Archive for the ‘Traffic’ Category

Possibly the worst road in Texas

blakemanorThree weeks ago I was riding along Blake Manor Rd, right near the Texaco gas station, when, WHAM, right in front of me one of our small group dropped her front wheel down this crack, immediately went over the handlebars and landed face first on the tarmac.

The blood exploded from her mouth, she lost four teeth and fractured her upper jaw; it was gruesome, I bailed rather than hit her and ended up with a scrape on my elbow and leg. It could have been much worse for her, she was wearing a helmet, and although it cracked, it did its’ job and protected her forehead and the frontal lobe of her brain.

Last Friday she wanted to see where the accident happened and so we agreed to meet up and I’d walk her through it. She bought a camera. What shocked me, driving from the west end of Blake Manor RD on 973, was just how bad shape this road was in. Yes, the drought is playing havoc with the road surface. It doesn’t help that much of the road on the south side falls off as the land slopes downhill. But simply put, this road is a hazard for car drivers. There are at least two sections where the road is likey to break away completely and there are dozens of sections with cracks almost as wide as a Dollar bill, and more than 5ft long.

Surprisingly, the actual crack where she crashed has been part filled, there seemed to be whole sections where tarmac has just been dumped on the road randomly and smoothed down. It’s really inconciveable that this road is in such poor shape, given that the frontage road of Mopac between Bee Caves and 360 seems to have been re-tarmaced recently, when it was one of the better roads anyway.

So, I advise ALL cyclists, motorcyclists and drivers to avoid Blake Manor Rd between 9730 and Lockwood Rd unless absolutely necessary. And unless you know otherwise, I declare this, the worst section of road in the greater Austin area, and possibly all of Texas!

Rainbow

I took this during an evening shower (a rare evening shower this summer as we’re about to beat the record of number of days over 100 degrees) heading east on 45th street near Burnet Rd. I was at a full stop at a light. I’m guessing that if the new “texting while driving” ban that the Austin City Council approved this week eventually gets passed, I could get ticketed for doing this. They’re going to have a difficult time enforcing that one fairly.

To “Potect and Serve” or to raise revenue?

33081[1]If you drive north on Mopac daily from downtown in the morning, you’ll have no doubt noticed the Starship troopers hiding out on your journey. Recently they’ve been spotted in numerous places, more often up under the Parmer Lane Bridge, Monday there were three clustered together, their broad shouldered appearance in the shadows, standing next to their Star Wars like speeder bikes; Full facemask on, sometimes reflecting the sun and glinting in your eyes as you speed past. Only at the last minute do you spot them holding their radar speed guns rather than litesabers. Sometimes though they are easier to spot, they sit in Texas DPS Cars and are dressed like regular cops

It’s the reality of the daily north bound commute on Mopac, north of the 183 section, up onto the toll road section. Yes, while all you out of towners are sitting in slow moving traffic heading south, it’s perfectly possible to travel at, or greater than the speed limit going north. Now, I’m not for a minute suggesting that you should exceed the speed limit on any road in Austin or elsewhere. For the sake of transparency, I’ve been stopped and ticketed twice this year and realise I’m in the wrong. While I’ve breezed past the speed cops recently, with the cruise control set to 60MPH to accomodate the sometimes confusing, variable speed limit on sections of Mopac, many others have not been so lucky. The question is though, is this really the best use of the cops time ?

I’m not trying to get them off my back so I can speed and break the law with impunity, it just occurs to me that following another death in an Austin neighborhood, sitting on Mopac and picking off north bound drivers really does little good, except raise revenue. It’s an alternative, progressive form of tax, levied and paid unevenly, and avoided by most. If you really wanted to tax speeding drivers on the toll roads, just charge based on the time taken to pass through/between toll booths and be done with it. At least that’s open and transparent. The current system is akin to using the cops as tax/toll collectors.

While from time to time I assume there must be crashes on that section of Mopac, I’d guess they involve few cars, when speeding is possible. Maybe, more when the roads are busy like the evenings heading North on Mopac, but then speeding isn’t so much an issue, just dangerous and careless driving that causes accidents.

