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TWITC: The Domain and The Bus

Starting a new category - "This Week In The Chronicle" where I post a short response to a couple of articles matching my subject matter here. Subtitle for this category should be "In which M1EK performs the critical analysis that we used to rely on the Chronicle to do, instead of just fleshing out Capital Metro / city press releases".

Both about The Domain today, which is actually a pretty nice little project in the middle of suburban crap.

First, the main article which includes this:

Each TOD, inevitably, has separate demands, different problems, and a different mix between the core components. "No TOD has everything," said Lucy Galbraith, TOD manager for Capital Metro. "Some will primarily be employment centers, some retail or residential. Nobody ever gets everything in there – except maybe Downtown Manhattan."

So what do they have in common? "It's the three D's: density, diversity, design," explained Galbraith. Density isn't about buildings per acre but bodies. It means enough people to make the area feel like a community. There's a psychological factor, that a busy street is a comfortable street. "If you're the only person walking, it can be a little lonely," Galbraith said. "If there's 50 people walking, you feel fine." Similarly, diversity is supposed to reflect not just the usage but the culture of a TOD. "It's incomes, housing types, ethnicity, everything you can find," she added, "because the full range creates the kind of all-day use that makes it a healthy, lively place."

But the third and most critical component is design. Transit plans depend on road design, and a transit plan that hopes to balance public, private, and pedestrian traffic needs to get it right early on, because fixing a road is a lot harder than building it in the first place. According to Galbraith, for a really successful TOD, that means putting people-on-foot first. "There's many technical details, but basically you think about how you make life easy for the pedestrians, and then you fit in everything else."

And my response:

As I've said before, you never, ever, ever get TOD with anything but high-quality rail transit. Note: the rail transit has to be within walking distance of the TOD for this to work - a 'circulator' shuttle bus will absolutely NOT work. Also note, the same lady quoted here has previously attempted to claim that the Far West and Riverside student ghettoes are TOD.

Wishful thinking pushed by the Feds aside, the general opinion in the field is that obvious and frequent bus service is arguably an impediment to high-quality TOD, because it drives away the tenants most in demand (choice commuters). The only thing that appears to work is rail transit within walking distance, period.

Sub-article, on "Getting There":

One concept being considered is a circulator shuttle-bus service that will pick up train passengers and distribute them through the area. It will mean less of an overall dependence on the ubiquitous Cap Metro big bus, but it's not exactly virgin territory for the city's public-transport system. "Our range is a little longer than people perceive, because not everyone sees our express buses or our smaller special-transit service shuttles," said Lucy Galbraith, TOD manager for Cap Metro.

Response:

Even in true downtown areas, circulators are a huge disincentive to choice commuters. In an area like this, which is a pale shadow of downtown, they're going to be a killer. Imagine the use case here, from either central Austin or Leander:








#Segment typeDestinationNotes
From Leander
1DriveTo park-and-rideNot realistic to pick up circulator buses on residential end in Leander
2WaitFor commuter rail trainRuns every 30 minutes during rush hour only for first N years, maybe as often as 15 minutes many years later
3TrainTo Kramer stationStation is way east of Domain - behind IBM/Tivoli
4BusFrom Kramer station to DomainProbably no wait here (circulators timed to train arrival) but bus stuck in traffic
5WalkFrom bus stop to destination(short walk)
From Central Austin
1WalkTo shuttle bus stopNo parking at the few stations closer in than Kramer, so only way there is bus
2WaitFor shuttlebusModerate to long wait. (Timing only guaranteed on train end).
3BusTo station (one of three)Slow, jerky, stuck-in-traffic ride
4WaitFor commuter rail trainRuns every 30 minutes during rush hour only for first N years, maybe as often as 15 minutes many years later. Only one reverse commute per day initially.
5TrainTo Kramer stationStation is way east of Domain - behind IBM/Tivoli
6BusFrom Kramer station to DomainProbably no wait here (circulators timed to train arrival) but bus stuck in traffic
7WalkFrom bus stop to destination(short walk)

Now, compare to driving. Does either one of those trips look remotely attractive enough to get you out of your car? The whole point of transit-oriented development is that the trips to and from the development must be served as well or better by transit as they are by the automobile. Unless you're smoking a particularly potent brand of crack, commuter rail service plus shuttlebus to The Domain will never in a million years, even with gridlock, be better than just driving there.

