Debunking 5 Myths About Houston-Dallas High-Speed Rail Plans – CityLab

Good article addressing some of the common misconceptions and bias,  aka scare mongering I’ve about this high speed rail project

http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/04/debunking-5-myths-about-texas-high-speed-rail/390903/

There are no $1.4 Billion do-overs

There is a better choice and it’s worth the wait, Austin’s strongest and densest corridor: Guadalupe-North Lamar.. Communities want light rail on that route and have written it into the neighborhood plans. The FTA has said it would consider funding a MetroRapid bus-to-light rail conversion in that corridor.

Draft only (for comment_review by Chronicle printad staff)

Prop-1 The Wrong Rail for Austin

From where I see it, this was never about rail, it was always about developing an under-developed corridor of central Austin. A previously undesirable corridor because of it’s proximity to I35 and the noise and congestion associate, along with specific properties, which, without rail wouldn’t be nearly as viable or valuable.

One reason I have not posted to my blog recently is the fact I’ve been spending my time lobbying, writing an posting on why this is the wrong solution. Since my last blog a lot of additional material and discussion has happened. Also, long overdue I’ve joined AURA, a number of their members have produced some great information. I was also impressed with Roger Cauvins’ calm, logical argument at the recent KUT Views and Brews. You can hear the whole Views and Brews here.

From where I sit, this was never about rail, it was always about developing an under-developed corridor of central Austin. A previously undesirable corridor because of it’s proximity to I35 and the noise and associated congestion, along with specific properties, which, without rail wouldn’t be nearly as viable or valuable.

An AURA blog post nails where the funding for much of the pro prop-1 support is coming from, and by doing so also confirms what I thought, and had previously heard about the route for the rail in Prop-1.

It’s also well worth listening or watching the following City of Austin Central Corridor Advisory Group. For those that are short of time, use the menu to skip to the citizens communication section and listen to the first speaker, Mike Dahmus. Having been surprised by the direction and format of the meeting, that basically rubber stamped the route, Mike discussed  what was wrong with the selection and the proposal. If you can, continue to listen through the Mueller developers, to Linden Henry and David Dobbs, possibly the two qualified people in Austin on transport.

If you can’t be bothered to listen, Mike has written this elsewhere on the Prop-1 rail proposal.

Project Connect has ignored public input in favor of misrepresentation and obfuscation to justify the predetermined route preference of UT and speculative development interests. Please don’t fall for the premise that this somehow represents good transit planning; so far, most knowledgeable Austin transit activists oppose the plan, and every national transit advocate/expert who has spoken up about it has been amazed at how badly the process was run and how stupid the recommended plan is.

Prop-1 route was decided and heavily influenced by developers, and then a justification sought. It’s easy to see that those in the urban sprawl areas, will vote against this because they’d never use it, and will add circa $300 per year to their property taxes yet many of them commute into the central business district.Meanwhile, those, especially long term residents in the central districts, Zilker, Bouldin, Travis Heights etc. who have seen huge property tax increases as the property value increased, face another $400 per year for a system they can’t use and for which for the most part won’t help with traffic congestion.

It’s worth remembering that unless you die, or move out, an improved property value is worth zero, nothing, nada. However, the tax burden is real. The elderly, retired and those barely surviving now due to increased costs, will now be further penalized by the increased taxes which are proportionately much higher, due to their higher per sq foot property value, which will ultimately force more people to sell their properties and move out, further gentrifying those neighborhoods.

Rail isn’t about Congestion

It's not going to fix congestion.
It’s not going to fix congestion.

Prop.1 on the Austin November ballot is an attempt to fund the largest single bond in Austin history, almost half the $1 billion going to the light rail proposal.

Finally people seem to be getting the fact that the light rail, if funded, won’t help with the existing traffic. KUT had a good review of this yesterday, the comments also some useful links. You can listen to the segment here: Is a Light Rail Line Going to Solve Austin’s Traffic Problems?

