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The trouble with Manor to Mueller

This is going to be a bit disjoint - I'm typing this at 6:25 at a Pizza Hut in Huntsville, AL (no buffet; waiting for my personal pan pizza; do they still do this?) after having gotten up at 4AM to fly to Nashville and then drive 2 hours down here, then working all day with the other companies on a project for my day job.

After the original unveiling of the streetcar plan promised complete dedicated guideway, ROMA has begun the inevitable backing away process - now saying that dedicated guideway is unlikely on Manor and Congress. Neither one makes sense, but ROMA is likely a believer in the "magic streetcar fairy dust" (note to readers: remind me to write an article on this phenomenon; in short: the theory that streetcars are so great that people won't mind being stuck in traffic). Let's look at Manor in particular.

At the original public unveiling of the plan, yours truly stood up and asked why Manor couldn't be singletracked instead of condemning right-of-way to build dedicated doubletrack. An anonymous jackass on the skyscraperpage forum (who I believe to be either Lyndon Henry or Dave Dobbs) scoffed at the idea, but it's time to consider it again, since ROMA has apparently decided that expanding the right-of-way of Manor is now off the table.

The problem: Manor doesn't have enough width for a car lane each way and one "train lane" each way. (Current configuration is 2 bike lanes, 2 through lanes, and a center-turn lane). There's ALMOST enough width to run reserved-guideway rail and keep one through lane each way if you lose the bike lanes, but not quite. The old configuration of Manor prior to the installation of bike lanes was 4 through lanes, but they were probably too narrow to support car next to train operation (at least, that's what I'm assuming).

ROMA's solution: Run the streetcar in with regular traffic. Sounds fine, right? There's not much traffic on Manor today by any reasonable standard.

Why ROMA's solution stinks: If there's going to be enough traffic headed downtown to fill streetcars in 5 years when a lot more people live at Mueller, there's also going to be a lot more people driving on Manor (which is the smartest driving route to UT, and probably right up there for the Capitol and downtown). So the conditions today that make it look like cars would never slow down the train (much) are misleading - most of the cars that will be there in 5 years aren't there now.

M1EK's solution: Single-track reserved guideway. This stretch is very short (took about two minutes to drive down in the cab on the way to the airport at 4:45 this morning). Initial frequency is set for "every 10 minutes". You ought to be able to keep this as single-track and maintain that schedule with no problems - but if that's too close for comfort, bulb out at a station right in the middle - voila, two shorter single-track segments, and you only need to condemn a sliver of land around that station rather than along the whole stretch.

Why M1EK's solution stinks: Trains will still compete with each other; schedules will suffer.

Why ROMA's solution stinks more: Trains will lose a lot more schedule time stuck behind cars than they will waiting for an oncoming train to clear the single-track section, on average.

Why magical streetcar fairy dust partisans will still dislike M1EK's solution: "You can't expand your solution into dedicated double-track". One track right in the middle of what used to be the center turn lane is right in the middle of where two tracks would need to be - you can't reuse that track.

Why it's not any worse than ROMA's solution on that metric: The rails on which the shared-lane streetcar will run are also going to be in the wrong place - you can't magically change those into reserved guideway either (unless you completely close Manor off to cars). In fact, M1EK's solution allows for a more incremental approach - where you can gradually acquire more right-of-way and shift the double-to-single-track transitions further out away from the station(s).

Does anybody else ever do this? Yes, Baltimore had single-track on their light rail line for quite a while (maybe still do; I haven't kept up to speed on their system).

Congress Avenue is a much easier case, by the way; it's largely an aesthetic objection (reserved guideway should run in the middle of the street, but some people with absolutely no grounding in history are upset about the caternary wires in front of the view of the Capitol - forgetting that for 50 years or more, that's exactly what we had).

This entry was posted in the following categories: 2008 Light Rail , Austin , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design


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Hi M1EK, allow me to weigh in on this. I actually lived on Manor Rd. between Airport and the Chestnut/Cherrywood intersection for three years. From August 2005-last week. Manor gets more traffic than you might think during rush hour - I know quite a few people who commute to UT from points east and take that as their route. Granted, traffic is not too bad. I do agree that Mueller is going to increase traffic. I've tried to think whether I have noticed substantial increases in traffic since the first Mueller homes went up, but I can't say that I did.

The Manor corridor is a great area and I think the potential for multi-use there is high. Supposedly, the apartment complex next to me wants to convert into multi-use.

The road, however, is narrow. I'm no rail expert but I agree that the one-track solution is best. Traffic, particularly traffic that needs to turn left at Chestnut/Cherrywood during rush hour, can get somewhat backed up - occasionally enough that you have to sit through a light cycle. Also, west of Chestnut/Cherrywood, the turn lane goes away right before Dean Keaton and Manor split off...

Anyway, those are my ramblings on the Manor line. If you have any thoughts or questions let me know.


Thanks for finally blogging about what I sent you via FB. :)

I think CapMetro has a bunch of potential... if it gets it's head out of it's ass and actually comes around to light rail as a real means of transit. If both Dallas and Houston can do it, why can't supposedly "green" Austin?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think the MetroRail commuter line will fail, mainly b/c of increased gas prices, and the increasing sizes of Leander and Cedar Park, both together near 80K people. But I agree that the 2000 plan would've been the way to go. Now I think we just have to find the best way forward after this debacle.

