Let’s Go To The Movies: Also: Why Nobody Takes The Bus There!

In a happy coincidence, this twitter thread came to me as I was about to take the family over to our go-to theatre; the Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller, to watch a bougie family entertainment (I have kids, sue me; Christopher Robin was good). When I posted some details about our upcoming trip, friend-of-the-crackplog Hunter S Thompson Caleb Pritchard was appropriately dismayed.

More importantly, it’s worth exploring this trip from my house a few blocks on the interior of Hyde Park as an example of how even ‘better’ transit service has a long ways to go, but stay tuned after that; because there’s a little more to it.

Let’s talk time!

From a long time ago, you may remember cheezy minimalist graphics like the ones below, which made their first appearance in the best-est “Why Rapid Bus sucks” post that still holds for a little while longer until the two infill stops are fully integrated. In this case, you can see the components of the trip from my house to the Alamo Drafthouse in Mueller, as follows:

DRIVING TRIP (what we actually did): 7 minute drive, 1 minute to park, 1 minute to walk from the garage to the front door of the theatre.

TRANSIT TRIP (what we could have done): 9 minute (0.4 mile) walk down to 38th and Guadalupe; typical wait of 7.5 minutes for the 335 bus (15 minute frequencies on this route! Best we’ve got!); 14 minute bus trip to the closest stop in Mueller (Berkman and Simond); and an 8 minute (0.4 mile) walk to the theatre’s front door. 1

Now here they are combined on the same graph2.

See a problem yet? Hint: When just the walk to the bus stop from my house (the first part of four on the transit trip) is essentially as long (in time) as the entire driving trip, counting parking the car in the garage and walking from the garage to the theatre, you might not be competitive overall.

Well, you might be tempted to reply, surely the bus is cheaper!

Let’s talk money!

I have bad news for you. The Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller validates parking (which would have been $3.00 for us); but not bus fare. So here’s the way those trips cost out, and note that this is temporarily cheaper for the bus trip as my 2 kids that would normally have had to pay are actually riding free for the remainder of the summer.3

The driving trip costs around 60 cents, thanks to this handy but minimalist commute calculator, originally designed for bike commutes but usable for this purpose, that helpfully excludes bullshit like depreciation and insurance.4. The transit trip would have cost $5.00 (two day passes for the two adults).

So what?

Now for the interesting parts. What would we expect in a better world?

Let’s imagine for a moment that being “transit-oriented” in Austin actually meant what it means in the rest of the world. How would the equation above be different?

For one, the parking garage would have to be less convenient than the transit. This means that the transit needs to drop off in front; and the parking needs to be at least a short walk away (move the transit stop directly in front of the business; leave the parking garage where it is for now, I guess).

For two, the parking can’t be free while the transit costs money. But do you think a business in Mueller as it exists today would be willing to make this trade? Of course not; each and every business in Mueller would die without the influx of cars from neighbors like me. They are nowhere near dense enough (by orders of magnitude) to get the clientele they need from people within walking or biking distance. And don’t forget to remember this when people credulous of the grid redesign cargo cults think they will be great for ridership – the places you’re reorienting service to serve better (your ‘secondary centers’) all have free parking, meaning the competitive transit-versus-driving value proposition is horrible compared to the traditional downtown.

For three, also, the realignment of service for Mueller focused on running things down Berkman, which might be better for the residents, but definitely not for anybody trying to get to the Town Center [sic] from outside the area. If Mueller’s reality matched its promises, transit would go straight to/from the Town Center, and residents would be within a short enough walk that they would want to go there to board buses. The actual reality isn’t that great; Mueller is too spread out, as discussed ad nauseum, so the transit has to run on Berkman.

So the real answer gets to an even more fundamental flaw in Mueller: It tries to be a “center” a la “centers and corridors” from Imagine Austin, but the density it has is nowhere near large enough to justify free transit and expensive parking, so it ends up in the uncanny valley of density. Difficult to drive in, unpleasant and expensive to take transit to, and with a tiny fraction of the people within walking and biking distance that would be required to keep their businesses in business without those drivers and their necessarily subsidized parking.

