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Crestview Station and Commuter Rail

So Capital Metro's showing off stations. One of the ones they're most proud of is at the supposed TOD at Lamar/Airport called "Crestview Station". Let's imagine we're a new resident there and thinking about leaving the car at home to get to our job at the University of Texas.

Take a look at the following chart. Looks pretty good, don't it?

Local bus route was the #1 which seemed to get to 24th/Guadalupe as close as possible to 8:30. "Express bus" is the #101; same location and roughly same time. Pickup times at Crestview estimated to be 2 minutes from NLTC. Commuter rail travel time straight from Capital Metro's schedule to the "UT station" (MLK).

But wait. There's more.

The local bus and express bus options above drop you off at UT's front gate; 24th/Guadalupe. Where does the commuter rail drop you?

Well, that ain't UT, that's for sure. How are we going to get to UT, then?

So what does that do to our travel time?

5 minutes to load the shuttle; 10 minutes to get to the stop near 24th/San Jacinto (remember, this is morning rush hour traffic; I'm probably being a bit generous with 10 minutes).

Yes, this means that the commuter rail 'alternative' will likely perform worse than even the local bus service from Crestview Station.

Just for giggles, let's imagine we had built the 2000 light rail line. Assumption here is that the morning #101 spends 2 of its 13 minutes to congestion and 1 on extra red lights, and we end up with:

So, for those who read the first in this series, we can see that residents of Austin achieve precisely zero benefit from commuter rail at this station. Another interesting point here is that going a little bit slower but straight to your destination (2000 LRT would have taken a bit more time to get to 24th/Guadalupe than the Red Line does to get to MLK/Alexander) is in fact far preferable to going faster to the middle of nowhere. One would think this would be common sense, but, sadly, it's not; instead of pursuing true urban rail, Capital Metro actually intends to instead waste more time and money on another commuter rail line to nowhere.

Update: Commenter "The Error Term" has argued strenuously that at least a few commuters from Crestview would benefit. While I find his arguments regarding the University utterly unconvincing; he does have a small point regarding a downtown commuter (which I didn't mean to cover with this example, but I also shouldn't have jumped to "residents of Austin achieve precisely zero benefit" without covering downtown first). I don't have time now for any new charts, but here's a simple paragraph explaining the point.

Google transit shows the express bus taking 28 minutes, of which 26 is the bus trip (we should use 26 rather than 28, since I'm not counting the walk to the train station on that end either; which is a small change from the comments). Capital Metro's schedule to downtown shows 18 minutes. The walk from the train station to Frost is likely between 5 and 10 minutes. At 10 minutes, it loses by 2 to the express bus option; and at 5 minutes, it beats it by 3. The conclusion is that if you work at the Frost Bank Tower and live at Crestview Station, you could beat the express bus by up to 3 minutes by taking commuter rail if you're a fast walker, and get a marginally more reliable trip as well (if you don't mind the bordering-on-long walk by transit standards).

Most downtown office buildings would not fare as well, as most are just about right on the bus/express bus corridor(s), but farther away from the rail stop, as has been explained in numerous earlier postings here.

Next up, Howard P&R.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Charts and Graphs , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , I Told You So , Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Use Cases

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Comments

"Another interesting point here is that going a little bit slower but straight to your destination is in fact far preferable to going faster to the middle of nowhere. One would think this would be common sense, but, sadly, it's not"

Maybe CapMetro hired Wile E. Coyote as a consultant.

I think your post is tendentious. It is patently misleading to use a single data point to impute the utility of the red line for every potential commuter.

For instance, what if you work at the Frost Bank Tower? Using your parameters, my calculations show a bus ride of 28 minutes plus a short jaunt of ~=1 minute. The red line will get you to the downtown station in 18 minutes, although there will be a slightly longer stroll of ~=5 minutes. About six minutes shorter, and in a far more comfortable environment to boot.

Or, lets explore the UT trip a bit more deeply--and selectively. What if you work in the eastern portion of the campus. I have friends who have an office overlooking the Bass Concert Hall (23rd and Trinity). By bus, they're looking at 31-36 minutes. Using your commuter line numbers, they're there in ~=24 minutes. My conclusion: The commuter rail has value for every single Austin resident using this station.

Marshall, I thought I was being pretty generous by NOT pointing out that more people work towards Guadalupe than towards San Jacinto. This is supposed to be an average, though; you can come up with an anectdote if you want.

As for the "every potential commuter" crack, I did mention "next up", implying there will be more posts.

As for the Frost comparison, again, I'll be getting there. You need to compare with the #101; not just the #1. And Frost is pretty much the only downtown office building within a 5 minute walk; so I could just as easily accuse you of cherry-picking.

My cherry-picking was intentional, of course, as was yours. It was just a device to create some balance. But, the same point still applies: using averages to make assumptions about everyone is a whopper of a logical fallacy.

No, that's a lie - I didn't cherry-pick.

If I'd have wanted to cherry-pick, I'd have said my imaginary UT worker worked exactly at 24th/Guadalupe. My implied example here actually picks an office location precisely halfway in between the 24th/Guadalupe (#1/#101) and the commuter rail stop, if you think about it.