So, assuming we are not about to see a big influx of new law enforcement officers and enough to patrol everywhere, then perhaps the cops could be put to use patrolling those neighborhood roads where cars still speed, often with impunity, and when there is an accident with serious and deadly consequences. [Like this one from earlier this month]. To my memory, speed has been cited in at least 5 neighborhood deaths where pedestrians have been killed by motorists this year, have there been any on that section of Mopac in the morning commute?

I assume cops themselves are the only ones at risk of being hit on Mopac, rather than pedestrians, and sadly, it does happen, so another reason not to put them at risk just to raise revenue.  What should we expect from our law officers, to protect and serve, or to raise revenue? Isn’t that a reasonable question ?

Before you vent, again, I’m not saying cops are bad, I’m not saying that speeding is justifiable, or that I or any others breaking the law are in any way safe drivers. The question I’m asking, is, given the choice should the cops be sitting on Mopac and picking off easy hits on variously empty roadway, or actually patrolling and stopping drivers in the neighborhood arterial roads and shortcuts where speeding is just as common but more dangerous?

Don’t hold your breath though for changes, a recent study from researchers at the University of North Carolina suggests that a weak economy will mean more traffic tickets. Net, net: every one percent (1%) loss of local government revenue leads to a .32 percent increase in the number of traffic tickets.

Street and Event Closures III

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the street!

Yep, the next round of this increasingly confusing topic is due on the agenda of Thursday April 30th council meeting as item #25. For those of you not paying attention, that means today, unless you are reading this before midnight, by which time I’ll have hopefully finished writing it…

You can find the full agenda here. I’m not a specialist on city council meetings/processes, but as far as I can tell, this is open to the public, but possibly only to listen. So far in the City Council meetings it has been heard in the afternoon or evening, in the Public Hearing section. As I read it, this time it’s being heard in normal council business, where no separate discussion is necessary unless desired by a Council Member. Unless you know better!

It would seem that since the last meeting, city staff have been busy. There is a comeback on the taskforce recommendations, which seemingly pretty much explains why they are not really implementing any of there major points. This can be read here.

Instead of a separate office for events, staff is recommending folding the responsibilities into the Urban Transportation Commission (UTC). This may be prudent, but it’s not at all clear its right. Prudent because at a time of trimming city budgets, declining tax revenues etc. the last thing the city could probably afford, was a new department. However, adding the “special events” to the UTC will double the number of monthly meetings and “require additional support staff” – which probably just means saving headed notepaper then, and then a potential new head of department on the city “shilling”.

Depending on which side you take, events, churches/business(not claiming they are the same, just lumping their objections together), residents or Task Force members, you can be sure that the final recommendations don’t add up. There seems to be a new 30-day Rules Posting Process, according to Jason Redfern, Right-of-Way Management Division Manager, Transportation Department – “that has not started yet, which will provide stakeholders the opportunity to make suggestions”.

Joey Trmyer of Conely Sports, isn’t pleased with what he’s seen far and wrote this blog post and this letter to the council. I have to say, and I’m taking Joeys “council” on this, a number of the plans might work for static events like the Art Fest, but they introduce significant safety questions for sports events of all sizes. Kathie Tovo, ex-Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association prez. is also concerned with a number of the proposals too. So far two out of four.

News reaches me though that Council Member of Mayoral candidate Leffingwell is this evening proposing his own set of changes which reach a more effective compromise. Hey Larry, why didn’t I hear about this from you?

So, who knows which way this will go, if you are at all interested, and able, head down to city hall in the morning but be prepared to be confused and delayed as the agenda, ordinances and time keeping get shifted around to suit the political time table. I won’t be there this time, please post comments and let me know how it goes.

Thought for the day #1 – Honker

Seen at the lights on S Lamar bridge this morning, not sure which is worse.

