Hello Bikeness My Old Friend: Part 1 of the commute home: Our Fifth Second Downtown Really Sucks!

(Overview Post here).

Note: There really is a group pushing “Parmer!” as our seventh third downtown or some shit.

Anyways, here’s the first part of the trip1

image of first third of map

First few parts of this route are standard Suburban Hellscape. Exit huge parking lot, turn onto road with 60 mph design speed (but at least a relatively OK right lane). Wait on left edge of right lane at very long light at Parmer while beckoning scared suburbanites to turn right on red past you. Continue across on briefly civilized BUT STILL HOT AND WINDY 4-then-2 lane road past a long-abandoned subsidized housing project (not seen in StreetView but trust me it looks like The Walking Dead), then turn on the two oddly disconnected bike lanes2, and then OOPS I-35 WHAT THE HELL DO WE DO NOW?

yager looking westbound across II-35
atsa lot of concrete

Short explainer: Yes, you have to go on I-35 here. The other ‘options’ are: Go north to Parmer and then navigate the I-35 and Lamar intersections and then ride all the way to like Metric, and then go down Metric a long ways. This portion of Parmer is ugly and hugely congested and will kill you (and the portion of Parmer east of I-35 is even worse than those pictures above).

Or, you can take Yager to the dead-end at Lamar, then ride in the (not wide) right lane south past Walnut Creek, and then up a hill where you’ll be going 2 mph while cars pass you at 60. Again, no shoulder. No sidewalk. No nothing. Just likely death, even by my standards.

North map with skull indicators on Parmer and Lamar
avoid the skulls if you want to live

(Alternative exists which sort of combines those two – go on Lamar for a shorter time, then cut through Walnut Creek Park to eventually get to Metric. I’ll do this some day just to see what it’s like but I suspect it adds about 30 minutes to the trip).

Now I have a history of being up for almost anything to avoid riding on a sidewalk. Hell, I rode a portion of the 183 frontage road to work and another portion home from work on various commutes for years. But this portion of I-35 is what finally broke me. The recommendation above from El Googs aside, I rode the sidewalk from the corner of Tech Ridge/Yager to a parking lot I could bail through, and then again for a short stretch, only to go out of my way on Park-35 Circle, then again on the sidewalk to cross Walnut Creek, and then, THEN, FINALLY, off the frontage and into an oddly disconnected but sort of nice neighborhood. So basically those stretches above that show the route on the I-35 frontage are about 1/2 parking lot (most of the first bit) and 1/2 sidewalk (all of the part after Park-35 circle and a little bit before it).

All of that done against a sticky sweaty headwind (at least the 2nd day).

If this was the beginning of YOUR bike commute and you didn’t have a history of being aggressively stubborn, you’d probably have quit. But then you hit the corner of Wren and the next street and you get the feeling that things can only go up from here…

Polyanna Avenue
gonna use this image fourteen more times this month I bet

This part of the trip is about 1/4 of the miles and about 90% of the stress of the entire commute. Next up: Getting from the bad stuff to the good stuff, with a couple of hiccups.

Here’s some images, taken later on October 10th (on the 3rd trip home in which I took pictures for both the 1st and 2nd portions of this route):

bike rack
bike rack sitch h/t to caleb
phone on bike
son’s bike has a rig for a phone which is good because this route was friggin’ complicated
ugly abandoned buildings
scenic abandoned (purportedly subsidized/income restricted) housing complex along McCallen Pass
TCEQ entrance
know how you can tell the TCEQ is a joke? I dunno, maybe the fact that it’s located on I-35 in a part you have to access via SIDEWALK…
mangled guardrail at sidewalk over Walnut Creek
wondering how bad things have to be for M1EK to take the sidewalk? wonder no more

  1. I’ve dragged the route to modify to closer to what I actually did; the recommended route from Google is slightly worse than this, even, if you can imagine, but is slightly less wiggly 

  2. useless because they don’t go to anything but the I-35 frontage road; remember that Yager dead-ends at Lamar which doesn’t even have a shoulder OR a sidewalk 

Hello Bikeness My Old Friend Part II: Overview

Day 2 is in the bag. I’ll still have to explain later why I’m doing this and why now and whatnot. But the 2nd day of riding is in the books. This will serve as an overview and intro, and yes, I’m aware how self-indulgent this sounds even for me. But then I remember that I still get an email once a year or so about directions I wrote for a bike commute to IBM twenty years ago and I resolve to power through. Some images added on a later commute (October 8th).

Plus, we’re doomed on transit, because AURA are evil lying asshole idiots. So biking is now our only hope.

