How affordable is the Mesh?

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There’s been a lot of debate on the urbanist internets about a proposed development on Town Lake Circle, just off E. Riverside. The developer is proposing 1,000 multifamily units. They are requesting a density bonus to allow additional height. In return they’ll offer a certain number of income-restricted units, probably around 10% of the total (or about 100).

The problem is, the development will come at the expense of the existing Mesh apartments, a 300-unit complex on the property. It was built in the 1970’s and rehabbed in the last decade or so.  Greg Casar has said that he doesn’t want to support that upzoning, for fear of displacing current low-income households at Mesh. Some other density proponents have sided with him, saying the city’s focus should be on adding new housing stock in West Austin, rather than facilitating the replacement of existing apartments with units that will undoubtedly be pricier.

Others respond that this is the city’s opportunity to get the best deal possible out of an inevitable redevelopment. A developer could tear down the building and replace it with more expensive units tomorrow and City Council would have no say. In this scenario, however, the developer is seeking MANY MORE units (good for reducing sprawl & enhancing transit) and offering to make a certain percentage of them affordable.

What’s a little puzzling is that neither side appears to be presenting evidence about who the current tenants are. Are they truly low-income? Are they long-time residents? Are they likely to struggle finding new housing at a similar price in the area?

When I looked at the prices at the Mesh website the other day, the lowest price I saw for a 1BR unit was $1,015/month, but today I looked again and see there is one 1BR floor plan available “starting at $990.” Many of the other floor plans are far more expensive. I see 1BR units available for $1.1k, $1.2k, $1.32k and $1.48k.

For whom are those rents affordable? According to HUD, the cheapest 1BR unit at the Mesh would be just a tad more expensive than what HUD considers “affordable” to a household at 60% of the area median income, although there is plenty of debate about these figures, especially considering that the calculation for a 1BR unit is based on 1.5 persons. I don’t know any 1.5 person households.

See the two charts below.

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Meanwhile, the $1.1k rent would be a little above the 65% AMI level. The $1.2k rent would probably be around 70% AMI, the $1.3k rent would be a little above 80% AMI and the $1.48k rent would likely be right around 100% AMI.

As for 2BR units, I was shocked to see one available at Mesh for as low as $1,025, which would be affordable for a 3-person household at around 55% AMI. The next cheapest available is $1.35k, while the others are $1.41k, $1.52k, $1.61k and $1.8k.

It’s not clear what percentage of the units are priced at what level, but it seems clear that the great majority of the units are not affordable to those at or below 60% AMI, which is the maximum income level that the roughly 100 income-restricted units at the new project would be required to serve.

Those at or below 60% AMI have a very hard time finding affordable housing in this city. For instance, here are all the 1BR units (not including studios) available on Zillow for less than $967/month.

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And here are all of the 2BR apartments for less than $1,161/month:

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Things get a lot better when you move up to 65% AMI. Here are the number of 1BR units available for up to $1,043:

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And here’s a look at the 2BR units available at 65% MFI:

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Many of the Mesh rents are affordable to those at 80% AMI or above. Here are the number of 1BR units available at up to $1,290 a month:

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 12.03.33 PM.png

I think if we’re really concerned about displacement, we should consider what percentage of the Mesh residents are in fact low-income households vulnerable to displacement.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article I listed the number of units available at $907/month as affordable at 60% AMI. In fact, it is $967/month. I corrected the wording and the map.

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Towards a more progressive mobility plan

The Urban Transportation Commission has adopted a number of recommendations for Council to consider when it takes up the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan next week. Here are some of my personal faves:

Highway expansions should come with dedicated transit lanes, or at least toll lanes that buses can travel in, ala the increasingly popular 980 MoPac North Express route from Round Rock, which travels in the express lane:

…state that it is the policy of the City of Austin that all highway improvements that correspond with the Commuter Transit Service should have access for buses that is separate from traffic (e.g. as part of an HOV lane, tolled
lane, etc.), that highway entrances and exits be configured to allow the smooth and efficient entrance and exit of Commuter Transit Service near stations, and that this is a top priority when dealing with regional and state transportation agencies.

