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May 10, 2009

Sophia Frances Dahmus

May 10, 2009

Due to escalating pre-eclampsia, Jeanne was delivered at 9:42 this morning (was originally going to be around midnight). Sophie joins the world today at 35.5 weeks, 5 pounds 3 ounces, 41 centimeters (16 inches). She is now up in the neo-natal intensive-care unit to get a firm diagnosis about an intestinal tract problem observed previously via ultrasound which will almost definitely require surgery (and thus a stay here of a few weeks). Jeanne is recovering now; Mike got to visit Sophie in NICU for about 30 minutes before lunch with Aunt Karen and is going to visit again this afternoon. Other than the intestinal problem, whatever it is, everything is fine with Sophie. She is otherwise healthy and strong (and as Mike likes to describe all babies, "red wrinkly and pissed"). Jeanne thinks that she has Mike's smile.

Mike has lots of pictures on the camera but forgot the mini USB cable, so they'll have to wait.

April 06, 2009

Updates

1. On the twitter at mdahmus; some jackanape out there already took "m1ek".

2. Updates less and less frequent as the impending baby makes our life very nervous. I have a post half-formed in my head for "Mueller Myths Part One" and an endorsement for Chris Riley I need to get out, but it's going to be hard to find the time.

March 05, 2009

About Me

Although I've never tried to hide my real name (Mike Dahmus, appended to the end of some of this category in particular), I've never done this part, either, and it's overdue. (Some folks think this is 'anonymous blogging' if I don't, and the distinction is obviously very important as Transit Crackplogging D-Day Approaches).

Continue reading "About Me" »

February 27, 2009

Listen for M1EK

KUT just called and I recorded a few snippets with them about commuter rail (they're most interested in today's delay announcement for commuter rail which I mostly let CM off the hook for, but I did give a bunch of other background that they might or might not use). If anybody hears it, please let me know.

Background was a condensed version of the last 6 years of this crackplog (we're doing what Tri-Rail did; not what everybody that succeeded did; it's not light rail - it'll never get you to UT, etc).

January 07, 2009

I have returned

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

October 16, 2008

Best of Austin

Best Urban Development Echo Chamber with Chris Bradford, the Austin Contrarian, and Shawn Shillington from the Austinist (they pulled off the hat trick).

Thanks, Wells. And it was nice to meet you and Richard and the Austinist crew in person. Also congrats to Jason Abels, who I wish I'd have talked to more later, but never had a chance.

And as always, thanks to Baba for hosting this thing, which started after the ISP (I was actually paying!) turned out to not be backing up their mysql database.

October 02, 2008

Your dose of humor for the day

Or, "M1EK is a downtown-hating car-loving sprawlmonger. Wait, what?"

Because I pointed out that most people won't walk 7 blocks each way from a transit stop to get to their office, among other things, a commenter at the Statesman thinks I'm one of those folks who:

drive[s] around the parking lot at HEB for hours trying to find a good close-in spot. Maybe take a handicap spot if it’s REAL HOT…

and:

Your about to tell me that no one is going to move into those condos and they built too many. Maybe you should do a little looking into that statement before you bore us with it. Every condo built so far has been sold an there’s a waiting list big enough to fill 85% of the ones not done yet. I know because I looked into it, because obviously. I don’t mind walking around downtown.

Go there for the full experience. Anybody who knows me will have diet coke coke shooting out their nose. (Although, for one thing, I can go straight to the handicapped space at HEB, thanks, for the same reason I don't ride my bike anymore).

Good lord. This is almost, but not quite, as funny as the Tahoe-haver label I got from another cyclist back in the day. Yee-haw!

September 05, 2008

Austin Contrarian on Austin Rail

Since I'm stuck driving 200 miles a day in the desert here in Yuma with no internet access except at hotel at evening, please go over to Austin Contrarian's take on Austin rail - to which I've commented a few times already.

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 25, 2008

Yes, that was me you heard this morning

on 590 KLBJ. A fortuitous series of coincidences - I was unable to sleep this morning so was heading in very early; in the car; listening to the morning show and I called in, and actually got the screener right away - and they held me for a full segment at about 7:20. The format is difficult - I think I hit all the major points but of course didn't make too much headway with those guys, but would be interested to hear from anybody who was listening.

Points I hit:

  • More commuter (heavy) rail service isn't helpful (response to Ed); can't get close enough to walk to where you want to go, and no, people won't transfer to buses from trains if they won't take much better express buses straight to their destination today.
  • This system will likely have its own lane on much of its route - meaning it won't be 'competing' with cars in the sense most people understand it.
  • Taxes: Yes, there will likely be some tax-increment-financing (one of the more likely financing buckets floated by Councilmember McCracken). No, it's not reasonable to complain that this only benefits central Austin - first, it benefits commuter rail passengers, and second, central Austin generates most of Capital Metro's tax revenues.
  • A couple trains can carry as many people as a traffic lane on one of these streets can carry in a whole hour. So if you run more than a couple per hour, you're increasing commuting capacity into downtown.
  • I'd prefer the 2000 light rail plan, which is basically what everybody else did that has succeeded.

Chime in if you were up early enough to hear, please. I'm always nervous that I talk too fast / stutter in events like this.

June 13, 2008

Transportation Microeconomics Bites Me In The Butt

So you may have heard me talk about the new suburban office. For a while, we were trying to keep making a go of it with just one car - my wife driving me in most days and picking me up sometimes; other times me taking that hour and 45 minute trip home with a long walk, 2 buses, and a transfer involved. I tried to work from home as much as possible - but the demands to be in the office were too great; and we couldn't sustain the drop-offs and the long bus trips.

Well, we relented. Just in time; I got my wife to agree on a color and we now own a second Prius - this one obtained right as the waiting list shot up from zero to many months (ours was ordered; but there was no wait beyond that so it took about 2 weeks - arriving right as the house exploded so ironically I ended up working exlusively from home for a few weeks longer anyways). Do not argue with the M1EK on the futurism/economics predictions is the lesson you should be taking away from this.

So that's the intro. Here's the microeconomics lesson.

Assuming $4 gas, the trip to work in the car costs $1.56 according to my handy depreciation-free commute calculator. The morning drive takes 20 minutes. The afternoon drive more like 30.

The transit trip costs $1 (although soon to go up to at least $1.50). That means I save $0.56, at least before the fare increase, right? Not much, but every bit helps, right?

Well, the transit trip takes an hour and a half in the morning; an hour and 45 minutes in the afternoon; and I can't afford that much extra time anyways, but even if I could, it would be placing an effective value of 23.1 cents per hour on my time, which seems a bit, uh, low.

So it's gonna take a lot more than $4/gallon gas, sad to say. You might be seeing some marginal increases in ridership around here, but only in areas where transit service is very good and where people should have been considering taking the bus all along. And there's no prospect for improvement - the reason bus service is so bad out here is because Rollingwood and Westlake don't want to pay Capital Metro taxes, although they sure as heck enjoy taking my urban gas tax dollars to build them some nice roads to drive on. In the long-term Cap Metro plan, there may be a bus route on 360 which would at least lessen the 30 minute walk/wait involved, but that could be a decade or more - by then we'll probably be getting chauffered through the blasted alkali flats in monkey-driven jet boats. Not gonna help me.

Also, those who think telecommuting and staggered work schedules are more important than pushing for higher-quality transit and urban density can bite it, hard. If even people in my business often get pressure to come into the physical office, there's no way the typical workaday joe is going to be able to pull it off in large enough numbers to make any difference.

May 22, 2008

Seriously, cut it out

Whichever one of you has the friggin' M1EK voodoo doll, STOP IT. Just got a knock on the door to ask me if I wanted to move a car; I head out and find out that despite earlier materials to the contrary, the city is indeed digging up my yard, sidewalk, and swale to put in a new sewer connection. Of course, since the last stuff I got said they weren't going to be doing this for our house, I didn't dig up and pot the plants on the corner of the driveway. The ones that just got dug up for me. Probably all dead after this despite my attempts to rescue them from various piles - even including the Pride of Barbados I had to nurture for the last 4 years through a couple of hard freezes that nearly killed it. Said plant, while still in the ground, is probably a goner with how close it is to the cut.

FIUHENOWIFOBEWIFPOEINWPDOINEOWIUGBPOFBIUEPWOVCNPWEOMIPDEWOINDPOEIPRO#IPROINPFWDOINPFOEWI

May 20, 2008

Further crackploutage

Since the last entry, a bunch of windows got blown out on the side of our house from the fukkenhail; a tree limb smashed the loaner car (old Prius was at body shop having last round of hail damage fixed; new Prius was at dealer getting some upholstery fixed); and my 4-year-old got strep (contagious, can't leave house for another day or so). And I'm trying to work full-time or a bit more while still taking care of the family while the clerking factory wonders what the hell I'm doing and why I'm not in the office yet. And the in-laws just went out of town for 3 weeks. THINGS IS GOIN' GREAT!

May 05, 2008

Crackploutage

For my curious reader, my wife tore her Achilles tendon and had surgery on Thursday; I've been swamped just taking care of the home front (stir-crazy 4 year old included) and trying to keep up with work (and failing). No crackploggery from me for quite some time; sorry.

City elections: Vote for Leffingwell (too willing to roll over for reactionaries, but far superior to that idiot Meeker); Shade (Kim is making it very obvious lately why she lost her original group of supporters, and it had nothing to do with policy); and either Galindo or Cravey (the top 2 candidates in all 3 races). If you vote for Laura Morrison, I'm afraid we can't be friends - she's a disaster in the making.

April 23, 2008

Last Best Chance For Urban Rail In Austin Is Here

I swear there's no conspiracy regarding the lateness of this posting - my gracious host happened to perform an apache upgrade which messed with Movable Type. Here's what I wrote this morning, Made With Notepad!

At 4:30 PM yesterday, I left my lovely suburban office and walked through lovely suburban Westlake to the awful bus stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle. After broiling in the hot sun for a few minutes, I decided to walk up to the next stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle; where there was also no shade. This did not bode well; but things got better.

The bus arrived on time (5:08ish) and was thankfully very well air conditioned. I read a book until I was dropped off quite a long walk from Texas Center (I should have taken the earlier stop). Went inside; saw Jonathan Horak and Kedron Touvell; introduced myself to both (how creepy is it that I knew what they looked like even though we'd never met; but they didn't recognize me? Pretty creepy, I think). Just on time.

Will Wynn gave a speech which emphasized how much he wants rail downtown. He got in the weeds a bit, first talking about how we were growing faster than everybody else in the world, then talking about how this decade's growth is actually slower than all previous decades back to the 1880s (huh?), but then eventually came back on track and handed the reins over to Brewster McCracken.

McCracken introduced ROMA; ROMA gave a nice presentation which I'll summarize in bullet points below. No surprises, really, if you read Ben Wear or the print article beforehand. My quick comments in italics. I will go into more depth on many of these in the upcoming several weeks.