What’s the solution? Centers have to be orders of magnitude denser than this, so that parking doesn’t have to be free to keep businesses alive, or, you know, stop trying to pound a square peg into a round hole and just resume densification of our existing center where parking already doesn’t have to be free. Either way.

Also, though, please note that for a single person, this particular trip would still have been a dumb financial decision, but not quite as dumbererer as for the whole family. Consider that you have to pay a bus fare for each person (including the kids when the free summer ends), but a car full of 4 dinguses costs the same as for a single dingus driver.

Also also, though, please check out Caleb’s new gig – we expect great things!

(I’ll try to fix this up and flesh it out over the course of the week to make it a little less bare-bones but had to get this out there in case I run out of time. Remember this isn’t my day job and I don’t even have time or the cost-benefit ratio for it to be a frequent hobby anymore. Fuck AURA.)


  1. I’ve used the common practice here of assigning half the ‘headway’ to ‘wait time’ as in – the average time we’d have to wait for the bus if we just show up is 7.5 minutes. The minimum ‘wait’ time for the bus if you plan on a scheduled departure is typically 5 minutes – you’re supposed to give that long in case it’s early. The ‘wait’ time for your car is ALWAYS zero, of course. 

  2. updated on 8/14/2018 to make the phases the same across the bars, but the color scheme is still gonna suck because there’s only so much of my work time I’ll spend on making this pretty for y’all 

  3. details: two day passes at $2.50 each, kids are currently free. 

  4. Note here that even though my company car gives me gas for free, I costed out this trip as if I had to pay for it 

Quick hit: What happens to Hyde Park in Cap Remap?

Motivated by my talk with Randy Clarke yesterday and some activity I saw on twitter.

I created these two images using Cap Metro’s trip planner; source is 4000 Speedway; destination is 800 Guadalupe; the time is in the middle of the day on this Friday (6/1, pre remap) and next Friday (6/8, post remap). I set maximum walking distance to 1/4 mile (which is the generally accepted walking distance most people will tolerate on a regular basis). These dates are good because the IF isn’t running, so this is a more accurate reflection of service that’s available always (not just when UT is in session).

Anybody see a problem here?

Pre-remap:

Short version: 23 minutes. No walk, no transfer.

Post-remap:

Short version: 33 minutes including a walk down to 38th and a transfer at 38th/Duval.

Cap Remap Prediction #1: The 335

(crossposted from Austin’s only honest urbanism facebook group).

Cap Remap prediction #1:

335: The new route on 38th Street.

(Click on the image for the interactive version).

There’s new (nearly complete) bus cutouts1 on 38th near Speedway and Red River (with no signals attached). It’s slated to run every 15 minutes. It’s recommended as the reason why Hyde Park shouldn’t be pissed off to be losing the #5.

I thought about this route today when somebody who generally has good instincts on transit told me this route is the consolation prize for losing the #5; and that it goes to Mueller. So I thought about where I usually go in Mueller; and ran a test trip for after the change from my house to the Mueller Alamo Drafthouse. Results were uninspiring. (0.5 mile walk south, decent transit trip, 0.4 mile walk west; the Mueller routing is the worst part – that walk along sunblasted construction sites is disqualifying in and of itself).

It’s basically anchored on Berkman, on the east edge of the residential side of Mueller; too far from the Town Center [sic]. What about the other end? It turns around at Exposition and Westover; at the Randall’s shopping center and Casis Elementary.

My prediction: This route is going to go over like a lead balloon. It’s nice to anchor a crosstown route at a school, but it has to be a middle or high school to really work. You’ve got a grocer, but there’s better ones closer in. The Mueller residents might take it to transfer to a N/S line (say, the 801), but the transfer is awkward (pretty long walk from the WB stop to the SB 801 station at 39th2, for instance) and the number of people in Mueller pales compared to the people along Speedway. This route is likely going to have total ridership similar to the corresponding segment (basically north part) of the old #21/#22, but is going to run 2-4 times as often.

