Results mixed on MoPac lane changes

12 10 2011

(yet another file in the Saw this coming from miles away Department)

Ben Wear (Results mixed on MoPac lane changes): “At the same time, MoPac in that stretch went from two lanes northbound to three lanes. The idea, of course, was to improve the overall flow of the expressway with an extra lane (50 percent more capacity), even if that meant a little pain for some people trying to join the parade on one fewer lane (50 percent less capacity).”

Our Most Senior Fellow (just over a year ago; found in full here): “Welcome, dear audience, to the Braess Paradox, which ‘states that in a network in which all the moving entities rationally seek the most efficient route, adding extra capacity can actually reduce the network’s overall efficiency.’ This dynamic inverts as well. That is, reducing network capacity can actually improve the system’s effectiveness. Furthermore, Dietrich Braess also noted that ‘in a user-optimized network, when a new link is added, the change in equilibrium flows might result in a higher cost, implying that users were better off without that link.’

“With this restriping plan, among other issues drivers entering MoPac from 6th will have to merge into that new third lane – And as we all know how Austinites do nothing but embody the Braess Paradox when it comes to properly merging, especially onto an expressway. Thus, the bottleneck TxDOT is supposedly rectifying will be dispersed into several smaller bottlenecks in those areas where merging must occur.”

Wear: “Based on a follow-up study by the Texas Transportation Institute, the backup for the Cesar Chavez drivers in the afternoon has increased by an average of 1,500 feet. If we assume about 25 feet per car, counting the space between cars, that would be about 60 extra cars crawling for more than an extra quarter-mile…to sum up, to help South Austin folks get north much faster in the morning, and maybe a bit faster in the afternoon, downtown workers are getting a good long look at the lovely concrete back wall of Austin High School.”

Statesman reader Owen Pelligrin: “The solution isn’t to try and make more space for cars. The solution is better public transportation that goes from where people live to where people work. So long as people are encouraged to drive themselves everywhere, there will be traffic problems in Austin.”

And right now Our Most Senior sees fit to both quote Charles De Gaulle, who said “when I am right, I get angry,” and conclude with words by the incomparable Jonathan Swift: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this infallible sign: That all the dunces are in
confederacy against him.”





BeWear False Promises

10 08 2010

After an over two-year delay due to years of grossly self-inflicted mismanagement, all of a sudden out of the blue TxDOT somehow feels optimistic, flush with cash. And, with the help of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), they are about to resume their MoPac 1 Project. We here at The Placemaking Institute sat up, took another glance at this news then glanced at each other, together thinking another long moment before wondering amongst ourselves: “What the heck’s The Pentagon of Texas up to now?”

Right then with his ever-exquisite timing Our Most Senior Fellow, refreshed by his bout of self-imposed sequestration and rearing to go, unexpectedly bursts forth and states: “Thankfully, thankfully, I have absolutely no idea. But who better to inquire of than one directly in their back pocket?”

Ben Wear (in his Wednesday, July 7, 2010 blog): “(TxDOT) is spending $3.6 million this summer to resurface the stretch from RM 2222 to Lady Bird Lake with a special asphalt that is quieter and less slick in rainy conditions. And they will re-stripe a troublesome bridge in the northbound lanes, just north of the river, that (sic) currently has just two lanes and tends to back up. Instead, by converting current shoulders into an added lane, that bridge will now have three lanes.” TxDOT officials and thus, of course, Wear assure us that this short-term measure will improve flow northbound and “(help) traffic-choked MoPac Boulevard in Central and North Austin.”

Really?

Welcome, dear audience, to the Braess Paradox, which “states that in a network in which all the moving entities rationally seek the most efficient route, adding extra capacity can actually reduce the network’s overall efficiency.” This dynamic inverts as well. That is, reducing network capacity can actually improve the system’s effectiveness. Furthermore, Dietrich Braess also noted that “in a user-optimized network, when a new link is added, the change in equilibrium flows might result in a higher cost, implying that users were better off without that link.”

A key to this counterintuitive approach to traffic design lies in manipulating the inherent self-interest of all drivers. So, will adding a lane to the bridge ease traffic on MoPac in the short-term?

TxDOT’s MoPac 1 Engineering Schematic I

TxDOT’s MoPac 1 Engineering Schematic II

With this restriping plan, among other issues drivers entering MoPac from 6th will have to merge into that new third lane – And as we all know how Austinites do nothing but embody the Braess Paradox when it comes to properly merging, especially onto an expressway. Thus, the bottleneck TxDOT is supposedly rectifying will be dispersed into several smaller bottlenecks in those areas where merging must occur.