The Transportation Department should not hesitate to dedicate street space to transit. It should be up to Council to STOP it from happening, rather than approve it:

…to give the city traffic engineer authority to initiate a process to dedicate lanes to transit whenever the lane dedication would substantially improve the efficiency of moving people through a corridor. The traffic engineer shall give notice to City Council on the proposed dedication and give Council 90 days to overrule the dedication, and may otherwise move forward with the dedication.

The city should plan for high-capacity transit on MORE than two corridors. The Lamar/Guad/SoCo and Red River/Riverside corridors that are initially targeted in Project Connect for dedicated pathways should be just the beginning of the development of a citywide HCT system. That means that the corridors Cap Metro has targeted for “bus rapid transit light” (not dedicated pathways but perhaps some transit priority lanes, traffic signal priority etc) should eventually be full-blown BRT operating in completely dedicated right-of-way:

State that it is city policy that the High Capacity Transit Network (Evolving) lines be transitioned to full dedicated-pathway status with high service-level Bus Rapid Transit by the completion of the ASMP term (2039). This policy should guide actions to identify opportunities both immediate (e.g. re-striping lanes downtown to be dedicated transit pathways) and longer-term (e.g. future bond issues or federal funding applications). Land use planning should also anticipate the future complete High Capacity Transit Network and plan transit-supportive development appropriate to a Bus Rapid Transit along the network corridors.

The city should plan for lots of new housing along transit corridors, particularly the corridors targeted for HCT or BRT lite in Project Connect.

Increase density not just on identified transit-friendly corridors but within 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 mile of those corridors to further shift mode choice away from single-occupancy vehicles; transition zones from corridor should reflect Imagine Austin and extend one to four blocks on either side of the corridor …

direct that all land use processes and decisions adopt minimum targets of transit-supportive densities along the High-Capacity Transit Network appropriate for the transit mode planned. Average densities for the lines should achieve a “High” rating for the immediate portion of the High-Capacity Transit Network and a “Medium-High” rating for the evolving portion of the network, and be based on the recommended density levels in the Puget Sound Transit-Supportive Densities and Land Uses study.

Reduce or eliminate parking requirements. One part of the resolution appears to call for a more ambitious blanket elimination, while a later amendment, perhaps acknowledging that is unrealistic politically, provides guidance on how staff should approach reducing parking: 

Eliminate parking minimums in all land use categories throughout the City, particularly in areas that are supported by high-frequency transit and/or identified as Imagine Austin Activity Corridors, as a means to achieving mode split and climate change goals…

Establish indicators and targets for the amount of parking per-capita within ½ mile of the High Capacity Transit Network and Transit Priority Network. Develop targets in cooperation with Capital Metro to advantage parking metrics in Federal Transit Administration grant applications.

Indeed, even if we don’t take stuff like density and parking seriously, the Federal Transit Administration most definitely does. And we need their money bad.

It will be interesting to see how Council reacts to these recommendations. Adler and Kitchen will likely be wary of some of the more ambitious language about taking away auto lanes. I wonder how the Pool, Alter and Tovo will be reluctant to embrace language on density. Both groups may be hesitant to endorse sharp reductions in parking minimums.

The Planning Commission will take up the ASMP again next week to consider the recommendations from the UTC. If it makes the same recommendations, hopefully Council will be unable to ignore them.

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Here comes CodeCRONK

On Friday City Manager Spencer Cronk released a 39-page memo outlining some options for City Council to pursue in revising or rewriting the land development code. He wants their feedback on the following issues: parking, compatibility, housing capacity, and missing middle housing. Finally, he wants to know whether they want a completely new code or to simply make changes to the existing code.

On most of the issues he presents three alternatives:

  1. The status quo
  2. Whatever was proposed in version 3 of CodeNEXT
  3. Something even more ambitious

Cronk only explicitly makes two recommendations in the memo. First, he recommends that Council replace the code entirely, rather than simply make changes to it. Second, he recommends that the code text and the zoning map be done concurrently, rather than separately, as even some land use reform advocates have suggested.