Jace Deloney, makes some good points, what no one is saying though, and what I believe is the real reason behind the current proposal. There is a real opportunity to develop a corridor of key central Austin and, some unused and many underused land, West of I35, and from Airport all the down to Riverside Dr.

This is hugely valuable land, but encouraging development would be a massive risk, purely because of existing congestion. Getting more people to/from buildings in that corridor, by car, or even bus, into more dense residential accommodation, a medical school, UT Expansion or re-site, more office, whatever, will be untenable in terms of both west/east and south/north congestion. So the only way this could really work, is to make a rail corridor, with stations adjacent the buildings.

The Guadalupe/Lamar route favored by myself and other rail advocates wouldn’t add almost any value to that new corridor. It’s debatable that it would eliminate congestion on the west side of town either. But with a rail transit priority system, the new toll lanes on Mopac, the ability to get around at peak times, and the elimination of a significant number of cars in the central west, and downtown areas would make it worth the investment.

Voters need to remember this when considering which way to vote in November. If the city, UT, and developers want to develop that corridor, they should find some way of funding rail from those that will directly benefit. City wide economic impact; new tax revenues, new jobs is a slight of hand, a misdirection.

It’s not acceptable to load the cost onto existing residents for little benefit, just so you can developers can have their way.

Transportation leadership failure

On Tuesday I wrote about “Austin and Alcohol tourism” and speculated on the lack of an alternative transport policy as a leadership failure. I said:

Rather than rally behind what most transport conscious users and urbanization advocates believes would be hard, but right choice to put a rail line of some sort, straight down Lamar from North West Austin, [Mayor] Leffingwell used his last state of the city to rally behind the current rail proposal.

Bml2iMaCEAAchZX[2]And today Leffingwell lived up to that speculation. The outgoing Mayor is reported by the Austin Statesman as saying in relation to making space on the vital East Riverside corridor, the 2nd phase of the current proposal he

wasn’t on board with eliminating [Car] lanes.

Susana Almanza, president of Southeast Austin’s Montopolis Neighborhood Association and a candidate for the City Council District 3 seat in this fall’s election, said:

the city, if nothing else, will need to rethink how wide to make the bike lanes and sidewalks.

What is wrong with these people? Doesn’t anyone brief them on the real world. The traffic all over the city is backed up at peak times. Offering a viable alternative transport which can make real progress is the only option to get people out of their cars.

But my post from the other day was off the back of Ben Wintles anger over the death of his friend Kelly. So, our Mayor doesn’t want to reduce the lanes for cars, a candidate for City government wants to rethink the width of bike lanes and sidewalks. For the clueless here are a few things to remember:

  • There are 4,000 pedestrian deaths every year in the USA [if anything else had death rates like that, we’d ban it]
  • In the last 10-years (2002-2012), the share of pedestrian death in the USA has gone from 11% of traffic fatalities to 14% [ie. for the clueless, things are getting worse]
  • 73% of those pedestrian deaths occur in cities [USA like the rest of the world, and Austin especially is getting increasingly urbanized]
  • Pedestrian death rates in the USA are far greater than in Europe
  • Europe has a different hierarchy of needs for streets, they put equal or greater priority on pedestrian, bikes and alternative transport than they do cars
  • Pedestrian and bike safety is not a random series of actions, it is a direct result  of policy, approach and influences
  • These combinations of policies and funding allocations, engineering and enforcement set Europe apart
  • Streets are for cars! No, streets are for the movement, delivery, transportation of people and goods

So, while the Statesman might call Leffingwell “urban rails primary political champion”, that doesn’t mean he has shown leadership. Rail or fail indeed Mr Mayor? One line going nowhere, connecting to another not getting built.

Footnote: As documented in wikipedia, Mayor Leffingwell is a 32-year airline pilot for Delta Airlines and grew up in the neighborhood where I live.

