Update on Grove-to-Dean Keeton data request

I’m very happy to report that Project Connect staff is preparing the data for my compromise urban rail proposal, as I requested after the May 2 Central Corridor Advisory Group (CCAG) meeting and formalized in my letter on May 8.

Project Connect project manager Kyle Keahey acknowledged my request and told me the team will release the Grove-to-Dean Keeton data at today’s CCAG meeting, as well as data for several other scenarios. I will continue to push for a detailed presentation of the facts, comparison data on other cities’ rail projects, and evidence that the Project Connect staff’s estimation models are accurate.

I also plan to seek feedback from a broad set of community members since the Project Connect process does not seem to be gathering community feedback (much less reporting it back to CCAG). I will request that Project Connect host a televised town hall on the key choices of stops, phasing, etc prior to CCAG’s June 13 vote and to comprehensively report the feedback collected from that town hall to CCAG at least 48 hours before the June 13 meeting.

5/8/14 Letter to Project Connect Staff: Request for cost & ridership estimates for a Grove-to-Dean Keeton alternative rail plan

This afternoon, in my capacity as a Central Corridor Advisory Group member, I sent the following letter to Project Connect staff members Kyle Keahey (HNTB), Scott Gross (City of Austin), Lynda Rife (Rifeline Consulting), Jerry Smiley (URS), Kammy Horne (URS), Steve Roth (Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam), and Javier Arguello (Capital Metro). This letter was a formal write-up of my Grove-to-Dean Keeton data request, which I first posed to Kyle Keahey and Scott Gross immediately following the 5/2 CCAG meeting.

If/when they provide the requested estimates for my compromise proposal described below, I will post them here!


Dear Project Connect Team,
Thank you for the preliminary capital cost and ridership figures you presented at the Central Corridor Advisory Group (CCAG) meeting last Friday May 2, for a hypothetical urban rail line running from East Riverside at Grove up to the planned ACC Highland site. These new details certainly help inform our deliberations as the Austin community works together to develop its Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA).
Like everyone else, I am extremely concerned about the $1.4 Billion pricetag for a Highland-to-Grove route. With Austin voters reeling from a fresh round of skyrocketing property tax estimates and/or struggling under relentless rent hikes, I suspect there is very little appetite for an expensive bond package to fund a rail line with dubious benefits, duplicative coverage, and disregard for neighborhood wishes and the Imagine Austin plan. As you know, most of these problems arise from trying to send the rail line off towards Highland Mall north of the UT campus.
Fortunately, we have other options that might salvage a November rail election. In particular, I would like to propose consideration of a compromise plan that sends our first urban rail segment from East Riverside at Grove up to the proposed Dean Keeton station on the north edge of UT.
Not only will this Grove-to-Dean Keeton compromise be less expensive in terms of up-front capital costs (a shorter initial line, no quarter-billion-dollar tunnel under Hancock Center), it also will ensure lower on-going operating costs by running where Austin already has transit-supportive density and high transit ridership (UT, Downtown, and East Riverside). In addition, ending this first urban rail segment at Dean Keeton returns to Austinites the flexibility to decide that the second urban rail segment should extend the system up Guadalupe and Lamar, our most heavily ridden transit corridor.
So that CCAG, City Council, Capital Metro Board, and the Austin public can fully evaluate this Grove-to-Dean Keeton compromise, I would ask that you prepare the suite of key route estimates for this alternative, including:

  • Daily Ridership
  • Operating & Maintenance Costs
  • Capital Costs
  • Travel Time

If possible, please release these estimates by 1:30pm Wednesday May 14, so that we have at least 48 hours to consider your findings before the next CCAG meeting on May 16.
As we rapidly close in on a LPA vote, it is absolutely critical to Austin’s future that our deliberations be as informed and data-driven as possible.
Thank you, and please let me know if you have any questions about my compromise proposal or data request.
Julie Montgomery, MPAff

In Defense of Owner-Occupied Austin STRs (and Their Hosts)

Earlier today on the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) listserv, Jason Meeker posted the NYT op-ed “The Dark Side of the Sharing Economy” and “assert[ed] that our city council has also made Austin less affordable by restricting the supply of homes and apartments that are used for nothing other than short-term rentals.”

