I did these commutes, there were no bike lanes on Jollyville - but I was experienced enough not to need them (although I liked them when they showed up later). Nice flat (in comparison) ride - pick up some speed here and get a breeze going. Brutal the other way in the afternoon against the inevitable summer headwind out of the south. Very little traffic in the mornings by the late end of rush hour. On the Riata commute, I'd turn at Duval and head over to the 183 frontage; for the first office I'd head straight on to almost Oak Knoll and be done. (note my comment about high gas prices - zoom into the picture).

    Segment #8: Riata - luckily by this point I was pretty fearless as most people shy away from the frontage road. Not much traffic on this part - just quick hop from Duval to Riata Trace Parkway.

    Modifications for trip home: On all of these commutes, I'd cross Mopac on Spicewood Springs - a nice downhill from Mesa to Mopac with no stops; could easily keep up with the cars going 35. The light at Mopac was the only stressful bit; just pump hard to get over the railroad tracks and down the hill to Shoal Creek and then rejoin the outbound route.

    Bus boost possibility: Very high. The 183-corridor express buses drop off at Jollyville across from Riata (Riata actually got credit for being close to this park-and-ride, even though the road connecting Riata to it was cut in half by the freeway, requiring far too long a walk for anybody to really use the bus from there except as a cyclist). These buses are fast enough that you lose very little time compared to the drive, if you time your arrival correctly. (This applied to the two commutes out here; the other two had bus boost possibilities on the #19 in both cases and the #3 in the Centaur case - but those are slow in comparison). I used this express bus boost quite often - especially on days where I wanted to bike some but couldn't afford to spend an extra 2 hours on it.

    Ratings:

     RatingNotes
    Physical difficulty5Big hills in spots in the morning. Afternoon is mostly easy except for the headwind stretch on Jollyville heading south
    Scary factor7Steck and 360 crossings scary - but there are less scary (although more hilly) alternatives.
    Exercise efficiency9 out of 10Large time investment required in morning but very strenuous exercise; afternoon commute took about 45 minutes compared to 35-40 in car.
    Enjoyment5 out of 10Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
    Services/Safety9 out of 10Plenty of opportunities to hop on a bus with a flat tire, which I had to do many times on these commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

    Overall conclusion: A good medium commute - a novice would be advised to consider the pedestrian approach at 360 for a bit at the start or use the bus boost to avoid that altogether.

  • August 20, 2007

    Ben Wear article on bike bridge misleads

    Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear's article this morning

    There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:

    1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, it was frequently used.

    2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading - when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.

    3. Urban residents, even those who don't drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road 'donations' he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I'd be happy to help.

    Regards,
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

    I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ's morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we're in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

    February 01, 2007

    Dear Jennifer Kim

    I understand your retreat into pandering given the difficulties you're currently facing, and I even sympathize a bit, but let's be clear: big retail and employment destinations do NOT NOT NOT NOT belong on frontage roads.

    Here's why.

    This talking point works well with people who drive everywhere - like most folks in Allandale. It doesn't work so well with people who actually have some experience with alternate modes of transportation, like yours truly. I used to occasionally ride the bus in the morning and get off at the stop on one side of 183 between Oak Knoll and Duval and have to go to exactly the other side - and the presence of frontage roads (destroyed an old road which used to cross) made a 2-minute walk into a 10-minute bike ride (30-minute walk). No wonder nobody else does it.

    November 20, 2006

    When will I learn?

    Despite past experience, I've once again gotten suckered into arguing with a sub-group of zealot mostly counter-culture exclusive-cyclists at Michael Bluejay's list that cyclists do, in fact, disobey traffic signals much more often than do motorists, a position which is commonly understood by the 99.5% of the population that is not clinically insane.

    I was somewhat enheartened (?) to see that there are guys like me all over the country as well as in other countries making this same case: running red lights and stop signs hurts the cause of transportation bicyclists.

    Want to maintain the reasonable right to ride without a bicycle helmet? Want to get bicycle facilities? Want to be taken seriously when you try to get the cops to enforce the laws against bad motorists? BEHAVE LIKE A GROWN-UP FIRST.

    PS: Every time this comes up on Michael's e-mail list, I'm alone out there fighting the good fight. This has allowed the conventional wisdom among these folks to be: "car drivers run red lights more than bicyclists do; and you're making up all this stuff about how drivers see so many cyclists breaking the law that it causes them to lose respect for cycling as transportation". If you're reading this, and you're on that list, and you don't chime in, you're part of the problem.

    October 19, 2006

    The new "helmet study" is a joke

    Another quick hit:

    So Elizabeth Christian has gone berserk defending her husband's new proposal for a study of cyclists who end up at the hospital with injuries (correlating to helmet use). This is exactly how the original Thompson/Rivera study went wrong. Short summary:

    1. Voluntary helmet-wearers and non-wearers are quite different groups, as it turns out. The helmeted cyclists were more likely to be yuppie recreational riders (like Ms. Christian's husband) while the un-helmeted cyclists were more likely to be poor and/or just trying to get around (in which case a helmet is enough of a pain in the ass that most rational people leave it at home).
    2. Later analyses of the Seattle study showed that in addition to behavioral and locational differences, helmet-wearers were also far more likely to go to the hospital for a given injury than non-wearers (probably due to the above socioeconomic differences).
    3. This means that the doctor in the emergency room is only going to see a non-helmeted cyclist when the injury was very serious; but he in fact sees the helmeted cyclist for minor injuries.
    4. Surprise! Helmet use seems to correlate with less severe injuries!
    5. As it turned out, though, you were also able to use the same data from this study to 'prove' that wearing a bicycle helmet reduced your likelihood of getting a leg injury by a similarly high percentage. Again, the guys with broken legs went to the hospital no matter what; but the non-helmeted guys with cuts and bruises just went home and sprayed Bactine while the helmet-wearers were more likely to go to the hospital; and the helmet-wearers were more likely to be leisurely riding through a park and suffer their falls in the grass rather than be hit by a motor vehicle on the roadway.

    This is a clear study error. The "control" group in this case-control study is not similar enough to the "case" group to make these conclusions. Statistics 101; and don't believe the typical bullshit response about lies, liars, and statistics - this example is pretty damn clear-cut. The study was flawed; and this new study will be equally flawed.

    Of course, the Chronicle didn't bother going into this level of detail, despite the fact that I'm sitting right here, and am no stranger to those guys. It's as if they're not even interested in trying anything more strenuous than reporting on press releases these days...

    More on the Thompson/Rivera study from a slightly different angle.

    August 17, 2006

    Letter to City Council

    Just sent a moment ago. Links added for reference.

    Dear mayor and council members:

    My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000 to 2005, and still write on the subject of transportation from time to time. Until a medical condition forced me to stop, I was a frequent bicycle commuter (but, unlike some others you probably hear from, also continued to own and drive a car as well).

    I can't emphasize enough the points previously made by Jen Duthie from UT that this ordinance may seem like much ado about nothing if you're used to thinking about bicycling as simply a sporting activity - like the ride Bruce Todd was on when he hurt himself. If you're going out to ride for fun, a helmet doesn't make a lot of difference - you'll probably still ride, and even if forcing a helmet makes you delay your ride until a cooler day, for instance, the overall public health is not significantly harmed.

    But for transportation bicyclists, mandating a helmet be used for what is essentially a safer activity overall than driving is a critical error - many marginal cyclists will simply stop riding their bikes and return to their cars. You certainly see this effect at play among children - hardly any of whom ride their bikes to school any more, partly because of the inconvenience and discomfort of the helmet, but also due to their parents belief that cycling must be a very dangerous activity if it requires a helmet.

    Every adult cyclist you convince not to ride is one more driver. Every driver is that much more traffic and pollution; making Austin less healthy not only for themselves but for the rest of us as well.

    Since the evidence in the real world has shown that there has been no actual benefit from dramatic increases in helmet usage in this and other countries, there ought to be no justification whatsoever for a mandatory helmet law (or even, I'd argue, excessive promotion of helmets compared to more effective measures such as traffic enforcement and education).

    Please take this in mind when voting. No serious transportation cyclist (i.e. one who actually uses their bike to get around) has signed on to this effort as far as I'm aware.

    Regards,
    Michael E. Dahmus
    mdahmus@io.com

    June 19, 2006

    Bicycle Helmets Don't Work

    Update: Austin group fighting the mandatory helmet law is at http://www.nohelmetlaw.org/

    Since the mandatory bicycle helmet law is rearing its ugly head here in Austin again thanks to the efforts of former mayor Bruce Todd, the following analysis of actual real-world results of increased bicycle helmet use in other countries is particularly relevant now.

    The New York Times covered this for the USA in 2001. In short: Bicycle helmet usage went way up, but head injuries and fatalities didn't go down. This matches the observations in Australia, the UK, and many other countries.

    Ride with a helmet if you want. But don't get smug about those who don't - they're NOT "organ donors", they're NOT stupid, and they're NOT irresponsible. THEY'RE actually the smart ones, given the apparent lack of benefit to wearing bicycle helmets.

    And, please, stop the bullshit analogies with regards to seat belts. Nobody ever stopped driving because of seat belts, and even if they did, why would we care? Bicycle helmets are hot, uncomfortable, and inconvenient - and results in country after country show that many people simply stop cycling when their use is mandated. You don't have to carry your seat-belt around with you when you park your car; your car likely has air-conditioning; you're not actually exercising when you drive; seat belts are built in to the car; etc. Oh, and don't forget: seat belts, unlike bike helmets, actually WORK. The analogy couldn't be any worse if they tried.

    If it's so damn obvious that people with "something up there to protect" would naturally choose to wear bike helmets, then why is it also not obvious that the same people would do so when driving their car? You get the same impact protection; but you're not sweating and you have an easy place to stow the helmet when you're done (inside the car itself).

    Wikipedia has outstanding, heavily footnoted, coverage of bicycle helmets, if you don't like the "cyclehelmets.org" people.

    June 16, 2006

    Bruce Todd: Worst Person In Austin

    I'm kicking off a new category which this entry: a la Keith Olberman's "Worst Person In The World".

    The inaugural worst person in Austin is:


    Bruce Todd

    Back when he was mayor, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars originally dedicated for bike lanes to build a park for residents of Circle C who not only were not residents of Austin, but actively fought attempts to annex them later on. Todd was also the primary force behind the stupid and eventually overturned all-ages bicycle helmet law here in Austin. Todd ran on a sort of half-hearted desultory environmentalist platform but proceeded to roll over every time Gary Bradley cleared his throat. Think about him the next time you swim through some algae in Barton Creek or Barton Springs Pool.

    Now, he's at it again. Todd had a serious accident when he loaded his bike up in his car/truck and drove out in the country to do a gonzo ACA ride, was convinced it saved his life, and now he wants to force everybody else to wear a helmet. Despite the fact that they don't appear to work in general practice, and that the primary impact of helmet laws is to reduce cycling, this is how ex-Mayor Todd is spending his political capital: continuing to willfully make things worse for people who just want to ride their bike to work or to the store.

    Despite Bruce Todd's apparent interest in cycling since leaving office, he has not made any kind of statement I can find about: driver education, cyclist education, facilities improvements, enforcing traffic laws, promotion of cycling as a healthy transportation alternative, etc. No, he hasn't made one peep except for this push on helmets. Once again: he's decided that his best contribution is to push a law which will discourage people from bicycling for transportation.

    M1EK's advice is: Wear a helmet when you're paying more attention to your speed than the road, as Todd apparently was. Wear a helmet when you go mountain biking, sure. But don't bother when you're just riding in traffic - it's not going to help you in any serious collision, and it's likely to just discourage you from bicycling, at which point your health is going to suffer from the lack of exercise. Likewise, NASCAR drivers wear helmets and have other safety gear which we don't force on normal motorists driving to the grocery store.

    Congratulations, Mayor Todd. You really set a high bar for future contestants for Worst Person In Austin

    Update: This entry was dropped from the austin bloggers portal for being "a personal attack" (I then had to decategorize this so it didn't show up again there on future edits). I don't know any way I could write this story with the essential bits in it and make it not an attack on Bruce Todd. My cow orker blames Keith Olbermann. I blame the helmet nazis. Nevertheless, this category may have a brief lifespan if it turns out that the rejection sticks - there's no point writing these for the half-dozen people who actually subscribe.

    Update: Austin group fighting the mandatory helmet law is at http://www.nohelmetlaw.org/

    May 25, 2006

    Bicycle Helmets Don't Work, Part MCMXVII

    Just sent the following crackpot letter in response to the featured letter in today's Statesman. (I'd like to link to it, but the Letters page for today somehow left out its actual text).

    (This is in response to the letter published today, May 25, by the person who was upset about the picture of the cyclist not wearing a helmet).

    Those who are aghast at the sight of cyclists who dare to venture out on the roads without wearing a helmet should be aware that the dramatic safety benefits promised by early case-control studies have failed to be borne out in actual use. As helmet usage has gone up in this country, actual head injury rates have remained on the same trajectory - indicating that the benefits of current bicycle helmets may have been vastly oversold. (New York Times, July 29, 2001; by Julian Barnes). Analyses of those case control studies have uncovered serious statistical errors which render them unsuitable as support for the mandatory helmet position.

    In addition, experience in other countries has shown the same lack of benefit from increasing helmet use, as well as a dramatic decrease in cycling whenever mandatory helmet laws have been imposed. In short: a mandatory helmet law's primary effect is to reduce the number of cyclists (shifting them back to riding in cars) without providing a real benefit to those who remain.

    Wear a helmet, if you want, to provide you with some protection against minor injuries; but please don't be under the misapprehension that it helps you in a major collision, and please lay off those of us who would rather not waste our time with them.

    [ed: don't know how you like to cite earlier articles; and if I remember, I think your own paper may have also carried the referenced story].

