TWITC: The Domain and The Bus

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
Some shorthand below explained up here:
“Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
“Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
“Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow

Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
Pros:

  1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
  2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

Cons:

  1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
  2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
  3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
Pros:

  1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
  2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
  3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

Cons:

  1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
Pros from buses:

  1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
  2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

Pros from LRT:

  1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
  2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
  3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

Cons from buses:

  1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
  2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
  3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

Cons from LRT:

  1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

(Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
(DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

(Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

Quick hit:
Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, more about and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it’s actually far more a factor of age – miles a distant second). For instance, information pills this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment’s on AC’s post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, more about automatic, all other values default. All values as “private party” and “excellent condition”.

Miles driven Value
20,000 6,540
90,000 5,640
180,000 4,825

(KBB said 86,000 would be “typical”, but actually seems a bit low to me).
A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason – would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn’t driven very much? Of course not.
What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you’re one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily – just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in “extra costs”). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

Trip Car Bus
Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz) $1.31 $1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
Home to downtown (free parking) $0.46 $1.00
Home to downtown ($8 parking) $8.46 $1.00

Now, if AC’s parking cost was unbundled – charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I’m just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it’d be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.
How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn’t be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I’m using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes – not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It’d shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it’s never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we’re going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses – well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.

Quick hit, treatment 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, nurse 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, story 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.

I hope the game ends up like this:

(image from Autumn Thunder, generic ironically, a Michigan blog, created in their AppyState aftermath).
If it doesn’t, expect me to be even more bilious for the next year. Oh, yes, it’s possible.

Dear Friends at Capital Metro:
Hey, click the last few rides, taking my 3-year-old to the UT lab school and back, have been swell. Good work. So I saw your fare increase went over like a lead balloon. Well, I just filled out your survey. Here’s my additional comments:

  1. This fare increase is long overdue, especially for the door-to-door special transit stuff. Yes, I so went there. It costs like 60 cents to provide a ride which actually costs the taxpayers something like 20 or 30 bucks. But even the normal fares are too low (and, no, almost nobody rides the bus to save money on an individual trip – because the economics of that don’t make sense, even when the bus ride is free).
  2. It’s typical stupid PR by Capital Metro to be pushing this fare increase at precisely the time when it’s most easy for the bus riders to complain about subsidizing suburban commuter rail passengers. Of course, I don’t think there will be many of them, but it’s still an incredibly dumb bit of timing.
  3. No, eliminating free transfers and Ozone Action Day free rides doesn’t count as raising fares. Cut it out. Presumably, you had to take a round-trip, so even with that free transfer slip, you used to pay a buck, and you’re paying a buck now; it’s just costing CM a bit less in driver time.

M1EK’s recommendations:

  1. The aforementioned STS hike (yes, disabled people should get more of a break than regular bus riders. If we expect a 25% farebox recovery on able-bodied people, then let’s shoot for 10% for the disabled. Something has got to be done here, though – serving the disabled is not Capital Metro’s only mission).
  2. STOP THE FREE RIDER PROBLEM. Even today, with nothing but express buses to serve them, many residents of Pflugerville and Cedar Park, who don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes, get to ride the bus for the same price as the Austin and Leander residents who DO pay those taxes. My solution? Walk-up fares go up dramatically (to about 80% of estimated full cost – remainder covered by Federal subsidy). Residents of the service area can buy discounted single or multiple rides by showing proof of residency in the service area. You guys actually encouraged this by moving the old Pflugerville express bus stop to just inside the CM service area right next to where it used to be – CUT THIS SHIT OUT. We don’t owe Pflugerville anything but contempt for refusing to fund transportation solutions. Likewise with this stupid Round Rock idea.
  3. Since you guys think this shitty commuter rail service is going to be a magical gold unicorn which poops out fairy rainbows, PROVE IT by charging double the express bus fare. This will take the wind out of the sails of the bus riders complaining that poor eastsiders will be subsidizing rich suburbanites.

Here’s what those fares might look like (this is just a wide estimate, though). Let’s assume that we have developed a smart-card for residents of the service area which can be used even for the walk-up case – this is simple and is done in many other jurisdictions to identify people who qualify for reduced fares (such as senior citizens).