  • Terminology: The system is going to be called "ultra-light rail". ROMA mentions that streetcars usually run in shared lanes (where I got the sinking feeling ROMA believes a bit much in the magic fairy dust theory of streetcars).
  • Technology: As mentioned, most likely streetcar vehicles. Possibility of more of a standard light rail vehicle if a decision point goes a certain way (see: Routes: doubling-back-to-the-east).
  • Runningway: Usually the center of the street; almost always dedicated lanes. This is a big win over Capital Metro's previous plans, and everybody who cares about rail transit should be grateful that McCracken and Wynn understand how critical this is to success.
  • Routes: Defined as three or four subroutes even though the service may not operate that way. They didn't actually say "downtown to" on all of these; some were Seaholm or something else; but realistically they'd all converge on Congress.
    1. Downtown to airport: Using Congress, East Riverside; reserved guideway (dedicated lanes, center of road). Alternative presented is a very unlikely extension of commuter rail to the airport. I'm very pleased we didn't try to run on the right side of Riverside. Big win here for business travellers to the airport, and we can pull in a lot of residential out there to hopefully fill trains.
    2. Downtown to Mueller: using Congress (possibility of San Jac or Brazos as fallback), 9th/10th/11th transition to San Jacinto, north to/through UT, Dean Keeton/Manor out to Mueller. Slight possibility of still going out there via MLK. It's not Guadalupe, and we probably won't get reserved guideway through UT without a lot of arm-twisting, but I think Guadalupe's a lost cause for right now. With this technology and route, though, we can eventually get there; whereas commuter rail is a complete dead end. The Manor vs. MLK issue is, I feel, largely settled for Manor unless UT makes going through campus prohibitively difficult - the only pro to MLK is the commuter rail TOD, which I obviously don't believe in anyways; and cons are many - have to deal with TXDOT; don't get even the half-assed acccess to UT that San Jac provides; etc.
    3. Downtown to Long Center and Zilker area: less likely at first, using West Riverside past Lamar, cutting over to Toomey after that. Alternative using Barton Springs would get you all the way to Zilker but no reserved lanes. I think these are unlikely to make it for the first cut anyways but it would be nice to be able to tell tourists they could take the train to Barton Springs Pool, wouldn't it?
  • Financing - ROMA didn't talk about this but McCracken did - combination of TIFs and some other mechanisms (including requiring that some portion of Cap Metro's budget be under the control of the city or CAMPO for capital spending, which I heartily endorse
  • Future - wide arrows going north and south. Again, this system can be expanded - although it'll never become anything as good as 2000's LRT line; it at least can grow into something better - whereas commuter rail is a dead end.
  • Bone-throwing - Elgin commuter rail spur thrown in to try to get some suburban votes (even though we really ought to be doing better for the urban folks who provide most of Capital Metro's funds and essentially all of their support; we apparently still need to pander to the burbs - disappointing).

That's all for right now. Expect expanded analysis of all of the above coming soon. But here's the kicker:

You MUST support this plan if you ever want any urban rail in Austin. Unlike how 2004's commuter rail election was incorrectly framed, this truly is our last best chance for rail so although I obviously would prefer rail running up Guadalupe, I'm going to be supporting this plan whole-heartedly and urge every reader of this post to do the same.

Humorous snippets: I introduced myself to Ben Wear, and even though he wrote an article with my name in it a year or two ago, and I've emailed back/forth with him 5 or 6 times, I don't think he had any idea who the hell I was. Also, Jeff Jack (future Worst Person In Austin nominee? told me I should cut out the blogging until I know what I'm talking about.

March 04, 2008

Flu trumps trains

My wife and I have been very ill - it's been all we've been able to do to keep our non-sick bouncing-off-the-walls 4 year old reasonably well fed and taken care of. Today's the first day I'm going to try to do more than trivial work since Thursday - so the blogging has to take a very distant back seat. Quick summary:

I did go to the TWG last Monday (not yesterday's, though) and had a meeting with a councilmember afterwards. More cause for pessimism than optimism. I have a self-directed work item to bring back to them which I'll probably post here as well in the next few days.

February 08, 2008

BFATFIAC: M1EK at the austinist

My austinist post is up - this is why you haven't seen anything from me in a while. In retrospect, as pointed out by truecraig, probably too much of a rehash; but we'll see. Almost all about rail transit in Austin; with a little bit of bus thrown in for good measure.

This is a one-time affair; part of an idea truecraig had to allow frequent commenters to write a column.

January 18, 2008

Oh crap, I'm That Guy

Apparently just because the Popcorn Button works at home regardless of size of popcorn bag, DO NOT ASSUME it will work on a non-home microwave. The entire office is filled with smoke. I'm That Guy, dammit. (No, this is not a subconscious, or conscious for that matter, revenge for the location).

January 04, 2008

Why transit service doesn't work on frontage roads

This has come up frequently in the past in regards to the idiocy of claiming that major retail belongs out on the frontage road (where I have claimed in the past that it's impossible to practically provide good transit service). Here's a much better version than my previous one, and as a bonus, MS Paint was still tangentially involved!

(For non-Texas readers who may have wandered in from Jeff's excellent transit portal, almost all limited-access highways in this state are built from pre-existing major arterial roadways - where property access is maintained via the construction of new "frontage roads" which unlike perimeter roads often used for that purpose in other states, also serve as on-and-off-ramps. The incredibly wide road footprint that results makes it far more expensive to build new or maintain existing crossings over or under the highway).

Both images from google transit; click through for full details. This is basically the "how do I get from the drop-off for the express bus at the park-and-ride on the west side of the road to the entrance to all the office parks on the east side of the road". Note that the address for the park-and-ride you sometimes get (12400 Research) doesn't match the actual location, which is on Pavilion Boulevard back towards Jollyville.

First, the transit directions, which look pretty good at first:

Then, the driving directions, which look like this:

Huh. Wait a minute. If I can just jump across the road, why do the driving directions have me go down a mile and back? Let's look at the satellite image:


Oh. Now I see. Note that the bus stop images you see on the other side of the road are for a poorly performing cross-town route which suffers from the same basic problem - if you need to leave an office on that side of the street and go southbound on 183 back home, you get to walk to the next crossing - which on a normal street wouldn't be that big of a deal, but crossings of frontage roads are few and far between. Farther to the northwest, crossings are even less frequent - you face a walk of close to 3 miles in spots to make this trip across the freeway. Taking that cross-town route would be even worse than taking the express plus the incredibly long walk, because it would require a long slow trip down the frontage road and then a transfer to a second bus, and because the service on the frontage road is inevitably low-demand, it doesn't run very often either.

Keep in mind that this is just to cross the freeway. If you work at the Riata office park, you then face another walk of a half-mile or so inside the complex. I used to do this commute on my bike, with bus boost in the morning at times and am very familiar with the area - ironically, proximity to the Pavilion transit center was supposedly touted as a positive for this development when it was originally proposed. I was always pretty sure Pavilion used to connect with what is now called Riata Trace Parkway when 183 was just a six-lane divided arterial but have never been able to find a clear enough old satellite image to confirm, but our Tennessee correspondent has already confirmed in comments that it did cross.

For reference, my last job before this one was also on US 183, but between Balcones Woods and Braker Lane, which was much more accessible by transit - and yes, I did sometimes take the bus even on days where I wasn't biking. I tried the bus commute once to Riata and never did it again - that walk, in addition to being far too long even for a nice comfortable express bus, is just dreadful, even compared to conditions down by Braker.

And, yes, there's a personal reason this is coming up now too. All I can say now is dammit, dammit.

October 24, 2007

Gluten-free eating in Austin

Having gotten to eat many of her desserts thanks to the brother-in-law privilege, I can vouch for her delicious recipes and now she's on the front of the Life section of the Statesman in a big article on gluten-free cooking and eating in Austin. Congrats, Karen.

June 02, 2007

Transit Field Trip: Honolulu

Or, why you haven't heard from me in two weeks (click for large):

We (full family) returned yesterday morning from an 11-day trip to Oahu (mostly Honolulu), and I've got some transit talkin' to do about it. Some lessons apply to Austin, and others don't; but I've been meaning to write about good (and bad) experiences on other cities' lines for quite a while, and am finally going to do it. This week, I'll write a few posts trying to focus on particular areas of detail; this will serve as the introduction and outline. As for other cities, I'll hopefully go back and address Atlanta and New York - which I travelled to on business and leisure in the last 6 months.

My wife and I got married on Lanikai Beach a little more than five years ago. Since then, we've been back twice; only the last time with both kids (at the time 1 and 11 years old). I've also been to Oahu for two three-week trips as a kid during the 1980s with my family (grandparents lived near Chaminade University); and once for a week to help them pack up and move to Florida in the late 1990s. As for other islands, I went to the Big Island once as a kid; my wife and I visited Maui for 4 days two trips ago; and the whole family did day-trips to Kauai and the Big Island on our last trip (had free interisland air coupons from my grandfather which we finally used up on the last trip).

This trip included the whole family and stays at three different places - the first week, as usual, we used the timeshare I bought about 8 years ago (on ebay; don't ever do it any other way) which is roughly behind the International Marketplace in an old 3-story 1950s-era hotel building - much smaller than most buildings in Waikiki. Has a lot of charm, but is not a luxury property by any means. Since I own the timeshare, it's a cheap stay (obviously) but not free - the yearly maintenance fees skyrocketed a few years ago after the management company went bankrupt and was subsequently discovered to have not been a good custodian of the funds, as it were.

The next two days, we stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which is a little enclave on the end of Waikiki we don't spend much time at on our visits. I got this hotel for 2 nights on priceline for a very attractive price. This place is famous - my wife and I both remember the old rainbow tower always being used on The Price Is Right (although it looks a lot less cheesy now after a recent redo).

The last two nights, we stayed at the hotel which we used for our honeymoon 5 years ago (almost exactly): the JW Marriott Ihilani at Ko Olina. Very luxury; but I was able to find a great deal - a PointSavers reward from the Marriott chain's rewards program (most of the hotels I stay in for business are Marriott-owned chains). Had to buy a bunch more points, but it still ended up a steal overall.

Here's what I'll be covering this week:

Urban living and suburban sprawl: Waikiki is very urban and is a pleasure to walk around (mostly). Hawaii in general, like the town my family originates from in Pennsylvania, is about 10-20 years behind the times in discovering that suburban sprawl doesn't scale, as Kapolei (the intended "second city") has led to a traffic disaster. Other islands are largely Round Rock With A Beach - with all the bad that entails - I'll talk about the standard suburban theory that the other islands are where it's at.

Transit - current system: Waikiki (and most of Honolulu) is served by TheBus, a fairly well-run bus-only transit agency. We all rode the bus twice to Hanauma Bay, and I rode it once more on the way back from one end of Waikiki to the other. The system is well-used by the population - which has a high portion of transit-dependent and transit-leaning subgroups due to low median incomes and high parking costs. Had problems with bunching and reliability. Buses were very very full even though fares are very high. Outside Honolulu, service is still far better than you would expect - better than most of Austin; but other islands are essentially dead zones.

Transit - future system and needs: Honolulu's been flirting with rail for a long time and should be a slam dunk. The city has a higher residential density than even New York(!) and fairly good employment density too. A disastrous debacle with BRT planning put them back about a decade, but they're currently fairly far along with what finally looks like an adequately locally-funded rail plan to take to the Feds. Doesn't go to Waikiki at first, of course; which is a bonehead move. Local trogolodytes bring out the standard anti-rail FUD spewed here by Neanderthals like Jim Skaggs - showing that no matter how high the case for rail, the guys on the other side say the same ridiculous crap.

That ought to be enough. Aloha.

May 10, 2007

Real Baking

New link: The Art of Gluten-Free Cooking, a blog containing recipes and stories about gluten-free cooking from my sister-in-law Karen.

Forgot to link this way back when and was reminded after eating some very delicious desserts she baked for my mother-in-law's amazing retirement party at the Headliners' Club (which was itself arranged and donated by her and her husband). My wife and her family all have trouble with celiac disease to varying degrees; and these recipes will make eating gluten-free not only tolerable (which the off-the-shelf stuff rarely is) but often delicious. I loved all three desserts and would have gone back for more if I was able to exercise anymore. Man, they were fabulous.

