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Early reaction to Mayor Wynn's rail proposal

Doing this really fast since I'm working outside and almost out of power, but wanted to get this out today.

5:45 Update: I got suckered, folks. I wanted to believe this was different, but after re-reading the Chronicle and Statesman coverage, it's clear that this is nothing more than Capital Metro's circulator route with the spur to the Triangle built in the first phase - meaning it doesn't go down Guadalupe where all the people are and where they all work, it doesn't go by West Campus, where all of the future non-downtown density is apparently headed, and it doesn't go by Hyde Park or North University, where all the people who wanted rail in the first place actually are. Instead, it runs through the part of east Austin already 'served' by commuter rail and which is violently opposed to more density - and to Mueller, whose modest density is already assured, with or without streetcar, and "to the Triangle", although anybody who would take this from the Triangle to downtown is a certifiable moron, since it would be several miles out of their way through Mueller and East Austin rather than straight down Guadalupe. Fuck. See, shilli? Even M1EK can be naively optimistic.

4:45 Update: God, I hope I'm wrong, but after reading some additional laughably wrong coverage ("commuter rail election" from fox7, for instance), I'm getting the feeling that the route "to the Triangle" might actually just be completing the upper part of the question-mark from the circulator study's route, meaning it would run out to Mueller, then up to 51st, then back across I-35 to the Triangle that way, meaning we miss the best part of UT, West Campus, Hyde Park, etc. If that's the case, ignore everything good I wrote below and go back to the "oh, my god, this will suck goat ass" position.

Now, back to the original 4:15 reaction:

First, thank god he's finally doing SOMETHING. It would have helped more if he had done it in 2004, of course.

Second, there's more questions than answers here, and very little I can say definitively. Neither Wynn nor McCracken or their aides e-mailed me back (in McCracken's case, I didn't expect anything since he was reportedly pissed at my past interference with one of his attempts at pandering, and Wynn's might just be too busy or might likewise hate me, but it's hard to wait any longer).

Third, the emphasis on "doing it ourselves, since Capital Metro wants to let Mike Krusee screw us" SURE SOUNDS FAMILIAR, IF ONLY FOUR YEARS TOO LATE. Still, better late than never.

I will try to follow up on some new terms and questions in this post tomorrow, such as "Rapid Streetcar" and exploring the 2000 LRT route to the airport.

Coverage round-up:

  • Austinist (mostly good)
  • Austin Chronicle (not much here due to their publishing schedule)
  • Statesman - the most stuff, but come on, guys, I don't want to hear from Daugherty. Also, guys, it's not going to be DMUs from the commuter rail line, they can't turn corners tightly enough to be used in-town.
  • News 8 Austin - as I exclaimed to DSK, I don't know whether to applaud or boo the language involving light rail and resurrection. But they did mention that this is completely separate from commuter rail - far more accurate than I expect from these guys. Dammit, if I had any confidence in their description of this as basically "let's do 2000 now", I'd be tapdancing all over the backyard right now (from where I'm composing this). Look at the 2000 picture they dug out of the archives, which would be running by now if Mike Krusee hadn't kicked Austin in the balls, although probably down the middle of Guadalupe rather than on the edge as this early mockup showed.

What do we know so far? Very little. Some kind of rail being proposed for generally the part of town that needs it (nobody wants to be on Airport Boulevard). Connecting to, but not running on, commuter rail. Some indications that McCracken and Wynn are thinking about some reserved guideway rather than just going along with the magical streetcar fairydust approach that thinks running in shared traffic doesn't suck.

Vehicle/Technology: Streetcar or light rail. Sigh. Much confusion and conflation here, from News 8 probably not being able to tell the difference to Gerald Daugherty wanting to tar light rail with the same brush as streetcar to the councilmembers just not being able to commit. Statesman mentions DMU, but there's no way. These things are way too porky - the only way one even ran through the city in New Jersey on the other commuter line Lyndon Henry and his band of serial confusimicators like to call light rail was to cut corners through city blocks (workable in New Jersey since their downtowns, uh, don't have anything going on, to be charitable.

Route: They're talking about Triangle to UT to Capitol to downtown to the airport. This probably means the 2000 LRT route, which probably means no reserved guideway since it was a tough sell even with long and frequently running LRT vehicles. We're not going to be able to afford to give up 2 of 4 lanes on Guadalupe for vehicles the size of streetcars. Could be on Congress in the downtown stretch, in which you could bet against reserved guideway, or on one of the parallel streets, in which reserved guideway (or maybe just shared with buses) might be feasible. On Riverside, some talk of running off the side of the road so as to not take up lanes. As weird as this sounds, this is the best piece of news out of the plan, because it means that McCracken and Wynn at least understand that running streetcar purely in shared traffic lanes is a complete waste of money. Unfortunately, the one street they talk about doing this on is the one street where it's not really needed. Baby steps. My desperate hope is that this talk means they're comparing Riverside to other streets where they'd have to give up car lanes, not that they mean that they'd run in a shared lane on the other streets. Going to the airport is a new touch (was in eventual expansion plans in 2000).