Oh and those folks along Speedway – there’s no utility in taking this route at all to replace their previous direct to downtown. They’re better off walking an extra 0.3 miles (not total, this is additional) to the #7. Some will just resume driving downtown, of course, because the proportional penalty they incur due to this change is very large compared to the total length of the trip.

tldr: I predict the 335 will be mostly empty.


  1. which are a crock that will penalize buses; they have to leave traffic and may have trouble getting back in 

  2. or as a much more accurate friend of the crackplog points out, 38th and a half 

Update: It’s all a misunderstanding, supposedly.

Regarding yesterday’s kerfuffle:

My opinion is that you should keep your skeptic hat on (see below for reasoning). But according to Caleb:

Just got a phone call from CEO Randy Clarke himself and I am pleased to report that things have been entirely patched up. He assured me the entire affair was a major misunderstanding and that whatever message the agency flak conveyed to me was not, by any means, his intent.

As for yours truly, yesterday I tweeted this:

And late last night, I was alerted in private by somebody that Cap Metro tweeted this1 just to see this once I was alerted to it)) :

Here’s the problem. I am still blocked by @capmetroatx.

JMVC engineered this years ago; and they’ve kept it up despite claiming in person to desperately want feedback.
How seriously can you take this request to call them when they should have known that I wouldn’t even see it? (I wouldn’t, had it not been for a helpful cool dude). And how seriously can you take claims of transparency when they block their most pointed but knowledgeable critic?)

Vote in my poll to help me decide how to respond.


  1. I had to go incognito and dive into my alternate account at @buttgoat ((which you should totally follow just trust me 

What a great favor done for me by the heroic journalist

The story

Cap Metro Hangs Hopes on “Connections 2025”

The quote, with the emphasis added by me

Mike Dahmus, a transit blogger who is known for getting into heated online spats with fellow urbanists, argues that the plan tries to do too much for those outside the core. He highlights a reduction in service to Hyde Park, one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, as well as the already implemented extension of the 801 rapid route to Slaughter Lane, as flawed attempts to address the suburbanization of poverty, a phenomenon he says is “largely a myth used by suburbanites to gain access to services they aren’t paying taxes for.” The most obvious example, he says, is MetroRail. The money Cap Metro spends to bring commuters into town from as far away as Leander dwarfs the revenue it brings in through fares.

Note the emphasis.

Not “Former member of the Urban Transportation Commission known for making controversial but correct calls on transit”.

It maps to “Crazy Person”.

What merited such a description? It must have been the e-mail conversation. Let’s go to the tape!

The background (the unpaid labor):

(Stick with me as I reformat this):

First email


Jack,

Sorry for short disjointed email. All I have time for today is dictation and some phone clean up.

Of the changes going in in the first round soon, the ones that are the most problematic for me are the elimination of the Hyde Park section of the five, and the 21/22 changes. If capital metro were using the more standard quarter mile walking distance, it would leave large sections of Hyde Park with no frequent service whatsoever. However, in a very dishonest attempt to make things look better, they use a half mile walking radius for rapid bus stations, even though that's not an excepted practice in the industry. The original connections 2025 proposal actually called for eliminating all of the one and three runs that remain, which right now is about every half hour.

So, capital metro is out there selling this plan as if it's a ridership over coverage redesign, which tends to put an image in peoples mind that walkable places with density like Hyde Park should be gaining service, when the reality in our case is that we're losing service. The people gaining service in this plan are actually in more suburban areas, especially those on the far reaches of the rapid bus routes, where are the benefits of the fewer stops approach actually outweighs the longer walks.