    Update: Austin group fighting the mandatory helmet law is at http://www.nohelmetlaw.org/

    May 03, 2006

    Solution to Bile Shortage Found

    Since I thought I had been dumped back into moderation for the horrible sin of providing more than two (actual content-filled) postings to austin-bikes on some day in the last week (turned out to just be a delay, apparently), this particular response to our good friend Roger Baker risked being unposted, and thus, I posted it here for posterity. Post-haste.

    On 09:18 AM 5/3/2006 -0500, Roger Baker wrote:
    I bet some of you thought that there wouldn't be any bike lanes along SH 130 didn't you? (hey, as an Austin taxpayer, you're paying for part of it).

    [...]

    ...Darcie Schipull of TxDOT advised that they have hired Wilbur Smith
    Associates to develop a master plan for bike and pedestrian trails
    along SH 130. They will work with jurisdictions to develop the plans
    and to encourage them to use the plan for applying for enhancement
    funds...


    So if the City of Austin can magically come up with a few million dollars to match against another few million dollars of Federal money, we might get hike/bike trails built along parts of this road, and along parts of the Capital Metro rail line, by the time our grandkids are riding bikes, assuming they still exist by then. Note that the road was absolutely not designed for bike trails to begin with; the only concession to them is essentially the maintenance of enough right-of-way to fit them in spots. (No design allowances made for interactions cross-streets, for instance).

    Does the fact that TXDOT responded in exactly the same way as did Capital Metro penetrate the cocoons of credulity of any of y'all yet? Graciously allowing another governmental entity to build a bike trail on your unused land as long as it's not too much trouble and as long as they pay the entire bill was always possible, and here's the important part: EVEN WITH TXDOT.

    The only right-of-way owner the city ever had any trouble with in this regard was Union Pacific. TXDOT was always willing to let us build trails with our own money in their right-of-way. It's not a particularly notable concession; and it does not signal support for bicycling.

    Nothing new here. Someday, maybe, y'all will get a little less credulous about what exactly you're being promised and how much you're willing to give away for it.

    March 27, 2006

    Capital Metro Broken Promises Part 2

    Well, I was planning on writing Part Two about finances - specifically, the debt issue. But, I just got the following across the wire on the austin-bikes email list (originally written by somebody else on the ACA list). Remember that one of the many levers used to try to pry the center-city away from my position of "rail which doesn't run anywhere near central Austin isn't worth voting for" was the promise of "rails with trails", pushed most heartily by folks like Jeb Boyt, David Foster, and Dave Dobbs. I never fell for it, of course; it was obvious that double-tracking needed to happen in enough spots to make trails of any serious length impractical bordering on impossible, and the political (performance-oriented) hurdles seemed insurmountable. I said so, frequently (see bottom; unfortunately, I didn't write any blog posts about this angle; I know, what are the odds).

    But, as usual, I was alone.

    Now, indications are that Capital Metro is wiggling out of yet another commitment made to central Austin in order to get the thing passed (see Part One and followup). Responses on the ACA list basically hem and haw about multi-organization planning efforts and the necessity to keep pushing and go get some money, ignoring the fact that Capital Metro and its defenders basically said this trail would get built and be useful for central Austinites; not that "if you pay your own money we might let you build one in a decade out by Leander where there's enough room, but then again we might not".

    The Austin-screwing Krusee-train rides again. Yee-haw!

    Here's the quote from the ACA list:

    I was in a planning meeting with Lucy Galbraith from Capital Metro last week, and she said the words I've been dreading. She said there is no plan -- nor has there ever been a plan -- to build bike and pedestrian trails along the planned rail commuter lines.

    I had been told repeatedly by several sources in Capital Metro that they were committed to building a connected trail for bicycles and pedestrians next to every rail line to allow people to safely walk or ride to or from the nearest station. I said, on this list, I couldn't wait for that day. It sounded swell to me.

    And I voted for the commuter rail in part because I thought it would help us get this bike trail.

    Now Ms. Galbraith is saying that Capital Metro never had any such plan. (More specifically, she said the language related to bike/pedestrian trails was ambiguous and vague.) She said there was an idea proposed for bike and pedestrian trails, but there were no funds ever allocated. She also said that Capital Metro intends to build parallel tracks in their right-of-way, so in many places there will not be room for a bike/pedestrian trail.

    So, to sum up... There never was a plan, just an idea proposed. There are no funds. And there is no room. And I, for one, feel somewhat fooled.

    Here are some excerpts from the austin-bikes list archive both from me and those who scoffed.

    One of my first on the topic:

    And I want to remind all of you that, while these bike facilities are an unquestionably good thing, it is very unlikely that Capital Metro will build them unless the performance of the starter line is fairly good, and by that I mean it has to be good enough to convince voters to continue to build the system drawn in the long-range plan. The rails-with-trails trail is not going to be part of the starter route; it's going to be built afterwards IF AND ONLY IF the long-range plan continues to be implemented.

    Whether or not this starter line is good enough to get us on the path of implementing that long-range plan (which I think is still awful) is a matter of opinion. I think by now you all know I believe the chance that this starter line will match the extremely poor performance of Tri-Rail in South Florida, which it closely resembles in all important aspects, is quite good).

    So please vote simply based on whether you think this starter line is going to work. Voting yes in the hopes of getting bike trails is foolish if the plan itself is never going to get to that point. You might in fact be impeding the development of mass transit in our area and not get the bike trails anyways.

    The first real doozy, from David Foster. A nice guy who is probably feeling pretty down right now.

    Bike Friends,

    I have been out of town for a few days and am catching up on lots of
    email on commuter rail and rails-with-trails. Rather than responding
    to al of them, I just want to point out a few reasons why RwT is
    more likely to happen with than without commuter rail. I will be out
    of town again starting tomorrow and not back till Wednesday but I
    look forward to the post-election analysis on this forum, and I hope
    discussion of how to make rails-with-trails work should the
    referendum pass, as I hope it will

    1). Cap Metro will have more money if the referendum passes, and may
    well not be able to withstand the attack to roll back its sales tax
    and put the money into roads if it loses. This means we could lose
    funding for RwT and the All Systems Go improvements to the bus
    system as well, and cripple the agency's chance to do any kind of
    rail system. This is of course what Skaggs and Levy want.

    2) Cap Metro will have an incentive to do RwT if the referendum
    passes, namely to increase ridership by providing an easier and
    safer way for cyclists to access the stations and trains. Cap Metro
    has also agreed to providing bike access on the trains and lockers
    and/or bike racks at the stations, which will serve the same purpose
    of increasing ridership. A cyclist will be able to ride to the
    station, leave the bike there or take it along and ride to his/her
    final destination.

    3) I do not believe that Cap Metro would commit the political
    blunder of backing out on this promise. Many of us worked to get Cap
    Metro to agree to RwT, including the bicycle advocacy organizations
    who issued the joint press release supporting the referendum (ACA,
    AMTG, TBC, and now too Trans Texas Alliance). Cap Metro gives every
    indication of wanting to go forward, including helping bring Mia
    Birk of Alta Planning in from Portland Oregon to give a presentation
    on Rails with Trails while back.

    My response to David:

    My statement that "you won't get rails-with-trails if commuter rail fails to deliver passengers" is based on political pragmatism, not what Capital Metro happens to be saying right now.

    1. There is no legal requirement that they provide RwT if the election
    passes. I don't think David disputes this. Nothing but the initial
    commuter line is really up for a vote here. I believe Capital Metro
    intends to build RwT. I also believe that if the commuter rail line
    meets my expectations (performs similar to South Florida's Tri-Rail
    line, the only other new start of the last 20-30 years which relies on
    shuttle buses for distribution), the political pressure to give back 1/4
    cent (at least) of Capital Metro's money will be as strong as it ever
    has been. So I don't buy the argument that the money's only going back
    if the election fails. I think the money's also going back if the
    election succeeds but the starter line fails.

    2. I don't think RwT provides much boost to ridership. This isn't going
    to be providing cycling access to stations, for the most part; it will
    be providing cycling routes ALONG the rail line, not TO the rail line.
    The neighborhoods in Leander will continue to have no bicycling access
    to stations whatsoever - RwT will not change this. Nor will RwT improve
    access for central Austinites since the part of the line they call
    "central Austin" (really north Austin - Crestview/Wooten) is the least
    likely to have space for the trail due to narrower RoW. Also, cycling
    access to stations in this part of Austin is already pretty good -
    roughly ten million times better than in Leander or far northwest Austin.

    3. If Capital Metro wants to keep running the commuter rail line after
    this point (attempting to fix it with streetcars or by going to
    Seaholm), they're going to need to fight a POLITICAL battle to keep that
    money. Guess what the likely casualty would be in that case? In other
    words, the "political blunder of backing out" may end up being one
    necessary part of Capital Metro's strategy to make the rail service
    survive long enough for an attempted rescue by streetcars (or Seaholm).

    In conclusion: I respect David and, unlike many on the
    pro-commuter-rail-side, he has been an honorable and informed opponent.
    I think he's kept that standard up here. I don't disagree that
    rails-with-trails would be really nice if they happen; and my prediction
    that they will not occur is based on my informed guess of what will
    happen politically when the rail line fails to deliver passenger load. I
    think he honestly believes the line will deliver enough passengers to
    survive long enough for RwT to happen; and obviously I don't.

    And a response from Eric Anderson...

    Certainly, construction of Rails-with-Trails will accelerate with voter buy-in and continued build-out of Cap Metro's long range transit plan.

    There is however simply no evidence that any/all bike facilities associated with the Austin-Leander commuter rail line must jump through some performance hoop.

    [...]

    In fact, Cap Metro spokesperson Sam Archer indicated to those present at Austin Cycling Association meeting on Oct. 11th, that immediately following an affirmative Nov. 2nd vote, Cap Metro would begin master-planning efforts for such Rails-with-Trails facilities in tandem with commuter rail planning efforts.

    STILL feel good about falling for this snow-job instead of fighting for light rail for central Austin?

    March 17, 2006

    Shoal Creek Summed Up

    Michael Bluejay made an outstanding presentation (Quicktime slides with audio) which everybody needs to read. (He presented this before the City Council right before they approved the cyclist-endangering Option III).

    Again, I can't recommend this video enough. It's the best quick summary of this issue, with pictures, that I've ever seen. Watch it now.

    February 20, 2006

    Shoal Creek Attractive Nuisance Boulevard

    (just posted to the austin transportational cycling list)

    As I've tried to point out before but obviously not succeeded, the danger for SCB is that it becomes an 'attractive nuisance' - i.e., if you stripe a 'bike lane' or a 'shoulder' or even a 'shared use area', you are making an implied recommendation that this is where cyclists should be riding. (Well-established in both legal and traffic engineering circles).

    Thus, the facility to which you're 'attracting' the cyclists to had better meet some basic, bare minimum, safety guidelines such as AASHTO. As many have pointed out, AASHTO standards for bike lanes next to parking are still not great - a good chunk of the bike lane would be in the door space, but the Gandy design would have had all of the bike lane within the door zone, and the 'space' shrinking to perhaps a foot when being passed by a motorist while you yourself were passing a parked truck - i.e., you would get brushed even if the parked vehicle never opened its door. The 10-foot shared space has this same exact problem; the absence of the stripe separating 'bike lane' from 'parking lane' makes no difference.

    I get the sense that many people still haven't looked at these pictures, which tell the story far better than my words possibly could.

    Take a look. That's not "normal bike lane bad" where the door would extend part of the way into the bike lane when it's open. That's "guaranteed collision bad" where the cyclist fundamentally doesn't have enough space to travel even when the truck's door is closed.

    Some people (who must not have looked at that picture) drastically underestimate how bad a facility this is - thinking that they (good rider) would just get into the travel lane to pass the parked car. This forgets that:

    1. Most inexperienced riders don't know to do this, and will thus 'swerve' at the last moment, or maybe not even go out into the lane at all, and

    2. Experienced riders will take the lane well in advance of the parked car, and will (in my, and Lane's experience at least) get honked at, or possibly someday worse.

    A facility which encourages inexperienced cyclists to perform unsafe manuevers and which causes conflict with other road users when experienced cyclists do what they're supposed to do has no place on our roadways. It doesn't matter how the other roads in the city are designed - if this one fails some basic minimum safety standards, it's a horrible, horrible design and needs to be rethought. If this means removing SCB from the city's bicycle route system, so be it.

    That's the bottom line here - the city is basically signing up for a huge potential liability lawsuit, and if it ever happens, I'll be glad to testify that they were warned early and often.

    February 17, 2006

    Fifty-Fifty Journalistic Balance Sucks

    Whether it's in science (usually global warming or evolution) or local politics, journalists addicted to "he-said she-said" should turn in their press pass. If that's all we needed, simple links to a couple of ideological websites would suffice.

    With global warming, you effectively have an overwhelming scientific consensus and a couple of skeptics - bought and paid for by oil companies (and, of course, a college dropout Bush appointee trying to censor one of this country's most experienced climatologists). The media usually covers this as "he-said, she-said", which is OK when there truly IS no consensus, but we passed that point ten years ago.

    In the Shoal Creek debacle instance, the Chronicle didn't bother to tell you that the TTI, hired by the City Council in an obvious attempt to provide at least some political cover for choosing "Option 3", reported back to them that the peer cities fairly unanimously recommended "Option 2", and that all of them recommended very strongly against "Option 3". Paraphrased, the response was, essentially, "why don't you idiots just restrict parking on one side of the street?".

    Did the Chronicle mention this, either at the time or now that the council subcommittee ignored everybody who knows diddly-squat about traffic safety and ordered Option 3? Of course not. It's "car-free bike lane guys say X. On the other hand, neighborhood people say Y". No mention of which position might be more credible. No mention of the fact that the experts the city hired to consult were firmly on one of the two sides.

    Fifty-fifty balance sucks. A chimp could collate two press releases together and turn them into an article. Chronicle, have another banana.

    February 03, 2006

    On bicycle lanes, and dense areas

    I just made this comment to this post on Jamie's site which made my morning bright. I rhyme! Thought it deserved its own entry, to at least put some transportation back at the top.

    Wow, thanks for the endorsement! That made my morning!