Ride type Current fare Target FRR for residents Resident fare Non-resident fare
Standard one-way bus fare $0.50 25% $1.00 $3.00
STS ride $0.60 10% $2.00 $15.00
Express bus one-way fare $1.00 25% $2.00 $6.00
Commuter rail one-way fare N/A 40% $4.00 $8.00

(similar relative discounts as today for students, seniors, and day/monthly passes. Assumption is that average cost of a one-way city bus ride, all costs included, is $4.00; $8.00 for express; $10.00 for commuter rail with shuttle bus; $20.00 for STS).
The conclusion is that if we’re going to raise our farebox recovery ratio but simultaneously not drive away choice commuters (who are the voters we need to keep on board), we need to do something to capture the free-rider revenue, or lower the free-rider cost. Systems like New York’s can handle this by heavily discounting monthly passes and having relatively steep one-way fares; we’re not to that point yet here.
I’ll expect my consultants’ fee any day now.
Your pal,
M1EK

Starting a new category – “This Week In The Chronicle” where I post a short response to a couple of articles matching my subject matter here. Subtitle for this category should be “In which M1EK performs the critical analysis that we used to rely on the Chronicle to do, treat instead of just fleshing out Capital Metro / city press releases”.
Both about The Domain today, and which is actually a pretty nice little project in the middle of suburban crap.
First, the main article which includes this:

Each TOD, inevitably, has separate demands, different problems, and a different mix between the core components. “No TOD has everything,” said Lucy Galbraith, TOD manager for Capital Metro. “Some will primarily be employment centers, some retail or residential. Nobody ever gets everything in there – except maybe Downtown Manhattan.”
So what do they have in common? “It’s the three D’s: density, diversity, design,” explained Galbraith. Density isn’t about buildings per acre but bodies. It means enough people to make the area feel like a community. There’s a psychological factor, that a busy street is a comfortable street. “If you’re the only person walking, it can be a little lonely,” Galbraith said. “If there’s 50 people walking, you feel fine.” Similarly, diversity is supposed to reflect not just the usage but the culture of a TOD. “It’s incomes, housing types, ethnicity, everything you can find,” she added, “because the full range creates the kind of all-day use that makes it a healthy, lively place.”
But the third and most critical component is design. Transit plans depend on road design, and a transit plan that hopes to balance public, private, and pedestrian traffic needs to get it right early on, because fixing a road is a lot harder than building it in the first place. According to Galbraith, for a really successful TOD, that means putting people-on-foot first. “There’s many technical details, but basically you think about how you make life easy for the pedestrians, and then you fit in everything else.”

And my response:
As I’ve said before, you never, ever, ever get TOD with anything but high-quality rail transit. Note: the rail transit has to be within walking distance of the TOD for this to work – a ‘circulator’ shuttle bus will absolutely NOT work. Also note, the same lady quoted here has previously attempted to claim that the Far West and Riverside student ghettoes are TOD.
Wishful thinking pushed by the Feds aside, the general opinion in the field is that obvious and frequent bus service is arguably an impediment to high-quality TOD, because it drives away the tenants most in demand (choice commuters). The only thing that appears to work is rail transit within walking distance, period.
Sub-article, on “Getting There”:

One concept being considered is a circulator shuttle-bus service that will pick up train passengers and distribute them through the area. It will mean less of an overall dependence on the ubiquitous Cap Metro big bus, but it’s not exactly virgin territory for the city’s public-transport system. “Our range is a little longer than people perceive, because not everyone sees our express buses or our smaller special-transit service shuttles,” said Lucy Galbraith, TOD manager for Cap Metro.

