Archive for the ‘Traffic’ Category

Sign irony

A Sign of things to come?

A Sign of things to come?

I must admit when I saw this sign go up on South 1st St. last year, I wondered what it was for. Since then a number of others have gone up on the main arterial roads around downtown.

If you’d ever been to Montpellier in France you’d know that parking downtown is soooo simple, they have large signs on the way in telling you how many available spaces in which lots. Nope that’s not what these are for.

I wondered if they were maybe for game day, maybe posting the latest score from UT. Nope. Given it’s Austin, maybe positive wibes on the way to work, “Today y’all gonna make money!”. Nope. Then I figured maybe they were to broadcast city hall meetings live, maybe Mayor Leffingwell  has aspirations to broadcast Prothero-like safety and security announcements from City Hall? Nope.

Turns out the signs are for traffic conditions. Given the limited number of alternative routes into the city from the south, if South 1st gets really jacked up, I can’t imagine the sign suggesting I35, and from where the sign is, there’s no route to South Lamar, so I figure the signs will either say, “Give up, turn ’round and go home” or “You shoulda came on your horse!”

Then I thought about it some more, California dreaming!

The Magic Left Turn Sign at Cesar Chavez and Sandra Muraida

If you’ve ever traveled eastbound on Cesar Chavez just east of Lamar, you may have noticed a one-of-a-kind phenomenon, a street sign that changes at will. I took the following two photos on my way home from work. The one on the left was taken on February 7th. The one on the right was taken on February 14th. And before you start squawking about texting while driving, etc, I was stationary when I took both photos. This is just one example. I’ve seen it change back and forth multiple times over the past year or so. I realize that there’s been construction related to the Seaholm District Redevelopment, but can we please pick one and stick to it? Given how much traffic backs up there during rush hour, I think it should ALWAYS be a no left turn. Any employees from the City of Austin care to comment?

Crop circles, Aliens and Bouldin Neighborhood

crop-circle in the UK

crop-circle in the UK

Despite overwhelming evidence that crop circles are man made, there is still a firm belief in many circles(pun intended) that they are created by, or messages to aliens. Either way, people are fascinated about where they come from.

The corollary to this story is over in Bouldin neighborhood, they know where their circles come from, and are grouping up to try to get rid of them. The them in their case are traffic circles. The City of Austin has and continues to use them as traffic management measures, especially on roads where the cross traffic is much heavier in one direction than the other. It negates the need to stop the cross traffic, say from South 5th to South 1st on West Mary or West Annie, while allowing residents to move north south without stopping. You can read the Cities view of what they are and how they work on the City website.

Bouldin Traffic circle

Bouldin Traffic circle

The residents view is that traffic especially passing east to west, doesn’t really slow down, doesn’t realize they are 4-way yields, and treats the traffic circles aka “roundabouts” as a motorized bobsled slalom course. While this might sound like fun, it isn’t.

According to residents, there are regular accidents, including a seemingly serious one this week at the traffic circle on W. Mary and S. 2nd. between two motor vehicles, the real concern though is pedestrians, cyclists who are even more vulnerable. Since these traffic circles are in use in many places through out Austin, what’s your view/experience?

The thing I find confusing with the Austin traffic circles is that there is no actual right of way. Keyword being “right”. In most of the USA there is an established rule that traffic on the right has priority. Wikipedia has a great illustration of how a traffic circle should work and how the traffic on the roundabout should have priority, irrespective of which is the bigger road. So, if you are driving on W Mary, a big trans-neighborhood road, and as you approach the traffic circle on your left, travelling from north to south is a car slightly ahead of you and will reach the traffic circle just before you, I’m guessing you’d presume you have the right of way, after all you are on the right. Wrong. And there’s the rub.

My main concern, how will the Aliens know where weird starts if they take out the circles?

Quiet zones

Back in October I wrote and entry entitled, the Sound of Silence. While I know that many residents enjoy the sound of the train horns as they approach the various street level crossings in town, there are federally approved standards for design that eliminate the need for them.

Well Leander is moving forward on this, based on this report from KXAN. Josh Hinkle reports that Austin won’t be moving forward anytime soon.

Why? Well the city can’t find the $500,000 needed for a study. What?

Outrageous, why is a study needed and how the heck does it justify spending HALF A MILLION DOLLARS on it. It seems to me that’s just an excuse for the lack of real action.