The 21/22 are a slightly different story. Those areas are definitely walkable and urban, but medium ridership. Low by the standard of our more successful bus routes, to be sure, but also have lower subsidies than the redline, for instance. There's a major political and equity problem with those routes. They tend to have two types of riders disproportionately: number one is students transferring into the West Austin elementary middle and high schools, and number two, people living east taking the bus west to work at places like Randalls or Tarrytown pharmacy. It's true that the residence in Tarrytown really use the services, but that's not the only metric that should matter in a case like this.

So on equity grounds, the plan fails. That would be OK if it was a pure ridership play, but you can see from the Hyde Park example that it doesn't meet that metric either. A true ridership over coverage play would have restoring all of the locals on Lamar and Guadalupe to the way they used to be as the number one priority, given the demonstrated high demand for ridership and walkable focus of those neighborhoods.

Let me know if any questions. And again I apologize for the poor formatting, I was dictating this outside my son's Boy Scout meeting.

Thanks,
Mike

The second e-mail


That was supposed to be Tarrytown residents RARELY use the services. Sorry.

The first response


Thanks Mike!

What are examples of suburban areas gaining service? Are you referring to one of the rapid routes going down to Slaughter etc? Anything else?

Also, most of the complaints I've heard have been the opposite...that low income people on the outskirts (where they've been forced to live as Austin prices go up) are getting shafted. Do you see any evidence of that?

Also, what is your theory for why Metro's ridership has dropped in recent years amidst record population growth?

The third e-mail


Main example of suburban areas gaining service is additional frequency on the 80x routes and Red Line.

And why Cap Metro lost ridership is the same reasons - Red Line requires huge op subsidies which led to cuts in local urban bus service. Rapid cut locals on corridor by half and ridership still hasn't recovered.

The fourth e-mail


Finally, the "suburbanization of poverty" theme is largely a myth used
by suburbanites to gain service they're not paying taxes for. A few
poor people move out, sure, but the median income in Pflugerville is
higher than East Austin. Most of the poor people who were in Austin
ten years ago are still in Austin today, paying taxes to support Cap
Metro but losing rides to pay for rides at the edges of the service
area for nontaxpayers. (Note location of park and rides obviously
tends to attract people from outside the service area - majority of
Red Line riders don't pay Cap Metro taxes, for instance).

The fifth e-mail


I had a contest last week trying to get people to identify a stop
losing service (I was dumb and included enough detail for it to be
easy). Laundrette, Holly & Robt E Martinez, is slated to completely
lose service.

Here's a zoom-in of the new world if CM gets their way - 1/4 of a mile
at least to the closest LINE, much more than 1/4 of a mile to the
actual stops. This is in an urban medium-density area with a good grid
which still has very high transit usage.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1QWIxCZeZPRRN15GkB0z8QcRQXn0&ll=30.254114230537375%2C-97.72539144874577&z=16

(in the new plan, #22 is being shortened and now runs mainly N/S along
Chicon; #17 runs CC, nothing runs on Holly or REM).

CM's overall strategy on the plan seems to align with good practice
from other regions about reducing winding routes and increasing
frequency at the expense of transfers. But when you zoom in to areas
of concern, you see that something's not quite right - even the areas
that you would expect to get better service or at least keep it,
pretty much aren't. (CM hides this by moving to "1/4 mile from LINE,
not STOP" or even "1/2 mile from stop" metrics which are bullshit).

Hope this is enough,
MD

The second response


Here's another question:

John Laycock tells me that the plan will double the number of households with access to frequent transit and increase by 75% the number of households in poverty w/access to frequent transit. Do you believe that is true?

The sixth e-mail


No, I do not. They are using sketchy metrics like "distance to the
LINE instead of to the STOP", and using 1/2 mile instead of 1/4 mile,
just like I pointed out Cap Metro was doing earlier. They're also
using "people within X distance of rapid bus lines have access to
frequent transit" which is even worse - many households whose closest
'frequent' transit is rapid bus face an even longer walk to the bus
stop from their home (and sometimes on the destination end) than 1/2
mile.