Response:
Even in true downtown areas, circulators are a huge disincentive to choice commuters. In an area like this, which is a pale shadow of downtown, they’re going to be a killer. Imagine the use case here, from either central Austin or Leander:

# Segment type Destination Notes
From Leander
1 Drive To park-and-ride Not realistic to pick up circulator buses on residential end in Leander
2 Wait For commuter rail train Runs every 30 minutes during rush hour only for first N years, maybe as often as 15 minutes many years later
3 Train To Kramer station Station is way east of Domain – behind IBM/Tivoli
4 Bus From Kramer station to Domain Probably no wait here (circulators timed to train arrival) but bus stuck in traffic
5 Walk From bus stop to destination (short walk)
From Central Austin
1 Walk To shuttle bus stop No parking at the few stations closer in than Kramer, so only way there is bus
2 Wait For shuttlebus Moderate to long wait. (Timing only guaranteed on train end).
3 Bus To station (one of three) Slow, jerky, stuck-in-traffic ride
4 Wait For commuter rail train Runs every 30 minutes during rush hour only for first N years, maybe as often as 15 minutes many years later. Only one reverse commute per day initially.
5 Train To Kramer station Station is way east of Domain – behind IBM/Tivoli
6 Bus From Kramer station to Domain Probably no wait here (circulators timed to train arrival) but bus stuck in traffic
7 Walk From bus stop to destination (short walk)

Now, compare to driving. Does either one of those trips look remotely attractive enough to get you out of your car? The whole point of transit-oriented development is that the trips to and from the development must be served as well or better by transit as they are by the automobile. Unless you’re smoking a particularly potent brand of crack, commuter rail service plus shuttlebus to The Domain will never in a million years, even with gridlock, be better than just driving there.
What could have been done differently? The 2000 light-rail proposal would have knocked off items 2 through 4 from the Central Austin use case above; and light rail could eventually have been routed directly into The Domain (someday removing the other shuttlebus trips from both cases). The DMUs being used on this commuter rail, on the other hand, will never be able to be run in the street, even up there, because they can’t make anything but the widest of turns. Once again we see that the decision to implement commuter rail instead of light rail not only buys Austin absolutely nothing now, it prevents us from doing anything better in the future.

It IS time to raise fares, BUT

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
Some shorthand below explained up here:
“Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
“Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
“Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow

Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
Pros:

  1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
  2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

Cons:

  1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
  2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
  3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
Pros:

  1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
  2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
  3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

Cons:

  1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
Pros from buses:

  1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
  2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

Pros from LRT:

  1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
  2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
  3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

Cons from buses:

  1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
  2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
  3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

Cons from LRT:

  1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

(Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
(DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

(Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

Quick hit:
Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, more about and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it’s actually far more a factor of age – miles a distant second). For instance, information pills this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment’s on AC’s post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, more about automatic, all other values default. All values as “private party” and “excellent condition”.

Miles driven Value
20,000 6,540
90,000 5,640
180,000 4,825

(KBB said 86,000 would be “typical”, but actually seems a bit low to me).
A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason – would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn’t driven very much? Of course not.
What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you’re one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily – just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in “extra costs”). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

Trip Car Bus
Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz) $1.31 $1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
Home to downtown (free parking) $0.46 $1.00
Home to downtown ($8 parking) $8.46 $1.00

Now, if AC’s parking cost was unbundled – charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I’m just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it’d be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.
How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn’t be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I’m using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes – not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It’d shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it’s never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we’re going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses – well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.

Quick hit, treatment 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, nurse 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, story 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.

I hope the game ends up like this:

(image from Autumn Thunder, generic ironically, a Michigan blog, created in their AppyState aftermath).
If it doesn’t, expect me to be even more bilious for the next year. Oh, yes, it’s possible.

Dear Friends at Capital Metro:
Hey, click the last few rides, taking my 3-year-old to the UT lab school and back, have been swell. Good work. So I saw your fare increase went over like a lead balloon. Well, I just filled out your survey. Here’s my additional comments:

  1. This fare increase is long overdue, especially for the door-to-door special transit stuff. Yes, I so went there. It costs like 60 cents to provide a ride which actually costs the taxpayers something like 20 or 30 bucks. But even the normal fares are too low (and, no, almost nobody rides the bus to save money on an individual trip – because the economics of that don’t make sense, even when the bus ride is free).
  2. It’s typical stupid PR by Capital Metro to be pushing this fare increase at precisely the time when it’s most easy for the bus riders to complain about subsidizing suburban commuter rail passengers. Of course, I don’t think there will be many of them, but it’s still an incredibly dumb bit of timing.
  3. No, eliminating free transfers and Ozone Action Day free rides doesn’t count as raising fares. Cut it out. Presumably, you had to take a round-trip, so even with that free transfer slip, you used to pay a buck, and you’re paying a buck now; it’s just costing CM a bit less in driver time.

