Archive for April, 2008

Public safety public information request

There will be a candidate forum on Thursday, May 1, from 6:30 to 8 pm at the city council chambers (301 West Second). Those running for seats on the city council have been invited. Major issues are disparities in patrols and other APD staff coverage. Based on City response to a public information (what we once knew as “open records”) request, a presentation (by public-spirited citizens Linda Yeatts and Lori Renteria) is available analyzing assignment of police officers and concluding that APD staffing is not adequate and is not distributed proportionately and fairly in accordance with such factors as population density, volume of calls to the dispatchers, or per-capita incidence of violent crime. Another conclusion that some have drawn is that police coverage (along with proposed alterations in public transportation coverage) is biased toward downtown business and tourism interests. Early voting has begun, but there’s still plenty of time to mull things over before the May 10 election. The League of Women Voters non-partisan guide is now available, but this forum on public safety is especially important for decision-making since we have a new police chief in town. If you want to know exactly what areas are covered by which of the area commands, good luck! The most recent on-line information about district or area commands does not appear to have been updated. If you find current information on the APD site, please do let the rest of know.

Ride the bus to Keep Austin Weird

As doublegood reported recently, not only is Capital Metro planning drastic changes to the Dillo service downtown, they are proposing schedule changes across the system. Although the public hearing on the issue was held last night, the only aspect of the changes that the local daily focused on was the proposed removal of the “Capitol transit center” which is really just a bus stop that happens to serve a large number of lines. Cap Metro is proposing moving this stop to 10th Street (removing the stop from a couple of lines) because the Governor and State Preservation Board asked them to “for security reasons.”

Although I think the Guv is being silly, I don’t know if this one change should be the focus of news coverage. There is a huge list of changes. Strolling down South Congress this weekend, I spoke with one of the shop owners and she really didn’t understand why they were cutting off the Orange Dillo’s service down South Congress. Many tourists, locals, and students use it to get to SoCo, not only on the weekends and during SXSW, but regularly throughout the year. I am personally concerned as I’ll be moving to the area soon and am hoping to use the Dillo or the bus instead of clogging the road with one more car.

Again, there are a number of changes across the system that are being proposed. If you ever ride the bus or think you may start riding the bus because of rising gas prices, climate change, stress levels from driving, or a desire to keep or witness Austin at its weirdest (I was hoping to link to a post by a friend of mine of the guy stripping on her bus ride, but oh well), then you might take a few minutes to check out these proposed changes and e-mail your comments to Although I don’t know how good Cap Metro is at responding to public comment and actually incorporating it into their planning, they need to know that people are paying attention!

Cycle month starts Friday

One thing I learned last year is that May is a big month for cycling in and around Austin, this year won’t be any different.

Events start out on Friday with the Civic Bicycle Cruise/Political Pedal. Meet up at Meet at City Hall Plaza, 4.45pm. for the 5pm to 6pm ride, this isn’t just for just dedicated road bikers, anyone with two or even three wheels, fat tire, mountain bike, or a commuter bike should come along. It’s a chance to join your elected officials and community leaders in this convergence of politics and the joy of cycling!

Plan on staying downtown after the ride for the Bicyclists’ Happy Hour – from 6:00pm – 7:30pm at The Rio Grande Restaurant, 301 San Jacinto Blvd. (on the Lance Armstrong Bikeway no less). Snacks, drinks and meeting of minds! I’m told there will be valet bike parking available, something I for one have never seen before and live Austin music by Jim Keaveny and Shand Walton. The Happy hour is put together by the Austin Cycling Association, the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant and the Rio Grande cycling team along with sponsors Bicycle Sport Shop, the Austin Yellow Bike Project, the Texas Bicycle Coalition, the League of Bicycling Voters and REI.