The seventh and final e-mail


And I know you can't use this in your story, but bear in mind that
both Laycock and Crossley are public-sector folks who appear to (in
the medium-term) be angling for contracts that might come from Capital
Metro. Their independence is highly questionable given that their
financial prospects may depend on not angering those folks.

I have a day job at a horrible corporate cube farm and don't use
transit regularly now - every dumb opinion I give you is legitimately
my own with no possibility of personal gain ;+)

- MD

On calling bullshit

Don’t sign AURA’s petition. They are assholes who are doing bad things and being dishonest about it. But even more importantly, once you have processed the message in these pictures, move on and read the money point.

As usual, it’s up to me to point out that the emperor has no fucking clothes. People, including many in AURA, have made both of these points at the same time, often very close to one another:

  1. The right lane is already a defacto bus/right-turn-lane during heavy traffic periods
  2. Making the right lane a bus/right-turn-lane will dramatically improve travel times during heavy traffic periods.

These things cannot both be true, and people who say both are either too stupid to be listened to, or too dishonest to be listened to, so of course, in Austin, we’re listening to them.

As for center-running bus lanes, fuck those. Those would even further cement the permanence of rapid bus over light rail. There is no migration path; you get buses forever if you go that way (even with right turn and bus lanes, you’re 99% of the way to killing light rail forever).

Hey, reminder: this exists

It’s hard to justify a large investment in crackploggery when Bad AURA is out there stealing the air supply. But remember, there’s always twitter. Today, there’s a great thread where AURA’s trying to say their play-along-plan doesn’t mean they don’t care about regular folks’ transit.

Here’s a good place to dive in and start browsing:

I guess everybody has their own version of Jane Jacobs…

I just read this quote from Jane yesterday:

As a general rule, I think 100 dwellings per acre will be found to be too low

from this article I found when searching on something like “Jane Jacobs and density”: Jane Jacobs-style Density: It may not be what you think

Then, today, on my neighborhood’s yahoo group, I see a nice invitation to a screening about Jacobs from, of all people, one of the board members of Preservation Austin:

Hi friends and neighbors:

We’re just two weeks away from Citizen Jane, Battle for the City, presented with the Paramount Theatre and sponsored by AIA Austin! This 2016 documentary tells how preservation and planning icon Jane Jacobs fought to save Manhattan from urban renewal in the mid-20th century. Her human-scaled approach to cities transformed the way we view urban communities and neighborhoods, with major implications for challenges we face in Austin today. We’ll discuss all of this with our expert panel following the film, including Kim McKnight, Environmental Conservation Program Manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department; Catherine Sak, Executive Director of Texas Downtown Association; and Bob Paterson, Associate Dean for Research and Operations (Interim) at the The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.

VIP tickets include a pre-show meet and greet with panelists, along with hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Regular tickets are just $20! AIA Continuing Education Credits: 1LU.

Get your tickets here: https://tickets. austintheatre.org/single/ eventDetail.aspx?p=3325

Details
The Paramount Theatre and Preservation Austin present a screening of the award-winning documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City followed by a panel discussion featuring experts from the fields of historic preservation, urban design, and architecture. Some say that Jane Jacobs, subject of the documentary, single-handedly saved the soul of New York City in the 1960s. Join us to find out how! (AIA Continuing Education Credits: 1LU)

About the film:
“In 1960 Jane Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. Jacobs was also an activist, who was involved in many fights in mid-century New York, to stop “master builder” Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda. Many of the clues for formulating solutions to the dizzying array of urban issues can be found in Jacobs’s prescient text, and a close second look at her thinking and writing about cities is very much in order. This film sets out to examine the city of today through the lens of one of its greatest champions.” -Altimeter Films

Hope you can make it! Thanks!
Ann
Member, Board of Directors
Preservation Austin

Go see the film! It might be neat!

But also! A thought experiment: Do you think Ann, or any other board member of Preservation Austin, is picturing 100 dwelling units per acre when they throw around terms like “human-scaled”? Or do either one of the pictures in the article I linked at the top look anything like the Hyde Park you think Preservation Austin prefers?