I mean, when I went to San Jose, the VTA light rail was amazing, and for its main stretch it runs down the middle of the road in separate right-of-way. That's what Austin needs downtown, not some stupid streetcar!

First it's hard to believe that the person commenting there on SSP is Lyndon or Dave. They have discussed single track on many occasions as a great idea in certain instances. I might be wrong but it also doesn't seem like their writing.

In any event, I think Baltimore should be a cautionary tale and might not be related to your proposal. A few years ago they had to shut the line down to double track in the segments they single tracked before. It caused a huge crash in ridership that might have just caught up to what it was before the close in 2002. The double track in those sections were necessary to accommodate passenger volumes.

I however am not against the idea of single tracking but Baltimore's expansion brings up the point of the future. What about slightly offsetting the streetcar line to one side of the street allowing for future expansion without too much problem. There's gotta be a way to figure it out so that you can single track and be thoughtful about what could be a super success. And if you have passing sidings with switches that can be integrated into future double track even better.

Also, if worried about capacity, why not build platforms for two/three car trains or the equivalent modular streetcar length. That way you could have ten minute headways and expand capacity though vehicles rather than headway...its cheaper that way from an operating standpoint.

A good example of what you're talking about is the Portland Streetcar extension to Lake Oswego. The plan is to do single track with passing sidings in its own ROW.

I think the idea has merit, but i wish they would go to the triangle first. The interesting question would be how they were going to double track between the Burger King and the Toy Joy. My guess is that section would be single track one way and a left turn would be made for the other direction past the Burger King.

Note that whomever it was defended single-track for commuter rail.

I as much as said single-track reserved guideway would suck. I just believe that double-track sgared will suck a lot more.

I also don't see how you can run single-track reserved guideway without having to redo it later for double-track anyways. This road isn't wide enough for that - if the singletrack is put where the outbound doubletrack would have been, there's not enough real estate left on that side to keep a vehicle lane open, which brings us back to having to condemn along the entire stretch.

The Guadalupe problem at 27th was handled with only having one vehicular lane on Guadalupe (one-way) and one on Whitis (diagrams of this were up in our meeting room at the time). The stretch of Guadalupe south of 38th or so (to 24th, if I remember correctly) was only going to have one car/bus lane each way at most anyways - at this jug handle, one of the directions of travel would just detour a bit.

double-track SHARED will suck a lot more, I mean. And in either event, moving to double-track reserved means you lose whatever you had put down there before.


You also don't talk about financing here at all. You say CapMetro, but most of the current ideas has the city running this and not CapMetro.

As for Financing, Cap Metro has stated it doesn't have the money, so it looks like it will be up to the city and county to come up with this money. Which invariably mean higher property taxes. I know Brewster is saying TIFs, TIFs, TIFs, but even TIFs mean higher taxes for the rest of us. This is because while development (which is already happening without the streetcar) happens in side the TIF the rest of the city has to pay for the infrastructure cost difference between what's needed now and what will be needed with the higher density. Where as normally the increased taxes from the development would offset those cost, those increased taxes are now going to pay for the TIF and nothing else. So, the city then has to go out to the general population and ask for more money. What Brewster's betting on is having a win under his belt and people forgetting, before the belated tax bill comes in. That and people's short memories, so that when it does finally come it, they won't remember it's because of the streetcar.

Finally, why should we make the mistake we make decades ago, that was proven ineffective decades ago? What's changed, except personal transportation has become cheaper?

That IS one way to look at the TIF, but only if you assume that high-quality rail service won't lead to more property value than is otherwise the case, and I don't believe that to be so - everybody else that does the rail RIGHT does see this increase.

As for "tried decades ago"; what we did decades ago was shared-lane streetcar, and there's plenty of other differences too, but I'm never going to support shared-lane streetcar anyways, so the comparison fails on first glance even. Everybody who's tried rail in reserved guideway that goes to good places has seen overwhelming success.

Gotta have double track on Congress...it is the WORST street for taking a bus. I used to take the #5 from Oltorf and South Fifth up to Red River and 26th and it was SO SLOW going through Congress. The bus stops at every corner and seems to catch every light - it was only 12 blocks or so but it took up half the time for the whole route!

Manor is a good street traffic wise, but it is the best way to get from Northeast Austin to downtown and traffic is definitely picking up.

What about a subway along the 2000 light rail route?

Well, for one, I don't know if there's enough traffic to warrant subway over light rail, especially if you're thinking subway in terms of heavy rail. Besides, it's soo expensive, waay more than light rail.

That's more or less it...cost. Oh and the time it'd take to dig all that up.

We won't ever see a new subway in this country outside New York. LA pretty much ruined it for everybody else.

After riding the BART from Oakland to SF for a few days, I just can't let the idea of a subway go. A subway doesn't take street lanes, minimizes business/homeowner opposition, very safe, quick and reliable, etc.

Although the puddle of bum piss that greeted me in the BART elevator in SF was a bit of a buzz kill. ;)

What was so bad about the LA Red Line again.

I do think BART is the only other system in the US that has a rat's ass chance of expansion.

Massive overruns, safety concerns, and even more important: a PR black eye as some idiots got traction with the argument that it was racist to spend money on (admittedly super-expensive in their case) rail instead of on buses.

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