Cap Metro Almost Lies

This presentation incorporates some responses to people (including myself) who have yet to swallow the “building commuter rail for people who don’t pay into Capital Metro while giving the center city a rapid bus line” plan.
The most egregious is on this page, where Cap Metro makes this claim:
“Could serve central city passengers, as well as suburban passengers in our northwest service area”
WRONG. No “central city passengers” will live anywhere near a station proposed for the initial route of this line, by the accepted definition of “central city”. Airport Blvd. is not “central city”. Hyde Park is “central city”. Rosedale and North University and West Campus are “central city”. Only somebody living out in Round Rock would look at the 1960s era neighborhoods of Crestview that the line slices through and consider it “central city”.
This line does not go anywhere near the densest residential parts of Austin, unlike the 2000 light rail route. Nobody living along Lamar or Guadalupe is going to hop a bus to go north to the commuter rail station (if one is built anywhere between Mopac and I-35) only to ride the commuter rail back downtown only to hop a shuttle bus to their ultimate destination.
And then, they make this claim:
“Over time, more stations and service in urban areas”
MISLEADING. This rail line isn’t going anywhere it doesn’t currently go. Yes, Capital Metro could knock down a bunch of businesses and homes to build more stations in the ‘central city’ by their generous definition, but even then, not enough residential density exists near those stations to make them feasible.

Bike Helmets Don’t Work, Part 7

Took my stepson to camp at UT this morning (on our bikes); he thinks he left his helmet there last Monday (the last time we rode our bikes there). While I make him wear his helmet normally (it’s the law here), I wasn’t willing to give up the only chance to ride this week (due to scheduling conflicts) just because we couldn’t find it at home this morning.
Coincidentally, today I saw this from England, which was considering a mandatory helmet law for children.
Note from 2005: That link no longer works, but I found an excerpt from the document and include it here now for reference.

EDM 764 * * * CYCLE HELMETS * *03.03.04 Griffiths/Jane That this House notes the substantial disparity between claims made for the efficacy of pedal cycle helmets and their measured effect in real populations; notes that the Transport Research Laboratory has reported the promotion of pedal cycle helmets may lead to increased injury rates; notes that cyclist injury rates remain unchanged following passage of mandatory helmet legislation in several countries; and calls on the Department of Transport to initiate a programme of research designed to establish why increases in helmet wearing rates are not associated with reductions in head injury rates, and why the countries with the lowest helmet wearing rates are those with the lowest cyclist injury rates

Of course, the New York Times covered the fact that helmets don’t seem to be doing anything in the general population, but peoples’ anectdotes about cracked helmets that surely saved their lives continue to win the battle on this side of the pond. Even the Times swallowed a load of credulity by blaming the inefficacy of helmets on everything possible except the chance that a tiny piece of plastic might not be living up to its Herculean billing.

Commuter Rail #48: It’s Not Light Rail, No Matter What You Say

I had a good lunch with Dave Dobbs about two weeks ago. Dave’s a stand-up guy who is really working hard to get more mass transit on the ground in Texas cities, including Austin. So, any disagreements exposed in this article are honest ones; both Dave and I want more mass transit, not less. In fact, we both want more rail transit, too.

One of the things being floated in the face of center-city opposition to Cap Metro’s new long-range plan is the idea that commuter rail is practically the same thing as light rail, except cheaper, so why would any of you light-rail guys oppose it anyways. Dave, in particular, was exasperated by my insistence in calling this plan “commuter rail” and comparing it to other commuter rail lines, such as Tri-Rail’s disaster in South Florida. Let’s analyze the things that were good about light rail, and see if that holds up:

The primary positive aspects of the 2000 light rail proposal, in my opinion, are (were):

  • Very short headways (initially only moderately short; but double-tracking the entire length of the corridor meant it would be easy to go to very short headways).
  • Opportunity for dense transit-oriented redevelopment in the Robinson Ranch, the Burnet/Metric corridor, and the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
  • Electrified runningway (means that the vehicle can accelerate and stop fairly well, runs fairly quietly, and does not pollute at source).