For a variety of reasons, staff does not recommend adopting a new Land Development Code that would take effect without concurrently adopting a new Zoning Map. The Land Development Code and Zoning Map are interrelated and it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to apply a new Code to areas within zoning districts established under a prior version of the Code. Similarly, while using a placeholder zone like “F25” is acceptable,staff does not recommend adopting a Zoning Map that depicts zoning districts established under different versions of the Land Development Code….

…In sum, the more significantly Council wishes to change aspects of the current Land Development Code, the more difficult it becomes to do so through amendments to the existing Code. If this is an option Council wishes to consider, staff will be available to provide general guidance as to the types of changes that could reasonably be made through amendments to the existing Code.

For the reasons identified in Council’s resolution and the Code Diagnosis Report, staff recommends continuing forward with adoption of both a new Land Development Code and new Zoning Map.

On its face, Cronk’s memo is a politically neutral document that simply presents various options that are up to Council to select from. But there are a few instances where Cronk is clearly nudging Council in one direction. Let’s take a look…

Housing Capacity

At the center of the housing debate is housing capacity. That refers to the maximum amount of housing that could be built according to zoning regulations. To be clear, the housing capacity is always much greater than the actual amount of housing that is built. You could zone a property in Del Valle to allow a skyscraper but it’s unlikely that any developer is actually going to build one. Similarly, you can currently build a duplex on most single-family lots in Austin, but for a variety of reasons, few builders pursue that option.

In his memo, Cronk says that the current code will not allow the city to achieve its goal of creating 135,000 new units over the next decade. The current zoning capacity is roughly 145,000 units; it needs to be much greater to facilitate 135,000 units. Cronk includes a handy graphic from CodeNEXT:

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This is economics, by the way, that some on Council reject. But Cronk is telling them that it’s not really a debate.

According to city staff, the final version of CodeNEXT provided a capacity of 287,000 units. Cronk does not indicate whether he believes this is sufficient to meet our housing goals.

Parking

Cronk presents evidence that current parking requirements are bad for affordability, again using a graphic from CodeNEXT:

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He doesn’t suggest how parking requirements should be changed, but it’s a clear message to those on Council who feel strongly about affordability and reducing car-use that they should strive to reduce parking minimums.

Missing Middle Housing

When it comes to missing-middle housing (triplexes, quadplexes, sixplexes, rowhomes, cottage courts), Cronk tells Council that they’re not going to get much with either the current code or what was proposed under CodeNEXT:

While the regulatory changes discussed above would all increase the availability of missing middle housing, the Zoning Map included with Draft 3 was fairly conservative in applying the new transition zones that allow missing middle housing. Instead, the Draft 3 map largely perpetuates existing zoning patterns that significantly limit the availability of missing middle housing. This means that, if Council chooses the Draft 3 option, the supply of missing middle housing would be unlikely to increase substantially unless appropriate and context-sensitive mapping of new zoning districts also occurred.

Compatibility Standards

These are the rules that limit a building’s height or setback if it’s within a certain distance of a single-family home. Cronk acknowledges that the current rules make it harder to produce multifamily housing in some areas, but he doesn’t seem to indicate any opinion about whether Council should embrace the moderate reforms proposed under CodeNEXT or if it should do something more ambitious.

So, now what? 

It will be really interesting to see how Council members react to this memo at their work session on March 26. I think the way Cronk has framed the options will pressure CMs to select the more ambitious option. It looks really bad to pick “the status quo,” even if that’s probably what some CMs want. If I had to guess, I think a majority on Council will vote to embrace the CodeNEXT version on some of these topics and the more aggressive option on others.

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What’s going on with Project Connect?

Last week, there was a joint meeting of City Council & Cap Metro Board to discuss transportation policy, notably the coordination of the city’s transportation planning and Project Connect, Cap Metro’s gestating plan to put in place high-capacity transit (light rail or bus-rapid transit) in the coming years.