    Kyle,

    I've spent a lot of time in Seattle for work and for a wedding, and my wife lived there for about 7 years. One thing's for certain: Austin has much higher speed roadways in general than Seattle does - or, put it another way, the part of Austin where the roads are like "all of Seattle" only extends out from 6th/Congress about a mile and a half. And in that part of town, I usually advocate against bike lanes (one of my fellow commissioners at the time pushed for bike lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca downtown, for instance; I pushed against).

    There are other reasons to support bike lanes even on roads with slower traffic. For instance, the primary bicycle arteries heading to UT are a block and three blocks away from my house (Speedway and Duval). Each has so many cyclists that without the bike lanes, the road would probably not be able to function for motorists - in that sense, the bike lanes help manage high levels of bicycle traffic. Likewise, the whole Shoal Creek debacle is a mess because the bike lanes are needed due to both high volumes of cyclists and high volumes of child cyclists (for whom the speed differential rises to the normal 'justifies bike lanes' levels, I think).

    and my second comment once I realized I hadn't read his closely enough:

    Kyle,

    Upon reading my comment it seems to be responding to an implication which wasn't there in your comment. I'm way too tired this morning, so please treat mine as an expansion of yours rather than as an attempt to refute, since it's obvious upon further reading that you weren't saying Austin's level of bike lanes were too high, but rather that our area of town where bike lanes aren't needed is too small. Couldn't agree more.

    Things are glacially improving on that pace, set back by bad neighborhoods who prefer suburban parking codes. And there are a lot of cyclists heading down Speedway and Duval each day, at least.

    January 20, 2006

    Our lunch, and parking

    I'm still not over the current flare-up of my stupid arthritis (now six months and counting since I was able to do, essentially, anything) so even though Julio's is within a good walk, we drove to lunch. My wife wanted to pick up some vegetables at Fresh Plus too. Here's what we had to do:

    1. Drive by Julio's. All spaces taken. Oops.
    2. Drive by the lot at Fresh Plus. Note that it's 2/3 empty, unlike the other big lot in the area. Sign says you will be towed if you leave the premises. Oops.
    3. Drive by the other big lot. Full. (Not really allowed for Julio's either; probably towable).
    4. Park on street amidst many people doing the same.
    5. Walk past Fresh Plus and that other lot over to Julio's.
    6. Eat lunch
    7. Walk back to Fresh Plus and buy vegetables
    8. Walk past 2/3 empty lot back to car

    The even-more-suburban version of this would have entailed us parking at a lot for Julio's, then having to move the car to the Fresh Plus lot, then driving home. Some folks would prefer that business customers don't park on the street even in Hyde Park so that's not that far off. In fact, a local small business opening was/is being held up over such concerns. (if you can't read the hyde park group and you're really interested in the details, email me).

    This shopping center was used before by Karen McGraw as an example of a good solution to the parking-versus-neighborhood-streets 'problem' when another business on Guadalupe was trying to get a variance to open with far less than suburban-norm parking. Didn't seem that good to me - pretty damn inefficient to have 2/3 of Fresh Plus' lot sitting there empty (and the big lot shared by Hyde Park Bar & Grill and other businesses is often underutilized as well, although not today).

    We're not that unusual - when people do drive to this commercial node (many walk or bike), it's quite often to hit several places at once. Most either do what we do and park on the street (thus pissing off the neighbors) or risk getting towed because they 'left the premises'.

    Does this strike anybody else as good? What the hell's wrong with just abolishing these stupid parking requirements anyways - businesses that absolutely can't live without dedicated off-street parking would continue to build it; but we wouldn't be left with these wide expanses of mandated, but empty, parking. And if there was a huge demand for off-street parking, somebody could build (shudder) a pay lot instead of forcing businesses to subsidize drivers at the expense of cyclists and pedestrians.

    Folks, if you want to live in a real city, you have to get to that place where you realize that forcing every business to have its own parking lot is just stupid, stupid, stupid. You end up with blight (like on Guadalupe) because you just can't pound that square suburban peg into the circular urban hole.

    December 06, 2005

    More on Yesterday's Whiff

    Councilmember McCracken wrote me back, defending his successful attempt to draw this out further, by claiming that there was "no data about any of the options". This is true, if you restrict the question to "what are the motor vehicle speeds on a roadway with bike lanes and on-street parking on one or both sides with various treatments". However, as I noted above, the TTI was quite clear about the safety recommendation from peer cities - that being, do option 2 and do it now.

    The other things McCracken wanted to put on the road in test sections, if I'm remembering correctly, were:

    • Current design (with curb extensions) - there's really no point in doing this, unless your ONLY goal is to measure motor vehicle speeds - it's a well-known safety hazard for all road users.
    • Painted bike lane (presumably this is in the original Gandy 10-4-6 configuration which doesn't provide enough space for a driver to pass a cyclist who is passing a parked car)
    • Bike lane with raised markings next to either parking lane, driving lane, or both (I'm unclear whether this treatment would include parking on both sides or on one side only - the raised markings would take up enough space that it would seem to rule out the Gandy configuration, but at this point who knows).

    As you can see from the linked items above, to imply that these facilities haven't been studied isn't particularly accurate - they have, and substantial safety problems have been noted. It's true that nobody bothered to measure motor vehicle speed next to these various bicycle facilities - frankly because nobody cared - the speed of a car when it hits you on one of these roads isn't particularly important - whether that car is going 25 or 35 when it runs over you because you slipped on a raised curb marking, for instance, isn't very relevant.

    December 05, 2005

    Council Whiffs Again On Shoal Creek

    About 3/4 of the way through the subcommittee meeting and it looks like the 3 council members are falling back into a "let's get a consensus plan together which meets all stakeholder interests" mode which, in case anybody's forgetting, is what ended up giving us this abomination and all of the nightmare since then.

    This is not a situation where compromise works. This is a situation where the Council has to CHOOSE between:

    1. Parking on both sides of the street, and the elimination of Shoal Creek Boulevard as a safe and useful link in the bicycle route system for Austin (no alternates exist which come close to the length and right-of-way advantages of SCB).

    2. Bicycle lanes on both sides with no parking (in the bike lanes); and on-street parking restricted to one side of the street (also known as "Option 2").

    But instead, it sure as heck looks like they're ignoring the advice of the TTI (which was absolutely clear about what other cities do in cases like this - they do #2) in favor of kow-towing to the neighborhood yet again; inevitably ending up with some stupid combination of Option 3 and the Gandy debacle.

    The worst part is Brewster's gang of "stakeholders" which includes nobody credible from the transportation bicycling community (no, the ACA doesn't represent these folks) and has come up with a plan to try a BUNCH of different things on the road, all but one of which (option 2) are heartily discouraged by modern roadway designers.

    This is so depressing...

    November 29, 2005

    My Chest Hair Saved My Life

    So the former mayor of Austin got seriously hurt while riding with the people who like to load their bikes up in their Tahoes, drive out to the country, and go for a ride, and people are claiming his helmet saved him. Which is newsworthy since he's the one who pushed an all-ages helmet law here in Austin (which got me to stop riding for a year or so), despite the fact that bicycle helmets don't appear to be working. The old "the doctor said his helmet saved his life" canard has come up, and of course, the fact that his helmet is crushed and he's alive is taken as proof that the first caused the second. Folks like the members of the ACA, who generally go riding for fun on the weekends, don't understand how anybody wouldn't want to wear a helmet; but oddly enough, a much larger percentage of those of us who ride for transportation find them ranging from uncomfortable and inconvenient to way-too-hot. And, of course, useless.

    I didn't really want to talk about this story, because even though he pushed this helmet law and did a lot of other nasty things, he's lying in a hospital bed, and using his accident for political purposes is pretty wrong. But the pro-helmet people are out in force on this one, and they need to be answered.

    I have a story to tell.

    The one time I rode my bike down to New Braunfels to go toobing (before the reactive arthritis ruined my toes), I went over my handlebars after a light turned red too quickly for me to safely stop at an intersection on the far south end of San Marcos. I flew like Superman, put my hands out, landed and skidded in some gross black oil which the drizzle had brought to the surface of the road, and came to a stop short of the intersection. I survived (and rode on to New Braunfels, although more slowly), and a good chunk of the hair on my chest and my knees was scraped off. Cuts and bruises on both, of course.

    From this, I conclude that the hair on my chest saved my life. Because I hit the pavement chest-first; and the chest hair got ripped off. That's all the proof I need.

    From here on out, I'm going to make fun of anybody who rides their bike who doesn't have a really hairy chest. And I plan on pushing for mandatory bicycle chest hair laws. Because, after all, it's all about safety.

    Studies which show no relationship in the real world between the amount of chest hair and likelihood of dying on the road will be ignored by me, and the people who still insist on riding despite their relative hairlessness will be mocked as potential Darwin Award winners.

    I'm sorry Mayor Todd is hurt. Even though I think his work screwed Austin in a number of ways during his tenure on the Council; he doesn't deserve the painful recovery process he'll endure, at best, and his family doesn't deserve the consequences either way. But the rest of you? Just shut up about stuff you know nothing about. Even if bicycle helmets actually provided the safety benefits people think they do, you're a lot healthier over the long run if you ride your bike (helmetless!) than if you drive.

    November 10, 2005

    tagged

    This is the first time I've done one of these.

    Gregg passed along this game...

    1. Delve into your blog archive.

    B. Search the archives for the 23rd post.

    2. Find the 5th sentence, or closest to.

    III. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas.

    C. Tag 5 more people

    My 23rd entry was The Shoal Creek Debacle, Part III which had NOTHING TO DO WITH MASS-TRANSIT, SO THERE!

    The 5th sentence was:

    To be fair, the bike lane stretch between Steck and Anderson has one large gravel patch in it as well.

    Analysis: Well, I was trying to give the wide curb lane guys a fair shake, but honestly I don't buy the claim that a wide curb lane has less debris than a bike lane - and it shows. This entry remains relevant today - see this blog category and this fun yahoo group for more.

    This entry particularly sucks since I can't ride my bike now (maybe not much, ever) due to my body trying to kill me (had another subflare in the intervening time and was on crutches for another week; have not ridden bike since that posting). The good news(?) is that screwing up Shoal Creek won't matter much for me from here on out.

    Guess it should have been a mass transit entry after all, dammit!

    I don't know if anybody beyond a few kooks reads this thing, but what the hell: Steve Casburn can probably regale us with tales of Houston yore; Mark Hasty probably exorcised somebody on about that day; Chris was probably predicting a Democratic landslide; Jim was surely claiming to be non-partisan; and Thomas Gray was, I'm sure, still insisting it wasn't a blog.

    October 31, 2005

    New link

    Found this site while browsing technorati today; very car-centric but at least discusses the topic of intersection design (which obviously interests me as well). I've added to my links and made a bunch of comments, trying to represent other road users (i.e. pedestrians and cyclists). Check it out.

    October 05, 2005

    Ben White and I-35

    This somewhat annoyingly self-conscious piece reiterates frustration many people have with the pace of interchange construction here in Austin, yet, as usual, nobody mentions the real problem.

    FRONTAGE ROADS SUCK

    Without the frontage roads and ancillary suburban metastasis, this interchange could have been upgraded in many different ways which would have been far cheaper and far quicker than the 5-level spaghetti bowl we're ending up with here. Other states build freeways mostly without frontage roads, which also destroy the ability of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users to actually get anywhere.

    The argument in Texas is usually that access to existing properties must be preserved - which flies in the face of reality considering that when most of these roads are upgraded to freeways (long before interchange debacles like this one), most of the strip malls don't exist. On the rare occasions when access to existing properties simply must be preserved, other states do so either by shorter sections of frontage roads (noncontinuous) or by perimeter roads (examples along US101 in Santa Clara spring to mind). Neither of those choices, of course, allows the guys who own the land next to the freeway to cash in quite as readily.

    Ironically, most Texans, when asked, seem to prefer these stupid things. While I can understand the layperson not getting it, it's pretty hard to understand how responsible leaders in our area outside TXDOT's cronysphere continue to support them, given the repeated examples of intersections which completely fail at moving traffic due to the stripsprawl their frontage roads generated (Braker/183, for instance, or Parmer/Mopac).

    (Note to self: remember to write item about frontage road highway design severing existing connections across US 183, esp. northwest Austin).

    More idiot cyclists

    From a surprising source. (I post as "doinky" there).

    September 13, 2005

    SCB: Speed Is Not The Problem

    A lot of folks (especially Stuart Werbner and Preston Tyree, who normally do a lot of good work for the cycling community) fell hard for the position that "the problem on Shoal Creek Boulevard isn't the bike lanes, it's the traffic speed". Since this position continues to rear its ugly head in discussions before and after yesterday's meeting, I thought I'd address it here.

    The key is that all other things being equal, higher car speeds do indeed result in less safety for nearby cyclists and pedestrians. This is unquestionably true.

    The problem is that all things aren't equal. This picture shows a cyclist trying to pass a parked vehicle at the same time he is being passed by a moving vehicle. It doesn't matter if the passing vehicle is going 45 or 25; if the cyclist veers out unexpectedly into the through lane and is hit, they're in bad, bad, BAD shape. (Note: you have to imagine that the stripe between the 4-foot 'bike lane' and 6-foot 'parking lane' isn't there to match the current conditions on SCB).

    Likewise, this infamous accident happened despite the fact that the conflicting vehicle's speed was 0 MPH and the vehicle which ended up killing her wasn't going very fast either.

    On the other hand, hundreds of cyclists use Loop 360 every day with no conflicts with motorists. Automobile speed in the through lanes of that roadway is typically around 60 MPH.

    What can we conclude? Traffic engineering seeks to avoid presenting users with unexpected conflicts; and having a cyclist veer out into the travel lane when the motorist in that lane thinks they're not going to have to is the very definition of unexpected. A safe pass by a car going 40 is far preferrable to a collision with a car going 30.