The following is my response to him via the ANC list:

There’s no doubt we’re struggling with affordability in Austin. My husband and I, in fact, came home just today to a estimated 2014 property tax bill 12.5% higher than the one we paid in 2013. I suspect many of you are getting similar letters in the mail this week.

That’s why I’m so grateful to our City Council Members who had the courage to stand up for Austinites’ right to rent out a bedroom short-term in their homes. My husband and I are among those registered in the City’s STR program. The extra income we bring in from renting our spare room to Airbnb guests helps us defray the ever-rising cost of living in Austin, even after we pay the hefty chunk (well over one-third) of our rental income in city registration fees, city taxes, state taxes, and federal taxes.

As of the latest data release, there are three homestead STRs (Type I in Code-speak) registered with the City for every two commercial STRs (Type II) registered. The clear majority of STRs in our city are just Austinites in their own private homes hosting guests to help pay the bills. City leaders should support owner-occupied STRs if they’re serious about addressing our affordability crisis.

It is true that restricting housing supply lessens affordability. However, long-term renting of spare bedrooms doesn’t work for everyone in all situations. We, for example, host visiting family and friends intermittently (and often on short notice) throughout the year. A long-term renter wouldn’t be compatible, but Airbnb enables us to make use of that spare room whenever we don’t have personal guests.

Thanks to the Council Members who defended our right to rent out our guest room, we’re better able to pay our escalating property taxes, plus we get to host people from all over the world who are here to explore Austin, spending money at local businesses and paying sales taxes that fund City services for everyone. That is a win for all of us.


Julie Montgomery, MPAff
Davis-Thompson NA – Central East Austin

My letter to CCAG in advance of our sub-corridor vote today

Dear Fellow CCAG Members,

I want to let you know my plans for our meeting today, so that you are not caught off-guard, and to seek your support for the following:

As you are probably expecting by now, I’d like to ask CCAG to advance the Lamar sub-corridor to Phase 2, along with Highland and East Riverside. We need a true apples-to-apples comparison of our highest-potential *routes* using FTA criteria. We need time to get clear answers from the FTA on the actual implications of MetroRapid, not just hearsay and fearful assumptions. And we need to acknowledge and respect the strong public support for the Lamar sub-corridor and at least *find out* how a Lamar sub-corridor route would stack up against a Highland sub-corridor route under FTA criteria.

Maybe a Lamar sub-corridor route would rate less favorably than a Highland sub-corridor route in the eyes of the FTA. If you believe it would, you should want to demonstrate that to the Lamar advocates and gain their support for a Highland route, for a bond election that will need all the votes it can get under the best of circumstances. At this stage in our Central Corridor study, however, having only studied sub-corridors in Phase 1 and not actual routes, I don’t think any of us can be certain an ERC-Highland route would trump an ERC-Lamar route. Let’s bring the Lamar sub-corridor into Phase 2 and find out.

Remember, comparative political support data are still data. I’ve wished all along we could have comprehensive political polling on Austinites’ sub-corridor preferences. In its absence, though, we have to take into consideration what public support data we do have, and that consistently points to Lamar. The Project Connect technical team can’t take that data into account for their recommendation, but we, as decision-makers, can for ours. To make this transit investment a reality, we need funding from the FTA, yes, but we also need funding from the voters. If we want a successful bond election, let’s harness (or at least not outright dismiss) the strong grassroots enthusiasm for the Lamar sub-corridor. Let’s advance Lamar into Phase 2 of our study along with East Riverside and Highland.