A big part of planning high-capacity transit is figuring out how to get dedicated right-of-way for the trains or buses, so that they don’t have to compete with cars for space. The whole point is that the transit won’t have to interact with vehicle traffic and will thus be a faster, more attractive option to drive for a significant portion of the population.

In some areas of the targeted corridors, there is enough space to maintain existing car lanes AND add dedicated transit lanes. But in other parts it’s going to be tough. And the mayor has said he doesn’t want to get rid of any car through lanes.

To give Council an idea of the right-of-way constraints they’re dealing with, Cap Metro presented this map. v2_row_hct_constraints

Julio Gonzalez noticed, however, that that was not what the map looked like just a few days before. The initial map had much more red:

v1_row_hct_constraints.png

Julio highlights a bunch of other embarrassing aspects of the maps, including that the new yellow lines appear to have been scrawled on with MS Paint and some parts of the corridors inexplicably have green lines around the yellow segments. Which one is it?

I asked Cap Metro what the deal was, and CEO Randy Clarke responded in a statement, saying that it was the initial map that was flawed and that the second map more closely resembled the data that was presented in the corridor “flipbooks” :

The map that was displayed at joint work session was not a dramatic change from was presented originally in the flipbooks, which are publicly available on the Project Connect website. Regrettably, the map did not identify the updates that were made, and we’ve put in place a better process for quality assurance going forward. These updates were added as a result of community input given after the issuance of the flipbooks in October.
It will be interesting to see if Gonzalez finds this explanation convincing.
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Building roads for more drivers

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More lanes for transit & bikes, not cars! Like this protected lane on Bluebonnet Ln.

The premise of the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, which City Council is scheduled to consider at the end of the month, is that our city needs to shift its transportation focus from moving cars to moving people. One of the overarching goals that supposedly guides the plan is to reduce the percentage of people who get to work by driving alone from 74% to 50% by 2039. 

In other words, we should have the same number of drivers on the road in 2039 as now, even though the population of the Austin metro area is projected to DOUBLE.

The goal is totally doable. But only if we dramatically change course in transportation and land use policy. On land use, that means we need to allow way more housing in the urban core, since public transit cannot effectively serve sprawl. In terms of transportation policy, we not only need to radically boost investment in non-car transportation (transit, urban trails, bike lanes, sidewalks) but we need to STOP expanding our car infrastructure.

This is not what the ASMP proposes. In fact, the ASMP envisions adding lots and lots of new car lanes to our road network. Here is a map of “roadway expansion” projects contemplated over the next 20 years (you can check out all of the ASMP maps here) :

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Transportation Department officials emphasize that not all of these roadway projects involve adding “travel lanes.” Here’s the statement I got from ATD Assistant Director Annick Beaudet:

New roadway capacity benefits transit by facilitating new connections. New roads or roadway reconstruction may also include bike facilities and sidewalks. Also, expansions do not necessarily mean adding travel lanes. Roads may be expanded because we need to add turn lanes or because a street is substandard (in need of curb and gutter infrastructure, sidewalk facilities, etc.). It’s also important to note that some of these projects would be spurred by development, not led by the City. Finally, improving Austin’s street grid pattern is a key tool in improving emergency response times by improving multiple access points to fire or other emergencies.

There are still plenty of roadway projects that do include adding car lanes. I spent a few minutes counting all of them, and I know I’m missing some:

Parmer Ln, E. Cesar Chavez, Bee Caves Rd, Old Bee Caves Rd, Cameron Rd, North Lamar, Blue Goose Rd, E. Wells Branch Pkwy, Pearce Ln, E. 7th St, McNeil Rd, Harris Ridge Blvd, Ferguson Ln, W. Howard Ln, Anderson Mill Rd, Vision Dr, Bratton Ln, William Cannon, Blue Bluff Rd, Slaughter Ln,  …

I don’t think those additional lanes are simply being proposed to accommodate overburdened roads. They’re being built in anticipation of more drivers coming onto the roads.