    How does this apply to Shoal Creek Boulevard? It's clear to me at least that the original city plan probably wouldn't have reduced automobile speeds much, but definitely would have resulted in fewer conflicts with cyclists who need to leave the bike lane to get around obstructions. As on Loop 360, if you rarely need to leave the bicycle facility, you don't need to worry as much about the speed of the cars in the lane next to you.

    Another thing Preston in particular got wrong was the theory that riding on Shoal Creek is 'easy' once you 'learn' how to pass. Even for an experienced cyclist like myself, the conflict with motorists during a pass is irritating (the motorists don't understand why I go into the travel lane and are sometimes aggressive in expressing their displeasure). For a novice cyclist, it's likely to be so intimidating that they will (unwisely) stay in the far-too-narrow space between the white stripe and the parked car, and someday soon somebody's going to get killed that way.

    Finally, of critical importance to the City of Austin is the following paragraph, excerpted from a detailed analysis of the Laird case in Boston:

    The City might be held negligent for creating what is called in legal language an "attractive nuisance" -- that is, a baited trap. Ample evidence exists that the City of Cambridge had been notified of the hazards of bike lanes in the "door zone" before the Massachusetts Avenue lane was striped, yet the City continued to stripe them.

    This is basically why Shoal Creek Boulevard doesn't have bike lanes today, it has a "multipurpose shoulder". Unknown whether this will do enough to shield Austin from liability in the event of an accident, but cyclists ought to think about this when you decide to ride on this facility.

    September 12, 2005

    Shoal Creek Meeting Is Done

    Largely as expected - council members want to remove the islands, and then were going to talk some more about what to do. Some indications that they're either not willing to admit or not capable of understanding that a compromise solution is impossible for this roadway. Neighborhood people largely against the curb extensions but still adamant that parking on both sides must be preserved -- which means that we're back to bike lanes with parking in them, which pretty much the entire rest of the world views as an oxymoron.

    Here's the letter I just sent to the three council members on the subcommittee:

    Councilmembers:

    I watched most of the meeting today while working at my desk, and had a couple of comments:

    1. 2-way on-street bike lanes are not accepted in traffic engineering circles and have not for quite some time. They will not be an option for Shoal Creek Boulevard unless you want to override your staff.
    2. Bike lanes down the median - same story.
    3. A reminder: We already know there is no way to reconcile "parking on both sides" with "car-free bike lanes" on this street. There is insufficient width. Either one or more bike lanes must be abandoned, or one or more sides of parking must be abandoned.

    Comments that you made in regards to #3 were especially disappointing - the failure of the previous council was in attempting to avoid this painful choice, which MUST be made. EITHER car-free bike lanes OR parking on both sides - you cannot have both. I would argue that the correct choice is to preserve on-street parking on ONE side of Shoal Creek Boulevard - this is not an unreasonable imposition on residents (my own neighborhood has highly restricted on-street parking; many streets allow it on one side and a few not at all).

    Regards,

    Mike Dahmus
    mdahmus@io.com

    Letter to Council on Shoal Creek Debacle

    A subcommittee of the City Council is getting some kind of an update on the Shoal Creek Debacle. I just sent this email to them.


    Dear Mayor and councilmembers:

    My name is Mike Dahmus, and I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000 through 2005. I cast the lone vote in opposition to the plan which (with modifications) ended up being constructed on Shoal Creek Boulevard. During my terms on the UTC, I served as the lone member who utilized both an automobile and a bicycle to commute to work -- i.e., I'm not a pure cyclist, and I'm not a pure driver. I used Shoal Creek Boulevard as part of my bicycle commute for years and occasionally drove it as well.

    I understand you're going to address this issue in a subcommittee meeting this week, and I thought I should comment.

    For those of you who don't bicycle; Shoal Creek Boulevard is, without hyperbole, the most important route in the city for bicycle commuters. (It has a lot of recreational traffic as well, of course). It forms the spine of the route between northwest Austin and central Austin - alternate routes either are far too hilly for normal use (to the west) or do not connect with routes which can get cyclists across the Mopac/183/360 barrier.

    Years back, Shoal Creek's turn came up in the "let's do what every other city does and put up no-parking signs in our bike lanes" process. Since the bike program staff at the time knew that Shoal Creek had long blocks and (some) short driveways, they offered a compromise plan which would have allowed parking on one side of the road, with smaller-than-typical bike lanes on both sides. This plan was opposed by the neighborhoods, for whom on-street parking was the priority over through cyclist travel.

    Years ago, thanks to neighborhood pressure, Shoal Creek Boulevard was reclassified from a minor arterial to a residential collector (an inappropriately low classification by engineering standards). This allowed the neighborhood to then push back against that eminently reasonable plan to allow parking only on one side of the street (neighborhood partisans could declare that SCB was a 'residential street' and that therefore parking was more important than through traffic). The bike program plan was rejected thanks to a few neighbors who valued both-sides on-street parking more than cyclist safety.

    At this point, as I'm sure many of you remember, the neighborhoods got Councilmember Goodman's approval to start a planning process which ended with the absurd plan by Charles Gandy which none of your engineers would sign their name to, and which made Austin a laughingstock in other cities around the country. The modified version of that plan (removing the stripe between the 'bike lane' and the parking area) is nearly as ludicrous, but since it's not marked as a 'bike lane' is nominally acceptable to engineers, I suppose.

    The Shoal Creek Boulevard plan as implemented is a liability problem for the city of Austin (although not as bad as the original Gandy "10-4-6" plan would have been, since city engineers were smart enough to remove the "bike lane" designation). Sufficient space does not exist for a cyclist to safely pass parked cars and remain in the bike lane, yet drivers in the through traffic lane expect them to do so. This is a textbook example of bad traffic engineering (when one street user performs a safe and legal manuever, another street user should not be caught by surprise).

    This isn't about the curb islands, by the way. The safety obstacle for cyclists is parked cars. The curb islands must be passed in a fairly narrow space, but there's zero chance that one of them is going to open their door while you're passing it.

    But what the curb islands and striping HAVE done is encourage more people to park on the street; increasing the frequency of the street user conflict which will eventually result in a serious injury - a car passing a cyclist while the cyclist is passing a parked car.

    This entire process was nothing more than an abrogation of responsibility by the City Council. Your job is to make decisions, not to encourage a make-believe consensus when none can be found. There simply is no way to reconcile both-sides on-street parking with car-free bike lanes (and, by the way, the rest of the world views parking in bike lanes as an oxymoron). A decision either way would have been better than the mess you left us with -- and cyclists are getting hurt already as a result.

    I urge you to learn from this horrible mistake, and remember that your job is to make the tough decisions. Shoal Creek Boulevard has already been ruined for bicycling commuters - please don't take this precedent anywhere else.

    Regards,
    Michael E. Dahmus



    August 13, 2005

    Commuting To Riata

    I had a nice conversation with Jonathan from Another Pointless Dotcom while doing some work last night, and it came to light that he works in the same complex I did for about a year and a half. This reminded me to share with him my old slideshow of that commute, which I've probably never mentioned on the blog. I also then chatted about it this morning with my current cow orker who has a lot of experience in the area. Since this might be of general interest to people who work in the area, I'll initiate this new Bicycle Commuting category with this oldie-but-goodie.

    Riata is a cautionary tale of any number of my hot buttons, including the problems that frontage roads cause transit and pedestrians, neighborhoods being irresponsible, developers getting to claim credit for being 'near' transit when it's not feasible to actually use, high tech offices and apartment complexes metastasizing along sprawl corridors rather than being downtown where they ought to be, etc. There's at least a few thousand employees of various companies in there now - probably still down from the pre-bust peak.

    The key things to remember about commuting to Riata, which is halfway between Duval and Oak Knoll on the north/east side of US 183 are:

    1. Use Jollyville. Now with bike lanes!
    2. When transitioning to Riata Trace Parkway, your choices are to go all the way up to Oak Knoll and come in the back way, or go over on Duval to the 183 frontage, and go in that way. In the morning, the northbound 183 frontage is very civilized and not a problem.
    3. When going home in the afternoon, you'll want to use the TI/Oak Knoll back way. Don't mess with 183 then.
    4. Think about using the bus for a boost uphill in some mornings, if you're like the (old) me and commuting from central Austin.
    5. Decide whether you want to cross Mopac on Spicewood or Steck. My current cow orker prefers Steck all the time; I prefer Steck uphill and Spicewood downhill. Depends on your tolerance for the stress of the crossing at Mopac/Spicewood versus the speed you'll give up at the 4-way stop on Steck.

    (Technical details: I wrote the crappy slideshow script which reads pseudo-XML a long time ago and have never touched it since; it BARELY works; don't look at it cross-eyed or you might break the internet).

    July 11, 2005

    Bicycling Is Very Safe

    While doing a bit of preemptive research for the comments for the last entry, I stumbled across this article which does, by far, the best job of laying out comparative risk for cycling and other activities (like driving) that I've ever seen. Highly recommended.

    July 06, 2005

    Helmet science (for real)

    Here's an interesting paper on bike helmet design. Should be mandatory reading no matter which side of the debate you fall on, especially if you like to repeat stories about how a helmet 'saved [some person's] life'.

    (Note for the record that I'm a skeptic; I wear one when mountain biking but never else, and won't go on rides that require them, because I believe (and am backed up by real-world data) that biking isn't that dangerous; that helmets haven't had much impact on head injuries; and that wearing helmets helps perpetuate the myth that biking is too dangerous to do regularly.)

    June 16, 2005

    On office locations

    I've been working out in the suburbs ever since I moved to Austin in 1996. There just aren't many high-tech companies who have had the guts to disregard their CEO's wishes and move downtown, where many of the younger workers would prefer to work (at least that was the case at my last job).

    First office was in far north Austin at IBM, from 1996 through 1998, and during that time I bought and moved into a condo in Clarksville.

    Second company was S3 where I had four different offices in three and a half years (five if you count the twelve months or so I worked at home in the condo between offices #3 and #4).

    Then, I worked at two far western offices at the last company.

    I currently work at 183/Braker, which, for the suburbs, is about as good as it gets - I can and did take the express bus to work to assist on my bike commute from time to time. But it still couldn't beat walking a block to the #5 and busing 10 minutes downtown. I could only bike to work once a week at best because of the time it took, but if my office were downtown, I could easily do it 5 days a week.

    So when the economy picked up, I started asking recruiters who contacted me where the companies were located (thinking I wouldn't bother talking to somebody in the 'burbs but might at least listen for a downtown position). I usually got the answer quickly; but one guy really didn't want to say, and then claimed that this spot was "central". Give me a break. When I explained that "central" meant "could hop a bus or ride my bike every day rather than once a week", he said they'd pay for a bus pass (closest stop is miles away) and provide free parking(!) FREE PARKING IN THE SUBURBS! YEE-HAW! WHAT AN UNUSUAL PERK!

    As it turns out, I'm now leaving the current job because a combination of a benefits change that hit us really hard and a property-tax mortgage-company screwup made it impossible to afford to stay, which stinks, since I really like the work and the people. The new job will mean a commute out to my desk in my garage (which I had to air-condition in order to work all that overtime which ate up at least 6 hours a day every weekend day from Memorial Day to mid-August). It was mildly humorous when I asked my normal question, and they responded "you'd have to work at home", and I got to reassure them that it was a plus for me, not a minus. And as it turns out, the new people seem cool, and the work seems like it will be interesting too. But this is the first time I've ever quit a job I liked, which is a weird feeling.

    Anyways, this all came up again today because a couple of threads today regarding Microsoft have mentioned the difficulty in getting people to move to Redmond. One of the threads thinks that people just don't want to move to the northwest, which I don't believe, but the second one gets it right - you can't expect your twentysomething ideal hires to want to work in the suburbs as much as the fiftysomething CEOs.

    This is applicable to me since I've been through the early stages of the interview process with Microsoft at least three times now, but haven't yet found a group which wouldn't require physical office presence in Redmond. And even if we could manage the blended family issues and move to the Seattle area (where my stepson was born and my wife and his father lived for ten years), you'd have to double my salary to get me to live in Redmond or any other such car-requiring soul-destroying suburban wasteland (and living in Seattle and commuting to Redmond would be like what I just got out of in Austin, except five times worse).

    Unfortunately, as Joel on Software pointed out and I mentioned with regard to AMD, the wishes of the employees mean absolutely nothing; almost all corporate moves are to make the office closer to the CEO's home.

    (The rank-and-file workers at the last job, who were disproportionately the bright twentysomethings over whom all tech companies seem to want to fight, disproportionately live in the central city, like I do, but as far as I know only two have found jobs downtown - although another one has started a company on South Congress - on the other hand, the workers at the job I'm leaving are mostly family guys who moved here from RTP, where there is no 'center city' to be had, so there's no demand there).

    So my new commute is twenty steps out to the garage. Now I have two things to try to figure out:

    1. How to work exercise into the daily routine without a bike commute (although I wasn't doing it much lately anyways, I had planned to ramp back up since school's now out for the summer). Maybe walking on my hands to the garage will do it...

    and

    2. How to write about Shoal Creek Boulevard when I won't need to use it for my commute. Actually, that seems like a benefit rather than a drawback...

    June 02, 2005

    Yes To Office Towers At Old Whole Foods

    My old neighborhood has really gone downhill since I left. Now many of them* are vehemently opposing infill at the Old Whole Foods on the grounds that it'll create too much automobile traffic.

    What a load of garbage. The SAME folks who signed the Move AMD petition with me are apparently ALSO against developing high-density office and retail ON TOP OF A PARKING LOT IN THE URBAN CORE. This is exactly why I can't hold my nose and vote for Margot Clarke. Hint: SOMETIMES THE NEIGHBORHOODS ARE WRONG.

    And too much automobile traffic? Here's a clue: At some point, you have to accept that TRAFFIC IN THE URBAN CENTER ISN'T GOING TO FLOW SMOOTHLY, PERIOD. If you want to live in OWANA and expect free-flowing traffic on neighboring arterials, you're insane. The whole POINT of living there is that you don't HAVE to drive (or not as often). Embrace it and get out of your car like I did when I lived there.

