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    Joe R.

    Speaking of insanely expensive, disruptive projects with little overall impact, back in the 1990s there was serious talk of adding a lane in each direction to the part of the Long Island Expressway within city limits. This plan would have resulted in extensive disruption due to construction. It also would have resulted in many residents losing 10 or 12 feet of their property. Here’s the kicker through-it was only projected to save the average Long Island car commuter 30 seconds each way! Thankfully local opposition defeated it but seriously how can you seriously propose an idea which will have far more downsides than positives. What exactly would these people have done with that extra minute each day? Sometimes even if it’s theoretically possible to do things which save time, the cost of doing those things versus the time saved needs to be weighed. That monstrosity pictured above probably won’t save anyone more than 30 seconds. For the same money you could build up to 5 or 6 miles of subway which cumulatively would save more time overall than that interchange. And it wouldn’t be disruptive once finished.


    Angie Schmitt

    Ohio just mortgaged its turnpike, rather than generating any new stable source of revenue, took the $1,5 billion and put it ALL into new construction in shrinking northern Ohio. in all, it probably paid for 25 new highway lane miles. Meanwhile, Cleveland had to bond out $100 million to make a few repairs to local roads. ODOT has since flatly refused a request by NE Ohio’s MPO, NOACA, to redirect some of its “TRAC” funding, designed for big projects, to maintenance.



    I’m just curious, does that Marquette Interchange work? I mean, did it deliver what it claimed it would do? It looks like an engineering marvel.

    (I’m setting aside all of the usual negative things… there are many. So, my questions aren’t “Was it worth the money?” or “What neighborhoods did it destroy?”)



    OK, in defense of SDOTs, allow me to submit the following for consideration:
    1. That Smart Growth report makes some funky assumptions (Appendix A) and may be seriously over-reporting spending on “expansion”. It is safe to assume, based on what I have read, that about 40% of all spending the feds call “capital outlay” is for rehab and repair. That’s because most roads that get widened get reconstructed at the same time. This would bring Texas numbers for expansion vs repair, for instance, within about 10% of each other if considered as a percentage of all capital spending.

    2. Also, a significant portion of $$$ that seems to go to SDOTs is actually allocated by local agencies and MPOs through regularly updated agreements with the respective SDOT. So, FHWA calculates a state’s yearly obligation authority, and then they apply their own formulas and distribute it to their urban areas, transit districts, etc. Of course the SDOT by law can’t short anyone, but many metro areas enjoy very favorable political and economic positions within the state, and are thus given more control/independence.



    Wonderful reframing of current designs!! So true!



    That is definitely a question worth debating. The programs funded by the HTF build a lot more multimodal projects than TIGER, on the whole, but TIGER may have the most impact on a per-project basis.
    That being said, because TIGER is not run by formula, but is discretionary, there is always the chance it could be awarded for political reasons just as much (if not more) than for empirical ones. Some would argue it is already happening this way, with blue states/metros benefiting from TIGER more than red ones…



    Long story short: It doesn’t connect those things. East side of the university isn’t where people want to go; housing on Riverside isn’t for students so much anymore; Dell Medical is a tiny medical school; Riverside will get 3-5 story buildings to replace the old 3 story student apartments.

    There’s actually more profitable redevelopment opportunity on LG. And Highland would work IF AND ONLY IF you put a bunch of true high-rises there, but that’s not the plan; they envision, wait for it, 3-5 story apartment buildings with lots of parking.

    The residential parts the line would have gone close to are not as dense or walkable as they need to be to support rail, and there’s zero chance of that changing.

    Finally, the numbers showed that even using Project Connect’s excessively high projected ridership (which many of us who sat through every data dive found huge flaws with), Highland/ERC rail would cost at least a few MORE dollars per ride in operating subsidy than would frequent buses on the same corridor (which does not actually suffer from traffic congestion, so local buses would and do actually work pretty well). That money has to be made up for elsewhere, and Julio ran a range of scenarios to see how many “bus hours” would have to be bought down to make up for the losses on the HERC corridor.

    Julio’s scenarios:
    Julio’s 1 minute pitch:

    My site:

    (In good rail lines, like Houston’s first and like Guadalamar, you keep operating subsidies the same or even lower them – helping fund efficiencies that can pay for more bus service elsewhere or save for expansion).