February 27, 2007

Weird music thought on birthday #35

I was a big fish in my little tiny pond of high school music. First guy to win the "best musician" and "best jazz musician" award. All-county. All-state. Then I played in the marching band at Penn State. Nothing, since.

Meanwhile:

Not just one, but two of the dudes that I was in band with in high school are playing SXSW this year.

Dan Bonebrake was a good friend and trumpet player, like me, and has been playing bass ever since, although I've been too much of a loser to drag myself out when he comes through town. He even toured with Chris Carabba, aka Dashboard Confessional, and is now backing up John Ralston for SXSW.

Glenn Barovich was a year ahead of me trombone player - we had soloes in the same song one year in marching band; and he's got a band or two locally (have not seen them either). SXSW performance in Baby Robots

Meanwhile, I ain't done shit. A couple of times playing the beat-up trumpet and singing with a couple other dads last year, and that's it. And that probably isn't happening again either.

I'm pretty sure 35 is too old to pick up a more performing-in-a-club-suitable instrument. Dammit.

February 26, 2007

Brewster et al, I Told You So

Especially Brewster, but also some others are finally, now that it's long too late, beginning to question the wisdom of continuing to give Capital Metro $160 million / year when they turn around and spend all the rail money on a plan which screws Central Austin and provide useless Rapid Bus service as the "thanks for 92% of our tax revenue" gift. Kudos to Kimberly for coverage of this issue.

Let's set the wayback machine to May of 2004. I wrote a post on that day referring to a resolution I floated; the text is below. While Brewster from all accounts thinks I'm a troll, the irony of seeing him come pretty darn close to my 2004 position is just really really delicious. Of course, I'd trade it in a second for some actual movement on this issue.

WHEREAS the City of Austin does not receive adequate mobility benefits from the currently proposed Long Range Transit Plan due to its reliance on "rapid bus" transit without separate right-of-way

and

WHEREAS a "rapid bus" line does not and cannot provide the necessary permanent infrastructure to encourage mixed-use pedestrian-oriented densification along its corridor

and

WHEREAS the vast majority of Capital Metro funds come from residents of the City of Austin

and

WHEREAS the commuter rail plan proposed as the centerpiece of this plan delivers most of its benefits to residents of areas which are not within the Capital Metro service area while ignoring the urban core which provides most Capital Metro monies

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Urban Transportation Commission recommends that the City Council immediately reject Capital Metro's Long-Range Transit Plan and begin working towards a plan which:

A. delivers more reliable and high-performance transit into and through the urban core, including but not limited to the University of Texas, Capitol Complex, and downtown
B. requires additional user fees from passengers using Capital Metro rail services who reside in areas which are not part of the Capital Metro service area
C. provides permanent infrastructure to provide impetus for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use redevelopment of the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor

IF CAPITAL METRO will not work with the City of Austin on all items above, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the UTC advises the City Council to begin preparations to withdraw from the Capital Metro service area and provide its own transit system in order to provide true mobility benefits to the taxpayers of Austin.

It died for lack of a second. Since then, two fellow commissioners expressed their regret at their decision to not at least second the motion so we could have gone on the record, after seeing how the plan unfolded pretty much as I predicted way back then.

January 25, 2007

Ironystorm 2007

Inspired by DSK's posting of his wife's snapshots, I present: the most ironic picture of IceStorm 2007. Click for bigger.

Yes, them icicles was over a foot long. And yes, they formed on my icicle lights.

August 14, 2006

Picture dump

Finally got some more processed: February and March 2006. I actually just processed April but ran out of disk space on my ISP, which is yet another reason to get my ass in gear and finally get rehosted....

May 02, 2006

New links

Located blogs (mostly non-crackpot) of two friends from way back, Laurie and Bernie Thompson from Seattle. Co-oped with both in college; might have gone to a class or three with Bernie; worked with them at IBM and later at S3. At various times, almost pursued both to Microsoft too, although I Was Not Stalking Them.

Bernie created a neat startup company a while back which actually got bought; and now appears to be taking another shot. Laurie's been published frequently in magazines since I last checked in, according to her blog.

Bernie, actually, is indirectly responsible for me starting up the crackplog. Way back in the day, he chatted with me for a while about Seattle's light rail proposal and had the idea that we should do a point/counterpoint blog on it (with iconography of the two of us with skinny little bodies and big giant heads). That never happened; but it gave me the idea to inflict my transportation crap on the rest of the world. So, it's His Fault.

(I've also updated the link to Kim and Anthony's blog to reflect their move from Taiwan to Beijing).

May 01, 2006

The Bile And What To Write About

I obviously haven't written much lately - I've been getting progressively worse news about my arthritis (we've run off the end of where the infusion treatments should have worked, and they haven't - I'm not able to walk far at the present time either - much less ride my bike) so I've been spectacularly unmotivated to do much but occasionally snipe on the austin-bikes email list. It's hard to justify spending much effort crackplogging about bicycling, for instance, when it doesn't look good for me ever getting back on the bike.

Finally, I'm now far enough out of the loop that I don't know that I add much value even when crackplogging about Capital Metro, except in the obviously and purposefully annoying "I told you so" updates. But I still feel like I ought to be updating on their progress, since nobody else in the world ever talks about them other than Ben Wear, who vacillates between simply reinterpreting press releases and being a skeptic in the Skaggs mold.

My cow orker keeps reminding me how neglected the crackplog has become, so I'll try to at least do a monthly Cap Metro update. And the upcoming possible resurgence of the late unlameted all-ages helmet law (thanks to inaugural M1EK's Worst Person In Austin Winner Bruce Todd - subject of a future crackplog if I ever get motivated) should result in a few.

So this serves as notice that I'm alive, I guess. That's all.

January 30, 2006

Now that I can't bike (or walk)...



my career as an itinerant musician playing for children can begin. (picture is from La Tazza Fresca a week ago Saturday playing for the benefit of a pack of intermittently interested 2-year-olds and their hopefully-much-more-entertained parents). Ethan is wearing white; Jeanne is off to the left trying to get him to clap; and I'm second from left with trumpet (played a bit but mostly did horse noises and sung along with my much more able compatriots). Thanks to Mary Somers for the picture. Click for another shot with DANCERS!



January 02, 2006

Big catch-up on pictures

Finally almost caught up on the albums for 2005:

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 23, 2005

Thanks Be To The Baba

For Thanksgiving I'd like to thank the guy who's hosting this blog out of the goodness of his heart, Baba. He graciously agreed to rescue this thing from the purgatory of io.com after a failure to do database backups on their part left me in a real bad spot, spent a non-trivial chunk of time setting up stuff for me, and hasn't bugged me since to move on. And man, have I been lazy and cheap in not doing so.

So thanks Baba. The internet would be crackplogless if it was not for your largesse.

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.

November 04, 2005

Halloween 2005

I'm way behind on pictures because I still haven't gotten around to trying the Windows tools which may provide satisfactory automation for my album generation (thanks, Phil). But here's a teaser, from this Halloween.


October 17, 2005

I officially coin the term

crackplog - short for "crackpot blog", i.e., have you read M1EK's crackplog?

The evil google machine indicates today that I am the first person in the universe to use this term. Feel free to use it from here on out, but credit me.

Why I've barely biked in the last three months

Anybody who found their way to my bike log might have noticed a fairly large gap, like the one I had in 2001-2002. I've had a bad flareup and a very slow recovery from another attack of what I now (as of this morning) know is Reiter's Syndrome. The previous flareup, in 2001, was diagnosed as either Reiter's or spondylitis. Since then, some new drugs have come out to treat spondylitis, so we were hoping to get at least enough spondylitis apparent so I could try these drugs, since in the 4 years between the 2001 flareup and the 2005 flareup, I never recovered full function in my toes (leading to less volleyball, less biking, and gradually gaining back the 40 pounds I lost in 2000-2001, when I was in the best shape of my life - so much for being in shape preventing disease). After that initial flare settled down to 70-80% function (two courses of steroids), I went on a variety of drugs (mostly Vioxx and Azulfidine, the two of which I took for essentially two years) and got up to 90% function, but couldn't do any better. I ended up taking myself off the drugs after the long-term effects were becoming apparent - spent a couple of hours in the early morning most nights in the bathroom with severe intestinal pain. After going off the drugs, things didn't get any worse, so I figured I had reached a new plateau of 90%, which at least I could mostly live with.

Then the 2005 flare hit. Really really bad. Much worse than 2001. Had to do a business trip with what felt like a broken ankle. Two courses of steroids again; the second course barely worked; I was nearly certain I was going to go for the world record of three. Knocked it back to the toes again, apparently, although I don't have much flexibility in my ankle and knee, so it may still be there too. So I come back a couple months later to the rheumatologist and at the first meeting with the doctor I hear about the new biologics that can treat spondylitis; I go in for a (very expensive) bone scan; and this morning get the results. No spondylitis. Just Reiter's. And the bone scan shows that it's still affecting my knee and ankle too - so I'm still much worse off than I was in 2001 at this point.

When these flares hit, I can't even walk, much less bike. Right knee and right ankle become inflamed and red. This last time I spent two weeks on crutches with a HUGE THROBBING ANKLE!!!1, and spent a few nights unable to sleep until I got me some Vicodin. Sleep was even harder during the first flare, since my elbow was also hit - I had to sleep with my arm over my head in one particular position.

No dice. No new drugs; no new research; chance of recovering full function is zero. Oh, and, if I want to lessen the chance of more degenerative arthritis as I get older, my best course of action is to give up alcohol, red meat, refined sugars, and one other thing I forget now but probably was equally difficult to imagine living without.

I'm currently at about 70% (ironically I biked to the doctors' office in order to test out the new bike trailer with a load - got some soda on the way back to simulate the weight of my son), meaning I can play a little bit of volleyball very badly, and I can go on very short bike rides. Oh, and keep getting fatter, until I give up what joy remains in life and go vegetarian. Well, I DID have something delicious on Saturday that turned out to be cauliflower...

Excuse me while I go punch a clown. And then I need to drown my sorrows in a bacon margarita. With sugar on top.

October 07, 2005

Still At It

The folks who basically wanted us to suck it up and enjoy what crumbs we got from the All Systems Go plan are still at it, even today. On the Austin Streetcars group (for people who are trying desperately to salvage some kind of rail, even if it's stuck-in-traffic streetcars, for central Austin, which is otherwise going to only be served by "high frequency circulators" in the form of shuttle buses and, of course, Not So Rapid Bus), Lyndon Henry just called the ASG starter line an "urban light railway", to which I just had to respond with this old gem which now that I look back, is probably the best thing I wrote about this whole commuter rail debacle. Unfortunately, it was nine months after the election.

Update: Lyndon responded with:

They've ordered non-FRA-compliant light DEMUs for this line. It qualifies as a "light railway" by all standards I know of within the transit industry. However, since it's non-electrified, it is NOT LRT. Operationally, it will be somewhat similar to the Camden-Trenton RiverLine light railway and the Sprinter light railway currently under construction in Oceanside (north of San Diego - which they're calling "light rail").

to which I answered:


Pop quiz:

1. What are the headways it will run at during peak times when it opens?

2. How will the passengers get to their final destination?

The answers to those two questions are:

1. 30 minutes, at best

2. Shuttle buses

Neither of those answers is compatible with the concept of "light rail". As you know. It's a pretty shoddy effort to claim that it's light rail because it's using a slightly less heavy, but still non-electrified, locomotive.