But that doesn’t mean something can’t or shouldn’t be done to remedy congestion. Because MoPac as well as the rest of Austin’s highways are certainly in dire over-capacity straits due to rapid population increases and a geometric increase in traffic.

Texas Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi: “During the past 25 years, Texas’ population increased 53 percent. The use of our roads grew 103 percent. The trend is continuing, with some projecting an additional 27 percent in population growth and 67 percent in road usage over the next 25 years.”

What’s TxDOT planning on doing to MoPac in the near future?

Although the transportation department will have no money to spend on new construction projects by 2012, in the next few months MoPac 1’s public involvement, preliminary engineering and environmental processes will resume. They will first complete the schematic design and the NEPA environmental process, which will be turned over to the CTRMA (at a cost of $2 million and 2 years). Then, if the NEPA process results in a “Build” alternative, the CTRMA will develop detailed plans and construct the project. What they intend to do is add a fourth lane on each side of MoPac from FM 734/Parmer Lane in far North Austin to Lady Bird Lake.

Ben Wear (ibid): “The lanes would be tolled ‘managed lanes,’ with tolls likely to vary from hour to hour based on the congestion level of the highway. During peak commuting periods the tolls would be larger and, when traffic is light, might disappear entirely or be minimal. And officials say the estimated $200 million to $220 million for the construction to follow is, if not exactly in the bank waiting, highly likely to be available. Local transportation officials have already set aside $70 million of $543 million promised to TxDOT’s Austin district for new construction over the next 10 years. The rest of the money would be borrowed and paid back from tolls which, because MoPac has so much traffic, would be sufficient to pay back debt for more than 60 percent of the construction tab, as well as later operations costs.”

So, while TxDOT officials emphasize that “the MoPac 1 project will not consider adding tolls to existing lanes,” they will find loopholes to do so by creating new lanes. In this instance they are essentially going to be charging people to drive on the median.

But what’s more disturbing is that most of the money will be borrowed and paid back from estimated future toll road revenues – Especially seeing how even “Standard & Poor’s experience indicates that optimism bias is a consistent trend in toll-road traffic forecasting.  Bondholders and lenders should, therefore, view these forecasts with some degree of caution as they attempt to identify the inherent risks that these forecasts pose for credit quality.”

This at a time when TxDOT forecasts it has only 30% of the funds needed to make the improvements required to meet future travel demand?

This at a time when more than 40% of TxDOT’s budget (more than twice what the agency receives in state gas tax revenue) goes to maintenance?

This at a time when they are using a budgetary shell game (Chairman John Carona told the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee last fall: “This is wrong. It smacks of trickery.”) to increase funding for roads by tapping into money dedicated to a future rail light-rail system?

All this at a time when, according to the Office of Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, “Before 2002, TxDOT’s road projects were funded entirely with state and federal revenues. Since then, however, the agency has supplemented these allocations with private partners and borrowed funds generated by various bond issues. TxDOT must service this existing debt before spending any funds on new projects.”

Ah, the world of TxDOT, where everything’s lopsided and flipped upside down. Our Most Senior Fellow wishes he could get away with running his business this way. Because, by behaving in such a manner, TxDOT’s merely continuing merrily skipping along the “darkside of expediency” path, maximizing short-term benefits and incurring long-term socio-economic cost along the way.

And We here at The Placemaking Institute agree with Statesman reader Owen Pelligrin in that “the solution isn’t to try and make more space for cars. The solution is better public transportation that goes from where people live to where people work. So long as people are encouraged to drive themselves everywhere, there will be traffic problems in Austin.”





Wendell Cox: Intellectual Terrorist

4 01 2010

Our Most Senior Fellow (OMSF): “As those of us who have been following this blog know, we here at The Placemaking Institute are adament that the so-called ‘basic God-given Patriotic American right to drive the biggest vehicle one can afford on an increasingly extensive roadway system’ myth that has been artificially inculcated into us virtually from birth (and benefits very few at the expense of many) should most definitely not supersede our basic human right to live our lives in healthy manners.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists: “Transportation is the largest single source of air pollution in the United States. It causes over half of the carbon monoxide, over a third of the nitrogen oxides, and almost a quarter of the hydrocarbons in our atmosphere in 2006. With the number of vehicles on the road and the number of vehicle miles traveled escalating rapidly, we are on the fast lane to smoggy skies and dirty air.”

