October 28, 2004

Commuter Rail Is Not Light Rail, Part 851

Or: A letter I just wrote to the Statesman which they probably won't publish:

Many of your readers and a significant number of public boosters of the commuter rail proposal on the ballot November 2nd appear to be confused as to the nature of the project. Referring to cities such as Salt Lake City and Portland as rail success stories is misleading in this context, since those cities are succeeding with LIGHT RAIL (like we narrowly voted down in 2000), not COMMUTER RAIL. The only recent example of a system like the one we're voting on comes from South Florida - it relies exclusively on "high-frequency circulators" (shuttle buses) while all the success stories mentioned have stations within walking distance of existing offices and shops. South Florida's line has been an unmitigated disaster that after 15 years still carries only 12,000 passengers a day on a far longer corridor than the one we're contemplating building.
This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Personal , Transit in Austin
Posted by m1ek at 07:52 AM

October 27, 2004

A Yes Vote for this plan kills Light Rail, Part XII

In early versions of the All Systems Go literature, the Rapid Bus line on Lamar/Guadalupe was described as a "placeholder for possible future urban rail". This corridor is the only one in our area which has sufficient existing residential density to support urban rail (light rail or otherwise).

Many of the people who are holding their nose and voting yes on the commuter rail plan appear to still think that they can get light rail on this corridor even if this commuter rail plan passes. I've discussed on several occasions the technical problems with that idea - in short: the original 2000 route would be out due to vehicle/track incompatibilities, and a route continuing north on Lamar instead of bending northwest would be out due to speed and demographics (far fewer northeast Austin residents work at downtown/UT/capitol than do northwest residents).

More simply, though, one can simply look at the language of Capital Metro themselves. The current version of the ASG plan drops the "placeholder" phrase entirely - and recent quotes from Fred Gilliam are particularly damning:

What Capital Metro does not intend to do, at least in the foreseeable future, is have lanes of city streets dedicated solely to bus traffic. When that occurs, the system is called "bus rapid transit." Lacking those lanes, Capital Metro calls its proposal rapid bus. But Gilliam made it clear he'd like to reverse those two words in the long run.

"My hope is that . . . eventually we will get to bus lanes," Gilliam said. "But
our plan is not designed around having to have them."

Back when Fred took over from Karen Walker, he made some pro-BRT and anti-LRT statements which I have been unable to locate. Thankfully his recent comments remove the need for me to do so - it's pretty clear which way Fred intends to go for Lamar/Guadalupe, and it's going to be Bus Rapid Transit.

What is Bus Rapid Transit, you ask? Well, it's Rapid Bus with bus lanes. You get most of the reliability and speed of light rail, but you get none of the comfort, perceived quality (suburbanites don't like buses, remember?), and perceived permanence. Studies in this country have shown pretty conclusively that you get redevelopment and infill with rails that you don't get with buses - even Rapid Buses. If that doesn't make sense to you, consider what it takes to move Rapid Bus service to a different road versus moving rail service.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Transit in Austin
Posted by m1ek at 08:20 AM | Comments (4)

October 26, 2004

Reason to vote no on commuter rail

The picture below is my son, Ethan. He wanted me to tell you that by the time he's ten, he wants urban rail service (dedicated right-of-way; not streetcars) running down the real urban rail corridor (Lamar/Guadalupe), not "Rapid Bus". He also wanted me to add that if you vote for commuter rail, and his dad is right about the negative effects, he's coming for you.

If I were you, I'd do what he wants.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Personal , Transit in Austin
Posted by m1ek at 08:37 AM

8 down, 19992 to go

My wife and I voted (early) on Sunday. And this weekend, Jonathan Horak endorsed this blog's position. Also, Chip Rosenthal declared his opposition and used very similar reasoning to that used by this author.

In the meantime, Ben Wear wrote about commuter rai again on Sunday in the Statesman, this time using my colleague Patrick Goetz for the lone pro-transit and oh-my-god-does-this-plan-really-stink perspective. I think I've fallen permanently off his radar.

Finally, in the twenty minutes or so since I submitted this post, a blog I've not read before called Grits For Breakfast added their endorsement, and the author made a very good general point about how perplexing it is that Austin voters don't fight these Austin-bashing initiatives harder.

