Blast From The Past

From The Chronicle in 2000:

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

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

Sad Lonely Shuttle

Today at 7:42 AM, I was stopped southbound on Red River at the light at MLK, and saw two rail shuttles cross the intersection eastbound; one headed to the Capitol Complex and one headed to UT.
There were 2 people on those buses, combined. One driving one bus, the other driving the other bus.

To be fair, these were likely the second shuttle in each case (I’m being charitable here – I have no way of knowing for sure). There are two buses running the same route for each train arrival – because Capital Metro was telling everybody they expected overflow crowds on the train. There’s likely more than zero people still getting off the train at MLK and heading to UT, in other words, but for the station that’s supposed to be the busiest these days, not being able to fill up the first shuttle enough for even one person to ride the second one is, well, according to Capital Metro and idiots like John Cowman, I guess, a positive sign?
Another point: Checking the schedules, the second UT shuttle was actually supposed to be at the drop-off at 23rd/San Jacinto at 7:42. Yes, the shuttle schedules, padded as they are, apparently aren’t padded enough. The capitol shuttle was actually later still; supposed to be at 18th/Congress at 7:39.

Kill The Boulevard-less Bike Boulevard

Just fired this off to the UTC. All I can do given my commitments. Minor edits for grammar only.

My name’s Mike Dahmus, and I served on your commission from 2000-2005 (my only contemporary still with you would be Mr. Lockler). I’m writing today to urge you to reject the city staff proposal for the project formerly known as the Nueces Bike Boulevard.
While on the commission, I often served the role of an intermediary between bicyclists and motorists (and urban and suburban); since I was a frequent bicycle commuter but not car-free like some of my colleagues (I’d drive to work about half the time). Since then, a chronic illness has forced me to drive exclusively, but I still maintain an interest in bicycle facilities for the good of the city.
Along those lines, I hate to say it, but the city staff proposal for this ‘downtown bike boulevard’ is a complete waste of time. Worse, it will actively degrade conditions for cyclists on both these streets.
In a common error, the city has failed to consider the effect of their actions on the individuals using this corridor, and more importantly, on changes to their incentives and disincentives. Today, it’s relatively painful for drivers to use Nueces (in particular) as a ‘cut-through’ or relief valve from congestion downtown, because of 4-way (and even some 2-way) stops. I know this because I drive through this part of downtown most days on my trip home from work.
While there’s some wavering on this, it’s pretty obvious that many stop signs will be removed (converted into traffic circles or traffic lights) in the city plan, as was the case in the LOBV plan – in order to attract bicyclists. So far, so good. But what happens to the incentives of motorists, if this change is made and nothing else is done?
Well, you replace those 4-way stops with lights and circles, and I (and thousands of others) will be thrilled to be able to drive on that street – to avoid backups on Lavaca from MLK and 15th, for instance. Without the originally proposed (at least by the LOBV) diverters and other disincentives, you’re going to see an increase in motor vehicle use of these streets for cut-through (through, not local) traffic. Exactly the opposite of what you want in a ‘bicycle boulevard’.
Please vote this thing dead. It’s not only not ideal; it’s worse than nothing – it promises to make things actually worse, not better, for cyclists in this corridor. (And on the subject of “any movement is progress”, a recent post by yours truly: )
Mike Dahmus

Red Line: What Comes Next?

Really short but need to get this out for posterity.
Capital Metro is already declaring the thing a success, despite ridership half of projections and about a twentieth as much as a good light rail start would have delivered. What are they saying they’re going to do next? And, will it work?
I’m going to do this in L33T table form. You’ll see why in a minute.

Continue reading Red Line: What Comes Next?

