This is the category archive for "Republicans Hate Public Transportation".

March 21, 2011

A Really Crappy Chart For Your Monday

Since so many people either don't get why the Red Line continues to be a problem or are disingenuously pretending not to know, I'm starting a flowchart for you. Thank me later. Click on the image below to get the full (part 1 only) chart.

If you want more, let me know.

July 07, 2010

Today's news bits

I still have a post simmering about double-tracking the Red Line, and why it won't make much difference; but I may have to update it after this morning's news.

1. The freight train derailment. It's happened several times before in the recent past - the tracks are pretty crappy in that part of town and have not been replaced. So is this the fault of the Red Line? Not directly; no. The tracks were bad before the Red Line was a gleam in Mike Krusee's eye. HOWEVER: if we had built light rail in the 2000 plan (if Krusee hadn't forced it to the polls early); we'd have two brand-new, presumably better-engineered and more safe tracks through the whole corridor - so a derailment would have been less likely.

2. MOPAC managed lanes. I say the same thing now that I said THREE YEARS AGO: If the lanes don't have a dedicated exit or exits, and there's no indication TXDOT has changed their plans to add any, they will be completely useless - they will quickly degrade to the speed of the general purpose lanes as people in the managed lane struggle to merge back through 3 lanes of traffic to get off the highway.

May 07, 2010

Just what you needed: Some Crappy Video

I shot this while watching the 8:12 arrival of the Red Line downtown this morning (on my way to work). Excuse the quality; my standard for a phone is "does it make calls? is it free?".

I estimate 25-30 people got off the train here, which is a bit more than I expected given the MLK experience on Wednesday (same train; 15 people going to UT or Capitol). From this we can extrapolate that about 40-45 people get off at the two stops where you can get to actual workplaces on what I expect is the busiest trip of the morning (see end). Add in 5-15 more for all the other stops put together, and you get 45-60 people per day as a ceiling. (An aside: I overheard one passenger say "56 people" as she walked by; I don't know whether that was a coincidence or maybe an actual passenger count).

Let's be charitable and pretend that each and every one of the six morning trips carries that many people (even the ones starting up in Leander at 5:25 AM and 6:00 AM; even the one trip that starts at Howard and only had 2 people on it when I watched it arrive at MLK on Monday).

We've got a basic ceiling (charitable) estimate of 360 boardings in the morning by this method. IE, I would be greatly surprised if more than 720 boardings per day are now happening on weekdays on this line.

Meanwhile, Phoenix's light rail line, built like our 2000 line would have been (except with less speed in suburban areas), has now passed 45,000 boardings per day.

This isn't a ridership figure we can approach by running the Red Line more often and/or on two tracks. The reason Phoenix sees tens of thousands while we see hundreds is quite simply this: Phoenix made sure the train went where lots of people live and lots of people work (and even more go to school), rather than sticking a train on existing tracks that didn't go near anything worthwhile. Phoenix did what we would have done in 2001 if Mike Krusee hadn't forced us to the polls early, in other words; or what we should have come back to in 2004 instead of falling for commuter rail's promise of "almost as good and a lot cheaper".

This isn't something we can fix by extending the Red Line to 4th/Brazos. You're still stuck with a strategy that can never, ever, ever serve UT or the Capitol or the northern half of downtown (we will never run these DMU vehicles in front of UT or the Capitol - too stinky and too porky to make turns).

This is a dead end that we got because people trusted Capitol Metro rather than listening to those who have experience with another system just like this one.

(Why do I think this is likely the busiest trip of the morning? The trip after this one is the one that starts at Howard Lane and only had 2 people get off at MLK on Monday; the one after that doesn't get downtown until 8:56, meaning most passengers to both UT and downtown would arrive after 9:00; and the trip before this one starts in Leander at 6:35 AM; the two before that are even more pervese - 6:00 and 5:25 AM respectively).

April 30, 2010

Blast From The Past

From The Chronicle in 2000:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, supported by Cap Met's ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a "highly recommended" rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and -- even though it was on existing rail right of way -- only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a "not recommended" kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

The differences between that "original Red Line" and the current Red Line that Krusee and Capital Metro forced on us in 2004 (now producing stunning ridership results for us) is that it would have had double tracks and electrification on its whole route (i.e., the Feds back in 2000 were telling Capital Metro that today's Red Line AFTER adding a second track and electric wires would STILL produce disappointing ridership and that they wanted no part of funding it).

Guess what Capital Metro's plans are to improve rail transit in Austin now?

March 04, 2010

Days of Reckoning, Part Three

Today, thanks to skepticism from those who think my position solidified over six years on this subject is because of predetermined bias rather than actual study, I'll switch from my original plan of doing use cases by "estimated level of commute interest" and instead hit what I would guess are the two best possible cases for the Red Line.

Since shuttle-buses are obviously a problem, and since even in the commute to UT (you know, the obvious primary destination for people riding transit in our area, that unimportant little spot) from the furthest out station in Leander, the speed of the train can't make up for the time lost to the shuttle-bus, let's try to assemble one of the few commutes that might not require a shuttle-bus, although that's relatively hard to do.

Frost Tower is just on the edge of the 1/4 mile circle that most transit planners view as the maximum distance people will walk to work from a transit stop. It's also the ONLY major office building within what's commonly considered acceptable walking distance from the 'downtown station'. (Me, I might actually have to take the shuttle even on that trip some days due to my feet, so I'll plan that out too). Let's run there from both Leander (far out park-and-ride) and Crestview (supposed TOD which will supposedly provide the only real walk-up traffic for Austin).

This case also benefits the Red Line disproportionately because both the express bus route from Leander to downtown and the #101 limited first run past UT, and then past the Capitol, then through the rest of downtown; so we're at the very end of the slowest part of that route here. IE, we've picked the destination that makes the bus look its absolute worst.

Continue reading "Days of Reckoning, Part Three" »

March 02, 2010

Days of Reckoning, Part Two

Today's entry: Somebody who fell for the "TOD" hype and moved into Crestview Station so they could walk to the Red Line and take it to work at UT. Morning commute this time around; assume they want to get in comfortably before 9:00AM. Note that the Red Line shuttle drops off on San Jacinto; the two bus options here drop off on Guadalupe; the typical UT office is, if anything, closer to Guadalupe than San Jacinto.

Spoiler: Even the local bus beats the Red Line, because of the shuttle-bus trip. Yes, even though that local bus travels through half of the congestion on the Drag.

Continue reading "Days of Reckoning, Part Two" »

March 01, 2010

Days of Reckoning, Part One

Using the new schedules on Capital Metro's spiffy new MetroRail site; this afternoon in the 5 minutes I could spend, we now know that, according to schedules, if you're leaving UT for Leander and want to take the first available trip after 5:00, the express bus that currently takes you 68 minutes is on tap to be replaced by a shuttle-bus plus Red Line option that will take you either 71 or 76 minutes, depending on if you feel like taking your chances on maybe not fitting on the second shuttle bus for the 5:40 trip heading up to Leander.

TripPickup at UTArrive MLK stationLeave MLK stationArrive Leander stationTotal travel time
#987 express bus5:04 PMN/AN/A6:12 PM68 minutes
Red Line with #465 shuttlebus (first one)5:16 PM5:28 PM5:40 PM6:32 PM76 minutes
Red Line with #465 shuttlebus (second one)5:21 PM5:33 PM5:40 PM6:32 PM71 minutes

I wonder if there was anyone who predicted way back when that the Red Line would be slower, thanks to its reliance on shuttle-buses, than existing express bus service? Nah. Couldn't be. Nobody could have predicted this debacle way back in, say, 2004.

July 15, 2004:

The current commuter rail plan, for reference, requires both of these constituencies to transfer to shuttle buses to reach their final destination. This, as I've pointed out before, means that anybody who has a car and can afford parking will never ride this route.The shuttle transfer kills the performance of the transit trip to the point where only people who don't own cars or have difficult parking situations would consider it, as is the case with today's express bus lines.

More references:

February 26, 2010

M1EK in comments: Why waste your time giving input?

Really sorry I don't have more time to spend on this blog - day job; family; etc. But this comment needed to be saved somewhere other than CM's blog so I could point to it. I've been meaning to write a long post on "staying friends versus getting something done", but this will have to suffice for now.

Commented to this post:

SR, it's really simple: Mike Krusee was willing to fight for his interests (kill light rail, allow commuter rail), and our city council members were not (nor was anybody else in Austin, except yours truly, as evidenced by this sad bit of history).

Talking, having charettes, staying connected, keeping in contact, maintaining relationships, giving input - none of this matters if the guy on the other side is willing to exercise his power to get what he wants and you aren't. (This, by the way, is why I don't bother showing up and giving 'input' at things like the 2020 service plan meetings - despite nice invitations and hurt feelings when not taken up on; I'm better off with speaking to hundreds of readers and having a 1% chance of slightly modifying the opinion of somebody with real power than I am giving my one input and having it roundly ignored).

In reality, the message really isn't "don't waste your time by giving input", but rather, it's make sure you're giving your input to people who are willing to listen and are willing to exercise their power to help get what you want. An awful lot of people in the political ecosphere are very, very, very skilled at using the input-gathering process to defuse opposition to things they've already decided they're going to do. Don't allow yourself to be effectively neutered in this fashion - make sure you're only spending your time with people who aren't just listening politely to keep you from talking to somebody else about it.

December 18, 2009

History, Not Learning From

A couple weeks ago, I posted this "Quick Hit" about the fact that the Feds rated what is now the Red Line very poorly back in 1998-2000. To be more precise, they actually panned a doubletracked light-rail proposal on what is the current Red Line's route (i.e. running down the existing freight rail corridor rather than going down Lamar and Guadalupe as in what eventually became the 2000 proposal). This Red Line proposal was floating around for years as the primary rival to the Red/Green Line (that 2000 LRT route). To refresh your memory, from the old Chronicle article:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, supported by Cap Met's ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a "highly recommended" rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and -- even though it was on existing rail right of way -- only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a "not recommended" kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

The "original Red Line" they're talking about is, to be clear, a proposal floated around 1998 which would have put down two new tracks and run light rail vehicles on the current Red Line. Note key phrase: far lower ridership.

Now, Jeff Wood picks up the history angle, pointing to his masters' thesis on the 2004 debacle. Note that even today Capital Metro's Doug Allen is claiming that the Red Line should have been done with two tracks from the getgo (although the quoted $300M would pretty much have to be two tracks with those stupid DMU cars, not electric trains), yet, once again, two brand new tracks in the Red Line right-of-way still doesn't go anywhere worth going. Nor would three, or four, or ten tracks. The problem isn't the number of tracks; the problem is where the tracks are.

As Jeff points out,

I don't think this should be hard for everyone to understand. 38,000 riders for LRT in 2000 versus 2,000 riders for Commuter rail in 2004. It's not rocket science. The politics was messy and Capital Metro allowed themselves to get pushed into it. This didn't start with the current contractor, this started back before 2000 with Krusee who was head of the House Transportation Committee.

As I've pointed out on what seems like a billion occasions, Mike Krusee is why this happened back then. Go read Jeff's article for independent confirmation, if for some reason you doubted me.

Again: 38,000 riders for the 2000 light rail plan, 2,000 riders for the 2004 commuter rail plan (with or without second track).

The Feds figured this out before 2000. For one brief moment, Capital Metro knew it too. Why are they being so obtuse now, and more importantly, why are our City Council members on their board allowing them to continue this delusionary path to spending hundreds of millions of dollars MORE on a line that will never be a functioning part of our transportation system? This is how Tri-Rail wasted almost two decades and a couple hundred million dollars in South Florida - adding a second track to the wrong line. Will our elected officials have the courage to make Capital Metro stop before we make the same mistake here?

May 08, 2009

Bad transit news

(see update at bottom as of 3:00)

(both reposted from the twitter during a short time window here in the hospital before I dive back into work):

In the "I can't believe they're really this stupid" department, Capital Metro's MetroRail has won a stewardship award from Envision Central Texas. Yes, really. The plan whose lies about seeking federal funding and other overruns have resulted in the funneling of Austin infrastructure dollars to Leander and Cedar Park. The plan that prevents light rail from being built; the one that has been delayed for many many moons due to incompetence and flat-out lies; the plan that provides jack squat to residents of Austin who pay essentially all the bills; THAT plan just won a stewardship award. Really? REALLY?

What's next; a posthumous humanitarian award for Stalin or Hitler?

Second, Rapid [sic] Bus has been awarded some Federal money - but not the 80% requested, meaning that the project is going to be much harder to kill but is going to cost even more in local dollars.

An awful day for transit all-around. If you still held out any hope for urban rail in Austin, today kills most of that hope. Envision Central Texas, you've just won the first ever group award here. Nice show, today's Worst People In Austin.

Some selected background reading for you from the archives:

Much much more, of course in the category archives, especially these two:

3:00 update: Got a message from somebody who was there that the Red Line was the only entrant (presumably in the category) which wasn't clear to me before (the ECT front page just lists 'finalists' with no information about categorization). Supposedly eyes were rolling in the audience. I think "no award" would have been the right choice, if there were no other entrants (also, surely dadnab could have been given an/another award in the category instead). The point here is that not only does the Red Line fail to move the ECT vision forward; it's actually preventing projects which could be moving said vision forward - for instance, if the Pfluger Bridge extension fails to get built because CM spent the money promised to the City of Austin on Red Line overruns/lies. You don't even have to go to hypothetical-but-now-precluded light rail to get there; just pay attention to what's going on right now.

We're still left with: (1), ECT thinks the Red Line somehow moves us forward; and (2) Rapid Bus is not only still going to happen, but require more local dollars - condemning the #1 urban rail corridor in this city to nothing more than useless bus service for essentially forever.

April 06, 2009

My disingenuous sense is tingling

Allow me to present the mayoral forum, with these humdingers:

1. This video shows you successful VMU projects and how nice their open spaces are and then says we need rules to make sure VMU developments provide enough open space. Wouldn't it be smarter to show some that didn't provide enough open space, if any such existed? Maybe they couldn't find any, because I can't think of any that do that bad a job.

Huh. So the VMU developers are already doing a good job providing a lot more public open space than, let's say, the typical residential or commercial areas in this part of town have done (where 'open space' is comprised of surface parking lots, driveways, swales, and huge front setbacks of St. Augustine grass - precisely none of it 'public'). Is it possible, just possible, that these folks aren't really "advocates for new urbanism", like the almost-all-the-same-folks-but-really-quite-different-no-trust-us RG4N? You know, the same folks who claimed to want a VMU development at Northcross but now say they're thrilled with a single-story Wal-Mart surrounded by acres of surface parking,

2. From this posting for the forum:

The neighborhoods - Allandale, Brentwood, Crestview, Highland, North Shoal Creek, and Wooten - have identified three priorities for discussion at the forum: code enforcement, minimum public open space in mixed use districts, and transportation policy with an emphasis on pedestrian, bicycle and transit connectivity.

Oh, so NOW they're concerned with "bicycle connectivity"?. That's swell. Allow me to suggest it's difficult to take you seriously given your failure to even address obliquely what happened the last time a clear and compelling interest in bicycle transportation conflicted with the desire of a few old coots to park their overflow cars on their side of the street. Resulting in some real cool "bicycle connectivity". As in, one of these days a bicyclist is going to end up connected with an automobile because you guys couldn't walk across the street to get to your fourth and fifth cars.

Or do your old pal M1EK a favor and just go ahead and ask them about Shoal Creek at the forum. That ought to be some fun.

Update: How could I have forgotten their other priority?

3. Code enforcement. Yes, now, only now, do these folks want to make the city respect the integrity of the city code. You know, the same code that clearly stated that Lincoln and Wal-Mart had the legal authority to build exactly what they wanted to build at Northcross? The code that so clearly stated those development rights that not one but two judges sent RG4N and ANA home crying with their tails between their legs? The code that was so obvious that the judge nearly made ANA pay Lincoln's legal bills when ANA foolishly tried to appeal? That code, the one you made the city waste a million or more dollars defending?

Oh yeah, that code. Well, now that Wal-Mart scaled back due to economics, I guess we can return to insisting that it must be defended at all costs, right?

March 20, 2009

What's Up With Capital Metro?

Forestalling the yet-to-happen-but-eventually-inevitable question "what does this all mean":

0. (Update): About an hour after I wrote this post, I see that Veolia and Capital Metro are now in even more hot water and the party is canceled; rail service delayed until at least May 15. While Martinez' oversight now is welcome, it would have been nice for McCracken, Martinez, Leffingwell, and others to display that same interest back when CM was making decisions that depleted their reserves beyond their ability to fund commitments to the city of Austin (see #2).

Prompted by something DSK just reminded me of in IM, here's the text of a resolution I floated in May of 2004 on the UTC:

WHEREAS the City of Austin does not receive adequate mobility benefits from the currently proposed Long Range Transit Plan due to its reliance on "rapid bus" transit without separate right-of-way


WHEREAS a "rapid bus" line does not and cannot provide the necessary permanent infrastructure to encourage mixed-use pedestrian-oriented densification along its corridor


WHEREAS the vast majority of Capital Metro funds come from residents of the City of Austin


WHEREAS the commuter rail plan proposed as the centerpiece of this plan delivers most of its benefits to residents of areas which are not within the Capital Metro service area while ignoring the urban core which provides most Capital Metro monies

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Urban Transportation Commission recommends that the City Council immediately reject Capital Metro's Long-Range Transit Plan and begin working towards a plan which:

A. delivers more reliable and high-performance transit into and through the urban core, including but not limited to the University of Texas, Capitol Complex, and downtown
B. requires additional user fees from passengers using Capital Metro rail services who reside in areas which are not part of the Capital Metro service area
C. provides permanent infrastructure to provide impetus for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use redevelopment of the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor

IF CAPITAL METRO will not work with the City of Austin on all items above, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the UTC advises the City Council to begin preparations to withdraw from the Capital Metro service area and provide its own transit system in order to provide true mobility benefits to the taxpayers of Austin.

It died for lack of a second. Where would we be today if we had forced greater oversight on Capital Metro back then?

(now for the original post, all of 1.5 hours old by the time I wrote the above):

1. Capital Metro's training problems that have got them in hot water may or may not have something to do with the fact that Veolia (the agency they hired to run the trains) isn't StarTran. StarTran is where the union gets most of their members; and they don't like the increased use of Veolia for a variety of reasons. Keep your eye on this one.

2. The more recent debacle shows another way commuter rail screwed us: The plan was so bad; so unlikely to carry as many riders as even a half-assed light rail line; that Capital Metro reneged on their promises to seek Federal funding for half of the cost. This, combined with the fact that the cost predictably crept up some, is where most of our money went. The original cost of $90M would have originally taken $45M out of Capital Metro reserves; now with the running total somewhere around $120M depending on how you account for things, CM had to take an additional $75M out of reserves. See item #3.

Continue reading "What's Up With Capital Metro?" »

March 05, 2009

Capital Metro express bus changes screw Austin in favor of Leander

Take a look at the following charts (done quickly; please forgive my lack of time on the business trip) showing some of the express bus routes proposed for elimination when commuter rail service begins:

The really fast express bus from Leander only runs obscenely early (6:00 - 6:30 AM). After that, you need to take the #987 (the one that runs down Mopac, 38th, Guadalupe), which, at least for the 'late' (7:30ish) trip, shows to be slower than commuter rail. So far so good. But what about the Lakeline Park-and-Ride, you know, the one that's "in Austin"?

Continue reading "Capital Metro express bus changes screw Austin in favor of Leander" »

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%").

Continue reading "Red Line: Taxes versus benefits" »

January 25, 2009

What a shock

Courtesy of the Statesman: For Laura Morrison and Brian Rodgers, backroom deals are fine. The irony? This is a backroom deal to define exactly how much openness we'll require in the future.

Morrison said that, broadly speaking, she wanted to make the process more open and add opportunities for public input. But she declined last week in a phone interview to release the draft. The reason, she said, was because she and Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Randi Shade had to meet with more stakeholders before making it public, and that releasing it would give the public an inaccurate view of how it could eventually look.

Morrison had shared her draft with at least one member of the public, Brian Rodgers. That made the draft public, according to open-records attorney Joel White. He added that open-records laws require information requested to be disclosed as soon as possible, and that the 10-day response period is an “outer deadline.”


We’re still waiting, even though the city is required to release it as soon as possible and Morrison could do so by simply opening her inbox and hitting “send.”

Anybody who believed all that nonsense probably feels as foolish now as I may be feeling soon about the "Meeker = McCracken's tool" stuff. The entire momentum behind Morrison's campaign and behind Rodgers' initiative was to make sure only the right people got input because, technically, we ALL got public input when we elected our city councilpeople. Of course, people with real jobs can't be at city council during the day and people with family responsibilities can't spent their days, nights, and evenings as 'stakeholders', but, again, that's the way the 'granola mafia' likes it: government by those with the most time on their hands.

November 17, 2008

Don't Let The Door Hit You...

CNN's Campbell Brown's words ring true in relation to this pantload, whom the media never bothered to fact-check on anything:

Brown spoke of the "false equivalency" that's often practiced in journalism. "Our view is that when Candidate A says it's raining outside, and Candidate B says it's sunny, a journalist should be able to look outside and say, 'Well it's sunny, so one of these guys is wrong,'" she told Stewart.

Guess what? Sal Costello was wrong on almost everything he ever said. But you wouldn't know that for reading the Statesman, or the Chronicle, or even Burnt Orange Report - and the transportation discourse has suffered drastically for it. Instead of flat-out telling their readers that Costello's position wasn't true, they, at best, alluded to it indirectly, assuming people would get it. They didn't. As a result, people now honestly believe his bullshit about being double-taxed and the money supposedly diverted to 'toll roads' from 'free'ways.

In this whole process, one might assume the losers are suburban motorists. Not so; the losers are central city Austin residents, both drivers and non-drivers, who have to continue the unfair process of paying for suburban commuters' highways through both the gas tax subsidy and the property tax and sales tax subsidy. With toll roads, at least suburban commuters would have paid something closer to the cost of their choice to live out there. Now? Back to business-as-usual, meaning people who ride the bus in East Austin get to subsidize people driving in from Circle C. My environmentalist friends who think this means "no roads" are deluded - the phase II toll roads weren't highways to nowhere like Southwest Parkway; there already exists sufficient commuting demand and more than enough political support to make these roads happen, whether 'free' or tolled.

Anyways, to our erstwhile Circle C Crackpot: don't let the door hit you. And shame on you, reporters. It was raining the whole time, and you let people think there was an honest disagreement on the weather.

(The worst part? As I mentioned to a facebook friend, he actually made me feel a little bit sorry at one point for this guy. UNCLEAN).

November 05, 2008

Why we should subsidize more projects like The Domain

Quick reminder as I prepare to go on a business trip. The reason we need to subsidize projects like the Domain, and especially Mueller, is that existing crappy strip malls actually cost us (the city) more money than they make but thanks to our suburban zoning code, they are the only thing that can be built without special subsidy or regulatory relief.

Read that again. You heard me right - Brian Rodgers' strip malls are already getting subsidized via the tax code and already get regulatory preference in the zoning code. We tax by land and improvement value rather than assessing based on the costs generated by retail - and strip retail is the worst on this scale, since, for one simple example, if you want to visit a half-dozen different stores on Anderson Lane, you may have to move the car 6 times(!). That's not good for Austin, and it shouldn't be subsidized - but if we can't change the tax/regulatory code, and the neighborhoods won't let us do that, then at least we can attempt to level the playing field by subsidizing their more sustainable competition.

I'll try to fill this argument in with some backing data when I get more time, but I thought it important to say this right after the election, since he and SDS are making noise about how close they got. The only reason it was that close is because most people have no idea how much of the status quo isn't natural or 'choice'; but actually the result of public policy that has favored suburban crap like strip malls for decades.

It makes it even harder when a project like Mueller faces so much opposition from nearby neighborhoods that affordability has to be 'bought down' rather than provided through more reasonable density entitlements (subsidizing affordable housing is less efficient than getting the ridiculously low-density zoning out of the way and letting the market provide more supply, but local neighborhoods hate that, so we had to settle for this far-inferior option). No, Virginia, Mueller isn't going to be high-density, not even close - the area around the Town Center, if it's ever built, will approach but not exceed the density of the Triangle - i.e. moderate density mid-rises.

Update: Austin Contrarian argues that retail subsidies are bad but leaves a "design subsidy" hole large enough to admit both the Domain and Mueller, arguably. I'd have no problem dressing my position up in a similar fashion except that I suspect this is too nuanced for the average "corporations bad!" voter to accept.

PS: I believe on this issue that I'm now More Contrarian Than The Austin Contrarian. Woo?

November 04, 2008

BRT (or Rapid Bus) is NOT a stepping stone towards light rail

As part of an excellent series of takedowns of BRT, the San Francisco Bike Blog has written an excellent rebuttal to the frequent claims that BRT or Rapid Bus plans can function as stepping stones towards light rail. One relevant excerpt relating to a transitway in Ottawa that was designed to be convertible to LRT::

The study concludes that with limited financial resources, it is better to invest in new rapid transit corridors than to replace an existing one. It is not considered cost-effective to convert the Transitway to LRT at this time.

Please check out the rest. There's a lot more good stuff in the other links from Jeff's collection as well, including impacts on the urban environment from smelly, noisy, uncomfortable buses versus electric trains.

In our case, our potential investments in our completely useless Rapid Bus plan are completely nonportable to light rail (the stations are on the wrong side, for instance). Ironically, as the linked story points out, every improvement that could be made to make Rapid Bus more like Bus Rapid Transit would make it less likely we'd ever see light rail on the #1 corridor.

October 27, 2008

Why the new library is in the wrong place

Since this has come up again recently, I thought I'd put together a better background piece than this old one. I've co-opted an image from one of the proposals for the new central library for this and added some lines. The thick green line is the major transit corridor of Congress Avenue. The thinner cyan lines are substantial transit corridors on Guadalupe/Lavaca and 5th/6th that carry at least a handful of bus routes (basically, the 5th/6th corridor carries the Dillo, the #21/#22 that circulates all over central and east Austin, the #4, and a flyer; the Guadalupe/Lavaca corridor carries all the 183 express buses and a couple of flyers, and Colorado carries a few mainline routes). This image does the best job so far of showing the problem with the new library's location - the secondary transit corridors are now several blocks away, and the one that carries 90% of the bus routes in the city is arguably too far away to walk, at least for those not in good physical condition (it'd be a bit far for me at this point).

No, there aren't many buses on Cesar Chavez, especially not over by the new library location - it's pretty much just the #3, which runs through north central and south Austin.

And, no, for the fifteenth time, there aren't going to be a lot of shifts in transit routes to come over to the new library. See the body of water to the south? See the lack of bridges farther west than the Guadalupe/Lavaca couplet? Get it?

So what about streetcar, if it ever happens? Problem is that the streetcar line is equivalent to one bus route - the light blue lines on this map are corridors which carry several bus routes that go several different places. If you happen to be among the small part of residential Austin initially served by the streetcar proposal, great, but otherwise you're looking at a two-leg transit ride to get to the library at best. The yellow line shows the streetcar proposal, if it ever happens, and if it ever makes it across Shoal Creek, the latter question being far more doubtful than the former.

September 17, 2008

Getting to the ACM on transit

Here's some examples to back up the previous post about the ACM. I'm picking major intersections near some neighborhoods in the news the last couple of years. I am granting the Mueller Town Center a stop at Aldrich and Airport - which isn't really IN the Town Center, but as close as you can get today (and, I believe, the closest you'll get in the future except perhaps on the streetcar). Using times of 11:00 AM arrivals on a weekday.

Note: I had to use Capital Metro's Trip Planner instead of Google - since the Google planner defaults to "closest time" rather than "minimize transfers" or "minimize walking". This actually didn't make any difference for trips to Mueller, but it did lead CM to propose trips with transfers to downtown which arrived 5 minutes closer to the desired time than a much shorter non-stop would do (most parents would choose the non-stop that arrived at 11:05 over the longer trip-with-transfers that arrived at 11:00 on the dot). The irritating thing about CM's planner is that each and every time, you have to say "yes, I meant Congress, not South Congress" - it still won't let you say "North Congress" to avoid this. Guh.

I also had to limit walk to 1/2 mile to avoid some ridiculous options like dropping off at Hancock Center. No parent with child, not even ME, is going to walk that far to go to the ACM. Sorry.

Those who will blithely reply that buses will be rerouted to run past or through Mueller should please reconsider. The major bus routes in this city have run on essentially their current paths for decades now - none of the major N/S routes are going to move miles out of their way to run down Airport Boulevard. The most likely transit improvements as Mueller builds out are the streetcar (just improves access to downtown and the UT area, which already have a direct bus to/from Mueller) and improved frequency on the routes that currently serve Mueller - like the #350; meaning you'll still see options like the ones Capital Metro gives you below, just more often.

Remember, the point of this exercise is to think about whether this is a good long-term move for the ACM. If you are confident that gas will be cheap 10 years from now, then this is clearly a good move, except for those who don't own cars, but if you think gas might be 8 or 10 bucks a gallon by then, maybe it's worthwhile to think about how realistic it will be to get there by other means, wouldn't you say?

Additional suggestions welcome.

1. From Burnet/Koenig:

To downtown:Direct, 32 minutes on the #3; 39 minutes on the #5
To Mueller:49-73 minutes, with 2 of the 3 transferring at Northcross; the other up on St. Johns

Continue reading "Getting to the ACM on transit" »

September 15, 2008

The Austin Suburban Childrens' Museum

The Childrens' Museum, of which we are members, announced today that they plan to move to Mueller after previously pulling out of a plan to occupy part of the ground floor of one of the major downtown high-rises now under construction (which would have, like Mueller, given them a lot more room to work with). Many people wondered why they pulled out of what seemed like a sweetheart deal back then - and now we know: they intended to move out of downtown all along.

Obviously, I believe this is a horrible move. Today, it's a lot easier to drive to Mueller than it is to drive downtown, and most families drive (even we usually do, although I have gone with my 4-year-old on the bus once or twice). But this isn't a move for today - it's a move for ten years from now; and ten years from now, Mueller will be, at best, a medium-density node of homes and a few shops with mediocre transit access; and downtown will still have everything it does today PLUS a ton more homes and retail (far more than Mueller adds), and vastly superior transit access. Additionally, if you think ten years from now the average family will still be driving everywhere, you are far more optimistic about fuel prices than the facts on the ground would seem to warrant.

The other main benefit of having the museum downtown is that it can be one among many attractions that can form a nice day-trip, even if you live out in the suburbs and even if you drive. In Mueller? It'll be an easy drive - and given what they've built so far, there will probably be plenty of surface parking. But even if the streetcar line comes together and doesn't suck, Mueller will still have relatively poor transit access compared to downtown (except from downtown itself) - and once you get there, there will be exactly one thing to do before you go home. In other words, everybody can get to the current location downtown and almost all of them can get there on one bus ride. Getting to Mueller, even ten years from now, is going to require two or three rides for most people (unless you live downtown!).

As with the library and with the courthouse, there will doubtlessly be plenty of apologists who claim that Capital Metro will be serving the new location with some bus routes - and that buses can always be moved. Newsflash: major long-haul bus routes aren't moved miles out of the way for one new attraction in a medium-density area. Ten years from now, Mueller will have basically the same transit it does today - more frequent, likely; but no major new routes, except the aforementioned streetcar (maybe).

Folks, there's a reason that everything tended to be located downtown back when driving was an expensive privilege afforded mainly to the rich: it simply works better to group major destinations together so they can be served by transit. Decentralizing at this point in history when the affordability of driving appears to be heading back that direction is just incomprehensibly stupid - yet that's exactly what the ACM is doing here.

At the same time our own city shows signs of thinking ten years down the road (or re-learning lessons from a hundred years ago), the ACM is thinking ten or twenty years in the past. The new location will be a nice amenity for the many families that have moved into Mueller, but it might as well be Round Rock for the rest of the city.

Update: Other coverage of note at the forums where you can probably watch me get slammed mercilessly, and at for a more downtown-friendly view.

September 05, 2008

Austin Contrarian on Austin Rail

Since I'm stuck driving 200 miles a day in the desert here in Yuma with no internet access except at hotel at evening, please go over to Austin Contrarian's take on Austin rail - to which I've commented a few times already.

July 31, 2008

BRT is a fraud (so is Rapid Bus)

A quick hit from Orphan Road in Seattle; excerpts:

BRT is neither cheaper nor faster to build. No matter what you might say about a mixed system or buses needed as feeders or matching the traffic requirements with the market, at the end of the day, BRT is most likely to be a fraud.

I'll let other people be "reasonable" and concede that, if you grant a lot of things that never will happen, BRT "might" work. When I look around at all these existing BRT implementations and find delay, financial ruin, and angry riders, I've had enough. BRT is a fraud.

Also of note from the BRT example city of Curitiba are these scalability problems courtesy of The Overhead Wire:

During peak hours, buses on the main routes are already arriving at almost 30-second intervals; any more buses, and they would back up. While acknowledging his iconoclasm in questioning the sufficiency of Curitiba’s trademark bus network, Schmidt nevertheless says a light-rail system is needed to complement it.

All of this (and more) applies to Rapid Bus. The investment is high - and the payoff is nearly zero; you're still stuck with an awful vehicle that can't get through traffic congestion like light rail does all over the country. No wonder the highway guys push for BRT (and its dumber sibling, Rapid Bus) so much - it's not a threat to them. The Feds are pushing it now because the Bush guys have finally wrecked the FTA - but that doesn't make it a good idea; it makes it something to pretend to consider until saner hands take the till.

Capital Metro needs to cut this out right now and put this money into something that works - like the light rail proposal which, unlike Rapid Bus, is at least something that has worked in other cities and can insulate us from diesel costs in the future.

July 25, 2008

Yes, that was me you heard this morning

on 590 KLBJ. A fortuitous series of coincidences - I was unable to sleep this morning so was heading in very early; in the car; listening to the morning show and I called in, and actually got the screener right away - and they held me for a full segment at about 7:20. The format is difficult - I think I hit all the major points but of course didn't make too much headway with those guys, but would be interested to hear from anybody who was listening.

Points I hit:

  • More commuter (heavy) rail service isn't helpful (response to Ed); can't get close enough to walk to where you want to go, and no, people won't transfer to buses from trains if they won't take much better express buses straight to their destination today.
  • This system will likely have its own lane on much of its route - meaning it won't be 'competing' with cars in the sense most people understand it.
  • Taxes: Yes, there will likely be some tax-increment-financing (one of the more likely financing buckets floated by Councilmember McCracken). No, it's not reasonable to complain that this only benefits central Austin - first, it benefits commuter rail passengers, and second, central Austin generates most of Capital Metro's tax revenues.
  • A couple trains can carry as many people as a traffic lane on one of these streets can carry in a whole hour. So if you run more than a couple per hour, you're increasing commuting capacity into downtown.
  • I'd prefer the 2000 light rail plan, which is basically what everybody else did that has succeeded.

Chime in if you were up early enough to hear, please. I'm always nervous that I talk too fast / stutter in events like this.

June 13, 2008

Transportation Microeconomics Bites Me In The Butt

So you may have heard me talk about the new suburban office. For a while, we were trying to keep making a go of it with just one car - my wife driving me in most days and picking me up sometimes; other times me taking that hour and 45 minute trip home with a long walk, 2 buses, and a transfer involved. I tried to work from home as much as possible - but the demands to be in the office were too great; and we couldn't sustain the drop-offs and the long bus trips.

Well, we relented. Just in time; I got my wife to agree on a color and we now own a second Prius - this one obtained right as the waiting list shot up from zero to many months (ours was ordered; but there was no wait beyond that so it took about 2 weeks - arriving right as the house exploded so ironically I ended up working exlusively from home for a few weeks longer anyways). Do not argue with the M1EK on the futurism/economics predictions is the lesson you should be taking away from this.

So that's the intro. Here's the microeconomics lesson.

Assuming $4 gas, the trip to work in the car costs $1.56 according to my handy depreciation-free commute calculator. The morning drive takes 20 minutes. The afternoon drive more like 30.

The transit trip costs $1 (although soon to go up to at least $1.50). That means I save $0.56, at least before the fare increase, right? Not much, but every bit helps, right?

Well, the transit trip takes an hour and a half in the morning; an hour and 45 minutes in the afternoon; and I can't afford that much extra time anyways, but even if I could, it would be placing an effective value of 23.1 cents per hour on my time, which seems a bit, uh, low.

So it's gonna take a lot more than $4/gallon gas, sad to say. You might be seeing some marginal increases in ridership around here, but only in areas where transit service is very good and where people should have been considering taking the bus all along. And there's no prospect for improvement - the reason bus service is so bad out here is because Rollingwood and Westlake don't want to pay Capital Metro taxes, although they sure as heck enjoy taking my urban gas tax dollars to build them some nice roads to drive on. In the long-term Cap Metro plan, there may be a bus route on 360 which would at least lessen the 30 minute walk/wait involved, but that could be a decade or more - by then we'll probably be getting chauffered through the blasted alkali flats in monkey-driven jet boats. Not gonna help me.

Also, those who think telecommuting and staggered work schedules are more important than pushing for higher-quality transit and urban density can bite it, hard. If even people in my business often get pressure to come into the physical office, there's no way the typical workaday joe is going to be able to pull it off in large enough numbers to make any difference.

June 05, 2008

Why progressives, transit-supporters, environmentalists, and urbanites need to vote for Galindo

I'm way late on this and way short of time - so this is necessarily brief.