October 21, 2004

Which possible outcome should scare you more?

a response to Dave Dobbs on the austin-bikes list, in which Dave ended with:

There will be no options if this doesn't pass.

In fact, it will be difficult to defend Capital Metro's money if this election doesn't pass. However, it will be even MORE difficult to defend Capital Metro's money if this election does pass, and the rail service meets my expectations (matching the performance of South Florida's Tri-Rail, the only other new start rail plan relying exclusively on shuttle buses for passenger distribution). At that point, we will have SHOWN that "rail doesn't work in Austin", and the long-term justification for at least 1/4 cent of Capital Metro's money will be gone.

The position, however, that we will definitely lose the money after an election failure fails to compel on two counts:

1. We didn't permanently lose the money in 2000
2. Even if we do 'lose' the money, it's going to be easier to get it back if we don't have a pathetically poor rail line on the ground SHOWING people that "rail doesn't work in Austin".

Keep in mind, if you doubt me that commuter rail won't work, that:

1. Most of the people in 2000 who said they wanted light rail get no rail service from the starter line, and most of that most don't get rail service in the long-range plan either.

2. The people who ARE being delivered rail service are the people who, in 2000, were most against light rail.

3. Those lucky few being delivered rail service are precisely the people who have been the LEAST WILLING to ride buses, and yet in order to use this rail line, they're going to have to ride a bus every single day.

4. In order to improve this line in any way, shape, or form, a follow-on election must be held. Does anybody think that's going to be easy to sell, what with the pro-rail PAC telling everybody that we're following a "vote on every step" plan so they can evaluate rail's performance each time before approving more?

At worst, I urge all of you to remember the Great Shoal Creek Debacle Of Aught-Aught. Is anybody willing to argue with me NOW that I was wrong back then? Want to bet against me again?

October 19, 2004

Three down

19,997 to go.

Kellyd from activitystory.com has endorsed this blog's position on the All Systems Go referendum and linked me. Thanks, Kelly.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Personal , Transit in Austin
Posted by m1ek at 01:54 PM | Comments (1)

If I win, what do we do

Phil Hallmark from the austin-bikes email list asked for a clear description of what my "next referendum" would look like, since I'm asking people to vote no on this one. A good point; while I've made some recommendations scattered through this blog, I haven't ever written it down in one place.

My referendum would be, legally, the same language as this one (since ballot language just says "operaton of a rail system") but the notice of election would state that the starter line would be a light rail line running from Leander to downtown Austin (sound similar?). I don't know if it's even legal to state "running past UT and the Capitol", but I'd give it a whirl.

The difference is that the routing would follow the 2000 election's route. I would drop South Congress completely from the long-range plan; the starter line would use the existing rail right-of-way from the northwest; entering Lamar Blvd at its intersection with Airport Blvd (as in 2000); switching to Guadalupe; running by the Triangle, Central Park, West Campus. It would run next to UT on Guadalupe.

The line would transition to Congress Ave. around 11th; then run down Congress to 4th St., terminating there (for the time being). The long-range plan would continue that line west to Seaholm and then south on the UP right-of-way into south Austin (this solves the South Congress opposition in 2000). (Is there enough space for the train to turn on/off Congress at 4th? I think so; but I'm not sure).

The long-range plan would also include spurs to Mueller and Bergstrom. But as wth commuter rail, you only vote on the starter line.

Isn't this a small change? Well, my position on the 2000 election is that you could put the EXACT SAME PACKAGE up for a vote again, and there'd be a 60% chance of passage (with Dubya voters energized in 2000, it lost by less than 1%). With the South Congress change made to avoid opposition from that sector, I'd estimate an 80% chance of success with my plan.

Shouldn't Capital Metro have tried something like this? Any one of a few changes could have brought the 2000 light rail line over the top, after all (another option is avoiding Crestview/Wooten). Well, as I've said, they weren't motivated by the voters, but by one particular state legislator.

If this sounds good to you, you'd better vote against commuter rail; because light rail on this corridor is effectively precluded by the implementation of commuter rail.