    You can't get any more wrong than this unless you opposed student housing on Guadalupe at 27th. Oops.

    Pros for this PUD: A lot of these office workers would otherwise work in the suburbs, which creates more traffic overall, since you mostly can't carpool, bike, walk, or take the bus to jobs out here (and believe me, I try). It doesn't use up any more pervious cover. It doesn't wreck the aquifer. Some of these office workers will no doubt 'commute' from nearby high-density residential development already completed or planned; and the presence of more offices downtown will encourage even more residential development.

    In short: this project would fuel a virtuous cycle of urban development instead of the vicious circle of suburban sprawl. I don't see how any responsible Austinite can be against it.

    (* - updated to reflect supportive offline and online comments at the OWANA group, and my own lack of surety on whether opposing the PUD is an official position of the neighborhood association or not - although I still suspect it is)

    May 19, 2005

    Shoal Creek Update - May 17, 2005

    I biked home from work on Tuesday (Too bad it's Bike To Work Week, Not Bike From Work Week!) and went down Shoal Creek from Anderson to 41st. Report at the end.

    The Chronicle has covered the recent brou-ha-ha, and kudos on the title. I have submitted a crackpot letter (check in a couple of days) which attempts to correct the misinterpretation of Lane's excellent soundbite (the obstructions he refers to are the parked cars, not the curb extensions).

    The ride home was pretty good, actually. About five passing manuevers were necessary, and on two of them I had a motorist stuck behind me; and neither one showed evidence that they were perturbed. Definitely above par for the new striping. I wish I could believe that the motorists are getting the message about the necessity to take the lane to get around parked cars, but the comments from the neighbors at that meeting lead me to believe that I was just lucky to get a couple of reasonable motorists this time.

    May 13, 2005

    The Shoal Creek Debacle Keeps Rolling On

    There was a public meeting on Wednesday night about the Shoal Creek Debacle in which many previously uninformed local residents complained about curb extensions and cyclists riding too close to the line (forced to do so, by the way, by the fact that there are CARS PARKED IN WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A BIKE LANE).

    I just posted the following to the allandale yahoo group, and thought it might have some general interest:

    --- In allandale@yahoogroups.com, Barbara Frock wrote: >I, like Rhonda, wonder about those who > don't live here who have come out swinging. Is it the cyclists who really > wanted a "veloway" through our neighborhood from 38th to Foster?

    That's one way to put it.

    Another way to put it is that Shoal Creek Boulevard is the most important route for bicycle commuting in the city. It forms the spine of the main route from points northwest (disproportionately recent residential growth) to the center-city and vice-versa; and serves as the bicyclist equivalent to at least Burnet Road, if not Mopac.

    Yes, a bunch of people also ride this road for fun. And I'm as frustrated as you are (probably more) when the brightly-plumaged folks out for a training ride treat stop signs as matador capes.

    But every day during rush hour you'll also see dozens of cyclists clearly heading to or from work. This isn't because they want to turn your neighborhood into a "veloway"; it's because SCB is the recommended route for people who, in their cars, would be using Burnet or Mopac. And this is the way it's SUPPOSED to work - you're not supposed to turn your major arterials into cycling routes, you're supposed to find a lower-traffic parallel road which can feasibly serve the same purpose.

    Without SCB functioning as a major "cyclist artery", you'd be complaining about these same cyclists slowing you down on Burnet Road.

    The city's legitimate interest in promoting bicycling as transportation requires that some routes like SCB be "major bicycling routes", which implies that the interests of cyclists should AT A BARE MINIUM be considered above both-sides on-street parking. The city council failed miserably in this case in understanding that those two interests could not be served by a compromise solution; and the neighborhood has failed miserably in understanding that the parking-on-one-side solution already represented a signficant compromise for the bicycling interests, since it still required riding slightly in the "door zone" on the parking-allowed side of the street.

    And, by the way, "through our neighborhood" smacks of an 'ownership' of SCB which isn't supported by the facts. Even when misclassified as a residential collector, it's still "owned" by the city, and the street MUST serve the interests of people who don't live on that street (or even in that neighborhood). Even if SCB was misclassified all the way down to "residential street", no automatic right to park in front of your house is conveyed - I have to pay for a permit to park on my street; and some residential streets in my area have large sections where parking is only allowed on one side.

    - MD

    April 13, 2005

    Shoal Creek Updates

    I will hopefully move some of this content to my old moldy Shoal Creek Debacle Page when I get time.

    Brief introduction: Prior to around 2000, Shoal Creek Boulevard was a minor arterial roadway with extensive bicycle traffic in fairly wide bike lanes which allowed parking (which presented a problem, since modern engineering practice does not allow parking in bike lanes). Shoal Creek's turn came in the "put up no-parking signs in bike lanes" carousel, and the city came up with a plan to preserve on-street parking on one side of the street. The neighbors freaked; a consultant came up with a ridiculous cyclist-killer proposal; the city rejected it; and then a small group of neighborhood people came up with the idea to just stripe a wide "shared lane" for parked cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. With curb extensions to theoretically slow traffic, although since the extensions don't go out to the travel lane (so cyclists can pass), their effect is likely to be minimal.

    Here's some stuff that's been happening recently:

    1. The neighborhoods' email groups (allandale and rosedale) have been full of complaints about the curb extensions, as well as observations about bad driver behavior, including running over and up onto curb extensions. Additionally, neighbors have complained that the bike lane stripe (separating the bike lane from the parking lane) never got put in, which shows that some people didn't realize that the awful Gandy plan was shelved when no engineers would sign on to it. Finally, motorists have (as I predicted) been using the shoulder as a driving or passing lane.

    Gandy's plan, endorsed by the neighborhood:

    The current striping is basically the image above, with no stripe separating the bike lane and parking lane.

    2. Neighbors still think there's a "bike lane" here. There isn't. There's a shoulder, with insufficient space in which to safely pass parked cars. (the absence of the stripe separating the 10 feet into 4 and 6 a la the Gandy plan doesn't change the geometry here - bicyclists must still enter the travel lane in order to safely pass a parked vehicle).

    Images copied from Michael Bluejay:




    3. Motorists are still expecting cyclists to stay in the bike lane. I rode home down Shoal Creek on Monday, and had some indications of impatient motorists behind me as I passed parked cars (no honking this time at least). Remember that even when there's a bit more room than in the pictures above, you still have to worry about the dooring problem. Even the city compromise with parking on one side had this problem (although to a far lesser degree).

    4. Parked car and passing car conflicts continue to be high. Many people who supported this debacle from the beginning are still cowering behind the idea that since parked cars are "scarce" (average of ten on each side for the entire stretch from Foster to 38th), that we don't need to worry about the passing conflicts. The problem, however, is that due to the higher speeds of automobiles, there is a very high chance of conflict on each one of those passes, meaning that it is very likely that a motorist will slow down and wait behind a passing cyclist on each pass. In fact, on Monday, my experience was that 4 out of the 5 times I performed this passing manuever, there were motorists stuck behind me by the time I went back into the shoulder area; and the fifth time I found myself stuck while a car passed me (I didn't get out into the lane early enough).

    5. People continue to misrepresent this process as a compromise (implying that cyclists got something, parking motorists got something, drivers got something, neighborhood got something, etc). In fact, any rational observer can compare conditions before this change to conditions now and make the following judgement: Parking won. Period. Cyclists got less than they had before, and far less than they should have had. The neighborhood got curb extensions (even though they won't work). Cyclists got the middle finger.

    6. The City Council member most responsible for this debacle, Jackie Goodman, is being term-limited out of office. Unfortunately, I hold little hope that a stronger (i.e. decision-maker rather than consensus-hoper) member will emerge from the pack seeking election.

    7. Neighborhood troublemakers are still misrepresenting the history of this debacle; failing to mention that the original proposal from the city for this roadway preserved on-street parking on one side of the road, which is more than almost any minor arterial roadway (SCB's original classification) has, and about average for collectors (SCB's new neighborhood-forced underclassification). This city proposal represented a substantial compromise of bicycle interests, but because it didn't preserve ALL on-street parking, several malcontent nincompoops in the neighborhood fought it bitterly.

    8. The same neighborhood troublemakers continue to misrepresent Shoal Creek's role in the city's transportation system. SCB was originally (correctly) classified as a minor arterial, which means that its main purpose is not for property access, but for a combination of traffic collection/distribution and small amounts of through traffic. For cyclists, SCB is a critical transportation link, since it's so long, and has right-of-way at all intersections (meaning it never has a 2-way stop where through traffic doesn't stop; everything's either a 4-way stop or traffic light). SCB was reclassified thanks to neighborhood pressure to a "residential collector" around 2001ish, against my objections (I-TOLD-YOU-SO-MARKER: I told the other members of the UTC at the time that this change would make it easier for them to then prevent no-parking-in-bike-lanes). Also note that this makes SCB, by far, the longest collector roadway in the city. The neighborhood, ever since then, has claimed that SCB is a "residential street", which means something very different from "residential collector". A "residential street" is supposed to serve property access first, parking second, and distribution a distant third, with essentially no provision for through traffic. A "residential collector", on the other hand, is supposed to serve distribution first, property access second, through traffic third, and parking last.

    The original city plan, preserving on-street parking on one side:

    9. (Humor value only): One of the malcontent neighborhood nincompoops has surfaced again on my old fan group (from my undergraduate days; no, I didn't make it).

    April 11, 2005

    Sometimes I get it right

    Right after reading the stories about more buyers being upside-down on car loans (and pointing out to my wife that we have a 72-month loan on the new family car), this story comes out, and all of the sudden I look like Einstien again.

    Was planning a Shoal Creek entry for today (after riding to work on Friday), but discovered Friday morning that my road (commuter) bike was missing, presumed stolen. Spent Sunday outfitting my old mountain bike; rode it to the bus stop this morning, hopefully riding home this afternoon. Spent all day Saturday reconfiguring the garage so I won't be tempted to leave a bike out overnight (unlocked) again. I may shift gears and write a rebuttal to my John Birch Society commenter today over lunch instead.

    March 23, 2005

    I'm back

    Was in Hawaii for 10 days; back now. I have a backlog of things to write, but for the time being, here's a link to Michael Bluejay's Shoal Creek page which has now been updated with new pictures.

    March 09, 2005

    Shoal Creek Report #2

    Well, I ended up driving down Shoal Creek last night on the way home from work (from 2222 to 41st St.) due to a traffic jam, ironically right after reading a thread on the Allandale neighborhood group in which residents are grumbling about the project now that they're seeing it 'in action'.

    This trip confirmed some things that I saw before, and conflicted with some things that residents of the street have previously said.

    1. I saw more cars parked this time
    2. I saw one vehicle turn into the 'shared lane' and drive down it for at least a block before turning right off Shoal Creek
    3. The apparent space between the white line and the parked car looks much smaller when I'm driving than it does when I'm biking, and it didn't look big on my bike. Hopefully this will result in drivers being more patient when cyclists take the lane.
    4. I only passed one cyclist (going the opposite direction) during my drive. It's not surprising that most motorists thus think conflicts with cyclists and parked cars are rare -- for each motorist trip, there's a very low chance of conflict; but for each cyclist trip, there's a very high chance of conflict. (There's ten or twenty drivers for each cyclist at a bare minimum - even though this road has a lot of cyclists, there's still far more motorists).
    5. Most motorists I observed drifted over the white lines on turns. I don't know how to solve this.

    March 01, 2005

    New Shoal Creek Report #1

    I'm going to try to bike home on Shoal Creek (at least from Anderson to 41st) once a month or so to track the results of the debacle. I plan on executing a polite but firm passing manuever out of the "shared lane" whenever passing a parked car, since there is insufficient space to safely pass a parked car in the space provided (even if you know ahead of time that the vehicle is empty). This passing manuever is likely to generate conflict with through motorists ("conflict" in this sense not meaning emotional or physical but simply that the through motorist behind me will have to slow down and wait for me to pass - although on many occasions on the pre-striped street, the motorist did in fact get angry enough to honk or swerve).

    I made my first trip (post-stripe) yesterday (Monday).

    The striping is done, but the islands are just getting started - post holes have been cut, and some markings made, but that's it.

    First impressions:

    • When no cars are parked, this lane is really wide. Wider than the usable shoulder on Loop 360.
    • Cars are going to try to use this as a lane, at least the way it's striped now. When you're turning onto Shoal Creek, it's not altogether clear where you should go.
    • Few parking conflicts so far; most of the vehicles that were parked Monday night were parked on the northbound side. I passed four or five parked vehicles on my stretch, and only once did my passing manuever cause a conflict with a through motorist (and this one was polite).
    • When a small car is parked near the curb, there is enough room to pass in the lane, if I could be 100% positive that the car was unoccupied. However, with larger vehicles (SUVs/trucks) this is not true. Also, one of the two cars was parked far enough away from the curb (you get up to 18 inches legally) that it might as well have been a fire engine.

    Verdict so far: Not enough data. Far more vehicles were parked northbound; I don't know why southbound was so comparatively empty yesterday. (Perhaps this side was striped last?).

    January 13, 2005

    The Chronicle gets Shoal Creek badly wrong

    This week's Chronicle badly misremembers the history of the Shoal Creek Blvd. Debacle of '00; casting city staff as villains and Jackie Goodman and the neighborhood as heroes. Here's a short (correct) timeline, along with what they got wrong:

    1. Prior to 2000, SCB allows parking in bike lanes. This is something which nobody would do today; these bike lanes predate modern bicycle traffic engineering practice.
    2. SCB's turn comes in the "let's ban parking in existing bike lanes" carousel. The past couple of years saw the no-parking signs go up on about a half-dozen streets with old bike lanes such as Mesa Dr.
    3. City staff from bike/ped program decides to be nice and come up with a plan which allows on-street parking on one side of the street (see this picture). Chronicle writer misconstrues this as a bike lane "on one side of the street".
    4. Neighborhood freaks. Jackie Goodman sides with them, of course.
    5. Staff and neighborhood come up with an "alternating sides" strategy where there's still only parking on one side, but it winds back and forth every so often.
    6. The "alternating sides" strategy is tested and fails.
    7. Charles Gandy comes in and convinces the neighborhood and a couple of well-meaning but naive cyclists that this plan can work.
    8. City engineers reject that plan for liability reasons (damn straight - look at the pictures again if you have to).
    9. Fallback plan of maintaining slightly modified original layout with some bulb-outs. IE, instead of 12-13 ft travel lanes with 7-8 ft "bike lane with parking", we get 10-ft travel lanes with 10-ft "bike lane with parking". Chronicle writer misrepresents city engineers' opposition as against this fallback plan rather than to Gandy's 10-4-6 disaster.

