Bicyclists for people – Let’s be neighbors

bw eric budd letterEric Budd has an excellent letter in Boulder Weekly in response to an earlier Op-Ed by Gary Wockner.

I never read Garys op-ed, but Erics response makes great reading. It eschews the accusatory, selfish language often found in driver vs cyclist exchanges, and focuses on the positive aspects of cycling in a community, much of which you’d never know unless you had cycled. Among other things, Eric says:

Whether it’s riding bikes downtown for happy hour, to the grocery store or to go on a hike, putting people close to the places and services they need makes biking a great choice.

Biking, by implication for most people has distance limitations, earlier in his response, Eric says when discussing the surge in biking fatalities:

The safety of people on bikes is the highest priority. Given the steady rise of death and serious injury across the country to people biking and walking, Boulder and most American communities are not doing enough to make people safe. Increases in vehicle size, distracted driving and the number of miles driven all contribute to a dangerous environment for anyone not in a car.

This is why I argue my home town, Louisville CO should focus more on non-car residents, than catering increasingly to the demands of drivers for more roads, more quick right-on-red lanes, and parking garages.

Cyclists, pedestrians, and people on personal electric vehicles including ebikes and scooters having visited one location in the neighborhood, are not simply going to leave and travel 10-miles to the next. They’ll stay local. They generate more income for a town. Eric makes the point when he says:

Lastly, people and community are the bond that makes bicycle-friendly cities amazing. Not a week goes by when I don’t see several of my friends around Boulder while on bike. Whether stopping to chat or riding together to our destinations, community is what makes biking so great. That many of my friends live a short distance away by bike is such a pleasure.

If only car and truck drivers would see cyclists, and personal electric vehicles, and even public transport in a positive light, and treat the users with respect and make their safety priority #1 – then more people would adopt this for transport leaving fewer cars on the road and more parking spaces available.

Transit Indicators – BNSF, School Buses

When I look at the state of US transit, especially public transport, the two biggest indicators of the failure of US transit are BNSF and School buses.

Why BNSF?

The Burlington North Santa Fe Railway Corp. was the dominant rail company when I lived in Texas, and here in Colorado. Without a detail look into their tracks, trains, and business model, my summary is, they run massive trains, often over thousands of miles of single track lines. The tracks often run right through the middle of cities, the track commands significant space either side of the track.

This isn’t their state of the art crossing, but it’s pretty typical. This crossing was just north of the Dell campus in Round Rock Texas. The train crossing is average, appears to be pulling a lot of cars that contain, well, err,  cars! An epically long train, over 100 cars and 4 engines.

If, as in many towns, you want to add commuter rail, either alongside the existing line, or on the existing tracks, BNSF both take forever to evaluate the capacity; then charge absolute top-dollar for either access or for land acquisition. This report, on a commuter rail line that voted on in 2004, likely not finished until 2042. BNSF can’t even give an estimate as for the timeline.

While some people don’t mind the train horns being blasted 24hrs per day, many do. The old fashion crossings, seen in the video above, are universally disliked. They are not the optimal safety design, people do stupid things. Also, the train are required under federal legislation to use their horns. In Austin, it has been 10-years and there are still not quiet zones through the key residential areas or downtown. Up the road in Boulder, same story. Hugely expensive. long delays. Construction supposed to start this month, finally.

School Buses?

School Bus in rear view mirrorWe live 3-miles from our daughters elementary school, a mile of which is pretty much uphill. We also cross the BNSF railroad track, and a CO state highway to get there. One thing you notice, a lot, are the school buses. Almost every day around 7:45 a.m.  an RTD public transpory bus is in front of us. Occasionally, we sat are sat behind the bus, while we wait at the BNSF crossing.

I wondered, why don’t more kids take the public buses to school? The bus we sit sit behind, goes right past the middle school, so that will be an option, especially since we have a stop less than 150yds from the house. But why don’t more kids?

I don’t know if school buses/busing was chicken or egg, but I do know the few other countries depend on specialist school buses, like the US does. Of course, busing in the US has a tortuous past. When I was attending High School in the UK, we exclusively used public transport. My bus was the 322. At peak times it was a double decker bus, and for the rest of the day, a single level bus.

