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The Great Interconnections Lie

The North Burnet/Gateway presentation, which, frankly, looks very very appealing in the alternate universe where we had the guts to stand up to Mike Krusee and develop light rail, continues the rationalization of poor transit service by calling it "interconnected", which is a euphemism for "you're going to have a lot of transfers". Specifically, a resident of this area trying to go downtown would need to first board a circulator (probably a bus) to get to the commuter rail station between Metric and Burnet, then wait for the train, then ride the train to MLK or the Convention Center, then switch to another circulator (probably again a bus) to get to UT, the Capitol, or the parts of downtown where people actually work.

And yet nobody sees this as a problem.

Today, all you have to do is spend some time outside the transfer centers at Northcross or Highland Mall, and it becomes abundantly clear that the only people who use bus service that requires a transfer are the utterly transit-dependent (not the choice commuters we're supposed to be serving). So we're going to build a rail spine for our transit network that requires at least one transfer to bus for anybody to use.

And yet nobody sees this as a problem.

Light rail, as promised here in 2000 and delivered everywhere else in the meantime, on the other hand, is designed to serve as a one-seat ride for the majority of riders (two seats for suburban users of park-and-rides). Let's compare and contrast again:

Suburban users:

Light Rail a la 2000Commuter Rail With Interconnections(tm)
1Drive to park-and-rideDrive to park-and-ride
2Wait for train (every 10 mins rush hour; every 20-30 otherwise)Wait for train (every 30 mins rush hour; no service otherwise)
3Ride train to stationRide train to station
4Walk to officeWait for circulator (probably bus)
5 Ride bus (stuck in traffic)
6 Walk to office

And now, for this "second downtown", we're being sold on the idea that "interconnected transit" with "circulators" is the way to go, meaning that the commuter in the right column will actually be adding another bus ride at the beginning of their trip.

Folks, even in Manhattan, routes that require transfers see a substantial drop in ridership, yet somehow we think that our comparatively low-density city is going to do better? Even when our transfer is to a jerky, slow, stuck-in-traffic bus? And now these idiots working on the Burnet plan think a bus ride on the OTHER END is actually a POSITIVE?

(No, streetcars won't help; they're still stuck in traffic behind everybody else's car).

Somebody other than me's got to start talking about this stuff so it's not such a surprise in 2008 when nobody rides the thing. Please, for the love of god, somebody speak up. Ben Wear? Wells Dunbar? John Kelso? Somebody hep me!

And, no, this is not a problem we can fix with better circulators. Remember, the Manhattan transfer commuters go from one reserved-guideway rail vehicle to another reserved-guideway rail vehicle, and yet it still cuts their ridership by a substantial percentage. And that's in a town where you have to lay something like 50 bucks a day just to park that car.

Start here to learn about all the places New Yorkers are still trying to eliminate transfers.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Republicans Hate Poor People , Republicans Hate Public Transportation , Republicans Hate The Environment , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design , Use Cases


There's a great post about this same kind of issue in Houston on the Intermodality blog, covering their own rail line.



Thanks for the ping. I read Christof religiously but hadn't noticed this post yet - and he actually uses me as the link in his lead-in in the forum for discussion of this post.

Hey Mike, I completely agree on the desirability of the Light Rail plan versus the Commuter Rail mess we have now.

Thanks for linking to the North Burnet Gateway plan presentation. I read that, and many parts of that look very appealing. Hell, anything is better than the north Burnet Road we have now. I especially like the new Mopac overpass from Longhorn to York - it could make a very nice alternative for bike commuters - what could be worse than the existing Burnet and Duval crossings?

I also like how they envision all these mixed-use buildings on Burnet where the IBM 900 building parking lots stand now. That would be nice to see, but what chance do you give to IBM giving up their front yard?

Thanks, Dan. A lot of these kinds of things is wishful thinking - but who's to say down the road that IBM will even own that land? I'm surprised they own it now, given how much they wanted to divest of physical assets back when I still worked there.

Best thing to do with these kinds of long-range strategies is to just set some bounds and then step away - things like maximum height, min/max setback, eliminating suburban-oriented parking requirements, etc. You won't get truly organic growth when any one developer controls too much land, though, so it's still very far from the original urban ideal.

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