I work at a horrible suburban cube factory on McCallen Pass north of Parmer and east of I-35. Basically, a mile east of I-35 and a mile north of Parmer, give or take. This is, spoiler alert, not a great place to start.

The trip up to the office is pretty easy though. Go out to Guadalupe and pick up the frequent 1 which comes every 10 minutes go a few blocks further south to the frequent 801 and ride it all the way to directly in front of my office a horrible suburban park-and-ride one mile from my office. Since my horrible suburban cube factory doesn’t have showers, in the morning I must do this so as to not destroy my image of being a respectable manager with my cow orkers. Pause for laughter.

The morning trip is easy. Takes a lot longer than driving the company car, but I can fart around on the phone. No big whoop.

Here’s what the trip all the way home in the afternoon looks like (this is, give or take, the route). I actually had to have the map up both times1 so far because there’s a hell of a lot of non-obvious squiggling back and forth north of Rundberg… Also note that alternates include going WAY THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY to my old friend Shoal Creek Boulevard, amazingly.

overview from Google Maps

Spoiler alert: On my first day riding this trip it took me 75 minutes, and that was with a tailwind. Today it took about 68 minutes with a gross headwind, so I guess I’m quickly improving or possibly failing to count correctly. This is the longest ride I have done since 2006 or so.

This commute has one huge problem and then some unattractive parts after that. The huge problem is getting across I-35 and Walnut Creek. The hike and bike trail promised in about 1749 for Walnut Creek is still just a dotted line in this part of town, so no help there. The parallel routes to I-35 are, uh, problematic. North Lamar is a horrible stroad with no shoulders or sidewalks. The closest long-running parallel on the east side is Dessau, which is even worse, and too far out of the way. So the first third of this commute is where the exciting parts are, and in my next post I’ll zoom into that section identified in the inset below as “the part where you wish you had given up”. Notice the alternates above basically require one to go up to Parmer, which is not a fun prospect in this part of town (I did ride Parmer from Mopac out past 620 in a prior life but never from Mopac to I-35 for damn good reason).

Here’s the overview again, this time annotated in a way that today’s youth will understand and doubtlessly flock to blogging in response to how tuned in your author is to their ways.

Drake memes for idiot teens
Drake says no to Parmer

Anyways, tomorrow we zoom in on the horribad first third. But then, THEN:

Then you hit this intersection and you get an overwhelming sense that everything is going to be OK. (picture from first day).

Polyanna Avenue
AURA membership meeting location

Also, this is what I looked like while typing this post on my porch at 3:30 Friday afternoon. Try to restrain yourselves, it’s important.

sweaty old man on porch

  1. on my son’s bike, which I am still using, he has a little phone holder doodad which I paid for and now feel like a genius for suggesting 

Yesterday’s robot bus reveal

should have been no surprise. If you follow me on twitter, and why wouldn’t you,1 you’ve been hearing about this ever since my meeting with Clarke at the end of May. If you missed the news, try Caleb’s run-down.

The angle nobody is covering so far is that while a bond election is probably required to pay for the infrastructure bills involved, no technical “rail referendum” is necessary. So Cap Metro buys themselves a lot of wiggle room here – asking the city to hold a bond election in a low turnout time if they choose to, for instance.

As for the rest of it: it’s over. AURA, FAN, #atxrail – they were all warned; and they all stayed silent in a stupid naive attempt to fix things with the back-channel communications that never meant anything, and as a result, we’re never getting light rail in Austin.

Today’s “worst person in Austin” award goes to Randy Clarke, who is just a more effective liar than the old leadership. Nobody in the community asked for robot buses as a fig leaf for BRT, but that’s what he’s claiming the community wants and needs. That’s enough for ten awards, but one will have to suffice. But honorable mention “worst person in Austin” awards go to the credulous nitwits in those groups above, who were all warned back when there was time to make enough fuss to possibly change this2, and chose yet again to disregard my warnings.

It’s too late now. You were warned.

  1. did you not notice I hardly ever blog? 

  2. before the political class got behind it; i.e. before Watson and the city council were firmly on board 

FTA issues report on Austin Metro Rapid

Thanks to Lyndon Henry for finding and posting the link to the PDF.

Some important quotes:

In the Route 801 corridor, the primary impacts of the BRT project were to (1) replace an existing
limited stop service – Route 101 – with limited-stop service upgraded to BRT standards and new
evening service hours, (2) reduce the frequency of the existing local service – Route 1 – by half,
and (3) add a feeder route at each of the two new terminal stations to provide connections to
Route 801 from a wider area.