The Austinist covered this race in more depth and asked smarter questions than did anybody else (thanks, Shilli). Here's Cid Galindo's answers. Laura Morrison gave answers to their questions which sound sustainable, too but here's why Galindo ought to be your choice if you care at all about sustainability and affordability (not to mention environmentalism and transit):

1. Laura Morrison has opposed essentially all density anywhere in the city. Cid Galindo supports urban development which is not only sustainable for its residents, but will lower tax bills for everyone else in the long-run. The few projects Morrison lists as not opposing were cases where her hands were tied by the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan (which I worked on), which called for mid-rise mixed-use development along those corridors (before the VMU ordinance existed). This plan was written before she obtained a position of power in the NA; and had been enacted by the City Council before she had a chance to do anything about it. She can't claim credit for these, because she couldn't have stopped them if she had tried. She did, however, try to stop Spring, 7Rio, and supposedly was even responsible for the suburban front design of the Whole Foods, burning all the hard-earned political capital of OWANA in the process. The City Council now, in my observation, rightly views my old neighborhood association as a no-to-everything joke that can be safely ignored.

2. Laura Morrison was the leader of the task force that developed the McMansion Ordinance. This ordinance's primary effect is to discourage secondary dwelling units like garage apartments and duplexes - the only true affordable housing left in central Austin. Although the Planning Commission acted on input from me and others to try to remedy this effect, the City Council was fooled by Morrison's group into ignoring the thoughtful Planning Commission recommendation. Galindo, according to press from the other side, voted against the McMansion Ordinance - which is absolutely the right position on this matter if you care at all about density and urbanism.

3. Laura Morrison is supported financially (maximum donations) by Jim Skaggs. Yes, that Jim Skaggs - he and his wife have donated the max to both Morrison and BATPAC (which in turn supports Morrison). Her base of support among the old ANC crowd is full of folks who claim to be pro-transit, but if you scratch them a bit, you find a lot of Skaggs poking through. People who will tell you they want improved bus service before building rail, which, of course, is the same thing as letting Skaggs take half of Capital Metro's budget for more freeways, since the buses are already being run as well as they can given current roadway design and population density. These folks don't care, of course; they don't bike or walk or use transit - they drive. Galindo's positions on transportation aren't much better defined than are Morrison's, but density supports rail in a virtuous circle, unlike the negative feedback loop the Skaggs/Morrison crowd prefers with lower density and highways.

4. Those policies will encourage more sprawl over the aquifer than the current state of affairs; while Galindo has a reasonable plan to lessen already-allowed development there (transferring development rights to new 'town centers' that can use the height and density in a sustainable fashion).

That ought to be enough - but keep in mind when you hear negatives about Galindo that many of the same things apply equally to Morrison. For instance, it's hard to think of a more traditionally Republican stance than her take on density and transportation - which is, of course, why people like Skaggs like her. And it's hard to credit attacks on Galindo for supposed family wealth when she hasn't had to hold a real job in quite some time despite living in a huge house on a big lot in Old West Austin.

Vote Galindo in the runoff. Tell your friends. It's critically important.

May 29, 2008

Jaywalking crackdown is stupid

Quick commentary since I'm still drowning with all the recent troubles.

This is stupid. Most jaywalking occurs in high-pedestrian-traffic areas where crossings aren't sufficiently present (like South Congress or west 6th) or where pedestrian traffic is just overwhelming compared to car traffic (like South Congress or 6th anywhere downtown). However, most of the injuries and deaths occur in other places so the enforcement here isn't doing anything other than PR for the department among motorists. Strictly bush-league nonsense.

The only burgs that have the right to prosecute jaywalking to this degree, in M1EK's informed opinion, are those like New York, where you don't have to go many blocks to get to a crosswalk.

How do we fix this? The City Council has to direct transportation staff to create additional protected crossings on Congress and 6th and a few other spots. My first attempt on the UTC to do something, way back in 2001, was to get more traffic signals put up on blocks downtown which had 2-way or 4-way stops on the theory that we know the pedestrian traffic is there; the streets are in a grid pattern anyways; and it's probably more efficient to just have lights on every block instead of a gap of 2 or 3 blocks on W 6th which forced many N/S motorists to abandon the most direct routes and head over to Guadalupe/Lavaca, for instance. Made precisely zero headway, since absent official direction at the council level, they aren't going to put up signals that don't meet warrants - and the pedestrian warrant in Texas is just about impossible to meet.

But if there's enough jaywalkers to make it worth the cops' time; it's now worth the council's time to add some legal places to cross.

Austin Contrarian has covered this issue (insufficient crossings) in the past in more detail. Please check it out.

April 23, 2008

Last Best Chance For Urban Rail In Austin Is Here

I swear there's no conspiracy regarding the lateness of this posting - my gracious host happened to perform an apache upgrade which messed with Movable Type. Here's what I wrote this morning, Made With Notepad!

At 4:30 PM yesterday, I left my lovely suburban office and walked through lovely suburban Westlake to the awful bus stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle. After broiling in the hot sun for a few minutes, I decided to walk up to the next stop at Walsh Tarlton and Pinnacle; where there was also no shade. This did not bode well; but things got better.

The bus arrived on time (5:08ish) and was thankfully very well air conditioned. I read a book until I was dropped off quite a long walk from Texas Center (I should have taken the earlier stop). Went inside; saw Jonathan Horak and Kedron Touvell; introduced myself to both (how creepy is it that I knew what they looked like even though we'd never met; but they didn't recognize me? Pretty creepy, I think). Just on time.

Will Wynn gave a speech which emphasized how much he wants rail downtown. He got in the weeds a bit, first talking about how we were growing faster than everybody else in the world, then talking about how this decade's growth is actually slower than all previous decades back to the 1880s (huh?), but then eventually came back on track and handed the reins over to Brewster McCracken.

McCracken introduced ROMA; ROMA gave a nice presentation which I'll summarize in bullet points below. No surprises, really, if you read Ben Wear or the print article beforehand. My quick comments in italics. I will go into more depth on many of these in the upcoming several weeks.

  • Terminology: The system is going to be called "ultra-light rail". ROMA mentions that streetcars usually run in shared lanes (where I got the sinking feeling ROMA believes a bit much in the magic fairy dust theory of streetcars).
  • Technology: As mentioned, most likely streetcar vehicles. Possibility of more of a standard light rail vehicle if a decision point goes a certain way (see: Routes: doubling-back-to-the-east).
  • Runningway: Usually the center of the street; almost always dedicated lanes. This is a big win over Capital Metro's previous plans, and everybody who cares about rail transit should be grateful that McCracken and Wynn understand how critical this is to success.
  • Routes: Defined as three or four subroutes even though the service may not operate that way. They didn't actually say "downtown to" on all of these; some were Seaholm or something else; but realistically they'd all converge on Congress.
    1. Downtown to airport: Using Congress, East Riverside; reserved guideway (dedicated lanes, center of road). Alternative presented is a very unlikely extension of commuter rail to the airport. I'm very pleased we didn't try to run on the right side of Riverside. Big win here for business travellers to the airport, and we can pull in a lot of residential out there to hopefully fill trains.
    2. Downtown to Mueller: using Congress (possibility of San Jac or Brazos as fallback), 9th/10th/11th transition to San Jacinto, north to/through UT, Dean Keeton/Manor out to Mueller. Slight possibility of still going out there via MLK. It's not Guadalupe, and we probably won't get reserved guideway through UT without a lot of arm-twisting, but I think Guadalupe's a lost cause for right now. With this technology and route, though, we can eventually get there; whereas commuter rail is a complete dead end. The Manor vs. MLK issue is, I feel, largely settled for Manor unless UT makes going through campus prohibitively difficult - the only pro to MLK is the commuter rail TOD, which I obviously don't believe in anyways; and cons are many - have to deal with TXDOT; don't get even the half-assed acccess to UT that San Jac provides; etc.
    3. Downtown to Long Center and Zilker area: less likely at first, using West Riverside past Lamar, cutting over to Toomey after that. Alternative using Barton Springs would get you all the way to Zilker but no reserved lanes. I think these are unlikely to make it for the first cut anyways but it would be nice to be able to tell tourists they could take the train to Barton Springs Pool, wouldn't it?
  • Financing - ROMA didn't talk about this but McCracken did - combination of TIFs and some other mechanisms (including requiring that some portion of Cap Metro's budget be under the control of the city or CAMPO for capital spending, which I heartily endorse
  • Future - wide arrows going north and south. Again, this system can be expanded - although it'll never become anything as good as 2000's LRT line; it at least can grow into something better - whereas commuter rail is a dead end.
  • Bone-throwing - Elgin commuter rail spur thrown in to try to get some suburban votes (even though we really ought to be doing better for the urban folks who provide most of Capital Metro's funds and essentially all of their support; we apparently still need to pander to the burbs - disappointing).

That's all for right now. Expect expanded analysis of all of the above coming soon. But here's the kicker:

You MUST support this plan if you ever want any urban rail in Austin. Unlike how 2004's commuter rail election was incorrectly framed, this truly is our last best chance for rail so although I obviously would prefer rail running up Guadalupe, I'm going to be supporting this plan whole-heartedly and urge every reader of this post to do the same.

Humorous snippets: I introduced myself to Ben Wear, and even though he wrote an article with my name in it a year or two ago, and I've emailed back/forth with him 5 or 6 times, I don't think he had any idea who the hell I was. Also, Jeff Jack (future Worst Person In Austin nominee? told me I should cut out the blogging until I know what I'm talking about.

April 06, 2008

The Buses Aren't Empty, Part VIII

Dear libertarian ideologues: If you mainly see buses on the ends of their routes in the godforsaken burbs, and they're NOT empty, Capital Metro would be doing something wrong. Morons.

The right place to measure ridership is along the whole route - but if you have to pick just one spot, pick somewhere in the middle and you will invariably find a very different story than the typical suburban idiot narrative of "the buses are always empty". Try standing-room-only, at least in the morning rush. (I took the 2-bus trip to my awful new office twice in a row in late March and on both mornings, I had to stand on the #5; I never wrote up the TFT because I was too busy, but maybe I ought to).

And, dear disabled friends, media coverage of our very low FRR ratio thanks in large part to your gold-plated taxi-limo service is eventually going to kill the rest of the system - which will also kill your golden goose. Think long and hard about what you do next.

Also, dear bus-riding friends, if you keep opposing modest, long-overdue fare increases, sooner or later the majority of voters (who, sad to say, don't ride the bus) will cut the sales tax support, one way or another. You may think people like you are the majority - but there's 5 people who drive and never take the bus, not even once a year, for every one of you. Seriously.

March 28, 2008

Working on brevity

From a comment I just made to this poll on News 8:

This isn't light rail. Light rail would have worked (projected 43,000 riders per day) since it would have gone directly to UT, the capitol, and the part of downtown where people actually work.

This commuter rail line, on the other hand, requires that people who won't ride the bus today will suddenly fall in love with buses when you stick the word "shuttle" in front of them.

Pretty short. Does it hit the important notes? I did leave out the ridership estimate of 1000-1500 for the new service (2000 maximum capacity).


March 19, 2008

Commuter Rail Use Case #2: Leander

Continuing yesterday's post, here are a couple of use-cases from Leander; the endpoint of the line. Since the train trip would be the longest here, one might expect the train to do well - let's see.

Each table below is again based on a commute leaving the origin point at roughly 7:30 AM (for bus scheduling). I'm still taking Capital Metro at their word that the average shuttle bus trip length will be 10 minutes even though I suspect it will be worse. It certainly won't be reliable - but the train schedules will. In each table, a row just indicates a step (a travel or wait step).

Train times taken from page 4 of the PDF. Note that I now include a drive to the park-and-ride. The last example, folks, was supposed to be the "let's pretend we believe that Crestview Station will really be a TOD that people will really walk to the train station from". Updated walk time for UT for car case to 10-15 minutes based on input from Kedron et al. Note I'm assuming faculty/staff here, not students.

Leander to UT

StepDriveExpress Bus (#983)Rail
132-60 minutesDrive to park/ride (5-15 minutes)2Drive to park/ride (5-15 minutes)2
2Walk 10-15 minutes to office3Wait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for train (10 minutes)2
3 Bus: 45-80 minutes5Train: 48 minutes
4 Walk 0-5 minutes to officeTransfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4
5  Bus: 10 minutes5
6  Walk 0-10 minutes to office1
Total Time42-75 minutes60-100 minutes78-103 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Offices are more likely closer to the Guadalupe end than the San Jacinto end of campus, but that still presents a range of walking times.
  2. For the train you'll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 10 minutes for the bus (unlike the Crestivew case, these buses don't run very often), and the bus is less reliable to boot, but I'm including "late time" in the bus range for the actual trip.
  3. The walk from parking around UT to office is going to vary widely, but almost nobody gets to park right next to their office, whereas some people get dropped off by the bus essentially that close.
  4. A load of passengers headed to UT will actually require more than one bus to service. In other words, if we assume that the train has 300 passengers, and a third are going to UT, those 100 passengers are going to require several shuttle buses - and loading even one bus from zero to full is going to take a few minutes. Of course, if relatively few people ride the train, the bus loading would be quicker.
  5. The shuttle bus is going to drop off on mostly San Jacinto, so no need for a range here. The express bus varies widely (from personal experience) - so big range here. These express buses actually will run ahead of schedule if traffic permits - the 40 minutes is my estimate of a "quick" run based on driving time of 32 minutes uncongested. On my old reverse commute on a similar route (but only to Pavilion P&R), in no-traffic conditions, the bus took about 20 minutes compared to 15 for my car. Note that in uncongested conditions, the bus will actually get you there faster than the train leg alone - that's because the bus goes straight to UT; while the train goes quite a bit farther east, and the bus actually has a higher average speed in uncongested conditions than the train will (since the express bus goes on 183 and Mopac for miles and miles with no stops).

Conclusions for trip to UT:

  1. Like yesterday, if the destination was really anywhere near the "UT station" out east on MLK, the rail trip would be a slam-dunk winner, even with its low frequency. Even with the 10 minute wait on the front-end, it's competitive with the car and would destroy the bus. (A guaranteed 58 minutes versus a car trip which ranges from a bit better to a lot worse). Remember this when we talk again about light rail. Too bad we're not trying to build offices around that station - only residential TAD.
  2. A multi-door vehicle will be essential for loading/unloading. But even with two doors, it's going to take a few minutes to fill the seats. And the claim that the bus will always be there waiting for the train is not likely to be true based on experience with Tri-Rail in South Florida.
  3. A transfer to a streetcar would improve this only slightly. If running on reserved-guideway for most of its route, it would be more likely to be there on time, and the trip to UT would be a bit more reliable (although I'm being charitable right now and just accepting "10 minutes" for shuttle-bus anyways), but on the other hand, a streetcar that carries 1.5 to 2 busloads of people is going to take longer to load too. There's a reason transit people talk about the "transfer penalty", folks.
  4. Remember, the shuttle bus is dropping people off on San Jacinto, not Guadalupe. Go to UT sometime and see how many offices are along SJ sometime. Big mistake - but the administrators who run UT are apparently more interested in providing another spur to eventual rejuvenation of that side of campus than they are at actually serving their staff's needs.
  5. If I were in their shoes, I'd be taking the #983 already, but would actually try the train when it opens Unless you had to pay a ton for parking, though, practically zero drivers would likely not give up the drive for this train trip. If you valued being able to read/work instead of drive to this extent, in other words, you'd already be taking the express bus.
  6. Effect of future congestion increases? Much bigger than in the Crestview case. A much larger portion of the rail/shuttle trip is on the train itself - and the drive to the park-and-ride probably doesn't change; so the train ends up inching closer to the car as congestion increases - but only until we put an HOT lane on US183 and Mopac, assuming they don't do the stupid current design which wouldn't actually work. Again, though, it becomes clear that it will take unrealistically large time savings on the one leg to begin to make up for the fact that you don't get taken anywhere useful on it.

Downtown will have similar enough results that I'm not going to cut/paste for now, unless somebody really wants to see it.

Next: Mueller!

March 18, 2008

How much time are you going to save on commuter rail: part one

Capital Metro has put up a new presentation on rail-bus connectivity which also includes schedule times for the train service. Now we can see how much of an advantage this service will provide its potential passengers. Step one is "Crestview Station", a supposed but not really TOD which is located within walking distance of a train station.

Each table below is based on a commute leaving the origin point at roughly 7:30 AM (for bus scheduling). I'm taking Capital Metro at their word that the average shuttle bus trip length will be 10 minutes even though I suspect it will be worse. It certainly won't be reliable - but the train schedules will. In each table, a row just indicates a step (a travel or wait step). Updated walk time for car case based on input from Kedron et al. Note I'm assuming faculty/staff, not students.

Train times taken from page 4 of the PDF.

Crestview Station to UT

StepDriveLocal Bus (#1)Express Bus (#101)Rail
115-25 minutesWait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for train (10 minutes)2
2Walk 10-15 minutes to office3Bus: 19 minutes5Bus: 12 minutes5Train: 10 minutes
3 Walk 0-5 minutes to officeWalk 0-5 minutes to officeTransfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4
4   Bus: 10 minutes5
5   Walk 0-10 minutes to office1
Total Time25-40 minutes29-34 minutes22-27 minutes35-50 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Offices are more likely closer to the Guadalupe end than the San Jacinto end of campus, but that still presents a range of walking times.
  2. For the train you'll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 5 minutes for the bus (less penalty for missing), but the bus is less reliable, so I give both 10 minutes of "waiting time" for the bus running late.
  3. The walk from parking around UT to office is going to vary widely, but almost nobody gets to park right next to their office, whereas some people get dropped off by the bus essentially that close.
  4. A load of passengers headed to UT will actually require more than one bus to service. In other words, if we assume that the train has 300 passengers, and a third are going to UT, those 100 passengers are going to require several shuttle buses - and loading even one bus from zero to full is going to take a few minutes. Of course, if relatively few people ride the train, the bus loading would be quicker.
  5. Taking CM's word on the bus schedules here. There is going to be some unreliability built into here, but since I took their word on the shuttle bus time, I did it here too to be fair (similar traffic interference in both cases). Not as bad as the downtown case below - since I'm assuming a dropoff at 24th/Guadalupe for the local/express bus cases, there's only about a half-mile of truly congested conditions to worry about. The shuttle bus is going to drop off on mostly San Jacinto, so no need for a range here.

Conclusions for trip to UT:

  1. If the destination was really anywhere near the "UT station" out east on MLK, the rail trip would be a slam-dunk winner, even with its low frequency. Even with the 10 minute wait on the front-end, it's competitive with the car and would destroy the bus. Remember this when we talk again about light rail. Too bad we're not trying to build offices around that station - only residential TAD.
  2. A multi-door vehicle will be essential for loading/unloading. But even with two doors, it's going to take a few minutes to fill the seats. And the claim that the bus will always be there waiting for the train is not likely to be true based on experience with Tri-Rail in South Florida.
  3. A transfer to a streetcar would improve this only slightly. If running on reserved-guideway for most of its route, it would be more likely to be there on time, and the trip to UT would be a bit more reliable (although I'm being charitable right now and just accepting "10 minutes" for shuttle-bus anyways), but on the other hand, a streetcar that carries 1.5 to 2 busloads of people is going to take longer to load too. There's a reason transit people talk about the "transfer penalty", folks.
  4. Remember, the shuttle bus is dropping people off on San Jacinto, not Guadalupe. Go to UT sometime and see how many offices are along SJ sometime. Big mistake - but the administrators who run UT are apparently more interested in providing another spur to eventual rejuvenation of that side of campus than they are at actually serving their staff's needs.
  5. If I were in their shoes, I'd be taking the #101 already, and would continue to do so after the train opens.

Crestview Station to 6th/Congress

StepDriveLocal Bus (#1)Express Bus (#101)Rail/BusRail/Walk
120-30 minutesWait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for train (10 minutes)2Wait for train (10 minutes)2
2Walk 0-10 minutes to office3Bus: 25-45 minutes5Bus: 20-35 minutes5Train: 18 minutesTrain: 18 minutes
3 Walk 0-5 minutes to officeWalk 0-5 minutes to officeTransfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4Walk 10-20 minutes to office6
4   Bus: 5-20 minutes1 
5   Walk 0-5 minutes to office 
Total Time20-40 minutes40-45 minutes33-38 minutes38-63 minutes38-48 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Shuttle bus is likely to be much less reliable on the two routes being proposed for "downtown" than for the UT area based on traffic conditions. I've abandoned CM's 10 minute estimate in favor of a range here - 5 minutes for places close to the Convention Center on a good day; 20 minutes for the far reaches on a bad day.
  2. For the train you'll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 5 minutes for the bus (less penalty for missing), but the bus is less reliable, so I give both 10 minutes of "waiting time" for the bus running late.
  3. People driving downtown often have parking in their exact building (0 minute walk); but many have to park a block or more away - up to a 10-minute walk.
  4. Still going to be a bus loading wait here - varying depending on actual number of people using this service.
  5. NOT taking CM's word on the bus schedules here. Lots of unreliability when you have to go all the way past UT and then through half of downtown. I've taken their schedule times of 30 and 23 minutes respectively as about 1/4 through the range, because if buses get too far ahead of schedule, they'll actually slow down and/or stop in certain places to avoid missing pickups.
  6. The walk time here is to 6th/Congress, per my own estimate. Note that hardly anybody works anywhere near the Convention Center.

Conclusions for downtown trip:

  1. Again, the shuttle is the killer. Streetcar wouldn't help a whole lot on the loading front; but would be dramatically better on the travel-reliability front, if we get reserved guideway (would make a bigger difference downtown than on the route to UT).
  2. Note that if you were lucky enough to work at the Convention Center, your trip time would range from 28-38 minutes. In that imaginary scenario, I ride the train. Too bad we don't have much developeable land around the Convention Center for future office use. Again, this is the fatal flaw in deciding to run the train service where the tracks happen to be rather than where people actually need to go - and in this case, we can't fix it with office TOD because most of the land around the CC station is already developed - the Convention Center itself, recent hotels, etc..
  3. I'm staying on the #101, again.

One more question some are likely to ask: will worsening traffic make commuter rail more competitive on this trip? Answer: not likely. If bus travel times increased by 10 minutes in the downtown case, for instance, the shuttle bus trip is likely to increase too (5 more minutes, say) -- meaning that the two modes' total travel time really just continues to overlap, and on the low end of the rail/shuttle range to boot. Again, fatal flaw time: if you're trying to sell people on a transit trip with reliable time characteristics, you can't run a shuttle bus for the last half of the trip!

Next: Leander.

January 15, 2008

TFT: Suburban wasteland

As alluded to at the end of this crackplog, my company just opened a physical office in a truly awful part of the suburban wasteland. Today was the test case for "how bad is the trip home on the bus", after getting rides to/from work with my wife and a travelling coworker all of last week (not so bad in the morning; but awful in the afternoon, especially for my wife, who had to invest 30-40 minutes getting to the office to pick me up to then spend 30-40 minutes going home). Ironically, this would be a great bike commute, if I could still ride my bike any non-trivial amount.

I'm still not sure how often I'm going to need to come in, but there's a sliding scale here - at some point it'd require us to get a second car, which I don't want to do for many reasons, not least among them financial (we couldn't have taken our trip to Hawaii if we'd had a second car payment, after all). There's a certain number of days per month on which we could tolerate a both-ways drive (very little); a larger number where we could tolerate a drop-off in the morning and a bus ride home (determining that right now); a larger number which might be achievable on something like a scooter, if I can get past some emotional barriers; and anything else requires that second car. At which point I also have to consider other options, because if I have to lay out the money and time for two cars, might as well look for somewhere that can make up the gap (or maybe downtown, or at least in a less awful suburban part of Austin where you can actually take the bus).

I am writing this on the bus - filling in links later. It's a crackplivebusblog!

Google transit called this trip a 10-minute walk, a 26-minute bus ride, a transfer, and another 20ish minute ride from there, the last leg being one on which I can take about six different routes home, so no worries there. I was highly dubious of google's estimation of the walk, having ridden this route many times on my bike, back when I still could, so I gave myself 25 minutes to walk and 5 minutes to wait (buses can and sometimes do arrive early).

Update on the next day: Now google is accurately saying 19 minutes for the walk. Huh.

Walking trip: Got to the elevator at 4:03 (after having to run back in and use office phone to call home, since cell phone battery had died). Started on the long, not so scenic, walk through suburban Westlake. Guh. No sidewalks, of course, on Allen (behind the Westlake High tennis courts and other fields). Pretty decent sidewalks after that on Pinnacle, which I took the rest of the way down. Walked past some middle schoolers who will doubtlessly be telling their friends they saw a Real Adult Walking - must have been a bum or a predator. Got to the bus stop at 4:20. Whoops - although google was way too optimistic, I was a bit on the pessimistic side. Would budget 20 minutes for the walk next time, if it happens, plus the 5 minute wait.

First bus leg:

  1. 8 people were on the #30 bus as it pulled up (exactly on time at 4:33). I made 9.

  2. 5 more people got on at Walsh Tarlton and Bee Caves. Total on bus counting me now 14.

  3. 1 more guy got on in the weird office park at the end of Bee Caves. 15 people on the bus now. Bus goes through a road at this complex and then turns up Spyglass to make a short loop in the wrong direction, at least for me.

  4. 1 more got on somewhere along Spyglass at one of the apartment complexes. 16 people now!

  5. #17 got on at Spyglass / Barton Skyway.

  6. At Spyglass, near north intersection with Mopac, one got on and one got off. Still 17.

  7. Turned back onto southbound Mopac at 4:44. Guess that loop was worth it after all. Stopped for a couple minutes at the Bee Caves light, and then another 3 got on! We're essentially at standing room now - one standing, although there are a couple of seats left. 20 passengers.

  8. At 4:48, we turn into a bus bay to pick up a guy with a bike. That makes 21 passengers.

  9. We cruise through Zilker Park without stopping and arrive at Robert E Lee at 4:51. Not a good day to be hitting the park anyways - but someday remind me to write a crackplog about how the city needs to jack up the parking prices there in the summer quite a bit higher. Still 21 passengers. A Barton Hills bus (#29) turns off Lee with about ten people on board that I can see (maybe more).

  10. Amazingly, they're still working on that Villas of Lost Canyon project. We arrive at the backup for the Lamar light at 4:53 and almost hit a bicyclist stopped in the right lane for no apparent reason. We're back in civilization, as I see real adult people with apparent jobs walking about like actual pedestrians. Hooray! Stuck for a bit behind our friends on the #29 as they load a bike. Boo. Driver may not make my promised 4:59 drop-off if he keeps this up.

  11. 4:54: Somebody finally pulls the chain to be let off in front of the Armstrong Music School. Down to a mere 20. The bus is practically empty! The suburbanites are right!

  12. 4:55: Lady gets off at the corner of S 1st. Down to 19 people! I think I see a tumbleweed.

  13. 4:58: D'oh. Somebody signals they need off just past Riverside. Going to be hard to make my best transfer at this rate. Time to hibernate the laptop now, though; the rest of first leg is from memory. About 10 people got off at that stop! Holy cow. Down to 7 passengers now. All of those passengers walked over to S Congress to hop on one of the many buses that pick up on the other corner, by the way.

Transcribed later on from here on out.

The wait: Had my bus been just a minute earlier, I could have immediately jumped on the 4:59 #7 bus which was a few minutes late. Rats. As it turns out, my #5 bus was quite a bit more late.

Second bus leg (transcribed today from yellow legal pad - since the ride was way too jerky and crowded to crack open the laptop):

  1. 5:10: Bus arrives; I board. About 15 people on the bus.
  2. 5:11: 14 people still on at 7th/Congress.
  3. 5:13: 3 more get on at 9th/Congress.
  4. 5:14: One got off at 10th/Congress
  5. 5:16: 3 got on as we turned in front of the Capitol at the bus stop that our asshat governor is forcing to move. There were about 30 people there at that time. Up to here, 'rapid bus' on this corridor would have saved about 30 seconds of the 4 minutes it took to traverse Congress which is actually a bit better than I would have guessed. Not that the #5 would get that treatment anyways, but it was something to look at while we were stuck in traffic with the #1/#101, which would be the rapid service. Streetcar would have been no better than the bus I was on in this part of the route - but at least no worse.
  6. Note for comparison's sake that light rail on this route ala 2000 would have probably taken about 2 minutes. About two stops; no being stuck behind cars or other buses. Moving on...
  7. 5:17: Lavaca at 12th and 13th, one got on at each. Ride is getting even jerkier and crappier. Good thing I didn't take out the laptop.
  8. 5:18: One more gets on at 16th.
  9. 5:18-5:24: We're stuck in a very long backup from the light at MLK/Lavaca. This is where LRT would really have helped. As it turns out, streetcar would have been even worse because we saved a minute or two at the end by prematurely jumping into the center lane (bypassing a stop on the right where nobody was waiting). The streetcar, stuck on the tracks in the road, can't make that decision. This helped a bit because the primary backup from this light was traffic heading to I-35 - the tailback in the right lane was about a block longer than the one in the center lane and moving much more slowly too.
  10. 5:24: Driver guns it to try to make up some time, as by this point we're really really late. Note: this is why people who say you shouldn't have rail until you can run the buses on time are idiots - the driver did everything in his power, but all the cars and a few other buses made it impossible for him to meet his schedule.
  11. 5:26: We slowly approach light at 21st/Guadalupe, having been stuck through several light cycles. Now we see why "Rapid Bus" won't work at all - and the same thing would apply to "Rapid Streetcar". The entire corridor is congested - we can rarely make the first green light we see all the way past UT, and quite often don't even make the second one. At this point, a whole ton of people get on, and the bus is now standing room only, with 3 people standing and every seat full.
  12. 5:29: Stuck short of 24th. Once again, rapid bus shows its uselessness - as we could have held that light green till the cows came home, but the traffic from 26th through 29th would have still stopped us dead. At this point we're probably more than 10 minutes behind schedule.
  13. 5:32: Finally made it to near the Dean Keeton / Guadalupe intersection; finally about to leave the "rapid bus" route (and also the light rail route). Note that light rail as planned in 2000 would have breezed through this stuff - making a couple of stops, but never getting stuck in traffic. The driver really goes fast on Dean Keeton - feels like 45, although it's very hard to tell.
  14. 5:34: We pull over near the ped bridge over Dean Keeton and pick up a few more people. About 5 people standing now.
  15. 5:36: Finally on the way home. No more delays/obstructions.
  16. 5:38: Three people, including yours truly, disembark. Some of the remaining standees find seats. Bus has improved to only 9 minutes late, thanks to some speeding and 'flexibility'.

Things learned:

  • Don't trust the pedestrian part of google transit's directions. I kind of suspected this before, but they clearly assume you can take a bees'-line. It would be a much better idea if they were to assume you had to take the same route as your car - they'd be erring in the conservative direction if at all - which is definitely the better way to err when walking to a bus stop!

  • They might be able to run the #30 a bit more often, if this is any indication. At least a bit more frequent during rush hours, as the people on the bus were (mostly) clearly headed home from work.

  • As another commenter alluded to on his blog, this is the kind of thing Ben Wear should be doing from time to time.

  • Rapid Bus is shelved, of course but today's experience yet again confirms how useless it would be. Likewise, streetcar on this corridor in a shared lane would be an absolute disaster - even worse than the bus. Broken record time: Light rail as conceived in 2000 would have greatly helped this corridor - giving people a transit alternative which would be superior to the private automobile and FAR superior to slow, unreliable, jerky buses or streetcars.

January 04, 2008

Why transit service doesn't work on frontage roads

This has come up frequently in the past in regards to the idiocy of claiming that major retail belongs out on the frontage road (where I have claimed in the past that it's impossible to practically provide good transit service). Here's a much better version than my previous one, and as a bonus, MS Paint was still tangentially involved!

(For non-Texas readers who may have wandered in from Jeff's excellent transit portal, almost all limited-access highways in this state are built from pre-existing major arterial roadways - where property access is maintained via the construction of new "frontage roads" which unlike perimeter roads often used for that purpose in other states, also serve as on-and-off-ramps. The incredibly wide road footprint that results makes it far more expensive to build new or maintain existing crossings over or under the highway).

Both images from google transit; click through for full details. This is basically the "how do I get from the drop-off for the express bus at the park-and-ride on the west side of the road to the entrance to all the office parks on the east side of the road". Note that the address for the park-and-ride you sometimes get (12400 Research) doesn't match the actual location, which is on Pavilion Boulevard back towards Jollyville.

First, the transit directions, which look pretty good at first:

Then, the driving directions, which look like this:

Huh. Wait a minute. If I can just jump across the road, why do the driving directions have me go down a mile and back? Let's look at the satellite image:

Oh. Now I see. Note that the bus stop images you see on the other side of the road are for a poorly performing cross-town route which suffers from the same basic problem - if you need to leave an office on that side of the street and go southbound on 183 back home, you get to walk to the next crossing - which on a normal street wouldn't be that big of a deal, but crossings of frontage roads are few and far between. Farther to the northwest, crossings are even less frequent - you face a walk of close to 3 miles in spots to make this trip across the freeway. Taking that cross-town route would be even worse than taking the express plus the incredibly long walk, because it would require a long slow trip down the frontage road and then a transfer to a second bus, and because the service on the frontage road is inevitably low-demand, it doesn't run very often either.

Keep in mind that this is just to cross the freeway. If you work at the Riata office park, you then face another walk of a half-mile or so inside the complex. I used to do this commute on my bike, with bus boost in the morning at times and am very familiar with the area - ironically, proximity to the Pavilion transit center was supposedly touted as a positive for this development when it was originally proposed. I was always pretty sure Pavilion used to connect with what is now called Riata Trace Parkway when 183 was just a six-lane divided arterial but have never been able to find a clear enough old satellite image to confirm, but our Tennessee correspondent has already confirmed in comments that it did cross.

For reference, my last job before this one was also on US 183, but between Balcones Woods and Braker Lane, which was much more accessible by transit - and yes, I did sometimes take the bus even on days where I wasn't biking. I tried the bus commute once to Riata and never did it again - that walk, in addition to being far too long even for a nice comfortable express bus, is just dreadful, even compared to conditions down by Braker.

And, yes, there's a personal reason this is coming up now too. All I can say now is dammit, dammit.

December 06, 2007

TWITC: Krusee's change of heart

A fairly good article this time about Krusee seeing the light on new urbanism and stepping down. I'm honestly not sure how much I believe, which is a huge step up for me on this guy, actually. Here's some interesting quotes:

"It's an article of faith for Democrats that the sales tax is regressive. The gas tax is much, much more regressive. The gas tax is, literally, a transfer of wealth from the poor to the middle class – to the upper-middle class."

That's not some blogging transit activist or Green Partier speaking on the inequitable burdens of highway costs. It's District 52 state Rep. Mike Krusee, who's currently best known – for better and worse – as the legislative face of Texas toll roads.

Gosh, I wonder if anybody else has been talking about that for years now. Couldn't be, huh? I presume the "transit blogger" might be me, given that every other blogger in the universe has swallowed Costello's tripe "TOLLS BAD. HURRRR."

As for the rail issue:

There are those who say his successful advocacy of suburban commuter rail instead of the light-rail lines initially proposed clumsily destroyed the possibility of effective Downtown mass transit for another decade – and that instead, we'll be trying to retrofit a system conceived for the very suburban sprawl it's supposed to replace. But as Mike Clark-Madison wrote here, about a year after Krusee was having his New Urbanism epiphany, "It's also pretty obvious that the only way Austin will ever have rail transit is if we start with a commuter system serving western suburbanites" ("Austin @ Large," April 9, 2004).

It's too late, Mike. The first quote is right - we're screwed; but Michael King is as wrong now as Mike Clark-Madison was then; there is literally no way to start with this commuter rail line and end up with a system which both suburbanites and urbanites can ride and get some benefit from. Even a transfer from "good rail" to "good rail" (both running in their own right-of-way) is enough to turn off essentially all suburban commuters not currently taking the bus, unless we reach Manhattan levels of density and parking costs (which we never will). And that presumes that we're somehow able to surpass tremendous obstacles and get a light rail stub built down Lamar and Guadalupe, which I doubt very much that we can (now that we wasted all our money on "urban" commuter rail that serves the suburbs poorly and the urban area not at all).

My comments posted there (some repetition of the above):

I can't believe Krusee gets it about inner-city drivers. That makes precisely ONE politician that does.

Of course, that doesn't make the gas tax regressive by itself - it's the fact that we pay for so many of our roads (even parts of our state highways) with even more regressive taxes (property and sales) which do the trick.

As for the rail thing - Krusee has destroyed it here, forever. You can't start with commuter rail and end up with something good - suburban passengers won't transfer from one train to another train (even if by some miracle we GOT a second train running down Guadalupe in its own lane) to get to work until we're reaching Manhattan levels of density. He doomed us to the point where we have to abandon transit to the suburbs, even though we spent all of our money building it. Good show.

November 26, 2007

Good News, Bad News

"CAMPO wresting rail planning from Capital Metro" is the headline. Sounds good to me - Wynn and Watson in charge means smarter rail than Capital Metro's stupid useless stuck-in-traffic streetcar plan. Right?

But who else is going to be in charge here? Let's see:

The 14-member group will be led by Austin Mayor Will Wynn and will include among others McCracken, Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson (who had a whole lot to do with creating the group after Wynn called for something similar last month), Williamson County state Rep. Mike Krusee, Travis County Commissioner and Capital Metro critic emeritus Gerald Daugherty, and representatives of the University of Texas and road and rail advocacy groups.

Yes, that's the same Mike Krusee that got us into this mess in the first place - the asshat who screwed Austin out of a good starter rail line like Houston and Dallas and everybody else built. That Mike Krusee. The guy who derailed efforts to build good rail for Austin so his constituents (most of whom don't even pay Capital Metro taxes) could get more transit investments than the residents of central Austin who pay most of the bills.

Shit. We're screwed.