Each year, school buses provide an estimated 10 billion student trips in the United States. Every school day, 475,000 school buses transport 25 million children to and from schools and school-related activities.

Looking at the public bus routes through Louisville, while the buses travel through build up areas. With the middle school being the exception, it’s on Main St. the buses don’t go anywhere near elementary schools. Centaurus High School is well situated, and adjacent to a number of bus routes. Yet, students, by and large, take private school buses.

If we are to address climate change, we need to think about transit in a meaningful way, increased train service, electric where possible, and rethinking busing, converting it to public transport and electric vehicles is essential. Imagine if we could use public buses for the majority of those 10 billion student trips, what other transit options would open up?

 

 

Residential Parking Permit Programs

This is bound to come up here in #louisvilleCO sometime, given the city wants to expand downtown, and doesn’t have a parking solution. Back in my old town, Austin Texas, it’s still a thing. I read this excellent blog post by Meghan Skornia.

I’d like to have commented on her blog directly, sadly it requires a facebook ID, which regular readers will know, I don’t have anymore.

IMG_20180324_124023

I tried to reply via twitter but it was typo-ridden and out of sequence. So, here it is with corrections.

I lived on the 600-block of W Johanna St for 10-years. The block west of S 1St Street. Although I was asked twice, and S 2nd at the end of my block was RPP, We never had RPP while I lived there. I wouldn’t sign, and the guy next door was the manager of Polvos Restaurant and he wouldn’t sign for obvious reasons, so didn’t happen.

  1. If all houses on either, or both sides of a block have kerb cuts or alley access, that’s a disqualifying condition for RPP. You already have nearly 8ft of public road reserved by your kerb cut. It’s not the cities problem if you use your garage for storage or park a trailer or old klunker on your drive. Nor is it the cities problem if you have 3-cars in your house, park parallel to the kerb cut and work it out. You can’t have RPP if people block your drive. That’s already an offence, call the cops, get the cars towed.
  2. Minimum price for RPP is the cities price per Sq yard for road maintenance and rebuilding. One side is 1/3 of the total price of the block length, want 2-sides then that’s 2/3 of the total price of the block. If your block is 270ft long, minus 20ft at each end for turning, that’s 240ft by 29ft giving, 773.33 sq/yds. Typical paving cost, is circa $31.40 per sq/yd for residential streets. 773.33 x $31.40 = $24,178. Divide by 1/3, or 2/3 depending on what RPP you want. That’s the upfront cost, in this case for both sides circa $18,600. Obviously streets are assets, otherwise you wouldn’t want to reserve space on them. Now you have to maintain the asset on yearly book value. You’d need to estimate how many years the RPP would run for, 25-years would likely be a good road lifespan. You then pay into ROF (road owners fund) that the city maintains for you to rebuild the road. Annualized, maybe $5k per year?
  3. If 2. above seems too complicated, you have to pay the TXDOT Road User Costs Per Vehicle Hour, it’s currently $29.35 per hour. Want ten hours per day on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s $587 per week, but for that you get a side of a block rather than a single space.
  4. No kerb cut? No problem. Since you bought the house at market price knowing it had no off street parking you can have the frontage of your house reserved, put a kerb cut in and use your yard. Doesn’t work for you? Ruins the neighborhood character? Sorry, not sorry.
  5. You are not entitled to park on a city street just because you live there, anymore than everyone else. Unless you moved in 80 years ago, you only EXPECTED to be able to park there, there was no legal agreement. Times change, so does need. Move on, literally.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  6. There is a quid per quo. Especially in Austin where they still have parking minimums. A Business may not expand either the size of the building, or add outdoor seating, if afterwards the total space occupied doesn’t have the correct parking minimums. No wavers. No fees. This is a deliberate constraint on the business. It gives residents the ability to limit commercial expansion, in exchange for not having RPP. This is why Polvos never expanded between 2006 and 2016, everytime they tried, I stopped it. They wanted to add more and more outdoor seating, they didn’t have the parking minimum spaces. Don’t like it? Get rid of parking minimums. Enough said

Finally, Meghan, was a little disingenuous when she mocked residents about the trash issue. In my 10 years I had people walking across the front yard, stopping and urinating against the fence, including a woman hiking up her skirt and peeing standing up. I found condoms and tissues on my drive a few times, and once a syringe/needle. Really. I also had people park on my driveway while one ran out to get takeout. It’s more of a problem  than simply trash.