What could have been done differently? The 2000 light-rail proposal would have knocked off items 2 through 4 from the Central Austin use case above; and light rail could eventually have been routed directly into The Domain (someday removing the other shuttlebus trips from both cases). The DMUs being used on this commuter rail, on the other hand, will never be able to be run in the street, even up there, because they can't make anything but the widest of turns. Once again we see that the decision to implement commuter rail instead of light rail not only buys Austin absolutely nothing now, it prevents us from doing anything better in the future.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , This Week In The Chronicle , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design , Use Cases , metablog

Comments

It appears to me that the relevant reporters at the Chronicle aren't either capable or interested in going beyond the map with lines and dots level. No discussion at all of the actual implementation involved, nor the immediate and future implications of such a system.
Well, I guess they'll find out (the hard way).
If you ask me, it's basically going to be a toy system.

"the general opinion in the field is that obvious and frequent bus service is arguably an impediment to high-quality TOD, because it drives away the tenants most in demand (choice commuters). The only thing that appears to work is rail transit within walking distance, period."

Well, it seems to me that the only real TOD on the ground in ATX today is the Triangle, and it is ONLY served by bus, and certainly seems to be a high-quality, successful TOD. Fortunately, I get on the #1/101 at 51st in the AM, because once it stops at the Triangle, there is not an empty seat. Sure it is mostly students getting on at the Triangle (how the hell do they afford to live there, anyway?) but that DOES NOT mean it is not a successful bus-only TOD, no? CMTA has a P&R there, but my observation is that the people boarding there are coming out of the residences. - jmvc

I know I've exaggerated in the past and called it a TOD (when pointing out that the commuter rail line avoids essentially all existing density in the city), but the Triangle really isn't - it's just a midrise with good bus access.

Things it's missing (some combination of one or more of these might push it over the edge):

1. Is oriented inside rather than to the transit route

2. While you have to pay to ride the bus, parking is free.

3. The transit service is low-quality (although high-frequency). Even Rapid Bus would be considered low-quality by VTPI, by the way, since it has no reserved guideway.

VTPI is pretty strict about this, and they're the good star; TOD has to basically prioritize transit over the car, which means if you have to pay for the bus but the car is free to park, it's not going to be called a TOD by them, even if we yielded on all the other stuff.

I do not think you have exaggerated at all – even if it was not intended to be a TOD, it does not change the fact that the Triangle is indeed a TOD.

"1. Is oriented inside rather than to the transit route"

I am not sure that this is a design requisite for TOD. If you know it to be so, please enlighten me. I imagine a successful Transit ORIENTED Development does not necessarily have to be ORIENTED to the actual transit service, rather it must be designed to allow/encourage quality pedestrian access to the Transit service - which the Triangle seems to do. TOD might not be the best term for what we are all looking for...perhaps a better term would be PODwT - PEDESTRIAN Oriented Development w/ Transit. Also, along Guad, some of the Triangle residences are, it seems, oriented to the street/route.

2. While you have to pay to ride the bus, parking is free.


Got me there. As much as I hate free parking, or any off-street, downtown parking, I understand why no TODs will be developed without parking at the very least for the residential portion of the development. I believe City code requires at LEAST one space/unit in the TODs. The urban TODs will not have parking for the transit service (unless the city jumps in with that bad idea in the urban core) - so perhaps that will help. As far as the P&R at the Triangle, I really don't see it being used very much. I will have to poke my head in there on my way to work tomorrow to see if the garage is full.

"3. The transit service is low-quality (although high-frequency). Even Rapid Bus would be considered low-quality by VTPI, by the way, since it has no reserved guideway."

I really don't know what VTPI says about it, but that is really a subjective statement. If you live at the Triangle (or on stop north of it, as I do) the transit service is pretty badass. Admittedly, I would rather have a BRT/Light Rail or any other vehicle with greater capacity, cause it is too full southbound until 21st street & northbound until the Triangle. The vehicles run frequently and take you DIRECTLY to three of the region’s highest activity/job centers – UT, Capitol Complex and Downtown. Even on a shitty day it only takes 30 minutes to get from the Triangle to 4th & Congress. Most of the time, it is more like 20 minutes, which is far less time than it would take me to drive downtown, do 20 loops in a pkng garage, and make a couple elevator trips to the office. Bottom line, if you live at the Triangle and go/work at UT (or just panhandle on the Drag), work for the state (or make shitty laws at the capitol) or work/get drunk downtown, you have pretty good transit service from the Triangle.