Note that even if Krusee wasn't involved, the implementation of commuter rail has now precluded anything like 2000's light rail line from being built and that's about the only light rail line worth trying around here. In other words, the damage has already been done - we can't recover the 2000 route now. But still - having him (and even Daugherty) involved is the death knell for even a mediocre effort at urban transit - as neither one is likely to support investing enough money in reserved guideway transit in the city core. To them, every dollar spent on the dirty hippies in Central Austin is a wasted dollar that should instead be spent ferrying some SUV-driving soccer mom from one strip mall to another.

If Krusee had just kept his mouth shut in 2000, we'd have had a light rail election in May of 2001, and it likely would have passed. By now, you'd be seeing trains running in their own lane down Guadalupe right in front of UT, and down Congress Avenue right in front of all those big office buildings. Instead, we're seeing test runs of a useless commuter line running out by Airport Boulevard that nobody will actually ride. That's what he got us last time. Imagine what he can do for an encore!

October 25, 2007

Early reaction to Mayor Wynn's rail proposal

Doing this really fast since I'm working outside and almost out of power, but wanted to get this out today.

5:45 Update: I got suckered, folks. I wanted to believe this was different, but after re-reading the Chronicle and Statesman coverage, it's clear that this is nothing more than Capital Metro's circulator route with the spur to the Triangle built in the first phase - meaning it doesn't go down Guadalupe where all the people are and where they all work, it doesn't go by West Campus, where all of the future non-downtown density is apparently headed, and it doesn't go by Hyde Park or North University, where all the people who wanted rail in the first place actually are. Instead, it runs through the part of east Austin already 'served' by commuter rail and which is violently opposed to more density - and to Mueller, whose modest density is already assured, with or without streetcar, and "to the Triangle", although anybody who would take this from the Triangle to downtown is a certifiable moron, since it would be several miles out of their way through Mueller and East Austin rather than straight down Guadalupe. Fuck. See, shilli? Even M1EK can be naively optimistic.

4:45 Update: God, I hope I'm wrong, but after reading some additional laughably wrong coverage ("commuter rail election" from fox7, for instance), I'm getting the feeling that the route "to the Triangle" might actually just be completing the upper part of the question-mark from the circulator study's route, meaning it would run out to Mueller, then up to 51st, then back across I-35 to the Triangle that way, meaning we miss the best part of UT, West Campus, Hyde Park, etc. If that's the case, ignore everything good I wrote below and go back to the "oh, my god, this will suck goat ass" position.

Now, back to the original 4:15 reaction:

First, thank god he's finally doing SOMETHING. It would have helped more if he had done it in 2004, of course.

Second, there's more questions than answers here, and very little I can say definitively. Neither Wynn nor McCracken or their aides e-mailed me back (in McCracken's case, I didn't expect anything since he was reportedly pissed at my past interference with one of his attempts at pandering, and Wynn's might just be too busy or might likewise hate me, but it's hard to wait any longer).

Third, the emphasis on "doing it ourselves, since Capital Metro wants to let Mike Krusee screw us" SURE SOUNDS FAMILIAR, IF ONLY FOUR YEARS TOO LATE. Still, better late than never.

I will try to follow up on some new terms and questions in this post tomorrow, such as "Rapid Streetcar" and exploring the 2000 LRT route to the airport.

Coverage round-up:

  • Austinist (mostly good)
  • Austin Chronicle (not much here due to their publishing schedule)
  • Statesman - the most stuff, but come on, guys, I don't want to hear from Daugherty. Also, guys, it's not going to be DMUs from the commuter rail line, they can't turn corners tightly enough to be used in-town.
  • News 8 Austin - as I exclaimed to DSK, I don't know whether to applaud or boo the language involving light rail and resurrection. But they did mention that this is completely separate from commuter rail - far more accurate than I expect from these guys. Dammit, if I had any confidence in their description of this as basically "let's do 2000 now", I'd be tapdancing all over the backyard right now (from where I'm composing this). Look at the 2000 picture they dug out of the archives, which would be running by now if Mike Krusee hadn't kicked Austin in the balls, although probably down the middle of Guadalupe rather than on the edge as this early mockup showed.

What do we know so far? Very little. Some kind of rail being proposed for generally the part of town that needs it (nobody wants to be on Airport Boulevard). Connecting to, but not running on, commuter rail. Some indications that McCracken and Wynn are thinking about some reserved guideway rather than just going along with the magical streetcar fairydust approach that thinks running in shared traffic doesn't suck.

Vehicle/Technology: Streetcar or light rail. Sigh. Much confusion and conflation here, from News 8 probably not being able to tell the difference to Gerald Daugherty wanting to tar light rail with the same brush as streetcar to the councilmembers just not being able to commit. Statesman mentions DMU, but there's no way. These things are way too porky - the only way one even ran through the city in New Jersey on the other commuter line Lyndon Henry and his band of serial confusimicators like to call light rail was to cut corners through city blocks (workable in New Jersey since their downtowns, uh, don't have anything going on, to be charitable.

Route: They're talking about Triangle to UT to Capitol to downtown to the airport. This probably means the 2000 LRT route, which probably means no reserved guideway since it was a tough sell even with long and frequently running LRT vehicles. We're not going to be able to afford to give up 2 of 4 lanes on Guadalupe for vehicles the size of streetcars. Could be on Congress in the downtown stretch, in which you could bet against reserved guideway, or on one of the parallel streets, in which reserved guideway (or maybe just shared with buses) might be feasible. On Riverside, some talk of running off the side of the road so as to not take up lanes. As weird as this sounds, this is the best piece of news out of the plan, because it means that McCracken and Wynn at least understand that running streetcar purely in shared traffic lanes is a complete waste of money. Unfortunately, the one street they talk about doing this on is the one street where it's not really needed. Baby steps. My desperate hope is that this talk means they're comparing Riverside to other streets where they'd have to give up car lanes, not that they mean that they'd run in a shared lane on the other streets. Going to the airport is a new touch (was in eventual expansion plans in 2000).

Funding: Talking about using city money. Interesting wrinkle is using airport money for part of this. Federal funding mentioned, but I find it unlikely in the near term (give the Democrats a few years to reverse the past 8 years of disaster at the FTA, first). This line hits all the urban parts of town but doesn't grab the suburban park-and-rides. The Feds loved the 2000 plan because it hit both. They would have hated the 2004 commuter plan for skipping one, and they'd probably hate the 2008 plan for skipping the other one, unless this is substantially cheaper than I expect it to be. ("Rapid Streetcar" possible way around this?)

Operations: Getting Capital Metro out of the way for construction and funding: a good idea. Getting them involved in operations? A bad idea. We can't afford to subsidize suburbanites any more with this thing - if anything we should be treating this as an opportunity to build and operate our own rail system and grab back 1 of the 3 quarter-cents we give to Capital Metro in the process. 1/2 a cent is enough for bus needs, and Leander ought to be funding commuter rail themselves (maybe Cedar Park and Mike Krusee can kick in for the free-riders).

Conclusions: None, really. If they just try to build stuck-in-traffic streetcar, well, it'll be better than what Capital Metro wanted to build, since it'll run on the end of UT actually worth going to, and will run up past Hyde Park and the Triangle, and a few travellers to the airport will find it nominally more attractive than the #100. So, worst-case build scenario, we're better off than Cap Metro's awful circulator. Best-case? Probably some variant of light rail or "Rapid Streetcar". I can't see any possibility for reserved guideway where it would be needed the most - on Guadalupe between MLK and 29th - but if there's reserved guideway downtown, it'd be a lot better than what we could otherwise expect. Still, compared to 2000's light rail, this won't be worth much, but it's better than nothing. Stay tuned.

October 24, 2007

Commuter rail train arrives; raises M1EK's blood pressure

Since the delivery of the new rail cars have spurred a few "god dammit it's NOT LIGHT RAIL" responses from me, and since I typed something like the following up for Ben Wear's blog and am not sure it went through, here's a quick refresher on three major problems with this commuter rail line:

1. It does not primarily serve Austin residents. Leander residents deserve some service, because they pay some Capital Metro taxes, but the second best-served population for this line is actually Cedar Park, who pays absolutely nothing (it's considerably more feasible for the average Cedar Park resident to just drive down the road a bit to the NW Austin Park-and-ride and ride the train than it is for 90% of Austin residents to ride this train at all). Most of the Austin stations don't have parking, but are also not located in areas where a non-trivial number of people could walk to the stations (unlike the 2000 light rail line, which ran within walking distance of a few of the densest neighborhoods in the city).

2. It relies on shuttle buses for passenger distribution. No, you won't be walking to work, not even if you work downtown, unless you're even more of a stubborn cuss than M1EK is. The rule of thumb for transit agencies is 1/4 mile, that being, if their office is within a quarter-mile of the train station, most people would be willing to walk. The Convention Center station is a bit more than a quarter-mile from the closest major office building and more like 1/2 to 3/4 mile away from most downtown offices. And UT and the Capitol are much farther away than that from their purported station. Why is this a problem? Since anybody who wants to ride this thing is going to have to take shuttle buses, we're relying on the theory that people who aren't willing to ride the excellent express buses straight to their offices at UT, the Capitol, or downtown will somehow become major fans of buses when they are forced to transfer to one at the train station.

3. Yes, you have to builld one line in order to build a system - but in this case, the line we're building prevents us from ever building a good system. lt precludes the only realistically feasible light rail line from being built, and even if it didn't, the political blowback from "let's ride and then decide" would knock us dead once it becomes clear that Ben Wear and I were telling the truth when we said Capital Metro is only planning for something like 1500 riders per day. And no, Virginia, streetcar won't help one bit - it's still a daily transfer from a good mode - reserved-guideway fast rail transit - to a bad mode - stuck-in-traffic slow rail transit which is no better than stuck-in-traffic slow shuttlebus.

Think this is just a broken-record? When the initial impulse of writers who generally have clues is still to call this light rail and when people get unreasonably optimistic without thinking about where the stations actually are, my work continues to be necessary. Sorry, folks.

September 20, 2007

Austin drivers don't come close to paying their own way

Quick hit, found from Jeff's excellent "City Transit Advocates" aggregator:

This recently released national study confirms that even in states with more progressive transportation policies than we have in Texas, motorists do not pay the full cost of providing them with roads and ancillary services. Not even close. (I've seen the New Jersey study before and have used it many times; but nobody bothered to go to that level of detail for the nation as a whole).

And in Texas, it's a lot worse - we don't allow state gas taxes to be spent on major roadways outside the state highway system (which screws cities like Austin in favor of suburbs like Round Rock); and we even require 'donations' from city and county general funds to get state and federal 'free'ways built. If the subsidy recovery would be 20-70 cents/gallon nationally, it'd easily be over a buck here.

July 20, 2007

Why I do it

This subject keeps coming up; and although I've explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, as well as in other forums, I've never put it all in one place before. But I'm also short on time, so I'll reuse most of a post I made today to the excellent SkyScraperPage forums and just expand a bit.

The immediate relevance is a somewhat petulant response from Michael King to my letter to the editor in the Chronicle next week. I suppose this means I'll be published, at least. The money quote:

we don't find it particularly useful to hold our breaths on transit questions until we turn blue (or bile green), nor particularly helpful to respond to every interim proposal with cheerless variations on "it's pointless and it won't work."

So, here it is: why it's important to keep bringing up that this thing won't work and WHY it won't work, and what WOULD have worked instead:

South Florida built almost exactly what we're going to build: a commuter rail line on existing tracks which is too far away from destinations people actually want to go to - so they have to transfer to shuttle buses for the final leg of their journey to work in the morning (and back from work in the evening). It has proved a miserable failure at attracting so-called "choice commuters", i.e., those who own a car but are considering leaving it at home today to take the train to work.

Here's how the experience has gone in the area:

  1. Start with a largely transit-friendly population (retirees from New York, for instance)

  2. In the mid-to-late 1980s, commuter rail gets built (requiring shuttle transfers).

  3. Everybody who says anything says "this is going to work; rail ALWAYS works!"

  4. Nobody but the transit-dependent rides it. ("we tried it and it didn't work").

  5. Ten years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, "we tried rail and it didn't work here".

  6. In the meantime, a huge amount of money is spent double-tracking the corridor and increasing service; but still, essentially nobody who can choose to drive will ride the thing, because the three-seat ride (car, train, shuttle-bus) makes it so uncompetitive. (Remember that, like our rail line, it doesn't run through any dense residential areas where people might be tempted to walk to the station - all passengers arrive either by car or by bus).

  7. Fifteen years later, when people still don't ride, somebody reads about TOD and thinks "maybe that will help". Millions are spent trying to encourage developers to build residential density around the train stations to no avail (a bit unlike Austin in that here, all we need to do is allow more density and it will crop up by itself due to pent-up demand for living in that part of town). Nothing comes of this - because people don't want to pay extra to live next to a train station where they can hop a train to... a shuttle-bus.

  8. Twenty years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, "we tried rail and it didn't work here" is still the primary response - but finally some people are starting to say "well, we built the wrong thing last time".

If there had been more people pointing out before, during, and after the system opened that a rail line which didn't go where the people wanted to go would be a failure, it might not have taken twenty years just to restart the rail conversation there.

I don't want it to take twenty years to restart the conversation here in Austin.

Don't believe it will happen? Remember: the pro-commuter-rail forces, before the election, were saying let's ride and then decide. People in South Florida rode. They decided. It didn't work. It has taken twenty years to even start seriously talking about building rail in the right places (along the FEC corridor, or light-rail in Fort Lauderdale). We can't afford twenty years here.

July 19, 2007

PS: Still not a crackpot

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, but who knows if this new technology will work, so it's reposted here for your pleasure. The 2nd Hawaii report coming as soon as work calms down a bit.

Commuters will only switch to transit if they are delivered to their final destination – within a couple of blocks. Failing to provide that "last mile" transport can doom an entire regional rail system. If far-flung suburbanites hate the bus, and their offices are too far to walk from the last rail or rapid-bus stop, then they'll just keep driving, however long their commutes.

The part which was left out, in what's becoming a disturbing trend of analysis-free journalism at the Chronicle, is that choice commuters will also NOT accept transfers as part of their daily commute, unless we're talking about the Manhattan end of the scale where the transit alternative has the benefit of competing against 50-dollar parking.

Transfers from commuter rail to streetcar will not be any more attractive to daily commuters than transfers from commuter rail to shuttlebus - and choice commuters, as shown in South Florida with Tri-Rail, simply will not do the latter. Once you ride every day, the fact that the streetcar isn't any faster or more reliable than the bus was becomes very obvious.

It's time to remind people yet again: we did NOT decide to build what worked in Dallas, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake, Houston, and Minneapolis (light rail, or, what we would have built in 2000 and should have tried again in 2004). What we're building instead was what failed in South Florida - a transit alternative which is utterly non-competitive with the car and will continue to serve only the transit-dependent at an incredibly high cost, while derailing transit momentum for decades.

Mike Dahmus

Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

April 10, 2007

Don't get excited about Mopac changes...

I'm still not sure if it's willful ignorance or childish spite (because their grand plan to do the huge rebuild was rejected), but TXDOT still isn't answering the most important question of all with the managed lane proposal for Mopac, which is:

Since the managed lanes do not have dedicated on/off ramps,
when the 3 regular lanes are stop-and-go, how is a car or bus in the managed lane going to manage to get over to its exit without having to also come to a stop, and thus make all the other cars or buses in the managed lane have to stop too?

Note that I'm the only guy even talking about this; the local media, unfortunately reduced to just rephrasing press releases, just reports this as "hey, a new lane in the middle, hooray!" without bothering to think about how it will actually work.

April 02, 2007

Alliance for Public Transportation is a joke

Hey guys? Here's what a grass-roots pro-transit organization ought to look like: the CTC in Houston, which actually does more than just saying "please do exactly what Capital Metro and CAMPO want, as fast as possible". IE, they analyze route proposals and try to figure out which ones are likely to work and which ones are not. They also don't buy into the nonsense that stuck-in-traffic city buses will ever work for choice commuters and that circulators are somehow exempt from choice commuters' distaste for transfers.

Yes, like yours truly, they actually hold the radical position that while rail transit is great in general, it IS possible to build rail transit that choice commuters won't ride so you'd better think carefully about where you decide to run it rather than just assuming that rail anywhere works as well as rail in the perfect place.

I highly recommend following some of those CTC stories to their forums in which it becomes even more clear what APT ought to be doing for Austin - instead of asking us all to support exactly what Round Rock legislator Mike Krusee wants Capital Metro to do with their tax money (92% from Austin, 0% from Round Rock), we ought to be asking ourselves whether what they want to do will actually work, and not from the anti-all-rail Neanderthal perspective either.

Grow up, APT. We need people who really want rail transit to succeed to challenge this garbage. If Capital Metro ever needed boot-licking sycophants, it needed them before the 2000 election; certainly not now.

March 28, 2007

Circulators don't work

Fresh on the heels of yesterday's post, Christof from Houston weighs in that rail service that depends on circulators rather than pedestrian traffic isn't likely to succeed in garnering so-called "choice commuters" (those who you're trying to attract away from their cars).

Unfortunately, it appears that the same lesson which was learned from watching Tri-Rail's abject failure in South Florida has to keep getting re-learned all over the country, since we keep pushing these stupid commuter rail projects which reuse existing track but don't go anywhere worth going rather than building light rail which DOES.

So, care to guess how you're going to get from the Capital Metro commuter rail station to your office in downtown, the Capitol, or UT?

March 27, 2007

The Great Interconnections Lie

The North Burnet/Gateway presentation, which, frankly, looks very very appealing in the alternate universe where we had the guts to stand up to Mike Krusee and develop light rail, continues the rationalization of poor transit service by calling it "interconnected", which is a euphemism for "you're going to have a lot of transfers". Specifically, a resident of this area trying to go downtown would need to first board a circulator (probably a bus) to get to the commuter rail station between Metric and Burnet, then wait for the train, then ride the train to MLK or the Convention Center, then switch to another circulator (probably again a bus) to get to UT, the Capitol, or the parts of downtown where people actually work.

And yet nobody sees this as a problem.

Today, all you have to do is spend some time outside the transfer centers at Northcross or Highland Mall, and it becomes abundantly clear that the only people who use bus service that requires a transfer are the utterly transit-dependent (not the choice commuters we're supposed to be serving). So we're going to build a rail spine for our transit network that requires at least one transfer to bus for anybody to use.

And yet nobody sees this as a problem.

Light rail, as promised here in 2000 and delivered everywhere else in the meantime, on the other hand, is designed to serve as a one-seat ride for the majority of riders (two seats for suburban users of park-and-rides). Let's compare and contrast again:

Suburban users:

Light Rail a la 2000Commuter Rail With Interconnections(tm)
1Drive to park-and-rideDrive to park-and-ride
2Wait for train (every 10 mins rush hour; every 20-30 otherwise)Wait for train (every 30 mins rush hour; no service otherwise)
3Ride train to stationRide train to station
4Walk to officeWait for circulator (probably bus)
5 Ride bus (stuck in traffic)
6 Walk to office

And now, for this "second downtown", we're being sold on the idea that "interconnected transit" with "circulators" is the way to go, meaning that the commuter in the right column will actually be adding another bus ride at the beginning of their trip.

Folks, even in Manhattan, routes that require transfers see a substantial drop in ridership, yet somehow we think that our comparatively low-density city is going to do better? Even when our transfer is to a jerky, slow, stuck-in-traffic bus? And now these idiots working on the Burnet plan think a bus ride on the OTHER END is actually a POSITIVE?

(No, streetcars won't help; they're still stuck in traffic behind everybody else's car).

Somebody other than me's got to start talking about this stuff so it's not such a surprise in 2008 when nobody rides the thing. Please, for the love of god, somebody speak up. Ben Wear? Wells Dunbar? John Kelso? Somebody hep me!

And, no, this is not a problem we can fix with better circulators. Remember, the Manhattan transfer commuters go from one reserved-guideway rail vehicle to another reserved-guideway rail vehicle, and yet it still cuts their ridership by a substantial percentage. And that's in a town where you have to lay something like 50 bucks a day just to park that car.

Start here to learn about all the places New Yorkers are still trying to eliminate transfers.

February 26, 2007

Brewster et al, I Told You So

Especially Brewster, but also some others are finally, now that it's long too late, beginning to question the wisdom of continuing to give Capital Metro $160 million / year when they turn around and spend all the rail money on a plan which screws Central Austin and provide useless Rapid Bus service as the "thanks for 92% of our tax revenue" gift. Kudos to Kimberly for coverage of this issue.

Let's set the wayback machine to May of 2004. I wrote a post on that day referring to a resolution I floated; the text is below. While Brewster from all accounts thinks I'm a troll, the irony of seeing him come pretty darn close to my 2004 position is just really really delicious. Of course, I'd trade it in a second for some actual movement on this issue.

WHEREAS the City of Austin does not receive adequate mobility benefits from the currently proposed Long Range Transit Plan due to its reliance on "rapid bus" transit without separate right-of-way


WHEREAS a "rapid bus" line does not and cannot provide the necessary permanent infrastructure to encourage mixed-use pedestrian-oriented densification along its corridor


WHEREAS the vast majority of Capital Metro funds come from residents of the City of Austin


WHEREAS the commuter rail plan proposed as the centerpiece of this plan delivers most of its benefits to residents of areas which are not within the Capital Metro service area while ignoring the urban core which provides most Capital Metro monies

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Urban Transportation Commission recommends that the City Council immediately reject Capital Metro's Long-Range Transit Plan and begin working towards a plan which:

A. delivers more reliable and high-performance transit into and through the urban core, including but not limited to the University of Texas, Capitol Complex, and downtown
B. requires additional user fees from passengers using Capital Metro rail services who reside in areas which are not part of the Capital Metro service area
C. provides permanent infrastructure to provide impetus for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use redevelopment of the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor

IF CAPITAL METRO will not work with the City of Austin on all items above, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the UTC advises the City Council to begin preparations to withdraw from the Capital Metro service area and provide its own transit system in order to provide true mobility benefits to the taxpayers of Austin.

It died for lack of a second. Since then, two fellow commissioners expressed their regret at their decision to not at least second the motion so we could have gone on the record, after seeing how the plan unfolded pretty much as I predicted way back then.

February 20, 2007

Managed Lanes: Good Theory; Will Suck Here

A short entry; and I won't inflict a drawing on you, so please use the power of your mind to visualize.

CAMPO has already tentatively allocated $110 million for "managed lanes" (one in each direction) on Mopac from Parmer to Town Lake and is now explaining the plan. These will, apparently, boil down to a new inside lane in each direction, with possibly flimsy barriers between them and the general-purpose lanes, similar to what you see on the northbound frontage road just north of Bee Caves Road. General-purpose lanes will have to be narrowed a bit, and some shoulder will be lost (especially the inside shoulder - which will be effectively gone).

I'm generally a moderate supporter of HOV lanes, and a stronger supporter of managed lanes. Tolling road capacity anywhere is a good move away from our current system in which urban drivers and especially non-drivers subsidize SUV-driving suburban soccer moms. Ironically, the more red-meat conservative you are around these parts, the more you apparently pine for the old Soviet method of market-clearing, at least as it applies to road capacity.

And, one of the best reasons to support HOV or managed lanes is the boost in performance and reliability it can give bus transit, which needs all the help it can get.

HOWEVER, the system considered here will do nothing to improve the performance of transit, for this reason:

To exit Mopac, the bus (or car that paid a toll) must travel through three lanes of general-purpose traffic in order to get to the exit lane.

If that traffic is backed up enough to make you want to use the toll facility, it will also be backed up enough that it will be impossible to quickly cut through to get to your exit. Much of the time savings in the managed lane will be lost at entry and exit.

This is the same problem other half-assed HOV facilities have around the country - in places like South Florida (no barrier; hard to enforce; and mostly useless during extremely high traffic periods except if you're going all the way through where the traffic is). Likewise, this facility won't help the commuter going to UT, or downtown; the only group it could really help dramatically would be people going from north suburb to south suburb.

IE, we're going to spend city drivers' gas tax money to even more excessively subsidize the suburban commuter - but just in case we might accidentally benefit the city; we're going to do it in such a way that it only helps those who don't live OR work in the center-city.


By the way, $110 million would pay for the entire commuter rail line (which won't do anything good for Austin), OR, it could be used as a down payment on a rail transit system which will work, i.e., build a leg of real non-streetcar light-rail from downtown up to the Triangle.

February 05, 2007

Commuter rail ridership projection: pathetic

Ben Wear notes that Capital Metro is now projecting 1,000 riders per day on the commuter rail line for the approximately $100 million investment. Yes, you heard right. ONE THOUSAND RIDERS PER DAY.

Let's compare to two recent light-rail starts.

Minneapolis (opened late 2004): Ridership in 2005 grew to 25,000 per day on a 12-mile line that cost roughly $700 million and runs in a combination of in-street and separate right-of-way.

Houston: 40,000 per day on a fairly short and completely in-street runningway. That's just to answer the "but but but Minneapolis isn't in Texas!" cries some trogolodytes were beginning to choke on after the first example.

So let's take the Minneapolis example. 25 times as many riders; 7.5 times as much cost. Sounds like a damn good deal to me - and we could have built that here very easily... a slightly scaled back version of the 2000 light rail plan would have cost about that much, and would have delivered at least that many riders. Remember that the next time somebody tries to convince you that this awful commuter rail plan is just light rail done cheaper and smarter.

The key in both Minneapolis and Houston is actually NOT that they run their trains more often; it's that once a rider gets off the train, they can take a short walk to their office rather than having to hop a shuttle bus. Again, we could have had that here if we hadn't have rolled over for Mike Krusee.

In other words, Capital Metro didn't mess up by ordering too few cars for the amazing ridership they could get for this line; they apparently read the writing on the wall from Tri-Rail's experience and figured out they're not going to get many long-term choice commuters on this thing after the first batch tries the shuttle bus experience on for size so they'd better not buy too many rail cars.

And, no, upgrading the shuttle buses to streetcars won't help since they're still a transfer to a slow stuck-in-traffic vehicle, and it can't be improved over time into something that works as well as light rail, but it sure as hell will bring the total cost of our worthless Austin-screwing transit-killing debacle up to something approaching Minneapolis' successful light rail line.

In summary:

commuter rail: costs very little; does jack squat1

1: Looking for a better quick slogan here that also includes the fact that commuter rail not only doesn't move rail transit forward, it actually moves us in the wrong direction since it precludes the later addition of light rail in the 2000 alignment. Suggestions?

February 01, 2007

Dear Jennifer Kim

I understand your retreat into pandering given the difficulties you're currently facing, and I even sympathize a bit, but let's be clear: big retail and employment destinations do NOT NOT NOT NOT belong on frontage roads.

Here's why.

This talking point works well with people who drive everywhere - like most folks in Allandale. It doesn't work so well with people who actually have some experience with alternate modes of transportation, like yours truly. I used to occasionally ride the bus in the morning and get off at the stop on one side of 183 between Oak Knoll and Duval and have to go to exactly the other side - and the presence of frontage roads (destroyed an old road which used to cross) made a 2-minute walk into a 10-minute bike ride (30-minute walk). No wonder nobody else does it.

January 29, 2007

Nobody talks about Austin rail like this...

Well, except for me, that is.

From Christof's excellent site in Houston,
this is the kind of discussion we needed to have here in 2000 and again in 2004. Of course, I believe we were about to have this kind of planning in late 2000 for a May or November 2001 election, until Mike Krusee forced Capital Metro to hold the election in November of 2000, before they were remotely prepared to do so. In 2004, nobody bothered to look at the line's routing and figure out whether it served the needs of choice commuters (people who aren't willing to ride the bus today). Again, except for me. So here's a recap, with a new exciing picture at the end.

Note the references to 1/4 mile being the typical capture area for a rail stop (despite what you hear from people who think the typical commuter will walk the 1/2 mile or more from the Convention Center stop to their downtown office building).

Here's a similar image I'm working on for Austin. I'm no photoshop wiz, obviously, but this might be the best I can make this look, so here you go. The original image comes from "Mopacs", a poster to the Skyscraper Forum. I've drawn in the 2004 commuter rail route in yellow (just barely penetrates the picture on the lower right); the 2000 light rail route in green; and the maybe-never streetcar route in red. Note that the streetcar doesn't have reserved-guideway, as I've noted before, so it's really not going to help much in getting choice commuters to ride.

Click for full image if you don't see the yellow route!

The big building you see just north of the yellow line is the Hilton Hotel (not a major destination for choice commuters; anectdotal evidence suggests that a large percentage of workers there actually take the bus to work today).

Note that the walking distance from the yellow stop to the corner of 7th/Congress (rough center of the office buildings on Congress) is a half-mile, give or take which, as I've pointed out before to the derision of people who don't study transportation, is about twice what the average person will walk to a train station if they have to do it every day. Capital Metro knows this, of course, which is why their shuttles are planned for not only UT and the Capitol, but also for downtown; their only error is in repeating the Tri-Rail debacle by forgetting that choice commuters don't like riding the bus.

Also note in the upper reaches of the image, the other two critical employment centers downtown - the Capitol Complex and UT. Notice how the green line (2000 light rail) goes right next to them as well. What you don't see is further up to the north, the green line continues up the only high-density residential corridor in our city - that being Guadalupe Blvd., so in addition to being able to walk to their office _from_ the train station, a lot of prospective riders would have been able to walk to the train station from their homes.

That's what Mike Krusee took away from Austin, folks. And it ain't coming back once commuter rail opens; there's no way to operate anything like the 2000 light rail proposal cooperatively with this worthless commuter rail crock.

Update: Here's the other aerial photos from "Mopacs". Worth a look.

December 21, 2006

Response to McCracken

Brewster McCracken posted a response (seemingly authentic) to this austinist thread, attempting to rebut many of my points about Northcross and Wal-Mart. Here's what I said in response.


Obviously I disagree with much of what you posted. I'll just pick the one I know the most about, though; this peculiar idea that it's better to put large retail destinations on "highways" rather than at the intersection of two city arterial roadways, next to a major transit center. Only in Texas (where frontage roads are viewed as the normal state of affairs rather than an occasional last-ditch tool to provide access when all else fails) would we even be having this conversation; note that the new Wal-Mart in Atlanta being compared to this one is _NOT_, I repeat, _NOT_ "on the highway".

I refer readers again to my (artlessly drawn but hopefully at least readable) diagram linked to if you click on "M1EK" at the end of this posting. It's simply impossible to deliver high-quality transit service on highway frontage roads -- but it's very easy to do so on arterial roadways. All you need to do is take a look at those #3 buses going up and down Burnet Road vs. the #383 buses going up and down Research Blvd. if you don't believe me - both are operating in relatively the same density development; but one is a success and one is a failure.

Frontage roads also destroy the ability to travel by foot (for nearby pedestrians) and severely hamper travel by bicycle; but in this case, transit is probably the most important mode to worry about. Remember, though, that when dealing with frontage road development, we also have to somehow convince TXDOT to build sidewalks along the frontage road in the best-case scenario (and, of course, they've designed some 'highways' in ways that make even the provision of such sidewalks by the City of Austin impossible - US 183 near Braker Lane, for instance; in this photo-essay:

Pushing all our big boxes (and other employers/destinations) to frontage roads simply means the people travelling there can't do so by any means other than the private automobile. This doesn't hurt high-tech office workers on US 183 as much as it does the potential employees of Wal-Mart, of course.

As for the remaining points - I'm happy the neighborhoods have learned to not make the strategic error that NUNA did vis-a-vis The Villas On Guadalupe. That's a far cry from evidence that they now support urban mixed-use development "like the Triangle". A Triangle-style development, expanded to cover the footprint of Northcross Mall, would be bringing in not only roughly the same amount of retail as this proposal, but thousands of units of multi-family; and the nearby neighborhoods have opposed previous efforts to increase multi-family in the area quite recently (hotel conversion at south edge of property).

Mike Dahmus (M1EK's Bake-Sale of Bile)
Urban Transportation Commission 2001-2005

December 05, 2006

Rapid bus (and streetcar) aren't interim steps

It's worth crackplogging this briefly since I was reminded by a discussion on one of the blogs in my list that I hadn't written anything on Cap Metro in a month or so, and I've been meaning to do this for quite a while anyways, expanding on a quick hit I did a while back:

Some folks think we can view either/both of Rapid Bus and streetcars as a "placeholder for light rail", or a "step towards urban rail", or what have you, implying that the investment we make in those technologies is in fact a down payment on a real urban transit system. In fact, though, neither one can be evolved into reserved-guideway transit which is what it would take to get the gains seen in Dallas, Portland, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, etc. Reserved-guideway transit, for those not familiar with the term, is any facility where the transit vehicle doesn't need to share space with, be stuck behind, or otherwise compete with other vehicles (usually cars, but could be regular buses too). Obviously this makes a big difference if you're trying to make up the currently huge speed and reliability gap in Austin between transit and the automobile.

Note that unlike my former colleague Patrick Goetz from the UTC, I view reserved-guideway transit as sufficient to garner significant numbers of choice commuters (those who drive to work today) - as it has worked in Dallas, Portland, Salt Lake, Denver, Minneapolis, Houston, etc. Reserved-guideway doesn't mean grade-separated; grade-separated is elevated or subsurface rail, or if you're feeling generous, completely separate surface rail like Austin's commuter rail route (few crossings, and those completely controlled by physical means, not just traffic control devices). Light rail and BRT both accept less separation in return for the huge economic savings resulting from not having to build elevated or underground facilities, and in practice, almost all of the benefit of true grade-separation is achieved on good reserved-guideway designs.

I don't even have to write a long list of reasons, when just the first will suffice - although there are others. Here it is:

You don't run reserved guideway transit in the right lane.

That's really all you need to know to understand this issue. You can't eliminate right turns on any roadway in this country - it just doesn't work. People are used to restrictions on left turns, sure. But no right turns? No way. It's far too ingrained in our driving culture that we pull over to the right to turn, let people out, find parking, etc. (The British probably have a similar constraint against reserved guideways on the left, come to think).

So what's the problem? Both the streetcar system and the rapid bus starter line will be running in the right lane. (The 2000 light rail plan would have run down the middle of the road, at least on the two-way streets like Lamar and Guadalupe). So all the investment in rail (streetcar) and stations (rapid bus) needs to be completely dug up and rebuilt if either one was to be transitioned into any form of reserved-guideway transit, either light rail or bus rapid transit.

That means that building streetcar and rapid bus is actually a step FARTHER AWAY FROM URBAN RAIL, not a step towards it.

And no, a right lane shared by transit and "right turns only" isn't a solution to this problem either. (It's what Honolulu briefly tried to float with their ghastly failure of an experiment with BRT). Trucks pull over to the right to load and unload; so do normal buses; and cars turning right can stop your transit vehicle just as dead in its tracks as a car waiting to go through an intersection can.

November 13, 2006

Streetcar isn't a step in the right direction

A quick hit; just posted to the austin streetcars mailing list in response to my old buddy Lyndon Henry, who defended streetcar investment against somebody complaining about low-frequency east-west downtown bus service on the weekend. I meant several months ago to address this "streetcar is a step towards light rail" issue - it still deserves its own post, but here's a start.

On 10:28 PM 11/12/2006 -0600, Nawdry wrote:

There are plenty of advantages that streetcars can have over buses,

exactly zero of which would help any of the issues (original complainaint) raised. The streetcar service proposed by Capital Metro truly is "bus on rails" - it has zero feet of reserved guideway; zero instances of signal prioritization; will be slow and take many stops. None of the advantages remaining which one could fairly assign to streetcars help local riders in the slightest - they just help tourists and businesses that cater to the same (the rails in the street making it more obvious that transit service exists and in which direction it goes).

It will not improve circulation from commuter rail one lousy iota. In fact, the initial shuttle buses will likely perform better than this streetcar, given Cap Metro's intention to have the streetcar line make many many stops (the early shuttles will likely not do this until they reach the area of their destination - i.e. they won't be stopping along Manor).

Nor can streetcar be upgraded to higher-quality reserved-guideway service once installed. No transit agency would dream of attempting to run reserved-guideway transit in the RIGHT lane - but that's exactly where the streetcar is getting put.

You and yours sold the Austin area a pig in a poke that can never and will never turn into the light rail we should have built all along. I remain ready to point this out whenever necessary.

Your pal,

Note that I absolutely reject this bogus "run buses more often and see what happens before investing in rail" argument in general but in this particular case, the rail investment really isn't any better than the existing buses, so it actually does hold.

So, as a review: streetcars were originally sold two ways: first, as as a replacement for the rail service that Central Austin is not getting from commuter rail, and second as a good distributor/circulator for the commuter rail line passengers themselves, since commuter rail goes nowhere near the primary work destinations in the center-city. How's that working out? First, streetcars aren't going through Central Austin at all, and second, they aren't going to be an attractive transfer for commuter rail passengers. Yeehaw.

November 08, 2006

Statesman clueless about urban development

Shilli knocks it out of the park: urban is more than a different coating to the building; and it's more than the number of floors. This Wal-Mart will still be car-friendly and pedestrian-and-transit-hostile; and should be opposed on those grounds alone. As I commented in an earlier item there, I also doubt Wal-Mart's urban bona-fides compared to Target, who seems to actually walk the walk on this stuff.

Not surprisingly, the Statesman credulously swallowed the misrepresentation of this project as both urban (see above) and central-city (Anderson Lane may be geographically central by some standards, but the area itself isn't "city"). Also not surprisingly, the typical whines about local businesses have come up - precisely the wrong reason to oppose this Wal-Mart. Let me state this succinctly:

A big box store which engages the street rather than a parking lot, and prioritizes pedestrian arrival over automobile convenience is much better for us in the long-run than a half-dozen 'local businesses' in pedestrian-hostile strip malls. Strip mall patrons come and go; but the physical buildings (and parking lots) don't. If Wal-Mart did what Shawn suggests and plunked down an urban building right on the corner of Anderson and Burnet (right next to a bunch of bus stops), I'd be supporting them whole-heartedly.