All I Am Saying Is Please Stop Saying This Saying, Now

“the perfect is the enemy of the good”. Sounds great, right? But recently, this has been most heavily applied to:
1. The Nueces/Rio Grande “Bike Boulevard” project, in which the infrastructure proposed will make automobile traffic skyrocket.
2. The Red Line, which is carrying a few hundred people a day and actually prevents light rail from being built in the one corridor which every other city in the country would be using to carry tens of thousands of people a day.
In the past, it’s been applied to situations like Shoal Creek, too. Other flavors commonly applied are “this is a good start” or “you have to start somewhere”.
Folks, I’m not even going to link the voluminous reams of reportage I’ve done over the years on the Red Line and the Shoal Creek Debacle – check the category links on the right from the main page. This is more of a general complaint: not everything you do is progress. It might seem obvious, but frankly, that’s the only reason that’s logical that so many people have pulled out these stupid sayings for the three disasters above.
Let’s look at this another way. Suppose your goal is to drive a delivery truck to New York City. Assume you’re not incredibly familiar with Texas roads – so you just decide to wing it. If you drive to Houston, have you made progress towards New York? Sure. If you drive to Dallas, have you made progress to New York? Sure. Both those directions are generally towards New York (not perfectly, but you end up closer than you started). Not perfect, but progress, right?
Now how about if you drive to El Paso? Are you closer to New York now? You did something. You moved the truck quite a bit. Even though it wasn’t perfect. Have you made progress? Well, as long as we define “doing anything” as “progress”, you have, but this is kind of stupid, right?
That analogy matches both the Nueces/Rio Grande debacle and the old Shoal Creek debacle. We went the wrong way, but we can recover – although all of the investment in going the wrong way was a waste. The Red Line, of course, is even worse. What if you drive your delivery truck to Arizona and then it breaks down in the middle of the desert? Are you closer to New York now? Are you in serious danger of never making it to New York? Well, you had to start somewhere, right? Why not drive out into the desert – that’s somewhere, isn’t it? You made progress. Sure, not only are you very far away from where you started in the ‘wrong’ direction, you’re likely going to have to buy a new truck. And you might die. But you moved – that was progress, right?
Capital Metro's Red Line - Phase 3
(image by mlhradio on flickr)
In my observation during my ninety-eight years on the Internet, exactly 99.4% of the time when people use either “the perfect is the enemy of the good” or “you have to start somewhere”, they either have no idea what the hell they’re talking about, or have a completely different goal in mind than you do – and are trying to make you think otherwise. For instance, Capital Metro doesn’t care about delivering rail service to Austinites – they care about their survival as an agency and employees of such. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be pushing so hard to continue developing commuter rail at the expense of urban rail that actually serves more of their constituents (whose elected officials have had no interest in holding their feet to the fire).
The Enb. (Yes, I’m busy).

Red Line Update

Last week’s ridership reports are in, and they already fall within the range I predicted – even before the “settling down” period has really been reached.

What a difference $3 can make.
Specifically, the distinction between MetroRail’s free first-week rides and the cost of a one-way ticket in the second week was ridership that fell from an average of almost 2,900 boardings a day to about 1,000 daily boardings when people had to pay. That’s about half of what Capital Metro has projected ridership will average in the first year of the Red Line, and it equates to about 500 people using the commuter line to get to and from work.

In case anybody forgot, we’ve now given up this:

(30,000-46,000 boardings per day on a line which would have served the suburbs and Austin; which would have gone downtown and not just the Convention Center but to the parts where people actually work; which would have gone straight to UT and the Capitol rather than requiring a shuttle-bus; which would have served not only the joke TOD-in-name-only Crestview Station but also the much higher density residential development at the Triangle and in West Campus)
for this:

(commuter line which is already down to serving 500 people per day on a good day – even while joyriders are still trying the thing out).
You can’t build the 2000 line now, ever; you simply can’t get from the Red Line to rail that serves the urban core; it’s NOT a first step; it’s NOT a good start; it’s a distraction that must be worked around while it sucks up nearly all the available local transit dollars. The only thing we can do now is what the city’s trying to do – build something from another direction that might work half as well as the 2000 plan would have; and try to do it with half the funds (since the Red Line sucked up the light rail savings account and is now going to be costing us dearly in future operations and capital funding).
And the people who held their nose and voted ‘yes’ on the promise of light rail from Capital Metro to serve the urban core right after? Yeah, those are the same folks who are either completely quiet now or are waging a campaign of disparagement on yours truly from the shadows.
Good show, Austin. Good show.