For some of us, Friday is a warm-up for Saturdays Austin to Shiner GASP ride. The 2008 edition celebrates the Spoetzl Brewery’s 99th anniversary and for those volunteering or riding the 90-miles from Austin to Shiner, there will be a party with BQ dinner with brisket, sausage, vegetarian options, Live Texas Country Music as well as Miles From Nowhere, Eric Middleton, as well other bands. One of the big attractions is the FREE Shiner Beer. Makes cycling sound fun doesn’t it ;-)

I’ve no idea what effect Shiner beer is going to have on me after cycling 90-miles, but either way I guess I’ll end up “legless”. Fortunately @cruisergirl has agreed to give me and my trusty aluminum steed a ride back to Austin. If you are riding, do yourself a favor and do packet picket either Thursday or Friday at Jack and Adams on Barton Springs, then Saturday morning you’ll be ready to ride. If you want to ride and raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, registration is still open, you can even register on the morning of the ride. You’ll need to figure out how to get back though.

For other Bike Month activities, the Austin Cycling Association has an excellent online calendar. If you spot someone walking around like John Wayne, that will be me, not that I becoming localized, but 6-hours on a bike saddle… as John Wayne famously said “It’s such an adrenaline rush. It’s America’s most extreme sport.”

the Unforeseen – Seen

At the risk of just seeming like another Cheerleader, or a bore, I thought I’d follow-up on Lauratex Metblog Austin post about the Unforeseen movie.

I’d seen a trailer for the film at a previous visit to the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, I hadn’t actually got around to going to see it, you know, busy life and all that!

the Unforseen movie poster imageLauratex said “it should be required viewing in Austin”. I say, if you moved to Austin after 1995, or were not old enough to remember the Circle C/Barton Springs fight, maybe like me you thought George Bush only started to mess up when he got to the White House, this is the best use of 90-minutes of your time this week!

I know I don’t really know much about Austin, I know “keep Austin weird” isn’t just a bumper sticker but really I had no idea.

While I can see that there are many people who wouldn’t agree with the main message and direction the film takes, as someone that swims a Barton Springs two or three times a week, I found this film really profound and found myself weeping twice during the film. I won’t pretend to do a balanced review of the film, I don’t think I could.

The main thrust of the film is about the development of the Circle-C ranch, apparently a sub-division(another good reasons why I couldn’t turn in a balanced view of the film, I don’t understand much of the terminology used) and the impact it could have on Barton Springs. While the film could have demonised developers, it didn’t for me. It did fairly show that the balance is out of kilter when it comes to developing new, green field sites.

The film is a thought provoking cross over between documentary, story telling and historical record. I suspect that editorial changes made some of the things the people interviewed seem even more prophetic, the small boy who liked living in the new house but was concerned they’d finish the rest of the houses, as he’d have no space to play; the couple who were complaining about their inability to water their new lawn, but “people come first”; the old farmer who seemed wise well beyond his education, if not beyond his years.

The best speaker for me wasn’t Robert Redford, erudite though he was, journalist and author William Greider summed it up best for me, “Growth itself is not the enemy, it is the nature of that growth—the quality within.”

the Unforseen is still showing at the Alamo Drafthouse South, although screenings are getting fewer and fewer as the weeks go by. The current screening list is here. Yes, and that means you ttrentham.


That’s not one of the formal categories for describing the size of hailstones these days, but that’s what hit this moring, and plenty of them, although they were later dissolved by the continued force and volume of the downpour. The NWS hazardous weather outlook issued this morning at 5:38 did mention the possibility of hail. At 7 o’clock sharp, there were bright flashes of lightning and loud claps of thunder. The skies opened up almost immediately and the hail came soon thereafter. Our bush beans are beaten to the ground, along with lots of flowers. Many streets south of the river are carpeted with tree and other vegetal debris. The winds were high enough to strip green leaves from the live oaks and flowers from the pecans. All the excitement pretty much subsided in 40 minutes or so, with intermittent light showers since. I’d imagine that trees will have gone down in some parts of town. It’s now nearly 9:30 and fairly heavy rains are beginning again.