Remember: urban and suburban are styles of development, not just designations for geographic areas. You can have a suburban development right in the middle of downtown, and you can have an urban development in the middle of a ton of sprawl.

October 08, 2006

Rapid Bus in LA ain't rapid either

Check out this tale of woe, which is pretty much what I'd expect out of Capital Metro's MetroRapid service here in Austin in a couple of years. Any transit service without reserved guideway is doomed to these kinds of performance and reliability problems - holding a light green for a few seconds doesn't come close to cutting the mustard.

Remember that this 'rapid' bus service is all the urban core of Austin is ever going to get from Capital Metro, thanks to the decision of other pro-light-rail folks to sign on to ASG.

September 27, 2006

Rail transit dies in Austin, thanks to one final cut

Here's what I sent to the Alliance for Public Transportation, upon seeing their official launch and noting that their platform is basically "push for Capital Metro's full plan, quicker", despite alleging to be an "Independent Voice for Transportation". Note that this will probably signify a great reduction in posts from here on out - as there's really nothing more to say; the remaining pro-rail forces which could have fought for rail for central Austin have instead fully backed Krusee's plan. There's nobody left.

This means that rail down Guadalupe is dead. This means that Hyde Park, West Campus, and the Triangle will never have light rail. This means that central Austinites who pay most of Capital Metro's bills will never, ever, get served with rail transit. This means that even downtown Austin, the University, and the Capitol will never get anything better than a slow, stuck-in-traffic, shared-lane streetcar which doesn't work any better than a bus.

Here's my note. I've already gotten a short, snarky, response from Glenn Gadbois which basically said "We'll accept this as an announcement that you won't be joining". IE: they aren't interested in fighting for real light rail at all.

I see the site is finally unveiled. It's worth noting that there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Austin commuters are going to be significantly more willing than those in other new rail start cities to accept a transfer as part of their daily commute - which means that nothing short of reserved-guideway, one-seat, transit will be enough to attract a significant number of choice commuters.

IE: transfer to "urban core circulator" is going to be completely useless -
it's no better than transferring to a shuttle bus, as people will very
quickly figure out, since the streetcar will likewise be stuck in traffic
(no reserved guideway); and in no city in this country has a new rail start
which relies on shuttle distribution been anything other than a huge

You can't fix this plan with enhanced circulators. (Even a
reserved-guideway circulator, such as true light rail running through
downtown, would be a significant disincentive to ridership - areas where
rail transit is just beginning can't afford to make the trip any more
difficult than absolutely necessary - reports from New York or Chicago or
San Francisco are thus irrelevant here).

We're not using Minneapolis or Portland or St. Louis or Denver or Salt Lake
or Dallas as our model. They all built light rail on reserved guideway
which went directly to major employment centers without requiring transfers
to shuttle buses - and all have succeeded. (Most did what we would have
done with the 2000 plan: use some existing right-of-way, and transition to
the street where necessary to get directly where they needed to go).

We're instead doing what South Florida did with Tri-Rail, which is:
implement rail service on the cheapest, most available, existing track; and
hope people will be willing to ride shuttle buses the last mile or two to
their office every single day through congested traffic. It failed, despite
the shuttles being there to "whisk passengers to their final destination".

Pushing further for this plan only takes us further out on a limb which is
guaranteed to break. If we ever want real rail for central Austin, the only
path forward is to point out that this plan is not going to work and cannot
be made to work; and that we need reserved-guideway rail transit running
through the urban core NOW.

September 20, 2006

Somebody Finally Gets It

Whether through coincidence or because their aides have read this crackplog, Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken have stood up and finally asked the $100,000 question about Rapid Bus, namely, "why are we spending all this money for something that's not likely to be any better than the #101 bus and won't generate any transit-oriented development", and what's more, they're apparently doing it from a pro-rail perspective. A rare bit of good news.

My fear is, though, that it's already too late. Where were you guys in 2004 when I was saying this stuff? Frankly, I don't think we can get light rail down this corridor once commuter rail is built -- as I've commented before, it would be nigh-impossible to continue the light rail route northwest on the existing right-of-way from the intersection of Lamar and Airport (since commuter rail will already be there, and the vehicles are mostly incompatible), but if you don't, you give up about half of the ridership which would have made the 2000 route a success.

(I originally misattributed Lee Leffingwell as Lee Walker; I apologize for taking so long to realize this and correct it).

September 14, 2006

Tying together two forms of crackpottery

A Bush-apologist economist I occasionally read keeps talking about how the EITC is more effective than the minimum wage at providing incentives for the very poor to work. I just added the following comment:

You misunderstand the point.

Group A advocates that we increase the minimum wage. They're serious. They're really trying to do it.

Group B says "that's stupid; just raise the EITC instead". They're not serious. They have no intention of raising the EITC.

Group B, when in power, did and continues to do nothing to raise the EITC. Hence, disingenuous.

Even if raising the EITC worked as well as its proponents claim, today, it's just a stalking horse, because its proponents have no intention at all of doing it.

Parallels abound. For instance, in most cities planning light-rail lines, you always end up with a group pushing for fully elevated transit - and if you dig hard enough you find that the guys who don't want any transit at all form about half of that group.

It's not just Austin where this happens, but of course, Austin is where we live. I'd say about half of the impetus behind the "build elevated transit, not grade-level transit" (whether grade-level is bad streetcar, good light-rail, or mediocre commuter-rail) comes from road warriors who find the naive but well-meaning monorail crew useful cover. Not to say that there aren't people on the monorail side who really believe it's what we need - my former colleague Patrick Goetz is certainly one of them - but whenever discussions come up of the "why would we build rail on the ground?" type, you can always dig a bit deeper and find some guys who really don't want any rail transit at all.

September 13, 2006

M1EK's Way Forward

This comes up from time to time, usually in other forums where people aren't familiar with the long history of rail in Austin:

Why don't you tell us what your (positive) plan is for improving rail in Austin?

Well, the only one that would work is to immediately stop the commuter rail project; cancel contracts for the rail vehicles; and build a light rail starter segment following most of the 2000 proposed route. Not real likely, folks.

Then there's the shorten rail transit's dark ages plan. Not real attractive, but I'm sad to say, the only one likely to have any impact. And it's what I've done so far, of course. During the Dark Ages, those monastaries that saved a bunch of literature and preserved some knowledge from the Greeks and Romans weren't helping anybody for quite a while, remember, they just made the Renaissance start a bit sooner / be a bit more effective, depending on who you ask.

During the past several years, many other people have come up with some other 'positive' plans, which I'll briefly describe below:

  1. Run light rail on a completely different route. (i.e. run up from downtown, by the Capitol and UT, but then shift over to Burnet Road, or stay on Lamar the whole way up to 183). Not gonna happen, folks - the reason the '00 route was favorable to the Feds is that it did what most successful rail starts do: run in exclusive right-of-way out in the suburbs and then transitioning to (slower) in-street running for only the last N miles where necessary. Running in-street all the way is a recipe for low ridership (slow trains). Plus, the residential catchment areas on North Lamar and Burnet Road are just awful.
  2. Improve streetcar - folks originally got suckered by Capital Metro into thinking we'd be delivering streetcar to central Austin residential areas as part of Future Connections. Of course, we're not, but it doesn't matter; streetcar is really no better than the bus for daily commuters. And, topic for future post, you can't turn streetcar into light rail later on - light rail runs in the middle of the street in its own lane; streetcar will run in the right lane, shared with cars & buses. You can't run a reserved-guideway mode on the right side of a street.
  3. Run light rail on commuter rail tracks, then branch off and go down the '00 route at Lamar. Pushed by a subset of the next group, mostly disingenuously - having a rail branch off at Lamar/Airport would basically shut down this intersection for cars, and the technologies are incompatible - the commuter rail vehicles we bought cannot feasibly run in the street for long distances (due mostly to station height).
  4. The most odious of all - Lyndon Henry and his cadre of misleaders - telling us that once we start running trains more often (and add more stops), the commuter rail line will magically become light rail. It still doesn't go anywhere worth going; Airport Boulevard is never going to turn into Guadalupe; and running trains more often to your shuttle bus transfer won't help ridership one lousy bit.

So, those who want to see more positive discussion - use this as a launching point. Let me know what you think. Come up with some positive direction that's not in the list above, or tell me why one of the above WILL work.

Some Selected Background (chronological, oldest at top):

September 07, 2006

Chronicle remains credulous

In today's story about the new effort to align CAMPO dollars to Envision Central Texas goals, not once, in the entire story, was this fact mentioned:

The three biggest "nodes", now and in the future, by orders of magnitude, are UT, the Capitol, and downtown; none of which are served by commuter rail, and not well by streetcar. If you live at Mueller and work at the Capitol, you can take the streetcar to work, but it'll be as slow as the bus is today, and that's the only use case that makes sense. All existing residential density in the city continues to be provided with nothing but slow, stuck-in-traffic, buses (mislabelled as "Rapid" though they may be).

Summary: Until the elephant in the tent is addressed (those three nodes), all of this is just useless ego-stroking wastes of time.

September 02, 2006

"Please do what we want, or we'll ask nicely again!"

This group is a perfect example of what I was talking about in my last crackplog: the survey is a complete waste of time; simply gathering support for all of Capital Metro's long-range plans while never asking "hey, shouldn't we be telling Capital Metro to build some reserved-guideway transit for the densest parts of Austin"?

There's a kickoff event happening in October for this group (or another one with the same name; hard to tell) in which the mayors of Austin and Leander will be participating. Note: Leander already got their reserved-guideway transit. The obviously much less important Central Austin got squat.

People will get co-opted by this group, just like they did by the useless public meetings in which critical things like the canopy style for commuter rail stations were hashed out, and as a result, there's no counterbalance to Mike Krusee telling Capital Metro what to do.

If Mayor Wynn is truly serving the interests of Austin residents and taxpayers, he'll end this now by using this group's forum to push for what Austin needs - but I doubt very much that he will; otherwise he wouldn't be falling prey to the false promise of regionalism here (the note just reeks of it). As pointed out by another blog I read and trust, regionalism is often the enemy of good public transportation. Leander has no real interest in making sure that Austin taxpayers get real rail transit; they already GOT theirs.

Please join me for the kickoff event to launch the Alliance for Public Transportation. The Alliance is the initiative of Mayors Will Wynn and John Cowman of Leander. Several months ago, they asked a group of people to come together and figure out whether we needed an entity that would consider transportation issues from a regional perspective and across the array of interest groups affected by public transportation and its potential in the Austin area. We said we do! Please come to our kickoff celebration on October 19th at 6 pm at Nuevo Leon. An invitation is attached with all the details, along with another document that describes the Alliance. I'd also like to take this opportunity to invite you or your organization to become a member and be acknowledged at the event as a “groundbreaker”. This is going to be an exciting event, with Mayors Wynn and Cowman present, as well as other elected officials and people who care about transportation and the community. I also think the creation of this organization will provide a valuable voice for neighborhoods as we consider public transportation in our region over the coming years.

September 01, 2006

Hand-holding consensus exercises play into the hands of the Bad Guys

NUPro's frustration echoes with me, obviously. I've long since come to the conclusion that the problem here in Austin is that the "good guys" are serious about gathering public input, and the "bad guys" are very good at gathering public input about things that fundamentally don't matter, and in the process getting exactly what they want.

Take Capital Metro's worthless public meetings about commuter rail, for instance. (Before the election, I mean). The topics were basically "where should we put an extra station or two on this line we've already settled on", and "hey, would you like any other bus lines turned into Rapid Bus?". Capital Metro never really wanted public input on anything that mattered, like the actual routing of the line, but they successfully fooled a whole lot of people into going to these meetings and wasting their time. By doing this, Capital Metro satisfied the basic requirements the Feds would have put on them (if CM had kept their promise and actually applied for Federal funding, that is), and fooled a lot of naive people into giving them a free pass.

But please remember: Capital Metro's All Systems Go plan isn't the result of community input, folks. It's a result of Mike Krusee's command.

On the other hand, Envision Central Texas (the group which many Good Guys view as their platform for pushing positive change) is paralyzed by paroxysms of uselessness because they actually try to get public input about things more consequential than the color of the station platform's roof. And, of course, if you ask these neighborhood groups for input, they'll gladly fill your ear with mostly-ignorant mostly-useless stuff that the average bus-riding third-grader could have come up with on the way to school last week (about the recent streetcar meetings in which, again, the route is already decided; the technology is already decided; the sharing-lane-with cars is already decided; etc). Likewise, other urbanist politicians are too unwilling to say "this is what we need to do; now, I'm willing to accept input on these issues, but no others:...". Envision Central Texas has, as a result, contributed absolutely nothing other than PR fluff. They've completely failed at pushing their agenda; the few wins the Good Guys have seen in the last few years have been the result of actions by politicians who would have acted the same way with or without the useless blessing of ECT.

If I could say anything to folks like that, it's this: you never win by back-door compromise, and you never win by charette-driven consensus exercises. Mike Krusee won by making Capital Metro do what he wanted them to do. He didn't negotiate with them. He didn't gather their input. He told them what to do, and they did it, because the other side didn't even try to stop him; because they were too busy holding meetings and wasting their time listening to a bunch of neighborhood nitwits.

August 23, 2006

MetroRapid: Part One

Since many others are doing a fine job showing how stupid the idea of an adult bicycle helmet law is, I'm catching up on stuff I was supposed to crackplog about a LOOONG time ago.

Here's the first of a series about Rapid Bus, now officially branded MetroRapid, which, don't forget, is the sum total of the transit improvements on tap for the urban core of Austin thanks to the bait-and-switch commuter-rail electioneering. You aren't getting rail; you're getting a bus that looks like a train. But does it perform like a train? In each one of these articles, I'll be looking at another "rapid bus" or "bus rapid transit" city and how the mode actually performs, and compare to Austin's proposal.

Let's start with a note that my intrepid cow orker forwarded me some months ago from New Jersey: Bus Rapid Transit - Not For New Jersey. I'll provide some excerpts, since the whole thing is fairly long.

Study after study has now clearly confirmed what NJ-ARP repeatedly has reported for more than a decade - busways do not attract large ridership, cost more to construct and operate and, where they do operate, have not produced the financial results their promoters have promised. It's a lose-lose-lose situation.

In our case, we're not actually constructing a busway; so the "costs more to construct" is not applicable to Austin. However, the "do not attract large ridership" will certainly bite us here.

Statistics show that busways attract only 33 percent of projected ridership, but rail lines exceed initial estimates by 22 percent. Notwithstanding, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), in concert with the highway and motor bus industry, has continued to advocate for BRT. In order to justify continued expansion of BRT, supporters have used rail planning models to predict bus patronage. Even though busway supporters have sponsored trips to places such as Curitiba, Brazil, to view what in their minds is a successful application of BRT technology, nowhere in North America has this mode of public transport attracted such rail passenger boardings.

Curitiba is really starting to become like the infamous (and discredited) 85% head-injury-reduction-for-bicycle-helmets study. It's trotted out every single time some transit agency is pressured by the Feds into building BRT (or Rapid Bus) instead of rail - and every single time it's not even remotely applicable to the United States' population. Curitiba is a poor city full of people who are, at best, marginally capable of affording automobiles. It doesn't take much at all to get them to use public transportation - most don't have a choice, and the remainder are poor enough that even relatively small cost savings are worth large investments in extra commuting time. All their "bus rapid transit system" really had to do was be a smidge faster than regular buses to be a huge success there.

The same, of course, is not true in the US (or Austin in particular). Remember this post in which I estimate that a potential transit user in the suburbs might save a couple of bucks at the cost of an hour or two of time. Not compelling in the least, even if the extra time investment drops by 20% or so.

When one considers that light rail cars have a 40-year life compared with 15 years for buses, LRT is much less costly as well as more attractive and safer.

Hey! Good news for Austin! We'll only be stuck with these awful articulated buses for 15 years, and then we can get rid of the "but we invested all that money in those fancy buses" argument.

A study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) revealed that light rail vehicle was 15.5 percent less costly to operate than bus, all other factors being equal. Low floor light rail cars have a larger capacity than low floor buses of comparable length. The average capacity of a 40-foot low floor bus is only 37 seated passengers due to space that is taken up by the wheel wells which intrude on interior space that otherwise could be used for fare paying riders. While an articulated two-section low floor bus contains more seats, it will still have less capacity than a low floor light rail car. Unlike BRT, a light rail line can increase line capacity by adding more cars to a train, resulting in an increase in operator productivity. The only way to increase the capacity of BRT is to add more buses, each of which will require another driver resulting in higher operating costs.

Well, Capital Metro is so flush with money that higher operating costs won't matter at all, right?

Please check out the whole article. BRT and its stunted sibling "Rapid Bus" are nothing more than stalking horses, pushed by the Feds to avoid having to make investments in rail transit. After all, you can convert a busway back into a car lane. Don't be fooled - folks pushing Rapid Bus aren't friends of public transit.

Next time: Boston!

July 31, 2006

Buses Alone Can Never Get It Done

In response to one of the most common anti-rail arguments out there, paraphrased: "Why don't you get more people to ride buses and then come back and ask us to build rail", I posted the following to a yahoo group concerning the Mueller redevelopment, and it bears archiving here.

Buses cannot and will never be faster or more reliable than the private automobile, unless a vast network of bus-only lanes is built. Until that glorious day, anybody who argues that we need improve the bus system before building rail is either foolish or hiding a desire to avoid investment in transit altogether.

In other words, the bus system is, in fact, being run about as well as
it could be run, given the political and financial constraints under
which Capital Metro must labor. You could run buses every single
minute down every street in Austin and not pick up many more
passengers than ride today - essentially all of the people who are
willing to suffer the significant time, reliability, and comfort
penalty inherent in mixed-traffic bus service are already doing so.

That being said, these streetcars aren't the magic bullet which can
get people out of their automobiles either. They're still stuck in
traffic, slow, and unreliable; just like the Dillos they will
presumably model after.

Only reserved-guideway transit can really beat the private automobile
in cities where parking isn't that expensive and is widely available,
like ours. Too bad so many center-city folks, including so many
Mueller backers, fell for the con job of Krusee's commuter-rail plan,
which has in fact not only failed to deliver light rail to the urban
core, it actually precludes it from being delivered anytime in the
foreseeable future.

July 19, 2006

Where does the commuter rail line end downtown?

On this forum, some folks are naively optimistic about how close the commuter rail line comes to major employment centers downtown (one even argued, although was corrected, that people would walk the 2+ miles from the MLK station to UT every day!). I dug up the picture below, and added in a legend and drew in the route of the 2004 commuter rail line as well as the 2000 light rail line. I'm not enough of a photoshop wizard to remove the other three "possible station locations" - this image was originally from a city of Austin newsletter about possibly extending the commuter rail line west to Seaholm.

Note that the typical 1/4 mile catchment area around the station at Red River and 4th Street doesn't go anywhere near any big office buildings - the only big buildings it captures are some hotels - whose employees aren't the "choice commuters" a new rail start should be going after anyways. A quarter-mile radius is typically used as an estimate of the maximum amount of distance that the typical daily commuter would be willing to walk from the train station to their office - any more than this, and they won't take the transit trip (or, as Capital Metro would hope, contrary to all of the evidence from Tri-Rail in South Florida, they'll be excited to be "whisked to their destination on shuttle buses").

Also note that the Capitol and UT are much, much, much farther from any stations for the commuter rail line - this image only shows the southern half of downtown. Not even the most optimistic people are thinking anybody would walk to work at UT or the Capitol from this thing.

I've also put green dots on the biggest buildings in this area from's list of Austin high-rises (top 20 only), and yellow dots on other future big buildings / employment centers in the area (mostly residential high-rises under construction). Note the complete lack of any current or proposed big buildings anywhere near this commuter rail stop.

July 18, 2006

Tidbits from Cap Metro's PR explosion

Capital Metro has completely redone their web site for the All Systems Go project, and it looks pretty darn nice. Here are some relevant tidbits:

1: The MetroRail page: "Regular and special shuttle buses will whisk you to your final destination.".

Yup, those shuttle buses will whisk you through traffic downtown, just like the Dillos do today. Anybody who rides those things feel "whisked"? The requirement that essentially all riders must transfer to shuttle buses to get to work is why Tri-Rail failed miserably in South Florida. Every successful rail start in the last 20 years has followed the same pattern (including DART in Dallas and MetroRail in Houston): the train goes where the people want to go. People with jobs don't mess around with shuttle buses. They just don't.

2. The MetroRapid page (formerly called "Rapid Bus"): "As your Capital MetroRapid bus approaches the uniquely branded Rapid bus stop, you can’t help but think to yourself, “that bus looks like a train.”"

I don't know about you, but I'm going to be thinking to myself: a train wouldn't be stuck in traffic behind all these damn cars and buses. Holding a green light at one intersection doesn't help clear the clogs from the next ten intersections ahead of you. (Anybody who doubts this is welcome to view Guadalupe near UT during rush-hour). The only way to turn a bus, even if it looks like a train, into something approaching light rail is to give it its own lane, which they are not doing with MetroRapid.

3. The Circulator System page - they're hyping streetcar, but as noted before: it's going to be shuttle buses, for a long time; and streetcar only happens if they can con UT and/or the city into paying a good chunk of the bill.

Streetcars are a nice thing to have in the long-run for a variety of reasons, but they don't do one damn thing to improve speed or reliability of the 'circulator'.

In summary: Nothing's changed; the folks in central Austin who pay most of the bills are still getting screwed by Capital Metro. Any questions?

July 10, 2006

Refresher on TOD and commuter rail

Various blogs including a promising new one and a old stalwart are excited over the north Austin density plan and UT possibly kicking in some of the money for the 'downtown circulator', respectively. Both accept fairly unchallenged the position that since we failed to bring the rail to the people, we can at least bring the people to the rail.

With that in mind, it's worth reiterating the answer to the question:

When can you get transit-oriented development around stations for a commuter rail line?

Answer: In this country? Maybe when gas hits $10/gallon; otherwise, never, no matter how much you try to prime the pump.

Transit-oriented development is great. It happens all over the country, on good LIGHT RAIL SYSTEMS, which Capital Metro's system definitely is NOT. Please take with a grain of salt the continuing efforts of people like Lyndon Henry to blur the boundaries here; calling this commuter rail project a "light railway" doesn't make it go one foot closer to UT, the Capitol, or most of downtown. Turning the circulator into a streetcar instead of a bus does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of time and reliability which prospective passengers will face, thanks to the decision to route the line where the track already existed instead of right down the urban core as in 2000.

Keep a healthy amount of skepticism handy when people are talking about building "transit villages" around the suburban stations of a commuter rail line which doesn't go anywhere interesting on the "urban end" without having to transfer to a bus. Developers certainly will figure it out, as they have in South Florida, where every such attempt by the government to stimulate TOD around a similarly retarded rail line has failed.

You want transit-oriented development? You need good transit, first. That means reserved-guideway transit, be it light or heavy rail, whether in-street or off-street, for all of the trip1. The only thing that matters is that it can't be stuck behind other peoples' cars. You don't get transit-oriented development around transit which requires that its patrons ride the bus, even if you gussy the bus up and put it on rails (which is all that streetcars sharing a lane with cars really are, I hate to say).

The key here is that the problem end of this commuter rail line is not the residential end. Yes, the 2000 light rail plan would have gone through some high-density residential neighborhoods while the 2004 commuter rail line goes down Airport Blvd. instead. But that's not the fatal flaw - the fatal flaw is the fact that the prospective rider of the 2000 line would have been able to walk to work from the rail station, while the 2004 rider must transfer to a bus, every single day.

A large part of the 2000 line's residential ridership would have driven to the train station anyways. Those far northwest riders are still potential 2004 passengers - until they take the train a few times and start living la vida bus.

As for UT - I hope they're not stupid enough to fall for Mike Krusee's bait-and-switch here. They always stood to benefit dramatically from the 2000 light rail line and were fairly pissed that a line heading directly to UT's main campus didn't make it on the ballot in 2004. This streetcar line doesn't help them get any closer to a high-quality transit route in any way, shape, or form - it just tears up one of UT's streets for a transit mode which won't be any faster or more reliable than the shuttle buses that currently infest that part of campus; and UT's employees aren't going to be any more likely to ride the commuter train if their shuttle is a streetcar versus a bus - it's still a transfer to another vehicle which is slow and stuck in traffic.

(1: It's OK if the passenger needs to drive to the station where they get on the train in the morning. People will accept unreliability if they can make up for it with speed and flexibility - i.e., if they have their car. Buses are slow, unreliable, AND inflexible - the bus driver can't decide to take a different route to/from the train station if traffic on the normal route is too heavy).

June 15, 2006

Double taxation on city streets

For the anti-toll whiners patriots, and even those who use it to try to get more hits, here's a story for you.

There's this guy. His name is Joe Urbanite. He owns a car, which he drives sometimes. He used to walk and bike a lot, but now due to medical problems, can't bike at all and can only rarely walk. When he drives his car, he usually goes a mile or two to the grocery store on Red River, or downtown via Guadalupe for a show to the main library, or up Speedway to the pool at Shipe Park, or across town on 38th/35th Street to get to his inlaws' house. Joe's wife also uses the car a lot to go to the frou-frou grocery stores like Whole Foods (Lamar, 6th) and Central Market (38th). Joe might also use the car later today to go to the hardware store (29th near Guadalupe) to get some wiring supplies. Even when Joe's going far enough where Mopac or I-35 might be an option, he usually tends to stay away from those highways because he's found out it's a bit quicker to stick to surface streets than going through those awful frontage road traffic signals.

Those roads range from very big to merely minor arterials; but we're not talking about residential streets here. All those roads were paid for out of Joe Urbanite's property and sales taxes (usually but not always in the form of bonds). And remember, Joe lives in a property which is valued very high per acre compared to Bob Suburbanite, so he's paying proportionally more in property taxes.

Joe Urbanite goes up Guadalupe to the gas station to fill 'er up. He notices that the state of Texas has assessed a "gasoline tax" on his fuel. Wow! Neat! Does this money go to pay for the roads Joe used? If so, man, that's an awesome user fee; barely even a tax at all.

But no. The gas tax in the state of Texas is constitutionally prohibited from being spent on anything but state highways and schools. That means that if it doesn't have one of them nifty route shields with a number on it, it ain't getting squat. What about the federal gas tax? In theory, it could be spent on roads outside the state highway system, but it rarely is - most of that money gets dumped right back into big highway projects.

In summary: Joe pays the entire cost to build and maintain the roads he uses out of sales and property taxes. (Compared to Bob Suburbanite, far fewer roads in his area get any state gas tax money). Joe also pays as much in gasoline taxes per-gallon as does Bob Suburbanite, but that gas tax really only goes to build roads for Bob.

So tell me, anti-toll whiners patriots: how, exactly, is Joe Urbanite not double-taxed? And how is this example not much worse than toll roads?

May 28, 2006

One Chance Is All You Get

In the latest brou-ha-ha on the lightrail_now yahoo group, some folks have re-expressed the sentiment that Lyndon Henry and I should bury the hatchet, and that I should work to improve this commuter rail line with a better streetcar distributor. It's as if nothing I've written in the last two years has remotely penetrated these folks' heads.

What Tri-Rail shows us is that if your starter line is bad enough, you will not get the chance to fix it. Tri-Rail destroyed the momentum for passenger rail in South Florida - for the first ten years after the service began, the (suburban voter) narrative was "see? rail transit doesn't work".

Now, for the last few years, it's finally begun to shift to "of course it didn't work; you ran it down the wrong corridor - nobody that has a choice wants to ride a train where they have to transfer to a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle-bus on every single trip. Why didn't those idiots run it on the other rail line which happens to conveniently run through all the major downtowns in South Florida?".

Maybe in five more years, Fort Lauderdale will be able to get a light rail line off the ground. They only lost 20 years worth of time, after all.

Only in states like California can you get away with an awful starter line that you then gradually improve with time (San José). In less liberal states like Florida, and especially in "red" states like Texas, the starter line must be impressive to voters, or it's "one and done".

More on this later this week, since both Lyndon and I are now 'moderated' (I don't think the owner of the group understands the meaning of this word, since he seems to actually be saying we're not going to be allowed to post at all).

May 24, 2006

Reminder: It's Not Light Rail

From a response I just made to Lyndon (first sentence below is his):

> I disagree. The "commuter" light railway (and that's what it is)

There you go again.

It's nothing like "light" rail. It's certainly not "urban". It's not
electrified; it's going to run at half-hour frequencies during rush
hours only (with one midday trip); it's sharing track with freight
rail; its stations are located quite far apart and none are within
walking distance of any credible destinations.

If this thing is a "light railway", then ANYTHING qualifies as a
"light railway".

If you keep trying to paint this sack of garbage as "light rail",
don't be surprised when I keep popping back up to tell you otherwise.


May 23, 2006

You can't fix a bad route.

My cow orker threatened to do nasty things, partially to himself, if I didn't crackplog before he left on his trip. I'm in the middle of yet another attempt to stop Lyndon Henry from rewriting history on the lightrail_now yahoo group; and went looking for Tri-Rail news and found this letter which explains why Tri-Rail is still, 20 years later, a complete and utter failure at attracting 'choice commuters' in South Florida.

Read carefully. Does any of this sound familiar?

Take the Delray Beach Tri-Rail station, for instance. It's located way west of downtown, languishing between Linton Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue. Now, where can one walk from that location? The whole point of public transit is to create an alternative to driving. Yet, the thriving popular downtown area of Delray Beach is far removed from the poorly planned station location. Thus, you still have a downtown clogged with cars, because the Tri-Rail station is beyond walking distance.

Remember this discussion?

Then, there's this gem:

I have ridden on Metrorail, on the other hand, and it is a joy compared to the mess that Tri-Rail is. Metrorail actually goes places, near neighborhoods, and other places people actually go, and it doesn't share its tracks with 8,000 mile-long freight trains. That's why it works.

Tri-Rail is viewed as a failure in South Florida because nearly nobody who has the choice between driving and taking it will leave their car at home. We're headed down the same path here in Austin, because people like Lyndon Henry didn't stand up and fight for Austin's interests against those of Mike Krusee.

For shame.

Those who continue to nicely but naively ask us to 'work together to fix it' don't get it: there ISN'T ANY WAY TO FIX THIS DEBACLE. More stations won't help. Nice streetcar circulators won't help. You can't recover from deciding to run your trains on existing tracks instead of where the people are who might like to ride and where the places are they definitely want to go.

We're turning dirt on a rail line which will 'prove' to most on-the-fence Austinites that 'passenger rail doesn't work' - the same thing that happened in South Florida with Tri-Rail. Only now, 20 years after the thing was planned, have many people started to change their tune from "rail doesn't work" to "maybe we screwed up in how we built it". Can Austin wait that long?

Continuing to misrepresent this thing as urban 'light' rail only makes it worse - at some point a decade from now, we're going to have to pick up the pieces from this disaster and try to sell rail again to the public. And part of that is clearly identifying what went wrong, and who led us down the wrong path. I ain't gonna stop anytime soon.

May 17, 2006

Why Commuter Rail Will Fail In Austin

A link from Houston I just stumbled upon today which explains why rail transit works so much better in Washington, DC than in San Francisco, and shows quite well the problem the commuter rail line will have in Austin. (San Francisco still has a ton of rail passengers, of course, but the argument is that they have far fewer than they _should_).

Check it out here.

Relevant excerpts (summaries - read the whole article for depth):

  • BART saves money by using existing rights of way; Metrorail maximizes ridership by puting lines where the transit demand is
  • BART serves the suburbs. Metrorail serves the suburbs and the urban core.
  • BART stations are where the cars are; Metrorail stations are where the people are.

It strikes me that you could almost substitute "Austin's 2004 commuter rail proposal" for BART and "Austin's 2000 light rail proposal" for Metrorail and essentially the whole thing would stand just as well as it does now.

And the whole thing exposes how much of a snow job Lyndon Henry and Capital Metro are pulling by calling "All Systems Go" a "light urban railway".

I highly recommend a full read. I'm also adding this blog to my links.

May 09, 2006

What's Been Bugging Me About Slusher's Letter

I just realized what's been itching at my brain about Daryl Slusher's letter urging people to vote against Props 1 and 2. Personally, I find his arguments fairly compelling, but am viscerally compelled to vote for the propositions anyways thanks to the co-opting of the evil "Costs Too Much" iconography from Skaggs and Daugherty's execrable anti-light rail campaign of 2000.

Here's the important part:

- If the amendments lose, with united environmental support in favor, then the environmental movement will be seen as losing strength and will further lose influence.

- What may well be worse for the environment and environmental movement is if the amendments pass. Then every resulting unintended, and some intended, consequence will be blamed on the environmental movement -- with considerable justification if environmentalists are largely united in supporting the amendments.

This is exactly why I thought it important for pro-transit people to vote against the 2004 Capital Metro commuter rail proposal. Here's one relevant excerpt from one of my many crackplogs on the subject:

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.

There are many other cases where I made the point that, yes, if Capital Metro lost the '04 election, it would be bad; but it'd be even worse if they won with unanimous transit-supporter support (er, yeah). The "But we did what you wanted and it sucked" argument is pretty hard to overcome the next time around.

Yet Slusher was so royally pissed by my opposition to that plan that he wouldn't return emails from that day forward.

Ironic, huh?

April 10, 2006

Vote Tuesday Against Sal Costello's Suburban Army

Sal Costello continues to post a shrill screed or three almost every single day to Austin Bloggers trying to get people to vote against incumbents who approved some or all of various toll road plans around these parts. Most irritating of all is that the Austin Libertarians (whose politics would logically tend to support tolls, even on existing roads, if they were being remotely consistent about user fees) have signed on with this pantload, which shows that they're just a bunch of suburban Republicans who don't want to be identified with the religious right.

If you have any interest in making sure that suburbanites pay their fair share, though, you need to vote the exact opposite way from Sal's recommendations. These toll roads finally start to reverse the decades-long subsidization of neighborhoods like Circle C by central Austinites who have to contribute property and sales tax money to TXDOT to build 'free'ways. At the same time, TXDOT spends most of their money in the suburbs and hardly anything remotely close to central Austin since most major roads there aren't part of the state highway system.

Tolls in any form are good. Tolls which changed by the time of day would be even better. Tolls which were frequently changed to ensure free-flowing traffic would be best. But any tolls are better than going back to the bad old days where Sal's driving is subsidized by people in Hyde Park who might not even own a car.

The truly amazing thing is that he's managed to sucker environmentalists into opposing these toll roads. Rather than imposing tolls on roads to stop subsidizing sprawl over the aquifer, groups like SOS actually think they have the power to prevent those roads from being built at all, and have made common cause with folks who would expand 290 to 100 lanes before caring one whit about Barton Springs.

Just say no to Sal. Tolls are a responsible way to make sure the people causing the demand actually pay the price.

March 27, 2006

Capital Metro Broken Promises Part 2

Well, I was planning on writing Part Two about finances - specifically, the debt issue. But, I just got the following across the wire on the austin-bikes email list (originally written by somebody else on the ACA list). Remember that one of the many levers used to try to pry the center-city away from my position of "rail which doesn't run anywhere near central Austin isn't worth voting for" was the promise of "rails with trails", pushed most heartily by folks like Jeb Boyt, David Foster, and Dave Dobbs. I never fell for it, of course; it was obvious that double-tracking needed to happen in enough spots to make trails of any serious length impractical bordering on impossible, and the political (performance-oriented) hurdles seemed insurmountable. I said so, frequently (see bottom; unfortunately, I didn't write any blog posts about this angle; I know, what are the odds).

But, as usual, I was alone.

Now, indications are that Capital Metro is wiggling out of yet another commitment made to central Austin in order to get the thing passed (see Part One and followup). Responses on the ACA list basically hem and haw about multi-organization planning efforts and the necessity to keep pushing and go get some money, ignoring the fact that Capital Metro and its defenders basically said this trail would get built and be useful for central Austinites; not that "if you pay your own money we might let you build one in a decade out by Leander where there's enough room, but then again we might not".

The Austin-screwing Krusee-train rides again. Yee-haw!

Here's the quote from the ACA list:

I was in a planning meeting with Lucy Galbraith from Capital Metro last week, and she said the words I've been dreading. She said there is no plan -- nor has there ever been a plan -- to build bike and pedestrian trails along the planned rail commuter lines.

I had been told repeatedly by several sources in Capital Metro that they were committed to building a connected trail for bicycles and pedestrians next to every rail line to allow people to safely walk or ride to or from the nearest station. I said, on this list, I couldn't wait for that day. It sounded swell to me.

And I voted for the commuter rail in part because I thought it would help us get this bike trail.

Now Ms. Galbraith is saying that Capital Metro never had any such plan. (More specifically, she said the language related to bike/pedestrian trails was ambiguous and vague.) She said there was an idea proposed for bike and pedestrian trails, but there were no funds ever allocated. She also said that Capital Metro intends to build parallel tracks in their right-of-way, so in many places there will not be room for a bike/pedestrian trail.

So, to sum up... There never was a plan, just an idea proposed. There are no funds. And there is no room. And I, for one, feel somewhat fooled.

Here are some excerpts from the austin-bikes list archive both from me and those who scoffed.

One of my first on the topic:

And I want to remind all of you that, while these bike facilities are an unquestionably good thing, it is very unlikely that Capital Metro will build them unless the performance of the starter line is fairly good, and by that I mean it has to be good enough to convince voters to continue to build the system drawn in the long-range plan. The rails-with-trails trail is not going to be part of the starter route; it's going to be built afterwards IF AND ONLY IF the long-range plan continues to be implemented.

Whether or not this starter line is good enough to get us on the path of implementing that long-range plan (which I think is still awful) is a matter of opinion. I think by now you all know I believe the chance that this starter line will match the extremely poor performance of Tri-Rail in South Florida, which it closely resembles in all important aspects, is quite good).