Funding: Talking about using city money. Interesting wrinkle is using airport money for part of this. Federal funding mentioned, but I find it unlikely in the near term (give the Democrats a few years to reverse the past 8 years of disaster at the FTA, first). This line hits all the urban parts of town but doesn't grab the suburban park-and-rides. The Feds loved the 2000 plan because it hit both. They would have hated the 2004 commuter plan for skipping one, and they'd probably hate the 2008 plan for skipping the other one, unless this is substantially cheaper than I expect it to be. ("Rapid Streetcar" possible way around this?)

Operations: Getting Capital Metro out of the way for construction and funding: a good idea. Getting them involved in operations? A bad idea. We can't afford to subsidize suburbanites any more with this thing - if anything we should be treating this as an opportunity to build and operate our own rail system and grab back 1 of the 3 quarter-cents we give to Capital Metro in the process. 1/2 a cent is enough for bus needs, and Leander ought to be funding commuter rail themselves (maybe Cedar Park and Mike Krusee can kick in for the free-riders).

Conclusions: None, really. If they just try to build stuck-in-traffic streetcar, well, it'll be better than what Capital Metro wanted to build, since it'll run on the end of UT actually worth going to, and will run up past Hyde Park and the Triangle, and a few travellers to the airport will find it nominally more attractive than the #100. So, worst-case build scenario, we're better off than Cap Metro's awful circulator. Best-case? Probably some variant of light rail or "Rapid Streetcar". I can't see any possibility for reserved guideway where it would be needed the most - on Guadalupe between MLK and 29th - but if there's reserved guideway downtown, it'd be a lot better than what we could otherwise expect. Still, compared to 2000's light rail, this won't be worth much, but it's better than nothing. Stay tuned.

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 , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Worst Person In Austin


Looks like a little sunshine came out of the rail clouds today. Too bad Will Wynn took forever to figure it out. I'll put some points up on my page later but first I'd like to say that it seems like they are talking about dedicated lanes. The only other thing I'll say is that if they want to build the system that Austin wants, the feds would just mess it up with their stupid ratings measures...take out stations and make route decisions based on cost and not on the best ridership. The way to go is like Houston. Put in a quality starter line (Riverside to Downtown Up Guadalupe to Triangle is the best route for ridership) then go for extensions all at once a la Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City. Very exciting with the news we have so far.

See updates. As I've combined the reports, it has become fairly clear that this is just the question-mark CM circulator route, except with the 51st street section to the Triangle 'area' done right away, and with a route to the airport added in. In other words, not where the people are, and not where they want to go. Sigh.

Gross. Worst. Idea. Ever.

Is there any chance that the FAA and airlines would agree to hand Austin millions of dollars in airport related fees to build light rail? Other cities have tried to grab a portion of that revenue and failed. I don't think there's a chance in hell. It could be that light rail would be the prize the city would dangle from the revenue they'd gain if they ever determine that they can sell or lease the airport to a private owner.

You might be jumping to conclusions a little prematurely, sir. Give it some time... - jmvc

Has the mayor released a proposed map of these routes? I'm trying to remain naively optimistic. Because a street car that connects The Triangle (a few hundred apartments) and Mueller is completely worthless.

No map. The fact that Mueller and the Triangle are mentioned so close together is the alarming bit (consistent across reports), with some even talking about "Mueller up to the Triangle" or something like that.

In a few years, there will be a lot more apartments at the Triangle, by the way.

Well, first thoughts:
Plusses, if I am reading the cryptic stories correctly:
The riverside line apparently would be double track, reserved guideway (with light rail-style at grade crossings of cross streets I guess). That line right there is at least a step in the right direction. As opposed to the "commuter rail" which, as often pointed out here, is actually a unamendable step in the *wrong* direction.
Neutral/negative: Would the intown route be in a lane? If so, probably somewhat of a waste, but at least it would be part of a potentially larger system that would have the right equipment to expand later with more productive lines along the riverside model.

Overall I would say I am cautiously optimistic still on this, at least until further details come out. I think the benificial "good step" of the riverside line would outweigh the clumsyness of the "question mark" intown route, at least as of the current cryptic info.

What's the best route from the Airport to downtown? Any existing tracks that can be used? If we are talking about airport funds being used to support a commuter line for airline passengers, sounds good.

What's the best route from the Airport to downtown? Any existing tracks that can be used? If we are talking about airport funds being used to support a commuter line for airline passengers, sounds good.

i agree with a lot of what you're saying. the highest density areas in austin are 1) downtown 2) UT (weighted heavily towards guadalupe) and 3) east riverside.

amazingly, those three connect in a straight line. more amazingly, if you extend that straight line for another couple miles, you hit the airport.

of course there are many other areas that could use light rail (mueller, brackenridge, acc/huston-tillotson, st. ed's, barton springs/zilker.) but why not hop on the possibility of airport money to force rail through the two most resistant sections (guadalupe and downtown) and get the neediest section (east riverside) along the way?

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