February 27, 2009

Listen for M1EK

KUT just called and I recorded a few snippets with them about commuter rail (they're most interested in today's delay announcement for commuter rail which I mostly let CM off the hook for, but I did give a bunch of other background that they might or might not use). If anybody hears it, please let me know.

Background was a condensed version of the last 6 years of this crackplog (we're doing what Tri-Rail did; not what everybody that succeeded did; it's not light rail - it'll never get you to UT, etc).

February 26, 2009

Cleaning up yesterday's entry

Let's start fresh with an updated conclusion:

It is very unlikely that any Crestview Station residents who work at UT can get any utility out of the Red Line. Residents of the complex itself form the best case scenario for people getting on at this stop, since everybody else would be transferring by bus (nearby residential density is fairly low and paths to the site are unpleasant; and there is no parking lot at this station). Following from that, we can conclude that the Crestview stop isn't going to help anybody living in Austin who works at UT. (I had intended to pick some heavily publicized sources and destinations and use those as examples, but in the future I'll try to mention both major destinations in future posts so that the immediate counter-argument doesn't break out like it did yesterday. Bear in mind that the Capitol Complex is basically the same as UT as far as the endpoint is concerned - the shuttle rides are similar length).

Although I meant to only cover UT with that post, my conclusion was overly broad (mentioning zero benefit without specifying destination). "The Error Term" and I then hashed out that if you live at Crestview and work precisely at the Frost Bank Tower (the only downtown office building within the typically acceptable 1/4-mile walk from the Red Line terminus), you may see up to a 3-minute improvement on your commute over the express bus. You may also be a bit slower than the express bus option, depending on how fast you walk. (Google says 6 minutes, by the way; I am remembering 10 minutes from personal experience - I would have made 5 before the arthritis but I don't know that your average middle-aged person in nice clothes is going to want to walk that fast).

This morning, while returning from the car dealer (maintenance), and avoiding a much-worse-than-usual parking lot on I-35, I went through East Austin and drove most of the shuttle route which applied yesterday. At 8:38, I turned from Airport on to MLK and immediately noticed that the entrance/exit to the Red Line station has nothing but a flashing light. How long is that 'quick' shuttle going to have to wait to pull out and turn left on to MLK?. I then ended up passing JMVC, I think, waiting for the #18; proceeded to hit almost every green light (including straight across I-35 without waiting); and got to the Trinity/MLK intersection at 8:44.

Conclusion: Best-case scenaro (late arrival, no major bus wait to leave the complex) hits just under 10 minutes (a minute or less to get on to MLK; 2-3 more minutes to get to the circle at 23rd - 4-way stops, other traffic in the way there). Unfortunately, I don't know I'll have the chance to try an earlier crossing of the interstate with more traffic, maybe hitting the 8:00 arrivals; and I know from painful experience that the outbound traffic in the evening is much worse.

I intend to hit many other prospective use cases (as I did before, when schedules were much less firm). Suggestions for ones I should do first are welcome.

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February 25, 2009

Do people know they're going to have to ride shuttlebuses?

Commenter "breathesgelatin" pointed out 2 posts ago:

Mike, I have a great story for you. I went to the Crestview Station open house on Saturday. In front of me in line was a guy who asked the woman explaining the fare system the following question:

"I take the express bus in from Leander currently. It drops me off a block from my office. What bus will I need to take to get to my office now?"

The woman was completely unable to effectively explain the shuttle system, the fact that the shuttle system was different from normal bus routes, or the normal bus routes. She had clearly either not been trained, been poorly trained, or trained to cover up the idea that you need a transfer. It was really striking.

I don't think the guy was a plant; I think he was a genuine guy who wanted to use the train and was surprised it didn't actually take him to his office.

To natrius: I used to live sort of near the MLK station, on Manor. There are things you want to go to on Manor... but it is too long of a walk, to be honest. And... people are actually buying houses at Chestnut Commons?

I would rent at Crestview Station but it's probably going to be too expensive for me. Not that I would actually take the train anywhere though. I'd take the 1.

I am seriously wondering how long it will take everyone to realize that Mike has been right all along. So many are being duped by this "light rail" bullshit PR.

It's been my experience on the Capital MetroBlog that most commenters labor willfully or mistakenly under the misapprehension that they're going to walk to work from the train station. What have you all noticed with your peers, if any of them even talk about it?

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.

February 23, 2009

Red Line: Taxes versus benefits

The first in a new series by M1EK, inspired by various internet fun and maybe Dmitri Martin, except not so much funny as it is sad.

Cedar Park and Round Rock pay 0 to Capital Metro. "Other" includes some portions of unincorporated Travis County and a few small jurisdictions like Jonestown. 93% of CM's budget supposedly comes from the city of Austin (you lately more typically hear "over 90%").