This project is commuter rail, and not a very good one at that (most commuter rail lines at least penetrate a major downtown area; this one does only by the most generous definition of the term, and doesn't come remotely close to any of the 3 or 4 other activity centers of the region).

Your insistence on applying the adjective "light" to it as frequently as you can suggests to me that you might be uncomfortable with your role in selling Mike Krusee's Austin-screwing transit-killer to the citizens and are trying to convince yourself that this pile of garbage really is a stack of roses.

Again, I refer you to this:

and then I inserted the original blast that this isn't light rail by any reasonable definition of the term.

Lyndon is one of the "good guys" which is why I hate so much that he's helped, as I mentioned, sell Austin down the river for Mike Krusee (whose constituents by and large aren't even Capital Metro taxpayers).

September 21, 2005

Horrible news

The Bjorkstens were good friends of ours, and had 4 daughters. KVUE says that the girls weren't home at the time. I've been trying to spread the news to everybody I know who knew them this morning but do not yet know if the girls found other family (have call out to friend who may know better). Quite a shock. Please pray for the girls.

August 27, 2005

The Casbjorksen Has Landed

Steve Casburn is finally online in Portland and is telling a familiar story - the bad bicyclist tale of woe. What I hear on the libertarian sites that I spend an unhealthy amount of time on is that Portland is a hellhole on the verge of collapse. Hopefully Steve, (who somehow got deluded by the liberal media into moving there without even having a job in advance) will survive the post-apocalyptic urban-planning wasteland. At least there's fewer fat people there.

August 19, 2005

Pastafarians unite!

I've never talked about religion on this blog, and haven't said much about personal matters in general. Today, however, I am filled with the holy impulse to tell you about the real story behind the creation of the Earth. Please share and make sure that this correct version of our origin is discussed in schools alongside the so-called "Intelligent Design".

Other links:

August 01, 2005

Help for Rick Perry

I know this is late, but the conversation below did really just happen this morning.

(08:27:57) (me): ok I'm going to check this mofo in
(08:28:05) (cow orker): ok
(08:28:06) (me): speak now or forever hold your peas
(08:28:26) (cow orker): if I don't like it, I'll just take it out later, saying "adios, mofo"
(08:28:34) (me): adieu, mofo
(08:28:47) (me): aloha, mofo!
(08:29:01) (cow orker): perhaps the gov can add those to his list
(08:29:22) (me): the aloha is best, obviously, because you can also use it to say HELLO to your friendly neighborhood mofo.

Oh, and I was in DC from Sunday to Thursday last week. My wife got to ride the Metro. I was stuck in far suburban Virginia. Sigh.

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 14, 2005

picture dump

January 2005 pictures are now up. This marks a momentous occasion - I am now less than six months behind in posting pictures! Unfortunately, the job I'm leaving in a week or two is where I have the scripts I use to do this...

There is no lie brazen enough for the road warriors

A month or two ago I wrote a letter to the Honolulu Advertiser (we had just come back from there, and I was still reading the paper regularly online) rebutting the claims made by various right-wingers that Honolulu wasn't dense enough to support rail. (As it turns out, if you're measuring residential density, they're the densest city in the country - yes, more so than even New York City!). This is coming up because Honolulu is attempting yet again to start a rail system after a disastrous flirtation with Bus Rapid Transit which ended as almost all such flirtations do - with a scaled back system that doesn't perform any better than city buses, and thus didn't attract any new riders.

Today I was reminded of this again since their their drive-time columnist included this small blurb at the end of his column:

Still think of Honolulu has a small town? Think again.

Emporis.com reports that Honolulu is fourth in the nation when it comes to the number of high-rise buildings (10 stories or more).

The company, which specializes in geography information, says there are 424 high-rise buildings in the urban core from Pearl Harbor to Hawai'i Kai. That's enough to make us 14th in the world.

In America, only New York City (5,454), Chicago, (1,042) and Los Angeles (449) have more high-rises than Honolulu.

And yet, even in Hawaii, there are those (like Cliff Slater) who claim that rail won't work in Honolulu despite the fact that it works in far less-dense cities and the fact that the huge tourist movement from the airport to Waikiki could fill up three or four rail lines in the blink of an eye.

How dense is dense enough? Clearly the only dense things here are the road warriors themselves.

June 07, 2005

picture dump

December 2004 pictures are up, including the Annual Brindle Christmas SingALong, Christmas at the Hassells, Christmas in Florida, and Universal Studios. I don't have the energy to caption these, because there's a TON of them, but there's some really good ones in here.

June 02, 2005

Not much room for optimism

Thought I'd copy this here for posterity - this is a comment I made to an excellent entry by Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly blog, in reference to somebody who thought that since we adjusted to the 1970s oil shock (he's right on that one) that we could just as easily adjust to the oncoming (soon or later, depending on your alarmism) peak oil shock.

Adding this comment to my blog has made me recall that I still owe an analysis of "fire stations per capita" back to the Texas Fight guy. I'm sorry, I've been busy at work and at home, and will try to get this done soon.

My comment:

John,

The answer to why this shock will be much worse than the one in the 1970s is two words:

suburban sprawl

One thing Kunstler gets right is his analysis of the complete lack of options in a modern suburban development (really exurb) to the single-occupant vehicle and truck delivery to strip malls. There's no way to carpool. There's no way to use transit. There's no way to ride your bike or walk. There's no way for the store to switch to freight rail deliveries (not even the way it used to be, which was truck for only the last very small N% of the trip, if even that).

The ONLY things modern suburbanites can do are:

1. Trade in their SUV for a compact car - works well if you're one of the early adopters, but what if everybody else is trying to trade down at the same time?

2. Move back to the cities - see above.

We would have had to change our development laws twenty years ago in order to have a prayer of solving this problem, but instead we've been operating on a regime that not only requires urbanites to subsidize wasteful suburbanites, it actually PROHIBITS BY LAW (through zoning codes) the development of additional urban neighborhoods.

For reference, my last two homes have been in two center-city neighborhoods where 80-90% of the dwellings would be impossible to build today due to suburban-influenced zoning code which applies even in these older neighborhoods. Of course, to even get to that point, you'd have to overcome their fanatical opposition to infill, but every bit counts.

May 25, 2005

picture dump

November 2004 pictures are up.

Also will do Gregg's book-tag thing when I get some spare time...

May 12, 2005

Picture dump


October 2004 pictures are up.

May 05, 2005

Picture dump

September 2004 pictures are up.

April 21, 2005

You'd better be hedging

Some fairly respectable analysts are beginning to join "kooks" like Kunstler, although in a far less inflammatory way, in predicting that high oil prices are not only here to stay, but likely to get quite higher. The latest "Occasional Report" from CIBC World Markets lays out the case. Older "Occasional Reports" are also highly recommended, as they seem to cut through a lot of baloney and show how and where higher energy costs will hurt (without going flat-out lunatic like the idiots who think every N% increase in gas prices means an N% increase n the price of everything delivered by truck, for instance).

I've been hedging higher energy prices for a long time now - we paid a hefty premium for our house in central Austin, and part of the reason was that we could, much more easily than your average suburbanite anyways, drastically reduce our driving and/or switch to jobs better served by public transportation. (my current office is served about as well as any out here in the 'burbs, which is to say that I can take the bus each day by spending only about 40 extra minutes - as sad as that is, it makes me the winner here by far). We also bought a Prius in February of 2004 (after waiting five months) - again, a hedge; if we do end up having to drive a lot, at least it won't kill us. Well, as it turns out, we're only driving about 10,000 miles a year combined anyways, but every little bit helps.

The only problem is that hedges like this are largely a loss-amelioration strategy - they don't gain us anything unless inflation makes wages go up. The same group above thinks it won't this time, unlike in the 1970s, so the best we're really able to do is attempt to be a bit less screwed than the average suburbanite will be.

This hedging logic (whether you believe in local kook Roger Baker's Kunstler-like rants or not) should also apply to public infrastructure spending. I happen to believe that building the toll roads is a way to do this - the 'hedge' being that since the roads are going to be built either way (an assertion the environmentalists disgree with), it's better to have them paid back with tolls rather than with property and gas taxes (even if the tolls come up short, the impact on central-city residents is still less than with the typical free highway payment mechanism - remember, you still pay gas taxes while driving around central Austin, but none of that money goes to those roads - in fact, urban areas all over the country are screwed by the gas tax's bias towards suburban and particularly exurban areas). In other words, paying for the new toll roads with gas taxes simply makes things better for people at the far edges of Leander, and far worse for people living in Central Austin.

A better hedge, of course, would be a gradual overall increase in gasoline taxes with a mandatory minimum payback for major urban areas similar to what the Feds do with 'donor states'. But with the average suburbanite convinced that they're undertaxed rather than subsidized, it's simply never going to happen. Toll roads are, in this sense, the best hedge we can manage at this point in time.

For those interested - ways to hedge on energy costs which are easier if you live in an urban neighborhood than out in one of the soulless sprawlburbs:

  • I can bike to work (up to 5 days a week) - right now I average once a week; mainly due to scheduling difficulties, but we could change this if we had to.
  • I can take the bus to work - at a 40 minute or so penalty per day (which as mentioned above puts me ahead of pretty much anybody else here)
  • I can get a job downtown (easier said than done) and reduce the transit penalty to near-zero
  • We're within a (long) walk of 5 grocery stores - right now this means we have a very short drive; we only occasionally walk, but at least we CAN walk if it becomes expensive enough to drive
  • We can walk to a battery of other shopping and dining choices (we do this quite frequently now)
  • In an era of higher fuel prices, the places we shop are going to be less impacted than the strip-mall businesses, due to efficiencies of scale (cheaper to deliver to 5 grocery stores that are very close together than 5 that are very far apart)
  • Our house is small - less air conditioning and heating costs
  • Our house is old enough that it was designed before air conditioning - meaning we have enough windows for good ventilation most of the year

For these hedge privileges, however, we pay through the nose:

  • The house price is far higher, per square foot, than in the 'burbs -- this is not purely because of location, but also because post-WWII zoning laws have artificially restricted the supply of walkable urban neighborhoods. Most of the homes on our street are illegal under current zoning code for various bogus reasons.
  • Our city, county, and schools tax mainly through property taxes, which are a double whammy - not only are we appraised proportionally higher, but the property tax itself is often used in ways which subsidize suburban development - providing city services is far more expensive per acre in Anderson Mill than it is in Central Austin, but the Central Austinites pay orders of magnitude more property taxes.
  • Those property (and also sales) taxes are often grabbed by the state and spent in ways which not only subsidize the suburbs, but hurt central cities - things like requiring local 'donations' in order to expand freeways. (The 1998 and 2000 bond elections floated tens of millions of dollars in bonds which were used to pay for right-of-way and other costs for roads like the far north extension of Mopac, SH45, SH130, etc - none of which provide any use for central Austin at all, yet central Austin is where most of that tax money comes from - and when a project IS proposed which affects central Austin, it ends up being a destructive force like the ridiculous proposal by TXDOT to double-deck Mopac).

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.

April 01, 2005

new picture dump

August 2004 trip to Schlitterbahn on which we totally missed hooking up with the Russins

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

RIP, Joseph Henry Dahmus

My grandfather passed away in his sleep on Monday afternoon. Since I spent my first 9 years in State College and was one of the oldest grandchildren, I got to spend a lot of time with those grandparents as a kid, and will miss him tremendously. Even today I find my outlook on things shaped by what I observed at their house as a kid - the model he set by living close to work and walking to his office every day (even when retired) is what I end up trying to achieve in my own life (well into his 80s he was in better shape than most people I know today). Read the obituary for more on this extraordinary man.

