From Christof in Houston:
Notice a pattern? Passengers don’t want to transfer to a circulator service to get to work, even a high-quality circulator like Denver’s. And serving suburban employment densities with rail transit is just about futile: 80% of Houston’s bus routes have higher ridership than Denver’s suburb to suburb rail line.
Trains aren’t vacuum cleaners. You don’t just put them next to a freeway and hope they suck people out of their cars. People will ride transit if it gets them where they want to go conveniently. If we want to maximize the number of people who will take transit (which should be the goal) we need to find places where transit will serve as many people as possible as conveniently as possible. That means serving density, particularly employment density, directly.
Note that, as Christof further backed up in the forum, Denver’s circulator is far superior to the one we’ll be delivering here in Austin – it actually has some reserved right-of-way (which even our future maybe streetcar line won’t have). In Austin, just about every daily commuter on the commuter rail line will have to transfer to a shuttle bus to get to their office. Not a shuttle bus which has some segments of reserved right-of-way, like in Denver, but a shuttle bus which is stuck in the same traffic the train was supposed to bypass.
That’s why Tri-Rail in South Florida failed. Some credulous fools here think we’re radically different from everybody else – but if we were so different in the “people with real jobs dislike uncomfortable, jerky, slow bus rides” department, we wouldn’t need to build rail in the first place.
Fresh on the heels of yesterday’s post, Christof from Houston weighs in that rail service that depends on circulators rather than pedestrian traffic isn’t likely to succeed in garnering so-called “choice commuters” (those who you’re trying to attract away from their cars).
Unfortunately, it appears that the same lesson which was learned from watching Tri-Rail’s abject failure in South Florida has to keep getting re-learned all over the country, since we keep pushing these stupid commuter rail projects which reuse existing track but don’t go anywhere worth going rather than building light rail which DOES.
So, care to guess how you’re going to get from the Capital Metro commuter rail station to your office in downtown, the Capitol, or UT?
The North Burnet/Gateway presentation, which, frankly, looks very very appealing in the alternate universe where we had the guts to stand up to Mike Krusee and develop light rail, continues the rationalization of poor transit service by calling it “interconnected”, which is a euphemism for “you’re going to have a lot of transfers”. Specifically, a resident of this area trying to go downtown would need to first board a circulator (probably a bus) to get to the commuter rail station between Metric and Burnet, then wait for the train, then ride the train to MLK or the Convention Center, then switch to another circulator (probably again a bus) to get to UT, the Capitol, or the parts of downtown where people actually work.
And yet nobody sees this as a problem.
Today, all you have to do is spend some time outside the transfer centers at Northcross or Highland Mall, and it becomes abundantly clear that the only people who use bus service that requires a transfer are the utterly transit-dependent (not the choice commuters we’re supposed to be serving). So we’re going to build a rail spine for our transit network that requires at least one transfer to bus for anybody to use.
And yet nobody sees this as a problem.
Light rail, as promised here in 2000 and delivered everywhere else in the meantime, on the other hand, is designed to serve as a one-seat ride for the majority of riders (two seats for suburban users of park-and-rides). Let’s compare and contrast again:
||Light Rail a la 2000
||Commuter Rail With Interconnections(tm)
||Drive to park-and-ride
||Drive to park-and-ride
||Wait for train (every 10 mins rush hour; every 20-30 otherwise)
||Wait for train (every 30 mins rush hour; no service otherwise)
||Ride train to station
||Ride train to station
||Walk to office
||Wait for circulator (probably bus)
||Ride bus (stuck in traffic)
||Walk to office
And now, for this “second downtown”, we’re being sold on the idea that “interconnected transit” with “circulators” is the way to go, meaning that the commuter in the right column will actually be adding another bus ride at the beginning of their trip.
Folks, even in Manhattan, routes that require transfers see a substantial drop in ridership, yet somehow we think that our comparatively low-density city is going to do better? Even when our transfer is to a jerky, slow, stuck-in-traffic bus? And now these idiots working on the Burnet plan think a bus ride on the OTHER END is actually a POSITIVE?
(No, streetcars won’t help; they’re still stuck in traffic behind everybody else’s car).
Somebody other than me’s got to start talking about this stuff so it’s not such a surprise in 2008 when nobody rides the thing. Please, for the love of god, somebody speak up. Ben Wear? Wells Dunbar? John Kelso? Somebody hep me!
And, no, this is not a problem we can fix with better circulators. Remember, the Manhattan transfer commuters go from one reserved-guideway rail vehicle to another reserved-guideway rail vehicle, and yet it still cuts their ridership by a substantial percentage. And that’s in a town where you have to lay something like 50 bucks a day just to park that car.
Start here to learn about all the places New Yorkers are still trying to eliminate transfers.