Spending millions of dollars to facilitate additional car travel undermines the goal of significantly reducing car use. Not only are the millions of dollars spent on these projects diverting funds away from non-car transportation projects, but expanding roadways simply encourages more driving. It’s called induced demand. It’s a real thing and it’s a real problem. Expanding the roads will barely reduce congestion because they will simply attract more drivers.

This issue seems particularly true downtown. Driving on Lamar should suck. It may be a necessary evil, but it’s not something that somebody who lives on Lamar should want to do to get to their job downtown. The bus should be a much more attractive option. The city should not be spending money to make a car trip down Lamar more compelling than a more environmentally-friendly alternative.

Perhaps more significant than the way that expanding roads will impact individual behavior is how it impacts housing development. Developers will build for the infrastructure that is available, meaning they will continue to build car-oriented sprawl if we keep building bigger roads.

It’s not surprising that the transportation department would pursue this fundamental contradiction. That’s the message they’ve gotten for years from City Council, which supports public transportation and walkability in theory but not in practice. Hence, it’s entirely predictable that we’d have a plan that establishes a lofty, transit-oriented goal but does not include the painful policy choices necessary to achieve it.

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A new historic zoning law?

I just was forwarded an email alert from Preservation Austin about a bill filed in the state legislature targeting historic preservation laws that Austin (and other cities) use to prevent demolitions and modifications of old buildings. I was not surprised to see the two Republicans –– Rep. John Cyrier & Sen. Dawn Buckingham –– listed as sponsors.

However, I was very surprised to see Austin’s own Rep. Celia Israel listed as a co-sponsor. Well, apparently that was a mistake. An aide to Israel called and told me that she was incorrectly listed as a supporter. In fact, he said, she likely will abstain on the matter because the bill somewhat relates to her work doing home rehabs.

Anyway, back to the bill…it would prevent cities from applying historic zoning to a building without the property owner’s consent. Here’s the text:

A municipality that has established a process for designating places or areas of historical, cultural, or architectural importance and significance through the adoption of zoning regulations or zoning district boundaries may not designate a property as a local historic landmark unless the owner of the property consents to the designation. The municipality must allow an owner to withdraw consent at any time during the designation process.

Unlike most other GOP bills seeking to override local regulations, this one will not be meant with universal contempt from Austin progressives. Neighborhood preservationists will be horrified, but plenty of urbanists are delighted. Currently, the city can rezone a home historic over owner objections but the rezoning must earn super-majority support on Council.

It will be interesting to see what position the city takes on the matter. While I expect that the city’s lobbying corps will register in opposition to the bill, whether they make it a priority depends on the direction they’re receiving from City Council.

Currently on Council there are likely only three or four members who feel strongly about historic preservation: Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool, Alison Alter and perhaps Ann Kitchen, who led an unsuccessful attempt in 2015 to preserve a house on Lightsey Rd (my neighborhood!) against the wishes of the property owner.

Just for kicks, this is what that Lightsey property looked like in 2014:

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And this is what now stands in its place:

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Meanwhile, the pro-density types –– Greg Casar, Pio Renteria, Delia Garza, Jimmy Flannigan, Natasha Harper-Madison –– likely aren’t against historic zoning, per se, but they are much more likely to recognize the negative effects it can have on housing. Not sure about Paige Ellis’ thoughts…

In the past Adler has said that he is not against historic zoning that is opposed by the property owner, but that he believes that Council should at least take into account an owner’s opposition when deciding whether to grant the zoning.

I don’t know what percentage of historic zonings take place over the objections of the property owners; I may try to get figures on that.

Ironically, the only thing that appears more unjust than a property being zoned historic over an owner’s objections is when the process takes place with the owner’s support. In those cases, the homeowner is often petitioning for historic zoning in order to receive a very generous tax abatement from the city, county and school district. In almost every case I’ve seen, the property owners are wealthy people who just moved into an obscenely expensive house in West Austin.

In case you haven’t heard, the city definitely has bigger fish to fry at the Lege. Everybody is worried about the prospect of revenue caps and some progressives, notably Casar, are obviously fighting against the preemption on paid sick leave.

