Red Line Death Watch Part 1

Short and not-so-sweet; still no time for this.
Those who didn’t think it was a big deal when the ANC crowd were appointed en-masse to several critical boards and commissions should be ashamed of themselves.
Go to this video. If it doesn’t advance automatically, health care no rx go to C11.
What’s here? Well, it’s just ANC guys Bryan King and Jeff Jack pressuring a property owner on a downtown block to tear down a deck so he can add more off-street parking. Note that not a single time in this entire conversation does anybody, to be fair, including the applicant, even mention the fact that some people patronizing this small business or living in the apartment might not drive every single trip. Only once does anybody bring up the fact that ample on-street parking exists (of course, gasp!, people would have to pay!)
This is downtown, people. This isn’t the suburbs. For those who think the government influence on development is mainly to force density, this ought to be (but probably isn’t) a wake-up call: the primary influence of the government is to force car-dependent development patterns to continue even downtown.
And those who think the ANC crowd and their patron Laura Morrison are going to leave downtown alone and just focus on keeping the neighborhoods suburban should think again, too. Nowhere is safe from these people; right before this video I watched the Planning Commission fail to come to a recommendation on a hotel at 5th/Colorado because the ANC contingent wanted to force another couple hundred grand in concessions for affordable housing (used as a convenient crutch in this case; none of those people actually have any interest in affordable housing or they’d support more multi-family development in their neighborhoods).
Sickening. You were warned; but most of you didn’t listen.

Recording this email for posterity, stomach since I firmly believe this kind of discussion should be in the public eye – so it’s possible for others to see whether the input was acted on or just ignored (as is commonly the case).

Nadia,
This is expanded feedback from the forum – as you may know I was on the UTC for 5 years and used to be a serious bicycle commuter and still maintain a healthy interest, and I live about 500 feet from the intersection in question.
First issue is the fact that the bike lanes ‘downstream’ of the intersection were recently restriped all the way back to the intersection. This removes much of the supposed reason for bike boxes (in the old design where the bike lanes didn’t start for 100 feet or so past the intersection, the bike boxes would have allowed cyclists to be at the front of through traffic so they could get ‘up and over’ rather than having to wait behind motorists – now there is literally no reason to even get in the bike box.
The second problem is one of signage and paint – without a “Stop HERE on Red” sign, motorists don’t typically stop that far back from the intersection – even when white lines exist on the pavement. Coloring the bike box would help but would, I think, not be sufficient.
Please forward my email to the CTR people and invite them to contact me if they would like. I’d be very happy to share continued observations as I go through this intersection an average of 2 times per day, usually in the rush hours.
Regards, Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

Extracted from a comments thread on facebook; name omitted to protect privacy in case they mind.

we can always count on our buddy Mike to leave no dead horse unbeaten! Certainly Urban Rail will be great (if we do it right) and we all need to support it, approved but calling the redline ‘useless’ is a bit much. Perhaps useless to you, Mike, but so are dozens of bus routes (and roads for that matter) you will never use – that doesn’t make them useless to the folks who do (and will) use them.

And my response:

http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000573.html
(done with the old rail timetables, not the new presumably slower ones which aren’t up yet).
The Red Line is ‘useless’ because for most people, it will be a slower commute than the existing express bus service. We spent a lot of capital dollars, in other words, to get lower quality service than what we already had. (And operating costs are likely to be close to express bus with the shuttle-bus costs added in).
And it is most definitely not a dead horse – because your agency continues to seek to spend additional scarce rail dollars on the Red Line (repeating Tri-Rail’s mistake of trying to polish a you-know-what instead of building something more useful somewhere else) and on other similarly useless commuter rail lines – meaning those dollars obviously can’t be spent on the CoA project.

So tell me, readers, is the argument of the CM guy compelling at all? Before the rebuttal? After? I really mean what I say here – the horse isn’t dead, because it keeps getting fed. Those rail dollars (federal and local) could in fact be saved for the City of Austin’s urban rail program – but once they’re spent on commuter rail they’re gone for good, and we aren’t exactly swimming in other money to make up the difference. We need to stop further ‘investments’ in commuter rail, in other words, if the urban rail line is to have a decent shot at getting built in our lifetimes.

Check out me on KUT yesterday about the intersection problems along Airport and notice that I’m not alone in failing to buy Capital Metro’s BS about it just being a simple education problem. Good job, diagnosis Mose, angina getting some key points across from a variety of interviewees.
Also,
While searching for something else, I stumbled on this old Chronicle article with this money quote, which backs up what I was saying for a long time about the failure of Capital Metro to seek federal funds despite it being promised in the run-up to the 2004 commuter rail election:

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.)

Note, though, that this was back when they’d be talking about running new track in the Red Line corridor – not reusing the existing freight rail track (which, as it turns out, hasn’t been as cheap or easy as advertised). The important point, though, is that the Feds (and Capital Metro) acknowledged that even with brand-new double-track, ridership on the Red Line as delivered today would never even approach the levels at which the FTA would have considered good enough to help pay for. And this wasn’t the Bush FTA that hated rail – this was the Clinton FTA which paid for good light rail starts all over the country (although even Bush’s FTA funded a couple, like Seattle’s).
As per yesterday’s crackplog, note that Capital Metro is still out there seeking funding, both federal and local, to double (or even triple) track the Red Line despite the fact that it won’t make much difference for ridership – because as the Feds knew and CM used to admit, it doesn’t go anywhere worth going and never will.