October 18, 2004

Another opinion

In the spirit of "get something posted today with a minimum amount of time", I also present an email from a friend of mine who works in the business (transit) who commented a while back to me on Capital Metro's plan. Note that he's more sanguine about streetcars than am I; he also mentioned in a follow-on that streetcars on both 4th and Congress wouldn't necessitate a transfer in all cases, since there are models out there that could easily navigate that turn.

Here's his note to me (this was a couple of months ago):

Hey M1EK,

Good stuff about the Cap Metro plan. I agree with you: it's flawed.

The transfer penalty for choice riders is significant regardless of the type
of transfer - if it's not a one-seat transit ride to work, it's usually not
going to compete, in the mind of the choice rider, with driving to work.
Some folks will tolerate having to transfer between trains (which is how
commuter rail generally works), but much fewer will tolerate transferring
from a bus to a train to get to work. For example, the park and ride bus
that used to run from north Houston to the Texas Medical Center was
truncated when the rail line opened, and people who used to ride the bus all
the way to the TMC are now forced to transfer to the train in downtown.
Needless to say, ridership on that route has fallen.

As you correctly note, almost nobody will tolerate a rail-to-bus transfer to
get to work.

About eight or so years ago, when TxDOT was doing the Major Investment Study
on the Katy Freeway (I-10 west), they looked at using the existing MKT
railroad right-of-way running parallel to the freeway as a possible commuter
rail corridor. It would have been a quick and smooth trip into the central
city, but there was no way to distribute the passengers to major activity
centers such as downtown or the Texas Medical Center once they got there
(because Bob Lanier the highway lobby whore was still mayor, the Main Street
rail line wasn't even on the drawing board at the time). Passengers would
have been forced to get off the train at the Amtrak station just northwest
of downtown Houston and continue their journeys by bus. Even if the bus trip
from the train station into downtown was relatively short, you can imagine
what the ridership models looked like when the transfer penalty was factored
in. The commuter rail idea was dropped and the MKT right-of-way was used to
expand the freeway itself instead.

What kind of ridership predictions is Cap Metro making for this system?

The streetcar idea intrigued me. This plan might work if a downtown
streetcar network were implemented to distribute passengers. People might
not transfer from trains to shuttle buses, but they'll transfer from trains
to streetcars. Such is the nature of mode preference.

The real danger

I've been busy at work and playing landlord, so I haven't had time to write any new material, but I will share a response I just wrote to Fred Meredith on the austin-bikes list. Fred's among the people who wants good mass transit in this area, but believes that voting yes on commuter rail is the best way to do it.

Fred Meredith wrote:


I will vote for this plan for the following basic reasons.

1.) We need a "first step" project in order to have any further advancement in mass transit through consideration of rail or other option to the single-occupant motor vehicle that increasingly gridlocks Austin. It may not be the best beginning, but it would be a beginning rather than a mandate to keep all rail plans off the horizon and just throw money at more lanes of concrete in a misguided attempt to overcome congestion. Once a first step is taken, I feel it is more likely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue. I think it is a foot-in-the-door situation.

I don't know how many more times I can take this argument without assuming that I've become invisible or inaudible (fat chance, huh?), but I'll try to remain calm once more.

The danger here is that a starter line that is bad ENOUGH will completely destroy the momentum among the public (that actually WANTS rail right now by at least a slim margin, in Austin itself). This is what happened in South Florida with a system which is identical in every way that matters to the one proposed by Capital Metro. (Their demographics are a bit more liberal than ours, if you include the entire Capital Metro service area, but still far more conservative than Seattle or Portland).

Aspects of Tri-Rail's service which are important:

  1. It doesn't go anywhere people actually want to go, but relies on high-frequency circulators (shuttle buses) to take people to their final destinations.
  2. What happened was that people who were potential new transit customers stayed away, in droves, when they heard about the shuttle-bus transfer. (This transfer makes the entire trip noncompetitive with the private automobile - i.e. not even close).
  3. Hundreds of millions have been spent and are being spent to double-track the corridor, but now after 15 years of no real penetration among new transit customers, the people in charge are finally talking about moving or adding service to a far better rail corridor which actually goes through the major downtowns. (This is in their new long-range plans - meaning next decade or two).
  4. In the meantime, nothing else could be done (in terms of transit) for 15 years, and for at least another 10-15.
  5. Transit-oriented development has been pursued vigorously along Tri-Rail's corridor for at least ten years now with no results whatsoever (no construction; only some plans, most of which died on the vine).