A picture including four generations (Grandpa, my dad, me, and Ethan) from this July can be found here

February 11, 2005

I'm a Goner

Today when I came home, my wife showed me the mail, and there was a letter from Councilman Slusher which noted that my term on the UTC has expired (it did on 1/1/05) and that he did not wish me to continue serving until I was replaced. No further information was given.

This is not a big surprise; although the timing is at least a small surprise. Many months ago when I first spoke on the commuter rail issue, one of my fellow commissioners told me that Councilman Slusher was apoplectic with rage over the idea that I'd say the things I was saying (and this was before I really got going; at this point all I had done was write one letter to the Chronicle). He supposedly said that he was mad enough to remove me from the Commission, but didn't want to provide more attention for my supposed cause by doing so.

I was very shocked by this information at the time (and still am) - first of all, the idea that one couldn't publically be against the commuter rail plan (but still be rabidly pro-rail and rabidly pro-transit) and still serve on the Commission is quite offensive to me even today. Second, the idea that a commissioner on the UTC could have a large enough public effect to be worth such spiteful comment as was supposedly given is just ludicrous - in other words, I can't believe that I was ever big enough to be worth any bile from a City Council member at all.

At that time, I asked (quite nicely, I thought) for a meeting with him to discuss what he'd like me to do (implicitly offering to resign from the Commission if that's what he wanted - to be honest, there's little point in continuing to be on the Commission without support from your appointer). He never responded.

To this day, Councilmember Slusher has not spoken to me at all since we met a couple of years ago (when he indicated that he was fairly happy with the status of the UTC).

After the election, I missed the two remaining 2004 meetings of the UTC due to vacation and illness. The January 2005 meeting, which I had planned to attend, was canceled for lack of a quorum. The Februrary meeting is next Tuesday, and I had planned on attending.

I don't know why the decision was made (suddenly) to remove me from the Commission. Councilmember Slusher is being term-limited out of office - elections are in May. I had assumed that the fact that he didn't bother to replace me with another appointee meant that I would probably last until the new councilmember took office.

Anyways, for those reading this blog who knew I was on the UTC, that's the full scoop as of now.

To my fellow commissioners - thanks for serving with me for all these years. Your dedication to improving the transportation situation for the public at large is an inspiration, even when I disagreed with you. I hope you'll continue to do the great job you have been doing.

To city staff - please understand that I (and my fellow commissioners) appreciate the hard work you do even when we disagree. Thanks for all the night hours you had to put in to be at our meetings, and thanks for doing your part to make Austin better.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Got Another Free Night Per Month Coming Now

February 04, 2005

June 2004

June 2004 pictures are up. Long delay due to rebuilding my linux box.

February 03, 2005

Letter in Chronicle

Letter from me in today's Chronicle. Text at the end of this dispatch.

and today's Statesman takes up the same subject (Transit Oriented Development - commonly abbreviated as TOD) again - using East Hillsboro Oregon (suburb of Portland) as their model. When are the cheerleaders going to get it - you get TOD IF AND ONLY IF your rail line has demonstrated a year or three of high ridership from people who CHOSE to ride rail, not from people who HAD to ride public transit?

For the I Told You So watch:

A fight is looming: The neighborhood plans that already exist for Plaza Saltillo and the areas around the Lamar and MLK stops don't call for the kind of intense density city leaders want around rail stations.

As I pointed out several times during the run-up to the election, one of the many problems with the routing of this commuter rail line is that it runs through neighborhoods that don't want any additional development, rather than down Lamar/Guadalupe where additional development is regarded as inevitable (although my own wildly irresponsible neighborhood does their best to counteract city-wide sanity on this regard).

(Chronicle Letter):

Cold Water on TOD

Dear Editor,

I hate to throw cold water on the frenzy over TOD (transit-oriented development) ["Here Comes the Train," News, Jan. 28], but it's worth remembering that no commuter rail start in the U.S. in recent memory has generated any transit-oriented development worth noting. In fact, all of the TOD that has occurred in the U.S. in most of our lifetimes has been around light rail starts which had to first demonstrate a high level of ridership from new transit customers (i.e., not just those who used to take the bus, but new customers to transit).

This is how Dallas, Denver, Portland, Salt Lake, and Minneapolis have gotten and are continuing to get great new urban buildings around their light-rail lines.

The key here is that thanks to Mike Krusee and naive pro-transit people in Austin, we're not getting a rail line like those cities got (which goes where people actually want to go from day one); we're getting one like South Florida got (which requires shuttle buses to get anywhere worth going). South Florida's commuter line has yet (after 15 years) to generate one lousy square-foot of TOD.

Regards,

Mike Dahmus

Urban Transportation Commission


Thanks to "pedaler" for the TOD expansion suggestion

January 27, 2005

More act being gotten of the together

April 2004 and May 2004 pictures (mostly of Ethan) are up.

January 24, 2005

Getting my act together

I finally got a recommendation for a gallery-generator which is lightweight enough not to use up all of my disk quota with HTML garbage. I spent the weekend uploading pictures to temp space on a linux box on which I could write pre-processing scripts and this morning quickly generated a simple gallery for March 2004. I hope to do a month a day or two until I'm caught up.

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 10, 2005

More on What We're In For

Tri-Rail, the commuter rail line which parallels I-95 through most of South Florida, is the transit start most like Austin's proposed commuter rail line, for good and ill. Read the archives for the whole story, but here's the short version: It was cheap to get started (used existing track), just like ours will be; it doesn't go near any downtown areas, just like ours won't; and it relies exclusively on shuttle buses for passenger distribution, just like ours will. Since then, a hugely expensive double-tracking project has nearly finished without any corresponding improvement in ridership. (The double-tracking has proceeded in phases; portions complete are already in use with their corresponding speed/reliability improvements).

My own observations from my trip home follow the excerpts and comments from this article in the Boca Raton News which appeared recently.

Critics, who suggest that Tri-Rail should be shot and put out of its financial misery, grudgingly admit that railroads are closely linked with the state�s continued development and growth. Resigned to Tri-Rail�s financial reality, but resolute about its future, Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons admitted Tri-Rail �will never, never, ever pay for itself� operationally. He nodded when asked if this will mean millions upon millions annually in continued local, state and federal subsidy. He continued to nod slowly when told that critics are outraged that it�s costing taxpayers about $46,000 each and every day so that about 9,000 persons per day on average can ride the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) commuter rail service.

That kind of talk ignores the reality that automobile commuters are incredibly subsidized too, but it bears repeating that Tri-Rail's economic performance is far worse than most light-rail starts in this country. So you can't get rid of transit subsidies, but you CAN do a hell of a lot better than that.

And note "9,000 people per day". After 15 years. On a line much much longer than the one proposed for Austin.

Luksha is among the many South Floridians who derisively note that not a single Tri-Rail train goes through a single �downtown�, and only indirect services via, bus, taxi or Metrorail will get you to the region�s airports after getting off Tri-Rail.

Yup, just like Austin (nearly zero downtown workers work within the typically considered 1/4 mile walking distance of the station at the Convention Center, so don't even try me).

Koons sighs: �It�s tough trying to promote a railroad in the middle of I-95 construction.�

No, it's not. It should be even easier to get people to take grade-separated transit when the highway option gets worse. It's not, because the grade-separated transit option in this case has the fatal flaw of relying on shuttle buses to get people where they actually need to go.

�We�re too suburban,� according to Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty, who says Tri-Rail�s financial health in fact may depend on whether SFRTA can negotiate an agreement with Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC) for use of the FEC line that wanders through most of Florida�s urban areas. Without a FEC/TRI-Rail alliance, McCarty sees the need for continued subsidy because of the �inherent fear of feeder bus reliability.� The buses �are often late,� she explained.

The FEC railroad runs right through all of the major downtowns in the area -- meaning riders of a service there could actually walk from the train station to work.

They've learned from painful experience what we're going to learn because we fell for Mike Krusee and Fred Gilliam''s snow-job.

Now for my observations:

I saw half a dozen Tri-Rail trains (while driving on I-95). All were emptier than Capital Metro's worst bus routes. I got to see the line from Boynton Beach down to I-595 (Fort Lauderdale), and did not see one lick of transit-oriented development anywhere -- the same low-density warehouse sprawl that used to be around the line is still around the line.

A brand new station is under construction (nearly done) in Boca Raton on the old IBM property (where I used to work). This old IBM site was purchased by a company which has subleased to a ton of smaller firms about 5 years ago. The property is also currently full of new construction which seems mostly to be retail uses -- interestingly enough, they are oriented as far away from the rail line as feasible -- i.e. they do not view proximity to the train station as even slightly desirable. (And the existing offices in the old IBM buildings are a good hike from the train station - especially given South Florida's weather most of the year). This station's location was chosen after about five years of failed work trying to get a station built farther south as part of a new transit-oriented development.

Lesson: You don't get transit-oriented development around a failed rail line. Meaning: the developer contemplating building a project which will incur more cost and potentially less access for motorists is going to want to see people riding the train now who fit their economic profile - i.e. people who can afford cars, but are choosing to ride the train; not the people who ride the train because they have no other choice.

This does not bode well for the Capital Metro backers who think that transit-oriented development can make up for the poor routing of our own starter line.

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!

November 23, 2004

Pedestrian problems on US 183

183 sidewalk photo essay

Prentiss appeared to have beat me to the punch on the photo-essay thing, but I have archives of this very blog that prove that my photo essay on pedestrian problems on US 183 was planned much earlier, and simply took longer to implement since I'm far far far lazier than he is. I'm frankly amazed I ever got it done. Thanks, slow day at work!

ALSO ALSO ALSO! This is the ONE HUNDREDTH ENTRY in this crackpot blog! Somebody put on a party hat or something, please.

November 08, 2004

Plans for the blog

Well, now that the election is over, and I waited a week to cool the electrons, here's where this blog is going to go:

1. More emphasis on other transportation-talk (I had a bit of this sprinkled through the early articles here - see these categories for some examples). I took up the pro-transit but anti-commuter-rail flag because nobody else would, not because it's my only interest). I have a couple of long articles ready to write once I get some time - one about TXDOT's pedestrian-hostile highway construction, and one about the Jollyville Road severing.

2. I'll be evaluating any proposals made to "fix" the commuter rail line. Some mumblings in the press right now indicate that they think they're going to get a proposal or two before the voters for the 2006 election. I sincerely doubt this will happen - there was far too much political capital spent on the "let's build this one and then see how it does" position, and the kind of studies they need to do in order to get to the ballot-box are not likely to be quick.

3. I'll be commenting on the election results if and when the Chronicle does a precinct analysis (like they did for the 2000 light rail election).

Evaluating my campaign and my predictions: I thought the rail plan would pass, but I did not think the margin would be this great. I'm surprised at the margin in unincorporated Williamson County (according to today's Statesman, it was fairly large). As mentioned before, I don't know how it did in the central city compared to light rail.

I had hoped that I would get enough traction with the press that it would be difficult to forget (in 2010) that there was at least one guy who knew what he was talking about who predicted that the starter line was fatally flawed (to shorten the rail transit interregnum that will occur when the line fails). I don't think I met my goals here - got some early coverage, including a good spot on KXAN where I was able to articulate the main failure, but most of the other press coverage misrepresented my position to "it doesn't go far enough" which is too easy to counter with "well, we'll just build streetcar or go to Seaholm" which only solves one of the ten or so problems with this line.

