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City wastes millions of dollars...

on TOD planning. I was reminded about this by the Chronicle article, but meant to write this post this morning after watching the Planning Commission cover the TOD station plans for the MLK and Saltillo stations.

Here's how TOD (transit-oriented development) works in the real world:

You start with a rail line that goes to places a lot of people work (drops them off within walking distance of their office). You notice that the rail line is doing pretty well, but could do even better if more people lived right next to the stations instead of having to be driven to stations or transfer from buses. You loosen zoning restrictions around those stations allowing for high-density development (and maybe lease some land owned by the transit agency to developers too).

Here's how it's working in Austin:

The city is spending millions of dollars on consultants (and in-house employee time) on plans to avoid stepping on any neighborhood toes to allow for marginal increases in density around train stations for a commuter rail line which is only going to run twice an hour during rush hour, once in the middle of the day, and not at all at night. If you're dumb enough to move into one of these apartments expecting to take the train to work and the low frequency doesn't bother you, you face a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle bus ride twice a day from the train station at the Convention Center or on far east MLK to your office.

Will it 'work'? Sure... but only because current zoning is far too low-density in these areas. You could change the zoning without the train station and see exactly the same development occur - because this train service is so awful it's not going to result in any more than a trivial few taking transit instead of driving or taking existing buses to their jobs.

If only there were some other alternative. Something that has worked in cities like Dallas, Houston, Denver, Portland, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, etc. Something, I dunno, lighter, that could actually, you know, go where lots of people actually need to go.

So what could work with this awful crappy commuter rail line we're stuck with now, you ask? Precious little. If we could somehow convince a mega-employer like IBM to totally redesign their suburban-style office campus around the train station (which is going to be a long walk from their closest building as it stands today), and replicate that on each of the suburban stops, and add a bunch of offices at places like Crestview and the TODs being studied here, then maybe. But that'd be 180 degrees opposite from what the city is futilely trying to do today - in other words, the problem isn't that people don't live close enough to train stations, although they don't; the worse problem is that nobody WORKS near a train station. Because the thing about people with real jobs is: if they're not willing to take a one-leg bus trip straight to their office today, there's no way in hell you're going to get them to take a shuttle-bus trip from the train station to their office.

I need to get that last sentence made into a big rubber stamp. Or tattoo it on the inside of some peoples' eyelids.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad


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I agree. (But how do you know the City is spending millions?)

I've got to study the plan more closely, but it doesn't look like the City is increasing the height at all on the relevant parcels. There is a modest increase in permitted density. Interestingly, the City is mandating minimum densities, at least in the Saltillo TOD -- I'm not sure that's necessary, or wise, in an infill neighborhood.

Take a look at the voluminous output (and how many people have been employed to do it). Millions is just an estimate, but I bet it's pretty close.

In defense of the city, that is just how Austin does things, V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y and with lots of bureaucracy. Sometimes it works out and the public input improves a project. Other times, the delays and costs kill projects. But Austin loves its process!

Yeah, I know, but in this case the planning is all for naught anyways - there's precisely zero chance anybody's going to move here just to take the train to work - because they're already so close in that a bus ride straight to work would be a far better deal than a train+shuttle-bus ride.

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