No, rubella not like the GM Death Watch at my favorite car blog; this is a “how long before somebody’s killed” series. Today, more about some pictures of the intersection I talked about on KUT last week.
First, the overheard. Imagine you’re headed west on 51st across Airport because you just went to Home Depot and are headed back to Hyde Park or points south. (Hint: Red River starts just south of this image as a turn off of Clarkson; turning on Clarkson is thus by far the best way into or around Hyde Park by car).

Not a lot of room there to queue up for that left turn, huh. Let’s zoom in with google’s streetview:



Uh-oh. That don’t look good. But surely Capital Metro has done something about this intersection since then, right?
Yep. They’ve flapped their gums about how stupid drivers are to stop on the tracks – but have done precisely nothing to address the conditions at this intersection that almost always require you to stop on or just past the tracks if you ever want to make this left turn.
Guess who just did that on Sunday? If you were following the twitter machine, you’d already know. And yes, I know better; but no, the trains weren’t running, at least not yet. At the time I made this turn, traffic was moderate – too much to sit across Airport until clear on the other side; too little to be in serious danger on the other side (i.e. if the gate started going down I had an escape path ready).
There is just barely enough space before the gate for a small car to stop, if they don’t mind sticking out past the beginning of the left-turn bay. There is not enough room past the gate for a left-turning car to stop without risking having the rear end of the car at or past the crossing gate. In other words, quite often there isn’t enough space for even one vehicle to queue up for this left turn without being in violation of the crossing gate or the double yellow behind. Not even one. So what do you think drivers are going to do here, in the real world?
You don’t open up a rail line that requires that people be willing to sit through multiple light cycles on the other side of Airport to make this turn safely (if you can even judge that far ahead – you usually can’t; oncoming traffic comes too quickly). You redesign the intersection to eliminate the turn, or re-engineer it some other way to make it safe rather than just hoping your gum-flapping will convince motorists to do something which may prevent them from ever making their turn. That is, unless you sold this thing as a pig-in-a-poke by claiming it would be easy and cheap to run diesel trains on existing track.
More later, if time warrants. Yes, there’s other problems just at this one intersection.

  • mlisle

    I’m interested in hearing what folks’ ideas are for this intersection. A couple off the top of my head:
    – make Clarkson one-way heading north, Caswell one-way heading south
    – install an extra traffic light at 51st/Clarkson that is synced with light at 51st/Airport.
    – make 51st a one way street heading west between airport and lamar… north loop a one way street heading east between airport and lamar.
    Granted, I haven’t considered the implications of any of these ideas. Just things I’ve mulled over as I’ve navigated that area.

  • http://davidwogan.us David Wogan

    I wonder the same thing all the time. I’m literally right around the corner (on Caswell) and queue up on 51st regularly.
    There are so many problems with this crossing. What happens if you need to make a right turn, or left turn at the light? You run the risk of sitting through another light change.

  • el_longhorn

    Having lived off both Red River and Cameron Road for most of the last decade, everything you say is correct. This is not the major problem, though. Traffic really backs up going eastbound on 51st and coming off of Red River turning east on 51st. Basically, if you ever want to actually turn, you have to get on the tracks. At least the train has a long headway to stop!

  • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ M1EK

    I have mentioned the queueing problem in other forums (including in that KUT interview) but I suspect it’ll be easier for naysayers to dismiss that one since there’s not the “I can’t see until I get across Airport” rationale. IE, they’ll just claim “you should wait forever”.
    I did say “more later” – I promise I’ll get to that one too.

  • el_longhorn

    BTW, I can’t tell you how pissed the neighbors around there are with the train. It was blaring its horn at night during test runs, then CapMetro put up the ugliest, cheapest chain link fence they could find along the route to keep people off the tracks. Add possible traffic tie ups with all the intersections in the area. And – on top of all that – the damn train doesn’t even stop to service the neighborhood! You get the worst of both worlds – all the problems of a train without even the ability to use it.

  • M1EK

    Of course, they’d have had a stop with LRT. Whoops.

  • http://davidwogan.us David Wogan

    No complaints from us about the horn or the trains that regularly use the tracks.
    With all said about the queuing problem, it seems the real problem is with the amount of traffic on 51st. The train just exacerbates the problem.
    But I know we all like to bash the rail line and Capital Metro…It is easy to do so…

  • abaajp

    Elevate the tracks through this area, and this problem is solved.

  • Placemaking Institute

    I lived in this neighborhood for several years and used/still used this intersection quite often and have indeed noticed that we are in for LRT-induced congestion headaches here. One of the things I’ve learned about Austin is that the UT Tower does not align with the Capitol. It is skewed by 12.5 degrees, and that throws the grid out of whack, with the ramifications of this being most felt in that neighborhood as well as Lamar/Guadalupe by the Triangle.

  • http://placemakinginstitute.wordpress.com Placemaking Institute

    I lived in this neighborhood for several years and used/still used this intersection quite often and have indeed noticed that we are in for LRT-induced congestion headaches here. One of the things I’ve learned about Austin is that the UT Tower does not align with the Capitol. It is skewed by 12.5 degrees, and that throws the grid out of whack, with the ramifications of this being most felt in that neighborhood as well as Lamar/Guadalupe by the Triangle.

  • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ M1EK

    I WISH we were in for LRT headaches here, because that would mean we’d be getting LRT here. We’re not; this is a commuter rail line which doesn’t run near any activity centers whatsoever.