The success of the starter line is now in the hands of people in Cedar Park and far northwest Austin. If they enjoy riding shuttle buses every day from the station at MLK (crossing I-35 on MLK to get to UT and the Capitol) or from the Convention Center to 6th and Congress, then the plan will survive long enough to build extensions and expansions. Note, however, that none of those extensions or expansions provide rail service for the residents of the center city - they are other commuter rail lines headed from shuttle-bus stations out to other suburban areas.

I'm prepared to make a limited number of ridership bets for more steak dinners (hi Patrick!). You know where to find me. Otherwise, I may have the sidewalk article up in a week or so.

November 01, 2004

My final pre-election note

(Thank God, say the readers)

Sent by me a moment ago to the austin-bikes email list:

David Dobbs wrote:

> At 08:25 -0600 11/1/04, Mike Dahmus wrote:
>
>> 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.
>
>
>
> Well, clearly we can be virtually certain that, save for a half-cent bus system, Capital Metro's funding will be gone if commuter rail doesn't pass tomorrow.

No, clearly we can't be virtually certain of that.

I expect the 1/4 cent diversion to local governments to continue if Capital Metro were to lose the election. This diversion is easily rectified, unlike the permanent diversion that would happen if they win the election and build the virtually guaranteed failure of a commuter rail stub.

The fact that the ROAD guys aren't fighting this very hard should tell you all you need to know about their feeling on the matter. But if you don't believe THAT, consider the fact that this plan comes from Mike Krusee, no friend of Austin and definitely no friend of public transportation. He and Fred Gilliam have come up with the cheapest possible way to show once and for all that rail "doesn't work in Austin" - at which point I'm sure their common cause evaporates as Krusee seeks road funds and Gilliam seeks bus rapid transit. Either way, central Austin in particular gets nothing but the back of the hand.

There is no way I can see in which urban rail can be salvaged if this election passes. David is parroting the dubious party line that this commuter rail line can be turned into "light rail" by running the trains more often and through TOD - ignoring the fact that TOD won't occur if nobody is riding the line when it opens (real estate developers will shy away from such development if the line looks like a failure AS HAPPENED IN SOUTH FLORIDA). And NOBODY has explained how Austin is going to be SO DIFFERENT from South Florida that the shuttle-bus liability won't be a huge problem here for building choice commuter ridership. High-frequency shuttle buses waiting for you when you get off the train? Check. Speedy rail portion of commute? Check. Cheap because they used existing track? Check. Now planning on shifting emphasis over the next decade to a much better rail corridor after 15 wasted years? One down, one to go.

Let's recap:

- This line delivers rail + shuttle-bus commutes to Leander and far northwest Austin. It does not deliver ANYTHING to central Austin. It does not deliver rail service to ANY OF THE THREE major attractors (downtown*, UT, Capitol). It will be relying on far-out suburbanites to form the bulk of the daily ridership - and those are PRECISELY the people who are LEAST likely to accept a shuttle-bus as part of their daily commute. The progressive parts of town where residential density is at its highest get nothing but bus service under the LONG-RANGE plan (NOT just being skipped by the starter line, but SKIPPED ENTIRELY).

- The idea that the plan can then be saved by streetcar is also naive and foolish. While streetcars are more attractive than buses for a single transit trip:

1. The transfer penalty still applies. A three-leg trip (car, train, shuttle-bus) is much much worse than a two-leg trip (car, light rail) or a one-leg trip, as a Hyde Park resident could have had with 2000 LRT.
2. Unlike light rail (and the rail portion of the ASG commute), streetcars are stuck in traffic just like shuttle buses. You lose so much speed and reliability that the private car becomes competitive again.
3. Streetcars (and any other rail extensions or expansions) must be voted on under the same rules - only in November, only an even-numbered year, and they won't be ready to take it to a vote in 2006 since they've committed to a long study process. November 2008 would be the first chance to VOTE on these saviours, at which point the daily ridership numbers of the initial line WITH SHUTTLE BUSES will be public knowledge.

- The reason we're not getting to vote on light rail this time around has NOTHING to do with light rail's viability. EVERY CITY THAT HAS SUCCEEDED WITH RAIL IN THE LAST 20 YEARS HAS DONE SO WITH A LIGHT RAIL STARTER LINE, NOT COMMUTER RAIL. Light rail in 2000 was forced to the polls early by Mike Krusee, and still only narrowly lost in an election where suburban turnout was disproportionately high. The idea that we couldn't have taken out some of the objectionable parts of the 2000 LRT proposal and gotten a winning result is just a COMPLETE AND UTTER LIE.

I can't believe so many intelligent people fell for this snow-job pulled on you by Krusee, who hates Austin with a passion, and Fred Gilliam, who wants bus rapid transit and is pushing commuter rail as a way to get it. If I'm still living here in Austin in 2008, I expect to see many more comments a la Shoal Creek of:

" I am dismayed that Mike Dahmus was so damned right about this whole debacle from the very beginning."

- MD

* - by the 1/4 mile rule, no major downtown office buildings are within walking distance of the "downtown station". Nearly every major office building downtown, as well as the Capitol, UT, West Campus, most of North University and Hyde Park, and 38th/Guadalupe would have been within 1/4 mile of a light-rail station in 2000.

If "not going far enough" was the only problem...

I wouldn't be campaigning against this thing.

This entry is good for people seeking back-story; the linked articles form a "best of" collection from this blog explaining various supporting arguments for the Pro-Transit But No vote on Capital Metro this time around.

Today kicks off with another Chronicle mention in which they say:

Opponents like Mike Dahmus, a member of the city Urban Transportation Commission, say the current commuter rail plan does not go far enough.

The real problem here, as I've covered again and again and again, is that this line (unlike light rail) will require shuttle-buses for all commuters every single day and will thus fail miserably at attracting passengers from the suburban (non-bus-riding) population. Since this line, unlike light rail in 2000, doesn't run anywhere near the areas of central Austin where transit enjoys high use and overwhelming popularity, it can't make up the difference with progressives either.

Simply not going "far enough" could be fixed with some hard work. But this plan not only goes the wrong way, it precludes light rail from being built to "fix" it. Additionally, it's SO INCREDIBLY CRAPPY that it's going to "show" pretty conclusively that Austinites "don't want rail". Which, I think, is what Mike Krusee and Fred Gilliam had in mind the whole time....

October 28, 2004

Commuter Rail Is Not Light Rail, Part 851

Or: A letter I just wrote to the Statesman which they probably won't publish:

Many of your readers and a significant number of public boosters of the commuter rail proposal on the ballot November 2nd appear to be confused as to the nature of the project. Referring to cities such as Salt Lake City and Portland as rail success stories is misleading in this context, since those cities are succeeding with LIGHT RAIL (like we narrowly voted down in 2000), not COMMUTER RAIL. The only recent example of a system like the one we're voting on comes from South Florida - it relies exclusively on "high-frequency circulators" (shuttle buses) while all the success stories mentioned have stations within walking distance of existing offices and shops. South Florida's line has been an unmitigated disaster that after 15 years still carries only 12,000 passengers a day on a far longer corridor than the one we're contemplating building.

October 26, 2004

Reason to vote no on commuter rail

The picture below is my son, Ethan. He wanted me to tell you that by the time he's ten, he wants urban rail service (dedicated right-of-way; not streetcars) running down the real urban rail corridor (Lamar/Guadalupe), not "Rapid Bus". He also wanted me to add that if you vote for commuter rail, and his dad is right about the negative effects, he's coming for you.

If I were you, I'd do what he wants.

8 down, 19992 to go

My wife and I voted (early) on Sunday. And this weekend, Jonathan Horak endorsed this blog's position. Also, Chip Rosenthal declared his opposition and used very similar reasoning to that used by this author.

In the meantime, Ben Wear wrote about commuter rai again on Sunday in the Statesman, this time using my colleague Patrick Goetz for the lone pro-transit and oh-my-god-does-this-plan-really-stink perspective. I think I've fallen permanently off his radar.

Finally, in the twenty minutes or so since I submitted this post, a blog I've not read before called Grits For Breakfast added their endorsement, and the author made a very good general point about how perplexing it is that Austin voters don't fight these Austin-bashing initiatives harder.

October 21, 2004

Which possible outcome should scare you more?

a response to Dave Dobbs on the austin-bikes list, in which Dave ended with:

There will be no options if this doesn't pass.

In fact, it will be difficult to defend Capital Metro's money if this election doesn't pass. However, it will be even MORE difficult to defend Capital Metro's money if this election does pass, and the rail service meets my expectations (matching the performance of South Florida's Tri-Rail, the only other new start rail plan relying exclusively on shuttle buses for passenger distribution). At that point, we will have SHOWN that "rail doesn't work in Austin", and the long-term justification for at least 1/4 cent of Capital Metro's money will be gone.

The position, however, that we will definitely lose the money after an election failure fails to compel on two counts:

1. We didn't permanently lose the money in 2000
2. Even if we do 'lose' the money, it's going to be easier to get it back if we don't have a pathetically poor rail line on the ground SHOWING people that "rail doesn't work in Austin".

Keep in mind, if you doubt me that commuter rail won't work, that:

1. Most of the people in 2000 who said they wanted light rail get no rail service from the starter line, and most of that most don't get rail service in the long-range plan either.

2. The people who ARE being delivered rail service are the people who, in 2000, were most against light rail.

3. Those lucky few being delivered rail service are precisely the people who have been the LEAST WILLING to ride buses, and yet in order to use this rail line, they're going to have to ride a bus every single day.

4. In order to improve this line in any way, shape, or form, a follow-on election must be held. Does anybody think that's going to be easy to sell, what with the pro-rail PAC telling everybody that we're following a "vote on every step" plan so they can evaluate rail's performance each time before approving more?

At worst, I urge all of you to remember the Great Shoal Creek Debacle Of Aught-Aught. Is anybody willing to argue with me NOW that I was wrong back then? Want to bet against me again?

October 19, 2004

Three down

19,997 to go.

Kellyd from activitystory.com has endorsed this blog's position on the All Systems Go referendum and linked me. Thanks, Kelly.

Send Krusee Cruisin'

If like me, you're disgusted at Mike Krusee's role in destroying any chance that Austinites will be able to enjoy rail transit, and you live in his district, please check out Karen Felthauser's campaign.

If I win, what do we do

Phil Hallmark from the austin-bikes email list asked for a clear description of what my "next referendum" would look like, since I'm asking people to vote no on this one. A good point; while I've made some recommendations scattered through this blog, I haven't ever written it down in one place.

My referendum would be, legally, the same language as this one (since ballot language just says "operaton of a rail system") but the notice of election would state that the starter line would be a light rail line running from Leander to downtown Austin (sound similar?). I don't know if it's even legal to state "running past UT and the Capitol", but I'd give it a whirl.

The difference is that the routing would follow the 2000 election's route. I would drop South Congress completely from the long-range plan; the starter line would use the existing rail right-of-way from the northwest; entering Lamar Blvd at its intersection with Airport Blvd (as in 2000); switching to Guadalupe; running by the Triangle, Central Park, West Campus. It would run next to UT on Guadalupe.

The line would transition to Congress Ave. around 11th; then run down Congress to 4th St., terminating there (for the time being). The long-range plan would continue that line west to Seaholm and then south on the UP right-of-way into south Austin (this solves the South Congress opposition in 2000). (Is there enough space for the train to turn on/off Congress at 4th? I think so; but I'm not sure).

The long-range plan would also include spurs to Mueller and Bergstrom. But as wth commuter rail, you only vote on the starter line.