I ought to make a habit of this until the “THE BUSES ARE ALL EMPTY!!!!!1” people give it up. But this one doesn’t help much. Of course, this is a Saturday during Spring Break.
Drove with my wife and Ethan to her haircut place; then he and I walked under the 38th/Shoal Creek bridge; down into Seiders’ Springs Park, back up to Jefferson, crossed back to eastbound, and then waited 5 more minutes for the #22 bus which Justin sometimes takes home from school (to our house or his dad’s office at UT).
The #21/#22 are a good route to see a lot of neat parts of Central Austin. It’s a good route to go buy a day pass on and just wander around on a weekend. As before, + indicates people getting on; – indicates people getting off; and number in parentheses is total passengers after that.
Got on at 35th/Jefferson. We were the only 2 riders.
35th/(some street near Mopac): +1 (3)
Howson Library (just north of Windsor on Exposition): -us (1)
Enjoyed library for 30 minutes or so; then went out and got on the next #22. Nobody on this one either.
Howson: +us (2)
5th near Pok-e-Jo’s: +1 (3)
5th near Baylor: +1 (4)
5th near Bowie: +1 (5)
5th at Republic Square: -us (3)
An unplanned exit as I saw the Farmers’ Market and thought we’d check it out. We walked around for a bit; saw a nice dog or two; saw a band full of like 20 banjo players; and then walked past a St. Pat’s Day concert on 4th outside Fado’s. Walked to Congress, at which point we can pick up the #1, #5, or #7 to get home.
#7 arrives 5 minutes later. Has roughly 10 people on it (from the part where it runs as the #27 in all likelihood).
4th/Congress: +us (12)
6th/Congress: -5 (7)
8th/Congress: -2 (5)
Saw the Code Pink march getting set up at the Capitol. Nobody got on or off until we hit our stop.
34th/Duval: -us (3)
A good trip. I’m trying to inclulcate the freedom of public transportation into Ethan at a young age. Plus, like me, he likes just looking at stuff – like buildings under construction, etc.
Had a business meeting at the library downtown today, and wanted to leave my wife the car so she could go to the Y, so I bused it. Here’s the report. Note that this wasn’t rush hour, and this is Spring Break. + are people getting on the bus; – are people getting off the bus. Number in parentheses is total number of passengers.
South:Route 5 / 26:
Walked two blocks to bus stop. Got on at 38th/Speedway (on time). +me and one other; (8)
31st st: +1 (9)
Dean Keeton/Speedway: -5 (4)
Co-op (23rd/Guadalupe): -1 (3)
9th/Congress: -me (2)
Nothing amazing to report from this trip. Very light due to UT being out of session.
Return: I can choose between the #1, #3, #5, and #7. Yay, odd numbers. First arrival was the #1L.
10th/Congress: +me (12)
Capitol: -1, +2 (13)
Guadalupe/MLK: -1, +1 including SXSW badger (10)
22nd/Guadalupe: -5, +2 (10)
24th/Guadalupe: -1, +1 (10)
Dean Keeton/Guadalupe: -2 including badger (8)
30th/Guadalupe: -1 (7)
34th/Guadalupe: -me (6)
As you go farther north on the 1L, it probably emptied out, and when it finally decamped in suburbia, it would look empty.
This came up in one of those forums where I’m spending way too much time. I’m responding to an RG4N officer who, I honestly believe, does in fact want more urban development.
You want to claim urbanist bona-fides? It’s all about loosening rules
to ALLOW people to build higher or denser or more mixed-use; not
requiring it. When you start requiring people to build what you want,
you leave yourself open to the possibility that they’ll tell you to
build what THEY want.
Allow? Great. Encourage? Even better. Require? No, and this is where
you rubbed a hell of a lot of people who would normally have been your
allies (like me) the wrong way.
Can’t emphasize this enough. Banning or requiring should be a last resort and very very very infrequent. For instance, I’m marginally OK with requiring street-facing retail on downtown parcels largely because it falls under “Encourage” as in “We’ll let you build very high and very dense and in return you will do XX”. But I could sympathize with a view of that as “Require” in which case it’s harder to defend (still possible given the expected duration of these land uses compared to the suburban model, but much more arguable).
Take another example: parking. Currently, we require suburban levels of parking almost everywhere. Very stupid and very restrictive of the market. But it’s just as bad to have a maximum level of parking like Portland does. If somebody wants to build parking, they ought to be allowed to do so. Under “encourage”, it’d be OK to give additional height in exchange for fewer parking spaces per capita, sure. But the base entitlement should be that you do what you want, within some very loose public-safety constraints.
If you focus too much on the “make them build what I want them to build” path, you confirm the worst fears of every suburban Neanderthal out there – that smart growth really is about forcing people to live in big hives and giving up their cars. Not good for the brand, as it were.