    No. The towns don’t want it and the price tag is enormous. If they want additional capacity, built out the commuter rail. It can carry many more people while using less space and tax payer dollars.



    I’m constantly on the defensive when I’m walking with my baby on my back. I’ll be walking in a crosswalk with a walk signal at a light, and a car driver illegally runs a red light by not stopping for a right turn. I’ll step off the curb into a marked crosswalk at an uncontrolled intersection, staring down car drivers who illegally refuse to yield to me, and four go by before someone finally stops. Then I walk further into the roadway and need to stare down cars the other way — I’d be standing there all day if I had to wait for no cars in either direction. I’ll be walking down the sidewalk and need to cross a side street with a stop sign. A car comes racing down the side street and stops basically in the parking lane. I could slap its trunk as I walk past, but I won’t, because I’m carrying my baby and I don’t know how crazy the driver is. The car drivers are privileged, and I’m not. We need laws and infrastructure to protect our most vulnerable people using the road.


    Jake Wegmann

    Can you give me an intuitive explanation (since I’ll be honest–I’m not going to spend hours digging through technical reports here) for why the proposal was a bad, and not just a good-but-not-perfect, route?

    After all, it seems to me that it was connecting a lot of existing major ridership generators: the university, the Capitol, Sixth Street, student housing on Riverside Drive. Plus it would have served a lot of areas primed for growth over the next twenty years: the east side of downtown (ready to erupt now that the Waller Creek flooding situation is about to be fixed); the area around the Dell Medical School; the ACC-anchored Highland Mall redevelopment; and future high rises on Riverside. Plus it could have been connected to the airport later–maybe not the highest priority, admittedly, but a nice plus in a region so dependent on tourism. So given all of that, do you really think it was actually a bad route? What made it so bad?

    BTW I am genuinely curious as to your response and I’m not going to try to argue against it. You are obviously very knowledgeable about all of this. And I don’t feel much stake in this debate since I truly believe that we’re just going to have try to improve our transportation system without LRT for a long time to come. If I’m wrong, as I hope I am, I will happily argue in favor of LRT on the west side of downtown/campus.


    Mobility Lab



    WRT first paragraph, no. Politics is hard no matter what. But I do recognize that picking a bad route (note: not just “not the perfect one”; Highland Rail was BAD, not good, actually BAD) makes the economics impossible; and we don’t get to change the state government that sets the funding limits we have to live under.

    WRT second paragraph, there’s a ton of business interests that support Guadalamar, as well as all of the relevant NAs. Again, your trust in the pro-Prop1 people is seriously misplaced. References upon request.


    Jake Wegmann

    You seem to have a level of trust that if only we pick the right project, the perfect project, then the voters will see the light and support it, no matter what the big institutions and big power players have to say about it.

    I don’t think so: first, with the switch to the 10-1 system, I find it highly unlikely that any LRT champions will arise from the new Council, when so many of them campaigned by saying that the LRT line would do nothing for their districts. Second, the property tax revolt has now started and is only going to get stronger. I think the voters’ willingness to open their wallets for something like LRT has come and gone. Third, I think the big power players whose muscle would be needed to win a transit election are feeling burned by the people they thought would be in their corner this last time around, and I doubt they’re going to be eager to fight this battle again anytime soon, particularly for an alignment that they don’t prefer.

    I really hope you’re right, and that a Guadalamar plan comes roaring back sometime in the not-so-distant future. (Though if 2016, possibly the best chance of all, were to happen, boy they’d better get cracking on it right quick.) Seems highly unlikely to me, though. Maybe self-driving cars will save us all.



    Jake, we can’t start fighting the next battle until we understand the last one. And you seem to have a level of trust in Project Connect’s veracity (especially on Guadalamar, where they were explicitly shown to be lying) that is horrendously misplaced.

    Any rail line whose ridership is not ‘high enough’ would have prevented expansion and hurt bus service. It didn’t have to be as high as #1, but it sure as hell had to be higher than HERC.

    Julio, who is no friend of mine, published many analyses of this. Go check out Keep Austin Wonky if you want the details.

    As for Dallas and Houston, they started with a local equivalent of Guadalamar, which led to a system boost instead of cuts in bus service; which led to later election victories for expansions.