    And of course the conclusion to the article comes from Paul Nagy. As one person on Michael Bluejay's page put it:

    Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process -- however slight -- was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his "solution" would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don't feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others -- except Dahmus -- were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it's clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an "expert," and clearly he is not.

    At the point where the original design -- which was agreed upon by the original consensus committee as final -- was tossed back, Nagy and Gandy jumped on the opportunity to assume the helm without any input from anyone else. There is NO cycling voice in the process AT ALL now.

    Pure hatchet-job. Where are you, Lauri Apple and Mike Clark-Madison?

    Here's the letter. Let's see if it makes it in.

    In reference to this week's column by Daniel Mottola, allow me to suggest that in the future a columnist who picks up a long-running issue for the first time be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the history of the issue before writing a wrap-up. For one thing, the city staff proposal originally presented by a long-serving and dedicated employee of the bike/ped program had bike lanes on both sides of the street, with on-street parking allowed only on one side. No proposal with a bike lane on one side of the street only was ever proposed.

    More importantly, both Michael Bluejay (http://bicycleaustin.info/roadways/shoalcreek.html) and myself (http://www.io.com/~mdahmus/trans/shoalcreek.html) have long had summaries of the issue with diagrams. I highly encourage people to look at the picture of Charles Gandy's original proposal at http://www.dahmus.org/iofiles/trans/consultplan.html (showing a cyclist narrowly avoiding getting disembowled as they attempt to travel between a SUV and a parked truck) before coming to conclusions that Jackie Goodman's "give the neighborhood whatever they want no matter what" position was the right one.

    The city engineers deserve medals, not ridicule, for standing up for the safety of cyclists and against the bogus 4-foot-bike-lane next to substandard-parking-lane design supported by Gandy and the neighborhood. The "shared multipurpose lanes" were a REACTION to their threat not to sign off on Gandy's plan, another thing your columnist gets wrong.

    In short: the Shoal Creek debacle showed that even on the most important route in the city for commuting cyclists, the city doesn't have the guts to put safe travel for cyclists ahead of on-street parking (even when on-street parking is preserved on one side of the street). The multipurpose lanes are essentially what was on the street to begin with - a solution that no traffic engineer or bicycle coordinator would today approve -- bicycle lanes which cars can park in at will.

    Regards,
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commissioner
    and Only No Vote on Great Shoal Creek Debacle of '00

    January 05, 2005

    New observations from South Florida, Part One

    I've just returned from South Florida and will be assembling a few observations over the next couple of entries. This one focuses on bicycles - the transit article (mostly about Tri-Rail and its implications for Austin) comes next.

    Delray Beach, the town immediately north of Boca Raton (where I grew up and where we stayed with my parents during most of the last 3 weeks), is obstructing a plan by the state highway department to rebuild state route A1A with standard bicycle lanes on each side. A1A is the main (in most parts the only) north-south route on the barrier islands which separate the ocean from the Intracoastal Waterway. In other words, this is the beach road, and not surprisingly, this is where the rich people mostly live. This is also where most people want to ride their bikes, for obvious reasons.

    The state highway department in Florida seems to be very progressive, at least compared to TXDOT. On previous visits home, I've noticed a lot of (narrow but usable) bike lanes painted on major arterials throughout the region (this area, being mostly suburban, gets most major roads built and paid for by the state, as is the case here in Round Rock but not in Austin). In fact, A1A throughout Boca Raton was granted nice new bike lanes a few years ago, and they enjoy heavy use. This has resulted in a much saner trip for both drivers and cyclists on this road.

    Anyways, the folks up in Delray who live on the road aren't happy with the plan to extend this facility further north; and they got their city commission to listen. The city came back with a proposal to build 3-feet wide mini-shoulders on the road, combined with 10-foot car lanes. Sound familiar? It's even worse when applied to South Florida, where so many drivers are marginally skilled and elderly. If the state bows to the wishes of the locals and builds this facility, people will be far worse off than with the current shared lane -- it will appear to drivers that it is safe to pass cyclists without crossing the double-yellow line, and people will get hurt and killed. There is some hope that the Florida DOT will overrule the local decision, and the local mainstream press has some opposition being heard in op-eds (which doesn't happen here thanks to the gutless Statesman), so it's all not yet lost, but I wouldn't say I'd bet on a positive outcome there.

    This is a timely development since the restriping specified in the Great Shoal Creek Debacle of '00 is about to finally be implemented here in Austin -- the local neighbors, who glibly assert that "curb
    extensions and lane stripping will be installed finally under a compromise
    agreement between the Allandale and Rosedale neighborhoods, the city, cyclists,
    pedestrians and emergency services." while participating in a process which showed that neighborhood thuggery will still beat sound engineering and progressive politics any day of the week, are going to see 10-feet "shared parking and bike" lanes next to 10-feet travel lanes. In other words, the most important bicycle route in the city (a "bicycle arterial" as I like to call it) is held hostage to on-street parking, and rendered less safe than it was before. This is a compromise in the sense that a deer and a wolf "agree" that the wolf will eat the deer.

    This "compromise" (which I voted against at the UTC, all on my lonesome) was nothing more than a slap in the face to reasonable cyclists who want to coexist with drivers and parking -- as demonstrated by the original plan (with on-street parking preserved on one side of the street). And anybody who voted for this farce should be banned from ever claiming to be pro-bicycle-commuting for the rest of their life. It shows that you can't expect to get good results when you sell your basic principles for the sake of getting along, or, as an anonymous contributor to Michael Bluejay's list put it:

    I am dismayed that Mike Dahmus was so damned right about this whole debacle from the very beginning. Although originally, I was very hopeful that a community consensus could be reached that could benefit everyone (and possibly even improve relations amongst the diverse users of SCB), I see now that I was completely naive. What we have now is little better than what we had originally: parking in bike lanes. I'm still hopeful that traffic will be a little calmer, but I doubt that drivers will remain in their lanes, and cyclists riding near the stripe will be at risk of being struck. Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process -- however slight -- was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his "solution" would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don't feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others -- except Dahmus -- were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it's clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an "expert," and clearly he is not.

    December 10, 2004

    Observations from a car-less week

    So I've spent all week without the car - on Monday, I biked to work (my stepson and I rode our bikes west to Casis, and then I rode all the way in to work - and boy was it tiring; I'm very out of shape); so out-of-shape that I ended up taking the bus home. Then, Tuesday, the car wouldn't start. Since then, we've learned that the alternator broke and supercharged the (nearly dead) battery and nearly done blowed it up. The garage still hasn't figured out how to make it work, so I've been busing it ever since (including today).

    Big deal, huh? Well, son, I work in northwest Austin in the software bidness. (My last job had two offices; both about 5 miles west of 360 on 2244 and 2222 respectively; this one is at least in the 183 corridor).

    This is my second long stretch in Austin without a car - I went for two weeks without my old convertible at my last job and had to bike in 8 days in a row (a much more difficult bike commute than I have now, but I was in better shape then too) - the bus is not an option in that part of town - closest bus stop to the office was more than five miles away. The office at my current job is far more favorable for bus use - I can use either the express buses or the #3, both of which I board at 38th and Medical Parkway. The express bus drops me off 5 minutes (by foot) to the north of my office and the #3 drops me off 5 minutes south - when I'm early to the bus stop I'll often take a #3 which takes longer but arrives slightly earlier, for instance.

    Most days this week, I took the "express" bus (983 or 983 depending on which way). The trip into work consists of a 15-minute walk to the bus stop (except for the day my wife dropped me off on her way to Casis); a 20-minute bus ride; and the 5-minute walk to work. Not too bad compared to a 15-minute drive -- basically the walk makes it worthwhile. The problem is the trip home - the bus takes considerably longer due to Mopac traffic, and is even less reliable than the car (and of course in the car you can escape Mopac at a couple of places and try to make up some time).

    Anyways, the work commute: not bad. Could I do this every day? Yes. I'd use the bike more (if nothing more than to get home quicker from the bus stop). I'd have to get better rain gear (I got rained on the most the day I biked, ironically).

    But am I saving money on the work commute right now? Not unless we completely get rid of that car. The fare for the express bus is $1.00 each way ($0.50 for the slower #3 bus which I could also take). Half-price ticket booklets bring it down to $1.00 round-trip. This calculator shows how much this daily trip really costs in my car, once you dispense with the fiction that you should amortize fixed costs like insurance and maintenance over each trip. Even with half-price tickets, I save a whopping eight cents a day.

    Now, what about getting rid of the car entirely? Now we're talking, especially since the cost of repairs (so far) are almost what I consider this car worth in total. Well, experience from this week shows that we're almost, but not quite, ready to be a one-car household.

    Work commute: See above. No problem, basically; I could do it.

    School trips: Every other week, my stepson lives at our house, and has to be taken to school in the morning. I could bike more often with him, but not every day (we can't even do two consecutive days now since my wife picks him up in a car which can't take his bike home). Next year? Probably stops being an impediment as he moves on to middle school at either O'Henry or Kealing, both of which lie on the combined 21/22 bus route (which he'll be taking anyways even if we remain a 2-car family). I f we had planned ahead a little more, he could probably be doing this now (the bus runs right by Casis too), but I plan on riding with him at least a few times first, and haven't done it yet.

    After-work appointments: This was the big problem. My wife has a weekly meeting at 5:30 on Wednesdays, for which I have to be home at 5:10 to watch the baby. There's no way to do this feasibly taking the bus - I'd have to stop my workday at about 4:00, which is simply not going to happen in my line of work. Also, we both have a weekly meeting on Thursdays at 5:10 - same problem. This week, I went home at lunch on Wednesday and worked at home -- this works for occasional emergencies, but not as a regular thing. On Thursday, she had to get the babysitter earlier than usual and come pick me up. Also not going to work as a regular thing.

    We've failed on the Thursday meeting in the sense that we acquired a regular engagement which I can't get to on the bus. I could theoretically bike there in about 20 minutes -- but this is not the type of thing I can do all sweaty. I don't know if anything other than opting out could fix Wednesday.

    So we're repairing the car this time, and I'll continue to wish I didn't have to. We're looking at at least $500 in repairs (on a car I figure is worth $500-$1000), about $400/year in insurance, about $200/year in various other fixed costs. All for two lousy meetings a week.

    That's what you get when you have a half-assed transit system -- people who in other cities could live with just one car (and wouldn't mind doing so) can't even do it. Unfortunately, nothing but massive densification of the urban core could solve this problem for us, and even then, Capital Metro hoodwinked enough people with the commuter rail debacle such that the urban core of Austin won't have competitive transit service for essentially ever. C'est la car.

    11:00 update: Now the engine computer needs to be replaced. Bare minimum, if we do it through the shop and use refurb parts: another $500 for a total of $1000. Argh. My wife is checking now to find out how much we're already on the hook for if we bail, and then I get to go price cheap used cars. Hooray for economic disaster! Man, I hate cars.

    December 06, 2004

    dribs and drabs

    I still mean to write a full follow-up to the comments on the last piece.

    I biked to work today (after biking with my stepson to his school). The new bike lanes on Jollyville appear not to have been striped as per the engineering diagrams I saw (the lanes should disappear a ways back of the major intersections; and they don't). They're full of gravel, but I suspect the wide lanes would be too at this point. Too early to tell on that account.

    I walked to the McDonald's across Braker today (following this path) and actually passed a cow orker headed the other direction with a sub from Subway!

    September 30, 2004

    Lessons from the Shoal Creek debacle

    Michael Bluejay, who runs the largest and most comprehensive site on bicycling in Austin, wrote a letter which appears in this week's Chronicle. The letter refers to the infamous Shoal Creek debacle.

    Lessons can be learned here.

    Lesson 1: Don't bet against Mike Dahmus. He'll lose, but he'll be right. :+) This comment comes from an anonymous contributor whose missive is stored for posterity on Michael's site on the Shoal Creek debacle:

    I am dismayed that Mike Dahmus was so damned right about this whole debacle from the very beginning. Although originally, I was very hopeful that a community consensus could be reached that could benefit everyone (and possibly even improve relations amongst the diverse users of SCB), I see now that I was completely naive. What we have now is little better than what we had originally: parking in bike lanes. I'm still hopeful that traffic will be a little calmer, but I doubt that drivers will remain in their lanes, and cyclists riding near the stripe will be at risk of being struck. Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process -- however slight -- was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his "solution" would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don't feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others -- except Dahmus -- were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it's clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an "expert," and clearly he is not.

    Lesson 2: Don't negotiate away your core positions. On Shoal Creek, car-free bike lanes should have been non-negotiable. (They were, for me).

    Lesson 3: Don't dig yourself in a hole. The Shoal Creek neighbors successfully (against my vote) got Shoal Creek downgraded to a residential collector (from a minor arterial) which then made it easier for them to make misleading claims like "this is a residential street so we have to have on-street parking on both sides of the street". ("residential collector" is not the same thing as "residential street" in technical terms - the former is expected to maintain traffic flow and access over parking). Shoal Creek is, by objective measures, a minor arterial (it's almost 5 miles from 38th st to Foster, the length which was downgraded; and has no intersections where cross-traffic does not stop or have a light). So in an effort to be nice, the UTC supported the downgrade, which made it easier later on to mislead some people into thinking that restricting parking on the road was an unreasonable imposition.