The guy who honked less than 10-seconds after the lights went Green, lets call him Mr Angry in a Mazada MX5 dark gray with the soft top down. Doesn’t he realize the woman in front has a busy social life, sending tweets and txt msgs, scrolling through her phone book to find someone she can call, and it takes more than 10-seconds to get your knees jammed under the steering wheel so you can drive no hands, lets call her Ms Danger-on-4-wheels in her red Datsun.

The joys of the morning commute!

Street Closures, City Staff, and council – Process over people

It’s strange to see democracy in action, or rather process over people. In a response to one person who asked me before the meeting what they had to do to ensure the “event” community won the current battle, I replied, the city process isn’t set up to create winners, it’s there just to make sure there are no losers!

And so it was tonight, at the City Council meeting where the staff recommendations for implementation of the Downtown Street Closure Task Force recommendations were heard. It was public hearing and a large number of people from 4-sides showed up, with a few others including marginalized neighborhood associations.

The Churches were well represented, as were the Race and Event organizers, and the task force members. In addition there were a large number of runners and event participants, but they had been effectively neutered by the race organizers through their emergent AREA organization. The Austin Races and Events Alliance (AREA), had appealed for people to attend but not speak until they’d spoken, probably fearing a backlash similar to the earlier one at the early taskforce meeting.

In the end the meeting was conducted in a relatively orderly and positive fashion, with Mayor Wynn and a number of the speakers enjoying entertaining interaction. After some 2-hours 30-minutes, most of it hearing public testimony, what became clear is that the City staff had turned months of work from the taskforce into a lose-lose-lose situation and wasn’t clear why this was.

The staff recommendations introduced rules like ensuring that Caesar Chavez was ALWAYS open, which the task force had never considered, as far as I know. That, had the Art Austin, 1st Night Austin and many other event promoters and producers losing out. The recommendations did not institute the Special Events office that the Task Force had recommended, thus they were losers. The Churches didn’t get their access needs met and they lost out, and well, the race organizers didn’t get it their way either, so they lost out too.

After the meeting I was asked “did we win?” My answer was, no, but you got what you wanted. What did they want? Well almost no one it seemed wanted it to go ahead as prescribed, and that’s what they got.

What happened was Council Member Leffingwell proposed to adjourn the public hearing and pass the staff proposal on the caveat that the letter submitted by the Task Force would considered and the proposal amended to accommodate. After a small amount of discussion and clarification from council members and Mayor Wynn, thats what they got, approved on first reading with the Leffingwell compromise. 2nd reading with be on either the 23rd or 30th of April, based on City Staff’s ability to meet with Task Force members and incorporate the changes.

However, quite why and how we got to where we did is beyond me? Why would staff come forward with these recommendations that were so out of line with a process that had taken months of compromise? Given that it’s been three of four months for staff to come forward with that, how likely is it that they’ll come back in as little as two weeks with the update thats acceptable to the task force and everyone else?

I found it personally interesting that none of the Mayoral candidates publicly took a stance on this and push it through one way or the other. One can only wonder if they really hope they’ll get the election over and done with before the Street and Event Closure really does claim a loser, the mayoral candidate that backs the wrong horse.

And so it was, process over people. – Oh yeah, before anyone suggests I’m a conspiracy theorist, I’m not. I also know that things don’t happen by accident.

Red light stars of CCTV

One Nation under CCTV

Banksy's CCTV

The cities website lists the latest set of Red Light cameras that are going to be activated and they include:

  • o Wells Branch Parkway and Loop 1 (MoPac) eastbound on the northbound frontage road.
  • o IH 35 and 11th Street eastbound on the northbound frontage road.
  • o Ben White and Lamar boulevards eastbound at the southeast intersection.
  • o Ben White and Lamar westbound at the northwest intersection.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against discouraging or stopping red light runners, especially as I was driving a car where the passenger was seriously hurt and could have been killed by a Dr jumping a red light; he was prosecuted using mobile phone data. It is though worth being mindful of who has access to the data, how long it is kept, and what other uses it can be put to. You have been warned, don’t be a star of CCTV!