In summary, the BRT project had impacts on transit service that were very different between the
two corridors in two important ways:
• BRT MetroRapid Route 801 was essentially a modest upgrade of an existing limited-stop
route; in contrast, MetroRapid Route 803 introduced a BRT-standard limited-stop service
into a corridor where no limited-stop service had existed; and
• Service frequencies on the principal local route in the Route 801 corridor were
significantly lower – half their former levels – after project opening; in contrast, service
frequencies on the principal local route in the Route 803 corridor were only moderately
lower after project opening.


In 2016, two years after project opening, ridership on MetroRapid Route 801 was 5,800
boardings per average weekday. Ridership on the reduced-frequency local Route 1 was 5,700
for a total of 11,500 boardings on the principal services in the North Lamar/South Congress
corridor. Feeder Routes 201 and 275 added a total of 1,700 weekday boardings in the corridor,
some of which were transfers to/from Routes 801 and 1. The combined ridership on all four
corridor routes was 2,400 fewer weekday boardings than the combined ridership of 15,600
weekday boardings on corridor routes before project opening. This ridership loss is attributable
to three factors:
• The significantly reduced frequency – by half – of the Route 1 local service which meant
that riders who found the new MetroRapid stop locations to be inconvenient for their trips
faced longer wait times for Route 1 buses at local stops;
• The presence of limited-stop service on Route 101 before the introduction of MetroRapid
which meant that MetroRapid was only a modest improvement over existing service; and
• The higher fare for MetroRapid service compared to the fare charged on all other services
both before and after the introduction of the MetroRapid routes.
The result was that MetroRapid attracted only a modest number of new transit riders to the
corridor while the reduced local service caused a somewhat larger number of existing riders to
abandon transit in the North Lamar/South Congress corridor.

tldr version: The 801 changes caused ridership to DROP in this corridor. The FTA concluded so based on Capital Metro’s own numbers. It’s time for the water-carriers like “Novacek” to abandon their attempts to spin the unspinnable.

And it was easily foreseeable as I pointed out in this post from 2014…

TFT: Hello Bikeness My Old Friend

Due to needing to work up my stamina for a secret work-related project, and I’ll explain the reason I feel free to resume biking in a later post perhaps, today I used my son’s bike and the 801 to get to my job in the horrible suburban cube factory.1 Attached are minimally edited notes I took along the way, with a couple of photographic bits of evidence.

7:00 get on son’s bike, ride about 5 blocks to the Hyde Park Station. Easy and comfortable despite massive humidity.

7:03 arrive at stop. An 801 is pulled over at the gas station 100 feet north of me while the driver gets coffee. Next arrival is in 7 mins according to sign.

7:06 changes from 3 mins to DUE immediately.

7:08 bus here. 1 got off. 1 other bike on front. When I got on total of 8 pax left on bus. Paid with 5 quarters like a BOSS. Stopped here to debunch apparently. (waits 2 minutes).

7:10 pulls away. Wonder if debunching is required only because of previous drivers coffee break

Triangle at 7:13 1 on 0 off.

7:15 stopped at light at Houston. No station yet!

7:16 Brentwood 1 off 1 on

7:18 oh god it’s so bumpy approaching Justin Ln

7:20 Justin 1 on 0 off

7:22 unfortunate diversion up above mainlanes to hit transfer stop. Looking longingly at freeway below.

Very awkward diversion into NLTC. Bus loops through and goes back southbound on frontage to make stop. Wonder how people many times people waiting here have boarded the bus going the wrong way. (just says Tech Ridge or Southpark).

7:25: 4 or 5 got off here and nobody boarded. Now bus struggling to change lanes to turn back around for NB. Weird route through NLTC and indirect cost of turns probably adds up to almost 5 minutes.

7:28 at new stop without branding (Fairfield?). 1 got on.

7:30 rundberg. 2 got off 2 got on.

I think I’m the only one to have paid cash so far.

7:32 light stops us briefly short of Masterson station. 733 we stop. 1 off.

7:35 Chinatown. Annoying lady passenger yelling into phone. She gets off and 1 other. 0 board. Short wait for red light.

Now in very long stretch with no stops.

7:38 slow and stop for queue behind light at Yager. Lots of cars turning right here. Transit priority note. Probably much worse 15 mins ago.

7:40-7:43 Wait to turn right on Parmer and slog through I35 ramp traffic. Bus turning left on i35 (I swear they used to go to McCallen).

7:43 crossing bridge. Must be a fun turn for driver. Mention this is the way I go too.

Driving fast on frontage and shaking. 7:44 turn on Center Ridge. Didn’t take special bus entrance (exit?) instead went up Center Line. Did go in special bus entrance off Center Line. Sooo bumpy.

7:46 pull up and deboard. I think there’s 3 passengers left including me.