    Applications to the current commuter rail situation:

    1. Obvious. :+)

    2. Non-negotiable positions should be that at least one and preferrably two major employment attractors should be reached within walking distance without a transfer. IE, no change to shuttle-bus; no change to streetcars. Center-city folks should have fought Capital Metro when it came to running rail down corridors where people wanted it in '00 rather than where Mike Krusee wants it in '04. This is the most critical error in my estimation - people who really want rail to succeed in Austin got snookered into thinking that they could negotiate it with Capital Metro when Capital Metro already had its own non-negotiable position (i.e. do what Mike Krusee wants). The result was: no rail to Mueller; no rail to Seaholm; transfers to all major attractors; no service in the center-city residential areas.

    3. Mike Krusee won here, big-time. Capital Metro's allies should have fought the early election he forced in 2000 (making CM go to the polls with a rail plan they weren't really ready to discuss - they hadn't even figured out what streets it would run on downtown yet; they were clearly shooting for a timeframe of May 2001 or so until Krusee wrote the infamous bill).

    Now, for the big finish:

    What damage was done?

    This isn't a silly question. There are those who think that the Shoal Creek debacle didn't do any harm, since we started out wth parked cars in bike lanes and are ending up with parked cars in marked shoulders.

    Damage in the Shoal Creek case: Precedent was set that car-free bike lanes can be vetoed by neighborhoods. The previous bike coordinator had already made it city policy not to build new (or support existing) bike lanes on residential streets; and it was commonly understood BEFORE this debacle that any city changes to collectors and arterials would, while soliciting neighborhood INPUT, NOT be subject to an implicit VETO. IE, collectors and especially arterials serve the needs of far more than the immediate residents.

    Now, not so much. Notice that Michael correctly points out that the media now thinks the SCB process was a model of new consensus-based charette-including everybody-holding-hands everybody-won neighborhoods-centric bike-friendly delicious-candy-flavored planning that resulted in sunshine and butterflies for all.

    In addition, at the city level, because so many smart people in the bicycle community were part of this process (snookered by it, you might say), the city thinks that the end-result was what the cyclists and the neighbors wanted. Basically, the cycling community (except yours truly) is now implicitly linked to this plan, in the minds of the people who matter.

    In short: their names are on this piece of garbage.

    As for commuter rail - the same lesson holds. The groups who lobbied so hard to work WITH Capital Metro before the final ballot proposal was set were fighting very hard for some minor improvements to the ASG plan, but made it clear from the beginning that they'd support it anyways. Now, these center-city groups are linked to this plan irrevocably - if I'm right, and it doesn't attract riders, then they'll have been on the record as supporting a plan which will have been found to be a stupid failure. Do you think that'll affect their future credibility?

    Don't sign on to something you can't support. The end.

    September 02, 2004

    Empty Buses Part Three

    I put my bike on the 7:36 AM #3 bus at the 38th and Medical Parkway stop. There were 27 passengers, counting me. (I took the #3 instead of the express because of my experience last time and because I was a bit early, so I could choose to sit outside for 10 more minutes or just get on the bus).

    When passing underneath US 183 on Burnet Rd., there were 10 passengers, counting me.

    When passing underneath US 183 on Braker Lane, there were 5 passengers, counting me.

    And you wonder why you suburbanites only see empty (or in this case, near-empty) buses?

    The End!

    August 23, 2004

    Rapid Bust: The R Still Stands For Un"R"eliable

    Metablog: I'm now posting entries on the temporary location for this blog, maintained by a friendly cow orker, until I get my hosting situation resolved.

    After dropping off my wife's old car at the Jiffy Lube, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway. I had planned on picking up the 983 (express) bus if I made it in time for the 7:48, since this is a much more comfortable ride than the other option (the #3 herky-jerky).

    This 983 bus has some of the characteristics of the proposed Rapid Bus solution which is all that the urban core of Austin is ever going to get out of the All Systems Go plan (longer article on last weeks' happenings coming possibly later today or tomorrow).

    So I got there at 7:42 and noticed that the usual suspects (2 other bikers who ride this bus every day , far up the 183 corridor, as far as I can tell) were still there. Good sign. A #3 showed up right about then (the 7:36 running late). l passed.

    7:55 rolled around and the next #3 showed up. l passed again (if the first #3 was running late, maybe the #983 was stuck too).

    8:15 rolled around. No next #3. 8:30 rolled around. No #3 or #983. The first cyclist waiting for the 983 gave up and pedalled away, to where I have no idea (both of these guys stay on the bus long after I disembark, so the #3 isn't an option for them).

    Finally at about 8:40, I got on the 8:36 #3 and herky-jerkied my way (late) up to work. The 983 never showed. The other biker had called somebody on the phone but was still stuck there.

    Need I say: This Doesn't Happen (Well, Hardly Ever) With Rail?

    June 15, 2004

    Bike Helmets Don't Work, Part 7

    Took my stepson to camp at UT this morning (on our bikes); he thinks he left his helmet there last Monday (the last time we rode our bikes there). While I make him wear his helmet normally (it's the law here), I wasn't willing to give up the only chance to ride this week (due to scheduling conflicts) just because we couldn't find it at home this morning.

    Coincidentally, today I saw this from England, which was considering a mandatory helmet law for children.

    Note from 2005: That link no longer works, but I found an excerpt from the document and include it here now for reference.

    EDM 764 * * * CYCLE HELMETS * *03.03.04 Griffiths/Jane That this House notes the substantial disparity between claims made for the efficacy of pedal cycle helmets and their measured effect in real populations; notes that the Transport Research Laboratory has reported the promotion of pedal cycle helmets may lead to increased injury rates; notes that cyclist injury rates remain unchanged following passage of mandatory helmet legislation in several countries; and calls on the Department of Transport to initiate a programme of research designed to establish why increases in helmet wearing rates are not associated with reductions in head injury rates, and why the countries with the lowest helmet wearing rates are those with the lowest cyclist injury rates

    Of course, the New York Times covered the fact that helmets don't seem to be doing anything in the general population, but peoples' anectdotes about cracked helmets that surely saved their lives continue to win the battle on this side of the pond. Even the Times swallowed a load of credulity by blaming the inefficacy of helmets on everything possible except the chance that a tiny piece of plastic might not be living up to its Herculean billing.

    May 14, 2004

    New links

    Finally some meat to add to a new transportation links section. Two bike commuter bloggers so far, who, despite being rather dense on the helmet issue (hint: they discourage cycling and don't work), seem to have a lot of interesting stuff to say.

    May 13, 2004

    Bus Reliability

    This morning, after I finished a short interview with KLBJ-AM's morning news show (despite being well-meaning in their attempts to cover local issues, the format isn't very helpful - I only spoke about ten sentences total), I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway. Since I was up extra early, my choices were to take the #3 bus at 7:16 (arriving up near my office at 7:44) or take the more comfortable and quicker express bus at 7:48 (arriving near my office at 8:08).

    I arrived at the bus stop about 5 minutes early (late for me), and waited. And waited. And waited. The bus finally showed up at about 7:30.

    It's now 8:03 and I'm finally at my desk. And by the way, thanks to the motorists on Jollyville who were relatively understanding of my slow cycling due to the water. I didn't get splashed once.

    The bus wasn't late because it makes a lot of stops. That's factored into the schedule.

    The bus wasn't late because it travels on city streets instead of the freeway. That's factored into the schedule.

    The bus was late because of unpredictable traffic downtown. And because there's no transit priority (bus lanes or other) anywhere downtown, the bus suffers when cars jam the streets.

    Now, compare and contrast to Capital Metro's so-called "rapid bus" proposal. Their bus would run through downtown in shared lanes with cars, just like today's #3 did. In downtown and through UT, it is unlikely that it would have been able to hold any lights green (without destroying the sequencing of the lights on that corridor). It would have been able to hold a few lights green outside downtown (but, when I got on the bus at 38th/Medical, we didn't hit more than 2 red lights all the way up to my stop at Braker and Jollyville - and at one of those, we had stopped to pick up passengers anyways).

    In short: the "rapid" bus wouldn't have been any more reliable than the city bus I took this morning. And that's not good enough for the taxpayers of Austin.

    April 21, 2004

    Followup

    Adam wrote a thoughtful comment to the previous entry which I started to respond to in comments and then realized it was going to be too long. So here it is:

    Yeah, that's pretty well hashed. In response though...

    speeding is a tough one. It's fairly well understood in the more informed engineering circles that many posted limits have nothing to do with safety, and in fact can actually reduce overall safety due to higher speed differential (between the few people who will obey an obviously underposted sign and the majority who will not). But it is the law. One could even make a parallel to some ridiculous 4-way-stops like the ones west of downtown - those are clearly not there for anybody's safety.

    But then again, the "all lawbreaking is equal" argument seems ridiculous to me on its very face. Murder != jaywalking. Running the middle of a red light cycle != going 68 on Mopac.

    Finally, I'm looking at this from a more pragmatic perspective - as I said, 99% of people drive. If they think cyclists disobey the law en masse, it hurts us. A lot. If we think that motorists disobey the law en masse, it doesn't hurt them. At all.

    (There are two other ways to look at this pragmatically: the "would you want motorists to be able to treat stop signs and red lights the same way you do on your bike", and the "do you want motorists to have even less respect for the law that requires them to treat you and your bicycle as a vehicle", but those are tangential here).

    At previous jobs (not yet at this one), invariably when somebody found out I commute to work by bike some of the time, I'd get a very negative reaction - the person would ask me if I was one of 'those' cyclists who ran red lights and stop signs. I work in the suburbs in high-tech, and this is more representative of Austin as a whole than the people on the other side of this issue who either don't work at all or who work at UT, yet they hold fast to their position that motorists just hate cyclists simply for being cyclists at all. That hasn't been my experience - when I explain that I obey the law as much or more than when I drive, the conversation usually turns to "what route do you take?", "how long does it take you?", "is it scary?".

    The people who insist on preserving the status quo never actually get to that positive conversation because they get hung up on the right to blow a stop sign. That's pretty damn sad.

    More fun with bad cyclists

    The issue of stop signs and red lights came up again on the
    austin-bikes email list.

    Here's a sampling of what others and I have written in the past few days:

    entry number one:

    In fact, my fantasy is that the next time CAMPO or the City Council wants to deny funding to cyclists because some cyclists run red lights, I want to be there to enthusiastically scream, "I couldn't agree more!" And then show a homemade video of motorists running every single cycle of a red light at some prominent Austin intersection 20 times in a row, and then ask, "Since road users who run red lights don't get funding, when can we expect funding to be cut for new highways?"

    Of course the irony here is that it was CAMPO member Senator Barrientos who implied at a meeting that he wouldn't support increased bike funding because cyclists run red lights, and then a while after that the good Senator was arrested for drunk driving.

    my first response:

    Otherwise known as Fallacious Bike Argument #46.

    Motorists don't run red lights the way cyclists do. Period. They "run the orange" pretty often. This is a very different violation in terms of the real, pragmatic, world we actually live in.

    "running the orange" means that some impatient jerk decides to keep going even though the light just turned from yellow to red.

    Compare and contrast to cyclists - in my estimation, close to 50% of the cyclists I see on the road do not stop at stop signs unless they see traffic; and do not stop for traffic lights or sometimes stop-and-go (AND DON'T TELL ME ABOUT THE ONES THAT DON'T TRIP; I'M TALKING ABOUT LIGHTS LIKE SPEEDWAY AT 38TH WHICH IS ON A PURE TIMER).

    It's not the same thing. Every time you equate what cyclists do to what motorists do, you make it that much harder on people like me who are trying to get real things accomplished. Our outgoing chairman of the UTC voted against bike facilities on at least one occasion because of the obnoxious lawbreaking attitude evinced by cyclists like that; so we even have this problem at the city level.

    SUMMARY: CYCLISTS RUN RED LIGHTS AND STOP SIGNS IN A WAY THAT MOTORISTS DO NOT. MOST MOTORISTS, IF THEY EVER DO THIS, "RUN THE ORANGE" OR DON'T COME TO A FULL ROCK-BACK AT A STOP SIGN. TRYING TO EQUATE THIS WITH THE WILD-WEST ATTITUDE OF MANY CYCLISTS IS MAKING YOU LOOK STUPID AND MAKING MY JOB HARDER.

    The most reasonable retort:

    It seems to me that hurling 4000lbs of glass, steel and rubber thru an intersection at a high speed on a light that just turned red is a bigger hazard to society than me pedaling thru it after quadruple checking that the coast is clear. Granted both may be bad but why would you consider my offence more grievous?

    Me again:

    "Running the orange" is a matter of education trumping impatience. We'll get there sooner or later.

    "Running the red" is a matter of your own convenience trumping _everything_ - it shows a complete lack of respect for the law that requires motorists to treat you as a vehicle.

    Ask yourself which is worse from a purely motorist perspective: continuing to turn left at an intersection even though the light just turned red, or running the intersection halfway through the other peoples' green cycle.

    You run enough red lights and stop signs, and drivers will, no matter what the law says, treat you as a menace.

    I've nearly wrecked my car at an intersection near UT because some bozo on a bike ran the stop sign. If I were older (worse reflexes), I would have. So there you go.

    But getting back to the point - 99% of the people in this town drive. Pissing off 99% of the population in order to make some point about danger is really really really stupid from a pragmatic political perspective. Sooner or later, it comes back to bite you in the ass, as it did when our UTC chairman voted against bike facilities, using lack of respect for the law as his stated reason for doing so.

    Then, they get angry:

    I think Dahmus was suggesting that when motorists run red lights, it's typically because they're trying to beat a yellow light, while bicyclists will run a red light smack in the middle of the red light.

    Unfortunately, this isn't always true. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a car blast through an intersection right in the middle of the red part of the cycle (whether intentional or not -- does it really matter?) then I wouldn't be wasting my time on this forum, I'd be too busy enjoying my new private tropical island.

    This discussion seems to come up over and over on this list. I personally don't see anything wrong with going through a red light when there are no cars in the opposing lanes to be inconvenienced, others beg to differ. I don't think anyone's mind is going to be changed by blabbing about it on an email list, so why even bother bringing it up (Mike)?