OMSF: “But beyond individual health, sprawl’s ravening need for consuming more and more oil faster and faster has also instigated national security issues that are adversely impacting us collectively, no?”

Rand Corporation: “The United States would benefit from policies that diminish the sensitivity of the U.S. economy to an abrupt decline in the supply of oil, regardless of its import dependence. The United States would also benefit from policies that would push down the world market price of oil by curbing demand or increasing competitive alternative supplies. U.S. terms of trade would improve, to the benefit of U.S. consumers; rogue oil exporters would have fewer funds at their disposal; and oil exporters that support Hamas and Hizballah would have less money to give to these organizations. The United States might also benefit from more cost-sharing with allies and other nations to protect Persian Gulf oil supplies and transport routes. The United States could encourage allies to share the burden of patrolling sea-lanes and ensuring that oil-producing nations are secure.”

U.S. Energy Information Administration: “Total crude oil imports averaged 8.566 million barrels per day in October, which is a decrease of (0.657) million barrels per day from September 2009.”

OMSF: “And why are a majority of both U.S. political parties so apparently intent upon spilling blood by occupying Iraq and Afghanistan?”

U.S. Energy Information Administration: “Development of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas, along with the necessary export pipelines, has been slowed by regional conflicts, political instability, and a lack of regional cooperation…Most of these conflicts are in the Trans-Caucasus part of the Caspian region, where conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia, and the Chechen republic of southern Russia have hindered the development of export routes westward from the Caspian Sea. On the east side of the Caspian, the unstable situation in Afghanistan, following over 23 years of war, has stifled the development of export routes to the southeast, and the continued threat of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia, especially in Uzbekistan, may prohibit any new export pipelines involving that country. The threat of war between Pakistan and India serves as a further deterrent to Caspian export pipelines running southeast, either via Iran or Afghanistan.”

OMSF: “We as a society can no longer afford solely focusing upon and so very extensively subsidizing building more and more highways, each bigger than the last one, in order to relieve congestion and mitigate smog. Needless to say, blindly following this outmoded sprawl strategy will not provide any anecdote whatsoever to our societal illth and will, in fact, only exacerbate it both here and abroad. Not only that but it’s fiscally impossible to do so. Right?”

Texas Transportation Institute: “If a region’s vehicle-miles of travel were to increase by five percent per year, roadway lane-miles would need to increase by five percent each year to maintain the initial congestion level…(Our) analysis shows that it would be almost impossible to attempt to maintain a constant congestion level with road construction only.”

OMSF: “Yet there are still those so-called patriotic entities out there like the Heritage Foundation and the Reason Institute and Wendell Cox’ the Public Purpose – ”

Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

OMSF: “Yet these so-called patriots are still contriving ingeniously stupendously counterintuitive conclusions like we as a society should be driving more and that increasing urban density will only increase the amount of vehicle miles driven per capita and thus our multi-modality should solely be confined to building more and more auto-centric roadways, tollroads and flyovers to relieve congestion and mitigate smog?”

Texas Transportation Institute: ” Over the past 2 decades, less than 50 percent of the needed mileage was actually added. This means that it would require at least twice the level of current-day road expansion funding to attempt this road construction strategy. An even larger problem would be to find suitable roads that can be widened, or areas where roads can be added, year after year.”

OMSF: “Then why, someone please pray tell, when it has already been acknowledged that, largely because of our sprawl mentality, this young generation will fare worse than their parents’ generation, are mindsets like Cox still fabricating and perpetuating (at the very least) myths (if not outright lies) that only prove them more than willing to sacrifice future generations by keeping us on a bleed-until-bankrupt transportation plan Osama Bin Laden would be proud of?”

Taylor Bowlden/LightRailNow!: “(Cox and a gaggle of cohorts with far-right extremist agendas) are far from ‘neutral’, ‘scholarly’ experts. Instead, say critics, (they) are nothing more than highly biased crusaders for roadways and road-based transportation industrial interests (such as asphalt and rubber-tire vendors), who distort facts through misrepresentation and cleverly selective manipulation of data to mislead their audience… – all behind the facade of disinterested, altruistic, intellectual endeavor, of course.”

OMSF: “So it’s just because they’re afraid of losing some plum sinecure?! So abject greed is their overarching motive?”