While I know it’s not linked, Brian Kelsey Director of the Capital Area Council of Governments is leaving Friday May 14th. In a summary of his 5-years in planning he said: “Planning is critical, but it needs to evolve. We talk a lot about the value of a plan being in the process, rather than the end product. And then we spend 50 percent of the budget on a 125 page document that very few people will have time to read, much less use in any meaningful way.”

Someone at the city needs a rocket up their ass if they really think HALF A MILLION on a report will solve or help anything or tell us something we don’t already know. Get on and do something, less consultants, more action!! Make a decision will ya, thats what you were elected for…

Car2go a go-go

Your chariot awaits you, courtesy of car2go. These little Smart cars (Smart car fortwo) are surprisingly roomy, with capacious adjustable seats set well off the ground, and the car2go Web site has a complete instruction video, welcomed by today’s chauffeur, who has operated nothing but manual transmissions since forever.

Cars may be reserved, of course, but for those of us who live and work in close-in Austin, there’s always one to be found for the taking, it seems. Look near City and County offices; libraries are also a good bet.

The Web site is a bit disorganized, but the FAQs are helpful, and the actually process is even simpler than it’s described as being.

Everything worked exactly as promised, in a simple and logical way. All who have the cards required in order to access the vehicles say that they arrived with two or three days, a tiny miracle. Along with the card comes a map of the current service area and a two-sided sheet of things to do and not to do. Parking couldn’t be easier. The fun is cheap and no cost is incurred until a car is actually rented.

This service represents a delightful and practical service, and this beta pilot program is for us in Austin only. If we use it well, perhaps other towns will have an opportunity to benefit as well.

Travel, Time and Transport

I traded links with Mike Dahmus aka M1EK, over on twitter the other day; I’d just come across this Inrix Nation Traffic Scorecard.

Haven driven a lot in the past 6-months, and with my travelling backrgound, I was surprised to see that Austin appeared to be 23rd worst city in the US. I sent the link to Mike as I knew he’d have something to say. When I looked at the page, and you can sort by many columns and get different views, I was interested in when, where and other aspects of the data. It’s long been my view that Austins traffic wasn’t that bad, and that given the proximity of I35, the 45 Tollroad, and Mopac to downtown, actually it was pretty simple to get in and out.

Of course that isn’t true if you are one of those people who sit daily in the massive traffic jams to get from north to downtown, and to be honest, I don’t see the traffic trying to get from the south into downtown, just the downtown end of it.

What Mike pointed out was that the situation was actually much worse than I’d envisaged, especially looking at the Inrix study. While they give you the ability to sort by column, if you could sort on multiple columns, Austin would come out near the top if you took population, average delay and distance traveled. Mike’s tweet was “We’re even worse than we come off there; these studies unfairly penalize cities where large % of commuters don’t drive (i.e. NY).”

I’ve just been reading Mikes blog, and he makes some important points there on the recent Capital Metro’s Service 2020 plan, but also on the Rapid Bus proposal changes. Seems like there is a lot more work to do yet.

Signpost breeding ground

Street furniture madness on Riverside Dr

Street furniture madness on Riverside Dr

There is an argument, that the more you regulate, the more you make things illegal and the more you signpost things, the less people pay attention. I’m not sure if the traffic circle aka roundabout on Riverside Drive is a science test to prove or disprove this theory, but it certainly looks like it.

Not counting the parking restrictions, there are 32 discrete signs around the traffic circle, telling the hapless driver what to do and what not to do, and a few for the foot traffic. While it’s great that the city preserved the mature tree that sits resplendent at the center of the traffic island, the entire outlook for that section of Riverside Drive is now poisoned by the steel trees with their signs atop.

Yeah, I know the rules and use of traffic circles are not well understood and most drivers don’t encounter them much. The problem is exasperated by the fact their are two lanes into the circle going west bound, and only one out, and the reverse going east. Which means if you are in the wrong lane in traffic, you pretty much have to go around again. But surely this isn’t a magical mystery tour and doesn’t need all these signs. Keep Austin regulated or Keep Austin uncluttered?

Cycling (mixed)messages

Warning, pot hole ahead 2-cyclists injured?

Warning, pot hole ahead 2-cyclists injured?

While the city of Manor is doing it’s best to ban cyclists from it’s roads because of the poor surfaces, the City of Austin is doing it’s best to encourage use, without, it appears, considering the surfaces.

I took advantage of the nearly non-existent traffic on Thanksgiving morning to cycle downtown on my fat tire bike and take some pictures. Since these new road signs were painted on Guadalupe, I’ve wondered what they were really for?