I was able to get a discount on my property taxes for all this commercial blight. Everyone else should do the same.

Cyclists and Pedestrians generate more income for a town

forbesThis Forbes article came up again recently. My hometown, Louisville CO, is still struggling with how to incentivise redevelopment downtown, following the “collapse” of their parking garage initiative run for the city by the Louisville Revitalization Commission (LRC).

I even applied for a vacant seat on the LRC, which I didn’t get. Better that than being one of those people who just complain at every opportunity.

I’ve encouraged the Mayor and Councillors to do more to make it easy for people that could get downtown without using private cars, to do so. Disappointingly, nothing has happened in the 3-years I’ve been here. The trail connection underpass long promised for 2018, which doesn’t really help get people downtown, has even been delayed. It’s even allegedly in the mix for the cities new Transportation Master Plan prioritization. Which assumes it might not get priority?

Car drivers often operate under a car “driven” mindset/false dichotomy that they can drive somewhere else for “free”

Car drivers often operate under a car “driven” mindset/false dichotomy that they can drive somewhere else for “free” to get a cheaper deal, a different meal, a better choice etc. When the opposite is true, not only are they using their car, fuel, wear and tear, but they are also doing the same to the roads. Ten of thousands of journeys quickly add up.

Cyclists & pedestrians don’t have the same mindset. Even with good, frequent, easily accessible transport options, they are much less likely to think, “oh, I’ll pop to xyz to see what they have.”. I should be obvious that non-car drivers value their time more, and instead of spending it travelling to the mall, to the next city over, they take advantage of what’s close by.

There is though a symbiotic relationship between how people travel, and the what is there when they arrive. This is why a city believes they have to provide parking, otherwise people won’t arrive by car. In a small city like Louisville, with close-in neighborhoods that’s not the way it has to be.

Just because people don’t drive a car, doesn’t mean the place they are travelling to can be a take-it-or-leave-it, subpar destination. Start by prioritizing non-car travel. Make it easy, convenient, and safe to get to by foot, by bike, e-bike and yes. scooters, and then re-develop the properties to provide a first class destination.

That makes a ton more sense than building an expensive parking garage, that causes years of disruption during construction and then incentivise developers to re-develop. The more people you can get out of cars now, the less space for them you will need in the future and the less people will demand it.

15-Seconds of fame from Facebooks 15-years.

Marketplace recently tweeted asking how social media had changed or impacted your life. Of course I had a response.

They emailed today to ask if I’d record a voicemail, and used a segment of it in todays show for a segment called: “thefacebook.com” went live 15-years ago today.

In addition to what went on the show, what I also said was:

I had a facebook ID for longest time, probably from 2008-9, and following all the privacy violations and everything else, I closed my facebook account and deleted my data 2-years ago.

I do have an Instagram account but use it very sparingly; I’ve had a livejournal account since 2003, it was mostly to track my triathlon training, racing and travelling, I still have it but don’t use it these days, I’m getting old.

I’ve mostly reverted to doing everything I used to do, before facebook. There are websites that do everything that facebook does, they are different websites rather than everything being all on thefacebook, which gives Facebook way too much information, in my view.

Ripping off customers

I saw the following tweet and literally laughed-out-loud. In the past two years I’ve got to the checkout confirmation step on music and theatre events and cancelled out and closed the browser window more times than I care to remember. Ticket “fees” and “convenience” charges are rampant.

The airline industry over the past year has gone the complete opposite direction, some forced by legislation, some by marketplace competition. They nickel and dime you for charges for everything. The Trump administration has rescinded a rule requiring Airlines to disclose baggage fees upfront. This rule previously made it easier to compare airfare prices across airlines.

Enjoy!

Trains, horns and taxes

I’ve been  frustrated that my blog has been withering but I just didn’t want to be an endless stream of rants about the #potus45 administration.

So this isn’t about them, at all. While I have in mind a summery I’ll steer clear for now. So, meanwhile back in beautiful Colorado, the natives are getting worked up over a plan to install “quiet zones”  for all the railroad crossings in town.