TB/LRN!: “Wendell Cox, for example, has been on the bankroll of the American Highway Users Alliance, a lobbying group founded in the 1930s by General Motors Corp. And, according to a June 1999 Texas Observer article, the Wendell Cox Consultancy has done a lot of work for private bus companies who bid on the very contracts which Cox promotes after rail projects are scuttled.”

OMSF: “Shame on him.”

TB/LRN!: “Transportation planning, and the evaluation of options and alternatives, demands a nonpartisan, truly unbiased environment, where researchers and analysts – and their consultants – bring open minds and impartiality to bear on these problems and potential solutions. Clearly, both in their ties to highway-oriented corporate interests and their obvious political alignments, Wendell Cox and the Reason group have demonstrated that their role in such an open-minded environment is highly questionable.”

OMSF: “Again, all’s I can say right now is shame on him.”

Joel S. Hirschhorn: “Sometimes it is necessary to bring attention to terrible work because many people can be conned and believe its lies, distortions and misinformation. Wendell Cox is a sprawl shill-meister with a long history of presenting pro-sprawl propaganda in the guise of scholarly work. But as others have also concluded, his work does not stand up to scrutiny.”

G. B. Arrington (renowned transit expert): “In every instance, Cox’s statements are either inaccurate, distortions or claims not supported by the facts. Cox’s technique seems to be to start with a snippet of the truth and stretch it like taffy until it turns into something else that supports his position.”

OMSF: “Right now I would like to point out that Sophistry is a Greek-derived word that means subtly deceptive reasoning or deceitful argumentation apparently plausible in form but actually invalid. A person who employs such rhetoric is called a Sophist.”

Haynes Goddard (University of Cincinnati Professor): “(Cox and his anti-transit crowd produce) superficial, poorly thought out and misleading arguments;” (the work represents) “either intellectual laziness, or more seriously, intellectual dishonesty” (which results because) “all ideologues are blind to reality and to the vacuousness of their arguments.”

Hirschhorn: “(Americans) have seen the increasing attention to the high costs of sprawl development by citizens and policymakers. The terrible fiscal condition of most local and state governments has created more interest in replacing suburban sprawl with smart growth development. So scared are the sprawl shills that Cox has concocted this ‘junk science’ analysis as a counterpunch.”

OMSF: “Would any one like to provide an example that we here at The Placemaking Institute’s roundtable discussion can kick around?”

Kevin Libin: “It’s not that environmentally minded transit promoters are being dishonest when they argue that city buses are more efficient than private cars: It’s that they’re talking about a fictional world where far more people ride buses. Mass transit vehicles use up roughly the same energy whether they are full or empty, and for much of the time, they’re more empty than full.”

OMSF: “Perfect, thanks. You’re up first, Mister Cox, any comment?”

Wendell Cox: “Subsidized transit is not sustainable by definition. The potential of public transit has been so overblown it’s almost scandalousThe problem is that where the automobile has become the dominant form of transport, and where urban areas have become decentralized and highly suburbanized, there are simply not a sufficient number of people going to the same place at the same time to justify urban rail. As a result, it is typically less expensive to provide a new car for each new rider than to build an urban rail system(I) believe agencies should seek to obtain maximum value for every dollar of taxes and fees expended, using whatever transportation choices maximize ridership.”

OMSF: “Good day, sir.”

Cox: “(But I’ve yet to say that) a lot of what passes for a public process in this country is what I would call a dictatorship of busybodies (and) – ”

OMSF: “I said good day.”

John Norquist (former Milwaukee Mayor and current head of the Congress for New Urbanism): “I think Wendell Cox is one of the biggest advocates of big [government] spending I’ve ever encountered in my 28-year political career.”

Jarrett Walker (international consultant in public transit network design and policy): “Meanwhile, back in the real world, transit agencies have to balance contradictory demands to (a) maximize ridership and (b) provide a little bit of service everywhere regardless of ridership, both to meet demands for ‘equity’ and to serve the needs of transit-dependent persons…To describe the resulting empty buses as a failure of transit, as Cox does, is simply a false description of transit’s real, and conflicted, objectives.”

OMSF: “Diverting arguments with logical fallacies, which nowadays we call a ‘red herring,’ has no place whatsoever in any serious debate, and its usage indicates the medieval kind of mind that first comes up with a conclusion and then does everything in their power to reach that foregone conclusion, putting every premise of theirs up for immediate dismissal.”