Long night at the opera: the venue part

We approached the new Long Center for the Performing Arts on foot. Even though we had printed a little map, this building does not read well for pedestrians, and we haven’t even been to the Palmer Events Center since it opened, so everything about the grounds these days was new. After going inside the new Gypsy Italian Bistro, which was full, to inspect the promising menu, we headed for what we hoped was the safest street crossing, selecting the one by the Daugherty Arts Center, where we felt reasonably secure. It was wonderful that the moonlighting law-enforcement people directing traffic on the grounds gave precedence to pedestrians. What a treat, and how unusual for Austin!

The Long Center doesn’t read well for those approaching for the first time, and on foot. It appears to be designed for entry from the parking garage, which we did not use. People are already wearing informal footpaths where walks should go, not where they really are. The batteries in my toy camera failed, so I have no image to show here, but the terrace facing the river and downtown offers one of the most spectacular night-time views to be seen anywhere, and I think certainly the most amazing skyline view in Austin.

I’d suspect that the peculiarities of parking at the Long Center accounted for the fact that nearly the entire audience was seated in the five or ten minutes after the scheduled 7:30 curtain time. On our level of the building, at least, men and women lined up side by side to go into the restrooms, offering scanty facilities for men and not much larger ones for women. The lighting is not flattering, to say the least. Exit signs in the large performance venue are well lit for the audience. I did not use any elevator in the building, but the stairways do not seem to be as commodious and well marked as they ought to be, should there ever be an emergency. The seats in the big hall offer much more leg room than those in Bass Hall. Row markers and seat numbers are not easily legible.

Restroom lines moved with reasonable dispatch, but not so quickly that it was possible to explore the various lobbies. I’ve written elsewhere about the acoustics, experienced so far at just one performance. I look forward to attendiing performances other than opera, in order to gain a different perspective on how well this building works.

Long night at the opera: the opera part

Carmen: what can anybody say about the opera itself that hasn’t been said? Last night’s performance was the last for the current production by the Austin Lyric Opera. I’d be surprised if anyone gained last-minute admission. The house truly did appear to be sold out, although only at the last minute, when everyone rushed in. Curtain time was nearly ten minutes late. The intermissions, supposedly 20 minutes long, seemed interminable.

The adult chorus seemed ill coordinated at times, although the children’s chorus did not. All those barefoot peopole scampering around the stage seemed none the worse for their exposed soles. The set was handsome, although it didn’t fill the stage from side to side. The lighting, by David Nancarrow, was superb. Costumes were unremarkable, except for the handsome yellow uniforms of the soldiers, and this production had the worst, or perhaps worst executed, choreography I’ve ever witnessed in any Carmen. The orchestra and conductor, in what appears to be very roomy pit, could be seen by all, which is fun.

Of the singers, Jose (William Joyner) had a fine voice, and an expressive one, although he seemed ill at ease with some of the business he was required to perform. The Escamillo’s voice (Luis Ledesma) had a covered style that’s not my favorite, but physically he commanded the stage and was delightful to watch. Micaela (Barbara Davis) sang sweetly, without much presence. The Carmen’s voice (Beth Clayton) I liked, although there were a couple of times that intonation was a bit on the sharp side or the flat. The role of Lillas Pastia was performed well by Holton Johnson, a pillar of the Austin Gilbert & Sullivan Society. I’ll talk about those castanets a bit more later.

Much has been written about the acoustics of the new Long Center. All that I would tell from last night was that there seems to be quite a bit of amplification. The world has never heard such loud castanets, and they weren’t used competently enough to inflict them upon the audience at such volume. Something most peculiar about the acoustics was that audience conversation and applause sounded extremely loud, in a way that I’ve never heard before in any venue of any size. This was not a thrilling inauguration to compare with the Don Carlos, complete with the scene in the snowy forest, and the Verdi Requiem that opened the Performing Arts Center on campus all those years ago, but it was promising.