Compare (and contrast if you can) to Austin. Here's the danger:

  1. We're exactly the same as Tri-Rail. Unless you think drivers in Leander are in love with transfers to shuttle buses. I don't.
  2. Capital Metro comes back to the voter in 2008 with plans to "expand" (either build the next commuter line down Mopac; build a streetcar system downtown; or if you don't believe me that commuter rail precludes light rail, even rail down Lamar/Guadalupe).
  3. The voters, who were told in no uncertain terms back in 2004 that they should evaluate the line's actual performance before voting on extensions/expansions, see that basically the commuter rail line is handling the old express bus riders (Capital Metro closed down the 183-corridor express buses in 2007 as commuter rail came online).
  4. The voters come to the (understandable) conclusion that "we tried rail, and it didn't work; so we're not going to spend any more money on it".

So no, the position that "Once a first step is taken, I feel it is more likely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue. I think it is a foot-in-the-door situation" is not an accurate representation of what we face. It's more like "once a first step is taken on rail, it is very unlikely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue unless the first step is a success in the minds of the voters. It is an out-on-a-limb situation".

October 15, 2004

Two down

Adam Rice, another of Austin's best bloggers and a fellow center-city cyclist, has kindly linked to this blog with an endorsement.

So I've won two votes so far - only about 20,000 to go! Well, also, since my cousin, wife, and father-in-law said they liked my presentation at the LBJ school last week, I probably have their votes too. My mom would probably also have liked my presentation, so there you go.

Adam also came up with a great title - All Systems Whoa. If I wasn't running my quixotic campaign on a budget of exactly zero, I'd go buy the domain name allsystemswhoa.org to match the monorail guys at allsystemsno.org (not an endorsement by me - remember I support light rail, which runs in the street and would also be hated by these guys).

This entry was posted in the following categories: Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Personal , Transit in Austin , metablog
Posted by m1ek at 02:52 PM | Comments (3)

How you'll use commuter rail

Or won't, if like most people you don't like shuttle buses.

At the last panel at which I spoke (LBJ school), Scott Polikov claimed that the commuter rail line DOES stop within walking distance of most of downtown. I've cut and pasted the image off the flier for New Ways To Connect, showing the downtown station for commuter rail. Notice the labels on the shuttle buses on the right. From front: CAPITOL, DOWNTOWN, UT

This also marks the first post to this blog where I've included a picture. Man, I'm slipping.

October 14, 2004

Chronicle mention

Today's Chronicle has a piece by Mike Clark-Madison which to its credit remembers that there are people (well, A person anyways) willingly to publically oppose the ASG plan on the grounds that it's a crappy rail system, rather than the Neanderthal view pushed by Skaggs & Company that we need to build more freeways instead.

Unfortunately, the tone of the article basically matches the endorsement at the front, that being that you Must Vote Yes Or Capital Metro Will Die.

This ties into my yet-as-unwritten piece which explains why this very real fear should not make you vote Yes this time around - because the fear that an implemented starter line which doesn't pull in any new transit customers will be even worse for the long-term future of rail transit in this city.

I've not had any trouble making this case in public - with the exception of Scott Polikov, I think the pro-ASG guys treat it with respect and not with the disdain showed in the endorsement section today. Unfortunately, that's not making enough headway to win the day. The approach currently proposed by the pro-ASG-but-we-know-it-sucks crowd is to pass it and then work to fix it. That falls short in two ways:

1. As I keep saying, this commuter rail line precludes light rail in the urban Lamar/Guadalupe corridor so the only "fix" you could do would be streetcars, which aren't enough of a fix to make any difference

2. Since this plan has been sold as an isolated step, after which all expansions involving rails must come up for additional votes, the poor performance of the initial line (unless I'm wrong and suburbanites fall in love with shuttle buses) will make it impossible to even get #1 off the ground.

The end.