    Jake Wegmann

    I’m sorry, I just don’t agree with you. I don’t think that connecting a redeveloping mall to the east side of UT (to serve a brand new medical school) to the Capitol to the entertainment district of downtown to the burgeoning high-rise apartment corridor on East Riverside would have been a bad or a dumb move. Sure, maybe it wouldn’t have been the #1 highest ridership line as Guadalupe/Lamar would have been. It was a good, maybe not the best, but a good line that had support from all of the biggest players and that was ready to be built within a reasonable time frame.

    What would have been the chances of getting federal funding for a Guadalupe/Lamar line with the feds having just funded the MetroRapid lines there? And what about the opposition of Austin’s #1 employer, UT, to that route on the west side of campus? Don’t you think that the NIMBYs living in all of the neighborhoods flanking Lamar and Guadalupe would have fought to the death to oppose their precious car lanes being removed to make way for a train? Or if undergrounded, how much higher would the cost of that line been than what was proposed?

    As for the funding cap, well, there simply must be a way to figure that out. Dallas and Houston have built large systems. So have many other, much smaller, cities in the West and Southwest, most of them with weaker economies and job and population growth than Austin. I don’t buy that Austin is uniquely incapable, among prosperous mid-sized US metro areas, of figuring out how to fund the operations of a multi-line LRT system.

    You and I are just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. The anti-transit, government haters were always going to hate this plan. But if so many of the transit geeks hadn’t been against it, I really think it might have passed. You think that was a good move, and I think it was a terrible mistake that means we’re going to wait until 2030 until an LRT line of any sort opens.

    Really, it’s sort of irrelevant now. We’re going to need to figure out how to improve our transportation system with roadway charging, bike lanes, bus lanes, BRT, and a bunch of other small stuff like what was mentioned in this article, for the next 10-15 years. Austin should now aspire to be the greatest non-rail city in the United States. We’ve got a lot of work to do.



    I can’t think of a day I have biked in Seattle where I haven’t seen a driver run a red light or blow through a stop sign.

    However the biggest issue is infrastructure funding. You talk to the average Seattlite and they will tell you billions of gas tax money is being spent to take away car lanes and build bike lanes. We actually took a phone survey of residents and more than ten thought over $10 billion per year was being spend on bike lanes! Of course the reality is the exact opposite. Local roads are finances through sales and property taxes and WA has no sales tax on gasoline, All of the gas tax revenue goes to WA state highways (state gas tax) and interstate highways (federal gas tax) with a very small amount crossing over to transit. The irony of course is the gas tax hasn’t kept up with expenses so sales and property taxes are now supplementing state highway funding.

    What Seattle voters really need is an education on how their tax dollars are spent. This would help in many ways beyond infrastructure, to the current crisis in spending on education, mental health care, and homelessness.



    Jake, Austin’s at the statutory limit for transit funding (the state will not allow the sales tax to be raised any higher; other forms of taxes that those other cities have available are not allowed here). And those cities did NOT build anything as dumb as the Highland line as their first shot, either.

    A bad rail line which dramatically increases operating subsidies compared to the buses it would replace (or did, in the case of the Red Line) leads to less service overall, and no possibility for expansion.

    In other words, it wasn’t helpful at all – it would have been damaging. Not every step is progress.


    Jake Wegmann

    Right. So instead of building a not-perfect-but-helpful starter system, which we could have expanded once rail transit proved its worth, we’re going to build absolutely no light rail for the next 10 years. If Seattle and Denver and Portland had insisted on building their most high-ridership, but also most politically charged and expensive lines first, they never would have gotten their systems off the ground.



    Austin’s 2014 rail proposal was a huge step in the wrong direction (building rail in the wrong place produces huge operating subsidies which drain the rest of the system and prevent any further expansion).


    Andy B from Jersey




    Though if you’re really geekily interested in Dutch terminology and visual cues, they *do* clarify between different fietspaden when necessary, especially when indicating whether it’s optional or not:

    Verplicht = Obligatory
    Niet verplicht = Not obligatory
    Verboden = Forbidden

    Striped lines on an on-street bike lane indicate optionality:

    In these “suggestiestroken” (= Suggestion Lanes) bikes are not legally required to stay within the bike lane.

