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.
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:
|1||Drive||To park-and-ride||Not realistic to pick up circulator buses on residential end in Leander|
|2||Wait||For commuter rail train||Runs every 30 minutes during rush hour only for first N years, maybe as often as 15 minutes many years later|
|3||Train||To Kramer station||Station is way east of Domain - behind IBM/Tivoli|
|4||Bus||From Kramer station to Domain||Probably no wait here (circulators timed to train arrival) but bus stuck in traffic|
|5||Walk||From bus stop to destination||(short walk)|
|From Central Austin|
|1||Walk||To shuttle bus stop||No parking at the few stations closer in than Kramer, so only way there is bus|
|2||Wait||For shuttlebus||Moderate to long wait. (Timing only guaranteed on train end).|
|3||Bus||To station (one of three)||Slow, jerky, stuck-in-traffic ride|
|4||Wait||For commuter rail train||Runs 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.|
|5||Train||To Kramer station||Station is way east of Domain - behind IBM/Tivoli|
|6||Bus||From Kramer station to Domain||Probably no wait here (circulators timed to train arrival) but bus stuck in traffic|
|7||Walk||From 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.