So please vote simply based on whether you think this starter line is going to work. Voting yes in the hopes of getting bike trails is foolish if the plan itself is never going to get to that point. You might in fact be impeding the development of mass transit in our area and not get the bike trails anyways.

The first real doozy, from David Foster. A nice guy who is probably feeling pretty down right now.

Bike Friends,

I have been out of town for a few days and am catching up on lots of
email on commuter rail and rails-with-trails. Rather than responding
to al of them, I just want to point out a few reasons why RwT is
more likely to happen with than without commuter rail. I will be out
of town again starting tomorrow and not back till Wednesday but I
look forward to the post-election analysis on this forum, and I hope
discussion of how to make rails-with-trails work should the
referendum pass, as I hope it will

1). Cap Metro will have more money if the referendum passes, and may
well not be able to withstand the attack to roll back its sales tax
and put the money into roads if it loses. This means we could lose
funding for RwT and the All Systems Go improvements to the bus
system as well, and cripple the agency's chance to do any kind of
rail system. This is of course what Skaggs and Levy want.

2) Cap Metro will have an incentive to do RwT if the referendum
passes, namely to increase ridership by providing an easier and
safer way for cyclists to access the stations and trains. Cap Metro
has also agreed to providing bike access on the trains and lockers
and/or bike racks at the stations, which will serve the same purpose
of increasing ridership. A cyclist will be able to ride to the
station, leave the bike there or take it along and ride to his/her
final destination.

3) I do not believe that Cap Metro would commit the political
blunder of backing out on this promise. Many of us worked to get Cap
Metro to agree to RwT, including the bicycle advocacy organizations
who issued the joint press release supporting the referendum (ACA,
AMTG, TBC, and now too Trans Texas Alliance). Cap Metro gives every
indication of wanting to go forward, including helping bring Mia
Birk of Alta Planning in from Portland Oregon to give a presentation
on Rails with Trails while back.

My response to David:

My statement that "you won't get rails-with-trails if commuter rail fails to deliver passengers" is based on political pragmatism, not what Capital Metro happens to be saying right now.

1. There is no legal requirement that they provide RwT if the election
passes. I don't think David disputes this. Nothing but the initial
commuter line is really up for a vote here. I believe Capital Metro
intends to build RwT. I also believe that if the commuter rail line
meets my expectations (performs similar to South Florida's Tri-Rail
line, the only other new start of the last 20-30 years which relies on
shuttle buses for distribution), the political pressure to give back 1/4
cent (at least) of Capital Metro's money will be as strong as it ever
has been. So I don't buy the argument that the money's only going back
if the election fails. I think the money's also going back if the
election succeeds but the starter line fails.

2. I don't think RwT provides much boost to ridership. This isn't going
to be providing cycling access to stations, for the most part; it will
be providing cycling routes ALONG the rail line, not TO the rail line.
The neighborhoods in Leander will continue to have no bicycling access
to stations whatsoever - RwT will not change this. Nor will RwT improve
access for central Austinites since the part of the line they call
"central Austin" (really north Austin - Crestview/Wooten) is the least
likely to have space for the trail due to narrower RoW. Also, cycling
access to stations in this part of Austin is already pretty good -
roughly ten million times better than in Leander or far northwest Austin.

3. If Capital Metro wants to keep running the commuter rail line after
this point (attempting to fix it with streetcars or by going to
Seaholm), they're going to need to fight a POLITICAL battle to keep that
money. Guess what the likely casualty would be in that case? In other
words, the "political blunder of backing out" may end up being one
necessary part of Capital Metro's strategy to make the rail service
survive long enough for an attempted rescue by streetcars (or Seaholm).

In conclusion: I respect David and, unlike many on the
pro-commuter-rail-side, he has been an honorable and informed opponent.
I think he's kept that standard up here. I don't disagree that
rails-with-trails would be really nice if they happen; and my prediction
that they will not occur is based on my informed guess of what will
happen politically when the rail line fails to deliver passenger load. I
think he honestly believes the line will deliver enough passengers to
survive long enough for RwT to happen; and obviously I don't.

And a response from Eric Anderson...

Certainly, construction of Rails-with-Trails will accelerate with voter buy-in and continued build-out of Cap Metro's long range transit plan.

There is however simply no evidence that any/all bike facilities associated with the Austin-Leander commuter rail line must jump through some performance hoop.


In fact, Cap Metro spokesperson Sam Archer indicated to those present at Austin Cycling Association meeting on Oct. 11th, that immediately following an affirmative Nov. 2nd vote, Cap Metro would begin master-planning efforts for such Rails-with-Trails facilities in tandem with commuter rail planning efforts.

STILL feel good about falling for this snow-job instead of fighting for light rail for central Austin?

March 14, 2006

Broken Commuter Rail Promises, Part One And A Half

(Bet you thought I was going to address the debt issue, since the Statesman wrote a scathing editorial today. That's Part Two, but it's coming later.)

Following up on Part One, Capital Metro has put up a survey trying to narrow down road choices for the infamous "circulator service" which represents the sum total of the 'additions' which were promised to transit-loving central Austinites who observed that All Systems Go doesn't go anywhere people want to go; nor does it go near people who might want to ride.

Notice from the picture: it doesn't go through residential central Austin in any way, shape, or form. This service, when implemented, is just a bus (maybe a streetcar) from Mueller to UT or downtown; it does NOT do anything to make up for the slap in the face to central Austin.

Note where it doesn't go. It doesn't go up Guadalupe, where tens of thousands of people live within a short walk of the 2000 light rail route. It doesn't go next to the Triangle, a transit-oriented development which is actually BUILT, not just a twinkle in somebody's eye. It doesn't go by high-density residential development presently under construction in West Campus. It doesn't reward the central Austinites who pay essentially all of Capital Metro's bills with any transit improvements at all (and no, Rapid Bus isn't worth shit).

And also remember that Capital Metro has already ruled out reserved-guideway-transit for this route. This means, essentially, that whether the vehicle has rubber tires (bus) or steel wheels (streetcar), it's still going to be stuck behind other peoples' cars in traffic.

Still feel good about falling for this snowjob, folks?

March 02, 2006

Austin Rail Politics Thesis

Jeff Wood, in the middle of a thread on lightrail_now where I'm trying to once again prevent Lyndon from wriggling off the hook, just posted a link to his thesis on Austin rail transportation politics in which I'm quoted a few times. A good summary for those still interested in the issue.

February 09, 2006

The thing people aren't getting about the library

With the call to build it somewhere pretty or where they can build it bigger is:

The people who most need and use the library currently are quite likely to get there on the bus. Yes, the bus you think nobody uses; although if you stand outside the current library and look at those buses go by, you'll quickly be disabused of that particular brand of suburban idiocy.

The current library works well because it's on one of the two most heavily bus-travelled corridors downtown (Guadalupe). A location on Cesar Chavez too far from Congress, on the other hand, won't be an easy trip for many of the current patrons.

Look at the map (zoom in on the lower-right inset). Notice how many buses go right next to the thing. Most of the rest of the buses are three blocks away on Congress. So, a huge chunk of routes don't require any walk at all, and most of the rest require a 3-block walk at most.

Now, consider the proposed new site at what's now the water treatment plant. Going by current routes, two come fairly close, but the big conglomeration coming down Guadalupe/Lavaca will be about two blocks away; and the Congress routes about five blocks away.

This doesn't sound like much to walk, and it wouldn't be for most of us. However, as somebody who hasn't been able to walk well for quite a while now and used to serve on a commission where we were often taking up issues important to those who are mobility-impaired, I have more appreciation than most for what a pain in the ass this is going to be. Oh, and don't forget, unlike most of the people involved with this decision, I've been to this library many times - and I can tell you that at any given time, a huge number, possibly even the majority of the patrons arrived on the bus, and a large fraction of those are either elderly or in wheelchairs or both. For THOSE people, two more blocks is a lot to ask.

Don't move somewhere which makes the library less accessible to those who need it most just for the sake of being pretty. Please say no to moving the central library off the main bus lines.

Update: Several commenters have commented along these lines (paraphrased, with my response):

"Isn't commuter rail going to a transit hub at Seaholm anyways?" - please do yourself a favor and read this category archive and start with this post, OK? Short summary: It ain't going to Seaholm for decades, if then. And Seaholm is still a couple-blocks'-walk from this site.

The buses will just be moved to go by the library - this isn't going to happen either, folks. Long-haul bus routes don't make two-block jogs just for the hell of it (people already complain about how supposedly indirect these things are). Each one of those bus routes might deliver a dozen passengers a day to the existing library - enough to make it a valuable part of the demand for the current route, but not enough to justify hauling a long, heavy, bus around a bunch of tight corners.

February 06, 2006

The Capital Metro Finances

Ben Wear finally checked in this morning about the "commuter rail finances causing pressure for cost reductions causing union strife issue" which I covered here, although I disagree completely with his conclusion that light rail would have left us in the same mess.

  1. The commuter rail plan would NOT have received any substantial Federal funding. Wear glosses over this for more commentary about how difficult the New Starts process is. Rail lines with such paltry projected ridership have not done well at the FTA in recent years.
  2. The light rail plan, on the other hand, would easily have received the 50% Federal funding. We already know the Feds rated it highly even though they weren't allowed to include the impact of TOD and other future development such as the Triangle (which is now, in 2006, online).
  3. The commuter rail plan was sold to the voters of Austin on the premise that it was so cheap (with the Federal money that Capital Metro is now NOT seeking) that it would not necessitate touching the 1/4 cent "rebate" or the Build Greater Austin funds.
  4. The light rail plan counted on using both. Wear glosses over this to some degree, but at least mentions it.
  5. The operating costs of commuter rail are likely to be high - Wear mentions this, but doesn't mention why they're disproportionately high compared to light rail - again, it runs back to low ridership. Operating cost per passenger, in fact, is likely to be much higher with commuter rail than with light rail. The physical cost of moving each train is quite likely to be higher with diesel than it was with electricity, and many of the ancillary operating costs such as maintenance actually rise at a lower rate than the number of vehicles do thanks to economies of scale. Then, when you divide that cost by a much smaller number of commuter rail passengers, you're in bad news city. It's going to be a feeding frenzy for the local suburban Republicans masquerading as libertarians when the "we're paying a $15 subsidy for each rail passenger's daily ride" stories start coming out.

Summarizing: the 2000 light rail plan would have gotten a bunch of money from the Feds, would have had access to the 1/4 cent 'rebate' and Build Greater Austin funds, would have had greater income from fares, would have had proportionally lower operating costs, and would have opened up more TOD income than will this commuter rail plan. Since it would have gone "right down the gut", i.e., right next to all the neighborhoods which actually want to use transit, and directly in front of UT, the Capitol, and the parts of downtown where people actually work, it would have become the success story that we've seen in Minneapolis, Portland, Dallas, etc. IE: a credible alternative which encourages even those who drive to work every day to support future expansions and even (shudder!) tax increases.

Instead, based on what we have now, it's unlikely that, if it's ever built out, the complete commuter rail + streetcars plan being pushed today will end up being any cheaper anyways, which really puts the lie to the idea that cost was the reason for picking it. It was about screwing the center-city in favor of Krusee's suburbanites all along. If you are one of the few who ride it, this is how you're gonna get to work. And our "success story" that we're attempting to emulate is South Florida: Shuttle buses for those who were going to take the bus anyways, and branded as a big fat failure by everybody else.

January 31, 2006

"Build it and they'll come" is no way to run a city

So the end-result of the Parlor problem appears to be that the neighborhood isn't going to budge on the parking variance, which means that another local business is in danger of going under unless the notoriously neighborhood-friendly Board of Adjustment suddenly becomes more responsible.

The end of the thread on the hydeparkaustin mailing list occurred when a member of the "Circle C in downtown Austin" party commented that a plan (in the works now for a long time and seemingly not close to fruition) to arrange for parking at the State Hospital (across Guadalupe) to be used for employees of businesses on Guadalupe would be the only way out of this mess.

I replied that it was unlikely that any customer or employee of those businesses would find it attractive to park at the state hospital, walk out to Guadalupe, wait a long time for the light at 41st and Guadalupe to change, walk very quickly across the street, and then and only then arrive at their destination (as compared to parking on a side street or Avenue A).

The person replied (and was supported by the moderator, who then ended the discussion with the attached unpublished rebuttal in hand) that "the boss can make the employee park whereever they say". This may be true in an abstract sense, I replied, but it's unlikely that any such boss would want to spend the energy enforcing a rule which prevented employees from parking in PUBLIC spaces such as on Avenue A, even if they did want to keep employees out of their own private lot.

This goes back to thinking of a type which is unfortunately prevalent here in Austin and among many other progressive cities - that being that people will do things that are good, as long as we provide opportunities to do them. IE, build it and they will come. What you build, given this thinking, doesn't have to be attractive compared to the pre-existing or forthcoming alternatives; its mere existence will suffice.

For instance, in this circumstance, they think that simply providing available parking in an inconvenient and unpleasant location will get people to park there who would otherwise park on neighborhood streets. Likewise, Capital Metro thinks simply providing any rail will get people to use it, even if the individual incentives are pretty awful, given the shuttle bus transfers.

I have a whole blog category analyzing 'use cases' which I think is a far more useful way to look at the problem. In this case, for instance, put yourself in the shoes of that potential parking consumer a few paragraphs back and remember that your boss probably (a) isn't going to be able to stop you from parking on Avenue A, and (b) probably couldn't catch you even if he tried.

But like with the naive pro-transit suckers that bought the MikeKrusee ScrewAustin Express, it's unlikely that it's possible to get through to these people. And so, the consequence is that another local business which probably would have improved Guadalupe as a place we actually want to be is thwarted. Good work, geniuses.

This is not to say that we should never build transit or highways. What it does mean is that somebody ought to spend at least a few minutes figuring out whether the thing you're going to expect people to use is actually attractive enough for them to choose to use it. By that metric, light rail in 2000 was a slam dunk, despite the lies spread by Skaggs and Daugherty. But in this parking case and with this commuter rail line, nobody seems to have bothered to put themselves in the shoes of the prospective user.

my sadly now never-to-be-published response (remember, this is to somebody who said "But the Heart Hospital doesn't let their employees park in their lot!" follows.

Those cases have some clear and obvious differences to the one
we're talking about here -- one being that the employees are being prohibited from parking in a private lot (which is still difficult to enforce, but at least defensible). You're asking that these business' employees not only refrain from parking in the business' lot (private) but ALSO from the public spaces on Guadalupe and the street space on Avenue A. And nobody's 'requiring' those state employees to park in Siberia - if they could find an open metered space somewhere else, for instance, they're free to take it. Likewise, the Heart Hospital can't force its employees to mark at the MHMR pool.

So it's easy to prohibit people from parking in a given private lot. Unless you're going to turn Avenue A into RPPP as part of this, though, they'd still park there instead of across Guadalupe. And any boss who tried to force them otherwise would probably be experiencing the fun world of employee turnover.

January 24, 2006

Clearly I Am A Shrinking Violet

Both Austinist and Metroblogging Austin wrote articles about Cap Metro which talked about commuter rail and didn't link here to any one of the hundred or so articles in my vast Cap Metro commuter rail category archive. My feelings are hurt. More importantly: Baby Jebus is crying.

Update: Both have now added links to the category archive here, so that hopefully new readers can get a lot of backstory. Thanks, both of you.

A summary:

  • Capital Metro did not seek Federal money because they knew they'd not get much. The FTA was unlikely to rate this commuter rail plan very highly - even Cap Metro's own figures show a very small number of people riding, because this piece-of-crap Krusee debacle doesn't actually go anywhere people want to go, like UT, the Capitol, or Congress Avenue, and their bogus stuck-in-traffic 'circulator' is only going to circulate bums and other carless transit-dependent folks because of the extra time and discomfort involved in a three-seat ride. Oh, and it also doesn't go near any of the center-city neighborhoods that actually like to use transit.
  • The 2000 light rail plan, on the other hand, was rated pretty highly by the FTA and would have clearly obtained a good chunk of federal funding, as would a scaled-back version of same, due to much higher projected ridership (compared to the Krusee craptrain above).
  • The union, whether you like them or not, would be committing suicide if they consented to a two-tier wage structure. Any position by Cap Metro which includes that change is, therefore, evidence that they don't want to negotiate, but rather, that their desire is to kill the union.

December 13, 2005

TXDOT and the Outer Loop and Sticking It To The Hippies

One thing which has been a minor irritant to me for a long time is this:

If TXDOT truly abandoned plans for the "Outer Loop" around Austin (environmental and economic catastrophe for Austin proper that it would have clearly been), why have they retained the same route number for SH 45 "S" and SH 45 "N"?

It's an article of faith around these parts that the Outer Loop won't be built, yet nobody seems to point out that TXDOT keeps calling the roads which would have formed the northern and southern parts of this loop by the same number. Why does nobody but me find this fishy?

My guess: TXDOT is still keeping the flame of the "Outer Loop" lit against the hated hippies of Central Austin. I can't come up with any other logical reason why they wouldn't want to give the two roads different numbers. Any other ideas?

November 20, 2005

Use Cases Part Two: Central Austin to Central Destinations

This use case analyzes a typical central Austin resident.

Let's consider a lawyer who lives in one of those expensive houses in Hyde Park and wants to get to his law office downtown. Mister Law-Talkin'-Guy probably has free parking available in his office building, but many downtown workers don't (they would have to pay to park). Today, Mister LTG doesn't take the bus, because it's a lot slower than his car, and he can park for free in his building.

Numbers indicate "seats". IE, if the number gets up to 3, you had to ride in 3 vehicles to get there. T indicates transfers. W indicates wait. P indicates pedestrian trip.

Passenger TripCommuter RailLight Rail (2000)BusCar
Hyde Park to Downtown Office Building (6th/Congress) (P). Walk to bus stop.
(W). Wait for bus
(1). Take normal city bus (new route) to commuter rail station out in east Austin or north on Lamar.
(W). Wait for train.
(2). Ride commuter rail to Convention Center station (not stuck in traffic).
(W). Hopefully shuttle bus is waiting for you (short wait).
(3). Ride shuttle bus "circulator" (stuck in traffic) to 4th/Congress
(P). Walk 2 blocks to office
Estimated time: 35-50 minutes

(P). Walk a few blocks to Guadalupe.
(W). Wait for train
(1). Ride light rail train (not stuck in traffic) to 6th/Congress
(P). Short (sub-block) walk to office
Estimated time: 15 minutes

(P). Walk to Speedway (for #5), Duval (for #7), or Guadalupe (for #1, #101, or Rapid).
(W). Wait for bus
(1). Ride bus (stuck in traffic - yes, even the Rapid Bus is stuck in traffic) to 6th/Congress
(P). Short (sub-block) walk to office
Estimated time: 25-40 minutes

(1). Drive (stuck in traffic) to downtown
(W). Find parking in own parking garage
(P). Walk to office
Estimated time: 10-20 minutes

To me, the only transit option which seems remotely palatable to Mr. LTG is the light-rail trip, because it could save time over his drive through rush-hour traffic. None of the other options are likely to be remotely competitive in time or reliability - in fact, the light rail trip might be a BIT slower than his car too. But if you're a downtown worker who has to pay to park, or parks a few blocks away from your office, the light-rail option would be a clear winner. The light rail trip might even win Mr. LTG over since he'd have a smooth comfortable ride where he could read the Wall Street Journal, which of course he can't do when he's driving, and probably not on the bus, unless he's unusually carsickness-resistant.

Note how unreliable the trips are which involve navigating traffic. On a good day, the car would beat even the light rail trip; but on a bad day, light rail would be faster. Light rail's speed doesn't change, in other words, because it has its own lane. The bus and the shuttle-bus both suffer from this worse than even the private car does, since you can always change your route when you're driving.

This particular passenger type maps well to UT students who live at the Triangle, or to UT staffers who live anywhere central, etc. Essentially, the entire central Austin residential market could have been very well-served by light rail, but will not be served at ALL by commuter rail.

Most people in Central Austin are transit-positive. That is, even if they own a car, they're willing to seriously consider using public transportation. A good number of these folks take city buses today; but the idea that Rapid Bus is going to get a non-trivial number of the remainder to leave their cars at home is ridiculous.

What about streetcars? The Future Connections Study, as I previously noted, has settled on a route which winds from downtown up to UT, then east to Mueller, so it won't be of much use for actual residents of Central Austin. Even if it DID go "straight up the gut" as intelligent folks asked for, it wouldn't be able to beat the city bus (or Rapid Bus) - unlike light rail vehicles, streetcars share lanes with cars.

Use cases Part One: From Leander / Northwest

Start of a new series - for those who are still optimistic about this commuter rail line. A "use case" in my business (software) describes how a customer might perform a certain task using your product - in this case, we'll describe how a few prospective transit customers would get to work using 4 transportation products.

Today's example is a Leander resident who works at the University of Texas or the State Capitol. Both locations don't provide much in the way of free convenient parking, so workers at both locations currently provide a good deal of business for the 183-corridor express buses. Leander residents are much more suburban and conservative than Central Austin residents, so the performance and reliability gap between transit and the car would need to be smaller, in my opinion, to attract new riders to choose transit than it would be for the analogous central Austinite. I expect most of those who are motivated by expensive or inconvenient parking are already taking those express buses, in other words. (and the express buses are actually pretty nice; most of the time I can read in them without getting carsick).

Numbers indicate "seats". IE, if the number gets up to 3, you had to ride in 3 vehicles to get there. T indicates transfers. W indicates wait. P indicates pedestrian trip.

"Current" is indicated next to the bus trip because there are some indications that Capital Metro might eliminate some of the 183-corridor express buses in order to induce more commuter rail ridership.

Note that the "shuttle bus" portion of this trip will, even if made on a streetcar, still have the same traffic characteristics (i.e. a streetcar running in mixed traffic will still be as slow and unreliable as a shuttle bus).

See notes after the table for more.

Passenger TripCommuter RailLight Rail (2000)Bus (current)Car
Leander to the University of Texas (1). Drive to Leander park-and-ride.
(W). Wait for train.
(2). Ride commuter rail to MLK station (not stuck in traffic).
(W). Hopefully shuttle bus is waiting for you (short wait).
(3). Ride shuttle bus (stuck in traffic) to UT
(P). Walk to office
Estimated time: 1 hour, 25 minutes to 1 hour, 45 minutes

(1). Drive to Leander park-and-ride.
(W). Wait for train.
(2). Ride light rail all the way to UT (not stuck in traffic).
(P). Short walk to office
Estimated time: 1 hour

(1). Drive to Leander park-and-ride.
(W). Wait for bus.
(2). Ride express bus (stuck in traffic) to UT
(P). Short walk to office
Estimated time: 1 hour, 15 minutes to 1 hour, 45 minutes

(1). Drive (stuck in traffic) to UT area
(W). Find parking
(P). Potentially long walk to office
Estimated time: 40 minutes to 1 hour, 5 minutes

Leander to the state Capitol (1). Drive to Leander park-and-ride.
(W). Wait for train.
(2). Ride commuter rail to MLK station (not stuck in traffic).
(W). Hopefully shuttle bus is waiting for you (short wait).
(3). Ride shuttle bus (stuck in traffic) to UT
(P). Walk to office
Estimated time: 1 hour, 35 minutes to 1 hour, 55 minutes

(1). Drive to Leander park-and-ride.
(W). Wait for train.
(2). Ride light rail all the way to UT (not stuck in traffic).
(P). Short walk to office
Estimated time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

(1). Drive to Leander park-and-ride.
(W). Wait for bus.
(2). Ride express bus (stuck in traffic) to UT
(P). Short walk to office
Estimated time: 1 hour, 20 minutes to 1 hour, 50 minutes

(1). Drive (stuck in traffic) to UT area
(W). Find parking
(P). Potentially long walk to office
Estimated time: 45 minutes to 1 hour, 10 minutes

In general, I assumed you would get to the express bus stop and wait 5-10 minutes for the express bus, and I was charitably assuming it would be on time. The remainder of that trip is from the 7:25 route in from Leander, and assuming a 5 minute or less walk from the stop. The drive is me estimating what I suppose it would take that time of day (I'd like to hear from a Leander resident that makes this trip in their car for a more accurate estimate). The commuter rail time has such a wide swing because of the shuttle bus component - buses fare worse than cars in heavy traffic due to their acceleration characteristics and the fact that they can't change their route to get around heavy traffic. In general, I assume that the more time you spend on a bus, the less reliable your trip (could be faster or slower than the average). (The express buses don't try to slow down to avoid hitting stops early on the way in in the mornings, unlike city buses, so you actually could get dropped off earlier than schedule indicates).

Note that one of the key attractions to the 2000 light rail route is its reliability. A route which doesn't require that you take shuttle buses can dependably get you to work at the same time every day. The train isn't stuck in traffic, and you don't have to make any transfers.

November 16, 2005

What Can Work

Seattle's light rail line just got a rating of "high" from the Feds meaning it's very likely they'll get the maximum possible financial contribution. Why? From the posting:

King County Executive Ron Sims said a big factor in the rating was the travel time savings. A bus from University Hospital near Husky Stadium to downtown takes 25 minutes during the afternoon rush hour compared with a projected 9 minutes for the light rail line. A bus from University Hospital to Capitol Hill takes 22 minutes compared with 3 minutes for light rail. And a bus from downtown to Capitol Hill takes 14 minutes compared with 6 minutes on light rail.

Compare and contrast to the route a rider of Capital Metro's commuter rail route would take to get from one of the northwestern park-and-rides to their office at UT or the Capitol. When you add in the shuttle bus trip through traffic (from the commuter rail station to the campus or capitol), it is doubtful that any time will be saved compared to the existing 183-corridor express buses (which also operate in traffic, but at least don't go out of their way on a dogleg through East Austin, and don't require a transfer to a second, much slower, vehicle).

Of course, Austin's 2000 light rail route would have gone from those park-and-rides straight to UT and the Capitol and then down Congress Avenue. But, sure, this will work just as well, and the Feds will be just as happy. Right.

Another Summary on Why All Systems Won't Go

I posted this to the hydeparkaustin yahoo group and didn't want it to go to waste.

The moderator asked me to provide additional background on this.

I write on this stuff voluminously at:

(category archive)

You may want to read that category archive bottom-up (chronological

During 2004, I was the standard-bearer for the "pro-rail-transit but
anti-commuter-rail" side
. I was strongly in support of light rail in
2000; remained in support of such a system in 2004; and still support
it today; but this commuter rail system shares none of the aspects of
that plan which made it likely to attract new riders to public
- it neither goes by neighborhoods which want to use
transit (such as mine, NUNA, and yours, Hyde Park), nor goes TO
destinations to which people want to walk, i.e. most of downtown, the
University of Texas, and the Capitol

Capital Metro claims to be ready to solve this problem through "high
frequency circulators"
(Future Connections study previously linked) -
i.e. a vehicle you would board at the commuter rail stop way out in
east Austin which would take you to UT, for instance
. The problem is
that this has been tried elsewhere and never works - all you have to
do is go through the 'use case' of the prospective rider, i.e., a guy
who lives in Leander and works at UT.

Car trip: Get in car and drive there; park; walk to work.
Light rail trip: Drive to park-and-ride; take train to UT; walk to
work (probably shorter walk than car trip).
Commuter rail trip: Drive to park-and-ride; take train to east Austin;
transfer to shuttle bus; ride through backed-up traffic to UT; walk to

And of course the Hyde Park resident 'use case' is even worse, since
taking commuter rail is not even remotely feasible - you (and I) would
be stuck taking the "Rapid Bus" which is an even worse scenario than
the above.

My fear was that a badly designed starter system (which this is) will
show Austinites that rail doesn't work
- meaning that we won't get any
more rail, not even GOOD rail. And this system is VERY badly designed
- it almost exactly matches Tri-Rail in South Florida (where I come
from) in its reliance on shuttle buses to get passengers anywhere
worth going
, rather than doing what all successful light rail starter
lines have done
, which is go straight to a few major employment
centers without requiring transfers.

Anyways, I spent the year pushing this position all over town, in
events at UT and at the ANC, and was constantly attacked by my
pro-transit friends for risking getting 'no rail at all'. The
pro-transit establishment
claimed that we could pass commuter rail and
then quickly get light rail put back in the plan
, i.e., running down
lamar and guadalupe, past the Triangle and Hyde Park, to UT and the
Capitol and then downtown.

I never bought the snow-job; but unfortunately, many people in the
center-city DID buy it. It ended up getting me kicked off the UTC by
councilmember Slusher
, as a matter of fact, but I thought that,
regardless of the consequences to me, SOMEBODY needed to raise the
position that bad rail could, in fact, be worse than delayed rail.

And now here we are. Guadalupe will not see light rail from Future
Connections. (I don't think it will for decades, since this commuter
rail plan is so bad that it will destroy the public's desire to try
any new rail lines for years and years to come once they see that
nobody wants to ride it since it's so uncompetitive even compared to
existing express bus routes). In fact, no rail of any kind will be
headed up our way, since even if you take the most optimistic reading
possible of the Future Connections study, they would be building
streetcar (still stuck in traffic, but hey, it's on rails in the
out to the Mueller project; not up this way.

If anybody has any questions, you can ask me in the forum, or via
private email, and I'd be happy to fill in any more details.

Update: Unpaid blog QA intern "U. Nidentified Cow-orker" alerted me that the "voluminously" link didn't work. Thanks, U.N.!

November 15, 2005

Letter to Chronicle about FC

Just sent this:

Many well-intentioned people, including most of the staff of the Chronicle, advised Central Austinites to hold their nose and vote "yes" on the All Systems Go commuter rail plan, despite the fact that it goes nowhere near existing and proposed residential density, and nowhere near minor employment centers like the University of Texas or the Capitol Complex (to say nothing of most of downtown). In fact, the pro-rail-transit but anti-stupid-rail position fell all the way down to me, whose sole qualification was serving on the UTC for a few years. I was attacked quite viciously for daring to suggest that perhaps the right response was to vote No, as in "No, this isn't the right rail plan; come back with something like the 2000 plan, scaled back to get us over the top".

Well, now, the other shoe has dropped. The "Future Connections Study", on which those credulous folks based their hopes for adding back rail for central Austin, has released their draft technology review, which has now ruled out any mode requiring a reserved guideway. Meaning: no light rail; no bus rapid transit. You get either a shuttle bus or a streetcar; but either way you're going to be stuck in the same traffic you would be if you just drove.

More on my blog at:

The majority of the pro-transit establishment owes Austin an immediate apology for being part of this snowjob.

More Future Connections Stuff Is Up

The "Library" has a bunch of documents up from the most recent set of meetings for the Future Connections study, i.e., the "let's pretend like we considered rail to get central Austin off our back for screwing them with a commuter rail plan that doesn't go anywhere near them or minor destinations like UT and the Capitol Complex" exercise.

I'm only partway through and don't have time for full analysis now, but I will note that it is disappointing (but not surprising) that NONE of the objectives for this service include the simple one:

make it MORE ATTRACTIVE to ride transit than it is today, i.e., close at least some of the gap between the private automobile and public transportation in one or more of the following: (reliability, speed, comfort).

These guys still don't get it - you can't just rest your hopes on build it and they'll come; you also have to make sure that what you build is GOOD. And shuttle buses operating in mixed traffic aren't "good" unless you're somebody who can't afford their own car. Capital Metro already owns all of THAT market.

Update: One thing I notice is that in the Draft Technologies Report, they have already eliminated light rail and any other technology which uses a reserved guideway. I have to admit I'm not surprised at this decision (which I believe was made before this study even started), but AM surprised at the speed at which they've come to admit it semi-publically.

November 09, 2005

Rail, TOD, etc.

Responding to a comment on this old entry:

Jonathan, that's not accurate.

1. There ARE more lines in the "long-range plan", but NONE of them go anywhere near UT or the capitol or Mueller. There's one that might go down Mopac to Seaholm, where it will have the same exact problem that the starter line does; namely; that it's too far away from any destinations for people to walk; they'll have to take shuttle buses. And the starter line will be such a visible example of rail's supposed "failure" that no follow-on lines will be built for a very very very VERY long time. The whole reason I opposed the '04 plan was this danger - if you build a crappy enough starter line, it will become, as one of my UTC colleagues put it, a "finisher line".

2. TOD can't work if the line doesn't have good ridership without the TOD. Otherwise, real estate investors are going to be leery about spending more money for TOD than they would for traditional development.

3. These projections DO take into account all prospective density in east Austin, which has generally OPPOSED such projects. In fact, the TOD ordinance had to be watered down to nearly zero because of that part of town's virulent opposition to what they see as gentrification.

4. The only other area in this country which chose to run a rail line through a low-density area instead of running one from where the people are to where they want to go is: South Florida, whose 20-year experiment with Tri-Rail has plumbed new depths of failure. Shuttle buses are so unattractive to the "choice commuter" that even most of the transit-dependent in South Florida don't use Tri-Rail; they just stay on the normal bus; and NOBODY rides it who could have chosen to drive.

Compare/contrast to light rail, which is what Dallas, Portland, Houston, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City did; and what we almost did in 2000. We could easily have passed a scaled down version of the '00 plan in '04, but Mike Krusee kneecapped Capital Metro into this abomination instead.

Relevant entries in my blog which you might want to look at:

TOD and East Austin
TOD and commuter rail
How you'll use the starter line

October 25, 2005

Buttheads at Capital Metro still calling it Urban Commuter Rail

Capital Metro's On The Move E-Newsletter is still calling this thing "urban commuter rail".

It's not urban. It's arguably commuter. It's definitely rail. One and a half out of three is not enough to justify this misleading terminology. This thing goes nowhere near the urban parts of Austin. Even its just-barely-inside-downtown last station is in the part of Austin where surface parking lots are more common than buildings.

Cut it out, you buttheads. Just cut it out. It's commuter rail, not "urban rail", and adding more stations in 2020 isn't going to make it any more urban.

If it doesn't go anywhere near the densest residential neighborhoods or anywhere near the densest employment centers, it isn't urban, by any stretch of the imagination. If your stations are only in locations to which you have to drive, take a bus, or be dropped off by somebody who drove, it's not urban; not even close.


October 21, 2005

Can YOU spot the right corridor for rail?

A photographic exercise by M1EK. All pictures obtained from the 9/24/05 Future Connections steering committee presentation.

This is a bit misleading since it makes it look like Hyde Park and the neighborhoods around Airport Blvd are equally suitable for rail transit - the problem is that you can't walk to stations along Airport from any residential developments of consequence; the area is fairly pedestrian-hostile.

Note that all of the existing and future high-density residential and employment centers are going to be served by "high-frequency circulators", i.e., shuttle buses stuck in traffic. While the incredibly important Airport Boulevard corridor gets rail. Here's one example of a circulator movement they envision; this one is planted right on Speedway near my house. Note: there's already high-frequency bus service to campus and downtown on this street, so it's doubtful they'll be doing anything here other than publicity:

Now, for comparison's sake, I took the two 2017 maps, and using my awesome drawing skills, drew the 2000 light rail proposal, in blue. The jog from the Guadalupe corridor over to Congress Avenue might have happened as far north as 11th; I chose 9th as a compromise. Some versions even had it running around the Capitol on both sides -- but this is a simpler drawing that still hits all the same major spots. A short distance north of this map, the 2000 light rail line would have converged with the red "All Systems Go" line and continued northwest on existing rail right-of-way towards Howard Lane, so this picture captures most of the "difference" between the proposals.

Gosh, which one would have a better chance at delivering ridership? I really can't tell the difference. I guess Lyndon IS right - this commuter rail plan IS just as good as light rail!

October 19, 2005

More on Tri-Rail and why shuttle buses matter

The current brou-ha-ha with Lyndon reminded me to go check if anything's up with Tri-Rail in South Florida. As I've previously written, they're the best example out there of the kind of rail line Capital Metro is going to build here in Austin, in that

  • they don't run trains very often
  • most destinations require a shuttle bus ride
  • they chose to run on a cheap existing track rather than building lines closer to those destinations (like light rail systems usually do)

Well, in the process I found an updated version of an old article I think I already used, but I hadn't noticed one important paragraph before. The context is that they're finally talking seriously about moving to the FEC corridor - which is where the service should have been built all along, since it allows passengers to walk to a non-trivial number of office and retail destinations. We're even worse off here, though, since building this commuter rail line basically prevents us from building anything like the 2000 starter line. Here's the quote:

Without a FEC/TRI-Rail alliance, McCarty sees the need for continued subsidy because of the "inherent fear of feeder bus reliability." The buses "are often late," she explained.

Since Tri-Rail trains only run about every half-hour during the commute peak and less often the rest of the day (like Austin's commuter rail trains will), missing your train on the way home from work is a big deal. The "feeder" buses they're talking about are the same kind of shuttle buses we're going to be stuck with here in Austin, if you work downtown, at the Capitol, or at UT. And guess what? They're going to be unreliable too - they'll be stuck in the same traffic as your car.

Even if streetcars are used for the "high-frequency circulators" which will take you from your office to the train station, the same problem exists - since streetcars won't have their own lane and won't be given green lights over cross traffic. The chance that light rail will come out of the Future Connections Study is zero, since commuter rail precludes it from being built in the 2000 alignment, which is the only one good enough to merit Federal funding.

So just like in South Florida, people will experience a couple of missed trains and then, if they have any other options, will stop riding. Nobody wants to sit around for even a half-hour waiting for the next train home. And if all you're doing is catering to riders who don't have a choice, you might as well just dump the money into more buses.

October 18, 2005

Lyndon loses it

Lyndon Henry just called me "anti-rail". I'm so mad I could chew nails.