    Solid lines on an on-street bike lane indicate you must use the bike lane, not ride in the car lane (unless you have to for safety reasons). The mandatory usage may end when around parking, for example:

    There’ve even been small experiments with the following concept, which indicates that if you bike over 30km/h you must use the car lane:

    And that’s the only time you’ll see a hunched-over helmeted person on a bike in Dutch signage ;)



    Great piece! Cognitive framing is totally a thing. Just ask George Lakoff, who famously implores:

    And of course, what’s the first thing people do? :D

    The way we frame a topic really does matter. Another thing I think is important is reframing the danger that standard infrastructure poses. Some more suggestions:

    Buffered bike lane = double parking lane
    (conventional) bike lane = doorzone lane
    Class II bike lane = 2nd-class bike lane
    Mixing zones = Right-hook zones

    I actually think visual framing comes into play, too. If you want to sell getting on a bike as “just another normal way to get around, when you feel like it” you also need to visually reinforce its normalcy. It may sound overly picky but Interested But Concerneds in the US constantly see Mr. Mushroom Head:

    Messages conveyed?

    –> biking is for Brave Athletic People with Special Gear, not Normal People Like Me.

    –> biking is dangerous, not something Normal People Like Me who value their safety do.

    –> biking is for road-warrior dudes hunched down over their handlebars, not Normal People Like Me.

    –> oh, and Mr. Mushroom Head *is* almost definitely a dude. Goodbye other 50% of population.

    This one’s definitely a dude, too:

    Yay victim shaming!

    “NO EXCUSES. BIKING IS CRAAAAZY DANGEROUS, GUYS….but the city would reaaaaally like you to try it, so pretty please give it a shot?….BUT ALSO EVEN IF YOU’RE FOLLOWING ALL THE RULES IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG IT’S YOUR FAULT….But, still, pretty please, do try it! We have a goal of 20% modeshare by 2020!”

    Compare to this more serene, neutral depiction:

    Which would you rather do?



    I only laugh at this because of your deft use of quotations (I’m glad you’re safe and love your sense of humor about this episode).

    @Eli I think some of your issues could stem from urban design–cobra streetlights vs. pedestrian-scaled, err, “people walking”-scaled streetlights.


    Marven Norman

    Yes, this is a crucial point. America (and the Anglophone world in general) has taken an extremely narrow interpretation of the translation. The Dutch use the word fietspad colloquially to describe everything from bike lanes to separate paths in the woods. The technical definition isn’t quite as broad, but basically any bikeway that is physically separated from the general roadway is still considered a fietspad. That includes both “protected bike lanes” as well as paths that are miles away from the road for motor traffic. The recent fight and explosion of “protected bikeways” really is just a small subset of all the different types of fietspaden.


    Yuki Endo

    Remember this is not place to spam or stalk posters. This comment has to be focused on bus stop issues only.


    Ezra Goldman

    This is a great initiative. I wrote a piece a few years ago on how I don’t call myself a “cyclist” anymore. I’m just a person who sometimes rides a bicycle. Perhaps some in this thread would enjoy it.



    Bike Streets are an example of VC-as-infrastructure-strategy done right!


    Andy B from Jersey

    Wow! Looks like a return to Vehicular Cycling! What was old is new again! ;-)


    John Montgomery

    Thanks, Joe — makes sense. As it’s more of a technological ranking and less of a transit-focused tech ranking , I guess it can explain a bit as to why us ex-Chicagoans were surprised by it.



    This project was championed by the far right think tank, The Discovery Center, for years. They love huge risky projects. They also support capping I-5 just north of downtown and putting buildings on top of it.



    Although not a “city” Arlington, Virginia’s ACCS program has long supported using open data to build open source tools to help people get around. Here’s the latest example from the Transit Tech Initiative that has produced the Car Free A to Z tool. Not sure how the report missed this important project.



    Exactly. Seattle is very exciting from a plan and potential point of view, but the streets are still largely just as horrible. I literally walk around my neighborhood with a flashlight in one hand (to be visible to speeding drivers – I tend to need it once every 3 minutes or so after dark) and pepper spray in the other (as a defensive mechanism due to the near-daily violent crime within blocks of my home).

    I could see it being a great place to return to in 5-10 years, though. But at the present, it’s dramatically overrated.