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Scooters can fund bike lanes

Back in October, the Indianapolis City Council approved using a dollar-per-day fee on dockless scooters to fund bike infrastructure.

“We can use it for bike lanes. We can use it for cleanup of the bike lanes, as well as resurfacing the bike lanes so that (riders) have a safe place to use the scooters,” Melody Park, the chief engineer for DPW, said during the council’s Oct. 18 Public Works Committee hearing.

It’s unclear how much money scooters will generate for the new fund. So far, there are two operators in Indianapolis: Bird and Lime. Bird in August filed an application to operate up to 6,000 scooters in Indianapolis; Lime filed to bring 1,800. It the scooter companies maxed out the numbers of scooters they requested, that would give the city more than $2.8 million per year toward public works projects.

In Austin, the opportunity is even greater. The transportation department says we’ve got about 17,000 scooters in circulation. A dollar-per-day fee for all of those would amount to $6.2 million a year.

Former Council Member Chris Riley, who now heads Bike Austin, sees this as our big chance to build a bunch of protected bike lanes. It doesn’t take much to put in place a structure that makes a bike lane far safer and far more attractive to those who aren’t already committed cyclists. And yet protected lanes remain rare, even in neighborhoods where you’d most expect them to be. There’s only one protected bike lane downtown that goes along 3rd Street and then snakes onto 4th street past the Convention Center. There’s no protected bike infrastructure going north/south.

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Protected bike lanes don’t need to be nearly as nice as this one. Just putting up some plastic barriers provides a much nicer experience for bikers. Like this two-way bike lane on Bluebonnet. It’s not even that protected, but it still provides a clear dedicated path for bikers that is separate from cars. That makes biking much more appealing.

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This should be an easy call for City Council. The scooter companies have accepted it in Indianapolis, so I don’t see any reason they should put up a fight here. The fact is, if scooter companies want to be an important part of urban mobility, it’s in their interest to advocate for better bike infrastructure that allows people to ride their devices safely, separate from cars and pedestrians.

The transportation department has publicly floated this idea, although officials have sent weird, mixed signals about what the money collected from the $1 fee would fund. I really, really get worried at the prospect of CMs getting greedy and diverting the money to other transportation priorities that aren’t directly linked to enhancing scooter/bike transportation. This money should be for bike infrastructure. Period.

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Bus ridership up, but fare revenue down

At first glance, the first ridership report of 2019 looks pretty good for Cap Metro.

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Overall ridership is up 6.1% over January 2018. That’s great. So is the continued improvement for MetroRapid. But if you dig a little deeper into the numbers you’ll start to see that the apparent success is not free of blemishes.

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The transit’s main service –– fixed route buses –– saw a decline in average weekday ridership. Meanwhile, there was a substantial ridership increase on the weekends. That is no doubt linked to Cap Metro significantly boosting frequency on weekends. That’s a great change that I completely support, but ridership is always going to be lower on weekends than weekdays, meaning that there are fewer paying passengers to defray the cost of running the buses.

In fact, in the first four months of FY2019 (October thru January), Cap Metro has collected less fare revenue than at the same point in FY2018, in spite of experiencing a 3 percent increase in ridership.

Here’s the agency’s revenue snapshot four months into FY19 (collected from the delightful Cap Metro dashboard): 

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And here it is at the same point last year:

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Likely the biggest impact on fare revenue came in June, when Cap Metro made rides free for AISD students. In the first four months of FY2019, there have been more than 628k such rides, accounting for about 6% of the 10.2 million overall rides. The problem is, we don’t know how many students were riding the bus before the free program went into place, so it’s not clear how many of these kids were paying customers who aren’t paying anymore OR if they are new customers motivated to ride by the free program. Yes, the free rides obviously led to a dip in revenue, but it probably also increased ridership.

Two other factors that could help explain the fare revenue: UT students & ACC students. Ridership among UT students increased by about 1.8% (or 30k rides) year-over-year, while ACC rides increased 16.7% (about 33k rides). In both cases, however, the ridership does not impact fares, since both schools pay a flat rate for student passes.