    #2:

    First of all, as for motorists running lights, it's not a case of "if they ever do this". I can go to most busy intersections in Austin and see motorists running red lights on every single cycle, period.

    As for motorists not running red lights in the same way that cyclists do, that's really funny. I thought the argument was that cyclists were bad because they were breaking the law? Oh no, my mistake, it's not that they're breaking the law, it's that they're breaking the law in a less socially acceptable way. It's perfectly acceptable to break the law if you do it the proper way. Motorists break the law in a good way, cyclists break the law in a bad way.

    So it sounds like Dahmus' real problem is with cyclists who do things that are unsafe. If that's the case, then why SAY that their problem is with cyclists breaking the law? You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't harp on cyclists for breaking the law and then excuse motorists for breaking the law. The argument that they break the law "in a different way" is weak, weak, weak.

    Motorists break the law in Austin every day in ways that are truly dangerous. People get hurt and killed as a result. But when was the last time anyone suggested that we cut roadway funding as a result? Let's face it: people only care about cyclists breaking the law. They don't extend that same outrage to their fellow motorists, period.

    Yes, Dahmus repeats this a lot, and I've addressed it a lot. The fact is that I'm not going to accept responsibility for somebody else's faulty logic. Someone could tell me that he's going to kill a baby kitten for every week I remain a vegetarian. Well, I wish he wouldn't be that cruel, or unfair, but ultimately, is it his fault or mine?

    I don't deny that the outgoing UTC chairman may have voted against bike facilities because he saw cyclists breaking the law. I simply can't help it if that guy had a double standard. We certainly never saw him trying to cut facilities for cars because motorists break the law, did we? I won't pander to that double standard, it's unfair, and it's ridiculous.

    This is probably the biggest straw man argument I've ever seen in my life. Who exactly is it who's advocating that cyclists run stop signs when it's not safe to do so?

    Anyway, let me return to the newsletter article that so raised Dahmus' ire. In that article I pointed out that Senator Barrientos hinted about not funding bike facilities because cyclists break the law. And a while after that the good Senator was arrested for driving drunk. Is THAT how motorists break the law in a different way than cyclists that is so much safer? Does this person have any business chastising cyclists for breaking the law, much less denying them funding? Probably close to 100% of motorists who drive in an unsafe manner think it's worse when cyclists do so. The question is, do we pander to that delusion or do we call them on it? Dahums evidently chose the former. I choose the latter.

    April 15, 2004

    Shoal Creek Debacle, Part XXXVII

    Well, I rode down Shoal Creek yesterday (I've taken to alternating between two routes home - one east on Morrow to Woodrow and then south to North Loop; the other south on Shoal Creek and east on Hancock, then down Burnet and Medical Parkway). This one trip brought up several recent and not-so-recent points:

    1. Debris - Shoal Creek is now effectively a wide curb lane facility from Foster (just south of Anderson) to 45th. The debris is horrible - worse than I remember it. To be fair, the bike lane stretch between Steck and Anderson has one large gravel patch in it as well. This reinforces my thinking that the absence of the stripe does not in fact encourage cars to act as street-sweepers, or at least, that they don't do a very good job of it.
    2. Parking - at the time we went over the Shoal Creek debacle, some claimed that the criminally negligent design sponsored by the neighborhood would not be a problem since it would rarely happen that you would be passing a parked car at the same time a car was driving past you. This happened six times during my short trip on Shoal Creek yesterday.
    3. Neighbors - during one of those six times, I took the lane as I always do, and a car turned left onto Shoal Creek behind me, and proceeded to lay on the horn. I told her via a charming pantomime that she was number 1 in my book. So it goes; even when you ride legally, sometimes some motorists don't get it. (This is a bone thrown to my colleagues who disobey every traffic law they find inconvenient on the theory that all motorists hate them anyways).

    Years later, Shoal Creek has no stripes and no calming. Read up on this page for more background on why the neighbors won, and why we never should have negotiated away the flow of traffic on a top-5 bicycle route in the city (and in my opinion, why we never should have supported their downgrade of this road from arterial to collector in the CAMPO plan).

    April 12, 2004

    Bike Lanes: Threat or Menace?

    Well, the anti-bike-lane meme continues to spread. I came across a fairly good depiction of why you must push hard for street-sweeping of bike lanes from Cary, NC (where I have a few friends), which learned the lesson that bike lanes are bad because they attract debris.

    Of course, personal experience on Shoal Creek says otherwise (just as much debris with no bike lanes) as does experience on Bull Creek (just as much debris on the wide-outside-lane stretch north of 45th as on the bike-lane stretch south of 45th).

    And I've previously made the point that bike lanes DO, in fact, provide more space in passing, although not on average, but rather, at the minimum, which is much more important.

    But the thing that most people forget to ever think about is this: the transportation department in your city does not exist purely for the benefit of cyclists. Yes, radical, I know. On high-speed roadways, there is a public safety AND a public service benefit to separating slower-speed traffic, and it's not just for bikes. Spicewood Springs Road west of US 183 has an additional right lane on an uphill stretch for trucks. And other truck lanes exist on rural roads throughout our area. Those car drivers have a right to good traffic flow too, after all.

    In fact, the transportation department in your city views it as their mission to provide for good flow of traffic, even when the traffic is cars. This means that once in a while, you might have to keep right, since you're slower traffic, and it may, in fact, inconvenience you. Just as it may, in fact, mean that you occasionally inconvenience motorists. Likewise, while it may have been more convenient for me to drive the old convertible loaded with junk on Mopac on one of our moving trips, the fact that I couldn't go faster than 30 mph without stuff flying out meant that I drove, instead, on Lamar Blvd, and what's more, I drove in the right lane until shortly before I planned on turning left.

    These wide outside lane (or shared lane) zealots logic questions why we bother with lane stripes at all. The law says slower traffic should keep right (whether it be my wife's pokey old Civic or my bike), and by their reasoning, in both cases other cars think that when I use the right lane, I've segregated myself and allowed others to think I have no right to the other lanes on the road. Certainly one could see that having lane stripes at all is kind of a waste, given their experience that cars always provide enough passing distance when sharing a lane. Why don't we just turn Mopac into a two-lane highway? If it's good enough for passing bikes, why isn't it good enough for passing cars?

    Part of the reason why this bugs me so much is that I have been occasionally commuting by bike from the center city to the far suburbs at various jobs over the last few years (my fans will please note that the slideshow linked there is from my previous residence to my third of four offices two companies ago). In contrast, on previous occasions when I've gotten into it with these anti-bike-lane yahoos, it becomes clear that they're primarily members of the following groups:


    • European cyclists - live in areas where suburbanization and the requisite high-speed arterials, useless collectors which don't go anywhere other than the arterial, and cul-de-sacs simply don't exist
    • Urban cyclists - those who rarely venture on roadways with design speeds or typical speeds more then 35 or 40 mph

    Why do these people consider themselves qualified to judge whether Jollyville Road in northwest Austin (45 mph speed limit, 55-ish design speed) should have bike lanes? I don't think downtown is the right place for bike lanes either; but a one-size-fits-all solution is just stupid.

    March 16, 2004

    BRT: The R stands for unReliable

    Today, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway to get on the "express bus" to northwest Austin (there's a stop near my new office). This works pretty well most of the time. I don't have a shower at work and am out of shape right now; so I take the easy trip in the morning and then bike home in the afternoon.

    There's a 983 bus every hour (most of the buses on this route run normal southbound and then switch to a different route northbound to pick up people in far suburbia; only a few buses 'deadhead' on the reverse-commute - but they are quite full; today's bus had about 20 people on it).

    The bus was supposed to arrive at 7:48. It arrived at 8:02. The interesting thing is that had this bus broken down (as they do constantly, unlike rail), the next one would have been at 8:48. Ever sat at a bus stop for an extra hour?

    One of the greatest advantages of light rail over bus rapid transit (to which these express buses are very similar) is reliability. They simply don't break down; and barring Houston-like idiot drivers, they don't get into accidents. They don't get stuck in traffic (90% of US so-called rapid bus installations end up without dedicated runningways, meaning that cars can use the bus lane and therefore the bus can still be stuck in gridlock). EVEN IF THEY'RE NOT A MINUTE FASTER, you won't be stuck at 8:01 wondering if you'll be waiting another hour or not.

    Unfortunately, BRT is what Austin is going to get, thanks to a local pantload state legislator from a suburb that doesn't even pay into the system. Why nobody is willing to stand up to this guy is beyond me; Austin itself voted something like 55-45 for light rail even with all of its half-baked problems at the time.

    March 08, 2004

    First day biking into work at new job

    With new baby and new job, I don't have a ton of time right now. But today's combo bike-bus trip into work touched on the following papers I'll eventually write:

    • Why suburbanites see only empty buses
    • Why frontage roads are bad for cars
    • Why frontage roads are bad for public transportation
    • Why we need to set aside 15% of that one category of federal MPO money for bike/ped projects
    • Auto drivers are nicer than you think
    • Fancy bike locking systems are a good intention gone awry

    A few years ought to do it...

    The trip went smoothly except for the surprise when the bus pulled up to 38th and Lamar and didn't have a bike rack in front. Luckily there was another guy there doing the same thing who showed me that on the new fancy buses, they're supposed to go in as luggage(!).

    February 19, 2004

    It's Hard To Be Both A Cyclist And A Driver

    (This entry is over a year old; but somehow it got reposted to austinbloggers.org as a new entry today while I was adding the Shoal Creek Debacle category to my site - apologies; but I can't seem to fix it).

    While driving home this afternoon (switching to working at home part of the day until my wife's C-section is healed up better), I had the top down and was enjoying a nice (but windy) day travelling east on FM 2222 towards Loop 360 from the office. I came up to the light at City Park Road and caught up to two recreational cyclists (decked out with fancy bikes, fancy clothes, and fancy helmets). The light turned red. I and they slowed down. I stopped. They did not.


    As is often my wont, when I caught up to them I yelled out "red means stop, asshats!". One of them flashed me a peace sign. Hooray! Peace on Earth trumps traffic law.


    I'm one of the perhaps 2% of cyclists locally who stops for stop signs and red lights. That's because of two reasons: 1. I'm both a cyclist and a driver, and 2. I sit on the Urban Transportation Commission and have to fight quite hard for cyclist facilities.


    1. As a cyclist myself, I'm occasionally hassled by drivers on the road and more frequently harangued off the road because other cyclists break the law. This is irritating but rarely important enough to worry about.


    2. As a commissioner, however, you have no idea how often I've heard "why should we build (bike lane / shoulder / loop detector / etc) for cyclists when they'll just jump on and off the sidewalk and run red lights anyways?" - even from the (outgoing) chair of the commission. In fact, we even lost a facility vote once on the commission on those grounds. (It gets hard to fight battles for things like Shoal Creek bike lanes when the racing cyclists piss off all the neighbors so badly that even I'm tempted to smack them).


    Unfortunately, as I mentioned, I'm one of perhaps 2% of the cyclists that actually follow the law in this respect. The remaining 98% fall out roughly as follows:


    Ignorant of traffic law - about one-third of the total - pretty much everybody around the University, and a lot of people who are clearly biking to work because they lost their license in a DWI conviction, or can't afford a car. I don't get angry at these people.


    Self-righteous twits - another third of the total - mostly on the far left. The austin-bikes email list is full of people who defend running red lights by claiming that the environmental superiority of cycling justifies any transgression of mere traffic laws. If I point out that they make the job of reasonable cyclists quite difficult, they enter la-la land by claiming that motorists will hate all cyclists no matter what, so why bother being respectful and responsible. Additionally, this group quite often repeats the canard that motorists always run red lights too (what motorists do is often floor it on a yellow or the very start of a red light - this is often referred to as "running an orange" - while this is a serious threat, it's far less serious than what cyclists do in completely ignoring red lights and stop signs altogether). Oh, and motorists do running stops at stop signs. Guilty. At least they slow down to a crawl first.


    Finally, we have the recreational racers - the crowd that think that serious riders must wear certain clothes and drive to a ride start point (very high intersection with the Austin Cycling Association). These folks will tell you you're going to remove yourself from the gene pool if you don't wear a helmet, and then proceed to blow a stop light on a road with a 60 MPH speed limit (as in today's example).


    That, ladies and gentlemen, is why it's difficult being a utilitarian cyclist in Austin. Any questions?

    October 07, 2003

    Bad Choices, Part One

    I always pick the best days to bike. Here's the transcript of my IM with a cow orker this morning:

    mdahmus: so today's trip in was hellacious. first it starts drizzling hard RIGHT AFTER JEANNE LEAVES WITH MY CAR.
    mdahmus: then I get to north loop and lamar and the bike won't go.
    mdahmus: I pull over and fuck with the brakes and make them very loose; still no go.
    mdahmus: then I realized the back wheel had gone out of alignment and was rubbing on the bar.
    mdahmus: so I try to fix the brakes back up and realize I can't do it without pliers (can't hold on to the little fuckity fuck fuck wire because too wet and greasy)
    mdahmus: so I rode the rest of the way in with no back brakes; making the trip down far west JUST FANTABULOUS!
    mdahmus: actually got passed by Guy on 2222 at 360; longest trip in ever. fuckin' old brakes. AND YOU WONDER WHY MORE PEOPLE DON'T BIKE, MISTER SMARMY BIKE SHOP FUCKWAD.
    mdahmus: that's me angry.

    The "smarmy bike shop fuckwad" refers to the helpful people at my no longer favorite bike shop (one I haven't gone to in quite a while now) who failed to do anything about the "I can't maintain my fuckin' brakes because they're such a pain in the ass; even though I'm already carrying around a wrench for the few brake things I can maintain" situation the last time I had the bike in because they couldn't get the right parts, but "don't worry, dude, they're fine".

    How well do you think a car would sell if every time it got a flat tire and you put the doughnut on, you had to redo your brakes? NOT VERY FUCKING WELL I THINK!