Density and transit service, in pictures

In 2011, this bus stop had buses stopping every 10-15 minutes during peak times; it was the highest ridership route in the system by far. Click through for streetview source so you can verify.



By 2011, this tract had been rezoned VMU (Vertical Mixed-Use).

By 2013, construction was actually underway.

In 2014, service to this stop was slashed to once every 30 minutes at peak.

This is what this stop looks like today, in 2018, when it still only sees a bus once every 30 minutes at peak:



Should you trust that Capital Metro will respond to land use changes with better transit service?

On Halloween 2018, this VMU development still sees bus service once every half an hour during peak times. The closest frequent service is at the Triangle and the other side of 2222; both outside the normal 1/4 mile walkshed appropriate for bus service. There are some medium-term plans to finally add a stop which keep getting delayed. But it’s now been five years since this complex was built; and more like ten years since it was rezoned to a more transit-supportive land use. During all that time, everybody that moved into this complex didn’t get useful bus service. Decisions were made by thousands of individuals relating to car purchases; decisions were made by the apartment management about how to market themselves; based on the fact that by 2014 they knew they’d have a bus once every half an hour. Those decisions have long-term impact that will last well beyond the date when the new ‘station’ finally arrives.

Again, should you trust that Capital Metro will respond to land use changes with better transit service? In 2011, they provided frequent service to a stop at a strip mall. When the city did their land use job and put a bunch of residents directly on top of a bus stop on a well-used route, Capital Metro cut their transit service to nearly useless levels and left it that way for five years and counting.

Don’t forget this. AURA will try to tell you it’s all about land use. Show them this example and get them to explain how it applies.

Why no endorsements, M1EK?

For those curious, I’m holding off on endorsing city council district 9 or mayor until one of them moves off of the “be credulous towards Capital Metro’s recent Project Connect hijacking” plan. Laura Morrison is actually the closest in receiving an endorsement under said criteria, by the way. Yes, I’m totally serious. She would need to go a little further, but she’s the only one who moved in the right direction.

I believe we cannot currently trust Capital Metro to serve better land use with better transit (since they still refuse to fix the 2014 error with rapid bus that drastically cut transit service to our city’s most transit-supportive land uses). Building light rail on Guadalamar is a no-brainer and would support existing transit-supportive land uses while easily drawing in tens of thousands of currently marginal non-riders and providing a long-term signal to support incremental improvements to land use in the future. It definitely would have more of an effect on transit sustainability (and hence climate change) than would loosening land use and then having Cap Metro bumble around with horrible stupid unforced errors like rapid bus and Cap Remap.

I believe that the mayor’s craven surrender on CodeNEXT meant we will end up with Laura Morrison’s preferred land use plan anyways, except the mayor ensured that $9M was wasted on consultants. I’d have preferred to spend that $9M on libraries and pools. If we re-elect Mayor Adler and he tries again on CodeNEXT, he has shown that he will not fight hard for whatever it is that he believes in; so we’re pretty much back where we started.

I believe that Cap Metro’s recent shift towards ART in Project Connect is the same sort of dishonest bullshit they pulled on us in 2013-2014; and must not be rewarded with credulous support. Tovo, Skidmore, and Adler are in that bucket right now. Morrison at least has expressed a little skepticism but has not come out strongly against the change of direction yet.

That’s why you haven’t seen any endorsements from me yet (and maybe not at all). But the above should make it clear what it’ll take.

Let’s Go To The Movies: Also: Why Nobody Takes The Bus There!

In a happy coincidence, this twitter thread came to me as I was about to take the family over to our go-to theatre; the Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller, to watch a bougie family entertainment (I have kids, sue me; Christopher Robin was good). When I posted some details about our upcoming trip, friend-of-the-crackplog Hunter S Thompson Caleb Pritchard was appropriately dismayed.

More importantly, it’s worth exploring this trip from my house a few blocks on the interior of Hyde Park as an example of how even ‘better’ transit service has a long ways to go, but stay tuned after that; because there’s a little more to it.

Let’s talk time!

From a long time ago, you may remember cheezy minimalist graphics like the ones below, which made their first appearance in the best-est “Why Rapid Bus sucks” post that still holds for a little while longer until the two infill stops are fully integrated. In this case, you can see the components of the trip from my house to the Alamo Drafthouse in Mueller, as follows:

DRIVING TRIP (what we actually did): 7 minute drive, 1 minute to park, 1 minute to walk from the garage to the front door of the theatre.

TRANSIT TRIP (what we could have done): 9 minute (0.4 mile) walk down to 38th and Guadalupe; typical wait of 7.5 minutes for the 335 bus (15 minute frequencies on this route! Best we’ve got!); 14 minute bus trip to the closest stop in Mueller (Berkman and Simond); and an 8 minute (0.4 mile) walk to the theatre’s front door. 1

Now here they are combined on the same graph2.

See a problem yet? Hint: When just the walk to the bus stop from my house (the first part of four on the transit trip) is essentially as long (in time) as the entire driving trip, counting parking the car in the garage and walking from the garage to the theatre, you might not be competitive overall.

Well, you might be tempted to reply, surely the bus is cheaper!

Let’s talk money!

I have bad news for you. The Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller validates parking (which would have been $3.00 for us); but not bus fare. So here’s the way those trips cost out, and note that this is temporarily cheaper for the bus trip as my 2 kids that would normally have had to pay are actually riding free for the remainder of the summer.3

The driving trip costs around 60 cents, thanks to this handy but minimalist commute calculator, originally designed for bike commutes but usable for this purpose, that helpfully excludes bullshit like depreciation and insurance.4. The transit trip would have cost $5.00 (two day passes for the two adults).

So what?

Now for the interesting parts. What would we expect in a better world?

Let’s imagine for a moment that being “transit-oriented” in Austin actually meant what it means in the rest of the world. How would the equation above be different?

For one, the parking garage would have to be less convenient than the transit. This means that the transit needs to drop off in front; and the parking needs to be at least a short walk away (move the transit stop directly in front of the business; leave the parking garage where it is for now, I guess).

For two, the parking can’t be free while the transit costs money. But do you think a business in Mueller as it exists today would be willing to make this trade? Of course not; each and every business in Mueller would die without the influx of cars from neighbors like me. They are nowhere near dense enough (by orders of magnitude) to get the clientele they need from people within walking or biking distance. And don’t forget to remember this when people credulous of the grid redesign cargo cults think they will be great for ridership – the places you’re reorienting service to serve better (your ‘secondary centers’) all have free parking, meaning the competitive transit-versus-driving value proposition is horrible compared to the traditional downtown.

For three, also, the realignment of service for Mueller focused on running things down Berkman, which might be better for the residents, but definitely not for anybody trying to get to the Town Center [sic] from outside the area. If Mueller’s reality matched its promises, transit would go straight to/from the Town Center, and residents would be within a short enough walk that they would want to go there to board buses. The actual reality isn’t that great; Mueller is too spread out, as discussed ad nauseum, so the transit has to run on Berkman.

So the real answer gets to an even more fundamental flaw in Mueller: It tries to be a “center” a la “centers and corridors” from Imagine Austin, but the density it has is nowhere near large enough to justify free transit and expensive parking, so it ends up in the uncanny valley of density. Difficult to drive in, unpleasant and expensive to take transit to, and with a tiny fraction of the people within walking and biking distance that would be required to keep their businesses in business without those drivers and their necessarily subsidized parking.

What’s the solution? Centers have to be orders of magnitude denser than this, so that parking doesn’t have to be free to keep businesses alive, or, you know, stop trying to pound a square peg into a round hole and just resume densification of our existing center where parking already doesn’t have to be free. Either way.

Also, though, please note that for a single person, this particular trip would still have been a dumb financial decision, but not quite as dumbererer as for the whole family. Consider that you have to pay a bus fare for each person (including the kids when the free summer ends), but a car full of 4 dinguses costs the same as for a single dingus driver.

Also also, though, please check out Caleb’s new gig – we expect great things!

(I’ll try to fix this up and flesh it out over the course of the week to make it a little less bare-bones but had to get this out there in case I run out of time. Remember this isn’t my day job and I don’t even have time or the cost-benefit ratio for it to be a frequent hobby anymore. Fuck AURA.)


  1. I’ve used the common practice here of assigning half the ‘headway’ to ‘wait time’ as in – the average time we’d have to wait for the bus if we just show up is 7.5 minutes. The minimum ‘wait’ time for the bus if you plan on a scheduled departure is typically 5 minutes – you’re supposed to give that long in case it’s early. The ‘wait’ time for your car is ALWAYS zero, of course. 

  2. updated on 8/14/2018 to make the phases the same across the bars, but the color scheme is still gonna suck because there’s only so much of my work time I’ll spend on making this pretty for y’all 

  3. details: two day passes at $2.50 each, kids are currently free. 

  4. Note here that even though my company car gives me gas for free, I costed out this trip as if I had to pay for it 

I guess everybody has their own version of Jane Jacobs…

I just read this quote from Jane yesterday:

As a general rule, I think 100 dwellings per acre will be found to be too low

from this article I found when searching on something like “Jane Jacobs and density”: Jane Jacobs-style Density: It may not be what you think

Then, today, on my neighborhood’s yahoo group, I see a nice invitation to a screening about Jacobs from, of all people, one of the board members of Preservation Austin:

Hi friends and neighbors:

We’re just two weeks away from Citizen Jane, Battle for the City, presented with the Paramount Theatre and sponsored by AIA Austin! This 2016 documentary tells how preservation and planning icon Jane Jacobs fought to save Manhattan from urban renewal in the mid-20th century. Her human-scaled approach to cities transformed the way we view urban communities and neighborhoods, with major implications for challenges we face in Austin today. We’ll discuss all of this with our expert panel following the film, including Kim McKnight, Environmental Conservation Program Manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department; Catherine Sak, Executive Director of Texas Downtown Association; and Bob Paterson, Associate Dean for Research and Operations (Interim) at the The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.

VIP tickets include a pre-show meet and greet with panelists, along with hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Regular tickets are just $20! AIA Continuing Education Credits: 1LU.

Get your tickets here: https://tickets. austintheatre.org/single/ eventDetail.aspx?p=3325

Details
The Paramount Theatre and Preservation Austin present a screening of the award-winning documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City followed by a panel discussion featuring experts from the fields of historic preservation, urban design, and architecture. Some say that Jane Jacobs, subject of the documentary, single-handedly saved the soul of New York City in the 1960s. Join us to find out how! (AIA Continuing Education Credits: 1LU)

About the film:
“In 1960 Jane Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. Jacobs was also an activist, who was involved in many fights in mid-century New York, to stop “master builder” Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda. Many of the clues for formulating solutions to the dizzying array of urban issues can be found in Jacobs’s prescient text, and a close second look at her thinking and writing about cities is very much in order. This film sets out to examine the city of today through the lens of one of its greatest champions.” -Altimeter Films

Hope you can make it! Thanks!
Ann
Member, Board of Directors
Preservation Austin

Go see the film! It might be neat!

But also! A thought experiment: Do you think Ann, or any other board member of Preservation Austin, is picturing 100 dwelling units per acre when they throw around terms like “human-scaled”? Or do either one of the pictures in the article I linked at the top look anything like the Hyde Park you think Preservation Austin prefers?

CodeNEXT was not worth the wait

This is my short and sharp reading of the CodeNEXT ‘draft’ that came out this week.

I’ve been describing it as “activist flypaper” for years – and am sad to state that may have been overly optimistic. My quick reading of the code makes it look even worse than what we have today. I don’t think many, so far, disagree at a high level, too. It basically zones the entire city outside downtown and corridors to a maximum of 2 stories (even the parts where the new transect code applies, much less the huge swaths of the city which still get essentially the old code) and adds additional restrictions on ADUs compared to current code. It adds code obstacles for even downtown redevelopment by promulgating stupid ideas about minimum lot width and floor plates. The plan, folks, is a bad plan. Even if you like planning, it’s a bad plan. For a freedom urbanist, it’s horrible.

This is not a step forward; it’s a step back. My strategic take is going to be to try to support those making individual recommendations for change1 but to also urge everybody to look at the plan as a whole and remember “worse than nothing”, which this thing is. Rather, it’s worse than doing nothing. Current code, as suburban as it is, is still better than this piece of garbage.

If you want a longer reading by a more qualified person with a different strategic outlook on it than I have, you could not do better than to read Chris Bradford’s take.


  1. register on the site linked above, then wade through hundreds of pages of code through a bad internal scroll window to make comments that will doubtlessly be used as evidence of a public input process but not be taken seriously 

A letter I just sent to City Council

Mayor and council members: I want to call your attention to the Planning Commission meeting this week – specifically the treatment given by some of the commissioners to Tyler Markham, more about a UT student and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. If you watch the video record of the meeting, read I believe you will see a young man who is highly professional trying to make a decent, pills objective, case for something he believes in. For his trouble, he’s treated aggressively and unprofessionally by several members of the Planning Commission. I myself served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000-2005, and would never have dreamed of treating a speaker in the way these commissioners have treated Mr. Markham. I urge you to reprimand your appointees and make it clear to them that their behavior was unacceptable.

Rapid Bus has degraded bus service overall

This VMU on Lamar at North Loop (google maps link; as of 9/5/2014 the streetview picture is from construction) is open now. I like it. It has a bus stop right in front of it! Streetscape is good. There’s actually a new Taco Cabana across North Loop from it, unfortunately with a drive-thru, where the pretty image to the right has a grassy field1. The property to the south of the Taco Cabana appears ripe for redevelopment soon as another VMU; I’d be surprised not to see it go that way within a couple of years.

052512_wheatsville_1479950a

Let’s imagine the resident of one of these new apartments wants to take the bus to Wheatsville Co-Op, an urban grocer located at about 31st and Guadalupe. Lots of people used to ride the bus to Wheatsville last I checked.

For background, the VMU ordinance was enacted as a quid-pro-quo for the McMansion ordinance – the logic was that we would build tall apartments (for Austin, anyways) over walkable retail on corridors where transit frequencies and usefulness was high. Lamar/Guadalupe definitely fit that bill, at least originally.

Before the implementation of “Rapid Bus”, the #1 ran about every 13 minutes during peak periods on this route. Google maps says that the bus portion of this trip takes 8 minutes on the #1. Note that Google doesn’t even consider the 801 a viable option for this trip, unlike Capital Metro themselves. We’ll get to that in a minute.

We can use the same “show up and go” calculations from this post to come up with this graph. Short summary: If transit service is to be truly useful as a replacement for the car, it needs to be frequent enough that you don’t bother to check a schedule; you just show up at the stop and a bus comes pretty soon (and by the way this was one of the big marketing points for the #801; so this isn’t just a condition I’m placing on them to be mean). Note that the walking time on either end for the #1 trip is essentially zero – there are bus stops for the #1 (but not the #801) directly in front of the VMU building and the grocer.

Originally, when frequency was every 13 minutes, a trip to the grocery store would involve a 0 minute walk, an average 6.5 minute wait (half of frequency), and a 8 minute trip on the bus, for an expected trip time of 14.5 minutes. Not bad.

However, in the world we live in now, Capital Metro has cut half of the #1s and imposed instead the #801 in place of the #101, stealing the local frequency for the express. How does that service work for our apartment resident?

Same calculations as above – we end up with an expected wait of 13 minutes (it runs every 26 minutes during peak)2. Total trip time is now 21 minutes, if you can get a seat on this bus, which has been a problem ever since the 801 change happened.

But surely the 801 made up for this drop in service, right?

Again, Google won’t even give this as a trip; but Capital Metro’s trip planner does.

20140905capmetrotripplanner1

Huh. Cap Metro expects the user of this ‘service’ to walk about a half mile north to the “Brentwood Station”, wait (12 minute frequencies during peak), ride the bus to the “Hyde Park Station” (7 minutes), then walk about a half mile south to Wheatsville. Hey Google, how long will those walks take? Google says 8 minutes each, roughly.

So let’s graph those new trips, shall we?

20140905stackchart

The results show that, and all of this is compared to the conditions before the #801 started (“old #1” in the graph), a resident of this apartment building can now either pay the same amount of money for a much less frequent service (#1) that will now take about 50% longer to get where they want to go, or they can pay double the price for a reasonably frequent service (#801) that will take more than twice as long to go where they want to go. People boarding a bus at this stop and travelling to Wheatsville have seen a significant degradation in quality of bus service.

What’s the conclusion? Well, even if you are foolish enough to think a 26 minute frequency local service still qualifies as “show up and go”, the residents of this VMU and many others in the area are unquestionably much worse off after the implementation of MetroRapid. And what’s worse – the developments resulting from the VMU ordinance were sold to surrounding neighborhoods as less of an impact on their daily lives because we all assumed many of its residents would ride the bus.

Still true? Doubt it.

More to come.


  1. Chris Bradford bait 

  2. most people would not consider this “frequent” and thus probably wouldn’t even consider the ‘show up and go’ approach, but let’s keep going 

What it’ll look like to walk to Wheatsville South Lamar

Wasn’t intending for this to be a blog post, but RRISD blocks SSH to my host, so this is the only way I can get this picture up where I can link to it from this skyscraperpage thread – where somebody has drank the Kool-Aid that because you’re close to something, it must be walkable.

What a delightful walk this shall be. Hyde Park and Old West Austin better watch out!
What a delightful walk this shall be. Hyde Park and Old West Austin better watch out!