    It’s technically incorrect to attribute ‘cycle track’ to be an engineering term translated from Dutch.

    The Dutch words is ‘fietspad’, or literally, ‘bike path’. I’m not sure how you’d get ‘cycletrack’.

    That word was invented, I believe, by Anne Lusk.


    Joe Linton

    Chicago was ranked 14th – and, in my opinion, the report didn’t have a fine enough grain to distinguish between various cities that are all doing a decent job with transit technology.


    Joe Linton



    I can’t wait to see a true Bike Street in the US, with appropriate visual cues:

    The US version of this would probably have:

    –> continuous green super sharrows, like this one in Oakland, but taking up the full width of the street and bidirectional:


    Btw that stretch of fietsstraat above happens to remind me of spatially similar streets right here in the Bay Area:

    (along Caltrain corridor in downtown San Mateo)


    Michael Andersen

    Ugh. Still a long way to go.



    Pollack was caught floating an editorial to the Boston Globe exonerating herself of responsibility. Its the weather! its the Olympics! Its the MBTA! No, its you Ms. Pollack. Under DePaola, no problems. Under Pollack, disaster


    John Montgomery

    Regarding public transport….

    I moved out to LA a couple of weeks ago and was also shocked to see that Chicago didn’t make the list. Here in LA, Metro finally implemented this recently for both bus and trains. The issue is that other communities’ buses such as Santa Monica and Culver City (I’m on the west side) don’t have GPS tracking.

    On paper, it may be OK ut for this westside resident, in practice it’s awful compared to Chicago.



    This morning before 8am, as a “person walking,” I was almost hit in the crosswalk by a car turning left without signaling. As my heart practically leapt out of my chest, I pointed at the walk signal, and the “person driving” rolled down his window to yell “Gimme a break, ya cunt!” Verily, Seattle is a paradise of “transportation options.”



    I just moved to NYC a few months ago after living in Chicago for 9 years. I am incredibly shocked to see that Chicago didn’t make this list of top-rated cities. Honestly it throws the whole “study” into question for me.

    I know this is anecdotal, but almost every single person I knew in Chicago used a consolidated train/bus tracker app utilizing real-time data, and I know for a fact that nearly if not all of those other options are available as well. Chicago’s bike-share app was fantastic.

    On that note, can someone recommend a good app for tracking trains & buses using real-time data in NYC? Also can someone tell me whether the B,D,F,J,M,Z trains are tracked in real-time? It appears that MTA’s proprietary app is only available on iPhone and only tracks the 1,2,3,4,5,6 and S42 St Shuttle lines. (

    ***just noticed this was posted in USA, not NYC.


    Christopher Shaw

    oh but of course! they want gas guzzling SUV’s sucking up all the oil so they can profit! domestic terrorists!



    Angie Schmidt, shame on you. You’re presenting a very incomplete picture. We here in Colorado by and large rarely ever use Federal funds for bicycle trails and such. We utilize foundational and private partnerships to do the job, including a lot of community-minded volunteers. It works better, we get better trails, better greenbelts.

    You’re a complete ass…really you are.



    There are a lot of other factors that were different in the two cases and could explain different reactions. 1 – Walking on the sidewalk or grass is not considered in the way while biking on the street is; 2 – Schill is an active and vocal champion for bike access; she doesn’t consider biking a hardship; 3 – This guy’s story came out in the middle of a Michigan winter, right after the Detroit area got hit with about a foot of snow. Schill’s story made headlines last spring, in warmer weather. 4 – Schill was cited by the police for biking, and some people automatically believe that anything law enforcement does is correct and proper.



    Rochester Hills doesn’t participate in the SMART bus program. There is no other alternative.



    People walking on the sidewalk are much less “in the way” than people biking with traffic.



    Indeed. Crowd sourcing a new car for him just might break his bank.


    Jake Wegmann

    Given that in this last election we just blew our chance to finally get started on building a light rail system (after previously narrowly failing to do so back in 2000), I’m glad there’s at least one thing Austin is doing well on with transportation! Since we seem incapable of taking any big steps, maybe we’re going to have to take lots and lots of little steps, like this sort of thing.


    Marven Norman

    They might even find that wonder of wonders, their commute doesn’t even require a bus anymore.



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