M1EK’s recommendations:

  1. The aforementioned STS hike (yes, disabled people should get more of a break than regular bus riders. If we expect a 25% farebox recovery on able-bodied people, then let’s shoot for 10% for the disabled. Something has got to be done here, though – serving the disabled is not Capital Metro’s only mission).
  2. STOP THE FREE RIDER PROBLEM. Even today, with nothing but express buses to serve them, many residents of Pflugerville and Cedar Park, who don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes, get to ride the bus for the same price as the Austin and Leander residents who DO pay those taxes. My solution? Walk-up fares go up dramatically (to about 80% of estimated full cost – remainder covered by Federal subsidy). Residents of the service area can buy discounted single or multiple rides by showing proof of residency in the service area. You guys actually encouraged this by moving the old Pflugerville express bus stop to just inside the CM service area right next to where it used to be – CUT THIS SHIT OUT. We don’t owe Pflugerville anything but contempt for refusing to fund transportation solutions. Likewise with this stupid Round Rock idea.
  3. Since you guys think this shitty commuter rail service is going to be a magical gold unicorn which poops out fairy rainbows, PROVE IT by charging double the express bus fare. This will take the wind out of the sails of the bus riders complaining that poor eastsiders will be subsidizing rich suburbanites.

Here’s what those fares might look like (this is just a wide estimate, though). Let’s assume that we have developed a smart-card for residents of the service area which can be used even for the walk-up case – this is simple and is done in many other jurisdictions to identify people who qualify for reduced fares (such as senior citizens).

Ride type Current fare Target FRR for residents Resident fare Non-resident fare
Standard one-way bus fare $0.50 25% $1.00 $3.00
STS ride $0.60 10% $2.00 $15.00
Express bus one-way fare $1.00 25% $2.00 $6.00
Commuter rail one-way fare N/A 40% $4.00 $8.00

(similar relative discounts as today for students, seniors, and day/monthly passes. Assumption is that average cost of a one-way city bus ride, all costs included, is $4.00; $8.00 for express; $10.00 for commuter rail with shuttle bus; $20.00 for STS).
The conclusion is that if we’re going to raise our farebox recovery ratio but simultaneously not drive away choice commuters (who are the voters we need to keep on board), we need to do something to capture the free-rider revenue, or lower the free-rider cost. Systems like New York’s can handle this by heavily discounting monthly passes and having relatively steep one-way fares; we’re not to that point yet here.
I’ll expect my consultants’ fee any day now.
Your pal,
M1EK

Desperate hope for tomorrow

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
Some shorthand below explained up here:
“Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
“Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
“Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow

Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
Pros:

  1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
  2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

Cons:

  1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
  2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
  3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
Pros:

  1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
  2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
  3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

Cons:

  1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
Pros from buses:

  1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
  2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

Pros from LRT:

  1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
  2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
  3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

Cons from buses:

  1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
  2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
  3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

Cons from LRT:

  1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

(Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
(DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

(Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

Quick hit:
Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, more about and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it’s actually far more a factor of age – miles a distant second). For instance, information pills this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment’s on AC’s post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, more about automatic, all other values default. All values as “private party” and “excellent condition”.

Miles driven Value
20,000 6,540
90,000 5,640
180,000 4,825

(KBB said 86,000 would be “typical”, but actually seems a bit low to me).
A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason – would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn’t driven very much? Of course not.
What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you’re one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily – just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in “extra costs”). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

Trip Car Bus
Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz) $1.31 $1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
Home to downtown (free parking) $0.46 $1.00
Home to downtown ($8 parking) $8.46 $1.00

Now, if AC’s parking cost was unbundled – charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I’m just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it’d be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.
How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn’t be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I’m using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes – not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It’d shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it’s never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we’re going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses – well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.

Quick hit, treatment 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, nurse 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, story 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.