Bike in front of 801 at Tech Ridge

7:54 bike up to my horrible office building (much more difficult and sweaty than the first ride on the other end), sweaty and triumphant.

Friend of the crackplog Caleb asked about time and here’s the scoop. Wait time is the average based on headway (I waited a little less this morning). I used actuals for the other components.

Good news, though! According to this minimalist but correct commute calculator, the trip in the morning saved a whopping 36 cents!2

  1. since there is no shower in our new facility I’m taking the 801 up most of the way and riding all the way home this evening; hopefully not through pouring rain 

  2. bad news: I have a company car so I wouldn’t be paying the gas or the tire cost, so actually this trip cost me $1.25 more but an average person driving my current car would have saved the entire 36 cents 

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 

Quick hit: What happens to Hyde Park in Cap Remap?

Motivated by my talk with Randy Clarke yesterday and some activity I saw on twitter.

I created these two images using Cap Metro’s trip planner; source is 4000 Speedway; destination is 800 Guadalupe; the time is in the middle of the day on this Friday (6/1, pre remap) and next Friday (6/8, post remap). I set maximum walking distance to 1/4 mile (which is the generally accepted walking distance most people will tolerate on a regular basis). These dates are good because the IF isn’t running, so this is a more accurate reflection of service that’s available always (not just when UT is in session).

Anybody see a problem here?


Short version: 23 minutes. No walk, no transfer.


Short version: 33 minutes including a walk down to 38th and a transfer at 38th/Duval.

Cap Remap Prediction #1: The 335

(crossposted from Austin’s only honest urbanism facebook group).

Cap Remap prediction #1:

335: The new route on 38th Street.

(Click on the image for the interactive version).

There’s new (nearly complete) bus cutouts1 on 38th near Speedway and Red River (with no signals attached). It’s slated to run every 15 minutes. It’s recommended as the reason why Hyde Park shouldn’t be pissed off to be losing the #5.

I thought about this route today when somebody who generally has good instincts on transit told me this route is the consolation prize for losing the #5; and that it goes to Mueller. So I thought about where I usually go in Mueller; and ran a test trip for after the change from my house to the Mueller Alamo Drafthouse. Results were uninspiring. (0.5 mile walk south, decent transit trip, 0.4 mile walk west; the Mueller routing is the worst part – that walk along sunblasted construction sites is disqualifying in and of itself).

It’s basically anchored on Berkman, on the east edge of the residential side of Mueller; too far from the Town Center [sic]. What about the other end? It turns around at Exposition and Westover; at the Randall’s shopping center and Casis Elementary.

My prediction: This route is going to go over like a lead balloon. It’s nice to anchor a crosstown route at a school, but it has to be a middle or high school to really work. You’ve got a grocer, but there’s better ones closer in. The Mueller residents might take it to transfer to a N/S line (say, the 801), but the transfer is awkward (pretty long walk from the WB stop to the SB 801 station at 39th2, for instance) and the number of people in Mueller pales compared to the people along Speedway. This route is likely going to have total ridership similar to the corresponding segment (basically north part) of the old #21/#22, but is going to run 2-4 times as often.

Oh and those folks along Speedway – there’s no utility in taking this route at all to replace their previous direct to downtown. They’re better off walking an extra 0.3 miles (not total, this is additional) to the #7. Some will just resume driving downtown, of course, because the proportional penalty they incur due to this change is very large compared to the total length of the trip.

tldr: I predict the 335 will be mostly empty.

  1. which are a crock that will penalize buses; they have to leave traffic and may have trouble getting back in 

  2. or as a much more accurate friend of the crackplog points out, 38th and a half 

Update: It’s all a misunderstanding, supposedly.

Regarding yesterday’s kerfuffle:

My opinion is that you should keep your skeptic hat on (see below for reasoning). But according to Caleb:

Just got a phone call from CEO Randy Clarke himself and I am pleased to report that things have been entirely patched up. He assured me the entire affair was a major misunderstanding and that whatever message the agency flak conveyed to me was not, by any means, his intent.

As for yours truly, yesterday I tweeted this:

And late last night, I was alerted in private by somebody that Cap Metro tweeted this1 just to see this once I was alerted to it)) :

Here’s the problem. I am still blocked by @capmetroatx.

JMVC engineered this years ago; and they’ve kept it up despite claiming in person to desperately want feedback.
How seriously can you take this request to call them when they should have known that I wouldn’t even see it? (I wouldn’t, had it not been for a helpful cool dude). And how seriously can you take claims of transparency when they block their most pointed but knowledgeable critic?)

Vote in my poll to help me decide how to respond.

  1. I had to go incognito and dive into my alternate account at @buttgoat ((which you should totally follow just trust me