Thanks, and see you soon,

Julie Montgomery, MPAff
Executive Committee Member, Austinites for Urban Rail Action (AURA)
Board Member, Davis-Thompson Neighborhood Association (DTNA)

Truth and Consequences and #ATXrail

I don’t write much voluntarily. Beyond tweets, anyway. The big box of the blog post overwhelms me. But I thought I’d dust off my old Wonkingbird platform to share what I saw and heard at last night’s public workshop on the Project Connect Central Corridor priority subcorridor evaluation. I’ll try to keep it simple and focused so that I’ll actually get this posted.

First, the pictures.

The “placemat”/worksheet in front of every attendee (front and back):Image


The plan and the crowd (as of 6:40pm, at least; more trickled in):



The initial poll of attendees’ priority subcorridor preference:


Project Connect’s Problem Statements and Evaluation Indices (sometimes called Criteria), as presented to the attendees:


The attendees’ rankings of the Problem Statements and ratings of the Evaluation Indices:


(“Congestion” Problem indices:)


Photo Nov 05, 8 34 24 PM

(“Constraints & Growth” Problem indices:)

Photo Nov 05, 7 56 13 PMPhoto Nov 05, 7 56 49 PM

(“Core” Problem indices:)

Photo Nov 05, 7 57 34 PM

Photo Nov 05, 7 58 16 PM

(“Centers” Problem indices:)

Photo Nov 05, 7 59 15 PMPhoto Nov 05, 7 59 58 PM

(“System” Problem indices:)
Ridership Potential Rating
Connectivity Index Rating
Accessibility Index Rating

Then we got the Project Connect team’s “preliminary” (fingers crossed) subcorridor-comparative data:
Photo Nov 05, 8 06 15 PM

Photo Nov 05, 8 08 21 PM

Photo Nov 05, 8 09 46 PM

Photo Nov 05, 8 10 36 PM

Photo Nov 05, 8 12 38 PM

And then they asked one more time for attendees’ priority subcorridor preference:
Photo Nov 05, 8 28 15 PM

From what I could tell, there was a lot of thoughtful, worthwhile discussion among attendees at each of the tables. Folks made good arguments for a number of the subcorridors (nothing shockingly new, though). There were also a LOT of good questions about the problems/problem statements, criteria, measures, and data. I heard multiple times attendees expressing their earnest desire to be open-minded, to make the best priority-subcorridor recommendation for Austin as a whole, and to form that recommendation based on data/”the facts” but feeling unsure about how and whether they could do that with the information presented to them. I know how they feel.

Personally, I was both surprised and glad to see such strong consensus among the attendees on their preferred priority subcorridor. Such consensus, if apparent throughout the public input workshops and opportunities, should have a meaningful impact on the critical impending subcorridor decisions by the Project Connect team, the Central Corridor Advisory Group, the CapMetro Board, and the City Council. I wouldn’t exactly call 47-55% for the Lamar subcorridor a “mandate,” but at the very least, it should be hard to ignore. We’ll see what folks say at tonight’s and tomorrow’s workshops. Maybe it’ll be wildly different and Jane Q Average-Austinite’s preferred subcorridor will be less certain, or maybe it’ll be more. Stay tuned.

Meet RAISE Texas, the statewide asset-building coalition

Since I’m in Austin today and tomorrow for the 2010 RAISE Texas Action Summit, this seems like an excellent time to write an introductory post about the group itself, since it’s not yet a household name but totally should be.

RAISE Texas is cross-sector coalition of orgs (and individuals) working to advance asset-building programs and policies. But what’s asset-building, you ask? Check out the official summary of the coalition’s policy agenda:

RAISE Texas is working to expand economic opportunity for all people in Texas by advocating for change in state and federal policies through bi-partisan support in the following four areas:

  • Matched Savings: We develop legislative strategies to provide matching funds for the new Texas Tuition Promise Fund (pre-paid college tuition plan), the Texas College Savings Plan, and local IDA programs around the state. Learn more about matched savings policies in Texas.
  • Community Tax Centers: We encourage support for Community Tax Centers and support legislative efforts to increase Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) uptake in our state and to provide funding for community tax centers. Learn more about the EITC and Community Tax Center policies in Texas.
  • Payday and High Cost Lending: We promote oversight of payday and other high cost lending in the state of Texas, through state policies and local ordinances. We encourage the development and availability of alternative short-term loan products. Learn more about current actions against the high cost of lending in Texas.
  • Access to Education: We work to build support for policies that facilitate broader access to post-secondary education and training. Learn more about expanding access to education in Texas.