"TOD has to basically prioritize transit over the car," Is it not TOD has to basically prioritize the PEDESTRIAN over the car?

No, TOD has to prioritize transit over the car. I don't know where Galbreith got the idea that the pedestrian was supposed to be higher than transit. Pedestrian access to transit, yes; but that's a slightly different metric.

As for orientation - the orientation of the project tells you who's the priority, and at the Triangle, it's clearly the car.

Finally, as for high-quality transit service, city bus service is never "high-quality". Never ever ever. Even the #101 doesn't qualify - it's just limited-stop low-quality. For transit service to be high-quality, it needs to be BRT or other reserved-guideway transit.

Otherwise, you're relying on the same old (vanishingly rare) reasons to take the bus: if you have to pay a lot to park, or if you can't afford a car. High-quality transit is actually competitive with the automobile, in other words.

In other words, "quality" refers to "reserved guideway" or if we're feeling particularly charitable, at least "prioritized guideway" a la Rapid Bus, if it ever happens. This isn't my definition; it's what VTPI and others use (they generally stick to just rail; I'm actually being nice by including BRT and maybe Rapid Bus here).

The dividing line between low and high-quality is basically this: if I, in aggregate, have a good low-cost parking space in or very close to my building, would I ever feel tempted to take the transit alternative? With light rail, the answer in many cities is yes. With city bus, it's almost always no. Hence "low-quality", even if it runs every 30 seconds.

Of course TOD has to prioritize Transit over the car (i did not mean to convey otherwise) but shouldn't the pedestrain have an even higher priority? All transit trips begin and end with a pedestrian trip - even at park & rides. It seems that a great ped environment encourages more transit usage, but if you have a terrible pedestrian environment, very few will ride, period.

"As for orientation - the orientation of the project tells you who's the priority, and at the Triangle, it's clearly the car."

Once again, you are undoubtedly right, the Triangle was probably designed with auto access in mind, but it now seems to function remarkably like TOD. If it walks like a TOD and smells like a TOD, it just might be TOD.

Perhaps bus service is not as "high quality" as anything w/ reserved guideway, but it is in many cases far from "low-quality." If the service is safe, accessible, reliable, convenient, clean & cheap, and most importantly gets you where you want to go - how is that low quality? Perhaps we just have different standards.

Dude, hurry up and post on this.

ttp://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/09/27/0927parking.html

Sorry, but I can't sign on to the Triangle as a TOD - it doesn't walk like a TOD and it doesn't talk like a TOD. The nice pedestrian environment is built on the INSIDE of the project - the outside is OK, but nothing incredibly special. The whole place screams "drive inside, park your car, and walk around" rather than "take the bus to me".

And, yes, as it pertains to quality, local bus service is always considered "low-quality". Because it is - it can never be remotely competitive with the private automobile unless parking costs are extremely high. High-quality transit are the forms which can compete on grounds other than simple price.

As for the parking issue - I'm having a hell of a time with my internet connection in the garage office again today (up and down and very slow) but I did post on it at austinist - I'm ambivalent - given current zoning code which requires parking even downtown, a municipal garage as the beneficiary of an in-lieu parking program isn't the worst idea the city's ever had, as long as the user parking fees are reasonably high and the parking garage is in a part of downtown which we weren't going to profitably develop through the private sector.

LOVE your fare increase comments. NO suburbanites moving out of Austin, not paying taxes and using the services for FREE.

Along the same lines, I think out of towners shouldn't get to publish letters to the editor complaining about Austin problems. If you don't pay taxes here we can't hear you.

P.S. I would like to echo your fare increase comments to CM. Any idea who I should email?

Thanks Bitsy. Only people with any power on this would be the CM board members - and the only ones who would care to hear from Austin residents are the ones from our city council (Martinez and McCracken).

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