October 12, 2004

Link from Prentiss

Prentiss Riddle, who won the award this year for Best Blogger in Austin, has written about Capital Metro's commuter rail proposal, and has referred to arguments made here.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want
Posted by m1ek at 10:21 AM | Comments (1)

October 08, 2004

What do we do about this?

Two people so far have commented on the "why Mike Krusee and I aren't going to be hoisting beers together" screed.

Addressing both of them:

Clockwork Orange is right. Most of the people who should be fighting Mike Krusee haven't yet realized that he HASN'T turned into their friend, and as a result, he's winning. I'm a friggin' flea compared to this guy and the people he's snowed, and yet I'm the most prestigious pro-rail-transit but anti-commuter-rail guy that people are able to find to speak at these panels. THIS DOES NOT BODE WELL! I'm no heavyweight, folks, I'm just the heaviest one who was willing to fight.

Jonathan is right too. What do we do? My tack is to keep fighting so that the historical record is NOT "everybody liked this and we built it and it failed so obviously rail doesn't work". At a MINIMUM, I need to replicate the Shoal Creek experience and have it be "at least Mike Dahmus wasn't snowed by Mike Krusee; he pointed out how STUPID this plan was, and he was right". This might shave a couple of years off the Dark Ages For Rail that South Florida went through because of the Tri-Rail debacle.

MORE PEOPLE SAYING THIS PLAN IS DUMB FROM A PRO-RAIL PERSPECTIVE WOULD HELP DRAMATICALLY! Right now, it's way too easy for the Capital Metro guys to say "he's the only one" or "he's a crackpot" or "he's on crack and pot". And the media, with the exception of KXAN, has bought into the even worse theory that only Jim Skaggs' band of anti-transit fund-raiders opposes this plan. Even the Austin Chronicle hasn't done well here, which is truly disappointing.

I'm basically spending all of the forty-eight cents of political capital I have on this - since my councilmember wouldn't return my emails after the very FIRST time I even started talking about this plan, I'm 99% sure that I'm not going to be reappointed in January. It would be helpful if people with more than my slightly-more-than-squat amount of power would speak up, but that's not the world we're living in. It would also be helpful if regular citizens would start to ask informed questions of the media here - like "how exactly is an individual going to get from point A to point B under this plan" and then when "high-frequency circulators" are mentioned, they'll at least have had to say it.

At least I know that at the end of this process, I'll have one more night a month free to do what I like!

October 06, 2004

The Mike Krusee Story

Adam asked in comments for some background on Mike Krusee. Here it is:

In 2000, Capital Metro was preparing for a push for light-rail on a corridor which, on objective measures, was the best suited for an urban rail starter line in this city. It would have hit all three major attractors, ran through the densest residential neighborhoods, and hit the big suburban park-and-rides. The FTA loved this line. It would have given transit service to Leander as well as urban Austin, and it would have been competitive enough with the car to be a successful starter line for a future rail network, based on similar experience in cities like Dallas, Denver, Portland, and Salt Lake City.

Mike Krusee did not like this.

Capital Metro was, in my opinion based on our meetings with them at the time, preparing for an election in 2001, possibly in May.

Mike Krusee did not like this.

Virtually none of Capital Metro's constituents are in Mike Krusee's district.

This did not stop Mike Krusee.

Mike Krusee forced an election in November, 2000 on light rail. This was:

  • Too early - Capital Metro hadn't finished figuring out what roads it would run on, or how much support there would be for various parts of the route (for instance, in retrospect, running on South Congress was a non-starter and should have been dropped, but there wasn't time to figure this out well enough beforehand; others complained that it was impossible to evaluate the proposal since CM still had five or six proposed routes through downtown).
  • Bad timing - Dubya was running for President, which pulled in a disproportionate number of suburban voters disinclined to give transit a chance.

That election failed, by the closest margin ever seen in a rail ballot. In fact, it passed inside Austin, and passed overwhelmingly in central Austin. The cities now viewed as light-rail success stories generally had to run multiple votes after their first vote failed by a much larger margin than did Austin's. This should have demonstrated a mandate in favor of rail, within the city limits of Austin.

This wasn't enough for Mike Krusee.