Austin and Alcohol tourism

I’m not trying to conflate two separate subjects with this post, but finally people are starting to get part of the real need for alternate transport options in Austin. Urban Rail and Drink Driving.

NPR posted a link to this KUT segment/web page to it’s facebook page today. I listened to the story as I drove to work this morning on Morning Edition. Providing additional transport isn’t enough, it will need a generational change.

However, generational change needs real leadership to solve this problem and that’s been distinctly lacking from the “Rail or Fail” Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and departing Governor of Texas Rick Perry. Perry, the longest serving Texas Governor has not only been absent from the discussion, but allowed the airline South by South West to completely derail the last serious attempt at real rail in Texas.

Remembering Kelly is a passionate and articulate argument about why something needs to be done. Ben Wintle totally nails the problem for Austin where in his blog he says

Austin is a city of alcohol tourism. We have at least three neighborhoods dedicated to the consumption of alcohol. People travel to our city from all over the world to get drunk. We need to stop burying our heads in the sand. The 6th st entertainment district over-serves their clients on a regular basis. No one should be carried out of a bar because they are too drunk to walk and that behavior is just normal for dirty 6th. The Austin bus system isn’t horrible but it’s not enough. This city desperately needs a more comprehensive public transportation network. That network should include trains, buses and contiguous sidewalks.

 

Project Disconnect
Picture taken from Project Connect aspirational web page

Our two departing “superheroes” share the blame. In addition to Perrys’ “do nothing” approach to alternate transport, Leffingwell leaves office having presided over a meandering, rudderless transport policy for the city that has had Lavaca a major road through downtown completely jammed up for the past 8-months and going to miss it’s rescheduled completion; a red line that is totally underutilized; yet self congratulating at every opportunity at an Austin that is best for this, top for that.

Rather than rally behind what most transport conscious users and urbanization advocates believes would be hard, but right choice to put a rail line of some sort, straight down Lamar from North West Austin, Leffingwell used his last state of the city to rally behind the current rail proposal.

M1EK has long been an outspoken critic of the policy, process and people involved. This blog entry contains a good summary of my feeling and it’s a re-post with some useful links in the comments.

And here is the problem. Even if this line is a success, it would at best encourage the development of a 4th alcohol tourism destination, it won’t do anything to address the ones we already have. Instead, trains will terminate a good 20-minute drive from the existing centers, rather than stopping on Lamar around 5th, and looping through downtown, perhaps as shown through the ProjectConnect screen grab shown above.

In the meantime it is hard to see how Austin will tackle the problem of drink driving for the next 5-years, what’s clear is that it is going to take more than more punishment, stiffer fines, etc. Leffingwells’ Austin and Perrys’ low regulation, low taxation dreams are starting to show their nasty underbelly.

Transport in Austin, last chance saloon

As an exercise for the reader, how often do you find yourself needing to head to places on Guadalupe and Lamar? How often for Red River? If you’re like most of the Austinites that are forced to waste their time stuck in traffic on the Drag each day, it’s clear that there are tons of people who want to go places along the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor. We should put rail there. – Niran Babalola

As noted on in a comment to my earlier post on last weeks transport vote, the city have effectively taken the *white flag or the **white envelope on their decision about light rail. Over on the Austin Chronicle website, they’ve published a letter from John Langmore, vice-chair of the Capital Metro board of directors and also a member of the Central Corridor Advisory Group.

His disingenuous letter includes a classic mis-characterization of his opponents by saying

We can’t pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens – John Langmore

No one was suggesting this. Niran Babalola published a great. concise summary rebutting Mr. Langmore attempt to whitewash out criticism. You can read it here after Langmores letter. However, actually I think returning $48 million to the federal government is a better option than wasting $800 million on a line to Highland Mall. However, as Niran points out, there is a compromise.

*White Flag, as in surrender. It’s easier to do this than the right thing

**White Envelope, as in back handed payment. Doing the developers bidding.