Finally there was the implementation of Cap ReMap in June, which reconfigured routes and, by Cap Metro’s own admission, has likely led to increased transfers. Now, more transfers should not lead to lower fare revenue, but it might lead to the ridership increase being overstated, since the same riders may be getting counted multiple times even if they’re not paying more (because they’re generally buying day passes).

Of course, the decline in fare revenue doesn’t present an immediate threat to Cap Metro because  the most critical source of revenue –– sales tax –– is up. But the more dependent the system is on sales tax and other revenue sources, the more vulnerable it is to an economic downswing or, sadly, a political attack from state or local government (that’s what happened at the beginning of the 2000’s).

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated to include discussion of the UT and ACC riders. While I was editing I reworked a few other paragraphs to make things clearer, but I didn’t remove/change any facts.

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Hope for a new land development code

On Tuesday, City Manager Spencer Cronk took his first public step toward a new land development code. Anti-climactically, he told Council that he needed more policy guidance before he and staff could begin the process of rewriting the code.

It’s understandable to be frustrated with yet another call for input. But I’m hopeful that the process Cronk described will force Council to make some tough decisions and get things done.

Specifically, Cronk suggested that he wants “formal votes” from Council on a number of contentious issues: parking, compatibility, density etc. Those votes will be used to instruct the staff writing the code. The up-or-down vote is a sharp contrast with the “fist-to-five” process from last year, where CMs were asked to signal their enthusiasm for general ideas with a show of fingers (5 = yay, 3=meh, 0 = FU).

Now, the question is: how specific are the questions that CMs will be asked to vote on?

When it comes to zoning, there are eight CMs who I’d classify as urbanist-curious, but their appetite for density varies. Adler & Kitchen don’t want to do anything too controversial and Casar has signaled that he greatly prefers upzonings in affluent areas than upzonings in low-income areas vulnerable to gentrification. So what series of votes could Council take that would provide staff with the guidance they need to write a zoning map that aligns with the majority view on Council?

More importantly, Mayor Steve Adler claimed after his landslide victory over Laura Morrison (and the accompanying defeat of Prop J) that he had a mandate for land use reform. But it’s still not clear what he believes that looks like.

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Don Zimmerman’s shallow religion

I periodically check in on former Council Member Don Zimmerman’s Facebook page. It’s one of a number of reliable sources for stories to pocket for a slow news day. Here’s his most recent missive:

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You can see that, like most of his posts, it generated quite a bit of positive reaction, including 29 shares. In contrast to most of Zimmerman’s posts, this one actually got a fair bit of push back in the comments section. Most notably this comment (note the 3rd to last line):

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Zimmerman was unmoved:

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It’s telling that Zimmerman approaches religion the same way he approaches politics: he views his positions as self-evident. The only logical explanation for a difference of opinion is the other person’s foolishness.

That attitude is unfortunate but understandable on matters of public policy, which are supposed to be based in reason. But it doesn’t translate well to religion, which is not based on logic or evidence. The only proof of the supernatural comes from an intangible faith in its existence. If you lack that, how is Don Zimmerman’s admonition to “not be foolish” going to help you discover it?

Of course, like in politics, I don’t think Zimmerman’s motivation in religion is a sincere desire to change people’s minds. Hence the following comment, which was posted on the thread. It’s an apparent depiction of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Book of Genesis.

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Zimmerman didn’t post it, but he did “like” it. In case you’re wondering, Zimmerman does not seem to believe that Donald Trump’s daily obscenities and blasphemes put him at risk of fire and brimstone. Trump presumably absolves himself of his sins by his strict adherence to the Bible’s most important commandment: Pwn the libs.

As depressing as it is to see that there is still considerable appetite for this type of religious extremism, it’s comforting to note that the candidate who handily defeated Zimmerman in 2016, Jimmy Flannigan, is openly gay.

It’s incredible that Zimmerman was once a semi-relevant local political figure. Then again, that’s not nearly as incredible as the fact that Donald Trump is currently a relevant international political figure.