He then wrote a bill which was passed by the state Legislature which required that Capital Metro only hold rail elections in November of even-numbered years (basically stacking the deck against transit - common local issue elections typically happen in May and would draw out people more interested in local issues than national ones; Krusee forced the reverse).

Keep in mind that most of Mike Krusee's constituents do not pay taxes to Capital Metro.

This restriction was not placed on transit systems in general (i.e. Dallas' DART system, Houston's METRO system, or proposed VIA rail system in San Antonion). It was placed only on Capital Metro.

The people of Austin demonstrated they wanted rail, and Mike Krusee made sure they wouldn't get it.

Now, fast forward to 2004. The guiding force behind Capital Metro's switch to commuter rail is..... Mike Krusee. Capital Metro is understandably scared to death of Mike Krusee, since he holds some powerful levers at the State. Mike Krusee wants commuter rail instead of urban rail, and that's what Capital Metro is giving him.

Why does Mike Krusee support this plan? Take a look at the long-range plan. Where does the second commuter rail line go?

Round Rock and Georgetown.

Where do Mike Krusee's constituents live?

Round Rock and Georgetown.

Who doesn't pay Capital Metro taxes?

Round Rock and Georgetown.

Who DOES pay 93% of Capital Metro taxes?

Those Dirty Hippies In Urban Austin.

Who gets NO RAIL under the All Systems Go plan? Not with the starter line, not with the full system, (and definitely NOT with wink-wink we-don't-mention-it-but-we're-gonna-give-it-to-you light rail, since if you've been reading my blog, you know that it's precluded by the construction of this commuter rail system)?

Those Dirty Hippies In Urban Austin.

Mike Krusee is not a friend of Austin. He's not a friend of Capital Metro. He's not a friend of rail transit. He's getting transit service for his constituents (who don't pay) at the expense of the people of Austin who have been consistently demanding urban rail service for decades. Yes, at the expense of the same people who consisently subsidize suburban sprawl through property taxes, sales taxes, and gas taxes. People in Austin now get to pay for BOTH the roads AND the transit of Round Rock, while they get nothing more than a glorified express bus for the actual sensible rail corridor in Austin.

This is why I don't like Mike Krusee.

Any questions?

Today's panel

Some observations from today's panel at the LBJ school:

I was the only one talking about the actual alignment of the route, the location of the stations, and unimportant stuff like that, for obvious reasons.

I did not enjoy my exchanges with Scott Polikov(from the pro-commuter rail contingent, a former Capital Metro board member). Jim Skaggs was his usual self, and Jim Walker was about the same as he was at the Austin Neighborhoods Council panel a few weeks ago.

David Foster (with whom I shared a panel last week at the UT planning school as well as the first panel at the Austin Neighborhoods Council) understands that I want rail and just have some experience which leads me to believe that we should be even more scared of a successful election + unsuccessful ridership than we should of an unsuccessful election (he disagrees, but he at least keeps it on that level). He and Jim Walker both admit that this plan is about as far from ideal as you can get while still calling it "rail"; they disagree with me about the idea that it precludes light-rail down the original corridor, but they do it honestly; David a little more than Jim. If I could summarize their position as charitably as possible, it would be "they know we need rail, and they think that this is the only way to get it". I think David would honestly summarize my position, and I hope Jim would as well.

Scott, not so much.

One of Scott's points was that it was unfair to compare this starter line to Tri-Rail as I've done, because this line "enters downtown" and is only "4 blocks from Congress Avenue". He scored a point on me here since this ended up as a "gotcha" comeback to my quote that Tri-Rail's first route was a stupid idea because "Unlike most commuter rail systems, it doesn't serve even one downtown area."

This ended up being my biggest missed opportunity today. I failed to point out that in their own literature the pro-RAIL PAC talks about shuttle buses downtown, and not only that, has a picture of a shuttle bus with the sign "DOWNTOWN" on it, at the supposed downtown rail station. If they expect that downtown workers will think that a station at the Convention Center is close enough to walk to their office, why do they need a shuttle-bus at all? Why talk up the "quick and easy transfer"?

Take a look at their literature - the picture on the front cover is a rendition of the Convention Center stop ("downtown"), illustrating the "quick and easy transfers" to shuttle buses. Note the second bus back (on the right) is labelled DOWNTOWN.

