MichaelB | Indy Week

Member since Feb 28, 2008

Latest Review

Re: “Fullsteam

Great, inventive beer styles, though likely to be different from what you're used to. The tavern is a fun post-industrial space complete with a good juke box, pinball, and ping pong. They've upped the food options recently, but you can still bring in your own food or get it delivered, which makes it almost like an indoor beer garden.

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by MichaelB on 01/07/2011 at 2:58 PM

Recent Comments

Re: “Charges Against Three Defend Durham Demonstrators Dropped

Yeah, stupid PC police! Why can't we charge people with no evidence or testimony other than that some police officers didn't like the protest?

10 likes, 11 dislikes
Posted by MichaelB on 11/09/2017 at 10:30 AM

Re: “The Durham-Orange County Light Rail Line Is on the Ropes Again. That Might Be a Good Thing.

One more because again I was directly addressed by wheresthebeef:

"Doesn't make sense" -- 15-501 requires exits and crossings to serve its existing needs. Incorporating those is hard. Also, the 15-501 is not an urbanized corridor -- BRT buses would have to exit the main path to serve stations, or else people would have to somehow get to the middle of the highway to board stations.

"First problem" is just "BRT is always better." Which it's not. Sometimes it's better. It works really well through already urbanized areas with dense built environments and extant excess lane capacity. It works less well other places. This is why light rail

"Second problem" is that you don't like the funding source. Regressive transportation planning is worse at this point than regressive taxation because of the overall cost to job opportunities. I'd like a better funding source if we could get NCGA to approve it. Ha! I made a funny!

"tertiary problem" Because at-grade crossings are cheaper but sometimes they don't have a high enough service level and have to be upgraded. Was that so hard?

"Seismic disruption" to transportation technologies. Ah, this would be the famous self-driving vehicles. Please see my response to Mr. Cabanes regarding the marginal cost of those technologies in the 10 year window from now. Compare that to the adoption rates on other massively "disruptive" technologies like hybrid engines and alternative fuel vehicles, along with the average operating span of a new vehicle. SDVs will be good things in limited applications, kinda like Segways. But the hype over them is just that -- hype.

All of which gets back to my problem with the current crop of transit skeptics lionized by Mr. Hudnall's highly flawed article -- it's long on posturing and rhetoric and low on engagement with actual planning practice. One more time -- I actually like BRT systems a lot in the right environment, but folks like wheresthebeef and Mr. Cabanes are basically people who have learned a few buzzwords and arguments and taken them and run. (I mean really, leaving out the cost of car operation in making comparisons with transit is basic, basic stuff.) And ultimately it keeps coming back to silly self-driving vehicle utopias where everything will be solved by technology that somehow never materializes into cost.

So, hey, let's do this for fun -- around 30k vehicles are sold to Durham and Orange residents every year. Let's say SDV tech comes on the market next year at the projected $30k marginal cost (they won't, but let's say). If EVERYONE buys SDV from year one, that's an almost $1 billion in ADDITIONAL new car costs to Triangle residents. And what do you get for that? Somewhere between 5-6% of cars on the road are SDVs. So repeat that every year for the first 10 years, and you likely get something close to half the cars on the road are SDVs. At a cost of $10 billion dollars to Triangle residents. And you still haven't done anything for the transit-dependent population.

And remember, cars with a $30k SDV markup aren't available yet. The markup for on-the-road true SDVs (unlike the Tesla "Autopilot" that just killed someone) is more than $100k.

Not to mention that actual first-year adoption rates for SDVs at those rates are likely to be less than 1% and, if things go REALLY well, get up to maybe 5-8% by year 10.

How you feeling about that "seismic disruption" now?

6 likes, 7 dislikes
Posted by MichaelB on 07/06/2016 at 12:09 AM

Re: “The Durham-Orange County Light Rail Line Is on the Ropes Again. That Might Be a Good Thing.

This might be my last comment on this -- others are carrying on the debate fine, but I do have to respond to a couple of specific questions from wheresthebeef and Alex Cabanes:

"OK. I must be missing something. If corridors are expensive why is DOLRT advocating a new one? It only makes commonsense that expanding the existing corridor(s) would be far more cost effective, Overcapacity is hyperbole along 15-501 since there is plenty of right of way. Yes additional rights of way would be needed, but that would be by far less expensive and impactful that the DOLRT right of way."

First of all, corridors are needed because transportation requires them. This is fairly axiomatic when one stops playing silly word games. Transportation is both incredibly expensive and incredibly necessary to our economy. That is why these things cost lots of money. This is a very simple point but one which seems to keep being missed. Road corridor lane miles or rail miles are both expensive. (More on that in a second.)

Further, there is not "plenty of right of way" around 15-501 -- it would require considerable land purchases, which unlike the rail corridor, no transportation agency holds the options for purchase. Additionally, every lane added to an existing corridor adds considerably less volume than an equivalent lane on a new corridor.