When I cycle home from work, I ride down Gaudalupe, if it’s in peak traffic time, you have to go fast going South so that you can comfortably occupy a lane and not annoy the motorists also trying to get home. By fast I mean 25MPH and faster, yes, I do this on a bike, and no, not on my fat tire bike.

So, what do these signs mean? I’ve decided that the chevrtons indicate the number of cyclists injured by the pot holes just ahead. Take the one in this picture, at the junction of 12th St. Right after the junction is the pothole shown in the second picture.

On my fat tire this is no problem, on my fat tire I struggle to do more than 15MPH. However, on any normal road bike you could easily drop your front wheel in the hole to left of the cover, causing a puncture or crash, or almost worse, a last minute swerve in front of the cars.

Just after the "safe cycling" sign It’s not an isolated problem, there are dozens of places between the drag and Cesar Chavez with holes big enough to cause a puncture, swerve or crash, like the one shown in pitcure-3, right by the Post Office.

The same is true for many of the cycle lanes in Austin, I’m not just picking on Gaudalupe. However, if the city really wants to encourage cycling in urban areas, it needs to require the road repair crews to fix up access covers, when they resurface, not just to leave the cover at the original depth and raise up the surface by one or two inches. Doing this would also limit the cracking around the covers seen in these pictures.

Finally, before spending money painting signs on the road, and littering the streets with signs like “Share the road” and “Cycle routes” there should be an inspection to declare the road surface safe for cycling.

Just deep enough to cause trouble

Just deep enough to cause trouble

The sound of silence

Picture by Matt Wright on Flickr

Picture by Matt Wright on Flickr

There always seems to be a lot of push back against change anywhere, and here in Austin probably more so. And so it is with some trepidation that I mention this.

If you live anywhere near the railroad track that runs through town you’ve probably got used to sound of the horns as the many trains per day pass through, and continue into the night. In one recent discussion, a neighbor even told me they found the sound of the horn “re-assuring”.

The point of the horns is, obviously, safety. To let people know the train is coming. Despite a 2005 Federal Railroad Administration law, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Locally, Dough Taylor a Bouldin Creek resident has been working with the city and the railroad to try to get “Quiet Zones” established for the crossings and Oltorf and W Mary St. and before Dough, Susan Littlejohn was working on it, so this isn’t a project by a bunch of newbies.

In order to get these quiet zones, cities can apply for an exemption to the Federal law as long as they are willing to pay for safety studies, install a variety of improvements at crossings and submit to regular federal review.

According to Dough, the city of Austin has agreed to this and has earmarked money for the conversion, but Dough needs a few extra people willing to help and attend meetings to move the process along. Austin isn’t unique in this respect, in fact it’s behind the curve. Communities and cities across the nation are working on this or already completed projects and no longer get the horn at night(yes, I know I couldn’t resist), including places such as Coon Rapids, MN and Bend, OR amongst many bigger cities such as Arizona.

If you’d like to work with Dough on this please post a comment. When posting please use your real email address and I will put you in touch with Dough. Your email address stays private, will not be published and not used for any other purpose.

Driving License Record

So, the Officer said “you can mitigate this stop by taking a Drivers Safety Course and having this speeding ticket expunged from your record.” Or something to that effect, if he’d spoken longhand English.

And so I decided that would be the best course of action. Now, 30-days later I’m still not able to proceed and this is your warning not to get caught in the same Texas DPS license record downward spiral. In order to have a moving violation, in my case speeding removed from your record you need to get a “Certified List of All Accidents and Violations in Record (Type 3A)” from the Texas DPS.

Now, you can bet they’ve got a new automated, online system. It’s here. Only when I tried to use it I (un)helpfully told “The data you submitted does not match data on the Driver License Record or you are ineligible to use this online service. Please verify and correct the required information and resubmit your request.”

Only all the information was correct and re-submission did nothing to, err, mitigate the error. So I called, and I called, and I called… just a busy signal. Eventually I gave up, searched around on the website and submitted a help request via email. 3-days later I received a call. No they can’t tell me why I’m “ineligible” and unfortunately, the day the call came was the last day you could get this record “in-person”, which of course the web site never said was an option. I was handily informed by the operative calling me that “they’d had real problems with the new system” and there were “only 35-operators handling telephone calls for all of Texas”, and that the only way to proceed was to apply in writing using the form on the website here.

The only problem with this is it takes 7-10 days, which takes me over the 90-day limit. Sigh. So, just on the off chance I’m not the only person in this mess, let this be your lesson, don’t delay start today, check your eligibility at the above website.

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