Street Closure Mania

I’m with C., this is really ridiculous. If I’m reading this right, then Congress Avenue is closed from 10th Street to Oltorf from 7am to 5pm today along with Oltorf between Congress and South First? That’s only two entries on a page that you have to scroll because there’s so many closed street listings. And would it kill them to include a map?

Last weekend saw much reported problems for people trying to get to the Long Center.

Forget trying to go down Lamar near 15th either with Eeyore’s going on today. It seems like Austin always packs way too much on the last two weekends in April, trying to take advantage of the mild weather before we all start baking.

Is the race for VMUification of South 1st about to start?

Torchies on South 1stYou know how it is, when you start looking for something, you find loads of stuff.

And so it was the other day, on one of what must have been hundreds of times I’ve run up and down South 1st to get to the trail, I noticed that the lot, or at least part of it, on which Torchies Tacos sits, is up for sale or lease. On the way back up South 1st, I looked and sure enough there were a bunch of other properties up for sale.

The houses at 1906, 1708, 1609 and 1502 are all up for sale. They are all traditional single story houses. The there is the Big G Tire lot on the corner of W. Mary and the seemingly unused building on the north-east corner of Elizabeth and South 1st opposite Bouldin Creek Coffee shop.

1502 South 1st St with development boardOn the other side of the road from Bouldin Creek Coffee Shop is 1502 South 1st. It has a board outside showing what the developer is planning, and although it’s only 2-stories, it has VMU style setbacks. It displays other modern design and VMU characteristics. Close to the road, street furniture, trees and replacing a single story building with a multi-story that covers most of the lot and so it’s also classic eclectic Austin vs the new.

As part of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Planning team that handled the VMU opt-in/opt out, it was with some surprise to me that we eventually declined to opt any properties. Certainly that was an interesting choice and not my preference since the properties on South 1st opposite the Texas school for the deaf, and the whole of the west side of South Congress from Oltorf to the Congress bridge were included, and opted-in by default.

I’m not a great candidate to discuss old vs new, I only moved to Austin in November 2006, and I bought a new house that replaced and older, single story one. However, in what ever shape VMU takes on South 1st it will be interesting to watch it unfold, trust that it won’t just be the long time Austin residents that will be concerned once VMUification starts!

But my training plan says to do loops!

The city remains concerned about people ignoring, moving, climbing over and in other ways avoiding the barriers put up on the South 1st bridge over Town Lake. This is especially true at the North End, where the work is being done on Caezar Chavez and a new ramp from the bridge down to the trail is being built. The April 4th project managers report spells this out, and it’s mentioned in others. The reports are here.

The city hopes that the problem will ease with the opening of the trail again between Shoal Creek and Congress on the north side. However, my bet is the problem will continue. The problem is many people like the shorts loops between South 1st and Lamar footbridge, it’s a social distance for a walk, and it’s a good fast-run distance for beginners and there’s no access to the trail from the north east side. Either way what that means is there is no way to do loops without crossing the street, unless you step-it-up and go Lamar to Mopac.

While the works continue, I’ve seen some folks doing incredibly stupid things. Thursday last week I saw a guy running in the traffic lane on the west side of the bridge around 6.45pm, that was mad enough, but he was wearing a headset – No idea if cars were coming right behind him, and angering drivers who had to pull out. Then there are the bemused ones, having found themselves on the road at the north west corner of the bridge, then can’t work out what to do next. Like a Dear caught in headlights they make a last minute decision and run for it.

I spoke to the city project major Rick Colbrunn, he says it will be another 4-6 weeks before the new ramp with access to the trail is ready. Be careful out there…

[Update 12th June] Given the work was supposed to be finished at the end of May, then June 10th, I spoke to Rick today and asked “hows it going?” – Rick said they are having problems “sourcing material” for the retaining walls, and the project probably won’t be complete until the end of July 2008.

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