The "Austin" stations lack parking except for the McNeil station, which actually is more likely to serve residents of Round Rock and unincorporated areas in that vicinity, and the Northwest P&R, which is more likely to serve residents of Cedar Park and unincorporated areas in that vicinity. The benefit, if any, of the Red Line increases the further out you go (as modest travel savings compared to the express bus begin to make a dent in the penalty you pay by having to transfer to a shuttle bus at the destination point).

February 16, 2009

Time for the adults to slam on the brakes

So a bit more detail has surfaced, and it turns out that Capital Metro, according to the short description in the latest stimulus proposal from our local governments, is now asking for federal dollars to, hold on your hats:

triple-track the Red Line.

The theory, I guess, is to keep freight service in the middle, and run the DMU trains on the outside tracks.

Here's what I'm writing to City Council, as we speak:

Dear councilmembers:

Please exercise whatever authority you deem necessary to stop Capital Metro's insane attempt to use federal stimulus dollars to, as the poorly detailed proposal goes, "triple-track the Red Line". This is a disastrous attempt to throw good money after bad - the Red Line, even if it had ten tracks, will still never be able to deliver passengers directly to their final destinations, unlike good light rail starter lines in places like Dallas and Houston. This is, and will always be, a commuter rail line that requires people transfer to shuttlebuses, or in the distant future, another rail vehicle, to get to their offices or other destinations.

Investing money in this corridor and this technology is exactly the kind of foolish decision that Capital Metro should be stopped from making - just like how you stopped them from the initial attempt to run Rapid Bus down Guadalupe - another investment of many dollars with little prospective return.

Instead, I urge you to seek federal dollars for the CAMPO TWG urban rail plan - which, unlike Capital Metro's awful commuter line, can and will serve residents of the city of Austin by directly connecting major activity centers without ridership-killing transfers. It, unlike commuter rail, can eventually be expanded to more and better destinations and dense residential areas. It, unlike commuter rail, can and will generate transit-oriented development which pays the city back and then some for our investment.

In 2004, Capital Metro ignored the needs of their consituents and bought into a technology and route which is a dead-end that can never really be a competitive option for the business of Austin commuters. Even for residents of Leander, the Red Line (with shuttle transfer) is only competitive if we ignore the express buses that already exist today.

Please stop them before they do it again. We don't have enough rail dollars (local or federal) to build both this ghastly abomination and the urban rail core that can one day bring us what many other light-rail cities have succeeded with.

Mike Dahmus
City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

February 13, 2009

Oh Snap, Mankiw

Newsweek has a decent story with which I only partly agree, but the best parts are bits like this one:

Let's say you're a tenured professor of economics at Harvard. You have—and have earned—a great deal of stability and security. Your job is guaranteed, at pretty much the same salary, until retirement. Your employer, which has been around for more than 350 years, isn't going anywhere.


If you believe the typical American worker would respond to tax cuts the way a typical tenured Harvard economist would, then it makes all the sense in the world to focus on tax cuts to the exclusion of other types of stimulus. But if you believe the typical American worker might respond to tax cuts the way, say, a typical Cambridge-area worker would, you might be less sure.

I've always been skeptical of economists with tenure telling me how I should think about globalization, for instance. Of course, Dr. Mankiw turned off comments at his blog some time ago, so he'll never get any feedback with which he's uncomfortable - one more way in which he's more like those he served at the Bush administration than he would like you to believe.

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February 12, 2009

M1EK versus solar

I don't have time for anything but a quick hit, so here you go:

As the Statesman indicates, some councilmembers, most notably Mike Martinez, are balking at the cost of the proposed gigantic solar photovoltaic plant out in the middle of nowhere.

This is a good objection. I commented to this effect at the austinist last week.

One of the primary benefits of solar PV is as a peak demand displacer/replacer. Why would you want that capacity at the other end of your distribution network from the actual customers, where you undergo all the normal distribution losses and don't get any ancillary benefits for the customer, like shade (cooler roof)?

If you want to invest a bunch of money in PV, and don't want it to be simply rebates for customer systems, then build an Austin Energy photovoltaic farm on top of a bunch of short, wide, buildings with air-conditioning needs. Like the Convention Center, or the millions of warehouses up off Metric, or Costco. AE still owns the energy, but it's being delivered to the grid far more efficiently than from the Webberville location.

(Also, an eastern location is kind of stupid as well - there's a non-trivial difference in hours of sunlight between west and east Austin).

In short, since unlike a coal or natural gas plant, you don't have to put it in the middle of nowhere, why on earth would you want to, and suffer the same drop-off in power due to transmission that they do? Why not take advantage of the few things solar PV is unquestionably better at - nobody minds it if there's solar panels on a roof nextdoor; and everybody loves some free shade.

If you wanted to build a solar plant in the middle of nowhere, given all the above, what should you do? Solar thermal - i.e. the mirrors that focus on a bunch of molten salt. Much more efficient than PV, and there are no ancillary benefits like shade that go to waste when you're out in the middle of nowhere.

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