His "bend over for Mike Krusee side" has destroyed any chance at urban rail here in Austin for a generation, since the starter line implemented by Capital Metro will not be able to garner significant ridership due to its reliance on shuttle buses to get anywhere you might want to go.

After this failure, predicted by South Florida's experience with a commuter rail plan which is almost identical to Capital Metro's, Austin voters will not be willing to vote up any more rail for decades.

If anybody's "anti-rail", it's him and his ilk; since their collaboration with Mike Krusee will prevent urban Austin from seeing rail until my children are middle-aged.

Update: my cow orker pointed out that lightrail_now doesn't have public archives. Here's the offending opening paragraph of Lyndon's comment:

Let me just point out that, if Mike Dahmus's anti-rail side had won last November's vote - i.e., the rail plan had failed - the Road Warriors would be celebrating the "final" demise of rail transit in Austin and picking the bones of Capital Metro for more funding for roads - highways, tollways, etc. - in this area.

he then goes on to tell people how wonderful the commuter rail plan is, how it might be upgraded to electrified LRT (continuing his misleading crap about how sticking an electrical wire on it makes it "light rail"), and mentions the people trying to get streetcars running through downtown and an unnamed bunch of "rail advocates" trying to get light rail to run on the Rapid Bus corridor, failing to say anything about the fact that this commuter rail plan effectively precludes running light rail down that stretch of Lamar/Guadalupe.

October 10, 2005

Regionalism as the enemy of urban transportation

I couldn't put it any better myself. This is how Mike Krusee's killed Austin's hopes at getting intracity transit back from the dark ages of slow jerky buses.

October 07, 2005

Still At It

The folks who basically wanted us to suck it up and enjoy what crumbs we got from the All Systems Go plan are still at it, even today. On the Austin Streetcars group (for people who are trying desperately to salvage some kind of rail, even if it's stuck-in-traffic streetcars, for central Austin, which is otherwise going to only be served by "high frequency circulators" in the form of shuttle buses and, of course, Not So Rapid Bus), Lyndon Henry just called the ASG starter line an "urban light railway", to which I just had to respond with this old gem which now that I look back, is probably the best thing I wrote about this whole commuter rail debacle. Unfortunately, it was nine months after the election.

Update: Lyndon responded with:

They've ordered non-FRA-compliant light DEMUs for this line. It qualifies as a "light railway" by all standards I know of within the transit industry. However, since it's non-electrified, it is NOT LRT. Operationally, it will be somewhat similar to the Camden-Trenton RiverLine light railway and the Sprinter light railway currently under construction in Oceanside (north of San Diego - which they're calling "light rail").

to which I answered:

Pop quiz:

1. What are the headways it will run at during peak times when it opens?

2. How will the passengers get to their final destination?

The answers to those two questions are:

1. 30 minutes, at best

2. Shuttle buses

Neither of those answers is compatible with the concept of "light rail". As you know. It's a pretty shoddy effort to claim that it's light rail because it's using a slightly less heavy, but still non-electrified, locomotive.

This project is commuter rail, and not a very good one at that (most commuter rail lines at least penetrate a major downtown area; this one does only by the most generous definition of the term, and doesn't come remotely close to any of the 3 or 4 other activity centers of the region).

Your insistence on applying the adjective "light" to it as frequently as you can suggests to me that you might be uncomfortable with your role in selling Mike Krusee's Austin-screwing transit-killer to the citizens and are trying to convince yourself that this pile of garbage really is a stack of roses.

Again, I refer you to this:

and then I inserted the original blast that this isn't light rail by any reasonable definition of the term.

Lyndon is one of the "good guys" which is why I hate so much that he's helped, as I mentioned, sell Austin down the river for Mike Krusee (whose constituents by and large aren't even Capital Metro taxpayers).

October 05, 2005

Ben White and I-35

This somewhat annoyingly self-conscious piece reiterates frustration many people have with the pace of interchange construction here in Austin, yet, as usual, nobody mentions the real problem.


Without the frontage roads and ancillary suburban metastasis, this interchange could have been upgraded in many different ways which would have been far cheaper and far quicker than the 5-level spaghetti bowl we're ending up with here. Other states build freeways mostly without frontage roads, which also destroy the ability of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users to actually get anywhere.

The argument in Texas is usually that access to existing properties must be preserved - which flies in the face of reality considering that when most of these roads are upgraded to freeways (long before interchange debacles like this one), most of the strip malls don't exist. On the rare occasions when access to existing properties simply must be preserved, other states do so either by shorter sections of frontage roads (noncontinuous) or by perimeter roads (examples along US101 in Santa Clara spring to mind). Neither of those choices, of course, allows the guys who own the land next to the freeway to cash in quite as readily.

Ironically, most Texans, when asked, seem to prefer these stupid things. While I can understand the layperson not getting it, it's pretty hard to understand how responsible leaders in our area outside TXDOT's cronysphere continue to support them, given the repeated examples of intersections which completely fail at moving traffic due to the stripsprawl their frontage roads generated (Braker/183, for instance, or Parmer/Mopac).

(Note to self: remember to write item about frontage road highway design severing existing connections across US 183, esp. northwest Austin).

September 04, 2005

The Gas Tax Isn't Regressive, Part Three

(at least, not regressive across the spectrum) - as I've argued here and here, the gas tax doesn't hit the poor that hard; it mostly hits the exurban parts of the middle class and leaves the rich alone. From my original article on the subject:

The supposed regressive nature of the gas tax is a fallacy - in fact, poor people spend far less proportionally on gasoline than do the upper-middle-class.

The gas tax isn't purely progressive; though; the very rich actually spend less proportionally than do the upper-middle-class, due to their tendency to be either in the few healthy downtowns, or less need to drive overall.

Here's another link I found today which asserts the same:

"A subsidy to new vehicles would be regressive. A tax on gasoline is not regressive across the lowest incomes but is regressive from middle to high incomes."

Note that the internet is replete with sites which say that the gas tax is regressive, but the only articles or studies which actually include any supporting arguments are the few that claim that it isn't regressive. This leads me to believe that the gas tax ISN'T regressive, for the reasons previously discussed, and that the 'conventional wisdom' is wrong here.

This is timely because of a current thread on Environmental Economics on this very subject. Amazingly, I've now provided THREE links which are credible and contain supporting evidence for the claim that the gas tax isn't regressive across-the-board; for the most part blind assertion is still the only support for the 'regressive' position. Moral: Conventional Wisdom is hard to fight, even when it's wrong.

August 31, 2005

CAFE versus gas taxes - which works?

Kevin Drum likes CAFE. He believes that gas taxes are highly regressive. He's wrong. But which one 'works' better? His argument rests on the last 5 years of generally rising fuel prices versus vehicle sales.

The problem is that the rise in fuel prices recently has been seen by most Americans as the result of gouging, or the result of storms, or hippie environmentalists or <insert other crazy reason>. Key here is that all of those things are temporary. Now, if you're one of the few people who follows the real oil situation you know that we're probably in for a period of ever-higher spikes and plateaus (with intervening drops due to recessions, perhaps), but most people don't know this stuff.

If you think the last couple of years are an anomaly, it doesn't make sense to invest in a fuel-efficient car. Therefore, using that period as an example of how higher fuel prices don't affect vehicle choice as much as CAFE did is foolish. Better to look at Europe, where CAFE-like standards don't really exist; but at the time of vehicle purchase, it is understood that gas taxes are very high and likely to stay that way.

Anyways, CAFE doesn't work half as well as a high baseline for gas prices does. The real reason? Once you buy your car, if gas prices/taxes are low, there's no real incentive to leave it in the driveway on any given day. With higher gas prices/taxes, however, there is an incentive to leave it at home and take the bus, or carpool, or whatever.

Addressed as a quickie since so many people around the interweb keep repeating this canard.

August 27, 2005

False balance

I can't stress the point of this editorial enough. In issues from global climate change to evolution education, the Republicans are abusing the "report both sides" mentality of the media to present crackpot crap on an equal footing with real science, and it needs to stop. Now.

August 17, 2005

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Shuttle Buses

Here's what those of us who live or work in Central Austin are getting out of commuter rail. Stations in far east Austin and the Convention Center, with a handy transfer to a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle-bus to get you to where you might actually want to go. Image below is from one of two new documents up at the Future Connections Study site:

Capital Metro is starting rail service here in Austin in a couple of years NOT by doing what success stories like Portland and Dallas did (light rail straight through and to the densest parts of town) but what South Florida did (commuter rail where tracks already exist, requiring transfers to shuttle buses to actually get anywhere). Fifteen years later, Tri-Rail in South Florida is an unmitigated disaster: no choice commuters despite heavy promotion by an enthusiastic community, no transit-oriented development despite heavy subsidization (below-market attempts at land sales around stations and the like). Unlike in Dallas and Portland (and Minneapolis and Houston and Denver and Salt Lake...), drivers in South Florida aren't trying Tri-Rail because they know that transferring to shuttle buses every day for your commute overwhelms any speed advantage the train might have bought you up to that point.

In short, commuter rail as your starter line just plain doesn't work. And the picture ought to make it clear why - even the nominally downtown station is too far from the 6th/Congress intersection for most people to walk, and all other major activity centers in our area will require people to say hey, I'll drive to the park-and-ride, board a train, get off the train, get on a bus, wait in traffic with all the other cars, get off the bus, and walk to my office. Even promotional images used in the pro-commuter-rail campaign show that they expect downtown workers to have to transfer to shuttle buses, as seen below.

Notice in the handouts that they're still pretending that all options are on the table. But believe me, there is zero chance that light rail will end up as the circulator, and near-zero chance that streetcars will make it, not that streetcars would work anyways. It's going to be shuttle-buses in mixed-traffic. Mark my words.

August 13, 2005

Commuting To Riata

I had a nice conversation with Jonathan from Another Pointless Dotcom while doing some work last night, and it came to light that he works in the same complex I did for about a year and a half. This reminded me to share with him my old slideshow of that commute, which I've probably never mentioned on the blog. I also then chatted about it this morning with my current cow orker who has a lot of experience in the area. Since this might be of general interest to people who work in the area, I'll initiate this new Bicycle Commuting category with this oldie-but-goodie.

Riata is a cautionary tale of any number of my hot buttons, including the problems that frontage roads cause transit and pedestrians, neighborhoods being irresponsible, developers getting to claim credit for being 'near' transit when it's not feasible to actually use, high tech offices and apartment complexes metastasizing along sprawl corridors rather than being downtown where they ought to be, etc. There's at least a few thousand employees of various companies in there now - probably still down from the pre-bust peak.

The key things to remember about commuting to Riata, which is halfway between Duval and Oak Knoll on the north/east side of US 183 are:

  1. Use Jollyville. Now with bike lanes!
  2. When transitioning to Riata Trace Parkway, your choices are to go all the way up to Oak Knoll and come in the back way, or go over on Duval to the 183 frontage, and go in that way. In the morning, the northbound 183 frontage is very civilized and not a problem.
  3. When going home in the afternoon, you'll want to use the TI/Oak Knoll back way. Don't mess with 183 then.
  4. Think about using the bus for a boost uphill in some mornings, if you're like the (old) me and commuting from central Austin.
  5. Decide whether you want to cross Mopac on Spicewood or Steck. My current cow orker prefers Steck all the time; I prefer Steck uphill and Spicewood downhill. Depends on your tolerance for the stress of the crossing at Mopac/Spicewood versus the speed you'll give up at the 4-way stop on Steck.

(Technical details: I wrote the crappy slideshow script which reads pseudo-XML a long time ago and have never touched it since; it BARELY works; don't look at it cross-eyed or you might break the internet).

August 04, 2005

Future Connections Has Started

Capital Metro's Future Connections Group is now, finally, up on the web. This group was tasked with figuring out how to get people from the commuter rail stops, which are far away from where people actually want to go, to the places they, those wacky commuters, actually want to go. Like, say, their office. Or the University. Or the Warehouse District.

This is basically going to be a waste of time, since those of us who operate in the reality-based community all know Capital Metro's going to end up delivering shuttle buses in mixed traffic. The streetcar guys like Jeff are holding out hope, but I don't see Capital Metro going that way, and even if they did, streetcars are only marginally better than mixed-traffic buses for those choice commuters. Streetcars might help make downtown redevelopment even more palatable, in other words, but they aren't going to fix the speed and reliability problems of the All Systems Go route for people who live outside downtown.

Terminology lesson: In most cases, "streetcars" means "vehicle on rails in a traffic lane which shares its lane with cars, or is otherwise 'sharing traffic' with other vehicles and stops at a lot of red lights". "light rail" in this case bumps you up to "has its own lane; always gets a green light". So a streetcar is basically a Dillo on an embedded rail - it still is stuck in traffic just like your car or other buses are.

History lesson: The 2000 light rail plan, or any one of ten easily passable scaled-back versions thereof, would have delivered passengers (in ONE train trip) from their dense center-city residential neighborhoods or from their suburban park-and-rides, directly TO the University of Texas, the Capitol Complex, and downtown, without requiring a transfer to anything else, bus or streetcar in a reasonably fast and very reliable amount of time. Capital Metro didn't even try to bring something like this back before the voters, and most of the pro-transit people here in Austin didn't have the guts to tell them otherwise.

August 03, 2005

First Trip To Middle School

This post marks the beginning of a new category called "Empty Buses".

My family walked to the bus stop at 34th and Guadalupe to take my stepson to his middle-school orientation (he'll be taking the bus there every day when school starts, so today was a good practice opportunity). We picked up the #22 bus at 8:00 AM (on time), and rode it to Exposition and Lake Austin in about 15 minutes, perhaps 2 more minutes than the drive would have taken. With the 3 of us (plus baby who didn't pay a fare), there were 7 people on that bus. Several got off in Tarrytown; I think there was only one left on the bus when we disembarked at the middle school.

On the way back, we took the #21 bus, also on time. With the 2 of us (plus baby), there were 15 people on the bus at that stop. A few got off on the way to our stop, but a few got on; so the count stayed around 15 the whole way. Many of the people on the bus were evidently headed towards UT (where the bus goes after our stop).

(Answering Kim, my stepson takes this city bus because he's going to be going to a middle school in whose attendance area we don't reside - this is part of the track from his elementary school, which he stayed in after we moved a couple of years ago).

July 22, 2005

It's Not Light Rail

Many people, including Lyndon Henry (who of all people ought to know better) are continuing the misleading practice of calling Capital Metro's All Systems Go plan "light rail" or "light rail like" or "light 'commuter' rail", etc. This has done its job - most laypeople continue to call what ASG's building "light rail" even though it couldn't be further from the truth.

So a couple of days ago, a story showed up in Kansas City extolling the virtues of what turns out to be a similar "Rapid Bus" plan to the one being foisted on Central Austin as our reward for rolling over for Mike Krusee. The site which is at least somewhat affiliated with Lyndon has often published vigorous attacks on efforts to sell "rapid bus" schemes as "as good as rail" to the public. Lyndon was angry at this Kansas City effort, and I replied with a reminder that the politicking of himself and Dave Dobbs helped get the same exact thing for central Austin by his support of the ASG plan. Lyndon replied with his typical ASG cheerleading, and I just sent this in response:

--- In, Nawdry wrote: >Instead, it passed, and we have a rail project under way and planning for additional rail transit installations now under way.

What we have underway is a commuter rail line which doesn't and will NEVER go near the major activity centers of the region, doesn't and will NEVER go near the major concentrations of residential density in the region, and doesn't and will NEVER get enough choice commuters out of their cars to provide enough public support for expansions of the system.

What we have underway are some lukewarm half-hearted plans for expanding that rail network if Union Pacific can be convinced to leave their freight line behind, but, of course, it will all be moot, since the original line will be such a debacle that we'll never get to the expansions.

This is a "one and done" line.

It skips the Triangle. It skips West Campus. It skips Hyde Park. It skips North University. It skips the Capitol. It skips the University. It skips most of downtown. It does not provide any service to the neighborhoods in Austin that most WANTED rail in 2000, nor will it EVER do so (even if the entire ASG plan is built).

It is NOT ANYTHING LIKE LIGHT RAIL. I don't know how you can sit there and claim that it is. I know you're not stupid, and had hoped you weren't a liar.

_HOUSTON_ built light rail. _DALLAS_ built light rail. _PORTLAND_ and _DENVER_ and _SALT LAKE_ and _MINNEAPOLIS_ built light rail.

This plan is NOTHING like what they built. For you and Dave Dobbs to continue to call it light rail is dishonest, bordering on maliciously false.

What DOES it do? It goes past suburban park-and-rides (as the light rail plan would have). It allows fairly easy access to stations for the far suburbanites who LEAST wanted rail. It requires that all of those passengers, who are the MOST SKEPTICAL about transit, to transfer to SHUTTLE BUSES at the end of their journey if they want to go anywhere worth going.

There is zero chance that this line will garner substantial ridership, and thus, voting for this plan doomed Austin to no additional rail for a very long time, since it will have been 'proven' that rail 'doesn't work'.

As for your claims that Rapid Bus isn't being sold here, bull. It was featured in the paper just a week or two ago, and is the ONLY service improvement being provided to the parts of Austin that want, and in any other city, would have gotten rail.

Mike Dahmus
Disgusted At Lyndon's Dishonesty

July 21, 2005

The Buses Aren't Empty, You Idiots

The probably forthcoming Capital Metro strike and a poll on News 8 have provided an opportunity for suburbanites to again claim that "the buses are empty" while wailing about their unfair tax burden.

I've addressed this a couple of times. Here are the links. Please read and forward (especially Part One). Educate just ONE suburbanite, and the world will be a better place.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

July 01, 2005

Double Taxation Isn't Restricted To Roads

The anti-toll zealots, and in particular, Sal Costello like to whine and moan that tolling freeway expansions which are (mostly) paid for with gas tax money is "double taxation". Left to the reader is the obvious implication that "double taxation" is a bad thing, and is new.

As you might have guessed, I'm here to tell you otherwise. First, a simple example.

Last weekend I drove down to Zilker Park on Sunday morning to play volleyball. (For reasons of time, I wasn't able to bike, although I do that sometimes too). At the entrance to the loop which meanders through the river side of the park, there was a booth (A TOLLBOOTH!) set up, at which I paid 3 big bucks for the privilege of parking my car at the park.

BUT WAIT! Zilker Park was ALREADY PAID FOR by my property and sales tax dollars! How can this be? This is (organ music) DOUBLE TAXATION!

The fact is that suburbanites whining about toll roads have had it pretty good for a long time. They've had their road infrastructure subsidized by the center-city, they pay far less comparatively in property taxes, and they impose most of the negative externalities of driving on us center-city residents. Nobody in Circle C has to worry about an elevated freeway monster wrecking some of their neighbor's houses and ruining everybody else's outdoor activities.

Yes, they (but mostly us center-city folks) paid taxes to build these roads already. So toll roads, as designed in this case, are, in fact, (organ music) double taxation.

True libertarians (which many in this anti-toll coalition claim to be) would recognize toll roads as a baby step towards road pricing, which is the evil capitalist concept that the scarcity in road space ought to be managed by charging people to drive on it. These suburban republicans who like to call themselves libertarians instead advocate taxing everybody who drives (and a healthy chunk from those who don't drive too) to build a freeway where the cost of driving is low, but there's less incentive for each driver to explore alternate options to single-occupant commuting, so the road ends up crowded, just like, I don't know, every single highway we build.

Just as in Zilker Park - if parking were free, every single space would be full, and the ring road would be a nonstop parade of cars futilely seeking space. At $3/car, however, there's at least a small incentive for those whose utility is marginal to seek other solutions to the problem. (I might ride my bike; two of my friends might carpool; a third person might take the bus; somebody else might use the park during the week instead of the weekend; etc.)

So in summary: suburban Republicans like Sal Costello prefer the Soviet economic model - very low prices (subsidies from entire society), scarcity "managed" via long lines.

I hope this helped you understand the concept of double taxation and why we should all be against it.

Your pal,
Mike Dahmus Age 33

June 21, 2005

Rapid Bus Ain't Rapid, June 2005 Update

Today's Statesman article continues their tradition of blindly accepting whatever Capital Metro says about the transit plan (which was, not coincidentally, innocuous enough not to piss off the real estate interests who largely shape the Statesman's editorial content).

For background on what Rapid Bus really is, and why it's a rip-off for central Austin taxpayers (who get nearly nothing out of the commuter rail plan but pay most of the bills) check the links at the bottom.

Short summary: The people in the densest neighborhoods (including the about-to-open Triangle) who actually WANT to use transit are getting nothing more than a lousy stuck-in-traffic slightly-fancier version of the #101, i.e., a BUS which is MUCH SLOWER THAN THEIR CARS. NO, holding a green light for a couple of seconds ISN'T GOING TO MAKE MUCH DIFFERENCE. It'll be the cars IN FRONT OF THE BUS, sometimes stacked up through several intersections up ahead, that most affect its speed, not the traffic lights.

The people out in the suburbs who don't really want transit and don't pay most of the bills anyways are getting a commuter rail line which, as long as they don't mind changing to a SHUTTLE BUS at the end of the trip, will take them downtown. Oh, and if they're lucky enough to work directly at the Convention Center, it'll be competitive with their cars.

All this instead of a scaled back version of the 2000 light rail plan, which would have served BOTH suburban AND urban residents with transit which was competitive with their cars AND dropped them off directly at UT, the Capitol, and downtown.

June 13, 2005

On rail success and how not to get there

Excerpted from a post I just made to the excellent Cyburbia Forums:

Actually, from what we heard from the Feds in 2000, Austin's development pattern was nearly ideal for a successful light rail line - the one which would have gone straight down Guadalupe past UT and the Capitol, I mean. Huge suburban catchment area served well by big park-and-rides followed by transition through inner-city residential neighborhoods with thousands of residents within walking distance followed by three mega-employment-centers (UT, capitol, downtown) all with parking issues which encourage transit as long as transit is reasonably competitive.

The reason commuter rail won't work is that it doesn't run through those inner-city neighborhoods (you know, the ones where people actually LIKE mass transit) _AND_ it requires a shuttle-bus transfer for UT and Capitol and most downtown employees. You can't come up with a better way to shoot yourself in the foot than to first lose your best customers (inner-city people) and then tell your remaining customer base of skeptical suburbanites that the last mile or two of their trip is going to be on a shuttle-bus stuck in traffic with everybody else's car.

June 02, 2005

Not much room for optimism

Thought I'd copy this here for posterity - this is a comment I made to an excellent entry by Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly blog, in reference to somebody who thought that since we adjusted to the 1970s oil shock (he's right on that one) that we could just as easily adjust to the oncoming (soon or later, depending on your alarmism) peak oil shock.

Adding this comment to my blog has made me recall that I still owe an analysis of "fire stations per capita" back to the Texas Fight guy. I'm sorry, I've been busy at work and at home, and will try to get this done soon.

My comment:


The answer to why this shock will be much worse than the one in the 1970s is two words:

suburban sprawl

One thing Kunstler gets right is his analysis of the complete lack of options in a modern suburban development (really exurb) to the single-occupant vehicle and truck delivery to strip malls. There's no way to carpool. There's no way to use transit. There's no way to ride your bike or walk. There's no way for the store to switch to freight rail deliveries (not even the way it used to be, which was truck for only the last very small N% of the trip, if even that).

The ONLY things modern suburbanites can do are:

1. Trade in their SUV for a compact car - works well if you're one of the early adopters, but what if everybody else is trying to trade down at the same time?

2. Move back to the cities - see above.

We would have had to change our development laws twenty years ago in order to have a prayer of solving this problem, but instead we've been operating on a regime that not only requires urbanites to subsidize wasteful suburbanites, it actually PROHIBITS BY LAW (through zoning codes) the development of additional urban neighborhoods.

For reference, my last two homes have been in two center-city neighborhoods where 80-90% of the dwellings would be impossible to build today due to suburban-influenced zoning code which applies even in these older neighborhoods. Of course, to even get to that point, you'd have to overcome their fanatical opposition to infill, but every bit counts.

March 07, 2005

These things are connected

It's not a coincidence that now that small cars are rated on how they stand up to crashes with SUVs, that gas is headed up for good, but nobody in the suburbs will understand why this is so, and why it's really going to hurt this country's economic competitiveness.

Meanwhile, Western Europe waits patiently for their turn...

March 04, 2005

Why Central Austinites Should Support Toll Roads

Excerpted from a discussion on the austin-bikes email list, where one of my self-appointed burdens is to be the voice of reason towards those who live in the center-city echo chamber (where everybody bikes; where nobody wants sprawling highways; etc).

The last paragraph of my response is the most relevant piece, and the one that the person I was responding to and many other wishful thinkers just don't get. I, thanks to moving here with suburbanites, and working with exclusively suburbanites, have learned the following painful truths:

  • There are more suburbanites around here than urbanites. A LOT more. And the most recent election, they finally WON a seat in our city council (McCracken over Clarke) DESPITE much higher turnout in the center-city.
  • Outside Austin, there are no urbanites. CAMPO is now 2/3 suburban, for instance.
  • Suburbanites cannot conceive of any lifestyle other than the suburban one. Really. I get blank stares when I tell them I rode the bus to work today, or when I say I walked to the store.
  • The sheer population and geographical coverage of suburban neighborhoods means that even if gas gets really expensive, they're still going to be living there. Resistance to their redevelopment in ways which aren't so car-dependent and the cost of such modifications means we're stuck with what we have now for at least a few more decades. Yes, even at $5.00/gallon.

Here's the thread:

Roger Baker wrote:

> On Mar 4, 2005, at 9:34 AM, Mike Dahmus wrote:
> Roger Baker wrote:
> McCracken is the immediate hero here, but he likely wouldn't
> have done it without Sal Costello, SOSA, and all the
> independent grassroots organizing.
> On CAMPO, McCracken's resolution got defeated about 2 to 1,
> with Gerald Daugherty on the bad side, along with CAMPO
> Director Aulick. TxDOT's Bob Daigh deserves a special bad
> actor award for expressing his opinion just before the CAMPO
> vote, with no reasons given, that any independent study of the
> CAMPO plan would be likely to threaten TxDOT funding for our
> area. -- Roger
> Just like the transit people in Austin with Mike Krusee, you've
> been completely snookered if you think these people are your friends.
> The goal of McCracken et al is NOT to stop building these roads;
> it is to build these roads quickly as FREE HIGHWAYS.
> In other words, McCracken and Costello ___ARE___ THE ROAD LOBBY!
> Keep that in mind, folks. Slusher and Bill Bunch don't want the
> roads at all, but pretty much everybody else who voted against the
> toll plan wants to build them as free roads.
> And these highways built free is a far worse prospect for Austin
> and especially central Austin than if they're built as toll roads,
> in every possible respect.
> - MD
> All that is easy for Mike to say but, as usual, lacks any factual basis or
> documentation. Furthermore, he does not appear to read what I have previously
> documented.

As for factual basis or documentation, it should be obvious to anybody with the awareness of a three-year-old that McCracken's playing to his suburban constituents who WANT THESE ROADS, AND WANT THEM TO BE FREE, rather than Slusher's environmentalist constituents, who don't want the roads at all.

As for reading what you've previously documented; oh, if only it were true. If only I hadn't wasted a good month of my life reading your repeated screeds about the oil peak which have almost convinced me to go out and buy an SUV just to spite you.


Here's what's going to happen if Roger's ilk convinces the environmental bloc to continue their unholy alliance with the suburban road warriors like McCracken and Daugherty:

1. We tell TXDOT we don't want toll roads.
2. TXDOT says we need to kick in a bunch more money to get them built free.
3. We float another huge local bond package to do it (just like we did for local 'contributions' for SH 45, SH 130, and US 183A).
4. The roads get built, as free highways.
5. Those bonds are paid back by property and sales taxes, which disproportionately hit central Austinites, and especially penalize people who don't or only infrequently drive.

Here's what's going to happen if the toll roads get built, as toll roads:

1. TXDOT builds them.
2. The current demand for the roadway is large enough to fill the coffers enough to keep the enterprise going without the bonds defaulting.
3. (Even if #2 doesn't happen, we're at worst no worse off than above; with the added bonus that suburbanites still get to finally pay user fees for their trips on the roads).

Here's what's going to happen in Roger Fantasyland:

1. McCracken, Gerald Daugherty, et al have a Come To Jesus moment and decide that we Really Don't Need Any More Highways In The 'Burbs.

Now, be honest. Which one of the three scenarios above do you find least likely?

YES, EVEN IF GAS TRIPLES IN PRICE, SUBURBANITES WILL STILL DRIVE. THE OIL PEAK IN THIS SENSE DOESN'T ****MATTER****. The people out there in Circle C aren't going anywhere in the short term, and it'll be decades before their neighborhoods are redeveloped in a less car-dependent fashion, assuming we can afford to.

- MD

March 03, 2005

Rapid Bus Ain't Rapid

Earlier this week, Capital Metro included a flyer in copies of the local newspaper which touted Rapid Bus down Lamar/Guadalupe, opening late 2006 or early 2007.

Coincidentally, Wednesday night I had to drop my wife off and pick her up at an appointment which allowed me to travel down Guadalupe from 30th to 6th streets at the extreme tail end of rush hour (6:40 PM). I paid special attention to the ability of cars and buses to navigate through this congested corridor.

First: a short re-hash of what Rapid Bus is:

  • Rapid Bus is not "bus rapid transit". "bus rapid transit" or BRT in short picks from a set of items off a menu which will supposedly improve the speed, reliability, and attractiveness of bus transit. The hopes are that it will bring bus transit up to the level of a good urban rail line. In practice (in the United States), this has been far from the case - mainly due to the reluctance to set aside dedicated right-of-way for the bus vehicle, which results in poor speed and reliability compared to rail (and poor relative performance compared to the private automobile). Even when bus lanes are created, the fact that they are typically in-street makes them worthless in practice since cars just use them anyways.
  • Capital Metro is certainly moving towards BRT with this line, but even they admit that it's not good enough to call it BRT yet. (That's even with the slip-shod definition of BRT which allows for it to be declared even with only a few improvements over normal bus service).
  • In fact, both the existing express buses (which travel down US 183, Mopac, and I-35) and limited buses (which run down normal corridors with fewer stops) already implement some features of BRT. (fewer stops and improved vehicles).

So what characteristics of BRT is Capital Metro including in the design of this new service to make it "Rapid"?

  • Signal prioritization - i.e. the ability to hold traffic signals green for a few seconds as the bus approaches
  • Off-bus fare payment
  • Longer (probably articulated) buses
  • Fewer stops

That's pretty much it. Items that might help make the service more like a light rail line which are not being included:

  • Dedicated right-of-way
  • Full control over traffic signals - i.e. lights turn green when the vehicle approaches
  • Electic power (overhead "caternary" wires or in-street power)

So how does "Rapid Bus" look to improve service along Lamar/Guadalupe? Like I said, I drove the most congested part of the route just yesterday, and it doesn't look good.

  • The ability to hold the next light green for 5 or 10 seconds isn't going to help during rush hour at all! At almost every single intersection with a traffic light, I waited through at least one green cycle before being able to proceed, since traffic was always backed up from further down the road. And this was at 6:40 PM! That means that while the bus can hold the signal at 27th green for a while longer, it doesn't matter because the backup from 26th, 24th, 23rd, 22nd, 21st, and MLK is preventing the bus from moving anyways.
  • Off-bus payment is going to be irrelevant. Now that Capital Metro is using SmartCards for everything short of single-fare rides, very few people are having to take more than a second to pay when they get on the bus (this is from my own bus rides on the 983 and 3 lately). Basically, paying is no longer slowing the boarding process.
  • Fewer stops is already possible with the #101. This bus is still woefully slow and woefully unreliable compared to the private automobile, to say nothing of quality rail service (which could in fact beat the automobile on both counts).
  • The ride is going to be uncomfortable. The pavement along Guadalupe simply can't stand the beating it gets from heavy vehicles like buses and trucks - and this is not going to change anytime soon. Rather than running down the middle of the street on rails (as light-rail would have done), the Rapid Bus vehicle will run in the right lane of the street on the same pavement abused by trucks and other buses. There is no evidence that the city is willing to pay the far higher bills required to keep this pavement in smooth-enough condition to provide a decent comfortable bus ride.

In review: The commuter rail line is being built on a corridor where only a handful of Austin residents can walk to stations, and only a small percentage of Austin residents can drive to a station. The primary beneficiaries, assuming shuttle buses don't just kill the whole thing, are residents of Leander (who at least pay Capital Metro taxes) and Cedar Park (who don't). On the other hand, the thousands of people in central Austin who could walk to stations along the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor are being presented with a rank steaming turd which barely improves service over the existing #101 bus.

(publically opposing this Mike-Krusee-designed Austin-screwing debacle is the basic reason I was booted from the UTC, for those arriving late).

So, shut up and take it, Austin. Rapid Bus is all you're getting, and you'd better ride it, or you'll be experiencing the fun that Honolulu is currently going through with their own BRT debacle. Big ugly long buses that aren't attracting any new riders don't do transit users any favors.


February 24, 2005

Cars' FRR is often zero

Say you're riding the #3 bus up Burnet Road. You pay 50 cents to get on the bus. That's your "fare". As it turns out, if you consider all the money taken in and all the money spent out by Capital Metro, and divide the difference equally per trip, it actually costs the taxpayers a couple of bucks for your ride. (The #3 bus, because ridership is high, ends up subsidizing some other routes, but we're taking a simplistic view here). Your "farebox recovery ratio" is something like 20%.

Now say you're driving your Ford Explorer down Lamar Blvd. As I've been recently discussing in the transportation funding topic, no gas tax money is spent on roads like this in Austin (basically major roads that don't have a route shield on them).

Your "fare" for this trip is thus $0.00 (the road doesn't have tollbooths, of course). In other words, the only cost you pay directly at the time ("user fee") is the gas tax, but as noted, neither this road nor other major roads of this type in the city of Austin can be funded by gas tax dollars.

The cost of providing you with your rejuvenated driving surface was substantially more than zero (12.6 million dollars, including utility work), and all that cost was most recently paid by city of Austin taxpayers via property and sales taxes (bond election in '98). And don't fool yourself - most of the cost for projects like this isn't for pedestrians, cyclists, or bus riders. We'd have a much smaller and much cheaper transportation network if nobody drove -- the fact is that most of the money we spend on roads like this is directly attributable to people driving their cars, alone.

Your FRR on this trip is 0%. That's right, a big fat zero. The only time Capital Metro gets this bad is on Ozone Action Days. So, libertarians, perhaps you shouldn't throw stones from your suburban glass houses.

What about highways, you ask? Well, it's true the majority of funds required to build state highways do, in fact, come from the gas tax. There are other, less direct, costs of these roadways which are borne by society at large, but even when considering just direct construction and maintenance cost, you still don't get off claiming that you're paying the bills. A substantial portion (largest line-items, as a matter of fact) of both the 1998 and 2000 bond elections for Austin and Travis County's 2000 package were to pay "local contributions" towards right-of-way for new and expanded state highways. IE: even on a brand-new highway theoretically built with gas taxes, the property-owners and goods-buyers are still subsidizing you, whether they drive a lot, a little, or not at all.

Capital Metro, Empty Buses, and Farebox Recovery Ratio

The local asshats are at it again, slamming Capital Metro for supposedly running empty buses.

See here and here and here for reasons why suburbanites always think buses are empty (they're wrong - most Capital Metro buses are carrying a substantial number of passengers).

As regards farebox recovery (in short, the amount of cost covered by passenger fare), the asshats are 'right' - Capital Metro's number is low. As I used to keep telling them when they'd come for their quarterly report to our commission, if you run programs like the free rides on Ozone Action Days and the free rides for UT students at night (E-bus) and don't account for them separately, you leave yourself open for getting hammered on an extremely low farebox recovery ratio. And by "account for them separately" I don't mean "after the local libertarians get the media to claim you're wasting your money"; I mean "go as far as transferring 10% of your funds to the Clean Air Force and them have them contract with you for the Ozone Action Day rides just like you do with UT for the UT Shuttle".

Of course they didn't listen. Capital Metro operates in the same center-city echo-chamber that most of the bicycle advocates I work with live in. My role on the UTC, while it lasted, was largely an effort to smash out of that box and get them to realize that there's a world out there past the intersection of 183 and Mopac, and it's got more voters in it every day.

By the way, the "farebox recovery ratio" for the private automobile is about as low as Capital Metro's artificially low number given above. As the last few days have hopefully shown, especially as you get close to the center-city, most major roads aren't paid for out of the gas tax (or tolls) - they're paid for with bonds which have to be floated every few years by the city and county and are repaid with property and sales taxes. Ironically, much of the strongest opposition to the local toll road plan comes from the same group hammering Capital Metro here. Guess what, folks? A toll paid when you drive on a particular road brings you UP to the level that the transit passenger is ALREADY AT. Gas taxes don't even come close to paying your bills.

February 16, 2005

Most Major Roads In Cities Don't Get Any Gas Tax

This entry is going to serve as background for a future entry about the gasoline tax, new proposed "miles driven tax", and tolls. It will probably be of little interest in isolation, so you might want to wait for the commentary later.

This map (click for larger version) is from a map of central Austin from the 2025 CAMPO plan. Every road which is colored something other than black is classified as an arterial (major roadway). Note that the axis of Austin's grid is off - north-south in these comments refer to the roads that go diagonally off to the northeast.

