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Commuter rail train arrives; raises M1EK's blood pressure

Since the delivery of the new rail cars have spurred a few "god dammit it's NOT LIGHT RAIL" responses from me, and since I typed something like the following up for Ben Wear's blog and am not sure it went through, here's a quick refresher on three major problems with this commuter rail line:

1. It does not primarily serve Austin residents. Leander residents deserve some service, because they pay some Capital Metro taxes, but the second best-served population for this line is actually Cedar Park, who pays absolutely nothing (it's considerably more feasible for the average Cedar Park resident to just drive down the road a bit to the NW Austin Park-and-ride and ride the train than it is for 90% of Austin residents to ride this train at all). Most of the Austin stations don't have parking, but are also not located in areas where a non-trivial number of people could walk to the stations (unlike the 2000 light rail line, which ran within walking distance of a few of the densest neighborhoods in the city).

2. It relies on shuttle buses for passenger distribution. No, you won't be walking to work, not even if you work downtown, unless you're even more of a stubborn cuss than M1EK is. The rule of thumb for transit agencies is 1/4 mile, that being, if their office is within a quarter-mile of the train station, most people would be willing to walk. The Convention Center station is a bit more than a quarter-mile from the closest major office building and more like 1/2 to 3/4 mile away from most downtown offices. And UT and the Capitol are much farther away than that from their purported station. Why is this a problem? Since anybody who wants to ride this thing is going to have to take shuttle buses, we're relying on the theory that people who aren't willing to ride the excellent express buses straight to their offices at UT, the Capitol, or downtown will somehow become major fans of buses when they are forced to transfer to one at the train station.

3. Yes, you have to builld one line in order to build a system - but in this case, the line we're building prevents us from ever building a good system. lt precludes the only realistically feasible light rail line from being built, and even if it didn't, the political blowback from "let's ride and then decide" would knock us dead once it becomes clear that Ben Wear and I were telling the truth when we said Capital Metro is only planning for something like 1500 riders per day. And no, Virginia, streetcar won't help one bit - it's still a daily transfer from a good mode - reserved-guideway fast rail transit - to a bad mode - stuck-in-traffic slow rail transit which is no better than stuck-in-traffic slow shuttlebus.

Think this is just a broken-record? When the initial impulse of writers who generally have clues is still to call this light rail and when people get unreasonably optimistic without thinking about where the stations actually are, my work continues to be necessary. Sorry, folks.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , I Told You So , Republicans Hate Poor People , Republicans Hate Public Transportation , Republicans Hate The Environment , Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Transit in Austin , Transportation , metablog


You do understand that CapMetro did not have to 'build' this line?

The tracks have existed for almost 100 years, and were passenger rated by CapMetro over ten years ago.

Why not put a train on them?

Of course CapMetro spend 10x in dollars and 4x in time compared to what an efficient organization would have needed to get the trains running on time, but that's CapMetro. You go to mass transit with the CapMetro you have, not the one you might want.

At least this rail plan didn't destroy dozens of business and cause a huge increase in pollution and lost productivity due to years of traffic tie-ups, as the light plane would surely have done.

The huge expense and very long implementation time of the Leander line just prove that the rejected light rail plan would have been a disaster of Biblical proportions.

Isn't some urban jewelry better than no urban jewelry?

Mike, I cry a little bit for you every time I read one of your transit posts, and then I laugh with glee at the thought of the FIVE NEW LIGHT RAIL LINES we'll have in Houston in 5 short years. My house will be about a quarter of a mile from one line, 3/4 of a mile from another, and 1 mile from a third. Houses are still cheap in the neighborhood, buddy. . .but they won't be for long, when people realize it's the best-connected area in the city. So you better move here fast! Oh, and I lived in Austin for the past two years, and it's great and all - but it's not THAT much better than Houston (and every year it's looking more and more like our favorite old sprawl-city).


Destroy dozens of businesses? Years of traffic tie ups?

Couldn't you say that about pretty much any major transit project, road or rail?

In my observation, in practice, the installation of reserved-guideway lightrail on arterials causes no more disruption than typical surface arterial reconstruction. Just look at Houston's rail construction. And for road disruption sans rail, just look at 45th street's reconstruction.

Plus, in the case of the light rail plan, I do believe several significant sections would have built at the time some surface roads were being resurfaced anyway.

Alas, I fear the greater Austin area in the long run is actually more on track to look like 1980s LA than Houston. In attitude and development.


It's not urban jewelry at all, even if we were to accept your contention that there were no real benefits. Like most suburbanites, you apparently think nobody works downtown, or at UT, or at the Capitol (you probably also think the buses are empty). Take a trip down here someday; it'll open your eyes.

I ask only because I don't know, only being an Austinite for 2 years now:

Is there truly no chance of the city re-considering a light rail line that runs down Guadalupe, past campus, the Capital, and downtown, and into South Austin on S. First? I know it was rejected in 2000, but is it possible that it could ever be re-considered as an additional line? Or would CapMet consider it too "similar" to the commuter rail we're about to build that doesn't connect any of those places, or go south?

A purely in-street line would be a nearly impossible sell for Federal dollars, without which we have no shot (Houston built their small starter purely in-street line with their own dollars, but they had more money to work with and a huge park-and-ride that wasn't all the way out in the suburbs).

An in-street line down Guadalupe and S 1st like that would cost around a billion, I'd guesstimate, which is about ten times as much as Cap Metro could fund without federal help.

Hey Ian,

What neighborhood are you in? We have actually been talking about leaving Austin for Houston, something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago....

Curious to see your take on this fairly big news:


I wrote Wynn and McCracken this morning after the Chronicle piece (less info) and am giving them a bit of time to respond before I write anything, because I don't want to mischaracterize the plan (trying to be fair), but I'm only going to wait until mid-afternoon.

ccosart -- Eastwood, a couple miles east of downtown, just north of the University of Houston. Here's the neighborhood website: http://www.eastwood-houston.com/photo_tour_eca1.htm

But heck, now it looks like the possibility of rail is being reintroduced into Austin! You may want to wait awhile to see how that pans out!

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