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.

Mor on parking

I got some interesting responses on twitter about my parking madness post. Yes, if was writing a critical analysis, I should have covered all those points, but then the blog entry wouldn’t have been as catchy and would have taken too long to read. Here are some more serious observations.

@mdahmus aka M1EK is someone whose opinion I can almost always appreciate, and mostly always agree with. Mikes point here is that the garages are not such a bad thing. It assumes that people own cars, put them in the garages and use them less as they live downtown and have no need for them. Right Mike?

That is a reasonable position. However, it doesn’t make the building of these garages on valuable land within 1/2 mile of city hall. If we restrict parking, forcing up prices, there will be either an uproar or push for alternate transportation solutions, or the prices will rise to what the market will bear.

This was my experience living on the central east side in Manhattan. I owned a car, but simply couldn’t afford to overnight it in Manhattan. Had I worked in Manhattan I wouldn’t have needed a car for the most part, but I worked some 28-miles outside the city. Driving to work was quicker than taking the train, sometimes the traffic delays getting home would push the time beyond taking the train, but for the most part it was quicker. The problem was the overnight cost, and on those days where I wasn’t at work, it was next to daylight robbery.

Solution? Rather than pay $40 to park in Manhattan, I paid $4 to park at Goldens Bridge Metro station, I’d take the train up and drive the rest of the way. At weekends if I needed the car, I’d either get up early, or drive the car home Friday evening. You rarely ever see them building dedicated parking garages in NY City or other major metropolitan cities anymore. The likelihood of these ever being torn down is remote and they with the others will remain as temples to the folly of the lack of usable transportation policy outside of the car.

Dan’s tweet was rather trying to understand WHY the garages were being built, and there are three possibilities:

  1. The city requires that number of parking spaces for the development that it goes with. If this is the case, then it’s the city that is at fault, Certainly in downtown and the central corridor between Lamar, I35, Barton Springs Rd, MLK this needs to be changed, the developments are either too big requiring too much parking, or the parking garages are wasting valuable land, especially since they are not integrated into the building.
  2. The developer feels the property/development won’t be viable without all those spaces. There are two answers to this, one the city needs to revise it’s transportation policy to make these potential buildings viable without huge parking garages; or the developer should scale back the building. If that means he development isn’t viable, so be it. We don’t need to waste the opportunity to redevelop these lots with oversize buildings, subsidized by inflicting additional car journeys, noise and air pollution, as well as the inevitable light pollution as in the Hyatt garage.
  3. The garages are not really required either to support the development, or are required by the city. In this case the developer has calculated that these are money makers, it’s a land grab, literally.

Still, as far as I can see, despite some sage commentary on twitter from people much more knowledgeable than I, but it remains these garages/carbuncles simply should have never been built. The city needs to act now to stop further parking madness.

For the record, I live in a single family home, less than a mile from here, I have a detached garage where I keep a car. I ride my bike around town as much as I can, even for meals and nights out. I also use car2go when I can, and Dadnab was one of my original Austin friends.

Parking Madness

Nothing demonstrates the failure of the current City of Austins approach and transportation policy than these two pictures. We are constantly being told than density is key to Austins future, the central neighborhoods are ripped left right and center for opposing unrestricted growth, either through bogus PUD applications which for the most more about raising the lot property than actually doing something useful.

This week, Michael King in his point Austin column makes some great points about affordability, but then takes the easy way out by blaming the central neighborhoods for opposing multi-family development.

Finally, the City recently agreed to support the Project Connect proposal to go with the cities second rail line to somewhere which might need it, by the time its built, if the city can give developers sweet heart deals to actually build something that people won’t want to drive to/from. All this rather than tackle the very real problems we have now.

20131223_125757

So, whats wrong with these pictures? They are two huge parking garages on the same1/2 mile square area, on the east side of the Congress Ave. bridge. The recently finished Hyatt Parking completely overshadows the other buildings on the lots. It has 8-stories, and has lights on 24 hours a day.

Diagonally opposite just behind the old RunTex store lot is another monster garage under construction prior to the build out of the RunTex lots.

Given the urbanist outlook, this is simply to be considered a total failure of both planning, transport policy and building regulation. Where are the cars coming from to fill these garages, how are they going to get here? How are they going to get out?

20131227_075431

If land in downtown is so valuable, how come we can afford to give so much up for massive parking garages? For me this represents the worst of Austins problems. I live less than a mile from these monsters. I’m not anti-development, not anti-urban, but what this shows is for the most part Austin is clueless where it comes to urban efficiency, effective development standards, and most of all, can’t see beyond it’s increasingly long nose when it comes to transportation policy.

Sure, go ahead build the buildings, eliminate the parking requirement. I’d go further than this, we should actually ban the construction of these parking garages, or force them underground. Yep, there’s that pesky floodzone and the waterfront overlay. Hey, why give people unrealistic expectations that they are going to be able sensibly drive, by providing parking garages? Texas and Austins biggest asset, it’s size and available land, is also it’s biggest detraction when it comes to transport policy. Hey, if you can drive, fly, oh yeah and feel free to drive to the airport.