In addition, the light rail route would have alloed for pickup and delivery of passengers via pedestrian arrivals (i.e. less than a ten-minute easy walk to or from the station) at all of the following major attractors (north-south):

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Central Market / Central Park (38th/Lamar)
  • 38th St medical complex
  • University of Texas main campus
  • State Capitol complex
  • Congress Avenue
  • City Hall / CSC
  • South Congress

Evaluating the commuter rail proposal on the same metrics, we have:

  • Very long headways initially (every 30 minutes). Most bus routes in the city operate this frequently or more frequently, and yet one of the most common complaints from passengers is that they have to wait too long for a bus. This is unlikely to improve without double-tracking the whole corridor, and even then, I doubt whether headways could be improved beyond 15 minutes due to the performance characteristics of commuter rail vehicles.
  • Dave thinks the same opportunities for redevelopment exist (of course, in different corridors in some cases). l disagree – in no city in the USA has commuter rail ever resulted in the type of transit-oriented redevelopment you see with light rail, and it’s not a simple terminology difference. I’ll address this component in a later article. Even if Dave is right, the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor (and hence the near-UT areas which would be most obviously ripe for transit-oriented development due to their demographics) are not served by this plan.
  • These vehicles are going to be diesel locomotive-driven. At best, they might be similar to the RegioSprinter which was run around town a few years ago for a demonstration. These vehicles are likely to be far noisier, more polluting, and have worse acceleration and deceleration characteristics than would a typical light-rail vehicle.

And for pickup/delivery, we have:

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Convention Center

Some might argue that Cap Metro’s map shows this line going to Seaholm, and that a station at 4th and Congress is likely. I disagree:

  • Adding commuter rail trackway in the street is much more difficult than it would have been to built a LRT runningway. It will also interfere with plans for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Expecting this rail to be built anytime soon is a fool’s hope. And if reasonable headways (less than 30 minutes) are to be delivered, this will require double-tracking the entire downtown stretch. Keep in mind that this rail will be wider than the light rail trackway would have been.
  • Even when built, the idea that downtown can hang its hopes on a station that will definitely be at 4th and Congress is foolish. That’s too close to the station at Seaholm to be feasible (ironically, this is true even though the station at Seaholm is too far away to make pedestrian access to Congress feasible for most – IE, it’s too close for the vehicle but too far away for people).

Unfortunately, instead of opposing the plan on its (lack of) merits, most of the center-city people are wasting their time pushing for a quicker path to Seaholm (again, on the questionable principle that they can get a station on Congress by doing so). They then make this extraordinary claim:
“A rail line through the middle of downtown would allow a high
frequency circulator to quickly and efficiently carry commuters north,
to the Capitol complex and the University of Texas, and south, to the
South Congress District.”
We have that high-frequency circulator already. It’s called the Dillo, and nobody who has free or cheap parking ever uses it, because it’s dog-slow, because it’s stuck in the same traffic as your car would be.

Followup on Our Friends The Saudis

Kevin Drum points out that the media continues to ignore the fact that the Saudis are the only major producer with unused short-term oil pumping capacity. This is the other piece of the story which bugged me for a long time – two years ago, when it was clear that these asswipes were behind a big chunk of the 9/11 attacks, it seems like the mass media in this country bent over backwards to ignore the fact that we were afraid to confront them for it – and the biggest reason for that fear? The Saudis have the only reliable control over world oil prices.

What’s Buggin’ Me About Saudi Arabia Today

So in every article I’ve read so far on the shootings in the residential complex over the weekend, the mention of higher oil prices is always tempered by comments that the oil infrastructure is well-protected. (example).
Why is it that none of these journalists have the balls to say why these attacks are bad? The fact is that the Saudis can’t run their own oil industry. They rely on foreigners (Westerners) for nearly all of the human capital involved – and the Americans and British have advised all their citizens to leave the country.
It just amazes me how pansy our press has become. This is a huge deal; and yet they’re focusing on the infrastructure instead of the workers.
Oh, and I just filled up the Civic. 36 mpg on last tank. Had to wait 15 minutes in hot sun at Costco behind megaSUVs. We also filled up the Prius this weekend – averaging upper 40s so far. (It was our fourth fillup since we bought the car in late February).