This is still burnin' my biscuits even tonight. I'm sure David thinks I'm crazy for being more scared of B than A when everybody else is more scared of A than B, but he presents his position honestly without misrepresentation. Scott, not so much.

October 05, 2004

Quickie

While replying to somebody who was nice enough to give feedback from the ANC meeting I spoke at a couple of weeks ago, I ended up with this chestnut:

"Trying to fix this plan with streetcars is like trying to fix a gaping chest wound with a band-aid".

Meaning: It's still going to be a 3-seat ride (or even a 4-seat ride if you don't take an extremely charitable interpretation of the route proposal); the last part of it will still be stuck in traffic; and the dense residential neighborhoods of West Campus and Hyde Park still won't have any service of any kind whatsoever beyond the ludicrously misnamed Rapid Bus.

Shine On, You Crazy Diamonds.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Transit in Austin
Posted by m1ek at 04:54 PM

Readers encouraged to comment

Is anybody actually reading this thing? I've been spending a lot of time writing here, and it would be nice to know that it's not been a wasted effort. Certainly today's Statesman fluff-piece was disappointing, since I've fallen back off the radar with Ben Wear.

Comments and suggestions encouraged, if for nothing else than to establish that this hasn't been a waste of time.

This entry was posted in the following categories: metablog
Posted by m1ek at 12:58 PM | Comments (9)

More on our Commuter Rail Model, Tri-Rail

http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/2004-04-15/news/next-stop-nowhere/

Again, this system is about the closest analogue out there to what Mike Krusee's puppets at Capital Metro are proposing this time around. It serves primarily suburban areas; doesn't reach any downtowns or other activity centers; has high-frequency "circulators" at every station; etc.

One key difference, though: Tri-Rail's 15-year experiment with the horrible route doesn't preclude them, at least technically, from going to a much better route (down the FEC railroad which DOES run through the major actviity centers of the region). In Austin's case, if commuter rail is built, you can't technically OR politically build light-rail on the 2000 corridor, and I don't think you can even do it on the modified "keep going north on Lamar" corridor proposed briefly in 2003. In other words, we're worse off - if we're making a mistake here, we not only waste a decade or more and a hundred million bucks, we ALSO prevent ourselves from building the rail right.

Excerpts:


A week's worth of trips on the Tri-Rail, South Florida's poky, 15-year-old commuter railway, recently confirmed the conventional rat-racing wisdom: The train serves not the region's most populated areas but the fringes. It doesn't offer riders destinations they truly need or desire, nor convenient times to get there. It's underutilized, even during rush hour. It's not located where people like Nick -- an unemployed construction worker who says he's "between cars" -- are most likely to use it.

[...]

Since its start, Tri-Rail has operated on the CSX tracks, west of I-95. After about $1 billion of expenditures on its current line, transportation officials are considering shifting their main focus to the more desirable Florida East Coast Railway line, which links the region's coastal city centers. The FEC, long resistant to the idea, now says it's willing, maybe. The state has applied for $5 million in federal funds to analyze options along the FEC corridor where, critics say, Tri-Rail should have been located all along.

"Was this the best investment?" asks Steve Polzin, director of public transit research at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "You wonder what could have been accomplished if they had not rushed into it. If, for example, they'd waited a few years and bought the FEC." Tri-Rail began operating in January 1989 to alleviate traffic during construction on I-95. As the highway project continued unabated, though, the commuter train became a permanent fixture. But Tri-Rail officials never took their eyes off the far-preferable downtown route -- even now, in the midst of its largest overhaul ever, including the construction of a second track along the 72-mile line and a new bridge over the New River, both of which are under way to the tune of $340 million.

Is a second track to nowhere really the answer? "It'll be nice to have," Polzin concedes. "There's value in having a corridor in good condition with double-track capacity. But is it worth that much money, especially if something happens with the rail farther to the east? When you think of the expenditure, you could argue that a marginal demand necessitated it."

Joseph Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, acknowledges that the new plan may render the current Tri-Rail obsolete. "But when you've invested a little over a billion dollars to make this one functional -- which it is," he says, "you have to look at how to support that function."