The following arterial roadways on the image are part of the state highway system, and thus, eligible for gasoline tax money from the state:

  • Mopac Expressway (north-south thick green line on left)
  • I-35 (north-south thick red line on right - leaves screen)
  • FM 2222 / Koenig Lane (east-west road at north end of image which starts as purple on the west end and switches to blue at Mopac)
  • FM 2244 (small segment in extreme lower left of image colored olive green)

The following arterial roadways on this image are not part of the state highway system and have typically not received any gas tax money, either state or federal, for construction or maintenance:

North-south roads, roughly from left to right:

  • Westlake Drive (pinkish road near Lake Austin on far left)
  • Redbud Trail (small segment of pink crossing Lake Austin)
  • Exposition Blvd (pink and purple road west of Mopac)
  • Burnet Road (blue road starting at 45th St and heading north - at US 183 it turns into FM 1325 which is part of the state system
  • Lamar Blvd (blue then purple then blue then olive green covering entire map segment)
  • Guadalupe St. (purple then blue then purple then joining Lamar Blvd north of 45th St)
  • Lavaca St. (forms one-way couplet with Guadalupe downtown)
  • Congress Ave. (brown street in downtown grid)
  • Colorado St., Brazos St. (two purple streets in downtown grid not otherwise mentioned)
  • Red River St. (purple street just west of I-35)
  • Chicon St. (I think) - pink north-south street on extreme lower right

East-West Streets, roughly from top to bottom

  • Justin Lane (I think) - purple/pink at very top, ending at Lamar
  • Hancock / North Loop - purple road starting at Mopac and heading east
  • 45th St. - purple road starting at Mopac, changing to blue between Lamar and Guadalupe, then back to purple
  • 35th / 38th St. - starts as purple west of Mopac, changes to blue east of Mopac and then pink
  • Dean Keeton / 26th St - starts as blue/purple then changes to green, crosses I-35 and turns blue.
  • Windsor / 24th St - starts as purple at Exposition, crosses Mopac and ends at Guadalupe
  • MLK / 19th St - starts as pink at Lamar, changes to purple and crosses I-35
  • Enfield / 15th St - starts as pink at Lake Austin, changes to purple at Exposition, crosses Mopac and turns into 15th St.
  • 12th St. - starts at Lamar as purple then changes to blue, ends at Capitol, restarts after Capitol as blue, crosses I-35 and heads northwest as purple.
  • 11th St. - starts as purple at Guadalupe, heads east to I-35, turns pink after I-35.
  • Downtown grid: 8th, 7th Sts
  • Lake Austin Blvd - from Enfield Road at lake, turns into 5th and 6th sts.
  • 5th and 6th sts from Mopac to I-35
  • Cesar Chavez / 1st St from Mopac to I-35 (just north of Town Lake)
  • Barton Springs Road (small segment of blue in extreme lower left)

Keep in mind that, by terms laid out in the Constitution of the State of Texas, none of the roadways in the much larger list can receive state gas tax money. And in practice, none of them really receive federal gas tax money either, since the practice at CAMPO (the local board that disburses federal gas tax money returned to the state under various programs)is to disburse pretty much all of the available roadway funds to state highway projects.

In other words, when you drive on Lamar Blvd in central Austin, you're paying gasoline tax to the state, but the city (who has to pay to rebuild the roadway when necessary, as just occurred over the last 2 years) doesn't see one penny of that money. When you see construction on 38th St, the city is paying those bills with your property and sales taxes, not with the gas tax you incur while driving.

(corrected MLK / FM 969 on 2/23 - FM 969 does not start until Airport Blvd, which is off the map)

January 10, 2005

More on What We're In For

Tri-Rail, the commuter rail line which parallels I-95 through most of South Florida, is the transit start most like Austin's proposed commuter rail line, for good and ill. Read the archives for the whole story, but here's the short version: It was cheap to get started (used existing track), just like ours will be; it doesn't go near any downtown areas, just like ours won't; and it relies exclusively on shuttle buses for passenger distribution, just like ours will. Since then, a hugely expensive double-tracking project has nearly finished without any corresponding improvement in ridership. (The double-tracking has proceeded in phases; portions complete are already in use with their corresponding speed/reliability improvements).

My own observations from my trip home follow the excerpts and comments from this article in the Boca Raton News which appeared recently.

Critics, who suggest that Tri-Rail should be shot and put out of its financial misery, grudgingly admit that railroads are closely linked with the state�s continued development and growth. Resigned to Tri-Rail�s financial reality, but resolute about its future, Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons admitted Tri-Rail �will never, never, ever pay for itself� operationally. He nodded when asked if this will mean millions upon millions annually in continued local, state and federal subsidy. He continued to nod slowly when told that critics are outraged that it�s costing taxpayers about $46,000 each and every day so that about 9,000 persons per day on average can ride the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) commuter rail service.

That kind of talk ignores the reality that automobile commuters are incredibly subsidized too, but it bears repeating that Tri-Rail's economic performance is far worse than most light-rail starts in this country. So you can't get rid of transit subsidies, but you CAN do a hell of a lot better than that.

And note "9,000 people per day". After 15 years. On a line much much longer than the one proposed for Austin.

Luksha is among the many South Floridians who derisively note that not a single Tri-Rail train goes through a single �downtown�, and only indirect services via, bus, taxi or Metrorail will get you to the region�s airports after getting off Tri-Rail.

Yup, just like Austin (nearly zero downtown workers work within the typically considered 1/4 mile walking distance of the station at the Convention Center, so don't even try me).

Koons sighs: �It�s tough trying to promote a railroad in the middle of I-95 construction.�

No, it's not. It should be even easier to get people to take grade-separated transit when the highway option gets worse. It's not, because the grade-separated transit option in this case has the fatal flaw of relying on shuttle buses to get people where they actually need to go.

�We�re too suburban,� according to Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty, who says Tri-Rail�s financial health in fact may depend on whether SFRTA can negotiate an agreement with Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC) for use of the FEC line that wanders through most of Florida�s urban areas. Without a FEC/TRI-Rail alliance, McCarty sees the need for continued subsidy because of the �inherent fear of feeder bus reliability.� The buses �are often late,� she explained.

The FEC railroad runs right through all of the major downtowns in the area -- meaning riders of a service there could actually walk from the train station to work.

They've learned from painful experience what we're going to learn because we fell for Mike Krusee and Fred Gilliam''s snow-job.

Now for my observations:

I saw half a dozen Tri-Rail trains (while driving on I-95). All were emptier than Capital Metro's worst bus routes. I got to see the line from Boynton Beach down to I-595 (Fort Lauderdale), and did not see one lick of transit-oriented development anywhere -- the same low-density warehouse sprawl that used to be around the line is still around the line.

A brand new station is under construction (nearly done) in Boca Raton on the old IBM property (where I used to work). This old IBM site was purchased by a company which has subleased to a ton of smaller firms about 5 years ago. The property is also currently full of new construction which seems mostly to be retail uses -- interestingly enough, they are oriented as far away from the rail line as feasible -- i.e. they do not view proximity to the train station as even slightly desirable. (And the existing offices in the old IBM buildings are a good hike from the train station - especially given South Florida's weather most of the year). This station's location was chosen after about five years of failed work trying to get a station built farther south as part of a new transit-oriented development.

Lesson: You don't get transit-oriented development around a failed rail line. Meaning: the developer contemplating building a project which will incur more cost and potentially less access for motorists is going to want to see people riding the train now who fit their economic profile - i.e. people who can afford cars, but are choosing to ride the train; not the people who ride the train because they have no other choice.

This does not bode well for the Capital Metro backers who think that transit-oriented development can make up for the poor routing of our own starter line.

November 23, 2004

Pedestrian problems on US 183

183 sidewalk photo essay

Prentiss appeared to have beat me to the punch on the photo-essay thing, but I have archives of this very blog that prove that my photo essay on pedestrian problems on US 183 was planned much earlier, and simply took longer to implement since I'm far far far lazier than he is. I'm frankly amazed I ever got it done. Thanks, slow day at work!

ALSO ALSO ALSO! This is the ONE HUNDREDTH ENTRY in this crackpot blog! Somebody put on a party hat or something, please.

November 18, 2004

Commuter rail photo essay

Prentiss has put together a brilliant photo essay showing where the stations for Capital Metro's commuter rail starter line are going to be. I highly recommend checking it out.

November 01, 2004

My final pre-election note

(Thank God, say the readers)

Sent by me a moment ago to the austin-bikes email list:

David Dobbs wrote:

> At 08:25 -0600 11/1/04, Mike Dahmus wrote:
>> So I don't buy the argument that the money's only going back if the election fails. I think the money's also going back if the election succeeds but the starter line fails.
> Well, clearly we can be virtually certain that, save for a half-cent bus system, Capital Metro's funding will be gone if commuter rail doesn't pass tomorrow.

No, clearly we can't be virtually certain of that.

I expect the 1/4 cent diversion to local governments to continue if Capital Metro were to lose the election. This diversion is easily rectified, unlike the permanent diversion that would happen if they win the election and build the virtually guaranteed failure of a commuter rail stub.

The fact that the ROAD guys aren't fighting this very hard should tell you all you need to know about their feeling on the matter. But if you don't believe THAT, consider the fact that this plan comes from Mike Krusee, no friend of Austin and definitely no friend of public transportation. He and Fred Gilliam have come up with the cheapest possible way to show once and for all that rail "doesn't work in Austin" - at which point I'm sure their common cause evaporates as Krusee seeks road funds and Gilliam seeks bus rapid transit. Either way, central Austin in particular gets nothing but the back of the hand.

There is no way I can see in which urban rail can be salvaged if this election passes. David is parroting the dubious party line that this commuter rail line can be turned into "light rail" by running the trains more often and through TOD - ignoring the fact that TOD won't occur if nobody is riding the line when it opens (real estate developers will shy away from such development if the line looks like a failure AS HAPPENED IN SOUTH FLORIDA). And NOBODY has explained how Austin is going to be SO DIFFERENT from South Florida that the shuttle-bus liability won't be a huge problem here for building choice commuter ridership. High-frequency shuttle buses waiting for you when you get off the train? Check. Speedy rail portion of commute? Check. Cheap because they used existing track? Check. Now planning on shifting emphasis over the next decade to a much better rail corridor after 15 wasted years? One down, one to go.

Let's recap:

- This line delivers rail + shuttle-bus commutes to Leander and far northwest Austin. It does not deliver ANYTHING to central Austin. It does not deliver rail service to ANY OF THE THREE major attractors (downtown*, UT, Capitol). It will be relying on far-out suburbanites to form the bulk of the daily ridership - and those are PRECISELY the people who are LEAST likely to accept a shuttle-bus as part of their daily commute. The progressive parts of town where residential density is at its highest get nothing but bus service under the LONG-RANGE plan (NOT just being skipped by the starter line, but SKIPPED ENTIRELY).

- The idea that the plan can then be saved by streetcar is also naive and foolish. While streetcars are more attractive than buses for a single transit trip:

1. The transfer penalty still applies. A three-leg trip (car, train, shuttle-bus) is much much worse than a two-leg trip (car, light rail) or a one-leg trip, as a Hyde Park resident could have had with 2000 LRT.
2. Unlike light rail (and the rail portion of the ASG commute), streetcars are stuck in traffic just like shuttle buses. You lose so much speed and reliability that the private car becomes competitive again.
3. Streetcars (and any other rail extensions or expansions) must be voted on under the same rules - only in November, only an even-numbered year, and they won't be ready to take it to a vote in 2006 since they've committed to a long study process. November 2008 would be the first chance to VOTE on these saviours, at which point the daily ridership numbers of the initial line WITH SHUTTLE BUSES will be public knowledge.

- The reason we're not getting to vote on light rail this time around has NOTHING to do with light rail's viability. EVERY CITY THAT HAS SUCCEEDED WITH RAIL IN THE LAST 20 YEARS HAS DONE SO WITH A LIGHT RAIL STARTER LINE, NOT COMMUTER RAIL. Light rail in 2000 was forced to the polls early by Mike Krusee, and still only narrowly lost in an election where suburban turnout was disproportionately high. The idea that we couldn't have taken out some of the objectionable parts of the 2000 LRT proposal and gotten a winning result is just a COMPLETE AND UTTER LIE.

I can't believe so many intelligent people fell for this snow-job pulled on you by Krusee, who hates Austin with a passion, and Fred Gilliam, who wants bus rapid transit and is pushing commuter rail as a way to get it. If I'm still living here in Austin in 2008, I expect to see many more comments a la Shoal Creek of:

" I am dismayed that Mike Dahmus was so damned right about this whole debacle from the very beginning."

- MD

* - by the 1/4 mile rule, no major downtown office buildings are within walking distance of the "downtown station". Nearly every major office building downtown, as well as the Capitol, UT, West Campus, most of North University and Hyde Park, and 38th/Guadalupe would have been within 1/4 mile of a light-rail station in 2000.

If "not going far enough" was the only problem...

I wouldn't be campaigning against this thing.

This entry is good for people seeking back-story; the linked articles form a "best of" collection from this blog explaining various supporting arguments for the Pro-Transit But No vote on Capital Metro this time around.

Today kicks off with another Chronicle mention in which they say:

Opponents like Mike Dahmus, a member of the city Urban Transportation Commission, say the current commuter rail plan does not go far enough.

The real problem here, as I've covered again and again and again, is that this line (unlike light rail) will require shuttle-buses for all commuters every single day and will thus fail miserably at attracting passengers from the suburban (non-bus-riding) population. Since this line, unlike light rail in 2000, doesn't run anywhere near the areas of central Austin where transit enjoys high use and overwhelming popularity, it can't make up the difference with progressives either.

Simply not going "far enough" could be fixed with some hard work. But this plan not only goes the wrong way, it precludes light rail from being built to "fix" it. Additionally, it's SO INCREDIBLY CRAPPY that it's going to "show" pretty conclusively that Austinites "don't want rail". Which, I think, is what Mike Krusee and Fred Gilliam had in mind the whole time....

The Crappy Is The Enemy Of The Good

Jeb Boyt throws back one of the most effective sound bites on commuter rail. I'm disappointed he didn't have the guts to link to me; I will certainly allow you to read his own words directly and make up your own mind.

I responded in his comments with:

Again, I disagree. Rail systems which attempt to provide starter line service by requiring shuttle bus transfers are universally failures at pulling people out of their cars (unlike light rail lines in the last two decades).

And Guadalupe/Lamar was completely feasible - the 2000 election lost by such a small margin that any number of minor changes to the plan, or heck, even a more concrete plan (remember we voted without knowing the downtown routing!) could have put it over the top.

The spin that Guadalupe/Lamar is impossible comes straight from Fred Gilliam, who DOESN'T WANT RAIL AT ALL. Hint: He's teamed up with Mike Krusee here to build commuter rail because it's the cheapest way to show that it "doesn't work".

And it "won't work" because it doesn't run through neighborhoods where people actually want to use it, and the only people who COULD use it are precisely those who would be the LEAST willing to take shuttle buses every day.

The real problem here, folks, is that a starter line which is this horrible will be, as one of my colleagues on the Urban Transportation Commission put it, a "finisher line". It will end rail transit in this area for decades. Please don't fall for this baloney that the commuter rail line is good enough for a start, and that we can work on improving it later. As Jeb's entry points out, Lamar/Guadalupe is not even under consideration as one of the possible "improvements" anyways, even if I end up wrong and suburbanites eagerly flock to daily shuttle-bus trips as part of their Leander-to-Austin commute.

October 26, 2004

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

Send Krusee Cruisin'

If like me, you're disgusted at Mike Krusee's role in destroying any chance that Austinites will be able to enjoy rail transit, and you live in his district, please check out Karen Felthauser's campaign.

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

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 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

More on our Commuter Rail Model, Tri-Rail

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.


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.


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.''

September 30, 2004

Lessons from the Shoal Creek debacle

Michael Bluejay, who runs the largest and most comprehensive site on bicycling in Austin, wrote a letter which appears in this week's Chronicle. The letter refers to the infamous Shoal Creek debacle.

Lessons can be learned here.

Lesson 1: Don't bet against Mike Dahmus. He'll lose, but he'll be right. :+) This comment comes from an anonymous contributor whose missive is stored for posterity on Michael's site on the Shoal Creek debacle:

I am dismayed that Mike Dahmus was so damned right about this whole debacle from the very beginning. Although originally, I was very hopeful that a community consensus could be reached that could benefit everyone (and possibly even improve relations amongst the diverse users of SCB), I see now that I was completely naive. What we have now is little better than what we had originally: parking in bike lanes. I'm still hopeful that traffic will be a little calmer, but I doubt that drivers will remain in their lanes, and cyclists riding near the stripe will be at risk of being struck. Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process -- however slight -- was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his "solution" would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don't feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others -- except Dahmus -- were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it's clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an "expert," and clearly he is not.

Lesson 2: Don't negotiate away your core positions. On Shoal Creek, car-free bike lanes should have been non-negotiable. (They were, for me).

Lesson 3: Don't dig yourself in a hole. The Shoal Creek neighbors successfully (against my vote) got Shoal Creek downgraded to a residential collector (from a minor arterial) which then made it easier for them to make misleading claims like "this is a residential street so we have to have on-street parking on both sides of the street". ("residential collector" is not the same thing as "residential street" in technical terms - the former is expected to maintain traffic flow and access over parking). Shoal Creek is, by objective measures, a minor arterial (it's almost 5 miles from 38th st to Foster, the length which was downgraded; and has no intersections where cross-traffic does not stop or have a light). So in an effort to be nice, the UTC supported the downgrade, which made it easier later on to mislead some people into thinking that restricting parking on the road was an unreasonable imposition.

Applications to the current commuter rail situation:

1. Obvious. :+)

2. Non-negotiable positions should be that at least one and preferrably two major employment attractors should be reached within walking distance without a transfer. IE, no change to shuttle-bus; no change to streetcars. Center-city folks should have fought Capital Metro when it came to running rail down corridors where people wanted it in '00 rather than where Mike Krusee wants it in '04. This is the most critical error in my estimation - people who really want rail to succeed in Austin got snookered into thinking that they could negotiate it with Capital Metro when Capital Metro already had its own non-negotiable position (i.e. do what Mike Krusee wants). The result was: no rail to Mueller; no rail to Seaholm; transfers to all major attractors; no service in the center-city residential areas.

3. Mike Krusee won here, big-time. Capital Metro's allies should have fought the early election he forced in 2000 (making CM go to the polls with a rail plan they weren't really ready to discuss - they hadn't even figured out what streets it would run on downtown yet; they were clearly shooting for a timeframe of May 2001 or so until Krusee wrote the infamous bill).

Now, for the big finish:

What damage was done?

This isn't a silly question. There are those who think that the Shoal Creek debacle didn't do any harm, since we started out wth parked cars in bike lanes and are ending up with parked cars in marked shoulders.

Damage in the Shoal Creek case: Precedent was set that car-free bike lanes can be vetoed by neighborhoods. The previous bike coordinator had already made it city policy not to build new (or support existing) bike lanes on residential streets; and it was commonly understood BEFORE this debacle that any city changes to collectors and arterials would, while soliciting neighborhood INPUT, NOT be subject to an implicit VETO. IE, collectors and especially arterials serve the needs of far more than the immediate residents.

Now, not so much. Notice that Michael correctly points out that the media now thinks the SCB process was a model of new consensus-based charette-including everybody-holding-hands everybody-won neighborhoods-centric bike-friendly delicious-candy-flavored planning that resulted in sunshine and butterflies for all.

In addition, at the city level, because so many smart people in the bicycle community were part of this process (snookered by it, you might say), the city thinks that the end-result was what the cyclists and the neighbors wanted. Basically, the cycling community (except yours truly) is now implicitly linked to this plan, in the minds of the people who matter.

In short: their names are on this piece of garbage.

As for commuter rail - the same lesson holds. The groups who lobbied so hard to work WITH Capital Metro before the final ballot proposal was set were fighting very hard for some minor improvements to the ASG plan, but made it clear from the beginning that they'd support it anyways. Now, these center-city groups are linked to this plan irrevocably - if I'm right, and it doesn't attract riders, then they'll have been on the record as supporting a plan which will have been found to be a stupid failure. Do you think that'll affect their future credibility?

Don't sign on to something you can't support. The end.

September 23, 2004

ANC meeting notes

outline from Austin Neighborhoods Council panel, which included myself (in opposition), Sam Archer from Cap Metro, David Foster and Jim Walker on the pro-plan side, and ROAD guy Jim Skaggs also in opposition (but presenting the Neanderthal anti-rail-yes-even-light-rail opposition):

1. Didn't get to use half-bridge analogy. Time was my enemy.

2. Pro-transit people continue to swallow the "if we don't pass this we'll never get another chance" kool-aid - mention 2000 failed and we're here in '04, so obviously a different rail plan could be put up in '06 or '08

3. Despite that, preparing for loss and documenting historical record (ala Shoal Creek) to try to slightly reduce rail's forthcoming dark ages in Austin

4. Feeling very very dirty at sharing a podium with Jim Skaggs and getting occasional nods from Gerald Daugherty, whose bald-faced lies contributed to light rail's 00 defeat. Their ability to good-ole-boy it up with the pro-transit guys reminds me of why I'll never succeed at a higher-level in politics.

More to come when I eat lunch at desk.

September 16, 2004

A combination of small pieces from comments on another site

David Nunez started talking about transit, and I wrote a few comments there which might have general utility. Here they are, with some additional context provided where necessary.

Doesn't have to be complicated.

I can sum up the entire thing in one sentence:

If your starter line for a rail network is really bad, you will never get a chance to build your full network, so you'd better make sure your starter line is attractive to a lot of people.

All of the rest of the talk is just explaining WHY this system doesn't qualify (and the 2000 light rail line DID). (For instance, transfers to shuttle buses to get to downtown, UT, capitol = unattractive).


Transfers and whatnot

Experience in other cities has shown that requiring a bus transfer at the end of a rail trip drastically reduces the number of "choice" commuters who will take the transit trip. This is something that's well-enough known in transit circles that arguing with it is akin to asking a geographer to prove that the Earth isn't flat. (In other words, it's common-enough knowledge that people don't even bother to prove it anymore).

The current express buses are, to me, a bit BETTER than the ASG plan. Yes, they're stuck in traffic on both Mopac AND the city streets; but they allow two-seat travel (car, then bus). The ASG plan is a three-seat trip (car, then train, then bus) *AND* the last portion is stuck in traffic.

It's important to emphasize again that your transit "spine" (i.e. the highest-capacity route) must deliver a bunch of passengers to within walking distance of their destination to be successful. Once you have a few of these, you can start talking transfers, but even then, the transfers to shuttle-bus will always do much worse than transfers to light-rail (for instance, Dallas' commuter rail line from Fort Worth ties into the DART light-rail system. Since DART's been on the ground for a long time now attracting its own choice commuters, people are more willing to transfer to it than they would have been to shuttle-buses or even a brand-new rail line).

The "incented somehow" talk is basically the point of using rail - get around the traffic rather than being stuck in it in a bus. That's why the 2000 light-rail plan was such a good starter line (and note: the citizens of Austin passed it; which is something that almost never happens the first time in a rail election) - it used existing separate rail ROW up to Lamar/Airport; then travelled in-street for the last 4 miles or so in order to drop people off where they actually want to go.

In this political climate, the only "incentive" you can promise with transit is reliability/speed - and the ASG plan craps all over this with the shuttle transfer.

(David asks for clarification on three points - #1 being that I support building the light-rail spine first and then commuter rail to the 'burbs; #2 being that Cap Metro is operating on a "build as much as we can afford and hope they will come" philosophy; and #3 being that my point is that if the first line is bad, that ends everything)

I'd say you're right on the f I'd say you're right on the first and right on the third. On the first I'd also add that it's incredibly stupid to provide rail to the people who hated the idea of rail in 2000 while providing buses to the people who loved the idea of rail in 2000. (This plan, even if it ever makes it to its completed state with all of the expansions and whatnot, delivers nothing more than slightly enhanced BUS SERVICE to the densest parts of town - you know, where in most cities you'd be delivering the RAIL service).

Capital Metro's real reason for doing the second is political - and it's spelled Mike Krusee. I think I have some backstory on this in my blog; let me know if you want a condensed version.

They also suffer from the typical disease here of overreliance on macroanalysis and underreliance on microanalysis. By this I mean that, like with air quality initiatives, they think you can "encourage" people to do something; but they never look at individual choices and the existing structures of incentives/taxes/whatever that lead to the behavior we observe today. Like how they do press releases touting the fact that Motorola or IBM are going to encourage carpooling - this doesn't do anything in the real world since the individual's incentive to carpool is still negligible.

September 15, 2004

Anti-toll people are communists

I find it hilarious that so many suburban conservatives are up in arms over the toll plan. These are the same people who attack all sorts of supposed creeping socialism and proclaim that the market should solve all of these problems - and yet when it comes to a problem that actually affects them, all of the sudden they go weak on the orthodoxy. Of particular note are their vehement attacks on mass transit - which, unlike roads, requires a direct user payment at time of service (no, folks, gas taxes don't count - the analogue here is tolls).

The fact is that "free" roads (no, folks, gas taxes don't pay anywhere near the full bills) share more with communism than with capitalism. The trick here is to remember how the two systems handle "scarcity" (demand exceeding supply).

If the demand for a good, let's say, TVs, exceeds its supply, the "solution" in the Soviet Union was a combination of rationing and simple long lines. People in Soviet Russia might have haid to pay very little for TVs, but they were quite often unavailable and when they were available, they had to wait a long time to get them. In other words, the way that supply and demand are balanced in a command economy like the one the Soviets had is by making people stand in very long lines.

In a capitalist economy, however, if the demand for a good outstrips its supply, the market solves this problem by raising the price of the good until supply matches demand (usually by demand dropping; sometimes by supply increasing as additional production becomes more profitable). The trick here is that the capitalist solution (higher prices) is unquestionably more efficient in the long-run since it allows people to make rational decisions based on cost. (Maybe they buy a cheaper kind of TV; maybe they use their old TVs longer; whatever).

Note that both of these equations hold even if 1/4 of the cost of producing TVs is borne by the government through taxes, even when they're specific taxes on people who watch TV. This means that the double-taxation argument is not welcome here, in other words.

Now, apply this to road space, which is a "good" provided in this area for which demand drastically exceeds supply at certain times of day.

In Communist Texas, everybody pays for highways in one way or another. Some of the funding comes from the gas tax (which you pay even if you're driving on a big city street like Braker Lane which doesn't get any money from this tax - I'll start indignantly calling this Triple Taxation someday). Some more funding comes from property and sales taxes (much more than people think). None of it comes from tolls.

How is the demand-supply imbalance handled in Communist Texas? By long lines (congestion).

How is it handled with the new toll plan? By requiring people to pay if they want to use facilities for which demand exceeds supply. While there are no initial plans to change the amount of the toll by the time of day, that could be done fairly easily (it's already done on a couple of HOT facilities in other parts of the country). This also means that there's at least a small economic benefit to carpooling (finally).

What this also means is that instead of letting people be stuck in line on existing "free" highways until we gather the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to double and triple-deck everything so we can temporarily handle the demand for free roadway space, it would be a lot more efficient (again, from the capitalist perspective) to price even existing roadway space. And don't cry double-taxation to me as I fail to get a dime back on my property or sales taxes being used for roadway and highway construction and maintenance on the days I ride my bike or walk.

So it ought to be very clear by now that if you support the current "free" highway regime over the far more capitalist "toll" highway plan, you have more in common with Communists than you do with free-marketers. Cognitive dissonance is alive and well in modern suburbia.

September 09, 2004

The Wrong Track

The former and current mayors, along with notable light-rail-killer Mike Krusee, were filmed yesterday by anybody and everybody for the launch of their pro-commuter-rail PAC "The Right Track". KXAN actually did a bit of digging and came up with one opponent of commuter rail other than the knuckle-dragging ROAD Neanderthals.

Let's go to the video tape

September 02, 2004

Empty Buses Part Three

I put my bike on the 7:36 AM #3 bus at the 38th and Medical Parkway stop. There were 27 passengers, counting me. (I took the #3 instead of the express because of my experience last time and because I was a bit early, so I could choose to sit outside for 10 more minutes or just get on the bus).

When passing underneath US 183 on Burnet Rd., there were 10 passengers, counting me.

When passing underneath US 183 on Braker Lane, there were 5 passengers, counting me.

And you wonder why you suburbanites only see empty (or in this case, near-empty) buses?

The End!

August 31, 2004

Half A Bridge

A reasonable person replied to a posting I made about Capital Metro's commuter rail plan (in particular to its requirement that shuttle buses be used for the last leg of their journey):

"A very good point Mike, and important one.
Isn't this something that will be phased in as ridership grows, if possible."

This pretty much sums up the reason Capital Metro has succeeded so far in maintaining what urban support they currently have. Most people aren't looking at the rail system as a potential passenger - they're buying into the "build anything and people will use it" theory pushed so ineffectively in voluntary air-quality agreements that always end up with the same set of city officials behind them. If you believe some non-trivial set of people will ride it just because it's there, then this attitude makes sense.

However, there's another way to look at the line (and its extension to Congress Avenue). Let's suppose that we decide to build a new bridge halfway across Town Lake. Why only halfway? Well, the first half of the bridge is going to be pretty cheap because a bunch of old but serviceable pylons (supports) happen to already be there - all we need to do is lay decking on top of them. (The pylons for the second half of the bridge do not currently exist). Certain unidentified crackpot transportation writers claim that this isn't enough; and that nobody will use the bridge (except for a couple of people who like to dive into the water for the end of their commute).

Would you say that building such a bridge is a good idea, just because it's so cheap? Would you say that we should build the first half, and then see how many people use it, before we bother to build the second half? "Let's ride and then decide" indeed.

Letter to 590 KLBJ morning show guys

I just sent this letter to the 590 KLBJ morning show.

Mark and Ed,

I heard the interview of Councilmember Slusher this morning and had a couple of comments for you to keep in mind if you talk to him again. (I've been on your show twice now - I'm the guy from the Urban Transportation Commission - actually, I'm Slusher's appointee, and he's not real happy with me these days for obvious reasons).

I know you guys usually attack this from an anti-transit perspective, and I'm firmly pro-transit (and especially pro-rail transit). Most people in the media are inaccurately depicting this as a repeat of 2000 - where central Austin transit people voted overwhelmingly in favor of light rail, and the suburban voters voted overwhelmingly against. That's not going to be the split this time - a lot of people who know and support transit are not happy with this plan from a pragmatic perspective.

Ed, you tried to raise a good point with the question about lack of service to south and central Austin. When Mr. Slusher responded with the Highland Mall (and other Austin stations), I think he knows that's not what most people mean by "central Austin" - we mean "the highest density residential areas" such as West Campus, North University, Hyde Park, etc. None of the places where there exists sufficient density to support rail transit are being served by this plan.

I'm also disappointed that nobody brought up the biggest problem with this plan - the fact that it requires riders to transfer to shuttle buses to get to UT, the Capitol, or downtown office buildings. In other cities in this country, it is very clear that your first rail line must deliver most of its passengers to stations which are within WALKING DISTANCE of their final destination, if you want to attract any new passengers to public transportation. People who can choose whether or not to drive (i.e. they own a car and don't have to pay a lot of money for parking) will not ride a service which sticks them on shuttle buses for the last leg of their journey. This is why South Florida's commuter rail line, after a decade, is viewed as an expensive failure.

Even without stops in Central Austin, the line could be a moderate success if it delivered passengers to at least one of those three big destinations without a shuttle-bus transfer (this is why so many center-city people were pushing so hard for the line to be immediately extended to the Seaholm power plant with a stop at 4th and Congress).

Without any modifications, the anti-transit people should be very happy with this rail plan, because after people see empty trains running down this route, it will become conventional wisdom that rail can't work in Austin. In fact, I believe that if this plan passes, it's going to be the end of rail transit for the area for a generation or two, as it was for South Florida.

Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission

August 30, 2004

Letter to Editor

This letter was just sent today to the Statesman (registration required to view):

In Monday's column, Ben Wear places the population in two categories - those who oppose rail transit in general, such as Gerald Daugherty, and those who support Capital Metro's current plan. However, it's my experience that a growing number of urban Austinites, after taking a look at the plan, are realizing that it's a poor attempt at a starter system that will be, as a colleague on the Urban Transportation Commission aptly described it, a "finisher" system rather than a starter line.

Any first attempt at rail transit for a metropolitan area must deliver passengers to stations within walking distance of their office in order to attract a non-trivial number of people who can choose whether or not to use transit. Capital Metro's plan requires nearly all riders to transfer to shuttle buses for the final portion of their journey and will therefore, like South Florida's Tri-Rail line, doubtllessly be a huge disappointment from day one.

The Urban Transportation Commission at its last meeting unanimously voted to ask Capital Metro to include a referendum on the rail ballot asking the voter to indicate their preference among a set of 4 options, including several plans which solve the "circulator" problem.

In the future, please do not pigeonhole the entire area into the categories of "against all rail transit" and "for Capital Metro's 'finisher' system". The residents of the city of Austin (who voted FOR light rail in 2000, by the way) deserve better.

Michael E. Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission

August 23, 2004

Rapid Bust: The R Still Stands For Un"R"eliable

Metablog: I'm now posting entries on the temporary location for this blog, maintained by a friendly cow orker, until I get my hosting situation resolved.

After dropping off my wife's old car at the Jiffy Lube, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway. I had planned on picking up the 983 (express) bus if I made it in time for the 7:48, since this is a much more comfortable ride than the other option (the #3 herky-jerky).

This 983 bus has some of the characteristics of the proposed Rapid Bus solution which is all that the urban core of Austin is ever going to get out of the All Systems Go plan (longer article on last weeks' happenings coming possibly later today or tomorrow).

So I got there at 7:42 and noticed that the usual suspects (2 other bikers who ride this bus every day , far up the 183 corridor, as far as I can tell) were still there. Good sign. A #3 showed up right about then (the 7:36 running late). l passed.

7:55 rolled around and the next #3 showed up. l passed again (if the first #3 was running late, maybe the #983 was stuck too).

8:15 rolled around. No next #3. 8:30 rolled around. No #3 or #983. The first cyclist waiting for the 983 gave up and pedalled away, to where I have no idea (both of these guys stay on the bus long after I disembark, so the #3 isn't an option for them).

Finally at about 8:40, I got on the 8:36 #3 and herky-jerkied my way (late) up to work. The 983 never showed. The other biker had called somebody on the phone but was still stuck there.

Need I say: This Doesn't Happen (Well, Hardly Ever) With Rail?

August 12, 2004

Chronicle Letter

Mine is the first letter in this week's PostMarks in the Austin Chronicle.

July 27, 2004

Can Streetcars Save All Systems Go?

Today's Statesman finally has an article on one of the improvements being floated to the All Systems Go plan which attempts to address the vast gap between the commuter rail line's terminus east of the Convention Center and the actual destinations of center-city workers (Congress Ave, State Capitol, University of Texas).

So would this plan, assuming they could get Capital Metro to go for it, work? I generally evaluate transit competitiveness on three simple metrics: comfort, reliability, and speed.

Comfort: Streetcars win out over shuttle buses big-time. However, they're still not as good as staying in the same seat the whole trip (as 2000's light rail route would have allowed, and as commuter rail extended to Congress Avenue could theoretically do). Transfers are uncomfortable - there's no way around this; even transferring from one great ride to another great ride is a pain. But again, compared to shuttle buses, streetcars win.

Reliability: No difference. Some people think there's some magic in those rails, but unlike light rail, these railcars would be sharing a lane with cars. Stuck in traffic, just like the shuttle buses would be. Both the streetcar and the shuttle-bus lose out here to light rail (or a more sensibly routed commuter rail). What that means is that one day, your trip from the commuter rail station to your office might take 5 minutes, and the next day it might take 25 minutes. A transit alternative that is more reliable than the car (easy to do if it has its own right-of-way) is fairly attractive even if it has a small deficit in speed.

Speed: Worse (with proposed routing). If they were running in a street with higher average speeds, the streetcar might actually have an acceleration advantage, but the Dillo doesn't have much trouble keeping up with cars now on downtown streets. The problem, of course, is that both the Dillo and this streetcar will be stopping very very very frequently. Both light rail and more sensibly routed commuter rail would win here. For transit to be competitive on speed does not mean that it must be faster than your car, especially downtown, but the overall trip must not be much slower than your car. This route fails that metric, especially if you're going to UT or the Capitol.

So it looks pretty bleak, right? Well, actually, I like streetcars. Cities which have already developed a high-capacity high-performance transit "spine" (like Dallas and Portland) can get additional distribution benefits from a streetcar. (The key, though, is that the high-performance transit spine must be an attractive choice in and of itself, which the commuter rail line Cap Metro is pushing is definitely not). And the streetcar as a downtown distributor (ignoring the linkage to commuter rail) is more attractive than the Dillo, because the psychological effect of seeing rails in the street is more likely to make dense residential and commercial development attractive. As a matter of fact, one could argue that Cap Metro should build a streetcar like this on a couple of streets where there's little possibility of light or commuter rail first and then go for light rail.

So in conclusion: Streetcars are neat. They're good for Austin. But they can't really make the All Systems Go plan any more competitive. Sorry, folks.

(modified May 2006 to account for streetcar route as indicated in Future Connections Study).

July 22, 2004

Jeff Ward, Fred (Gilliam?) and Commuter Rail

Yesterday's Jeff Ward show which I caught about an hour of was a predictable frenzy of transit-bashing, with a cameo by Fred, a Capital Metro board member who I assume is Fred Gilliam.

Some easy softballs to whack which were pitched by both sides on that show:

1. (from a caller) "The 986 express bus already takes about 50 minutes to get downtown, so why would we need a rail line?". Answer: First of all, it takes a lot longer than 50 to get from Leander to downtown even in non-rush-times. The route the caller mentioned only runs at 6, 6:20, and 6:30 AM, by the way. According to the 986 schedule, in those severely off-peak times it takes 62 minutes to reach downtown.

A more representative line, the 987, which doesn't hit the inner park-and-rides either, takes 75 minutes to reach downtown (Guadalupe and 8th). The 983, which is the only route which has a departure time from Leander after 7:20ish, takes 85 minutes to reach downtown.