I hope the game ends up like this:

(image from Autumn Thunder, generic ironically, a Michigan blog, created in their AppyState aftermath).
If it doesn’t, expect me to be even more bilious for the next year. Oh, yes, it’s possible.

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

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
Some shorthand below explained up here:
“Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
“Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
“Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow

Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
Pros:

  1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
  2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

Cons:

  1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
  2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
  3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
Pros:

  1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
  2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
  3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

Cons:

  1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
Pros from buses:

  1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
  2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

Pros from LRT:

  1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
  2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
  3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

Cons from buses:

  1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
  2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
  3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

Cons from LRT:

  1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

(Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
(DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

(Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

Quick hit:
Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, more about and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it’s actually far more a factor of age – miles a distant second). For instance, information pills this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment’s on AC’s post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, more about automatic, all other values default. All values as “private party” and “excellent condition”.

Miles driven Value
20,000 6,540
90,000 5,640
180,000 4,825

(KBB said 86,000 would be “typical”, but actually seems a bit low to me).
A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason – would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn’t driven very much? Of course not.
What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you’re one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily – just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in “extra costs”). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

Trip Car Bus
Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz) $1.31 $1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
Home to downtown (free parking) $0.46 $1.00
Home to downtown ($8 parking) $8.46 $1.00

Now, if AC’s parking cost was unbundled – charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I’m just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it’d be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.
How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn’t be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I’m using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes – not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It’d shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it’s never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we’re going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses – well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.

Quick hit, treatment 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, nurse 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, story 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.

Driving: Fixed versus variable

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
Some shorthand below explained up here:
“Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
“Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
“Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow

Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
Pros:

  1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
  2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

Cons:

  1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
  2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
  3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
Pros:

  1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
  2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
  3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

Cons:

  1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
Pros from buses:

  1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
  2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

Pros from LRT:

  1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
  2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
  3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

Cons from buses:

  1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
  2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
  3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

Cons from LRT:

  1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

(Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
(DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

(Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

Quick hit:
Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, more about and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it’s actually far more a factor of age – miles a distant second). For instance, information pills this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment’s on AC’s post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, more about automatic, all other values default. All values as “private party” and “excellent condition”.

Miles driven Value
20,000 6,540
90,000 5,640
180,000 4,825

(KBB said 86,000 would be “typical”, but actually seems a bit low to me).
A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason – would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn’t driven very much? Of course not.
What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you’re one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily – just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in “extra costs”). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

Trip Car Bus
Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz) $1.31 $1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
Home to downtown (free parking) $0.46 $1.00
Home to downtown ($8 parking) $8.46 $1.00

Now, if AC’s parking cost was unbundled – charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I’m just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it’d be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.
How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn’t be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I’m using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes – not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It’d shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it’s never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we’re going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses – well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.

Round Rock screws Austin again

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
Some shorthand below explained up here:
“Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
“Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
“Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow

Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
Pros:

  1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
  2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

Cons:

  1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
  2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
  3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
Pros:

  1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
  2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
  3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

Cons:

  1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
Pros from buses:

  1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
  2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

Pros from LRT:

  1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
  2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
  3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

Cons from buses:

  1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
  2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
  3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

Cons from LRT:

  1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

(Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
(DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

(Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

Quick hit:
Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

Why streetcars suck

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
Some shorthand below explained up here:
“Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
“Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
“Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow

Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
Pros:

  1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
  2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

Cons:

  1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
  2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
  3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
Pros:

  1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
  2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
  3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

Cons:

  1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
Pros from buses:

  1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
  2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

Pros from LRT:

  1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
  2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
  3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

Cons from buses:

  1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
  2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
  3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

Cons from LRT:

  1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

(Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
(DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

(Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

Difference between streetcar and bus

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
Some shorthand below explained up here:
“Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
“Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
“Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
Streetcar Yes No Slow

Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

Rapid Bus slips to 2010

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
(“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

Capital Metro misses huge opportunity

If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom 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, rx 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

This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate 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.

There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

Focus on this sentence:

We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
Sincerely,
Jerry Reid
Manager, etc.
Vino Vino
p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
(meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

(TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
Original post follows:
Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

  1. The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  2. A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.