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The downtown station, drawn optimistically

Erica from Capital Metro, in comments to this post, brings up the fact that the third image (originally from the city's old OnTrack newsletter, updated with green and yellow dots by yours truly), had an error in how the circles were drawn around prospective rail stations on the extension to Seaholm many people unsuccessfully lobbied for in 2004. The point of this image was to show the locations of the office buildings -- not the circles (although that is not inherently obvious if the image is viewed in isolation), and the error wasn't mine (somebody at the city drew a 1/4 mile diameter rather than radius) - but I've known about it for quite some time; using the image just to show the office locations since I have not yet created a new map with a better representation of offices. Typically when I discuss this issue on other forums, I prefer to use a google maps link like this one which shows a walk of 0.4 miles to 6th and Congress.

However, some folks at CM just produced the image below, which is about the best light you can put this 'downtown' station in, and which I will post even though it has its own problem: an attempt to fudge the issue by presenting both the legitimate 1/4 mile circle and a far less legitimate 1/2 mile catchment zone. Another discrepancy between the maps, not anybody's fault, is that in 2004, the station location was projected a half block or so farther east.

Please see comments after the image.

Important things to note here:

  • Most major office buildings are outside the 1/4 mile zone. Most are also inside the 1/2 mile range. However, using the same principle as above, note that, for instance, the second-newest big office building downtown is more than a half-mile from the train station. Essentially all major office buildings downtown, including this one, would have been within 1/4 mile of the 2000 light rail route, whether on Congress or Colorado or even Guadalupe/Lavaca.

  • The 1/2 mile radius is used as a fallback 'rule' to declare that you can attract a few more choice commuters to excellent high-frequency rail service than the 1/4 mile rule would suggest. The problem here, of course, is that the service we are providing is neither high-quality (doesn't go to UT or the Capitol or anywhere else worth going if your origin is 'downtown') nor high-frequency (runs only every 30 minutes and only during rush hours). In addition, the expanded catchment area is most suited to the residential end of the trip - i.e. you might walk farther from your home to pick up the train if it's really good - but surely not to take the train if the walk FROM the train station TO your office was extra-long - this is borne out by New York's transit agency's project to spend billions to bring the LIRR a bit closer to employment centers (see also: non-trivial unwillingness of choice commuters to tolerate transfers even from 'good rail' to 'good rail', even in Manhattan).

  • We don't have a large population of people who would be willing to walk 1/2 mile to work from the train station (and risk mistiming a 1/2 mile walk back to the train station in the afternoon only to maybe miss the once-every-half-hour train) who, and this is critically important here: aren't already riding the bus. The same people who would give the train such an incredible time investment are already going to be riding the buses from all over the city that head straight to their offices downtown. I speak from experience here: a long walk to pick up transit from the office isn't sustainable in the long-run even for transit-positive people like me. If I had to pay $10/day to park, I might think differently, but then I'd already be taking the bus, wouldn't I?

  • And, most importantly, if Capital Metro really believed that the average choice commuter would consider this train station to be within a quick, comfortable, walk of their office, they wouldn't be providing these three downtown shuttles, one of which runs right up Congress Avenue.

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 , Use Cases , metablog


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Good stuff. How much control did CM have over choosing that location?

Jude, for a good history lesson, try this:


Short version: Cap Metro decided to go down the "run trains purely on existing track" because they rolled over for Krusee. Once that decision was made, it would have been politically difficult to extend the line farther in closer to Congress, even though many people asked them to.

But that's about the only other place it could go. This train will never be able to run up Congress to the Capitol and up the Drag by UT. Never ever ever.

I think the half mile circle, as used by CM on the downtown map, is totally useless. If a half mile is supposed to be a sort of outlier distance, than they should show highlighted street segments that are within an actual half mile walk. Because, of course, on a grid like Austin's, the real half-mile limit is significantly less than the circle (for almost everyone, anyway).

I intend to do some BITCHIN PAINT ACTION to make that block distance thing clear in my own excellent drawring, coming real soon.

BTW, your distinction between office-end and residential-end is a good one. That's my experience (firsthand and with friends): people will walk a little farther if it's to their house. Also, people will walk a little farther for a one-time trip (e.g., doctor's appointment). Less so the everyday station-to-office walk.

Though CapMetro could never have predicted this, with the state looking to leave downtown and the imminent crash of commercial real estate thanks to the Lehman bankruptcy, there'll be fewer and fewer workers located downtown in the years to come. The only daytime industry left down there besides state business is big banking and finance, and the nationwide contraction there, demographics, and new technologies means financial companies will be looking for cheaper space than is available downtown in the future. Oh well, at least the fine citizens living at the Austonian and 4 Seasons will have a cheap ride to Neiman's! Well worth the price, no? :^/=

at, downtown also has lots of law firms and lobbying firms, which tend to be counter-cyclical. I think downtown will be OK.

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