Now, regarding Mr. Cabanes:

Let's start with the mathematical. The total budget of DOLRT involves the construction, operating, and maintenance costs, and these costs include not only the corridor infrastructure, but the rolling stock purchase, operation, and maintenance. By contrast, the building of a highway does not include the purchase, operation, and maintenance cost of driving -- which can be approximated as the cost of owning and maintaining a car and the cost of the driver's time. The monetary cost of driving time versus riding the train are hard to calculate, but fortunately AAA (hardly an auto-unfriendly organization) does the good work of calculating the per-mile costs of car ownership and maintenance. (See here: http://exchange.aaa.com/automobiles-travel…) If Mr. Cabanes wants to do apples-to-apples comparison to costs of transit, he needs to take the average trip length of those car trips and multiply times the appropriate costs per mile. (Given the range of variables involved this can be hard, but 55 cents per mile is a reasonable conservative estimate based on AAA's calculations.)

This, of course, gets a bit higher if one wants to buy into Mr. Cabanes' technoutopianism. Mr. Cabanes has repeatedly said that train technology will be obsoleted by self-driving vehicles in 10 years. While I find this ridiculous on its face, the veracity can be set aside for the moment and his time frame used. Existing, road-tested self-driving vehicles require an approximately $100,000 mark-up to take a normal car to a self-driving one. Current estimates of fully automated, self-driving vehicles put its cost for the next 5-10 years as dropping to $30k. The most optimistic estimates, which I'm highly skeptical of, see that dropping to $5k within 25-30 years, but let's stay within Mr. Cabanes' 10 year framework for now. Just focusing on the (very ambitious) purchase cost estimates and ignoring any extra maintenance that SDVs would require over a 7 year ownership period (after all, all computers and cameras and smartphones last 7 years with no maintenance, right?) with 15,000 miles driven per year, SDV adds at LEAST 25 cents per mile to the conservative 55 cent estimate above.

Finally, onto Mr. Cabanes' aptly-named "personal note":

"On a personal note, I find it particularly ironic that the most vocal DOLRT advocates, do so from afar without bearing the brunt of their progressive advocacy. Or that virtually every elected official advocating for DOLRT, high-density, transit-oriented-developments, etc. does so from the comfort of their single-family, detached, suburban home --- far away from the proposed DOLRT alignment. Perhaps it is easier to be ‘progressive’, living without the consequences of your decisions and can comfortably bully from afar those who do, as merely NIMBY."

Dear sir;

The letters following "MichaelB" in my name are "acon." You may feel free to put those into a Lexis-Nexus search for the public record of my involvement in Durham politics, particularly in the years between 1998 when I returned to Durham from college and 2013 when I moved away to allow my wife to take a job elsewhere. Unlike you, I expect, I was born in Durham. Unlike you, I expect, I graduated from high school in Durham. Unlike you, I expect, I rode the bus system regularly for well over a decade in Durham. Unlike you, who likes to style yourself a bus-advocate, I was pinning down elected officials at events as early as the late 1990s emphasizing that bus service in Durham had to improve, regardless of whether or not a train-based system was built. Unlike you, my record of public activism in Durham expands well beyond transit. Unlike you, I advocated for the half-cent sales tax because of its immense benefits to bus riders, benefits that have already begun to manifest.

Like you, my parents live near the rail corridor in southwest Durham county. Like you, I still have many friends and family who live near the corridor.

Unlike you, however, regardless of whether the BRT or the LRT gets built, I intend to be a regular rider of the service for decades to come and will therefore actually live with the consequences of whether the system is well-designed or not.

It is, however, unsurprising that when your utopian nonsense is laid bare, you resort to the same sorts of "personal notes" you only days before were decrying in your opponents.

You may now return to your futuristic dreamland. I can't help but wish you would stay there.

12 likes, 11 dislikes
Posted by MichaelB on 07/05/2016 at 10:50 AM

Re: “The Durham-Orange County Light Rail Line Is on the Ropes Again. That Might Be a Good Thing.

The watershed argument isn't about impacts on the watershed (although arguments that the LRT would disproportionately impact the watershed have been floated by LRT opponents and are similarly specious).

The point of the watershed is, again, about corridors, although LRT opponents seem to put in an excessive amount of work to not hear this argument. Corridors are expensive, whether they're train tracks or lane miles. The watershed is illustrative because there are only seven bridges over the watershed that provide any amount of connectivity between Durham and Chapel Hill, and they're all over capacity. As far as drainage ditches along 15-501, those ditches are in the places where the BRT lanes would have to be built, along with physical separators for the lanes to ensure they could get through traffic. That would require acquisition of extra right-of-way, rebuilding of more ditches further out, and grading of those areas. As far as environmental impacts go, it's a bit of a push between that and LRT in basic corridor construction. (Again, LRT's climate impacts remain far less than BRT.)

And again, once one gets past the hyperbole and happy-clappy talk about Durham-Chapel Hill BRT costing $100 million or being nothing more than bus purchase, there are legitimate comparisons to be made between LRT and BRT. I think LRT is a better solution on the balance, but there are legitimate arguments to be made both ways. Unfortunately, folks like Alex Cabanes don't seem to be interested in legitimate arguments, and put forward guff about "19th century technology" and "16 BRT lines" and "obsolete in 10 years" that are absolute fantasyland nonsense. So it's hard to even have a basic conversation.

Regarding my personal property ownership, yes, the train would benefit my property values, as would almost any high performance transit. It is also going to cause considerable stress on the historic character of the neighborhood and is already causing teardowns and triplex construction that threatens the neighborhood character. Frankly, almost no actual transportation infrastructure has been added other than bypasses in that area for 50 years, so I think our neighborhood is due for its share of upfit, having subsidized all kinds of backroads on the fringes of Durham for decades that I never drive on, but that's an argument for another day.

11 likes, 11 dislikes
Posted by MichaelB on 07/02/2016 at 4:09 PM

Re: “The Durham-Orange County Light Rail Line Is on the Ropes Again. That Might Be a Good Thing.

For those wondering why I'm here -- I was born in Durham, finished high school in Durham, moved back to Durham in 1999 and stayed until 2013 when my wife's job took me to Richmond. I still own the house I lived in for 9 years in Old West Durham. My Virginia license plate says "DURMITE." Richmond is a temporary stopover, but it's interesting as a counter-example because they're implementing the solution that Alex and others want. I am currently a student in the Urban and Environmental Planning department at UVA.

BRT has lower corridor capital costs (although not smaller corridor width -- if Alex stopped to think a moment he might realize that road corridors often use considerably more than two 14-foot wide lanes, and are often close to 50 feet themselves once drainage ditches and shoulders are incorporated). It also has considerably higher operating costs, uses more energy, and costs per passenger rise at a higher rate once the system is built. In short, LRT has a higher initial cost but lower ongoing costs than BRT.

As to any "baseless" assertions, again I'm out of country until next week and so can't take the time to pull this up while on vacation, but most of the key data are here: http://www.dchcmpo.org/programs/cmp/ Pull the NCDOT performance levels for the following corridors where they cross the New Hope watershed:

- 15/501
- Old Erwin
- Old Chapel Hill Rd.
- NC 54
- Stagecoach Rd
- I-40
- NC 86 (which collects both New Hope Church Rd. and Mt. Sinai)

What you'll find is that they are all at or close to capacity. This is why there is no existing corridor room down which to put BRT. All solutions require adding existing corridor along almost the entire route, including crossing the sensitive watershed. Again, we've already used up all of the extra right-of-way we had in the 15-501 corridor with an expansion that cost hundreds of millions, which improved congestion but still did not bring the road back under reasonable capacity. That "cheap" option is gone.

So $100 million BRT options like Richmond has aren't available for the Durham to Chapel Hill connection. To get transit, we need new corridor.

11 likes, 12 dislikes
Posted by MichaelB on 07/01/2016 at 5:30 AM

Re: “The Durham-Orange County Light Rail Line Is on the Ropes Again. That Might Be a Good Thing.

For what it's worth, the appropriate BRT to build in Durham, IMO, is to run roughly from the Durham Regional area, down Roxboro Rd., shift over onto Alston, and continue all the way to RTP. The conversion of the Bull City Connector to BRT would also be a good investment.

Those are the kinds of corridors that can support the addition of BRT. For the Chapel Hill connection, however, LRT is the optimal choice.

10 likes, 14 dislikes
Posted by MichaelB on 06/30/2016 at 10:45 AM

Re: “The Durham-Orange County Light Rail Line Is on the Ropes Again. That Might Be a Good Thing.

Alex, with all due respect, you ignored my fundamental point.

You simply cannot build acceptable BRT between Durham and Chapel Hill on existing corridors. The cost of corridor construction is the overwhelming component of the LRT's cost.

Richmond (and many other cities) are building BRT, which I fully support where appropriate, on existing corridor and adding stations along the way. That is an excellent use of existing corridor, particularly when the corridor is already fully urbanized, as it is along all of the proposed BRT corridors through Richmond.

And further, major infrastructure expenditure on the Durham to Chapel Hill link is needed, and soon. Again, hundreds of millions (I'm actually out of the country at the moment, so digging through project reports to get the exact cost is more than I can do at the moment) have already been spent on 15-501, which hasn't even brought the road back up above an F rating in NCDOT's eyes. So this, "let's just do what Richmond is doing and add BRT" suggestion fundamentally ignores the reality of corridor capacity.

The LRT is a good solution. We should build it, and the state should stop playing favorites and apply its data-driven funding model.

13 likes, 14 dislikes
Posted by MichaelB on 06/30/2016 at 10:03 AM

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