Isn't this a small change? Well, my position on the 2000 election is that you could put the EXACT SAME PACKAGE up for a vote again, and there'd be a 60% chance of passage (with Dubya voters energized in 2000, it lost by less than 1%). With the South Congress change made to avoid opposition from that sector, I'd estimate an 80% chance of success with my plan.

Shouldn't Capital Metro have tried something like this? Any one of a few changes could have brought the 2000 light rail line over the top, after all (another option is avoiding Crestview/Wooten). Well, as I've said, they weren't motivated by the voters, but by one particular state legislator.

If this sounds good to you, you'd better vote against commuter rail; because light rail on this corridor is effectively precluded by the implementation of commuter rail.

October 18, 2004

Another opinion

In the spirit of "get something posted today with a minimum amount of time", I also present an email from a friend of mine who works in the business (transit) who commented a while back to me on Capital Metro's plan. Note that he's more sanguine about streetcars than am I; he also mentioned in a follow-on that streetcars on both 4th and Congress wouldn't necessitate a transfer in all cases, since there are models out there that could easily navigate that turn.

Here's his note to me (this was a couple of months ago):

Hey M1EK,

Good stuff about the Cap Metro plan. I agree with you: it's flawed.

The transfer penalty for choice riders is significant regardless of the type
of transfer - if it's not a one-seat transit ride to work, it's usually not
going to compete, in the mind of the choice rider, with driving to work.
Some folks will tolerate having to transfer between trains (which is how
commuter rail generally works), but much fewer will tolerate transferring
from a bus to a train to get to work. For example, the park and ride bus
that used to run from north Houston to the Texas Medical Center was
truncated when the rail line opened, and people who used to ride the bus all
the way to the TMC are now forced to transfer to the train in downtown.
Needless to say, ridership on that route has fallen.

As you correctly note, almost nobody will tolerate a rail-to-bus transfer to
get to work.

About eight or so years ago, when TxDOT was doing the Major Investment Study
on the Katy Freeway (I-10 west), they looked at using the existing MKT
railroad right-of-way running parallel to the freeway as a possible commuter
rail corridor. It would have been a quick and smooth trip into the central
city, but there was no way to distribute the passengers to major activity
centers such as downtown or the Texas Medical Center once they got there
(because Bob Lanier the highway lobby whore was still mayor, the Main Street
rail line wasn't even on the drawing board at the time). Passengers would
have been forced to get off the train at the Amtrak station just northwest
of downtown Houston and continue their journeys by bus. Even if the bus trip
from the train station into downtown was relatively short, you can imagine
what the ridership models looked like when the transfer penalty was factored
in. The commuter rail idea was dropped and the MKT right-of-way was used to
expand the freeway itself instead.

What kind of ridership predictions is Cap Metro making for this system?

The streetcar idea intrigued me. This plan might work if a downtown
streetcar network were implemented to distribute passengers. People might
not transfer from trains to shuttle buses, but they'll transfer from trains
to streetcars. Such is the nature of mode preference.

The real danger

I've been busy at work and playing landlord, so I haven't had time to write any new material, but I will share a response I just wrote to Fred Meredith on the austin-bikes list. Fred's among the people who wants good mass transit in this area, but believes that voting yes on commuter rail is the best way to do it.

Fred Meredith wrote:


I will vote for this plan for the following basic reasons.

1.) We need a "first step" project in order to have any further advancement in mass transit through consideration of rail or other option to the single-occupant motor vehicle that increasingly gridlocks Austin. It may not be the best beginning, but it would be a beginning rather than a mandate to keep all rail plans off the horizon and just throw money at more lanes of concrete in a misguided attempt to overcome congestion. Once a first step is taken, I feel it is more likely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue. I think it is a foot-in-the-door situation.

I don't know how many more times I can take this argument without assuming that I've become invisible or inaudible (fat chance, huh?), but I'll try to remain calm once more.

The danger here is that a starter line that is bad ENOUGH will completely destroy the momentum among the public (that actually WANTS rail right now by at least a slim margin, in Austin itself). This is what happened in South Florida with a system which is identical in every way that matters to the one proposed by Capital Metro. (Their demographics are a bit more liberal than ours, if you include the entire Capital Metro service area, but still far more conservative than Seattle or Portland).

Aspects of Tri-Rail's service which are important:

  1. It doesn't go anywhere people actually want to go, but relies on high-frequency circulators (shuttle buses) to take people to their final destinations.
  2. What happened was that people who were potential new transit customers stayed away, in droves, when they heard about the shuttle-bus transfer. (This transfer makes the entire trip noncompetitive with the private automobile - i.e. not even close).
  3. Hundreds of millions have been spent and are being spent to double-track the corridor, but now after 15 years of no real penetration among new transit customers, the people in charge are finally talking about moving or adding service to a far better rail corridor which actually goes through the major downtowns. (This is in their new long-range plans - meaning next decade or two).
  4. In the meantime, nothing else could be done (in terms of transit) for 15 years, and for at least another 10-15.
  5. Transit-oriented development has been pursued vigorously along Tri-Rail's corridor for at least ten years now with no results whatsoever (no construction; only some plans, most of which died on the vine).

Compare (and contrast if you can) to Austin. Here's the danger:

  1. We're exactly the same as Tri-Rail. Unless you think drivers in Leander are in love with transfers to shuttle buses. I don't.
  2. Capital Metro comes back to the voter in 2008 with plans to "expand" (either build the next commuter line down Mopac; build a streetcar system downtown; or if you don't believe me that commuter rail precludes light rail, even rail down Lamar/Guadalupe).
  3. The voters, who were told in no uncertain terms back in 2004 that they should evaluate the line's actual performance before voting on extensions/expansions, see that basically the commuter rail line is handling the old express bus riders (Capital Metro closed down the 183-corridor express buses in 2007 as commuter rail came online).
  4. The voters come to the (understandable) conclusion that "we tried rail, and it didn't work; so we're not going to spend any more money on it".

So no, the position that "Once a first step is taken, I feel it is more likely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue. I think it is a foot-in-the-door situation" is not an accurate representation of what we face. It's more like "once a first step is taken on rail, it is very unlikely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue unless the first step is a success in the minds of the voters. It is an out-on-a-limb situation".

October 15, 2004

Two down

Adam Rice, another of Austin's best bloggers and a fellow center-city cyclist, has kindly linked to this blog with an endorsement.

So I've won two votes so far - only about 20,000 to go! Well, also, since my cousin, wife, and father-in-law said they liked my presentation at the LBJ school last week, I probably have their votes too. My mom would probably also have liked my presentation, so there you go.

Adam also came up with a great title - All Systems Whoa. If I wasn't running my quixotic campaign on a budget of exactly zero, I'd go buy the domain name allsystemswhoa.org to match the monorail guys at allsystemsno.org (not an endorsement by me - remember I support light rail, which runs in the street and would also be hated by these guys).

How you'll use commuter rail

Or won't, if like most people you don't like shuttle buses.

At the last panel at which I spoke (LBJ school), Scott Polikov claimed that the commuter rail line DOES stop within walking distance of most of downtown. I've cut and pasted the image off the flier for New Ways To Connect, showing the downtown station for commuter rail. Notice the labels on the shuttle buses on the right. From front: CAPITOL, DOWNTOWN, UT

This also marks the first post to this blog where I've included a picture. Man, I'm slipping.

October 14, 2004

Chronicle mention

Today's Chronicle has a piece by Mike Clark-Madison which to its credit remembers that there are people (well, A person anyways) willingly to publically oppose the ASG plan on the grounds that it's a crappy rail system, rather than the Neanderthal view pushed by Skaggs & Company that we need to build more freeways instead.

Unfortunately, the tone of the article basically matches the endorsement at the front, that being that you Must Vote Yes Or Capital Metro Will Die.

This ties into my yet-as-unwritten piece which explains why this very real fear should not make you vote Yes this time around - because the fear that an implemented starter line which doesn't pull in any new transit customers will be even worse for the long-term future of rail transit in this city.

I've not had any trouble making this case in public - with the exception of Scott Polikov, I think the pro-ASG guys treat it with respect and not with the disdain showed in the endorsement section today. Unfortunately, that's not making enough headway to win the day. The approach currently proposed by the pro-ASG-but-we-know-it-sucks crowd is to pass it and then work to fix it. That falls short in two ways:

1. As I keep saying, this commuter rail line precludes light rail in the urban Lamar/Guadalupe corridor so the only "fix" you could do would be streetcars, which aren't enough of a fix to make any difference

2. Since this plan has been sold as an isolated step, after which all expansions involving rails must come up for additional votes, the poor performance of the initial line (unless I'm wrong and suburbanites fall in love with shuttle buses) will make it impossible to even get #1 off the ground.

The end.

October 08, 2004

What do we do about this?

Two people so far have commented on the "why Mike Krusee and I aren't going to be hoisting beers together" screed.

Addressing both of them:

Clockwork Orange is right. Most of the people who should be fighting Mike Krusee haven't yet realized that he HASN'T turned into their friend, and as a result, he's winning. I'm a friggin' flea compared to this guy and the people he's snowed, and yet I'm the most prestigious pro-rail-transit but anti-commuter-rail guy that people are able to find to speak at these panels. THIS DOES NOT BODE WELL! I'm no heavyweight, folks, I'm just the heaviest one who was willing to fight.

Jonathan is right too. What do we do? My tack is to keep fighting so that the historical record is NOT "everybody liked this and we built it and it failed so obviously rail doesn't work". At a MINIMUM, I need to replicate the Shoal Creek experience and have it be "at least Mike Dahmus wasn't snowed by Mike Krusee; he pointed out how STUPID this plan was, and he was right". This might shave a couple of years off the Dark Ages For Rail that South Florida went through because of the Tri-Rail debacle.

MORE PEOPLE SAYING THIS PLAN IS DUMB FROM A PRO-RAIL PERSPECTIVE WOULD HELP DRAMATICALLY! Right now, it's way too easy for the Capital Metro guys to say "he's the only one" or "he's a crackpot" or "he's on crack and pot". And the media, with the exception of KXAN, has bought into the even worse theory that only Jim Skaggs' band of anti-transit fund-raiders opposes this plan. Even the Austin Chronicle hasn't done well here, which is truly disappointing.

I'm basically spending all of the forty-eight cents of political capital I have on this - since my councilmember wouldn't return my emails after the very FIRST time I even started talking about this plan, I'm 99% sure that I'm not going to be reappointed in January. It would be helpful if people with more than my slightly-more-than-squat amount of power would speak up, but that's not the world we're living in. It would also be helpful if regular citizens would start to ask informed questions of the media here - like "how exactly is an individual going to get from point A to point B under this plan" and then when "high-frequency circulators" are mentioned, they'll at least have had to say it.

At least I know that at the end of this process, I'll have one more night a month free to do what I like!

October 06, 2004

Today's panel

Some observations from today's panel at the LBJ school:

I was the only one talking about the actual alignment of the route, the location of the stations, and unimportant stuff like that, for obvious reasons.

I did not enjoy my exchanges with Scott Polikov(from the pro-commuter rail contingent, a former Capital Metro board member). Jim Skaggs was his usual self, and Jim Walker was about the same as he was at the Austin Neighborhoods Council panel a few weeks ago.