I'd be more than happy to expand with "cherry-picking in both directions". Commuter rail will still lose for 99% of people in Austin. Your cherry-picked UT example, for instance, would still take only 18-23 minutes via the #101 (5-10 minute walk from 24th/Guadalupe).

On the upside, this is probably the cheapest commuter rail line ever built. The downside of all that cheapness is that it doesn't go where it would be most useful.

I think some people will use it and like it - there are people that live close to one stop and work close to another. Anyway, this thing doesn't have much capacity - if it were accessible to people that work at UT and the Capitol and most places downtown, it would be overrun. Even located where it is, it will probably be overcrowded after the next development boom.

Bottom line is I think this (and the Elgin line and the SA line and every other potential commuter rail line) is going to be nice for some people and irrelevant for most. I'm not convinced that commuter rail sways support or siphons resources from a light rail/urban rail/streetcar system. I think the small percentage of people with minds open enough to be swayed are as likely to support urban rail based on "success" of the commuter rail system and synergy with that system as are likely to oppose it based on "failure" of the commuter rail system and money spent on that system.

On the upside, this is probably the cheapest commuter rail line ever built. The downside of all that cheapness is that it doesn't go where it would be most useful.

I think some people will use it and like it - there are people that live close to one stop and work close to another. Anyway, this thing doesn't have much capacity - if it were accessible to people that work at UT and the Capitol and most places downtown, it would be overrun. Even located where it is, it will probably be overcrowded after the next development boom.

Bottom line is I think this (and the Elgin line and the SA line and every other potential commuter rail line running on old tracks) is going to be nice for some people and irrelevant for most. I'm not convinced that commuter rail sways support or siphons resources from a light rail/urban rail/streetcar system. I think the small percentage of people with minds open enough to be swayed are as likely to support urban rail based on "success" of the commuter rail system and synergy with that system as are likely to oppose it based on "failure" of the commuter rail system and money spent on that system.

Shawn, the 2000 LRT plan can't be built unless this commuter rail line is 'torn up'. That's a strong reason to be against it already (we will probably never get rail on Guadalupe unless it's part of a much larger line that either goes to the NW suburbs, as 2000's did, or somehow to the south suburbs; an all-in-street option like the CAMPO TWG plan will not be able to sustain high enough ridership to justify taking away a lane on Guadalupe, in other words).

And the $120M spent on this line would have resulted in $240M worth of light rail (with the Bush-era 50% federal participation; note that we're unlikely even with Obama to get any federal help for commuter rail as the cost-effectiveness is so very poor). Add in the extra $150M or so they're thinking about spending on both this and the Elgin line, and we're talking about shooting distance of the entire CAMPO TWG plan.

BTW, other commuter lines have been done far more cheaply - investing less in new stations, for example; running purely on existing track as well (Seattle's Sounder probably spent much less per mile, as did the New Mexico line).

I should just give myself a 5-minute waiting period before hitting Post.

On the capacity argument, CM's trying to buy a bunch more trains right now. Either they'll be empty (screwing Austin) or they'll be full (still screwing Austin) because you're going to see as this series progresses that what little marginal improvement commuter rail provides is skewed completely to the suburbs.

No, not a lie. Just a characterization of how you appear only to select cases that reinforce your priors. Which is fine, of course, since its your blog.

I'm also not clear about how your implied example contains a walk to halfway between the commuter rail stop and 24th and Guadalupe. If I wanted to arrive as close to 830AM as possible on 2/26/09, I'd take the 1L, which would drop me off at 25th/Guadalupe at 821, a swift 18 minute trip. I would then have to walk to this midpoint, which would take another ~=5 minutes (according to Google Transit). How was this included in the calculations presented above? It appears as the longest possible trip is 20 minutes. It doesn't appear to be included in your express bus example, either. Although, to your credit, I think you also left this out of they commuter line calculations, too.

I meant halfway between the Guadalupe drop-off and the San Jacinto drop-off from the commuter-rail shuttle. Both bars assume a zero-minute walk.

A better characterization might be that for the #1/#101 case, I assumed an office right on Guadalupe; and for the commuter-rail case, an office right on the circle at 23rd/San Jacinto.

That's not cherry-picking. Again, a lie, not a selection of only confirming cases - I tried hard to be fair to both trips. Had I wanted to cherry-pick, I might have pointed out that most offices are closer to Guadalupe than San Jacinto, and then proceeded to add on a 5-10 minute walk for commuter rail but not for bus/express-bus/light-rail.

If you're not selecting cases that only reinforce your priors then, I have to ask: have you touted a single commuter example that would dispute your claim that commuter rail will provide zero benefits to the residents of Austin? I've come up with a couple in just a short, unproductive few hours--and I can come up with a few more using downtownaustin.com (Equally, I can come up with a few that support your priors, as well). I subscribe to your RSS feed and, I have to say, it is indeed bilious when it comes to the commuter rail, some of which is fair and well-reasoned, other which is hyperbolic.

There is no "if". Lets make that perfectly clear before I do any homework assignments for you.