[...]

Tri-Rail runs through a metropolitan strip that's now home to 5.2 million people. In February, it carried just 10,151 passengers a day (the highest average since April 1994). Unlike most commuter rail systems, it doesn't serve even one downtown area. "It's unique nationally in the sense that it doesn't penetrate a downtown," Polzin notes. "It's an anomaly. You scratch your head and ask, 'Could they have done more with it?'"

[...]

But Polzin isn't quite ready to call Tri-Rail a failure. "It's certainly not a raving success," he says, "but the community seems comfortable with it. At least you feel good that you tried. But you have to ask how much additional investment, if any, makes sense. Perhaps there will be a greater appreciation for commuter rail in the future, but it's not a slam-dunk by any stretch of the imagination."

Tri-Rail wants to boost ridership to 68,000 a day by 2015, which would reduce the cost per rider from a current $8.81 to $5.06. Back in 1999, the agency's then-director, Linda Bohlinger, gave the commuter system five years to accumulate 20,000 riders a day, opining that if that goal weren't reached, "either we don't know what we're doing or the public doesn't really need it."

Again, this is what Mike Krusee wants for Austin: a rail line which requires that you transfer to shuttle buses if you want to get anywhere, and that doesn't go anywhere near the densest residential parts of the city. Does this sound like a good idea to anyone?

October 04, 2004

Lessons from South Florida

I can't believe it took me this long to find this link, but I finally got it.

http://www.floridacdc.org/articles/030930-1.htm

Excerpts:

Some South Florida leaders are itching to introduce something new to the region's commuter rail service: a train that takes people somewhere they want to go.

As it stands, Tri-Rail rides on tracks beside Interstate 95. The agency's trains go through no downtowns, and provide only indirect service to the region's airports. Getting where you want to go generally involves a second trip via bus, bike, taxi or Metrorail.

The CSX line currently being used by Tri-Rail requires transfers to shuttle buses to get anywhere useful, just like the proposed Austin commuter rail line.

This article talks about efforts to get Tri-Rail service on another existing rail line which actually runs through the downtown areas of the major cities in the region (allowing people to walk to offices, basically).

Another excerpt:

In a telephone interview, Winton said the FEC line would offer a serious alternative to driving for the growing number of people who commute between counties.

Now, a Broward commuter who works in downtown Miami would have to drive to a Tri-Rail station, take the train to a Metrorail station, take Metrorail to downtown, and possibly take Metromover after that.

In contrast, a passenger service on the FEC line would link downtown Miami with, for example, downtown Fort Lauderdale, which has thousands of new apartments and condominiums either built or on the way.

In hindsight, the decision to put Tri-Rail on the CSX track was probably unwise, Winton said.

''I think it was a huge mistake,'' he said. ``It doesn't seem logical to me. It clearly hurts ridership by a ton.''


October 01, 2004

"Pass commuter rail and then work for light rail"

Excerpted from a comment I made on David Nunez' site:

I've explained a couple of times why you can't get light rail after this plan is passed. From the technical obstacles (incompatible trackage prevents original '00 route up the existing rail ROW to northwest areas) to the political (a revised northeasterly route continuing purely in-street up Lamar would suck for speed AND would necessitate essentially shutting down the intersection of Lamar and Airport).

Please don't keep misleading people, whomever you are.

As for the success of the starter line - again, every first line which has succeeded in this country has delivered people within walking distance of their destinations. Once you have the choice commuters used to using rail transit, you can start hitting them with transfers, but NOT at first; they'll stay in their cars.

Here's the rub: If this first line, with shuttlebuses and all, doesn't pull a lot of car-drivers out of their cars, THERE WILL NOT BE ANY MORE RAIL IN THIS AREA IN OUR LIFETIMES. The voters will vote down any expansions of a system which already "showed" that people "don't want to ride trains in Austin".

I can't make this any more clear, folks. The starter line absolutely MUST pull in a bunch of choice commuters for it to succeed. Buffalo and Miami showed what happens when it relies on transfers - car owners stay away, and then voters aren't interested in more rail.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Transit in Austin
Posted by m1ek at 10:54 AM