Paul Milenkovic: “I looked up the 2003 figures for Madison Metro and Indianapolis along with PACE, the suburban Chicago bus network. The diesel-powered bus mpgs were 3.8, 4.5, and 3.9. The average numbers of passengers per bus were 7.4, 8.1, and 9.6. Taking into account that gasoline has less energy than diesel, the gasoline-equivalent passenger mpgs were 25.3, 32.9, and 33.3. The average trip length was 3.1 miles in Madison, 5.0 miles in Indy, and 6.4 miles for PACE. Only seven passengers on an average bus? On what planet? Every time I get on the bus, it’s standing-room only. Heck, there must be 60 people fighting for my oxygen. And if a bus gets three mpg, I reckon I’m getting 180 mpg on the ride home. What kind of car gets fuel efficiency like that?”

OMSF: “And so there we have it, folks, Wendell Cox: Intellectual terrorist – He gains from your loss.”





China’s love affair with multi-modality

30 11 2009

It has been asserted elsewhere that China has a love affair with automobile mobility based upon a China Daily report “that car (light vehicle) sales reached 10.9 million units in the first 10 months of 2009, surpassing sales in the United States by 2.2 million. This was a 38% increase over the same period last year. Part of the increase is attributed to government programs to stimulate automobile sales. China’s leading manufacturer is General Motors (GM), which experienced a 60% increase in sales compared to last year. By contrast, GM’s sales in the United States fell 33% in the first 10 months of the year on an annual basis. GM sold nearly 1.5 million cars in China, somewhat less than its 1.7 million sales over the same period in the United States.”

But when one steps back and takes a gander at the BIGGER PICTURE, the greater point in fact is that China’s exhibiting symptoms of a love affair with Multi-Modality, as evidenced by this:

And thusly: “The Chinese Government’s grand plans to link the entire nation by high-speed electric train are steaming ahead, with 2012 now set as the date when the system will overtake Europe’s as the world largest…At the moment, it costs on average 1,258 yuan (€123) for a one-way economy-class air ticket between Beijing and Shanghai. When the fast-rail line between China’s two major cities opens in 2012, a one-way ticket on that service is expected to cost just 500 yuan (€49). China’s rail service has developed at a remarkable rate over the past few years. In 2007, there were 1,109 kilometers of high-speed rail lines in the country, by 2012 there will be 13,000 kilometers linking most of the country’s major cities, according to figures being trumpeted by China’s railways ministry. In 2007, there were 105 fast-speed trains in service, by 2012 there will be 800, they say…As well as being environmental and economically attractive – to those using the system, not those footing the estimated US$300 billion (€201 billion) construction bill – the high-speed train system is designed to give an attractive option in terms of commuting times between China’s major cities.”[source]

And as they say that, my friends, is the rest of the story.





A “sophisticated”[i] argument

10 11 2009

Because of the expected wave of street-snarling traffic, the retailer Target demands the garage as a condition of moving to Washington DC .  So the city builds a parking structure in Columbia Heights with $40 million of taxpayers’ money.  But the expected hordes of drivers never materializes.  “The concept is that in a city like ours, with so much transit and so many transportation choices, demand for parking is on a glide-path downward,” said Harriet Tregoning, director of the District’s Office of Planning. “It’s become more the fashion not to get in your car.”   Now the lot is losing money, costing the city some $100,000 per month.

This thusly is evidence that, despite being so heavily subsidized throughout America, nobody is driving anymore and building parking lots is a bad investment.  And so cities would be better off if instead they invested in multi-modal transportation.

[i] “Sophisticated” is a Greek-derived word that means deceptively attractive and, when applied to rhetoric, it transforms into what is called sophistry, i.e. subtly deceptive reasoning or deceitful argumentation apparently plausible in form but actually invalid. A person who employs such rhetoric is called a Sophist.  And unfortunately many so-called transportation wonks can be considered one.  The above argument is an example of how it works.[ii]





New comment to a blog?

9 11 2009

Has been posted here: http://www.newgeography.com/content/001172-smart-growth-places-3rd-houston-mayors-race

Bon appetit!





A new blog comment posting?

28 10 2009

Of ours can be found here (believe it or not the author misquotes the actual headline of the blog that he’s drawing his entire article from which, according to us here at THE Placemaking Institute, is only a sure sign of intellectual flaccidity)

(Malcolm X: “Don’t let the power structure maneuver you into a time-wasting battle with others when you could be involved in something that’s constructive and getting a real job done.”)








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