2. (from Fred): (paraphrased): "Well, Jeff, you're a genius for noting that people won't walk 5 miles from the drop-off at the Convention Center to get to their job at the Capitol or UT, so we've designed this great distributor service which will run at very high frequencies and take you straight there". This "high-frequency distributor" exists today; it's called The Dillo, and it's dog-slow.

From experience with other areas which have tried the approach of building a rail line where it happens to be convenient to lay tracks (or use existing tracks) and then distributing via shuttle buses, most people won't be willing to take this transfer. In Tuesday's posting I noted that the city is as skeptical as I am of Capital Metro's idea that this won't drastically hurt ridership.

For comparison, the 2000 light rail plan would have taken passengers from the same park-and-rides up in Leander and NW Austin, but it would have dropped UT passengers off at Guadalupe (without a transfer). It would have dropped state passengers off within a block of the Capitol (without a transfer). And it would have dropped downtown office workers off within a block of Congress Avnue (without a transfer).

This plan is nothing more than Capital Metro's attempt to build what they think Mike Krusee will let them get away with. It serves only far suburban passengers, and it serves them poorly.

3. (from Jeff and others): (paraphrased): "people won't leave their cars behind for transit, or they'd be doing it now". Baloney. Cities which develop rail systems which are competitive (not even faster, just close) on time with the automobile and are reliable (same time every day) always siphon away a lot of car drivers. This has been the experience in Portland, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Salt Lake City, etc. Rail does things that buses can't, namely, get out of traffic, and provide a comfortable ride. None of those cities were experiencing any success with getting people out of their cars with their bus systems (which were more extensive than ours), but all of them are now (with rail) delivering people to their jobs via transit who actually had the choice of driving and chose not to.

The problem is that this rail plan won't do it. Capital Metro, again, is building what Mike Krusee will let them build rather than building what needs to be built.

July 20, 2004

City confirms: No connection to Seaholm with initial commuter rail line

Another wishful thinking balloon has been punctured, this time by the CIty of Austin in a semi-public transit update. Focus on pages 4 and 5:

1. The initial line from Capital Metro will not make it to Seaholm. No way. It won't even make it to Congress. And the eventual line going to Seaholm has some serious problems navigating the transition from 4th to 3rd streets which are going to be expensive to solve.

2. The city agrees with me that requiring a transfer to distribute passengers to destinations other than the Convention Center (where the proposed line terminates and where nobody actually works) is going to be the kiss of death for ridership.

It's time for center-city people to wake up and smell the coffee. This commuter rail line does not serve the needs of downtown workers, state workers, or university workers. And modifying it so that it serves the needs of downtown workers is going to be expensive enough that it will absolutely NOT happen on the initial line. When you combine that with the fact that it doesn't go near any of the densest residential neighborhoods, it's clear that this plan is a huge loser. Running empty trains from Cedar Park to satisfy Mike Krusee might make it easier for Capital Metro to fend off attacks from the state legislature, but it's not going to do anything for downtown Austin.

And for those who say "build it now and improve it later" - you're being incredibly foolish. Areas which followed this plan (San Jose, South Florida) by developing "easy" starter systems that were unattractive ended up with a much tougher row to hoe with expansions than did areas which made sure their starter lines were going to be a success (Dallas, Portland, Denver, etc.). You run the risk of the "build half a bridge" syndrome - building a bridge halfway across a river is often half as cheap as building the whole bridge - but it doesn't provide half the utility, does it? Additionally, this system, as I discussed earlier, eliminates the possibility of rail lines which could service the UT and Capitol areas which are the two largest pockets of possible transit riders in the city.

July 15, 2004

Don't Kid Yourself: Commuter Rail Precludes Light Rail

A lot of the effort to mollify center-city people like me who are disappointed that Capital Metro's All Systems Go plan does nothing for the densest residential neighborhoods of the city and doesn't deliver passengers to the two largest potential attractors (UT and state capitol) has gone into two messages:

The first message is "commuter rail is just like light rail" - relatively few people have bought this, outside the suburbs, since they know that rail going down Airport Blvd. isn't going to do anything for any corridors where there's any real density today or where density in the future is even remotely attractive. This has morphed into "once we double-track and build more stations, you center-city folks can just catch a quick bus to or from the commuter rail station" which I have a hard time believing is fooling anybody, but you never know. I've talked a bit about this and plan on doing more in a later article, but not today. Capital Metro's words are: Commuter Rail
Urban Service
Operating on existing freight tracks, this line from Leander to Downtown could provide convenient service for both suburban and central city passengers.

The second message, and the one I'll talk about today, is the idea that we can get light rail in the urban core "later" if we approve this plan now. The genius of this message is that it does a fairly good job of lumping opponents like me in with kooky pie-in-the-sky non-pragmatists who are unwilling to get something running on the ground because of the pursuit of the perfect solution.

The problem is that this message is misleading at best, and a lie at worst. The reason to oppose this plan is because it's deadly to future transit operations in this city. IE, not just because it doesn't do enough right away, but because it will actively prevent more effective solutions from ever happening.

Two of the strongest constituencies for ridership in the original (2000) rail plan (which was destroyed primarily through legislative manuevering by Mike Krusee) were state workers and university people.

With the 2000 plan, the state workers who live anywhere in the northwest corner of the metro area could have driven to a station, boarded the rail, and rode it straight to the Capitol. Roughly the first 2/3 of the length of this trip would have been on what is now the commuter rail line; i.e., completely separate right-of-way. The remaining third would have followed the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor with prioritization far exceeding that which the new Rapid Bus will get.

The university was going to be a huge attractor for ridership in two ways. Like state workers, university workers (or students) could board anywhere along the route and get delivered directly to the destination (at least, on Guadalupe St., which is close enough to walk to anywhere at UT). A second group of riders would be travelling to the UT satellite campus on Burnet Rd. north of US 183. The mere fact that a rail link would exist between the two campuses (again, walking distance on both ends) was going to provide a powerful core of riders on day one.

The current commuter rail plan, for reference, requires both of these constituencies to transfer to shuttle buses to reach their final destination. This, as I've pointed out before, means that anybody who has a car and can afford parking will never ride this route.The shuttle transfer kills the performance of the transit trip to the point where only people who don't own cars or have difficult parking situations would consider it, as is the case with today's express bus lines.

So what about a future light rail line, as Capital Metro winks and nods might someday fill this gap? There are at least three obvious reasons why this won't happen (at least, in a way which solves these constituencies' travel problems).

1. A new light rail line down Guadalupe/Lamar, if commuter rail is built, cannot follow the original 2000 path northwest on the current rail right-of-way. The two vehicles have completely incompatible trackage, even if scheduling issues could be resolved. In fact, I have a hard time believing it's feasible to even have a light rail line on this corridor cross the commuter rail line, making even transfers an incredibly difficult proposition. Thus, the areas where we were counting on the most long-distance residential travel cannot be served even if we get a new light rail line down the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor.

2. The operation of the commuter rail line, in my opinion, will swamp Capital Metro with enough additional operating costs that they will be unable to resume saving even 1/4 cent of their sales tax money (as they could today). See previous articles by me for why I think this system is not going to attract significant ridership compared to the light rail model - in short, no area like us in the last ten years has started with commuter rail for a very good reason: they saw what happened in South Florida.

3. The investment in the so-called rapid bus vehicles is going to be difficult to abandon, both financially and politically. There aren't many corridors in Austin where these vehicles could be shifted (physical constraints). The pressure to keep this crappy part of the system running is going to be very very hard to beat.

So, I think anybody who's tempted to vote for this plan with the 'understanding' that we can come back later and solve the needs of actual Austin residents rather than pandering to Cedar Park ought to think twice.

July 13, 2004

Libertarians and Public Highways

Yesterday, local pseudo-libertarian Jeff Ward was speaking out on his show against the recently passed toll road plan. I'm not going to talk about whether the plan is good or bad (In my role on the Mostly Ignored Transportation Advisory Commission, I voted for it as a lesser of two evils myself with some amendments to handle some things I didn't like), but about something which is increasingly common these days - that being Libertarians Who Love Them Some Good Old Fashioned Government Pork As Long As It's In The Form Of Suburban Highways. (LWLTSGOFGPALAIITFOSH for short).

And just a minute ago, two winger-leaning cow orkers came over to get an education on toll roads. They also fall into this category.

So, one would assume that libertarians would be strongly in favor of toll roads. After all, gas taxes (and worse, property taxes) are a very blunt instrument. People pay who don't even use the facilities that get the money (for instance, people who drive on major arterials in the city of Austin are usually not on roads that get any state gas tax money, which by state law can only go to state highways). The money isn't even remotely related to the facility you're on (drive on I-35 and you're funding construction of Mopac North). And with our own dysfunctional funding scheme here in Austin, you pay (via property and sales taxes) for not only major arterials such as Lamar Blvd, but also for right-of-way for state highway expansions even if you don't own a car.

So when I turned on the radio, I would logically have expected Jeff Ward, he of the "show me the business plan for transit" theory, to be strongly in favor of toll roads. After all, the funding is more directly related to the use (you use, you pay; you don't use, you don't pay). Ths is Libertarian 101.

You can guess, however, from where this is going that he doesn't believe that way.

No, Jeff, like most self-identified libertarians I've met, loves our Socialist Highway System. Because, you see, he uses it every day, so it must be an example of Good Big Government. And he never gets to talk to any of the people who use Capital Metro every day, so that's obviously Bad Big Government.

Those LWLTSGOFGPALAIITFOSHers love to complain that transit is bad because it gets most of its money out of a tax that most of us pay which is not related to our use (zero, some, or lots) of the system. They like to point out how little of the cost of one trip on the system is paid for at the time of boarding by the rider. Well, guess what, LWLTSGOFGPALAIITFOSHers? The same damn thing is true for road funding, at a much larger scale. I pay property taxes and sales taxes to Austin, which uses them to build and maintain most of its major arterials with no contribution from the gas tax. I get no rebate on the days I don't drive. When I do drive, I drive most of my trips on those roads that Austin pays for; so my gas taxes go mainly out to the 'burbs, where a much higher percentage of their major infrastructure receives gas-tax funding.

You know, I don't like these roads being built either way. But I know damn well that having them built and having the people who chose to live out in the hinterlands pay some of the costs of their destructive choices is far superior than having them built and having us all pay out of generic gas taxes and property taxes and sales taxes. At least this way, when Joe Suburbia goes looking for houses, he'll have to think of the cost of his choice.

I guess that makes me a better libertarian than Jeff Ward.

And please don't talk to me about any of the following winger talking points on either side:

1. We paid for them already. (No, you didn't. Mostly, people in the urban core paid the bills for you).
2. Double-taxation is wrong. (I don't care. From an efficiency perspective - i.e. moving the most people for the least cost, you absolutely must use some form of congestion pricing, even if it's the blunt instrument of tolls which don't change by the time of day).
3. You're paving the Springs (Yes, but the other alternative was building these same roads as free roads, which would have been even worse as an incentive for sprawl over the aquifer).


This morning I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway (near Lamar). I boarded the 983 express bus, and paid a "toll" of $1.00 (actually 50c since I bought discount tickets a while back). I was "double-taxed" since I also pay for Capital Metro with my sales tax dollars. Oh, the humanity.

June 23, 2004

Cap Metro Almost Lies

This presentation incorporates some responses to people (including myself) who have yet to swallow the "building commuter rail for people who don't pay into Capital Metro while giving the center city a rapid bus line" plan.

The most egregious is on this page, where Cap Metro makes this claim:

"Could serve central city passengers, as well as suburban passengers in our northwest service area"

WRONG. No "central city passengers" will live anywhere near a station proposed for the initial route of this line, by the accepted definition of "central city". Airport Blvd. is not "central city". Hyde Park is "central city". Rosedale and North University and West Campus are "central city". Only somebody living out in Round Rock would look at the 1960s era neighborhoods of Crestview that the line slices through and consider it "central city".

This line does not go anywhere near the densest residential parts of Austin, unlike the 2000 light rail route. Nobody living along Lamar or Guadalupe is going to hop a bus to go north to the commuter rail station (if one is built anywhere between Mopac and I-35) only to ride the commuter rail back downtown only to hop a shuttle bus to their ultimate destination.

And then, they make this claim:
"Over time, more stations and service in urban areas"

MISLEADING. This rail line isn't going anywhere it doesn't currently go. Yes, Capital Metro could knock down a bunch of businesses and homes to build more stations in the 'central city' by their generous definition, but even then, not enough residential density exists near those stations to make them feasible.

June 09, 2004

Commuter Rail #48: It's Not Light Rail, No Matter What You Say

I had a good lunch with Dave Dobbs about two weeks ago. Dave's a stand-up guy who is really working hard to get more mass transit on the ground in Texas cities, including Austin. So, any disagreements exposed in this article are honest ones; both Dave and I want more mass transit, not less. In fact, we both want more rail transit, too.

One of the things being floated in the face of center-city opposition to Cap Metro's new long-range plan is the idea that commuter rail is practically the same thing as light rail, except cheaper, so why would any of you light-rail guys oppose it anyways. Dave, in particular, was exasperated by my insistence in calling this plan "commuter rail" and comparing it to other commuter rail lines, such as Tri-Rail's disaster in South Florida. Let's analyze the things that were good about light rail, and see if that holds up:

The primary positive aspects of the 2000 light rail proposal, in my opinion, are (were):

  • Very short headways (initially only moderately short; but double-tracking the entire length of the corridor meant it would be easy to go to very short headways).
  • Opportunity for dense transit-oriented redevelopment in the Robinson Ranch, the Burnet/Metric corridor, and the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
  • Electrified runningway (means that the vehicle can accelerate and stop fairly well, runs fairly quietly, and does not pollute at source).

In addition, the light rail route would have alloed for pickup and delivery of passengers via pedestrian arrivals (i.e. less than a ten-minute easy walk to or from the station) at all of the following major attractors (north-south):

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Central Market / Central Park (38th/Lamar)
  • 38th St medical complex
  • University of Texas main campus
  • State Capitol complex
  • Congress Avenue
  • City Hall / CSC
  • South Congress

Evaluating the commuter rail proposal on the same metrics, we have:

  • Very long headways initially (every 30 minutes). Most bus routes in the city operate this frequently or more frequently, and yet one of the most common complaints from passengers is that they have to wait too long for a bus. This is unlikely to improve without double-tracking the whole corridor, and even then, I doubt whether headways could be improved beyond 15 minutes due to the performance characteristics of commuter rail vehicles.
  • Dave thinks the same opportunities for redevelopment exist (of course, in different corridors in some cases). l disagree - in no city in the USA has commuter rail ever resulted in the type of transit-oriented redevelopment you see with light rail, and it's not a simple terminology difference. I'll address this component in a later article. Even if Dave is right, the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor (and hence the near-UT areas which would be most obviously ripe for transit-oriented development due to their demographics) are not served by this plan.
  • These vehicles are going to be diesel locomotive-driven. At best, they might be similar to the RegioSprinter which was run around town a few years ago for a demonstration. These vehicles are likely to be far noisier, more polluting, and have worse acceleration and deceleration characteristics than would a typical light-rail vehicle.

And for pickup/delivery, we have:

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Convention Center

Some might argue that Cap Metro's map shows this line going to Seaholm, and that a station at 4th and Congress is likely. I disagree:

  • Adding commuter rail trackway in the street is much more difficult than it would have been to built a LRT runningway. It will also interfere with plans for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Expecting this rail to be built anytime soon is a fool's hope. And if reasonable headways (less than 30 minutes) are to be delivered, this will require double-tracking the entire downtown stretch. Keep in mind that this rail will be wider than the light rail trackway would have been.
  • Even when built, the idea that downtown can hang its hopes on a station that will definitely be at 4th and Congress is foolish. That's too close to the station at Seaholm to be feasible (ironically, this is true even though the station at Seaholm is too far away to make pedestrian access to Congress feasible for most - IE, it's too close for the vehicle but too far away for people).

Unfortunately, instead of opposing the plan on its (lack of) merits, most of the center-city people are wasting their time pushing for a quicker path to Seaholm (again, on the questionable principle that they can get a station on Congress by doing so). They then make this extraordinary claim:

"A rail line through the middle of downtown would allow a high
frequency circulator to quickly and efficiently carry commuters north,
to the Capitol complex and the University of Texas, and south, to the
South Congress District."

We have that high-frequency circulator already. It's called the Dillo, and nobody who has free or cheap parking ever uses it, because it's dog-slow, because it's stuck in the same traffic as your car would be.

May 24, 2004

Statesman on board?

Today's Statesman featured a sidebar on page 1 of the Metro section which picked up on the "running a poorly designed commuter rail system to suburban areas which don't pay Cap Metro taxes may increase operatng costs to the point where the urban core will never be able to get rail service" meme I'm working so hard on.

relevant excerpt:

A figure of $1 a ride, identical to what it costs now to ride express buses, has been kicked around but is by no means certain. But the train line probably would create a new operating deficit to add to the red ink.

With all that in mind, the Capital Metro staff has been looking at its entire fare structure. Staff members, with the aid of graduate students from the University of Texas, have been running economic models to see how higher fares might affect services, looking to find the number that optimizes revenue. The staff will make a recommendation to the Capital Metro board in July.

What emerges will no doubt still be a bargain. The board will not want to give its mostly urban bus riders -- and rail election voters -- the impression that they are subsidizing suburban train riders.

May 18, 2004

Cap Metro update

My motion last night failed for lack of a second. This is less than I expected (I thought I'd likely lose 6-2 or 7-2). Like I said, long uphill battle (most people are willing to take Cap Metro's word on performance rather than thinking critically and/or looking at peer cities).

Oh, and even though Cap Metro didn't bother to send somebody to talk about the long-range plan, not one other commissioner had the guts to go out on a limb and call them on this plan's lack of support for Austin's needs. Rather disappointing.

I've now finished a rough draft of some Qs and As about my opposition to this plan. More to come when I get spare moments.

May 13, 2004

Commuter Rail Fact Sheet

Today at lunch, I wrote this commuter rail fact sheet. Short on time, I made the hopefully correct assumption that relatively few readers would need a detailed introduction to the technology and terminology, so most of the page actually analyzes Cap Metro's plan.

Bus Reliability

This morning, after I finished a short interview with KLBJ-AM's morning news show (despite being well-meaning in their attempts to cover local issues, the format isn't very helpful - I only spoke about ten sentences total), I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway. Since I was up extra early, my choices were to take the #3 bus at 7:16 (arriving up near my office at 7:44) or take the more comfortable and quicker express bus at 7:48 (arriving near my office at 8:08).

I arrived at the bus stop about 5 minutes early (late for me), and waited. And waited. And waited. The bus finally showed up at about 7:30.

It's now 8:03 and I'm finally at my desk. And by the way, thanks to the motorists on Jollyville who were relatively understanding of my slow cycling due to the water. I didn't get splashed once.

The bus wasn't late because it makes a lot of stops. That's factored into the schedule.

The bus wasn't late because it travels on city streets instead of the freeway. That's factored into the schedule.

The bus was late because of unpredictable traffic downtown. And because there's no transit priority (bus lanes or other) anywhere downtown, the bus suffers when cars jam the streets.

Now, compare and contrast to Capital Metro's so-called "rapid bus" proposal. Their bus would run through downtown in shared lanes with cars, just like today's #3 did. In downtown and through UT, it is unlikely that it would have been able to hold any lights green (without destroying the sequencing of the lights on that corridor). It would have been able to hold a few lights green outside downtown (but, when I got on the bus at 38th/Medical, we didn't hit more than 2 red lights all the way up to my stop at Braker and Jollyville - and at one of those, we had stopped to pick up passengers anyways).

In short: the "rapid" bus wouldn't have been any more reliable than the city bus I took this morning. And that's not good enough for the taxpayers of Austin.

May 12, 2004

Game On

Today's Statesman (registration required) contains the first non-gushing comment about Capital Metro's plan to screw the center city in favor of Cedar Park and Round Rock (who don't even pay Capital Metro taxes) in order to curry favor with Mike Krusee.

But the agency will have to win over some lukewarm Austinites.

"I absolutely reject it on its own merits because of the benefits for people who don't pay and the lack of benefits for people who do pay," said Mike Dahmus, a member of the Urban Transportation Commission, an advisory board for the Austin City Council.

He said the plan would shortchange the large number of city residents who provide the agency's tax base in order to serve residents of the suburbs. Plus, he added, "the commuter rail doesn't go anywhere near the University of Texas or the densest urban core."

The bulk of Capital Metro's budget comes from a 1-cent sales tax levied in Austin and a few surrounding communities that are part of the agency's service area.

News 8, on the other hand, interviewed current bus passengers. Even Capital Metro isn't quite stupid enough now to think that the opinions of current bus users should shape a rapid transit line, although they're still attacking the issue from the angle of cost, which is not a winner with rail or bus.

Today during lunch, I hope to get the first fact page up (this one about the proposed rapid bus line). This will be an uphill struggle at best.

May 04, 2004

It's Rapid Bus, Folks

Short entry: I went down to Cap Metro at 11 for a briefing on the new different long-range transit plan (they're not ready for open-records stuff yet so they were only willing to talk to 4 people from our commission at a time) and yes, the urban core of Austin is getting screwed. Rail for people in the densest parts of town is now gone; replaced with "rapid bus" lines, which do not include plans for any knd of prioritization beyond the "keep the green light a few seconds longer".

In other words, the far suburbs, many of whom don't pay taxes to Cap Metro, are getting commuter rail; and the urban core, where most of the money comes from, is getting a slightly better version of the #101.

Cap Metro just got a new worst enemy. I don't expect to have any influence over the outcome, but I can and will make the people responsible for this decision as miserable as possible.

April 14, 2004

Proof of Yesterday's Entry

Yesterday, I gave a hypothetical example which showed why suburbanites might only see empty buses, and incorrectly assume that all buses are always empty.

It took exactly one day to prove the hypothetical.

This morning, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway intending to take the express bus into work as usual. However, I got there a bit early due to green lights, and the #3 bus showed up right as I pulled in. I thought I'd give it a whirl, since it ends up arriving up here at about the same time as the express bus, and has the added advantage of dropping off at Braker rather than Balcones Woods, which allowed me to more easily deposit some rent checks at the ATM.

There were 24 people on the bus, including me, when we pulled away from the bus stop. Note that this stop is about a quarter of the northbound length away from downtown, i.e., if you rode from the central point of the route to its far northern end, this stop is about 1/4 of the way up.

We puttered up Medical Parkway and Burnet, stopping at about 60% of the stops, usually to let people off; occasionally to pick people up. By the time we got to US 183 and Burnet, there were about 10 people still on the bus.

At Braker and Mopac, there were 4 people left, includng me.

At my stop on Braker between 183 and Jollyville, one other guy left the bus with me. That left 2 people to go to the end of the northbound route at the Arboretum (actually a loop end-point; it's technically south of where I got off, but still before the layover point).

So if you had seen the bus between downtown and Burnet at 183, you would have thought: "that's a pretty full bus" (nearly every seat was taken). If you had seen the bus at the Randall's on Braker, on the other hand, you would have said "that bus is empty".

And if you were as stupid as most suburbanites, that would be ammunition for you to run around and claim that Capital Metro wastes your money because all they do is run empty buses.

PS: The ride stunk. Bumpy and jerky. Hard to read. Not worth the 50 cent savings. I'll wait for the express bus next time.

April 13, 2004

Why suburbanites think all buses are empty, Part One

I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway this morning to get on the 983 "express" bus to work. 6 people, includng me, got on at this stop. There were 4 or 5 people already on the bus.

Several people disembarked at the Arboretum, and one other person disembarked with me at Balcones Woods. By the time it got up to the suburban park-and-ride, it was surely emptier than when I got on.

Actually, this bus isn't a great example, since it is 'deadheading' for the most part - the primary traffic on these routes is inbound in the morning; they actually run some of the buses back straight up 183 without stopping to get back up to the big park-n-rides quicker. But it reminded me to write this article anyways, so there you go.

A better example is the #3 bus (Burnet). It has at least 30-40 stops in between its northern terminus loop around the Arboretum and downown (and then continues on down to Manchaca with probably another 40 stops). It runs very frequently (every 20 minutes). Well, that's frequent for this town anyways.

Imagine this experiment: At each stop, exactly one person gets on the bus. All of them are headed either downtown or to UT.

If you drive past the bus at the Arboretum (its northernmost stop), how many people will you see on the bus? Exactly 0, until that one guy gets on.

If you drive past the bus at UT, how many people will you see on the bus? 30 or 40.

In fact, many of Capital Metro's routes operate this way; it's how transit is supposed to work. Although the disembarking model is unrealistically simple; some people do get off in between, and many stops have no pickups while others pick 5 or 6 up like mine this morning.

But the real lesson here is that suburbanites are stupid. While reading the example above, I'm betting you were offended at my lack of respect for your intelligence, yet, in fact, most people here nod their heads when some knuckle-dragging Fred Flintstone type like Gerald Daugherty's ROAD bumcaps rant about empty buses.

You want to see full buses? Go to the end of the route, Einstien!

Also, get your ass on Lamar or Burnet - don't expect to see a ton of buses on Mopac or I-35; I'm fairly certain Capital Metro found it difficult to convince people to run across the on-ramps to get to the bus stops.

Same logic applies to bicyclists too, by the way. Local libertarialoon Jeff Ward rants that he sees no cyclists when he drives around town, and again, the suburban knuckle-draggers can't wait to grunt their affirmation. Ask him where he drives, though; he's almost certainly going from his far suburban home to the KLBJ studio at I-35 and US 183. Probably using freeways the whole way, too. If you want to see cyclists, drive down Shoal Creek or Speedway or Duval, you morons.

April 05, 2004

The Gas Tax Ain't Regressive

Dave Fried talks about the supposedly regressive nature of gas taxes in response to Andrew Sullivan, and uses my blog to make a point about public transportation, but he's barking up the wrong tree.

The supposed regressive nature of the gas tax is a fallacy - in fact, poor people spend far less proportionally on gasoline than do the upper-middle-class.

The gas tax isn't purely progressive; though; the very rich actually spend less proportionally than do the upper-middle-class, due to their tendency to be either in the few healthy downtowns, or less need to drive overall.

Poor people as a rule simply DON'T drive as much as you middle-class people think. The people you think are poor who you see driving everywhere are actually the lower rungs of the middle-class; and they're doing it in much more fuel-efficient vehicles than their upper-middle-class SUV-drivin' non-neighbors. Even the poor people who own cars (and most do, around here) often leave them parked during the day. Drive around East Austin at 10:00 on a weekday and you see a lot of driveways with older Japanese cars parked in them (with a few 80s-vintage American cars which still get much better mileage than do SUVs). Now drive around Great Hills and see how many cars you see parked which aren't for stay-at-home moms.

Poor people, in every metropolitan area with which I have a passing familiarity, are also concentrated in urban areas or the oldest (inner-ring) suburbs. (Don't bother me with anectdotes about the rural poor; we're talking macro scale here). Guess what that does to the number of miles they must drive?

Ride the bus sometime if you want to see real poor people. Trust me on this one.

The other problem with this analysis is that it ignores other sources of roadway funding, such as property and sales taxes, which in this state are a huge portion of revenues for roads (even state highways). Due to the fact that poor people here live in areas which still proportionately get taxed at a higher rate than due the exurbs, they're ALREADY being taxed regressively. The gas tax evens it out a bit, in fact.

Some supporting articles:

March 31, 2004

The Folly Of Buses, Part XII

Yesterday, I dropped off the car I use on the days I drive to work (my wife's ancient Honda Civic) so the squeaky brakes could be looked at. I figured I'd take the bus from work to the brake shop.

I work directly on the route of the 383 (Research Blvd) and the brake shop is pretty close to a 383 stop (10 minute walk). No problem, right?

Problem 1: This bus runs every half-hour. Not a big deal when I thought the brake shop was open until 6; but then I called and found out I had to be there by 5. This meant I had to hop on the 4:16 (actually a few minutes later, since that timepoint was for the Pavillion Park & Ride a mile up the road).

So I walk out of the office at 4:10 and walk along Research (US 183) looking for the stop. First problem: no stop until Braker - a ten minute walk. But no bus passes me, so we're doing all right so far.

I get to the bus stop at about 4:20, which is about when I figure an on-time bus would arrive there anyways, given the 4:16 timepoint before. I wait.

4:25 comes and goes. A number 3 bus goes by. As it turns out, this would have been a good one to hop on (a longer walk at the other end plus a layover at this end of the route made me pick the 383 originally).

4:30 comes and goes.

4:35 comes and goes.

4:40 comes and goes. Another number 3 bus comes by. At this point, I'm out of options. I get on and request a transfer, anticipating that I won't be able to get the car and I'll just have to bus it all the way home (not that bad since at the shop, I could pick up the number 5 stops a block away from our house).

The bus gets to the layover point and waits for 5 minutes; then starts heading south again. I go by my old workplace and arrive at Anderon and Burnet at 5:00, ready for the (15 minute) walk to the brake shop, which was supposed to close at 5. Note for suburbanites: the number 3 never had fewer than 5 people on it, even at the end of the route where I got on; and people got on or off at about every quarter-mile, despite this being the far suburban section of the route (it continues all the way to downtown, getting much more crowded as it does).

I hoof it quickly to make it in 15 minutes. One guy is there holding the shop open for me. I apologize profusely and look like a big sweaty ass while doing so.

Anybody else think more investment in the bus system is better than building rail? I don't know for sure what happened to the 383; but here are some possible reasons it didn't show up through 4:40:

  1. Got stuck in traffic (local buses don't have any priority over cars; even so-called rapid buses rarely do)
  2. Broke down (buses are much more likely to break down than trains)
  3. Operator unavailable (buses require substantially more human operators per passenger than do trains)

Unless you're being served by a route a bit more frequent than the number 3 (and there are only a handful that are), the unreliability of buses makes them untenable for commuters who have any choice in the matter. (If a bus is arriving every 5-10 minutes, one being late or missing doesn't kill you, but otherwise you're in really bad shape).

This is what some people don't get about light rail. Even if it was still slower than your car, a reliable form of public transportation would be much more attractive to people who have a choice than the current unreliable bus system or the future unreliable rapid bus line. I'm willing to spend 5 or 10 more minutes getting to work if I get to read a book on the way. I'm not willing to do so if half the time it ends up taking 30 minutes longer, and I never know whether today is one of the on-time days or not.

The next scheduled 383 would have arrived at Pavillion at 4:56 PM.

March 16, 2004

BRT: The R stands for unReliable

Today, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway to get on the "express bus" to northwest Austin (there's a stop near my new office). This works pretty well most of the time. I don't have a shower at work and am out of shape right now; so I take the easy trip in the morning and then bike home in the afternoon.

There's a 983 bus every hour (most of the buses on this route run normal southbound and then switch to a different route northbound to pick up people in far suburbia; only a few buses 'deadhead' on the reverse-commute - but they are quite full; today's bus had about 20 people on it).

The bus was supposed to arrive at 7:48. It arrived at 8:02. The interesting thing is that had this bus broken down (as they do constantly, unlike rail), the next one would have been at 8:48. Ever sat at a bus stop for an extra hour?

One of the greatest advantages of light rail over bus rapid transit (to which these express buses are very similar) is reliability. They simply don't break down; and barring Houston-like idiot drivers, they don't get into accidents. They don't get stuck in traffic (90% of US so-called rapid bus installations end up without dedicated runningways, meaning that cars can use the bus lane and therefore the bus can still be stuck in gridlock). EVEN IF THEY'RE NOT A MINUTE FASTER, you won't be stuck at 8:01 wondering if you'll be waiting another hour or not.

Unfortunately, BRT is what Austin is going to get, thanks to a local pantload state legislator from a suburb that doesn't even pay into the system. Why nobody is willing to stand up to this guy is beyond me; Austin itself voted something like 55-45 for light rail even with all of its half-baked problems at the time.

January 29, 2004

Mike Levy Hates Pedestrians

Mike Levy, publisher of Texas Monthly, is at it again. For those who haven't yet had the pleasure, Mr. Levy's favorite pastime is finding a local transportation issue (relating to downtown, most of the time) that irks him, and then firing off an angry email to about 100 people around the city (the people he considers movers and shakers). In said email, Mr. Levy's usual tactic is to find a city staff person whose job it is to implement some policy with which he disagrees and ascribe all sorts of sinister motivations to that employee. Said employee is almost always just carrying out the express will of the City Council, with whom Mr. Levy somehow never picks a fight directly.

Today's example is light synchronization downtown. Mr. Levy admires Houston's system (in which supposedly all lights on one corridor turn green at the same time - which is a disaster for air pollution and for pedestrians, since the incentive of the driver is to hit the gas and go as fast as possible while he still has greens). Austin's system is more properly described as sequencing, in which lights are staggered on a major corridor to encourage 25mph automobile travel (better for the air; better for safety of motorists and pedestrians).

Mr. Levy, of course, ascribes this instead to a supposed desire by Austen Librach to ruin downtown traffic so that light rail becomes more viable. (Hence the title of this entry - pick the most awful reason for doing something that your audience will ascribe to your designated villain, and stick it in his mouth no matter what he really says).

Levy's audience will probably buy it, since most of the people on his list are knuckle-dragging I-can't-imagine-anything-but-single-occupant-vehicle-travel pedestrians-are-Communist old-school Austin Republicans. But really. If somebody was trying to sabotage commutes to make light rail look better, wouldn't they instead gum up Mopac and I-35, since at its worst, the downtown part of the typical suburbanite's commute is 5 or 10 minutes of the hour - 90 minute total trip? And who, dare I ask, would be responsible for the current gumming up of I-35 and Mopac?

Yes, readers, it's the suburban wankers (assisted by Cap Metro destroyer Mike Krusee who used his power at the state lege to force an early election) who narrowly voted down light rail in 2000. Or, maybe, it's the guys in charge of TXDOT who built highways to serve real estate speculators rather than actual transportation needs.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's Mike Levy, who, instead of using his awesome powers for good (getting downtownites to understand that nothing but rail can fix traffic there since we ain't gonna knock down skyscrapers to add more lanes) has squandered them on evil. Yes, folks, it's all because Mike Levy Hates Pedestrians.

January 09, 2004

Get Off Da Bus

It's been rumored for a long time, but further more credible signs are afoot that Capitol Metro is abandoning plans for in-town light-rail transit in favor of a bus rapid transit system.

I could not be more alarmed at the incredible stupidity of the board and other leadership at that agency.

  1. They're supplying commuter rail to areas which are primarily not Capital Metro taxpayers at the urging of the same state legislator who forced Capital Metro to call a rail election before they were ready, which they then lost by an incredibly small margin (winning in the city of Austin proper), primarily due to an insufficiently baked plan.
  2. For the majority of residents of the city of Austin, they're now going to continue to provide transit which is not reliable (sure, the bus can change a traffic light ahead of it to green; but cannot move gridlocked cars out of its way) and very slow.

Of course, the disingenuous jackanapes who pushed the anti-rail campaign in 2000 will be silent about the fact that BRT takes even MORE street space from cars, and provides even LESS benefit for the money.

Capital Metro is signing its own death warrant. But as I predicted back before the 2000 election (Patrick Goetz: you still owe me a steak dinner), the state is the ultimate power here, and the state hates public transportation.


Truly, the apocalypse is nigh.

September 30, 2003

Dilweed in Paradise

It's ironic that this dilweed lives in Honolulu, with one of a very small number of really effective city-bus-only transit systems in the United States. This presumably gives him the temerity to claim that the investment in public transit in this country, dwarfed by spending on highways, is a "waste" when most of it has, at the urging of schmucks like him, gone to those same city bus systems which are completely ineffective at removing suburban commuters from their single-occupant vehicles in almost every other city in the country. Yes, they provide mobility to some poor people who can't afford cars; and for a trivially small number of people who don't have parking at their destinations.

But the only thing that works for choice commuters (outside the oddball cities like Honolulu where parking is expensive enough to make a real difference) is prioritized transit, that being separate right-of-way such as rail, or buses running in exclusive lanes. Unfortunately, people on both sides of this debate continue to buy into the canard that cities should be required to show improvements in stuck-in-traffic only-poor-schmucks-use-them city bus systems before investing in any kind of rapid transit, be it light rail, BRT, monorail, subway, or whatever else. The most disappointing thing are the transit advocates who buy into this nonsense; not realizing that the true goal of most of the people diverting rapid transit investment into city bus systems is to kill those transit systems entirely (much harder to convert a light rail line back to single-occupant motor vehicle use, after all).

We went through this in Austin; with many road warriors hiding behind the idea that we should force Capital Metro to "run the bus system better" before investing in rapid transit, ignoring the fact that by any objective means, they're already running the bus system about as well as it could possibly be run. That meaning that a city bus system alone will never, ever, EVER pull an additional non-trivial number of automobile commuters out of their cars; since almost all of those people who could possibly be practically served by the bus are already riding it. Most UT employees for whom the cost of parking is an issue are already riding the various 183-corridor and I35-corridor express buses. Most state employees who don't get free parking are already riding various other express buses and flyers. And most private-sector employees get parking for free; so why on earth would they want to ride an 'express' bus whose guarantee is that if run perfectly in the absolutely best possible route circumstance (their driveway is at the last bus stop before the freeway; their office is at the first stop after the freeway exit), it could be almost as fast as their automobile, since it's stuck in the same traffic?

It doesn't matter how slow the traffic on Mopac gets; the bus will never be competitive with the private automobile for most people. The only way to compete is therefore to provide prioritized routing for transit - meaning rail, or as a poor second choice, HOV lanes for buses.

Period. There's nothing more Capital Metro can do; you could run a city bus every ten seconds on every major arterial in the suburbs and not attract one more person to ride it to their job since their car will be substantially faster and they don't have to pay for parking.