David Foster (with whom I shared a panel last week at the UT planning school as well as the first panel at the Austin Neighborhoods Council) understands that I want rail and just have some experience which leads me to believe that we should be even more scared of a successful election + unsuccessful ridership than we should of an unsuccessful election (he disagrees, but he at least keeps it on that level). He and Jim Walker both admit that this plan is about as far from ideal as you can get while still calling it "rail"; they disagree with me about the idea that it precludes light-rail down the original corridor, but they do it honestly; David a little more than Jim. If I could summarize their position as charitably as possible, it would be "they know we need rail, and they think that this is the only way to get it". I think David would honestly summarize my position, and I hope Jim would as well.

Scott, not so much.

One of Scott's points was that it was unfair to compare this starter line to Tri-Rail as I've done, because this line "enters downtown" and is only "4 blocks from Congress Avenue". He scored a point on me here since this ended up as a "gotcha" comeback to my quote that Tri-Rail's first route was a stupid idea because "Unlike most commuter rail systems, it doesn't serve even one downtown area."

This ended up being my biggest missed opportunity today. I failed to point out that in their own literature the pro-RAIL PAC talks about shuttle buses downtown, and not only that, has a picture of a shuttle bus with the sign "DOWNTOWN" on it, at the supposed downtown rail station. If they expect that downtown workers will think that a station at the Convention Center is close enough to walk to their office, why do they need a shuttle-bus at all? Why talk up the "quick and easy transfer"?

Take a look at their literature - the picture on the front cover is a rendition of the Convention Center stop ("downtown"), illustrating the "quick and easy transfers" to shuttle buses. Note the second bus back (on the right) is labelled DOWNTOWN.

This is still burnin' my biscuits even tonight. I'm sure David thinks I'm crazy for being more scared of B than A when everybody else is more scared of A than B, but he presents his position honestly without misrepresentation. Scott, not so much.

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 23, 2004

ANC meeting notes

outline from Austin Neighborhoods Council panel, which included myself (in opposition), Sam Archer from Cap Metro, David Foster and Jim Walker on the pro-plan side, and ROAD guy Jim Skaggs also in opposition (but presenting the Neanderthal anti-rail-yes-even-light-rail opposition):

1. Didn't get to use half-bridge analogy. Time was my enemy.

2. Pro-transit people continue to swallow the "if we don't pass this we'll never get another chance" kool-aid - mention 2000 failed and we're here in '04, so obviously a different rail plan could be put up in '06 or '08

3. Despite that, preparing for loss and documenting historical record (ala Shoal Creek) to try to slightly reduce rail's forthcoming dark ages in Austin

4. Feeling very very dirty at sharing a podium with Jim Skaggs and getting occasional nods from Gerald Daugherty, whose bald-faced lies contributed to light rail's 00 defeat. Their ability to good-ole-boy it up with the pro-transit guys reminds me of why I'll never succeed at a higher-level in politics.

More to come when I eat lunch at desk.

September 09, 2004

The Wrong Track

The former and current mayors, along with notable light-rail-killer Mike Krusee, were filmed yesterday by anybody and everybody for the launch of their pro-commuter-rail PAC "The Right Track". KXAN actually did a bit of digging and came up with one opponent of commuter rail other than the knuckle-dragging ROAD Neanderthals.


Let's go to the video tape

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 31, 2004

Letter to 590 KLBJ morning show guys

I just sent this letter to the 590 KLBJ morning show.

Mark and Ed,

I heard the interview of Councilmember Slusher this morning and had a couple of comments for you to keep in mind if you talk to him again. (I've been on your show twice now - I'm the guy from the Urban Transportation Commission - actually, I'm Slusher's appointee, and he's not real happy with me these days for obvious reasons).

I know you guys usually attack this from an anti-transit perspective, and I'm firmly pro-transit (and especially pro-rail transit). Most people in the media are inaccurately depicting this as a repeat of 2000 - where central Austin transit people voted overwhelmingly in favor of light rail, and the suburban voters voted overwhelmingly against. That's not going to be the split this time - a lot of people who know and support transit are not happy with this plan from a pragmatic perspective.

Ed, you tried to raise a good point with the question about lack of service to south and central Austin. When Mr. Slusher responded with the Highland Mall (and other Austin stations), I think he knows that's not what most people mean by "central Austin" - we mean "the highest density residential areas" such as West Campus, North University, Hyde Park, etc. None of the places where there exists sufficient density to support rail transit are being served by this plan.

I'm also disappointed that nobody brought up the biggest problem with this plan - the fact that it requires riders to transfer to shuttle buses to get to UT, the Capitol, or downtown office buildings. In other cities in this country, it is very clear that your first rail line must deliver most of its passengers to stations which are within WALKING DISTANCE of their final destination, if you want to attract any new passengers to public transportation. People who can choose whether or not to drive (i.e. they own a car and don't have to pay a lot of money for parking) will not ride a service which sticks them on shuttle buses for the last leg of their journey. This is why South Florida's commuter rail line, after a decade, is viewed as an expensive failure.

Even without stops in Central Austin, the line could be a moderate success if it delivered passengers to at least one of those three big destinations without a shuttle-bus transfer (this is why so many center-city people were pushing so hard for the line to be immediately extended to the Seaholm power plant with a stop at 4th and Congress).

Without any modifications, the anti-transit people should be very happy with this rail plan, because after people see empty trains running down this route, it will become conventional wisdom that rail can't work in Austin. In fact, I believe that if this plan passes, it's going to be the end of rail transit for the area for a generation or two, as it was for South Florida.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission

August 30, 2004

Letter to Editor

This letter was just sent today to the Statesman (registration required to view):

In Monday's column, Ben Wear places the population in two categories - those who oppose rail transit in general, such as Gerald Daugherty, and those who support Capital Metro's current plan. However, it's my experience that a growing number of urban Austinites, after taking a look at the plan, are realizing that it's a poor attempt at a starter system that will be, as a colleague on the Urban Transportation Commission aptly described it, a "finisher" system rather than a starter line.

Any first attempt at rail transit for a metropolitan area must deliver passengers to stations within walking distance of their office in order to attract a non-trivial number of people who can choose whether or not to use transit. Capital Metro's plan requires nearly all riders to transfer to shuttle buses for the final portion of their journey and will therefore, like South Florida's Tri-Rail line, doubtllessly be a huge disappointment from day one.

The Urban Transportation Commission at its last meeting unanimously voted to ask Capital Metro to include a referendum on the rail ballot asking the voter to indicate their preference among a set of 4 options, including several plans which solve the "circulator" problem.

In the future, please do not pigeonhole the entire area into the categories of "against all rail transit" and "for Capital Metro's 'finisher' system". The residents of the city of Austin (who voted FOR light rail in 2000, by the way) deserve better.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission

August 12, 2004

Chronicle Letter

Mine is the first letter in this week's PostMarks in the Austin Chronicle.

August 10, 2004

Op/Ed

I have an op/ed in the 3rd issue of the new Downtown Planet newspaper (no online presence yet that I know of) which is basically a cleaned-up and shortened version of this piece. I got a copy myself at the downtown Jamba Juice at 6th and Congress.

August 01, 2004

Overseas friends

Kim and Anthony are spending 2 years in Taipei with their two daughters, Ashley and Elizabeth, and have started a weblog about the adventure. Transportation-related content in the first entry!

July 22, 2004

Conservatism

This guy put together a great explanation of why I used to call myself conservative.

May 18, 2004

Cap Metro update

My motion last night failed for lack of a second. This is less than I expected (I thought I'd likely lose 6-2 or 7-2). Like I said, long uphill battle (most people are willing to take Cap Metro's word on performance rather than thinking critically and/or looking at peer cities).

Oh, and even though Cap Metro didn't bother to send somebody to talk about the long-range plan, not one other commissioner had the guts to go out on a limb and call them on this plan's lack of support for Austin's needs. Rather disappointing.

I've now finished a rough draft of some Qs and As about my opposition to this plan. More to come when I get spare moments.

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.

May 12, 2004

Game On

Today's Statesman (registration required) contains the first non-gushing comment about Capital Metro's plan to screw the center city in favor of Cedar Park and Round Rock (who don't even pay Capital Metro taxes) in order to curry favor with Mike Krusee.

But the agency will have to win over some lukewarm Austinites.

"I absolutely reject it on its own merits because of the benefits for people who don't pay and the lack of benefits for people who do pay," said Mike Dahmus, a member of the Urban Transportation Commission, an advisory board for the Austin City Council.

He said the plan would shortchange the large number of city residents who provide the agency's tax base in order to serve residents of the suburbs. Plus, he added, "the commuter rail doesn't go anywhere near the University of Texas or the densest urban core."

The bulk of Capital Metro's budget comes from a 1-cent sales tax levied in Austin and a few surrounding communities that are part of the agency's service area.

News 8, on the other hand, interviewed current bus passengers. Even Capital Metro isn't quite stupid enough now to think that the opinions of current bus users should shape a rapid transit line, although they're still attacking the issue from the angle of cost, which is not a winner with rail or bus.

Today during lunch, I hope to get the first fact page up (this one about the proposed rapid bus line). This will be an uphill struggle at best.

April 13, 2004

Why suburbanites think all buses are empty, Part One

I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway this morning to get on the 983 "express" bus to work. 6 people, includng me, got on at this stop. There were 4 or 5 people already on the bus.

Several people disembarked at the Arboretum, and one other person disembarked with me at Balcones Woods. By the time it got up to the suburban park-and-ride, it was surely emptier than when I got on.

Actually, this bus isn't a great example, since it is 'deadheading' for the most part - the primary traffic on these routes is inbound in the morning; they actually run some of the buses back straight up 183 without stopping to get back up to the big park-n-rides quicker. But it reminded me to write this article anyways, so there you go.

A better example is the #3 bus (Burnet). It has at least 30-40 stops in between its northern terminus loop around the Arboretum and downown (and then continues on down to Manchaca with probably another 40 stops). It runs very frequently (every 20 minutes). Well, that's frequent for this town anyways.

Imagine this experiment: At each stop, exactly one person gets on the bus. All of them are headed either downtown or to UT.

If you drive past the bus at the Arboretum (its northernmost stop), how many people will you see on the bus? Exactly 0, until that one guy gets on.

If you drive past the bus at UT, how many people will you see on the bus? 30 or 40.

In fact, many of Capital Metro's routes operate this way; it's how transit is supposed to work. Although the disembarking model is unrealistically simple; some people do get off in between, and many stops have no pickups while others pick 5 or 6 up like mine this morning.

But the real lesson here is that suburbanites are stupid. While reading the example above, I'm betting you were offended at my lack of respect for your intelligence, yet, in fact, most people here nod their heads when some knuckle-dragging Fred Flintstone type like Gerald Daugherty's ROAD bumcaps rant about empty buses.

You want to see full buses? Go to the end of the route, Einstien!

Also, get your ass on Lamar or Burnet - don't expect to see a ton of buses on Mopac or I-35; I'm fairly certain Capital Metro found it difficult to convince people to run across the on-ramps to get to the bus stops.

Same logic applies to bicyclists too, by the way. Local libertarialoon Jeff Ward rants that he sees no cyclists when he drives around town, and again, the suburban knuckle-draggers can't wait to grunt their affirmation. Ask him where he drives, though; he's almost certainly going from his far suburban home to the KLBJ studio at I-35 and US 183. Probably using freeways the whole way, too. If you want to see cyclists, drive down Shoal Creek or Speedway or Duval, you morons.

February 16, 2004

Ethan Michael Dahmus

Announcing the arrival (yes, 11 days ago, but the blog has not been the priority obviously) of our son, Ethan Michael Dahmus.


Born February 4, 2004 at 7:04 PM.


Weighed 9 pounds 2 ounces.


Jeanne and baby are doing fine (ever since).