These four campaigns all share the goal of building a more financially stable community, one in which each successive generation is more capable of economically supporting itself, by intervening at points that make a difference in whether a family can sustainably get and stay out of poverty or whether a kid will have a better chance at economic security than his parents did. It’s a hand-up, not a hand-out, as they say. Asset-building is also about improving equality of opportunity, making sure that hard work pays off, and giving our neighbors a way to stay free of the predatory lending debt trap.

CFED's Andrea Levere speaking at RAISE Texas opening receptionI should point out that RAISE Texas is by no means the only group working on asset-building. It’s a national movement, and many of those organizations I’ve linked to over there in the sidebar work on issues/programs connected to asset-building, whether or not they use that particular label. CFED and their fantastic Scorecard project would be a great place to start if you’d like to learn more.

And that brings us nicely back to this year’s RAISE Texas summit! CFED President Andrea Levere spoke tonight at the lovely opening reception at the UT Austin Alumni Center, lauding RAISE Texas for its multi-pronged and bipartisan approach to advancing economic opportunity. I am VERY MUCH looking forward to the main event at the LBJ School tomorrow! There are some fantastic speakers scheduled, some new projects I’m excited to learn about, and sessions for small groups to work on the four campaigns discussed above.

CPPP's Don Baylor speaking at RAISE Texas opening receptionIf it’s not obvious by now, RAISE Texas’s efforts are very near and dear to my heart. I worked on some element of (what became) all four campaigns during my year as an intern at CPPP with Don Baylor. So if you or your organization would like to collaborate on any of these issues with a statewide network of fellow advocates and stakeholders, please do join us! Or, of course, if you’d like to ask me anything, fire away in the comment box below or tweet at me or email me (gmail: juliamontgomery) or employ whatever other communication method tickles your fancy. :)

More tomorrow after the summit, hopefully!

Re: Child Nutrition Bill Clears Congress

Just catching up on the recent “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” that passed last Thursday. While it worries me that it’s set to be paid through cuts to SNAP (food stamps), this still looks like a significant step forward in child health to me.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)’s two-sentence summary of the counterintuitive hunger-obesity relationship is maybe the best I’ve ever read:

“Hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin. Highly processed, empty-calorie foods are less expensive than fresh nutritious foods.”

This makes me laugh:

But Representative Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia and a physician, said: “This bill is not about child nutrition. It’s not about healthy kids. It’s about an expansion of the federal government, more and more control from Washington, borrowing more money and putting our children in greater debt. The federal government has no business setting nutritional standards and telling families what they should and should not eat.”

Surely Rep. Broun is aware of the massive farm subsidies from the federal government that have largely dictated for decades exactly what goes in school lunches (read: CORN)? Also, would he propose eliminating the FDA? Oh wait, yes, I’m guessing he probably would.

It would also allow more than 100,000 children on Medicaid to qualify automatically for free school meals.

Very happy to see this provision survived. Too many kids and families are missing out on the benefits they are eligible for because of burdensome enrollment and renewal paperwork. I can connect my linkedin profile to my wordpress blog to my twitter feed to my facebook page to my flickr photostream to my blogger account and have them all play nice and share relevant data, and those are all separate private companies! There’s no good reason why our government data systems can’t be similarly integrated. Just like with electronic medical records, it’s expensive to implement in the short-term but reduces paperwork-processing administration costs in the long-run.

Back in July, I first read about this Senate bill and a similar House bill and was excited about their proposal of “community eligibility” for school lunches in high-poverty areas. I can’t tell from the NYTimes article whether that provision survived too. Anybody know? I may need to do some more digging…

%d bloggers like this: