TxDOT’s Plans on Interstate 35

Texas Department of Transportation Open House. Don’t forget to submit a comment.

Towers.net, Widening I-35 to 20 Lanes in Downtown Austin is the Anti-Project Connect:

More people than ever recognize you can’t build your way out of traffic, but the Texas Department of Transportation is planning to try just the same, and Austin will suffer for the next several decades if such a failure of imagination moves forward.

Reconnect Austin:

Reconnect Austin is a grassroots campaign to bury I-35 through Downtown Austin and reclaim this vital corridor as public space and developable land. Our vision is to create a new, humanized boulevard, reconnecting East Austin to Downtown, mitigating air and water pollution, and providing an economic boost in the form of new, centrally located housing and businesses.

Other cities to learn from:

Houston went all-in on the mega freeway expansion with the Katy Freeeway. The expansion made congestion worse.

Arch Daily writes 6 Cities That Have Transformed Their Highways Into Urban Parks.

World Atlas on The Story of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco:

The replacement of the Embarcadero Freeway is considered a large success in the world of urban planning. The waterfront park has become extremely popular and has also received a significant level of private investment. The Embarcadero Boulevard which replaced Embarcadero Freeway carries almost half of the original freeway volume with the remaining traffic finding alternative routes or switching to other modes of transport. The changes also allowed more pedestrians to use the boulevard.

Pew Charitable Trust: More Cities Are Banishing Highways Underground — And Building Parks on Top

Another Take on Austin’s Proposition A

Emma Freer wrote a good retrospective on Austin’s successful 2020 light rail election in Austonia:

Unlike other races this election cycle, the results weren’t close. Prop A passed by a nearly 19% margin, which local political analysts and transit advocates attributed to record-breaking turnout, a younger electorate and a new approach to transit planning.

The new approach to transit planning is described by Christof Spieler. First, don’t be coy. If you’re proposing transit, go all in for transit.

Conventional wisdom used to be that a transit referendum would be more likely to pass if it appealed to transit skeptics, said Christof Spieler, a senior lecturer at the Rice University School of Architecture.

This was often achieved by limiting the amount of funding and bundling in spending for different kinds of infrastructure.

Comparing the 2020 plan to 2014:

This time around, Capital Metro and city officials learned from past failures. Project Connect included more than seven times the investment and focused exclusively on transit, with two light rail lines, expanded bus service and other components.

Second, do the community outreach. Getting community groups involved and invested improved the plan, but it also included a bunch of activists who were influential in their communities.

Another key change, Spieler said, is the attention paid to advocacy groups and grassroots organizing.

Capital Metro reports that around 60,000 Austinites provided input on Project Connect, and advocates—some of whom opposed the last ballot measure because they felt it did too little—were more directly involved.

“Those advocacy groups were a major voice in the creation of the plan and then rally their supporters to turn out to vote for it,” Spieler said.

You could say that the 2014 plan died because of a bad map. But they developed a bad map because they studiously avoided involving any community groups. In the end, they had a bad map and no supporters.

iA Writer 5.5 Improves WordPress Support

iA Writer just updated to version 5.5. This looks like a significant update, with one big feature that affects me: better support for self-hosted WordPress sites. Previous versions required the Jetpack plugin, which I balked at using. Now I can use the IndieAuth plugin. The OAuth2 plugin is also supported with a little more configuration.

This is my first post with iA Writer 5.5. It took me a couple of tries to get the plugin to work–documentation is scarce. But it works as advertised. Here’s hoping it leads to more posts here.

Markdown for Technical Documentation

It seems like this advice comes along periodically: Don’t use Markdown for technical documentation. Hillel Wayne is the most recent plea to hit hacker news, but there have been others.

Hillel Wayne, Please don’t write your documentation in Markdown

Markdown cannot carry data. There’s no way to imbue properties into text using markdown. Good documentation is all about the semantic markup. A “definition” is not just a different formatting or like. It means there’s actually a concept of a “definition” as a discrete concept in your documentation.

Matthew Butterick, in Pollen: the book is a program:

Markdown is a limiting format for authors. Why? Because Markdown is merely shorthand notation for HTML tags. As such, it has three problems: it’s not semantic, it only covers a limited subset of HTML tags, and it can’t be extended by an author.

Eric Holscher, Why You Shouldn’t Use “Markdown” for Documentation

Though many people have added extensions to Markdown, almost none have any kind of semantic meaning. This means that you can’t write a Class or a Warning, you can only write text.

Mister Gold, Stop Using Markdown For Documentation

With Markdown you can only write text. It means that if you need to grab the reader’s attention with some kind of notes or tips, you have to embed HTML.

I have focused on the lack of semantic data in all these criticisms, because I think it is the most important drawback. The lack of semantic meaning in markdown makes in unsuitable for many technical writing tasks. Yet, I still write in markdown. This post is in markdown. There are a couple of reasons:

  1. Its easy. I never forget the syntax. This may be because it is so limited, but it makes it easy to do simple documents.
  2. It’s ubiquitous. The fact that there are so many different markdown parsers is not problem, its a strength. It’s usually trivial to add markdown to a system or workflow, regardless of the environment

What are the alternatives?

ReStructurexText – If I were writing a book, I would probably use ReStructuredText. It is extensible, so you can add your own “roles”. But the syntax is pretty hard to remember. For example, here is the image syntax:

.. image:: images/biohazard.png
    :height: 100
    :width: 200
    :scale: 50
    :alt: alternate text

Of course, the benefit is that the image tag has a height, width, and scale: something few markdown parsers support. It’s heavily tied to Python, which is something I’m comfortable with. It’s also heavily tied to a single implementation in docutils.

AsciiDoc – The syntax is more in the spirit of markdown. It seems to have coalesced around a Ruby implementation, and left the original python implementation languishing[1]. I was unhappy with the HTML produced by asciidoctor is styled entirely by div tags. Title ; just styles applied to named div tags.

Pollen – Very nice system. The fact it requires Racket is both admirable and a real-world pain. I gave up after trying to write my own pollen command. Trying to debug the unexpected return type from a nested s-expresion did me in.

For now, I stay with markdown, and all it’s shortcomings.

  1. There are also two competing versions of aciidoc for python3: asciidoc-py3 and asciidoc3  ↩

Remote Cheese Tasting

In the spirit of supporting our local business during the pandemic, we signed up for a cheese-tasing course with Antonelli’s. We picked up a half pound of cheese from their shop: a pre-selected sampling of seven different cheeses. Then we embellished it with a little prosciutto, Castelvetrano olives, a baguette, and some wine. We then tuned into their video stream while they talked us through the full tasting menu. It was great, especially considering they had never streamed a tasting before and rushed into it with about a week’s preparation.

A cheese plate with wine and bread.