City Staff talk back on Street closure task force

Mark your diaries, I hear that City staff will brief to Council and taskforce members today at 2:00pm (time varies) at City Hall Council Chambers. The brief will cover the progress on the Taskforce recommendations.

April 2nd at 6pm, a public hearing will be held with possible action by Council for amending City Ordinances related to Street Events Closures and review of the new Right-of-Way Closure Rules. Citizens may provide comment to Council at this hearing.

I’ve reported on this twice, and posted a summary on the difficulties faced and reasonable progress made taskforce. If you remember, one of the early meetings was attended “mob-handed” by the athletes community, and most never got the chance to speak. This is your/their chance.

I’ll find out where the documents can be obtained, and update this post.
[Update: 3/30/09 The documents covering the current state are all now posted on the city website http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/dsectf.htm – Thanks to Taskforce member Kathie Tovo for the links and work on the taskforce.[/update]

The best results from public participation at city hall meetings is garnered by actually having a considered, factual input based on what is being discussed. An emotional rant might make you fell better, but they rarely “move the ball forward”, but hey, feel free to do either :-)

Mayoral candidates in bed together?

Chronicle cover for the Feb 13th issueThe Chronicle has a good summary of the Austin mayoral candidates and their cover pitches it as a “Municipal Death Match”.

However, last Thursdays council meeting where the Wildflower Commons PUD was up for discussion, debate and possibly vote, rather than it being a death match with Leffingwell taking one position, and McCracken taking the opposite, it was more like John and Yokos love-in, except the protest was from the public, not the lovers.

I arrived at City Hall around 4pm, listened to some of the heated discussion on the East Austin Solar farm, then the Town Lake trail extension and boardwalk. After 2-hours I left, there were a large number of people milling around, more than 90-had signed up to speak on the PUD. I got back later, but no debate, no discussion, just a postponment, apperently with the prior agreement of the developers lobbyist.

Rather than either McCraken or Leffingwell “grasping the nettle” and one or both of them taking an environmental stand, they both ducked the issue. Worse they moved the issue until after the Mayoral election, ducking the issue completely and allowing both of them to claim the anti-developer, pro-environment, which are likely to be vote winners.

Laura Morrison was the only dissenting voice in the 6-1 approval to postpone. I’d guess that both Leffingwell and McCraken would claim the revised conditions that have been placed on the developer before they come back to council in August over the 100,000 sq. foot supermarket, retail, restaurants, and 550 condos in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone, however, since neither spoke during the process we don’t have a clue what they really think. Give peace a chance?

The Save Our Springs Alliance has numerous documents explaining the Wildflower Commons PUD.

You can get there from here…

Funny how you take things for granted. I’ve just switched to a new corporate Blackberry phone, and as I had a busy day downtown yesterday my first reaction was to use the phone to look-up the next bus rather than take the car. I don’t know where I first learned about it, but since I arrived in Austin I’ve been using a service called “dadnab” to find out the bus schedule.

It’s simple, painless, and quick. 5-mins before I’m ready to leave I just send a txt message on my phone to austin@dadnab.com with my current location and my destination. Yesterdays txt message read: s 1st and live oak to Austin convention center

Except on this new fanlged, all singing, all dancing phone it wouldn’t take a txt message with an email like address. It turns out that I had send the txt to 121 on the AT&T network, and the first part of the txt message had to include austin@dadnab.com – within 30-seconds I got the response:S 1ST ST & W LIVE OAK ST to AUSTIN CONVENTION CENTER/depart SOUTH 1ST & LIVE OAK at 11:54 AM/10-NB/arrive BRAZOS & 4TH at 12:03 PM back as a txt message.

I walked up the street, waited a few minutes and Cap metro arrived as promised. All very quick and efficient. So I figured I’d post this tip here, only to find that Austin metroblogger ttrentham had posted on this topic in time for SXSW in 2007. So here’s an update, the service is still working, if you have problems txting to austin@dadnab.com checkout their website for the tip above and others, also to try out the service.

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