To dedicate or not to dedicate

19 04 2011

In our last blog posting the following sentiment was relayed: “…in proper locales like Congress, streetcars sharing lanes would reactivate the streetscape.”

That incited this expected reply from Mike Dahmus: “Nonsense. What it’ll do is prevent any more people from GETTING downtown, which will mean our level of activated streetscape will be stuck at its current, fairly low, ceiling. Please don’t fall for the Condonite slower-is-better theories – they work ONLY in cities where huge employment centers exist in the core that cannot go anywhere else. Even here in Austin that’s not true – the university and the capitol aren’t going to a suburban office park, but a lot of state workers could (already do in some cases), and most of the private sector employers could as well.”

We here at The Placemaking Institute very much anticipated these remarks and, although we’re not going to argue with you, Mike, we’re not gonna agree with you either. Here’s why: You’re position is quite honorably predicated solely on solving congestion while ours embraces the fact that one hallmark of a successful city is congestion; the more successful a city becomes, the more congested it will be. And, thus, congestion can never be solved but only managed.
In other words, those who try solving congestion are being Utopian which, when broken down phonetically in Greek means “no place,” something ultimately unachievable – leaving one jousting with windmills and/or borrowing Thomas More’s horsehair shirt for daily martyr usage. Because here in the real world “condoites” (or, as Faulkner called them, “cubic euphemists”) have been among some of the main players behind both keeping the rail discussion in general going over these past several years as well as the current “urban rail”/streetcar proposal being discussed. An argument can be made that, without their efforts, it wouldn’t even be on the table right now.
As all of us should know by now streetcars do virtually nothing in the short-term to mitigate congestion; rather, more than half of the reasoning behind implementing streetcars is to spur economic development via increasing density along targeted transportation corridors. If implemented successfully, this will help expedite a much needed generational shift that will better manage congestion in the long-term. With that said, the City should work with the cubic euphemists in order to come up with some sort of TIF program ASAP, which would go a long way towards having rail pay for itself, making it much easier to implement additional phases.
But the fact of the matter remains that anybody’s argument regarding any of this may be moot: because that Red Line albatross plus the general sociopolitical tone of this country in no way bodes well for the 2012 bond’s passage.

Rail? Right. Down. The. Middle.

15 04 2011

H.G. Wells: “In the long run man will be lost or saved by argument, for collective human acts are little more than arguments in partial realization.”

…Yawn…Stretch…Yes it’s been awhile since we here at The Placemaking Institute last left you, albeit for very good reason…

Because sometimes one must take steps back in order to stop observing individual trees so that one can begin seeing the forest again…And now is the time Our Most Senior Fellow sees fit to roust himself and once again say the same ol’ thang he’s been saying for the past several years now: rail must run right up the middle if it is ever going to be considered both a short- and long-term success.

There are several folks (among them Wear , Dahmus and Austin Contrarian [albeit the latter recently expressed the same sentiment that’ll be relayed below, as does this 2009 dialogue between the latter two]) who’ve been sorta somewhat rightfully raising concerns that, according to the City of Austin’s current “urban rail” plan, trains would “share traffic lanes with cars for about half of the 16.5-mile route,” which may increase congestion and reduce mobility. Their concerns are shared by a goodly number of folks around town, the general sentiment reflected by this observation a thoughtfully funny friend made the other day: “Leffingwell’s administration can’t even get out of its own way and it’s expecting people to get out of the way of streetcars?!” (There are, however, two things to point out: one, a greater percentage of shared lanes would socially engineer an increase in transit ridership and, two, dedicated lanes require infrastructure that impedes walkability and, in proper locales like Congress, streetcars sharing lanes would reactivate the streetscape.)

But in the greater scheme we here at The Placemaking Institute believe that’s not worth arguing about. Because what’s the root cause of having such a high percentage of shared traffic lanes?

The Institutional Gibralter that is the University of Texas; just one look at the City of Austin’s proposed route map shows the needless infrastructural replications and cost inefficiencies that it’s causing just so it can turn its share of Speedway into a strictly pedestrian mall:


UT’s stranglehold on Speedway must be breached so that efficiencies leading towards the greatest good for the entire community are achieved, the result being:

(Plus: Dean Keeton west to Guadalupe, north to the Triangle and ultimately north on Lamar; Dean Keeton east to Manor Road and to the Mueller Development.)

UT’s very own 2009 Greenhouse Gas Inventory (based on data from 2000-2006) only buttresses Our Most Senior Fellow’s position.

Within that document one learns that UT breaks down its emissions into three scopes. Scope III includes the costs of commuting, which comprise 16 percent of that scope. Overall, approximately 6 percent of UT’s 2006 emissions result from commuting. In UT’s own words:

“The voluntary ‘carbon offset’ markets in the United States, and the regulatory markets in Europe and Japan, provide a price range with which to estimate the cost of proactive offsetting or the eventual cost of future regulations: $5-30 per MT CO2e, depending on the provider and quantity purchased; $1.5-9 million to offset the total estimated 2006 Core Emissions.

“There is additional meaning to these numbers: they capture the financial burden that would result from proposed federal or regional legislation. This burden would appear largely via higher energy prices. Such regulation would also embed additional cost in activities that lead to Scope III emissions. The University shares these emissions – and therefore also the financial risk – with students and employees who commute…The low end of the range (appropriate for short-term estimation) is based on voluntary offset markets and the initial evidence from a limited compliance market in the US. Medium-run estimates of a cost of carbon (under US legislation) go above $30 per MT CO2e, and European markets have already traded around $50. This higher range ($30-50) suggests…a shared (Scope III) burden in the neighborhood of $7-12 million.”

This $90 million plus very pedestrian mall will do nothing to reduce these burdens, the effect being much like putting lipstick on a congested pig.

Wouldn’t it be tragic to waste money on a system that fails to serve the community by connecting destinations in an optimum way? Because “if you make one little concession, then two, then five,” warned Flaubert, “And soon all is lost.”

Last week the City of Austin and the FTA held 5 public meetings to commence the Environmental Impact Statement. This process has a web site with a form to collect public opinion.

Please consider submitting a written comment online regarding the route before April 29.

%d bloggers like this: