Local puff media fails again

Another person gets it: Consumer Reports screwed up big-time in comparing the Prius to the Corolla rather than to the Camry.
I’ve done my own purely economic comparison here – I had done an earlier version of this on a spreadsheet; it’s not that difficult. But many people will never try now that CR has incorrectly told people that hybrids don’t pay for themselves.

Various blogs including a promising new one and a old stalwart are excited over the north Austin density plan and UT possibly kicking in some of the money for the ‘downtown circulator’, medstore respectively. Both accept fairly unchallenged the position that since we failed to bring the rail to the people, we can at least bring the people to the rail.
With that in mind, it’s worth reiterating the answer to the question:
When can you get transit-oriented development around stations for a commuter rail line?
Answer: In this country? Maybe when gas hits $10/gallon; otherwise, never, no matter how much you try to prime the pump.
Transit-oriented development is great. It happens all over the country, on good LIGHT RAIL SYSTEMS, which Capital Metro’s system definitely is NOT. Please take with a grain of salt the continuing efforts of people like Lyndon Henry to blur the boundaries here; calling this commuter rail project a “light railway” doesn’t make it go one foot closer to UT, the Capitol, or most of downtown. Turning the circulator into a streetcar instead of a bus does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of time and reliability which prospective passengers will face, thanks to the decision to route the line where the track already existed instead of right down the urban core as in 2000.
Keep a healthy amount of skepticism handy when people are talking about building “transit villages” around the suburban stations of a commuter rail line which doesn’t go anywhere interesting on the “urban end” without having to transfer to a bus. Developers certainly will figure it out, as they have in South Florida, where every such attempt by the government to stimulate TOD around a similarly retarded rail line has failed.
You want transit-oriented development? You need good transit, first. That means reserved-guideway transit, be it light or heavy rail, whether in-street or off-street, for all of the trip1. The only thing that matters is that it can’t be stuck behind other peoples’ cars. You don’t get transit-oriented development around transit which requires that its patrons ride the bus, even if you gussy the bus up and put it on rails (which is all that streetcars sharing a lane with cars really are, I hate to say).
The key here is that the problem end of this commuter rail line is not the residential end. Yes, the 2000 light rail plan would have gone through some high-density residential neighborhoods while the 2004 commuter rail line goes down Airport Blvd. instead. But that’s not the fatal flaw – the fatal flaw is the fact that the prospective rider of the 2000 line would have been able to walk to work from the rail station, while the 2004 rider must transfer to a bus, every single day.
A large part of the 2000 line’s residential ridership would have driven to the train station anyways. Those far northwest riders are still potential 2004 passengers – until they take the train a few times and start living la vida bus.
As for UT – I hope they’re not stupid enough to fall for Mike Krusee’s bait-and-switch here. They always stood to benefit dramatically from the 2000 light rail line and were fairly pissed that a line heading directly to UT’s main campus didn’t make it on the ballot in 2004. This streetcar line doesn’t help them get any closer to a high-quality transit route in any way, shape, or form – it just tears up one of UT’s streets for a transit mode which won’t be any faster or more reliable than the shuttle buses that currently infest that part of campus; and UT’s employees aren’t going to be any more likely to ride the commuter train if their shuttle is a streetcar versus a bus – it’s still a transfer to another vehicle which is slow and stuck in traffic.
(1: It’s OK if the passenger needs to drive to the station where they get on the train in the morning. People will accept unreliability if they can make up for it with speed and flexibility – i.e., if they have their car. Buses are slow, unreliable, AND inflexible – the bus driver can’t decide to take a different route to/from the train station if traffic on the normal route is too heavy).

Just posted to ANCTalk: a position paper on the Concordia redevelopment, dosage which is in my neck of the woods. (I can tell you that as somebody close enough to hear I-35 during the winter months, pulmonologist I’d sure appreciate some big buildings, even if there’s nothing there I’d ever want to go to, which is hard to believe).
Read especially the final couple of paragraphs. The responsible (only somewhat obstructionist) position of Hancock and Eastwoods is being assailed by the ANC – so now, not even restricting the project to the merely moderate levels of density supported by nearby neighborhoods is good enough for these people. In the past, the most egregious behavior by the ANC was limited to exploiting nearby (but not containing) neighborhood associations in cases like the Spring building (downtown neighborhood association was enthusiastically supporting it; so the ANC hung their hats on the disapproval of OWANA next door).

Mayor Will Wynn and City Council Members
The ANC executive committee at our July 12th meeting asked me to convey to
you the following with regard to the proposed redevelopment of Concordia
University.
The proposed redevelopment of the Concordia site presents the city with both
opportunities and challenges. The redevelopment of such a large area close
to downtown will provide an excellent opportunity for in-fill. At the same
time it poses a real challenge to ensure that scale of the development is
appropriate, the integrity of the surrounding neighborhoods is protected and
that the neighborhood planning process is respected.
The surrounding neighborhoods most impacted, Hancock and Eastwoods, have
indicated their support for the concept of mixed use for the site. Despite
what has been reported, however, they do not support the developer’s initial
proposal. While there has been some discussion of the proposal, neither
neighborhood has taken a position on it. They have committed to working
with the developer and are developing negotiating teams for this purpose.
They have contacted the other surrounding neighborhoods and CANPAC to engage
them in the process. ANC supports this approach and urges the Council to
grant these neighborhoods’ request for an experienced city planner to assist
them in this effort.
The neighborhoods have made it clear that the major issues that such a
planning approach should address are density, height and traffic impact.
ANC believes that the resolution of these issues should be the starting
point for any design and not an afterthought. Further, a comprehensive
traffic analysis of this area, including the St. David’s PUD, is essential
to establish the appropriate density for this development as was done for
the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Redevelopment plan.
ANC also urges the City Council to respect the many years of effort these
neighborhoods have invested in their neighborhood plan. While this project
is asking for PUD zoning, it should not be treated any differently than any
project proposed in an area with an adopted neighborhood plan. Any change
to the Future Land Use Map or the current Civic zoning should go through the
regular neighborhood plan amendment process. Filing for a PUD should not
exempt a project from the standard neighborhood plan amendment process.
While we support the adjacent neighborhoods’ role in defining what is
appropriate for this site we are also concerned about the precedent this
project will set for the surrounding areas and for future development in
East Austin along IH 35. We sincerely appreciate recent statements by
members of the City Council on limiting high rise construction to downtown
and in TOD’s. We hope that sensitivity is also extended to the Concordia
Redevelopment plan.
Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Sincerely,
Susan Pascoe
Immediate past president of ANC for
Laura Morrison, ANC President

Apart from KUT, information pills nobody bothered to get a remotely critical reading on Capital Metro’s latest PR blitz other than Jim Skaggs’ Neanderthal Act. And even KUT let Cap Metro off the hook, hair as it turns out. (Note that the Cap Metro flack responding to my comment that the shuttle bus or eventual streetcar would not be reliable or fast since it’s sharing a lane with cars said that the commuter rail train would take the same amount of time every day – which is true – good dodge, side effects CM flack; I salute you).
There’s really only one question you need ask Capital Metro:
How are passengers on the train going to get from the train station to their office in the morning, and how are they going to get back to the train station in the evening?
The rail line doesn’t even go close enough to downtown offices for people to walk; and there’s zero chance anybody’s going to walk the mile or two to UT or the Capitol. So, again, why is nobody asking Capital Metro how they’re going to get to work in more detail?

4 Replies to “Local puff media fails again”

  1. They are already working on that, we just haven’t heard much about it. One plan calls for the commuter line to extend to Seaholm, which would obviously open it up for more access. But the main idea is to have a street car system aligned with commuter rail arrival times so that people can trolley to their office once they get off the commuter line.
    This won’t happen tomorrow, or even next year, but it surely will happen. Once the commuter line is in place the general concensus will be to build a larger system. See Dallas’s plans with DART for further explanation as to how synergy comes with patience.

  2. Rad,
    Thanks for commenting. Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of what DART did – DART took their first light rail line right into the heart of downtown, so that essentially everybody who rode the train could walk from the station to work.
    A transfer to a shuttle-bus is bad, I hope you agree; but think about why a transfer to a streetcar would be any better. Remember – this streetcar doesn’t have its own lane (unlike light rail); so if cars are choking the road on which it travels, it’s not going anywhere fast.
    What South Florida’s experience has shown is that you can promise “buses to meet the train”, but (A) it’s very hard to do, and (B) even if you do it, the whole point of rail was to attract commuters who don’t want to take the bus – because people know in their gut that the bus isn’t reliable, and it isn’t fast.

  3. The question is a valid question. I understand and agree with what Capital Metro is trying to do. I personally believe that it would solve a lot of traffic problems and it is a convinient way of travaling. Yet, The question posted in the blog is 100% valid. What is the used of catching a train when I can not still get to where I want to go. I, for one, try to use public transportation as much as I can. Yet it is difficult to use when there are not enough busses going from south to north and/or the times are not available. I do wish iof capital metro wants to gain more of our business they need to communicate exactly how they plan to answer these kind of questions. Otherwise, it will be the same problem as I encounter, not enough lines and/or time of busses.

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