I assumed, implicitly, that the commuter rail passenger worked right next to the shuttle-bus stop and that the bus/express-bus passenger worked right next to the bus stop.

That's not cherry-picking. That's not "reinforcing your priors". My prior assumption would be that the typical UT office worker works closer to Guadalupe than San Jacinto.

If anything, it's YOU that has attempted to reinforce your priors here.

And, by the way, you have most definitely not, yet, come up with an example that shows an improvement for an Austin commuter with commuter rail. Your UT example compared to local bus while ignoring express bus; your Frost example didn't run the express bus numbers either.

I came up with the claim that no benefit accrues to Austin residents from years of experience studying and analyzing this plan. Your assumption that I picked the examples to justify the claim is insulting at best given the fact that I've been writing on this subject since 2003.

I apologize - it looks like you were using the express bus for the "28 minutes to Frost Bank" figure. I'd argue with your estimate of the walk; I'd go with 5-10; but still within the realm of a possible 0-5 minute advantage for commuter rail. So, there you go: one small victory; I'll post an update.

26 is the right number for express bus, as I just noted in the update; since I counted 0 minutes for the walk to the train station at Crestview as well. Leaving the two basically competitive depending on whether you're a fast (5 minutes) or slow (10 minutes) walker.

Actually, my numbers were for the 101. The 1 is 8 minutes longer. I did, unintentionally, smuggle in a 2 minute walk in the calculation (actually, Google Transit did and I didn't notice). Red line commuters still fare better, albeit less so than before.

By priors I mean the outcome of your argument in a Bayesian sense. Your prior is that p(anyone will gain from the redline)=0, per your original--and other--posts. And, as I've made clear in other posts, my priors are far less certain. My prior beliefs are very close to Shilli's: that is, they contain more than an inkling of uncertainty along with the recognition that there will be those who gain and those who don't.

I know precisely what you meant by 'priors'. I did NOT enter this discussion in 2003 assuming no Austin residents would benefit. I came to the conclusion that (nearly no) Austin residents would benefit from this plan AFTER studying it in detail - and, to throw out bona-fides here, I got an earlier look at it than most - thanks to my position on the UTC.

I see a lot of prior assumptions in yours, and Shilli just likes being unreasonably optimistic or something.

Sorry. Didn't mean to be pedantic, but it wasn't clear from your previous objection that you did, nor did the air quotes indicate otherwise.

That is quite possibly the most reluctant and qualified concession I have ever seen. But, at least you posted it!

BTW, I took the walk estimate from Google Transit, as well. I've haven't noticed that the estimates are unreasonable, but, who knows...

Ah Memories...

http://www.fta.dot.gov/publications/reports/reports_to_congress/planning_environment_2915.html

Why should CapMetro run a train to optimize the benefits to UT?

It's not like UT contributed a penny to the construction of the Red Line.

If CapMetro exists only to serve people within sight of the UT tower and/or the Capital, then it should have been sized that way, and the proles who live out of that area should not have been asked to pay to further subsidize the UT community. They do plenty of that already.

The fact is that this rail line has existed for over a hundred years. It's silly not use it for passenger rail.

Using existing human rated track for commuter rail did not destroy any businesses, unlike the 2000 proposal which would have devastated whole commercial areas.

Did CapMetro spend 5x what a well run organization would have spent to put passenger trains on existing tracks? Of course they did.

For example, was the only alternative to get the rolling stock to go to Switzerland? Of course not. There are a number of well established rail road equipment manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada. And these companies make rail stock that is certified for use in North America.

I suspect that the North American products didn't look as much like the Disney monorail as the Swiss product. So the old hippies went for the Disney look, causing CapMetro to pay millions above budget to get the Swiss monorail lookalikes up to U.S. standards.

But cost controls for the 2000 plan would have been equally poor. We have the CapMetro we have.

The Red Line is sensible in concept and will be useful to the residents of the CapMetro service area.

No the purpose isn't just to serve UT. But UT, the Capital Complex and Downtown are huge employment centers. Employment centers are the main drivers of transit usage and as such serving employment centers drives higher ridership and makes for a better transit investment.

Yes businesses crashing is not a good thing, but if we were to not make any improvements that are for the greater good of a community nothing would ever get done if it were based on a few businesses possibly going under.

On the subject of railcars, the only American Company that produced FRA compliant DMU's just crashed out of business an Tri Met in Portland has already had problems with wiring etc. It was actually a good call on the part of them to not go with Colorado Railcar. The only other companies that make DMU's were international.

As for the cost of the line setting aside whether it was good or bad idea, even if you say the cost was $120 million, $3.75 million per mile is extremely cheap for a passenger rail line. In fact, it's probably the least expensive line in the United States. Denver's line to the Airport that will be electrified is $35 million per mile at 24 miles.

My 3 year old is excited about it, at least.

To JimNTexas. My understanding is that UT does indeed contribute a substantial amount of money to CapMetro. That's why UT students ride the bus free, and will also ride the train free (not that many of them will have cause to ride it).

I don't get your argument about how everyone else subsidizes UT. UT is probably one of the main reasons Austin is a nice place to live, and improves everyone's standard of living.

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