As much as I can’t envisage enjoying the horn blowing, and we can barely hear them in the night, apparently many can and do like them and have a nostalgia for them.

Well the whole thing went  awry went Rene posted, she said.

If you don’t like the trains, don’t live near the tracks. No body would build within spitting distance of a rail road track if nobody would live there, then no body would be bothered by the noise. All the high density housing along the tracks is ruining my wonderful, small home town. I resent that people come in and then start to try to change it.

Which of course completely misses the point that most of old Town was built around the railroad out of economic necessity, which made people want to live there, rather than people who loved the sound of the horns and built a house there.

Rene, change is not only inevitable but essential.

For the most part the city carries most of its infrastructure on its book as assets, which means they depreciate it over its lifespan, and they have scramble to find ways to replace it.

In essence the only way they have to do that is to raise property and sales tax, or get new residents who make up the difference. Bonds are indirectly taxes.

If there is some road, building or other city or state asset you’ve been using since you arrived here, that hasn’t been rebuilt or replaced, then you have been subsidized by either earlier generations or the new residents. This is especially true for water, sewage, and roads.

As has been previously articulated here, essentially the quiet zones are really doing no more than returning the crossings to pre-2005 safety and horns for post 2015 traffic volumes.

It’s not the new residents that are to blame, I’m one of them. If anyone is to blame its the people that have lived here for 25+ years.

They’ve not been accounting for city resources as liabilities, not taxing enough to support those liabilities, and then selling property off to developers to make a buck for themselves.

Unfortunately development in America, not just Louisville has been a ponzy scheme for 100 years. You either keep growing or you’ll wither and die, or become Boulder. Louisville is headed for the latter since it’s mostly built out.

Edit:8/02/17 12:40 – Add links, change @potus45 > #potus45 and correct typos.

She said, he said

Friday evening we were waiting for a table for dinner, or a place at the bar, everything was looking pretty busy. I stood at the bar by a couple that looked like they were finished eating, but couldn’t get the attention of the bar staff. “She” spoke up to get the barmans attention. I thanked her and after we’d got our drinks, and cleared up that I wasn’t from Australia, the conversation went like this:

Her: How are things in Europe?
Me: Not so good, Nice sounds terrible. I suspect though at 7pm tonight, at a bar somewhere in Europe a couple were chatting and saying “what about all the gun violence in America, it’s not safe to go there anymore”.

Her: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that perspective.

Does the Austin Mayor use Cabs?

NYC-Taxi-Drivers-2014-Calendar-9[1]In the fallout from the withdrawal of Uber and Lyft from Austin, following a defeat on Prop-1, Mayor Adler has come up with his 7-point plan to manage the vacuum.

He, along with many others are hoping that Austin is such a jewel in the Uber/Lyft crown, that they’ll soon be back, tail between their legs asking to be allowed to operate in Austin again. I’m not so sure.

This farce could have been completely avoided if Austin, and by implication Mayor Adler, and more importantly his predecessor, Mayor Leffingwell, had actually been planning for the future rather than retrospectively legislating for the past.

What I find staggering about Adlers 7-point plan is that it contains NOTHING that addresses how shitty the current taxi cab service is in Austin. There is nothing magical about Uber and Lyft, or for that matter other transportation networking companies (TNCs).

Instead of focusing on issues which, while valid, are not a major problem, Austin should have renegotiated and mandated the cab companies have to deliver the innovation that the TNC’s have bought to transportation.

I’m sick of getting a cab at Austin Bergstrom airport with a driver in a cab who doesn’t know where the address is; doesn’t understand my accent; and misses the turns that I’ve told him to make; and then says can’t do anything about the fee as its “on the meter”… How about we legislate to make transportation modern and efficient… I could care less if the drivers can’t speak English, or can but don’t understand my English…

There are way too many other many things like this… credit cards… “yeah sorry, my machine isn’t working”…. stinky cars full of trash and worn out seats, worn out suspension, no real ability to feedback or rate the service; no feedback; no drivers ID’s displayed, and buttons clipped all over them… when you get out the car after a disagreement, no way to track or feedback about the service, the list goes on and on…